Category Archives: Musical

Xanadu (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Artist falls for muse.

Sonny (Michael Beck) is a struggling artist finding it impossible to make a living on his own forcing him to go back to working for Airflow records where his creative aspirations are squelched by business demands. He then starts bumping into Kira (Olivia Newton-John) and begins falling for her hard unaware that she isn’t human but instead a muse sent from another galaxy to help achieve his true artistic vision. She sets it up where he meets Danny (Gene Kelly) a former big band musician. Together he and Sonny work out a plan to turn an old empty building into a live music venue.

One of the bigger problems of this flamboyant concoction is that it doesn’t seem like hardly a movie at all as the story is threadbare and features a lot of banal dialogue and sterile characterizations between the musical numbers. The chief reason for this, at least according to Olivia on the DVD commentary, is that the script was written on the fly as the filming took place almost like something a bunch of amateurs would do. There is a rumor though that producer Joel Silver early on did lock one of the writers into a room for a couple of days and refusing to let him out until he ‘delivered’ a ‘great script’, which if that were the case then the writer should still be stuck there because that great script clearly never came about.

Fans of the movie will admit that the acting and plot are poor, but insist that the songs and set pieces make up for it, but it really doesn’t. A few of them were okay like the battle of the bands segment where at one end of the warehouse a 40’s band plays while at the end there’s a hard rock 80’s band only to eventually have them both merge. Overall though I found a lot the musical numbers to be surprisingly bland and uninspired with the best ones, which include Kelly dancing alongside Olivia and an animated segment, all getting added in after the primary filming had already completed.

Olivia is quite beautiful and I love her effervescent smile, but she’s no leading lady. Her singing is excellent, but has an actress her talent seems limited to playing only perky characters, so while this film was meant to jettison her career it instead only stifled it. Kelly, whose last film role this was, is engaging in support even though he pretty much just spends most of the time smiling and not much else.

The real surprise is seeing Beck. He had just come off his strong portrayal of Swan in the mega cult hit The Warriors and was at that point a hot commodity poised to be a Hollywood leading man for years to come, but instead pissed it all away by choosing this stinker as his follow-up. Since this thing bombed badly at the box office the subsequent offers he got were of the TV-movie and low budget variety.  I’m just not sure what he was thinking. It couldn’t have been the script that attracted him since there really wasn’t any. I can only presume he thought with Olivia on board and with the success she had with Grease that this would be a big hit like that one, so he took a calculate gamble and jumped-in, but it was clearly a big mistake.

The great actor Jack Lemmon once said only take movie roles if you’ve read the script and like it never just because you think it will be a hit because you’ll usually be proven wrong and I guess Beck had to learn that the hard way. He now makes a living solely by attending fan conventions where he signs autographs, but he never talks or promotes his appearance here just his work on The Warriors. I can only presume he’s embarrassed by it and he should be. It’s one thing to be in a lousy movie, but still give a strong performance, but his acting here is just as bad as the film and was enough to get him nominated for the Golden Raspberry Award as worst actor of 1980 though he ended up losing out to Neil Diamond in The Jazz Singer. 

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Greenwald

Studio: Universal

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

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Messiah in the desert.

Based on the rock opera of the same name by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice, the story centers on the last days of Christ (Ted Neeley) and his interactions with one of his disciples named Judas (Carl Anderson).  Judas does not agree with the direction that Jesus is taking the group and the two share a falling out. The next day in Jerusalem Judas visits the Priests (Bob Bingham, Kurt Yaghjian), who have already made the decision that Jesus must die for the sake of the nation. Using money to bribe him they get Judas to reveal where Jesus will be staying. Then on the next night Judas arrives with guards who arrest Jesus where he’s then taken to the Priests home and sentenced to death.

This film is very similar to Godspell, which came out the same year and was also based off of a Broadway musical. In my opinion they should’ve combined the two into one as there’s not that much of a difference between them. Probably the biggest contrast is that one was filmed in New York City while this one was shot on-location in Beit Guvrin National Park in Israel.  While the extreme heat of the desert forced the cast to take breaks from filming every 20 minutes to hydrate it’s a definite plus cinematically since this was the location where the biblical stories took place and because few people from the US have ever been there, so the landscape holds a distinctive appeal.  Director Norman Jewison takes full advantage of the unique caves that were dug there centuries ago to create many interesting shots.

The cast of characters show a little more distinction and aren’t all dressed like free-spirited vagabonds from the early 70’s like in Godspell although they still act like hippies. Jesus in this film looks more like the accepted artist’s rendition of him as opposed to a clown, but he gets seriously overshadowed by Anderson’s flamboyant performance as Judas to the point that the whole movie would’ve been better served, and more interesting, had he been made the main character.

I enjoyed Yvonne Elliman’s ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’, which later became a chart topper, and ‘King Herod’s Song’, which gets performed with campy gusto by Josh Mostel. The film though makes the same mistake as the other one in that there’s no dialogue in-between songs it just goes from one musical number to the next, which gives it a dizzying quality. If you’re really into musicals, or its spiritual message, then you may enjoy it, but anyone looking for conventional type of storytelling will be put off from the very beginning.

I didn’t get why all the anachronisms that get thrown-in either. It starts out with everyone arriving to the scene on a bus like they’re present-day performance artists putting on a show, but then shifts into them becoming the parts that they’re playing until you can’t tell the difference. Several scenes feature army tanks and even airplanes, which were never a part of the actual time period, so why have them? If this was all done to make it ‘hip’ for modern audiences then it doesn’t work and for many will come-off as ridiculously kitschy, which it is.

The one thing it does do well (since I presume everyone, believer or non, knows the story I feel I don’t need to put a ‘Spoiler Alert’ on this one) is the crucifixion, which gets played-out in a far more intense way than in Godspell where he died on an electrical fence that lasted for less than a minute. Here it gets dark and genuinely disturbing and during the ’39 Lashes’ moment forced Neeley’s mother, who had attended the film’s world premiere, to walk out of the theater as she found it too intense.

From my vantage point it’s well produced, but shallow though Jewison did show the film to Pope Paul VI who proudly proclaimed “I believe it will bring more people around the world to Christianity than anything ever has before.” However, it was not without it’s share of controversy including from religious groups who accused it of being both blasphemous and anti-Semitic. Jewison even admitted, in response to the criticisms, that it was never meant to be anything authentic or deeply theological.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 7, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: Universal

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

A Star is Born (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: His career goes downhill.

John Norman Howard (Kris Kristofferson) is a famous rock singer who’s found that his career on the road has taken its toll. He’s become jaded by the money and fame and now bored with it while spending his days and nights committing self-destructive acts that alienate the rest of his crew. One night after walking off the stage of his own concert after singing only a few songs he goes to a bar where he sees Esther (Barbra Streisand) singing on stage. He becomes impressed by her talent and uses his resources to make her a star. The two eventually get married, but as her career continues to rise his goes in decline.

This is the third remake of the story that was originally written by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson. The first version came out in 1937 and starred Frederic March and Janet Gaynor while the second one was released in 1954 and starred James Mason and Judy Garland. This version differs from the other two in that the setting was the music scene instead of the movie business, but overall the efforts here to revitalize the tired formula are trite and predictable.

A lot of the blame can go to Streisand who acted as both the star and producer to the project. For one thing she was too old for the part as she was already in her mid-30’s when this was filmed and wearing a tacky afro hairstyle to boot. It would’ve been more effective had a truly young person, like a woman who was 19, which is a typical age for someone to have dreams of breaking into the rock scene, was cast. Possibly having the character start out as one of Kristofferson’s groupies, instead of doing it like it’s done here where he just meets her at random at a bar, which is awkward and forced, and then through their time together he learns of her aspirations and talents and works to help her meet her potential.

It also would’ve helped had the young starlet had the same singing style as Kristofferson, which would’ve made the concert scene where he walks off stage and brings Esther onto it more believable. Kristofferson’s music, or what little we hear of it, has clearly a more hard rock edge while Streisand sings mellow love songs. In the movie we’re supposed to believe that all these fans who paid good money to see Kristofferson sing are suddenly without warning given Streisand instead and are so taken aback by her talent that they all clap and cheer when in reality I think they would’ve been upset and demanding their money back as they came to hear hard rock and not the lite stuff.

I enjoyed Kristofferson’s performance and his impulsive self-destructive acts give the film energy and edge. However, the chemistry between the two is non-existent and he later said that working with Streisand was “an experience which may of cured me of the movies.” His decline gets handled in a rushed, heavy-handed way. Music careers are by their very nature cyclical. Rock stars get replaced with every generation as teens prefer their own singing idols and not those of their parents. For him to become so quickly devastated when his record sales begin to plummet is unrealistic as nobody stays on top forever. He should have enough money to wade out the career lulls and simply held on to when his fans grew up and became nostalgic and then hit the retro tour circuit like many of the pop/rock icons from the past do.

Streisand’s character is flat, one-dimensional, and just plain too-good-to-be-true. She’s well known in real-life for her notorious ego, in fact director Frank Pierson described her as being egocentric, manipulative, and controlling and refused to ever work with her again, so having her then portray someone who is gracious and humble seems very phony and not something that she’s effectively able to convey. The original concept was to have the character be like Janis Joplin and go through a self-destructive decline of her own, but Streisand nixed this idea, which is unfortunate as it would’ve given the film some needed nuance.

The footage of the massive crowds at the concerts is the one element that I found impressive and the segment showing the vast stretch of land that Kristofferson owned in the middle of the Arizona desert was pretty cool too. Everything else though in this otherwise overlong film is boring. Fans of Streisand’s singing may take to it better, but there’s too much of it, making it seem like this was just one big vanity project for her and nothing more.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1976

Runtime: 2 Hours 20 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Frank Pierson

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive),  Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Pennies from Heaven (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Escaping from the depression.

Arthur (Steve Martin) is a struggling sheet music salesmen during the depression, who’s looking to escape his dreary existence by becoming a songwriter, but finds that no one including his wife (Jessica Harper) cares about what his dreams, which leaves him feeling lost and alone. He then meets perky schoolteacher Eileen (Bernadette Peters) and the two begin an affair despite her not knowing that he is already married. When she gets pregnant and loses her job because of it Arthur is nowhere to be found and instead he gets unjustly tabbed for committing rape on a blind woman (Eliska Krupka) that he did not do.

The film is based on a 6-part miniseries that aired on the BBC in 1978 and starred Bob Hoskins. Martin saw it and was so enamored with the story that he became compelled to have it remade here and the studio even hired the same writer, Dennis Potter, to pen the script although the studio forced him to do 13 rewrites before they finally accepted it. Despite the extravagant musical numbers, which are pretty good, and positive critical reception, the filmed failed to achieve any success at the box office where it took in a paltry 2 million that barely made a dent in its 22 million budget.

A lot of the blame can be placed on the casting of Martin. While I admire him for not allowing himself to be typecast, and for dying his hair brown here, he still comes off as misplaced. You keep waiting for him to say something goofy and absurd like his character in The Jerk would and when he doesn’t you start feeling bored and frustrated. For his part he lashed out at those that didn’t like it calling them ‘ignorant scum’ while anyone who did enjoy the film he labeled ‘wise and intelligent’.

Yet his character is also a problem as he comes off as arrogant and selfish the whole way through. He constantly antagonizes his shy wife pressuring her to submit to his kinky sexual fantasies and when she doesn’t he threatens to walk out. He then lies about his marital status to Peters and is cold and ambivalent when she gets pregnant making him seem like a true jerk and not the funny kind in his earlier film.

Jessica Harper I enjoyed much more. I think she gives her finest performance here and I was genuinely surprised she wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award. Her interpretation of a shy, sheltered Midwestern wife from a more innocent era is completely on-target and I came to sympathize far more with her than Martin. The line that she utters when the police investigators come to her house, after Martin gets accused of rape, is the best moment in the movie. Peters is good too, but I felt her character got in the way and the film would’ve gelled better had it focused solely on the dysfunctional marriage.

The dance numbers are well choreographed with the best one being with Christopher Walken who does a bona fide striptease that took him over 2 months to rehearse. The bit in which Martin and Peters find themselves transported inside a film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers is quite cool too although Astaire himself tried blocking the footage from being used. He later commented that as a viewer ” I have never spent two more miserable hours in my life” and describing every scene in the film as being “cheap and vulgar.”

The story though starts out too slowly and for the first hour seems like there really isn’t any plot at all. It improves by the second half, but there needed to be more urgency at the beginning and many viewers may not be willing to stick with it.  Having the actors lip-sync the songs was a bad idea too. It gives the whole thing an amatuerish vibe making it seem like it was intended to be a campy comedy when it really wasn’t.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Bugsy Malone (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The gangsters are kids.

It’s the 1920’s and rival mobsters, who are all played by children, fight over control of a club that illegally sells liquor. Fat Sam ( John Cassisi) is the one who currently controls it, but Dandy Dan (Martin Lev) makes a play at a violent overthrow in which his men attack the club by using machine guns equipped with whipped cream that ‘splurge’ their victims. Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio) is a penniless boxing promoter caught in the middle. He tries to help aspiring singer Blousy (Florrie Dugger) get an audition at Sam’s club, but then becomes distracted by Sam’s alluring girlfriend Tallulah (Jodie Foster) who causes Sam’s ire by flirting with Bugsy.

This odd concoction was the product of Alan Parker in his feature film directorial debut who came up with the idea while driving his kids on a weekend trip to a countryside cottage. To keep his kids entertained he started telling them a story about some prohibition era gangsters based on old gangster movies he had seen as a child. It was at one point where one of the kids brought up the idea of having gangsters be children instead of adults.

The first 15 minutes or so are quite inventive and fun. I enjoyed the freeze-frames showing each victim splattered with whip cream and the pedaled powered automobiles, but after awhile it starts to repeat the same gags over and over becoming a one-dimensional, one-joke flick.

I kept wondering where the adults where and despite this being a fantasy what exactly where the ‘rules’. Is this a type of universe where there are no adults at all and the kids remain at that age forever and if so does that ultimately then make them the ‘adults’? For me it would’ve been better had the story been book-ended with some connection to the world as we know it. Perhaps with a Wizard of Oz type structure where the film starts out, maybe even in black-and-white, with adults in the parts of the gangsters and then one of them gets hit on the head or drinks something with a drug in it and has this weird dream involving kids suddenly taking over the roles previously played by the adults. Showing the differences at how kids approached things versus how the adults do would’ve been a funny contrast instead of keeping it at the kiddie-level the whole way through, which ultimately falls flat.

The performances of the young cast are quite energetic although I could’ve done without the musical numbers. Cassisi, who in real-life ended up serving jail time of his own for money laundering, steals it with his humorous send-up of a mob boss. Baio is quite good too especially with his over-the-top Brooklyn accent, but I felt Foster got shamefully underused. If anything her role should’ve been combined with Blousy’s to make one and cutting out Florrie Dugger, who now goes by the name of Florence Garland, completely. I didn’t have anything against her per say, but she didn’t have the onscreen spark that Foster did. She also apparently disliked Baio and the scene involving her hugging him required many retakes as she didn’t want to get near him and this lack of chemistry comes through onscreen.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 12, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Alan Parker

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Godspell (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jesus is a hippie.

A group of modern day young adults dissatisfied with their mundane lives decide to follow the calling of John the Baptist (David Haskell) to learn the teachings of Jesus (Victor Garber). They spend their days roaming the vacant streets of New York City while doing song and dances that are inspired by the Gospel of St. Matthew.

This film is based on the hit Broadway play that in turn was the brainchild of John-Micheal Tebelak. Tebelak was a student at Carnegie Mellon University in 1970 when he attended an Easter Vigil at St. Paul’s Cathedral only to end up getting frisked for drugs by the police simply because his clothing attire resembled that of a hippie. He became incensed that the modern day Christian was out-of-touch with the younger generation and became compelled to bridge-the-gap by going home and writing this play, which lead to him getting offers to produce and direct it, first at experimental off-Broadway theaters and then finally Broadway itself.

While this film’s intentions may be noble, it doesn’t completely succeed although its ability to take advantage of the New York City locations is a chief asset. Many prominent sites of the city get used including the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, and even a breath-taking dance sequence on top of the still being built World Trade Center. The film also manages to somehow, outside of the very beginning and very end, clear out all the other people from the city making the Big Apple seem like a giant ghost town, which in a way gives off a good surreal vibe, but it also would’ve been interesting seeing this troupe dealing with the everyday person and the reactions that would come from that.

The song and dance numbers are well choreographed, but there ends up being too many of them. The story lacks a plot and to a degree comes off as nonsensical. I realize they’re singing about parables from the Bible, but the viewer isn’t paying attention to that and instead focused on the colorful locales and comical antics of the hammy performers and it’s quite doubtful that a non-believer would suddenly get ‘inspired’ by anything that goes on here. Young children will most likely by confused and even frightened by it while teens and young adults, which was the target audience, will by today’s standards roll-their-eyes and consider it a relic of a bygone, drug-trippy era.

The cast shows a lot of energy and many of them were from the original stage version, but ultimately there’s no distinction between them. While most musicals have at least some dialogue and drama between the songs this one has none. It’s just two hours of non-stop singing and unless you’re deeply into the message this won’t really gel well with most viewers. The clothing styles, which at the time may have been ‘hip’, now look silly including having Jesus with an afro and walking around in over-sized shoes, which to me resembled a clown.

This might’ve worked better on stage where the intimate setting would allow one to feed off the vibe of the other audience members, but as a film it’s off-putting and the dazzling visual direction cannot overcome its other shortcomings.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated G

Director: David Greene

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Bye Bye Birdie (1963)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen idol gets drafted.

Based on the hit stageplay of the same name, the story deals with Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson) a rock ‘n’ roll teen idol who gets drafted into the army.  As a big send off Conrad is chosen to perform in Sweet Apple, Ohio on the Ed Sullivan Show. As a special treat one lucky teen girl (Ann-Margaret) gets picked to give him a kiss while he sings the song ‘One Last Kiss’ written by Albert (Dick Van Dyke) a fledgling songwriter who hopes that the publicity of having a song sung by a big star will be just the ticket he needs to find success and enable him to finally marry his secretary (Janet Leigh) and get away from the clutches of his meddlesome mother (Maureen Stapleton).

The story was loosely based on the real-life incident in 1957 when Elvis Presley got drafted and in fact the part was originally intended for him, but his agent turned it down. While some may consider the humor here to be engaging satire I really felt it was lame and uninspired and only saved by the song and dance sequences. My main gripe was the way the teens get portrayed as being overly clean-cut kids, no leather jacket crowd here who smoked cigarettes even though they did exist, who are too benign and show no evidence of individuality. It would’ve been nice for the sake of balance to have at least one girl that was not into the rock star and didn’t faint or swoon the second she saw him, like all the others, and instead looked on with disdain at everyone who did.

While I did like Janet Leigh, who wears a black wig, and enjoyed her dance number at a Shriner’s convention I did feel overall that the adults here, with the exception of Paul Lynde, were boring and not needed. Van Dyke again gets straddled in another Rob Petrie type role who shows no pizzazz and having him a ‘mama’s boy’ at the age of 38 is more pathetic than funny. What’s worse is that Stapleton who plays his mother was in reality Van Dyke’s same age and despite some white in her hair really didn’t look that old and having the part played by an actual old lady would’ve given it more distinction.

The story should’ve centered around the teens, but in a more interesting way by entering into all the side dramas that almost always occur in these types of situations, but doesn’t get explored here. For instance there could’ve been some jealous classmates of Ann-Margaret’s upset that she got picked to kiss Birdie and not them and devised a scheme to ruin her big moment, or having all the boys, who admitted to hating Birdie because their girlfriends were so into him and not them, kidnapping him in revenge.

Despite having his name in the title Birdie has only a few lines of dialogue and needed more to do than just swiveling his hips, which becomes a derivative running joke. One idea would be to have him scared about going off to the army and secretly coming up with a plan with his fans to go undercover, so he could escape going, which would’ve added more depth to the satire, which is too placid, by showing how celebrities in private can be the opposite of their public image.

Beyond my many grievances with the story, which is even more flimsy than most musicals, I still found the songs, dances, and colorful sets to be fun and Paul Lynde has a few great lines. If one watches it for the musical quality while treating it as a relic of its time then it should still go over modestly well.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 4, 1963

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: George Sidney

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

History of the World, Part I (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Making historical events funny.

In 1979 Mel Brooks was riding high after directing 4 hit movies and as he was walking across a studio parking lot a man who had worked on his crew from his previous films asked him what his next project would be. Brooks, feeling the pressure to come up with something big and splashy, told him it was going to be about the history of the world. This film ended up being the result of that conversation although it’s hard to call it a movie at all since it’s really just a collection of vignettes dealing with 4 specific periods: The Stone Age, The Roman Empire, The Spanish Inquisition, and The French Revolution.

At first glance it’s almost shocking that something this overreaching could’ve been produced to begin with. Had anyone but Brooks approached the studio heads with this concept it would’ve been slapped down immediately and the person told not to come back until they had an idea that was more focused, but because of Brooks’ prior success these same executives decided to swallow their better judgement. Not only did they unwisely give it the green light, but they threw more money at it than any of his previous film budgets combined; a whooping 11 million, which all pretty much goes to waste.

It’s not like there aren’t a few funny moments here and there: the musical number during the Spanish Inquisition, the Last Supper parody, and the Jews in space all elicit a few chuckles, but the rest of it’s lame and corny like skits from some mediocre variety show. An overarching character that would’v been in all of the scenes was needed like a time traveler from the modern day who goes back and interacts with all the people from the time periods, which could’ve been a riot.

A lot of familiar faces pop in-and-out, but many of them are onscreen for only a few seconds. A better idea would’ve been to whittle down the cast list to only a handful of performers and then having them play the different roles in each time period instead of just introducing more stars into the mix, which only helps to give the already bloated production a very cluttered feel.

Not only does Brooks cast himself into too many of the film’s major roles, which makes the thing seem like a vanity project, but he also relies too heavily on his aging Hollywood friends in supporting parts instead of introducing a young vibrant talent into the mix that could’ve helped attract new, younger fans. It also doesn’t help that Richard Pryor was set to play a big role in this, but then just two days before shooting he suffered a serious accident that burned his face and forced him to bow out leaving Gregory Hines to replace him who is not nearly as funny or dynamic.

I couldn’t help but connect this thing with Bill Cosby’s mega-flop Leonard Part 6.  Apparently many people on the production crew of that film felt the material was subpar, but too afraid to approach Cosby, who was such a big star at the time, to tell him. I can only presume there were also people on the crew of this film who felt the same way, but didn’t want to jeopardize their careers by speaking up, which is too bad. While this movie did ultimately make money it was mainly during its first week and enthusiasm due to bad word-of-mouth quickly dwindled afterwards. Brooks reputation never fully recovered, which is why no one even a big star should be above constructive criticism, which  might’ve helped modify this clunker into becoming something better.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 12, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mel Brooks

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

American Hot Wax (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: DJ plays the hits.

The film centers on real-life disc jockey (Alan Freed) who was instrumental in bringing rock ‘n’ roll music to the airwaves during the late 50’s and even credited with coining the phrase. Unfortunately he also got wrapped up in a payola scandal in which record companies paid him under-the-table to play their records on the air, which destroyed his career and left him in virtual poverty before dying in 1965 at the young age of 43 from cirrhosis of the liver.

I’ll admit I never longed for the nostalgia of the late 50’s or early 60’s.  Everything from that period seemed silly and antiquated to me and yet this film nicely brings out the excitement that people living then had. There clearly was a feeling of change on the horizon particularly in the music scene and it’s fun seeing all the young people jumping in and trying to become a part of it. The recreation of that energy is great and the one thing that this movie does well. Unfortunately it quickly becomes one-note with an unending procession of different music groups clamoring to become the next big act. Watching people stop Freed on the street and giving him a impromptu audition is at first fun, but seeing that scenario get repeated continuously is tedious.

There are some famous fresh young faces in the cast including Jay Leno, Fran Drescher, and Laraine Newman, but their parts are small and their appearances erratic. The story desperately needed a central character for the viewer to latch onto and none gets forthcoming. The barrage of people that get thrown in and then just as quickly forgotten makes the film unfocused and lacking any type of real plot.

McIntire is excellent, but his character badly undernourished. There’s a hackneyed dramatic segment where we see him conversing with his father on the phone and are given the idea that he is on rough terms with him, but it never gets explored further and for the most part we learn nothing at all about his personal life including the fact that he was married three times and had four kids, which never even gets mentioned while the payola scandal is only briefly touched on. The film would’ve had more substance had they explored the man’s personality and life more, but instead he remains as a frustratingly distant figure.

Clearly the filmmakers were looking to cash-in on the success of American Graffiti and hence the similar title, but just recreating the look and music of a bygone era isn’t enough. Even the appearances of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis fail to save a superficial effort that justifiably bombed badly at the box office.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 17, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Floyd Mutrux

Studio: Paramount

Available: None at the time.

Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen forms punk band.

Corinne (Diane Lane) is an angry 17-year-old who lashes out at a TV-reporter during an interview when she describes the challenges of trying to make-ends-meet while working at a fast food place after the death of her mother. Her tirade resonates with other teens and this new found celebrity gives her the idea to form her own punk band called The Stains.  She goes on tour with two other bands and makes a splash by going out on stage wearing a wild skunk-like hair-do and a see-through blouse. This gets her media attention and a fan following, but will her new found fame last, or will it just go to her head?

This interesting look at the punk band scene, that could make a great companion piece to The Decline of Western Civilization, was filmed in a sardonically humorous pseudo-documentary style, but unfortunately did not fare well when it was initially released. After getting a bad response when it was first shown in Denver in October of 1982 the studio shelved the film for 2 years,inserted a new tacked-on ending and then sold it to the USA Network where it became a staple to their weekend, overnight programming and quickly garnered a cult following.

The film still does not get as much attention as I think it deserves and tends to get overshadowed by the overrated This is Spinal Tap. This film though is a lot grittier and that fact that it was directed by Lou Adler, who worked for many decades in the music business, helps give it an authentic appeal as it analyzes the underside of the music business by showing how the majority of bands live on society’s fringe while excising the glitz and glamour completely. It also astutely examines the inner-conflicts and raging egos that go on behind-the-scenes and how the almost constant back-stabbing infects the mind-set of those trying to break-in.

The script was written by Nancy Dowd who is best known or penning Slap Shot and this film works in much the same way as that one by placing it in a similar setting of an economically strapped, working class Pennsylvania town. The shots of the gray, rundown region is what really gives this film an extra edge and helps the viewer identify with why the characters will do almost anything to get out of it. One of the best shots comes while watching Corinne walking around outside as she makes plans for her band while in the backdrop we see the grimy steel mill life that she’s grown-up in and hitting-home how her dreams for her punk band isn’t based so much on rebellion, but more on hoped for escape.

I loved Lane’s acerbic personality and her hilariously caustic opening interview with a TV-reporter really sets the tone for the rest of the film while also helping to solidify that this isn’t going to be just another mainstream Hollywood flick like Almost Famous, which I felt painted rock band life in too much of a sugar coated way, but instead something with a real attitude. In fact I was disappointed that Lane’s salty sarcasm wasn’t played-up even more as it’s funny and on-target and made it easy to see how her character was able to galvanize such a mass following.

On the slight downside I felt her relationship with her two band-mates (Marin Kanter, Laura Dern) with one of them being her sister and the other her cousin got underplayed. The irony is that Dern sued her mother, actress Diane Ladd, in court in order to work on the movie as Ladd felt she was too young to travel on-location to do the shoot. Dern obviously won the battle, but the fight seemed hardly worth it as she ends up having very little to say or do.

Spoiler Alert!

The only time that things becomes insincere is when the Looters head singer (Ray Winstone) performs the opening act for The Stains and is met with a hostile response by her fans, so in retaliation he informs them that Corinne is a corporate sell-out and just like that they all turn on her. Having an entire stadium of young people go from rapid fans to extreme haters in a matter of seconds is just not realistic and one of the reasons why I believe this film did not do well upon its initial release and required a different ending put in, which was filmed several years later, in order to help salvage it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Release: October 16, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Lou Adler

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube