Category Archives: Cult

Caddyshack (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blow-up the gopher.

Trying to work his way through college, Danny (Michael O’Keefe) gets a job as a caddie at an exclusive golf course. He becomes friends with Ty (Chevy Chase) who is the son of the club’s co-founder. He also begins caddying for Judge Smails (Ted Knight) in hopes to get on his good side since the Judge is also in charge of the caddie scholarship program, which Danny hopes to win in order to help pay for his education. The Judge and Danny form a hot-and-cold relationship with the Judge usually more annoyed with Danny than not though he does warm-up to him after the Judge accidentally hits an elderly woman with a golf club that he recklessly threw, but gets off-the-hook for taking the responsibility when Danny comes forward and takes the blame. The man though that really causes the Judge’s ire is Al (Rodney Dangerfield) a wealthy real-estate tycoon, who begins golfing at the club and constantly makes fun of the judge at every turn. Al considers the judge to be an uptight elitist snob, while the judge sees Al as being uncouth and lacking in social graces. The two men ultimately square off in a high stakes golf match just as the club’s dim-witted groundskeeper Carl (Bill Murray) rigs the course up with tons of dynamite in an attempt to get rid of a pesky gopher that’s been destroying the grounds.

This was another film that upon its initial release, like with The Shining and  Blade Runnerwas given a lukewarm response by the critics, but has since then become a classic by the vast portion of the movie going public. Part of the reason this one didn’t gel well with the critics is because of what was considered ‘sloppy’ comedy that had very little story and relied too heavily on gags to keep it going. The script, written by Brian Doyle-Murray, brother of Bill, and Douglas Keeney, was supposed to emphasize the caddy’s more and be a coming-of-age comedy, but the producers, much to the writer’s dismay,  decided to throw-in more colorful characters including a gopher who chews up the course and constantly avoids capture, which was an idea that co-writer Douglas Kenney really hated. The result made the story come-off as being too loosely structured and more concerned with creating comical bits than making any type of statement.

I admit when I first saw this movie over 20-some odd years ago that’s how I came away feeling too, but this time I approached it more as a day-in-the-life saga between society’s have-and-have-nots with the caddies portraying the working class while the course’s nouveau riche clientele made up the establishment. When taken in this vein the film works really well and I especially liked the way the Danny and the Judge’s relationship evolves throughout with the judge ultimately much more dependent on Danny than you might’ve originally thought possible.

Of course it’s the comedy that makes it all come together and there’s truly some side-splitting moments including the infamous Babe Ruth candy bar in the pool bit that was the one thing about the movie that I had remembered when I first saw over 2-decades ago and now upon viewing it a second time had me rolling over in laughter even more especially when you realize that it apparently is based on a real-life incident that occurred to writer Doyle-Murray while he worked at a golf club in Winnetka, Illinois. I also really enjoyed the moment where we see Bill Murray’s incredibly makeshift living quarters inside the course’s utility shed that features a reunion between he and fellow SNL alum Chevy Chase. The two had gotten into a well publicized fist-fight behind-the-scenes while working on that show a couple years before, but both managed to work together in this scene, which had been written-in at the last minute by director Harold Ramis for exactly that purpose, without a hitch.

Rodney Dangerfield’s star-making turn as the crass, but wealthy patron is a riot too and I particularly enjoyed his over-sized, multi-purpose golf bag and his nervous fidgeting especially his twitchy legs when he stands, which was all genuine and anxiety driven. Knight quite good too in a perfect caricature of a pompous jerk though he reportedly was vocally upset during the production at the excessive partying and hijinks that went on amongst the rest of the cast members, including a lot of drug use, which he felt was unprofessional. I even liked Cindy Morgan as the Judge’s niece and resident ‘hot babe’ who despite being a blonde was fortunately not portrayed in the stereotype of being dumb, but instead as savvy and observant. Followed 8 years later by a sequel, which will be reviewed next.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 25, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harold Ramis

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, HD-DVD, Amazon Video, Hulu, YouTube

The Magic Christian (1969)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everybody has a price.

Sir Guy Grand (Peter Sellers) is a billionaire with an eccentric side, who wants to prove the powerful influence money has over other people. He meets Youngman (Ringo Starr),a homeless man in a park, and decides to adopt him as his son. Together they proceed to play elaborate pranks on the public by watching how far they can push their theory and what humiliating lengths people will go to get their hands on some money.

The film is based on the 1959 novel of the same name written by Terry Southern, who also wrote the screenplay, and while the novel was considered a success the movie, at least when it was first released, wasn’t. My critics complained of the film’s heavy-handed satirical nature and unrelenting jabs at capitalism even though all the same pranks done in the movie were also in the book. The film also has the exact same satirical theme as O Lucky Man, which starred Malcom McDowell and came out just a few years later that also took numerous potshots at capitalism and yet many of the same critics adored that one, but came down hard on this one.

Fortunately through the years the film has managed to find a cult following. I supposed if one has more of a socialist bent they may enjoy it more, but it has such a surreal, creative vibe to it that it’s fun to watch no matter if you agree with it’s message, which is kind of muddled anyways, or not. Some of my favorite bits included snotty, rich aristocrats boarding a ship cruise that puts them in increasingly more humorously challenging and bizarre situations. The final segment, which has the classic song ‘Something in the Air’ by Thunderclap Newman playing during it, features a giant outdoor vat filled with urine, blood, and animal feces and then having Grand throw money into it and challenging onlookers to jump into the mess in order to get at the money, which despite the awful stench they readily do.

There’s many cameo appearances by famous stars who agreed to take small roles as a favor to Sellers who at the time was a top star and friends with many of the big headliners of the day. Some of the best bits here include Laurence Harvey who does a striptease while onstage and in front of a packed house of onlookers while reciting ‘Hamlet’. Yul Bryner, looking almost unrecognizable in a female wig, is great as a transvestite who comes-onto a shy Roman Polanski while at a bar. Spike Milligan is hilarious as a traffic cop who agrees to eat his own traffic ticket for the right price as well as Raquel Welch as a slave commander with a whip, Wilfred Hyde-White as a drunken ship captain, and John Cleese as a perplexed auctioneer.

The problems that I had with the film dealt mainly with the relationship between Sellers and Starr. Sellers meets Starr one day in a park by chance and then begins to have a conversation with him, but there’s music playing over this, so we never hear what they’re saying, which is frustrating as the having a rich man suddenly offer a poor man the chance to be his adopted son seemed like dialogue that should be heard. Starr is also not given much to do and it seemed almost pointless for having even in the movie. In the novel there was only the Grand character creating the pranks, but it was decided for the movie to make it a two man show, but Ringo has so little to do that it didn’t seem worth it and this reportedly was due to Sellers’ insecurity of being upstaged and thus insisting that all the best lines had to go to him.

It’s also never clear why the Sellers’ character does what he does. What’s the motivation for why this rich man feels the need to expose other people’s foibles and vanities? Does he feel guilty about being so rich and therefore has decided to ‘take-it-to’ the others in his own social circle? None of this gets explained or analyzed at all, which on the character end makes the film quite superficial and confusing.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated M

Director: Joseph McGrath

Studio: Commonwealth United Entertainment

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Last Starfighter (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen recruited into battle.

Alex (Lance Guest) spends his time playing an arcade game called ‘Starfighter’ and gets so good at it that he becomes the game’s highest scorer. He’s then approached by the game’s inventor, Centuri (Robert Preston), to take a ride in his  futuristic-looking car as a prize. Alex accepts the invitation only to learn that Centuri really isn’t human, but instead an alien recruiting Alex to help them protect the frontier from Xur (Norman Snow) who has found a way to breach the forcefield that protects Rylos and the surrounding planets from invasion. The ‘Starfighter’ game was meant to be a test to find those that were good at the game and then bring them into the battle since the skills needed to win the game are the same ones needed for the battle.

While the film did quite well at the box office, bringing in $28 million from a $15 million budget, as well as spawning a novel version, a video game, and even an off-Broadway musical, I still found it to be a complete bore to watch. I don’t mind sci-fi, space-age movies, which were all-the-rage in the 80’s, but the special effects in this one are so tacky looking that I couldn’t take it seriously. This was one of the first films to use computer graphics instead of physical models, but the result makes this entire galactic war look like a video game. Maybe that was the intention, but I didn’t care for it.

The story, which was written by Jonathan R. Beutel while he worked as a cab driver, is full of too many plot holes. Having the setting inside a trailer park, which wasn’t even Beutel’s idea anyways, but instead director Nick Castle’s, is the only original thing about it. I didn’t understand though why all the people living in the trailer park would be so excited about Alex getting the high score in the game and come out of their homes to cheer him on. To them it’s just a silly kid’s game and becoming good at it doesn’t really mean much in the real-world, or lead to anything, so outside of an idle teenager with too much time on his hands, why care? It would’ve been more ironic had Alex achieved the high score with no one else around making him feel his efforts were under appreciated, only to later learn that in a far off galaxy it was anything but.

The way Centuri finds him, by literally driving up to him in the middle of the night in his snazzy car while Alex is conveniently walking alone is not interesting and this scenario could’ve been played-up in a more creative way by forcing Centuri to tour through the trailer park and visiting the many residents, which could’ve included some offbeat interactions, before he finally comes upon Alex. Also, why are these aliens forced to recruit a human teenager in their effort to save their own space fortress? Aren’t there other aliens within their own galaxy that could take-up the cause? What’s in it for Alex to get involved and put his life on the line for some distant, separate universe that he has nothing to do with and won’t directly affect his life in any way should these planets get invaded? The idea too that only two individuals, Alex and his alien pal Grig (Dan O’Herlihy), can take on this massive army and win are long odds that would only make sense in a cheesy Hollywood movie.

Guest was not the right choice for the part either as he was too old, playing a teen when he was already 23 at the time of filming and looking it. The part should’ve been played by a 12-year-old especially since the storyline is at a bubblegum level that only a preteen would be able to buy into. Preston is certainly a great actor, but I didn’t understand why his character felt the need to wear a human mask to disguise his alien face when all the other aliens freely showed who they were. It’s disappointing too that Norman Snow, who gives an campy performance as the villain, disappears too soon, but I really did like O’Herlihy, who’s completely unrecognizable underneath all of the make-up, and the only thing that makes watching this dopey thing slightly worth it.

The one aspect of the plot that is amusing is the Beta Alex that’s put in Alex’s place to help disguise that the real Alex is missing. These scenes, where the Beta learns to adapt to the human culture in awkward ways, are the only original bits in the film and where filmed after production had already finished when test audiences reacted favorably to the character forcing Guest to return to shoot the added scenes, but because he had already gotten a haircut by this time, the Beta Alex is then seen wearing a wig. Outside of these moments though I found the film to be pretty flimsy especially on the logical end and one of the weakest entries of the 80’s sci-fi craze.

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My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 13, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Nick Castle

Studio: Lorimar Film Entertainment

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Chain Reaction (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nuclear leak contaminates water.

A nuclear waste site in rural Australia becomes affected by an earthquake, which causes a leak that could contaminate the ground water for hundreds of miles. Heinrich (Ross Thompson), an engineer at the facility who was contaminated by the accident and has only 3-days to live, feels it’s his duty to warn others about what happened, but the company wants the matter to kept a secret. Heinrich manages to escape from the lab, but gets into an accident during a rainstorm on a lonely country road. It is here that he’s rescued by Larry (Steve Bisley) and his wife Carmel (Arna Maria Winchester) who live nearby and take him to their isolated home. Since Carmel has a nursing background she tries to take care of Heinrich at their house even though he now suffers from amnesia and cannot remember anything past 1957. The company though has already sent out a search party looking for him and proceed to terrorize all three once they find them.

The film is a slickly shot sci-fi epic that in many ways seems similar to Mad Maxand in fact both films shared many of the same crew members and this even has a cameo by Mel Gibson who appears briefly as a bearded auto mechanic. The camera captures things in a vivid way and the sharp editing keeps the story moving at a fast pace.

While the plot gets smartly handled and I did find the two main characters to be a bit out-of-place particularly Larry whose outfits and hairstyle look almost campy. The two also don’t have an every day quality about them. Thrillers like these are more exciting when the hero is just a regular person with no special skills and yet still forced to beat insurmountable odds, which is unlike Larry who has expert driving skills and owns a trendy sports car with a souped-up engine.

The way the couple rescue the victim, who they don’t know, by taking him back to their place instead of to a hospital was odd too. Carmel has nursing experience, but not the medicines or equipment that you’d find in a medical facility. They also seem unusually trusting by allowing the man to sleep in one of their bedrooms while they sleep in an adjacent one, but don’t bother to lock their door with the wife lying openly nude for the stranger to just walk-in and attack, or gawk at since there’s a window in the hallway to the room, without any restraint.

The film is noted for its car chases, but they only make up a small fraction of the runtime. One occurs for a few minutes during the second act and then there’s another one at the very end. Both are quite exciting and had me sitting on the edge of my seat with the camera showing things from the driver’s point-of-view and many times through the cracked glass of the windshield making you feel like you’re in the car as it happens. However, I was disappointed that they’re weren’t more of them and both chases take place on the same road and essentially go through the same stunts both times.

Spoiler Alert!

The wrap-up is a bit too quick. For such a nifty, well designed and well crafter set-up I was expecting things to get played-out further. There is though the irony of having a helicopter appear with a news crew that captures the chase when it’s over with the idea that now that the news media is on top of it the truth will get out and everything will be resolved. This though is a far cry from the way things are here in this day-and-age where the media is not trusted by many and having them report on something, even a big story such as this, could only make things worse instead of better.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ian Barry

Studio: Palm Beach Pictures

Available: DVD (Region 0)

The Pirate Movie (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nerd dreams of pirates.

Mabel (Kristy McNichol) is a nerdy girl living in Australia as an American exchange student who does not fit-in with the three sisters (Kate Ferguson, Rhonda Burchmore, Catherine Lynch) of her host family. One day the four visit a sword play demonstration being put on at a local festival. All four immediately become infatuated with Frederic (Christopher Atkins) the handsome swordplay instructor who later on invites them on a boat ride except the sisters don’t want Mabel to come along, so they untie the boat from the dock before she can board. Mabel then rents another boat to catch-up to them, but gets caught in a storm and washed up to shore in an unconscious state where she has a dream about a crew of 18th century pirates lead by The Pirate King (Ted Hamilton) who cast Frederic off their ship when he refuses to become a pirate like them. Frederic then washes up to shore where he meets Mabel and her sisters, but this time the sisters are all nerdy while Mable is the beautiful maiden that he immediately falls in love with. However, they must also avoid the clutches of The Pirate King and his men who also come to the island looking for women to kidnap.

The story is loosely based the the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta from 1880 called The Pirates of Penzance, but jacked-up with a lot of campy comedy and modern day, teeny-bopper songs that, unless you’re really into 80’s cheese, makes it an almost excruciating experience to sit through. I don’t mind some campiness, but there still needs to be an exciting plot and a story that has a sense of adventure and even a few moments of tension for balance, but all this thing has is one lame gag after another. There’s also a ton of anachronisms including an Inspector Clouseau-type character and even light sabers that have absolutely no place in a movie set in the 18th Century.

The dream concept gets poorly played-out as this is supposedly Mabel’s, but when a person is having a dream then everything is from their perspective and they’re involved in someway with everything that goes on in it and yet here there’s a great number of scenes where Mabel isn’t even present. She also mentions at one point that since this is ‘her dream’ she wants a ‘happy ending’, but people don’t usually know they’re dreaming while they’re having it and only become aware after they’ve awaken.

Kristy is much more entertaining in the nerd role (she looks literally like Peter Billingsley from A Christmas Story) and she should’ve remained in that character and then earned her way into becoming a beautiful, confident women at the end instead of having her change over to one in a split second like here. Atkins is amusing simply because he has a big-brawny body with the high-pitched voice of an 8th grader though his poor acting, which at first works since the movie itself is bad, eventually got on my nerves.

The only funny bits are the behind-the-scenes outtakes that get shown during the closing credits although Ted Hamilton, who also served as the executive producer, does have a few amusing moments even though as the villain he’s too hammy.

Spoiler Alert!

The romance I didn’t like because it happens too quickly as romances are more interesting when there’s a challenge to overcome and since Frederic had no experience with women many funny awkward scenarios could’ve been incorporated, but aren’t. What really annoyed me is that when Mabel does finally wake up Frederic is right there, almost like magic, and kisses her, so they fall in love just like in the dream, but what’s the use of having a dream concept if the reality is going to play-out in exactly the same way? Could’ve been funnier had they gotten together only to eventually realize they couldn’t stand each other, which would’ve added a smidgen of reality that this otherwise vapid thing is sorely missing.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 6, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ken Annakin

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Midnite Spares (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for his father.

Steve (James Laurie) returns to his hometown of Sydney to team up with his dad to be a part of a sprintcar racing team. However, when he visits the towing company that his dad owned along with his business partner Tomas (Max Cullen) he cannot find him and is told that he mysteriously disappeared weeks ago without a trace. After further investigation he becomes convinced that it has something to do with a local car thief ring headed by corrupt cop Howard (Tony Barry) and uses the help of tow truck drivers Wimpy (Bruce Spence) and Rabbit (David Argue) to reel them in while also falling for a local girl named Ruth (Gia Carides) much to the chagrin of her conservative mother ( Tessa Mallos).

On the one hand this is a well set-up comedy with all the necessary ingredients to have been a top-notched funny movie. I really enjoyed the character actors who are in top form especially Bruce Spence, probably best known for his starring role in the cult film Storkwho plays a happy-go-lucky mechanic who always has greased caked-on his face no matter where he goes even when off the job and out in public. Tony Barry gives an interesting performance as well. Just a year before this film was shot he in starred in the New Zealand cult classic Goodbye Pork Pie that’s one of the best road movies ever made. In that film he played the nonconformist running from the cops while here plays the obnoxious oppressive authority figure and he’s able to play both types of roles quite convincingly. I also enjoyed the set pieces, which resembles very much the dingy, grimy look of a car repair shop as well as the distinctive score that has a creepy tone to it, which helps accentuate the late-night, underground vibe of the story.

There’s also a few very engaging moments as well including a segment where a guy hijacks a mobile hot dog stand and drives it around the track with the perplexed staff still inside while the sprintcar race is delayed due to an accident, which is pretty funny. I also loved the scene where the thieves steal a car, bring it into their shop and in a matter of literally seconds are able to completely dismantle it piece-by-piece until only its bare shell is left much like the famous scene in The French Connection where a car gets taken a part in the search for drugs, but here it’s done even more quickly and thoroughly.

What I didn’t like was the editing, which is done in too much of a choppy style. It’s very hard to get into the characters when their scenes and conversations are limited to only a couple of minutes and a few lines of dialogue before it quickly cuts away to another scene somewhere else. It would’ve worked better had it slowed the pace down a bit and allowed the elements to percolate instead of having this rushed feel. There’s also a some storylines that had potential, but aren’t followed through enough including the conservative mother of James’s girlfriend, which could’ve been ripe with far more confrontation than it ultimately does.

The action gets captured in too fleeting of a way and there isn’t as much of it as you’d expect despite its reputation as being an action movie. The climactic car chase showdown is too brief though it does feature some good camera angles that makes the viewer feel like their a part of it, but this also ended up taking the life of one of the cameramen, David Brostoff, who got too close to one of the cars and ended up getting run over. (The footage that he shot was left in while the movie is dedicated to his memory)

As crazy as it sounds it also would’ve been nice had it come with an English subtitle option. While the language is in English the Aussie accents are strong and it’s not always completely clear what they’re saying. I felt like I was missing a few words here and there especially with its quick pace where an actor would say a short line and then there’d be an immediate cut to something else.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 17, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Quentin Masters

Studio: Roadshow Films

Available: DVD-R (Domestic Import Region 0)

Der Fan (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rock idol infatuates teen.

Simone (Desiree Nosbusch) is a beautiful teen who harbors an unhealthy infatuation for a rock singer known only as ‘R’ (Bodo Steiger). Even though the two have never met Simone is convinced that they share a deep bond and she writes him fan letters all the time, but never receives a response. She travels to a TV-station where he’s expected to film a music video in hopes of meeting him and starting a romance. During an autograph session R spots Simone and immediately becomes riveted to her beauty and later takes her to an excluded country home, so that he can make love to her. Once the sex is over he proceeds to leave to visit with other friends, which enrages Simone and leads to a psychotic outburst.

The film, to a certain extent, is a refreshing change-of-pace to the usual stalker formula in that the beautiful woman is not the victim here, but instead the perpetrator. The part gets wonderfully portrayed by Nosbusch whose icy cold gaze, which she exudes the whole time, burns right through the screen making her creepy from start to finish. While it’s nice not having her fit into the mold of someone who is fat, lonely, and homely like the Kathy Bates’ character in Misery statistics have shown female stalkers of celebrities predominantly reflect the characteristics Bates has more than Simone’s, which is why they’re having romantic delusions over celebrities to begin with because they’re unable to attain these types of relationships in real-life.

This then brings out the film’s fatal flaw, which is that there’s no explanation for why Simone is this way. If she had an abusive home-life you could reason she turned to a fantasy world in order to cope with her harsh surroundings, but there’s no sign that this was the case. It’s not like she can’t find any boyfriends either as there are people around her who make attempts to be friendly, but she coldly rebuffs them. So, why is she so crazy? What is there about this particular rock singer that gets her so infatuated with him and what is missing in her life that she flies so far off the deep-end? None of these questions get answered. It’s almost like writer/director Eckhart Schmidt didn’t bother to think any of this through, or even care to. He simply came up with a bland prototype of a teen psycho to help propel the plot along without ever bothering to fill-in any of the necessary details.

Spoiler Alert!

While the film is quite weak in that area, saved only by Nosbusch’s excellent performance, it does make-up for it with its incredible, over-the-top ending, which had even me, a seasoned cinephile who’s essentially seen it all by now, in shock. It’s not that it’s particularly gory, even as she cuts the guy up into pieces and then proceeds to eat him limb for limb before grinding up his bones, but more for its sheer audaciousness. If anything the gore could actually have been played-up more as the blood is lacking, you only see a couple streaks of it on the floor while it should’ve been sprayed all over the place. Seeing the room drenched in it would’ve made the horror all the more shocking though her licking the bloody blade does lend a twisted erotic touch.

What I admired though was how it clearly wasn’t concerned if it achieved mainstream acceptance, or not. There is simply no way a film like this could’ve been made in Hollywood whether it was 1982 or today, as the studios wouldn’t touch it. Too many producers would fear potential backlash, which in turn would hurt profits, but for me this is what true movie making should be all about. Challenging mainstream viewers out of their comfort zone and taking them to a place they thought they’d never go and doing it in such a fluid way that they don’t know what’s coming until it’s too late, which is what really makes this one memorable.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: June 4, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Eckhart Schmidt

Studio: Scotia International

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Bananas (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: From nebbish to dictator

Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen) is a shy, meek individual who works as a product tester, but comes to realize that his job has too many pitfalls and wants to pursue another line of work. One night while in his apartment he receives a knock at his door and meets Nancy (Louise Lasser) who is a social activist. Fielding doesn’t have much interest in politics, but finds Nancy attractive, so he pretends to be into her social causes. Their relationship though does not survive, but Fielding decides to travel to the Latin country of San Marcos anyways, which is where the couple was planning to go to before the breakup. The country is suffering through a revolution and Fielding inadvertently gets caught up in it to the extent that he becomes their acting leader and travels back to the US to ask for foreign aid, but once home Nancy recognizes Fielding for who he really is and this soon has him put on trial.

This was done during the period when Woody was just trying to be funny and without all the pretension and nostalgia that make up so much of his later work, which I don’t care for as much. While there are draggy spots, particularly during the second act, the beginning and end are so strong that it more than makes up for it especially the climactic court sequence, which is laden with a lot of non-sequitur sight gags that didn’t come into vogue in movies until 10 years later when it was introduced to mainstream audiences with great success in the movie Airplane. 

What I really liked though is that Woody actually seems to playing a character here and not just himself. No endless whining about his hypochondriac conditions, or New York being vastly superior to L.A., or how Ingmar Bergman is the greatest film director. This stuff seems to work into many of his later scripts and characters, but here he just plays an average blue collar guy whose only ambition is to get laid, which is wonderful and I really enjoyed pairing him with Lasser. The two had already divorced  by the time this was filmed, but she agreed to remain on as his co-star, which is great as I’ve always said she’s the female version of Woody and in many ways can easily upstage him in just about every scene they share. People like Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow, who became his co-stars in his later movies, were too normal and didn’t compliment Allen’s quirky style like Lasser does and it’s just a shame she disappears during the second act as her presence would’ve prevented it from getting as draggy as it does. 

While most of the gags are quite funny and even inventive I did have a problem with a few of them. The opening bit, which features a televised assassination of the country’s leader, manages to make even Howard Cosell, an obnoxious, egotistical sportscaster that I never cared for, enjoyable especially as he fights his way through the crowd to get an interview with the dying dictator. However, if you’re going to show a guy getting shot then some blood is needed. Allen said he wanted to avoid this because he feared it would hurt the film’s ‘light comic tone’, but its been proven in movies like Shaun of the Dead that gore and comedy can still work together and having Cosell ask the leader ‘how does it feel’ as he lies there bloodied would’ve been dark comedy gold.

The segment where Woody walks into an operating room to tell his parents (Stanley Ackerman, Charlotte Rae), who are both surgeons performing an operation, that he’s traveling to another country, is for the most part an aspiring bit except that in the scene the patient (Hy Anzell) is awake and talking. There is simply no way that anyone being cut open wouldn’t be put under anesthesia, so having him speak is not only unrealistic, but not necessary as the humor from the segment comes from Woody’s interactions with his folks and not from anything that the patient says. 

Overall though this still comes as highly recommended especially for Woody cinephiles looking to take in his wide body of work. His more serious directorial efforts are good too, but in a different way. Yet its his irreverent style that tests the movie making formula, which he does here, that I enjoy the most and while he has done many comedies after this they cease to have the same rapid-fire zaniness as this one. I also have to mention the cigarette commercial that takes place during a Catholic mass, which is the best ad-spoof I’ve ever seen. It did end up being condemned by the National Catholic Office of Motion Pictures, but it was worth it.

 My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 28, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video, YouTube

Fade to Black (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: A cinephile becomes homicidal.

Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher) is thoroughly engrossed in movies to the extent that he watches them all day in his bedroom and does little else. Aunt Stella (Eve Brent), whom he lives with, nags him constantly about what a loser he is as does Richie (Mickey Rourke) who he works with at his job inside a film distribution center. One day he meets Marilyn (Linda Kerridge) who looks exactly like his favorite actress Marilyn Monroe. The two agree to go out on a date to see a movie, but when Eric shows up at the theater and Marilyn is nowhere to be found he becomes unhinged. All of his pent-up rage gets released and soon he goes on a killing spree by slaughtering all of the people who have made fun of him in the past.

Writer/director Vernon Zimmerman has insisted in interviews that this wasn’t meant to be a horror film, but then what exactly was it supposed to be? I admit initially it has some intriguing elements, but like with Zimmerman’s other directorial efforts it misses the mark. Ultimately despite the offbeat touches it  devolves into a mechanical slasher flick by the second act, but in this case a really bad one, as the killings are handled in a very unimaginative way with the victims dying way too easily to the point that the segments become boring and very predictable.

Some felt that this was an odd follow-up project for Christopher to take after his critical success starring in the acclaimed Breaking Away, but I’ll give him credit for not playing it safe and taking a role outside of mainstream Hollywood. He actually plays the part pretty well, but that’s actually the problem as his skinny, geeky build makes him seem too Norman Bates-like and falls into the lonely stereotypical psycho mold too easily and thus witnessing his eventual melt down is neither surprising nor revealing. His attempted impressions of  famous characters/stars are quite poor too and makes these moments very annoying.

Having a cinephile only into classic old movies didn’t seem realistic. You’d think someone like him had seen films others hadn’t even heard of, so referencing obscure flicks and lesser known actors should’ve been added into the mix. I was also confused where he was able to get the money to pay for all the elaborate costumes, make-up, and props that he uses during the killings as at the beginning he was so broke he had to beg people for money just to fill-up his bike with gas, or go out on a date. Some may argue that when his Aunt died she willed him the money, but this is never mentioned or shown.

I did like Rourke and I felt he would’ve been more interesting in the lead role as he plays a movie fanatic as well, but also didn’t fall into the tired nerdy cliché like Christopher. Kerridge though as the love interest proves to be a dud. She certainly is easy-on-the-eyes, but seems uncomfortable playing the Marilyn caricature and her presence ultimately is rather transparent.

The production values are slick and the climactic sequence that takes place both in and on top of the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater has some pizazz, but everything else falls flat. It’s just not offbeat enough, scary enough, nor darkly humorous enough to ever catch its stride, or sustain any consistent interest.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 17, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Vernon Zimmerman

Studio: American Cinema Releasing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Stone (1974)

stone1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Somebody’s killing the bikers.

Toad (Hugh Keays-Byrne) is a member of the Grave Diggers biker gang who stops off one sunny day to hear a politician giving a speech at a park. He has just taken some acid and feeling the effects of it and so goes straying from the rest when he sees a shooter hiding inside a nearby building and when the gun goes off and kills the politician the bikers gets blamed for it. Soon members of their group start getting knocked-off in bizarre ways convincing them that somebody is after them for what they witnessed. Stone (Ken Shorter) is the long-haired police detective who infiltrates the group in order to find out who the killer is, but the bikers are initially unhappy with a ‘pig’ being a part of their organization, but eventually they form a friendship and work together to nab the bad guy before he kills more.

The story was originally meant as an episode for an Australian TV-show, but when that series got canceled before this episode could air, it was then reworked into a feature film. Real Australian bikers were used as supporting players with many of them being paid with free beer for their efforts. The film eventually did quite well at the box office and has garnered a cult status worldwide although the 99 minute length, which is what is widely available, was not the original cut, which was much longer at 130 minutes, but director Sandy Harbutt did not like this version, so this became a rare occasion where the director’s cut leaves out many scenes that was originally shown in the theaters.

As a film it’s not too bad and I particularly liked it’s moody opening that has a lot of weird camera angles and freeze-frames. The funeral procession showing hundreds of bikers careening down the highway leaves a memorable impression as well. The killings are cool too, including a dangerous stunt that required a driver to ride his bike off an 80-foor cliff and into the ocean.

On the drama ends there’s some interesting moments including Stone’s initiation, but when he’s off by himself it gets boring quick especially since Shorter’s mop-top hairstyle makes him look more like a lost singer to a ’70’s Glam band than a cop. The film only works when the bikers are in it and becomes nothing more than a tepid, pedestrian drama without them. The wrap-up isn’t as interesting as the opening and I kind of wondered if the mystery angle even needed to be put in as there are long segments where the investigation isn’t even talked about to the point that it almost seems forgotten.

The much ballyhooed violence isn’t all that impressive either with the fist-fights looking like poorly staged stunt work by amateurs. They’re also quite brief and don’t take up as much of the runtime as you’d expect. However, as a character study it has an appeal as I found the bikers themselves to be a fascinating bunch and wanted to get to know them better and the plot should’ve focused on them solely.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 28, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes (Director’s Cut) 2 Hours 10 Minutes (Original Studio Version)

Not Rated

Director: Sandy Harbutt

Studio: British Empire Films Australia

Available: DVD