Category Archives: Parody

UHF (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Running a TV Station.

George Newman (“Weird Al” Yankovic) cannot hold down a steady job, but finally seems to catch his break when given an opportunity to be program director of a little known UHF TV station. George comes up with all sorts of oddball programming ideas that soon send the ratings soaring, which angers R.J. Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy) who runs a competing TV station and will do anything to take George’s station off the air.

The film, which was shot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was written by Yankovic and his longtime collaborator Jay Levey and it took over 3 years of them constantly shopping the script around to various producers and studios before Orion Pictures decided to pick it up, but only if Yankovic/Levey could guarantee that the budget would remain under $5 million.  Upon its initial release the film did quite poorly both at the box office and with the critics, but has since gained a strong cult following.

The humor is quite hit-or-miss. Some of it is indeed clever, but at other times it’s incredibly lame and kiddie-like. My biggest beef is the fact that they incorporate this dumb side-story dealing with a competing station that isn’t funny. The film would’ve worked far better had they not felt the need to have any conventional narrative or plot and instead structured it around a quickly edited collection/snippets of weird TV shows, which is the only time when the film gels and is actually creative.

As much as I love McCarthy I felt his character here was unnecessary. Word is that he really enjoyed the part and would crack-up between takes, but his over-the-top one-dimensional caricature of a rich, capitalistic asshole quickly becomes quite boring. Yankovic himself is equally dull and shows no acting ability whatsoever, but fortunately he wisely steps back and allows his supporting cast to get all the laughs, which they do especially Michael Richards as a freaky janitor turned children’s TV host as well as Trinidad Silva, who tragically died in a car accident before filming was completed, as a man with a houseful of exotic animals.

The best moment in the movie is the ad for spatula city, which is far and away one of the funniest segments I’ve seen anywhere and worth catching just for this. What’s even funnier is that the producers put up a giant billboard along a highway advertising this phony supermarket, which they used as a prop for the segment, but then after they were done filming they decided to leave it up. They presumed it wouldn’t be a problem as they figured no one would actually be interested in a place that sells only spatulas, but apparently in reality for several months afterwards many motorists drove off the exit listed on the billboard looking for the spatula city and inquiring as to where the place was located.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 21, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Jay Levey

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

Peeper (1976)

peeper-4

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for client’s daughter.

Leslie C. Tucker (Michael Caine) is a British private eye working in L.A. who gets hired on by an eccentric client named Anglich (Michael Constantine) to find his long lost daughter that was born 24 years ago and now resides he believes somewhere in Hollywood. Tucker tries following the skimpy clues and this leads him to a beautiful woman named Ellen (Natalie Wood) who he believes just may be that daughter and not even know it, but the closer he gets to some answers the more questions he has to tackle as well as being chased by a pair of hoods (Timothy Carey, Don Calfa) who are out to stop him.

This film is based on a novel by Keith Laumer with a screenplay written by W.D. Richter and directed by Peter Hyams. With such talented people involved you’d think this would’ve been a winner, but it bombed at the box office and I’m not completely sure why. The ingredients are there, but the oversaturation of private eye parodies during the ‘70s could’ve gotten this one lost in the shuffle.

The film though is filled with snappy dialogue and some highly amusing voice-over narration by the Tucker character. There are also unique scenes including a car chase that takes place amidst a major traffic jam and a cool foot chase sequence down a long, winding spiral staircase. I also loved the scene where Tucker is trapped in a car with an angry dog outside only for him to miraculously turn-the-tables on the animal where he gets outside while the dog ends up stuck in the vehicle. The best moment though is at the beginning when actor Guy Marks does his impersonation of Humphrey Bogart while standing in a dark alley and reciting the opening credits instead of having them shown on screen.

As much as I love Michael Caine I found him to be wrong for this role. If you’re going to do a light parody of old school private eye films then you have to cast someone in the lead that would reflect to some degree Bogart. It certainly doesn’t have to be an impersonator, but someone that is from Brooklyn and has a New York mentality as opposed to a transplanted Englishman with a British accent.

Wood is equally miscast. This was her first theatrical feature in 7 years and she turned down a role in The Towering Inferno to do this one and I’m not sure why. The part is rather small and offers little range in either acting or character development and with everything else that goes on in the story she ends up getting forgotten though it does have a foreboding quality in that the final segment involves her on a boat and near water.

The mystery itself ends up being the worst thing. It’s too intricate and filled with so many rapidly paced twists that it becomes almost impossible to follow. The action is enough to keep it interesting, but as a compelling plot it fails. I also wasn’t too crazy about the title. The working title was ‘Fat Chance’, which I didn’t like either, but peeper is slang for a private eye who takes a lot of photographs, which this detective doesn’t do at all.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 6, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Hyams

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Midnight (1989)

midnight

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Horror hostess is goofy.

Midnight (Lynn Redgrave) is a Goth dressing host of a late night TV-show where she rises from a coffin to help introduce a bad B-movies. She has managed to attain a strong cult following and Mr. B. (Tony Curtis) the head of the TV-station where she works wants her to sign over the syndication rights, but she continually refuses. She then meets Mickey (Steve Parrish) and the two get into a relationship, but when he proves to be unfaithful dead bodies begin turning up including that of Mr. B.’s. Is Midnight the killer, or is she being framed by someone else lurking in the shadows?

There are a few snappy lines here and there, but overall this thing is a complete bore and too poorly paced to be entertaining. The film shifts so clumsily between comedy, satire and horror that it becomes hard to figure what audience the filmmakers where attempting to draw-in.

Redgrave’s send-up of Elvira and Vampira misses the mark completely. The wacky outfits that she wears is indeed eye-catching, but the camp level gets played up too much and the fact that she continues to display the same goofy persona that she has in front of the camera even while at home gets overdone and eventually quite annoying.

Curtis is far more entertaining and should’ve been giving a larger role. His hanging death in which he struggles in mid-air with a rope around his neck is actually impressive, but I did spend most of the film thinking about the white mop that was on top of his head and wondering if it was his real hair, or a wig. Parrish, as the young love interest, is thoroughly dull and drains what little energy this film has right out with his presence.

The strangulation death that occurs under water deserves some merit and I did enjoy the exteriors of Mr. B’s mansion as well as Midnight’s, but the attempts to satirize the behind-the-scenes wheeling’s-and-dealings of the entertainment world fall horribly flat and eventually becomes a joke onto itself.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 5, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated R

Director: Norman Thaddeus Vane

Studio: Kuys Entertainment Group

Available: VHS

Hearts of the West (1975)

hearts of the west

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Budding writer travels west.

Lewis (Jeff Bridges) is a young man who dreams of becoming a famous western writer. He applies for and is accepted into a college that will supposedly teach him all he needs to know about the western-style novel. Unfortunately when he travels to where the college supposedly is he finds that it doesn’t really exist and is nothing more than a big scam run by two con-men (Richard B. Shull, Anthony James) who fleece thousands of dollars from unsuspecting people just like Lewis. They even try to rob Lewis further when he temporarily stays at a boarding house and is asleep, but he manages to escape from them by jumping into their running car, which has all of the money that they’ve stolen inside of it, and drives off into the desert. There he comes upon a western movie set and soon lands a job as a stunt man before quickly moving up the ladder into a western star while the bad guys continue to tail him and are determined to get back their money.

The film’s charm comes from its ability to mix the harsh realities of the movie business with a terrific sense of quirky comedy. Even better is that it avoids the condescending attitude that some period pieces have. The characters are not portrayed as being overtly naïve, sheltered or uneducated and instead come off as real people who just so happen to have lived in a different time period and although the recreation of the period isn’t exactly authentic it still gives one a good, general sense of the way things most likely were.

Bridges gives one of his best performances in a role perfectly suited to his persona as a naïve, wide-eyed young man full of ideals, but lacking in real-world sensibilities. The part where he is in a bathtub when the bad guys burst in on him reminded me of his similar scene in The Big Lebowski.

Blythe Danner makes for a solid love interest and I was amazed at how in certain shots she does very much look like her more famous daughter Gwyneth. Andy Griffith is great as well and becomes one of the more memorable parts of the film as Lewis’ duplicitous friend Howard.

The supporting cast is filled with recognizable faces that are on top of their game and make the most of their small roles including the always engaging Dub Taylor as a postal employee. There is even Woodrow Parfrey as a film producer, who for some reason appears unbilled.

The comedy is consistently amusing and directed by a man who had a flair for this type of material. The script, by Rob Thompson, remains fresh by introducing different twists along the way in a period piece that wipes away the nostalgic charm just enough to keep it real, but still remains cute.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Another Nice Mess (1972)

another nice mess 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spiro and Tricky Dick.

This film is an odd, misfired concoction from writer/director Bob Einstein (Albert Brooks’ older brother) who had just won an Emmy for his writing on ‘The Smothers Brothers Show’ and decided to try his creative muscle at filmmaking. The idea might’ve seemed clever at the time, but it has not aged well. The premise has President Richard Nixon (played by Rich Little) and Vice President Spiro Agnew (played by Herb Voland) behaving like Laurel and Hardy and spending the entire runtime going through some of that classic duo’s more famous routines.

If you were alive during Nixon’s administration than this may come off as being a bit funnier than to those who weren’t however, taking potshots at the President is no longer fresh and for the most part even a bit tiring to watch. The vaudeville-like routines are predictable and this thing had me bored two-minutes in and even with its brief running time still was a major drag to sit through.

Voland is much funnier than Little and seems to imitate the comic legend of Stan Laurel far better than Little does with Hardy, but the characters are played up to be completely moronic and having to watch them do and say one mind numbingly stupid thing after another becomes very one-dimensional.

The film Hail was a Nixon satire that came out around the same time, but that film fared much better and was even quite clever at times. The main reason was that they had a plot while this one is just a non-stop gag reel with a first-graders level of sophistication.

If there’s one redeeming quality for watching this it would be in seeing Steve Martin in his film debut playing a hippie. He doesn’t have his patented white hair here and instead it’s long, curly and brown. I probably wouldn’t have even recognized him if it weren’t for his voice and mannerisms.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 6Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bob Einstein

Studio: Fine Films

Available: None at this time.

Grunt! The Wrestling Movie (1985)

grunt

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who is masked wrestler?

On October 13, 1979 Mad Dog Joe De Curso (Greg ‘Magic’ Schwarz) has a violent wrestling match with defending champion Skull Crusher Johnson (Greg Rivera). During the melee Johnson accidently gets his head stuck in the ringside ropes where Mad Dog decapitates him with one swift kick. The wrestling world then goes into an uproar with the biting question on everyone’s mind ‘Does a defending champion lose his title when he loses his head?’ that nobody, not even the commissioner seems willing to answer. After spending 90 days in jail Mad Dog gets released, but suffers from severe depression and eventually jumps to his death off of a bridge. Yet documentary filmmaker Leslie Uggams (Jeff Dial) thinks that Mad Dog is still alive and working under the disguise of a masked wrestler whose identity is unknown. Uggams begins a crusade of trying to unravel the mystery by interviewing those who knew Mad Dog best while also following the masked wrestler around to his events and trying to get to know both him and his French lady manager Angel Face (Lydie Denier).

The first 10 minutes of this thing is brilliantly bizarre that has just the right mix of offbeat humor, wrestling action and cinematic quality to make it interesting, original and hilarious. I am no wrestling fan myself, but director Allan Holzman manages, at least in the opening segment, to draw the uninitiated into the wrestling world by unfolding all the side dramas, storylines and over-the-top characters that fans of the spectacle find so enjoyable. The bit is also filmed in black-and-white with a sort-of foggy back drop that helps give it a surreal effect while also playfully making fun of the event and those who watch it.

Unfortunately the remainder of the movie is unable to sustain that same momentum becoming instead an overplayed one-joke that goes nowhere. It also spends too much time in the ring where the viewer is forced to watch one wrestling bout after another until it becomes more like a pay-per-view event than a movie.

One of the few non wrestling segments that I did enjoy is when the masked man and Angel Face go onto Wally George’s ‘Hot Seat’ TV-Program. George was a notoriously combative conservative talk show host during the ‘80s and the precursor to Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly. He was also the father to actress Rebecca De Mornay who has spent her entire career trying desperately to downplay that fact. Liberal guests would come onto his show and almost immediately be berated before being thrown off, which is what happens to the masked man and Angel Face, but not before George gets into the masked man’s face and demands he take it off, which is pretty funny.

Adrian Street, a wrestler who dresses in drag, is a scene stealer and the segment with the masked man being interviewed on his show is equally good. I also enjoyed Denier as the rambunctious manager who flashes an opposing player during one of the mask man’s wrestling matches and carries around a pet poodle who wears a mask similar to her clients.

The scene involving a bout between two lady wrestlers with the song ‘She Was a Mighty Big Girl for Her Age’ is good and the match where the masked man takes on four dwarf wrestlers is an absolute howl, but the film is geared too much to the hardcore fan and those with very little interest in the ‘sport’ will find it off-putting and overtly silly.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 24, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated R

Director: Allan Holzman

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD-R, Amazon Instant Video

Hard Rock Zombies (1985)

hard rock zombies

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rock band becomes zombified.

An up-and-coming rock band travels to a small town for their next gig. There the lead singer falls for a young girl named Cassie (Jennifer Coe) while also catching the wrath of the town’s conservative residents who still feel that rock n’ roll is the ‘devil’s music’. The place also harbors Adolph Hitler (Jack Bliesener) who has been secretly hiding out there under a disguise while plotting his next world takeover. After the band members are killed by the evil Nazis they come back to life in the form of zombies killing everyone else and turning the whole town into one big zombie fest.

I have to admit the zombie popularity that has entranced so many people and formed its own special niche escapes me as I find the whole concept to be rather boring. However, certain films like Shaun of the Dead have managed to reinvent the formula by mixing hip humor with a good amount of realistic gore and thus satisfying both the gore hounds and those looking for a laugh. This film tries to do the same, but fails miserable as the humor is corny and the special effects are poor to pathetic.

In fact I was stunned that a well-known director who did some other successful projects was involved with this or even willing to have his name listed on the credits as it’s extraordinarily amateurish and looking like it was put together by novices while drunk. Had it been even remotely more polished, or written by someone who had actually watched zombie movies and appreciated them, it might have worked.

The members who make up the band show no acting ability and having to listen to their generic sounding songs that seem to go forever is another problem and one that almost turns this mess into an annoying music video instead. The second half in which they come back as zombies doesn’t improve things as they still continue to play their songs and worse yet begin to resemble the rock group KISS with their makeup and in fact the similarity is so extreme that I was surprised they weren’t sued.

The zombie parodies are numerous and seemingly never-ending. The majority of them aren’t very good, but this one may very well take the prize as being the worst.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 28, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Krishna Shah

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: DVD

In God We Tru$t (1980)

IN GOD WE TRUST, Marty Feldman, 1980, (c) Universal

IN GOD WE TRUST, Marty Feldman, 1980, (c) Universal

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Monk travels to L.A.

With his monastery in desperate need of money Brother Ambrose (Marty Feldman) is sent out into the secular world for the first time in order to find donations to help keep the place solvent. Unfortunately he travels to southern California where the wild and jaded lifestyles of the people come as a shock to him. He meets Mary (Louise Lasser) a hooker who takes him into her home and the two eventually fall in love, but he also comes into contact with the nefarious Armageddon T. Thunderbird (Andy Kaufman) a televangelist who wants to exploit the naïve Ambrose for his own gain.

Feldman with his famous buggy eyes is a delight and the fact that he did all of his own stunts, some of which were dangerous including having him dragged down a busy city behind a truck while clutching a rope and standing on a skateboard does indeed deserve credit for bravery, but his character is too annoyingly naïve. A full grown man is going to know about sex regardless if he is a monk or not and he is certainly going to know what female breast are. By having the character so incredibly out-of-touch with the jaded world makes him seem inhuman and like an alien from another planet, which isn’t funny even on a farcical level and an insult to anyone who has chosen a spiritual or more isolated lifestyle.

This pretty much explains the problem with the whole film as the satire is too broad. Poking fun at corrupt street preachers and televangelists is nothing new and thus this thing becomes derivative and one-dimensional from the very beginning. The movie also shifts awkwardly from silly slapstick to parody with running gags that become tiring and certain other bits that seem better suited for a kiddie flick.

There is very little that is genuinely funny although seeing two street preachers ram their vehicles into each other in a sort-of pissing match is amusing as is Peter Boyle’s ventriloquist act using a dummy made to look like Moses. The final scene with Richard Pryor as a computerized version of God and Feldman’s attempts to convert him to Christianity isn’t bad either.

The real scene stealer though is Kaufman who with a bouffant blonde wig plays the perfect caricature of a greedy preacher and I loved his meltdown during one of his religious broadcasts. I also got a kick out of his sink, which has one faucet for cold another for hot and then a third for holy water.

The casting of Lasser as a prostitute was great because she doesn’t fit the caricature of an 80’s Hollywood hooker and has more of the realistic and less flattering looks of an actual streetwalker. However, the film is a grab bag of hit-or-miss jokes many of which fall flat and with a runtime that is much too long for such slight material.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 26, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Marty Feldman

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS

Tag: The Assassination Game (1982)

tag 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playing with dart guns.

A new fad has caught on at a nondescript college campus where students play an assassination game by killing off other students with dart guns. The one who assassinates the most while still surviving wins. Alex (Robert Carradine) who writes for the school newspaper decides to do an expose on the game in an attempt to better get to know its star player Susan (Linda Hamilton). Unfortunately for them the game’s 5-time champion Gersch (Bruce Abbott) has gone over to the dark side and now using real bullets in his gun. As the game whittles down to just Susan and Gersch the tension mounts for her to catch on to his murderous plans before it is too late.

For a low budget film with only the most modest of settings this thing isn’t too bad. The dialogue is snappy and the story proceeds at a good pace. The opening credits, which is a parody of the ones done on James Bond films is cute and it’s great to see Linda in her official film debut playing the same type of strong-willed female that brought to greater prominence in The Terminator franchise. Carradine is good too as her awkward suitor and the fact that this film plays against sexual stereotypes by having the male in more of a passive role is refreshing.

The film’s playful parody and the way the players take this silly game so very seriously is funny and having the second half shift to more of the conventional ‘psycho-on-the-loose’ plot made it less original and more formulaic. I understood why Gersch kills the first player using a real bullet, but was confused why he would keep on killing them and not go back to just using darts. He could’ve still retained his champion title and passed off the first killing as being possibly just an accident, but by continuing to kill people and harboring their corpses in the closet of his room was clearly going to lead to an eventual long jail sentence that even the craziest of persons could see coming. It also might have been more interesting had the identity of who was using real bullets was kept a mystery until the end.

Even with these drawbacks I still found myself entertained and the film has strong cult potential for fans of low budget 80’s flicks. It’s also interesting to note that Hamilton and Abbott, who first met while filming this, later ended up getting married and having one child.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 20, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Nick Castle

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: VHS

Leonard Part 6 (1987)

leonard part 6

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: One really bad movie.

Leonard Parker (Bill Cosby) is a former CIA agent who is now retired and running a restaurant in San Francisco while trying to reconcile things with his wife (Pat Colbert) and  keeping his college-aged daughter (Victoria Rowell) from marrying a man in his 60’s (Moses Gunn). Unfortunately for him a crazed vegetarian by the name of Medussa Johnson (Gloria Foster) has managed to somehow brainwash all the animals to kill people and Leonard is appointed the only person able to stop it. He is reluctant at first, but with the help of his ever supportive butler Frayn (Tom Courtenay) he puts on his action suit for one last adventure at saving the world.

The film, which was written by Cosby, starts out okay enough with a funny bit dealing with a shootout inside the kitchen of a busy restaurant, but then quickly devolves. Part of the problem is an over emphasis on Leonard’s boring domestic life and attempts at winning back his wife, which makes the whole thing seem like two movies in one. In fact the first 35 minutes are spent with Leonard acting very much like a Cliff Huxtable while arguing with his rebellious daughter about her lifestyle choices before it even gets into the spy/action part. When it finally does get into the adventure segment it becomes weird, surreal and confusing with some of the most pathetic attempts at special effects you’ll ever see.

The film also offers no backstory for how the Medussa character was able to ‘brainwash’ the animals even though one was sorely needed. Elmer Bernstein’s musical score is generic and is pretty much made up of bits and pieces of other famous scores from other films or shows including the theme from the 80’s medical TV-show ‘St. Elsewhere’. As for the spy spoofing aspect the film fails to be funny at all and comes off like no one involved in this ever actually watched a spy film to really know what they were trying to make fun of.

The weakest link is Cosby who gives a terrible performance that shows none of his charisma that he has brought to his other projects. He appears uncomfortable and completely upstaged by his supporting cast including even that of Joe Don Baker. Foster is great as the campy villain and it’s just too bad that her efforts had to be wasted in such a bad film. Courtenay is amusing in support, but his talents deserve better material. Jane Fonda is fun in a brief bit playing herself in a send-up of her 80’s exercise videos.

Director Paul Weiland shows some potential with a wacky, stylish design, but was unfortunately too intimidated to give Cosby any real direction and simply allowed the project to become an embarrassing self-indulgent ego tangent on the part of the star. Unless you’re in the mood for a really bad movie night I would suggest staying away from this one as there are hurricanes and tornadoes that are less disastrous than this.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Weiland

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video