Category Archives: Musical

Tapeheads (1988)

tape

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Starting a video company.

Ivan (John Cusack) and Josh (Tim Robbins) are two slackers who can’t hold down a job for too long. After getting fired as security guards they decide to start-up their very own music video production company, which they name ‘Video Aces’. They find it tough going with many people, like with one producer, the sly Mo Fuzz (Don Cornelius), trying to get them to do the work on spec where they’re forced to make the video using their own funds with the vague promises of potential money later on after they’re ‘discovered’. They finally hit-on the idea of promoting the singing duo the Swanky Modes (Sam Moore, Junior Walker) a soul group that the two idolized in the 70’s when they were kids. Their plan is to hijack a Menudo concert and have the Swanky Modes sing in their place and thus exposing their music to a whole new audience.

The film is produced by the former Monkee Mike Neismith, who had earlier produced the very successful cult hit Repo ManUnfortunately this one doesn’t work quite as well. Much of the problem is that it’s directed by Bill Fishman whose background is in music videos and not filmmaking and it shows. Repo Man succeeded because it was centered around a character and it also had a better mix of quirky comedy and story development. This one is handled in a more slap-dash way. Cusack and Robbins both give excellent performances, but are only seen intermittently and they never really grow or evolve like a character in a good movie should nor do they earn their way into the next scene. Instead they become almost like Barbra Eden from ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ where they just seem to pop in and out of these weird scenarios with bizarre people. The plot is thin and more like a collection of wacky skits. Even as satire it fails because it pokes fun of so many various things, in a completely rambling way, that it becomes unclear what the point, or message is supposed to be. There are certainly some clever, funny bits, but ultimately it comes-off more like an experiment gone awry than a movie.

While the cast is filled with a lot of recognizable faces most of them aren’t seen much. I was disappointing that Doug McClure, as Josh’s exasperated and disapproving dad, wasn’t in it more as he had he potential of creating some interesting confrontations. Susan Tyrrell gets wasted too, which is a shame as she talks here with a high society accent, but  I do remember her saying in an interview that she considered herself a ‘lazy person’ who only did movies for the money and would drop-out altogether if she didn’t need to earn a living, so in that respect maybe she didn’t mind the small bit. Lee Arenberg, who plays a security guard, is only in the beginning, but should’ve returned as he’s seen eating Twinkies while sitting on a toilet inside a public stall and anyone who does something that gross deserves more attention.

Some of the roles are bigger. Mary Crosby, the daughter of Bing Crosby, who starred in the infamous Ice Pirates, 5 years before this one, which virtually killed her film career before it began, does quite well here as a duplicitous agent and actually seems to get more screen time than the two stars. The aging Clu Gulager is quite funny as a Presidential candidate with major skeletons in his closet. The best one though is King Cotton (real name Richard Sony) who was the lead vocalist of the blues band Navasota in the 60’s. Here he plays a restaurant owner who partakes in a wacky music video to promote his business with one version shown during the film and another one called ‘Roscoe’s Rap’ that gets played at the end over the closing credits with both being quite memorable.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: January 22, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bill Fishman

Studio: Filmstar

Available: DVD, Plex

Loose Shoes (1978)

loose1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lame parody of movies.

In 1967 an improv group, which Chevy Chase was an early member, began that called themselves Channel One, who performed improvisational skits making fun of current events and TV-shows. Instead of doing them on stage in front of audience they filmed it and then played them on three different TV screens at a theater in Greenwich Village. When these proved successful the collection of filmed skits were then toured around the country at college campuses and got a favorable reaction, so the producer decided to turn it into a feature length film. At the time this was considered a novelty as the movie, which was called The Groove Tube, would have no plot and just be a collection of skits, but it proved popular enough that it gave others the same idea. From this came Tunnelvision, American Raspberry, and probably the most famous one Kentucky Fried Movie. 

In 1977 Ira Miller, who had worked with Mel Brooks on his projects and was a member of Second City during the 60’s, became inspired to do his own version of this. He financed it using most of his own money. The concept was for it to be a parody of recent movies and structured similar to movie previews one would see at theaters before the main feature would begin. The working title was Coming Attractions and to keep costs low he cast young, unknown talent like Bill Murray, who agreed to work for a small fee in order to get the exposure, or B-actors that he knew who as a favor would work at below scale for a day in order to help him out. Initially it got such a bad reaction from test audiences that it was shelved for several years, but then after Meatballs was released, which made Murray a star, it was re-released under its new title in order to capitalize on his fame.

The film suffers from production values that are so cheap I’ve seen high school projects that were done better and it doesn’t help that the DVD issue looks like it was copied straight off of a VHS tape. Both IMDb and Wikipedia list the original runtime as 84 minutes, which is incorrect as it was actually 74 minutes, but the DVD version only goes 69 minutes and cuts out several segments including ‘Jewish Star Wars’, which is alright as even with the abbreviated runtime it still felt like it was never going to end and adding in the stuff that was edited out would’ve just prolonged the agony. It would’ve helped had there been some consistent characters like a family going to the theater to see a feature and becoming increasingly annoyed at the ongoing previews. After each skit it could’ve cutback to their reaction, which would’ve given it some minimal structure and focus that otherwise is sorely lacking.

Some of the segments had potential like the ‘Invasion of the Penis Snatchers’, but Miller approaches the material too much like a gag writer where he’s more interested in the punchline instead of playing out a funny scenario. The skit that has Jaye P. Morgan doing a send-up of Nurse Ratched needed to be extended as she could’ve done it hilariously. The segment that spoofs the Woody Allen film Play it Again Sam isn’t exactly funny, but David Landsburg’s impression of Allen is so spot-on that it’s entertaining nonetheless. Murray’s segment where he plays a prisoner on death row is okay and you even get to see him at one point with his head shaved. I also liked the bit with Susan Tyrrell as a woman stuck in the boonies only here the hicks are open-minded and even features a virtually unrecognizable Ed Lauter as a free-spirited, cocaine sniffing, redneck sheriff.

The best moment ‘Dark Town After Dark’ comes at the very end and features a send-up of a Cab Calloway dance number with the song ‘Loose Shoes’ being sung. The lyrics of which came from a comment made by President Gerald Ford’s Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz. He was on a plane flight to California with entertainers Sonny Bono and Pat Boone. Boone asked him why republicans weren’t able to attract more blacks. He responded by making a comment that forced him to resign once it got out: “I’ll tell you what coloreds want. It’s three things: first, a tight pussy, second, loose shoes, and third, a warm place to shit.”

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 1, 1978 as Coming Attractions. Re-released August 1, 1980 as Loose Shoes

Runtime: 1 Hour 14 Minutes (Original Cut). 1 Hour 9 Minutes (DVD Version).

Rated R

Director: Ira Miller

Studio: Cinema Finance Associates

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

All That Jazz (1979)

all that1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Overworked choreographer battles exhaustion.

Joe (Roy Scheider) is a dance choreographer who’s busy staging his next play while also editing a film he has directed, which the Hollywood studio is demanding get completed. These pressures cause him to take his anger out on his dancers as well as his ex-wife (Leland Palmer), who’s helping to finance the play, as well as his live-in girlfriend Katie (Ann Reinking). As the deadline for both approaches he begins seeing visions of the angel of death (Jessica Lange) whom he has a running conversation with. Eventually he starts to have chest pains, which cause him to be sent to the hospital even as he continues to drink and smoke over his Dr.’s objections. When he finally does have a heart attack he’s whisked into surgery where he directs extravagant musical numbers inside his head while the producers of the play hope for his demise as their insurance proceeds will not only help them avoid a financial loss, but even make a net profit.

The film is based in large part on writer/director Bob Fosse’s own experiences. He started out as a dancer who eventually became a choreographer who shot to fame in the 50’s with such musicals as The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees. By the 70’s he had become an award winning film director and it was while he was staging the Broadway musical Chicago in 1975 and also completing the editing for the film Lenny that much of what happened here got played-out. The biggest irony though is that Cliff Gorman, who starred onstage as the comedian Lenny Bruce of which the film and play Lenny is based, plays the star of the fictional film that Joe is editing even though in real-life Gorman lost out on the starring film role to Dustin Hoffman simply because Hoffman had a more bankable name, which is a shame because from the clips seen here you can easily tell that Gorman was an edgier Lenny that would’ve made that movie stronger.

As for this movie it’s directed in similar style as Frederico Fellini’s 8 1/2. The art direction and editing, which both won an Oscar, come fast and furiously as it constantly jumps back-and-forth from reality to dream-like sequences. While this type of non-linear narration could prove distracting and confusing in most other films here it actually helps. The script does a good job of revealing the stressful and competitive nature of the dance business, but it doesn’t show us anything that couldn’t have been presumed already making these scenes less impactful and the dance numbers, some of which are provocative, more entertaining.

Some complained that Scheider, who by this time was better known as an action star, was miscast, though I came away impressed even with his pale complexion and thin frame (he lost weight to help replicate a sickly/exhausted appearance) that became a bit difficult to watch. It’s the character that he plays that I found to be the biggest issue as the guy is a complete jerk sans the few scenes that he has with his daughter, played by Erzsebet Foldi, who is the one person he treats nicely and I wanted to see more moments between them. The dance number that she and his girlfriend put on for him inside his apartment is the film’s brightest moment while the reoccurring segue of Joe getting up each morning and putting visine into his blood shot eyes before looking into a mirror and saying “It’s showtime, folks!” become redundant and annoying.

On the technical end it’s near brilliant, but as an emotionally impactful character study it’s a total flop. The protagonist is too selfish for anyone to care about and shows too little redeeming qualities, nor much of an arc, to make it worthwhile. Ultimately it’s an exercise in extreme self-loathing that will leave the viewer as detached from the proceedings as the characters who are in it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1979

Runtime: 2 Hours 3 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Fosse

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection)

The Pirate Movie (1982)

pirate2

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

Starstruck (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teens dream of stardom.

Jackie (Joey Kennedy) is a teen working as a waitress at her mother’s pub, but dreams of becoming a famous singer. Her 14-year-old cousin Angus (Ross O’ Donovan) acts as her manager trying to get her a spot on the local talent TV-show called ‘The Wow! Show’, but Terry (John O’May) the program’s host, refuses to see her, so they decide to have her perform a publicity stunt by walking across two high rise buildings in downtown Sydney on a tightrope while nude. This gets so much news coverage that Terry can’t help but bring her on his show, which initially proves to be a great success until Jackie becomes pressured to cut her backing band and tone down her quirky style. After alienating all of her friends she then tries to win them back by plotting to crash a New Year’s Eve talent contest at the Sydney Opera House where they hope to win the $25,000 cash prize in order to save their now dying pub.

After the success of My Brilliant Career director Gillian Armstrong set out to make a movie that was completely different in style from that one and eventually came up with the idea of doing a musical parody and on that level it works. The musical numbers are not only quite funny, especially the one done inside the pub where all the customers and staff join together to create one long line dance, but impressively staged too. I was literally blown away with the segment done inside Terry’s penthouse pool that was meant to be a take-off on the old Busby Berkley numbers from the 40’s, but in many ways just as good if not better.

The film also gets filled with a lot of humorous moments, most of which, like Angus’ elaborate attempts to try and make contact with Terry and even ditching school to do so, are quite funny. The segment dealing with Jackie’s high wire act I found initially preposterous. How exactly where they able to connect the tightrope between the two buildings, which would’ve been a massive feat in itself and never shown, but the outcome, as silly as it is, still had me chuckling.

The film has a terrific supporting cast especially Pat Evison as the elderly and overweight Nana, who shows exuberant support for Jackie’s ambitions even when the other adults don’t. O’Donovan and his constant scheming is also engaging, but I found Kennedy’s performance in the all important lead role to be flat. Singing-wise she is quite good, which is the whole reason she got the part, but her acting doesn’t have the same energy. Her character really isn’t very funny either and it’s Angus doing all the hard work to get her noticed and she never seems to appreciative it making the viewer not as emotionally invested at seeing her succeed as they should’ve been.

The film gets a bit too quirky for its own good too. It’s got a lot of visual pizazz, but no substance whatsoever and it would’ve been nice had there been some grittiness tied in. Everything happens too easily making it seem like a fairy tale and convincing me that the most suitable ending would’ve had Jackie waking up and realizing it had all been a dream because that’s exactly what it comes-off like.

On a side note I was surprised how much the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which was completed in 1932 and stands as the world’s tallest, gets shown. Not only is it featured in every skyline shot of the city, but there’s also a mural of it on the wall of the pub, a toy model of it on top of the pub’s TV, and even a replica of it put on stage during the film’s climactic dance number. I’m not sure what the exact shot count number is that features it in one form or another, but if you take a shot of whiskey every time you see it you’ll be drunk and passed out on the floor by the time it’s over.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 8, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes (Australian Version) 1 Hour 35 Minutes (US Release)

Rated PG

Director: Gillian Armstrong

Studio: Cinecom International Films

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Pluto TV, Tubi

The Return of Captain Invincible (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Super hero drops-out.

Captain Invincible (Alan Arkin) successfully fights off the Nazis during WWII and becomes a hero to millions, but then by the 1950’s, during the McCarthy era, he is smeared as being a ‘communist’, due to wearing a red cape.  The congressional investigators also accuse him of flying in airspace without a proper license and wearing underwear in public. All of this causes him to drop-out of the superhero business by moving to Australia and turning into a homeless alcoholic. Then his old rival, Mr. Midnight (Christopher Lee) steals a secret weapon called the hypnoray, which puts the whole world at risk. This causes the authorities to plead to Captain Invincible to return and help them stop the madman, but through the years his skills have diminished and he’s not sure he can get back into form to battle crime like he once did.

At the outset this is an inspired concoction made long before the super-hero satire was ever in vogue and there are a few funny bits here and there, but the whole thing gets too bizarre for its own good. The viewer becomes inundated with so much wacky imagery and goofy characters that instead of laughing you’re left scratching your head wondering what’s it all about.

The biggest mistake was adding in musical numbers, which turns the thing into an ill-advised version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The original script was not intended to be a musical, but director Philippe Mora had always dreamed of doing one, so he requested that the songs be added in. The first time this occurs it’s kind of fun particularly the line dance done by the well-dressed advisors to the President, which all helps to add to the irreverence, but then continuing to add in more songs bogs everything down  and makes the already sluggish pace even worse. Arkin and co-star Kate Fitzpatrick do not have good singing voices, so hearing them belt-out a half-hearted tune hurts the ears and with no interesting dance numbers to come along with it, these moments become boring visually as well.

Even though the story involves an aging superhero I still felt Arkin was too old for the part and would’ve liked somebody who could have offered more energy. Typical Arkin is great with offbeat material such as this, but everything is so over-the-top that he gets lost in the access and ultimately becomes just a prop. Christopher Lee suffers the same fate although some fans love his rendition of ‘Name Your Poison’ which he sings to Arkin as he tries to entice him to take an alcoholic drink from his personally made wet bar.

The film offers no special effects which becomes most apparent during the segment where Captain Invincible supposedly upends a speeding car, but the camera cuts away, so we never see him do the actual act, and just hits home how cheap the whole production really is. If you’re going to make fun of the Superhero genre you have to at least show some respect for it, which this thing never does. Instead of going off on wild tangents there should’ve been a big showdown between Invincible and Midnight, but it peters out in this area by being too busy trying to be weird when it should’ve worked harder to get a more coherent and interesting story.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 11, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Philippe Mora

Studio: Seven Keys

Available: DVD

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