Category Archives: Quirky

The Magic Christian (1969)

magic2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everybody has a price.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated M

Director: Joseph McGrath

Studio: Commonwealth United Entertainment

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Hoffman (1970)

hoffman3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Executive blackmails a secretary.

Janet (Sinead Cusack) is engaged to be married to Tom (Jeremy Bulloch), but tells him that she must spend a week away while visiting her sick grandmother in another city. Yet what she really does is go to the residence of Benjamin Hoffman (Peter Sellers). She has no love for him and there’s a wide age difference between the two, but Hoffman is blackmailing her in hopes that, if given enough time, that she’ll fall for him and leave her fiancée, but she resists his advances and when she threatens to leave he comes up with another plan to keep her there.

This unusual movie was based on a TV-play broadcast in 1967 in the UK that starred Donald Pleasance and Judy Cornwell. It had been written by Ernest Gebler and titled ‘Call Me Daddy’. When it received much acclaim it convinced Gebler to turn it into a novel, which was called ‘Shall I Eat You Now?’ and published a year later. When the response to that was positive Alvin Rakoff, who had directed the TV version, then decided to turn it into a feature film.

Having a movie centered around only two characters and take place almost entirely in one setting is usually a recipe for a static disaster and I felt this would’ve worked better as a stageplay, which Gebler eventually did turn it into in 1975. However, the initial mystery involving what Hoffman is blackmailing Janet about, who otherwise comes off as this innocent wide-eyed young woman who you can’t imagine could’ve ever done anything that wrong to be blackmailed in the first place, is what held my interest and kept me watching.

A lot of the credit to what keeps this movie watchable also goes to the two stars. Cusack, who is the wife of actor Jeremy Irons and the daughter of legendary performer Cyril Cusack, is fantastic especially with her constant shocked and perplexed expressions, which makes the movie consistently amusing. Sellers is excellent as well in his one and only serious turn. Initially he had wanted to give it his patented comical touch and using an Austrian accent, but Rakoff convinced him to play it straight and the result is a surprisingly dark, creepy performance, which made me believe he had untapped potential to being a memorable film villain had he wanted to be.

Spoiler Alert!

My grievances involve the character motivations which are poorly fleshed-out. Initially I thought Hoffman was blackmailing Janet over some wrongdoing she had done and was desperately trying to cover-up, but instead it was a crime committed by her fiancée Tom that Hoffman became aware of. If this was the case then why didn’t she alert Tom about what Hoffman knew? If she’s going to be marrying him then she should want to let him know if someone like Hoffman has it in for him. The two could’ve conspired a defensive strategy against Hoffman in an effort to turn-the-tables, but in any case there was no rational reason why she should keep it a secret. Again, if it was something she personally did that could’ve made her look bad in Tom’s eyes I could understand, but this other scenario just doesn’t make much sense.

Having her end up rejecting Tom and going back to Hoffman and becoming his girlfriend was equally ridiculous. It becomes quite obvious that Tom was not right for her, so dumping him was fine, but she didn’t have much in common with Hoffman either. The way he manipulated her should’ve been a red flag and unless there’s some weird quirk with her character that never gets explained the eventual love angle twist is pretty stupid and ultimately makes this film, despite the great acting, a rather pointless experience.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 16, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Alvin Rakoff

Studio: Anglo-EMI Distributors

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Bananas (1971)

bananas2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: From nebbish to dictator

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

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

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

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

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

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

 My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 28, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: United Artists

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

Mahoney’s Last Stand (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to find solitude.

Leroy Mahoney (Alexis Kanner) wants to be away from the rat race and out in the Canadian wilderness where he feels he can live in peaceful harmony with nature. He finds a rundown home in a vacant area and begins the process of renovating it only to meet a woman named Miriam (Maud Adams) who lives nearby and routinely comes over to visit. Felix (Sam Waterston) is his old friend from the city who hitches a ride to the country and moves-in. Later, so does Felix’s girlfriend Joy (Diana Leblanc) making Mahoney feel like he’ll never find the solitude he craves and will always be surrounded by people who annoy him.

The film was the inspiration of Kanner, who not only starred in it, but wrote the script, co-directed, and even produced. The quirky tone is what helps it stand out as it’s a mixture of the man-in-the-wilderness theme meets the counter culture and to a great degree it works. Some of my favorite moments are things that might seem off-putting, or even boring when put in any other film, but here it helps add to the offbeat quality like the scene featuring Mahoney sitting on his porch endlessly twiddling with his garden hoe, or the segment where he remains trapped in his outhouse as he’s too afraid to come out and meet with Miriam when she arrives unannounced.

The Mahoney character, if you can get past his odd accent and crusty exterior, is quite engaging. Initially he comes off as this rugged individualist only to end up getting scared late at night over the least little noise that hears outside. The scene where he tries to pretend he’s a seasoned horseback rider in an attempt to impress Miriam and his love-hate friendship with Felix and Joy are all amusing as well, but what I really liked is that he remains a true introvert all the way through. Most other films make the broad presumption that everyone secretly craves companionship and can only be truly happy with other around, but here Mahoney only finds his ultimate utopia when he’s finally all alone.

The film’s rustic landscape, which was shot in and around King City, Ontario, helps add to the ambiance. It was filmed between October and December of 1971 with the idea that filming would wrap before the snow and cold moved in as there was no heating in the cabin, but fortunately an early season snow hit the production in late November and gets incorporated into the story. Although it only blanketed the area with an inch or two it still at least gave a preview to what living in Canada year round would be like and if you’re going to do a pic about the rugged adventures of dealing with the northern climate then there better be some snow and cold in the mix or it’s just not fully authentic otherwise.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s ending really stands out as it recreates the feeling of solitude in a way I’ve never seen done before and will stick with you long after it’s over. It features Mahoney wondering around his property naked with only the faint sound of a water drip in the background, which gives the viewer a total sense of peace and freedom and has a soothing meditation-like quality.

Alternate Title: Mahoney’s Estate

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: Unreleased theatrically until 1976.

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Harvey Hart, Alexis Kanner

Studio: Topaz Productions

Available: None

Stork (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Outcast falls in love.

Graham (Bruce Spence), who goes by the nickname Stork, is a rebellious left-wing radical who finds working to be an impediment to his time and freedom and therefore is routinely fired. After losing his most recent job by doing a striptease in the office he’s allowed to move-in to his friend Westy’s (Graeme Blundell) apartment, which he also shares with Clyde (Helmut Bakaitis), Tony (Sean Myers) and Anna (Jacki Weaver). Anna is promiscuous and sleeps interchangeably with both Clyde and Tony, and on rare occasion, even Westy. Stork wants in on the action, but Anna is more concerned with finding him a job instead eventually though they have sex only to have Anna inform everyone that she is pregnant, but nobody knows whose baby it is.

The film was a landmark in Australian cinema in that it became the first box office success in Aussie history and cemented the idea that domestic films made in Australia could find an audience. Before that most Australian theaters only showed movie from Britain and Hollywood, so this film and its success helped usher in what became known as Australia’s New Wave. This was also the first film written by the prolific David Williamson, which he states was an autobiographical account of his own life and based on the hit play ‘The Coming of Stork’, which also starred Spence.

The funniest aspect of the film is simply Spence himself, whose tall, gangling body and freakish looking face gives the movie its necessary edge. He initially wanted to quit during the production as he felt he wasn’t right for the part nor ready to take on the pressures of movie acting, but director Tim Burstall convinced him to stay, which is good as the movie wouldn’t have worked without him. Weaver is also quite enjoyable playing a more subdued personality, which is in complete contrast to Stork’s, which is what makes their relationship intriguing.

I enjoyed the dream-like segments where Stork imagines himself working at different alternative jobs with the best one being the one he does in Antarctica, but the film is unable to maintain the fast pace style that was needed for the quirky material to work. Too many long, drawn-out segments in-between the fantasy moments that does nothing, but drag the whole thing down. The story is unfocused with too much time spent on Stork looking for a job while the relationship angle get pushed to the side until the third act.

The characters are not well defined either. Stork is certainly a rebel, but what made him become this way? It would’ve helped had we learned more about his relationship with his family and is upbringing, but that never comes. Anna’s sleeping around is quite unconventional particularly doing it with men who live together, but we’re never given much insight to what makes her tick, nor how the men accept this behavior as most, especially during that era, would be possessive and not keen with ‘sharing’ a girl with their friends, but why they’re so opened-minded is never made clear.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending, which has Anna getting married to Clyde, but letting Stork tag along creating another threesome scenario, leaves open too many unanswered questions. It would’ve been nice had more been shown of this new arrangement and whether it was able to work-out, but since it doesn’t it becomes an unsatisfying character study.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 27, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Tim Burstall

Studio: Roadshow Films

Available: DVD (Region 4 Import, Out-of-Print)

Wedding Band (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: He loves his job.

Marshall (William Katt) is the lead singer for a band that plays at weddings. Karla (Joyce Hyser) is a wedding planner, who has been dating Marshall for 5 years. The two finally get engaged, but now Karla wants Marshall to ‘become responsible’ by getting a ‘real job’, but Marshall loves his band so much that he doesn’t want to give it up even if it doesn’t pay that well.

Misfire comedy, written by Tino Insana who also plays the character of Hugh Bowmont, that tries hard to be a rom-com while also mixing in a playfully surreal element, but it doesn’t gel.  The problem lies with a storyline that is too basic and offers no insight or nuance. I worked as a DJ for weddings back in the 90’s and none of the experiences I or my friends went through gets examined here. In real-life there’s always concerns about getting paid, or tipped, or how much of a tip you’ll get. Or there’s the issues of dealing with a Bridezilla, or Groomzilla for that matter that insist everything must be perfect and if even one thing isn’t they refuse to pay, or demand a refund. Faulty equipment and obnoxious, drunk party guests are other headaches that just about every wedding DJ, singer, or photographer will have horror stories about and yet none of these things gets touched upon here. It’s almost like the filmmakers never worked as a wedding singer themselves, had no idea what it was really like, and just made up goofy scenarios that have no bearing in reality whatsoever.

The relationship angle comes off as quite sterile as the two don’t seem to have anything in common and you wonder what attracted them to each other in the first place. I couldn’t understand why Karla would be surprised that Marshall didn’t want to quit his job and do something that he didn’t enjoy. She was supposedly ‘really into him’, so she should’ve known about his passion for his job and if she got into a relationship with him that most likely the job would come with it. It’s clear to the viewer right away that he enjoys being a wedding singer, so after dating him for 5 years why is it not clear for her?

There are a few quirky moments like the segment dealing with a bug exterminator, but this has nothing to do with the main story and doesn’t even have either of the main characters in it. If they wanted to show part-time work that Marshall needed to do on the side to help supplement his income then great, but having a lot of drawn-out scenes dealing with what his bandmates do in their private time does not work because it’s the main characters that the viewer should be into not the minor supporting ones.

Some familiar faces who were not yet famous pop-up in bit parts. Some of these include Robert Wuhl as a waiter, David Rashe as a man who loves his DeLorean car above all else, Eddie Deezen as a would-be professional clown, and Pauly Shore as a a guy who does band rehearsals in his garage that annoy his neighbors. Cult film director Penelope Spheeris also appears as Shore’s defensive mother, but she delivers her lines in such a poor way that it’s clear she’s best behind the camera. My favorite actor out of all of them was Fran Drescher, who plays Karla’s friend and is so good, without having to try all that hard, that she should’ve played the main character as both Hyser and Katt are deadly dull, which is another reason why this already botched film doesn’t work.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: October 28, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Daniel Raskov

Studio: IRS Media

Available: VHS

Citizens Band (1977)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The CB radio craze.

Spider (Paul LeMat) makes a living repairing CB radios in the home he shares with his crochety father (Roberts Blossom). In his spare time he monitors channel 9 on his own CB, which is used as an emergency channel to report motorists who are in distress. When he comes into contact with a disabled plane that crashes right onto the highway and he’s not able to use his CB to call for help due to some kids clogging up the channel with idle chit-chat he goes on a crusade to destroy the radios of everyone in town who are misusing the frequency. While doing this he also dates a cheerleading coach Pam (Candy Clark) who he’s engaged to marry unaware that she has a thing for his brother Dean (Bruce McGill) the local high school gym teacher.

The film, which was written by Paul Brickman, who went onto greater success writing/directing Risky Businesshas its share of quirky characters/moments that paints small town life in a romanticized but humorous way. To a degree it succeeds, but the people are a bit too nice for their own good. There are many scenarios where just about anyone else put into the same situation would respond in an angry way and yet here everyone remains mild mannered no matter what hits them, which may be dryly funny at first, but after awhile gets one-dimensional.

Small town people are no different than anyone else and if one finds out that your fiancée is suddenly seeing some other guy, especially after you’ve given her a ring, most would become upset and the way Spider takes it in such a ho-hum way doesn’t seem natural. Later when the two brothers finally confront each other there’s no fight, or even shouting, they just end up hugging each other, which I guess is nice, but it would’ve been better had there been some action or confrontation, which this film sorely lacks. Maybe having them breakout into a fist fight that destroys the apartment in the process, but done in a slapstick way only to eventually, once they’ve exhausted themselves, forgive and forget.

The two women (Marcia Rodd, Ann Wedgeworth), who meet at random during a bus ride only to find that they’re married to the same man (Charles Napier), has the same issue. Once they confront the two-timer there’s no fireworks at all. They pretty much instantaneously forgive him and then proceed to have a genteel conversation about where everybody is going to live instead of watching the two give the guy the business, which would’ve been more entertaining. There is a scene where the two women let the cows escape from the guy’s truck, but even this gets botched because we never see the cows run through the town and all the destruction they would most likely create.

The rest of the film works on the same level. Too much emphasis on the subtle with nothing really standing-out. The characters respond to everything with the same laid-back manner until there’s no distinction between them. Eventually it just flatlines. Instead of being this offbeat look at small town life it becomes more a whimsical fairy tale where the people don’t resemble actual folks.

I believe this is the main reason why this film did so poorly at the box office where it recouped a paltry $850,000 back from its initial $5 million budget. The studio thought it was due to the title because of the word ‘band’ being in it and people mistakenly thinking it was a musical, so they reissued it as Handle With Care, but it did no better. This also became yet another film directed by Jonathan Demme that fared well with the critics, but not the public and this trend continued with his films all the way through the 80’s before he was finally able to hit-pay-dirt with Silence of the Lambs.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Alternate Title: Handle With Care

Released: May 18, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jonathan Demme

Studio: Paramount

Available: Amazon Video, YouTube

The Night, The Prowler (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Victim turns into prowler.

Late one night Felicity (Kerry Walker), who is an adult woman still living at home with her parents (John Frawley, Ruth Cracknell), finds that a prowler (Terry Camilleri) has invaded her bedroom. After getting into a conversation with him she is surprised to learn that he’s a married man with kids, who enjoys prowling as a side gig to make up for the monotony and stresses of his home life. Felicity then realizes that the suburban lifestyle that her parents want her to live does not fully satisfy the individual and therefore decides she doesn’t want it. She breaks off her pending engagement with her fiancé (John Derum)  and turns into a prowler herself breaking into men’s homes late at night and learning to enjoy the underbelly of society by socializing with the homeless and other people that her parents always told her to stay away from. She soon finds a sense of empowerment by thumbing her nose at the elitists that make her her suburban community and doing all the forbidden things that her former cloistered lifestyle never allowed.

The film was directed by Jim Sharman best known for having done The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The basis for this project comes from his collaboration with playwright Patrick White and the many plays of his that he directed while doing experimental theater in Sydney during the 70’s. White wanted to expand one of his short stories into a screenplay and Sharman suggested this one had the best chance of working. The two had both grown up in the eastern suburbs of Sydney and wanted to create a film that showed their inner disdain for the arrogant, privileged people that populated the neighborhoods there and how the sterility of those environments may have been a comfort to the adults, but stifling and alienating to the teenagers.

To some level the film is interesting, but the fragmented narrative becomes an intrusive turn-off. Normally I like films that to get away from the mainstream approach and use different cinematic styles to tell a story, but the presentation here never allows you to get emotionally invested into the characters or their situations. There’s too much cutting back and forth between the present day, the past, and even some dream-like segments that ultimately makes the whole thing confusing and off-putting. That’s not to say that there aren’t some provocative moments as there are, but the non-linear approach never allows it to catch its stride, or feel like its progressing forward.

I did enjoy though the scenes with Felicity in the park late at night talking to the homeless while inadvertently scaring off a gang of young hoodlums by chasing after them and demanding that they assault her. When she breaks into a rich couple’s home and systematically destroys it and their subsequent over-the-top facial reactions when they come home to witness it is a hoot too. There are though some very disturbing moments too including Felicity’s conversation with a naked, starving homeless man (Harry Neilson) that she finds lying inside the filthy squalor of an abandoned building.

The one thing that holds it all together is the acting. Walker is perfectly cast in the lead as her plain looks and perpetually despondent expression visually signals her inner angst and alienation. Cracknell though completely steals it in a campy send-up of the suburban housewife/ mother that is at times both comically absurd and over-the-top funny. Her odd behavior keeps the interest going even as the story and direction at times lull and in fact it was enough to have nominated for the Best Actress Award by the Australian Film Institute.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 2, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jim Sharman

Studio: New South Wales Film Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Annie Hall (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 10 out of 10

4-Word Review: The perfect date movie.

Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) is a professional stand-up comic going through a mid-life crises. Now in his 40’s he’s already been twice divorced and feeling like he may be unable to get into a solid, satisfying relationship. Then he meets Annie (Diane Keaton).  The two forge ahead into a relationship and things work well for awhile, but then the insecurities from both partners begin creating issues.

This film, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as Best Screenplay and Best Director (Academy Award for Best Actress too) has all the trappings of what I consider to be the perfect date movie. Some may disagree as the relationship between these two characters remains rocky throughout, but that’s why I think it’s so good. Other romance movies gloss over the different stages that a relationship goes through. They either rush past the start making it seem like the two people fall-in-love at first glance and immediately become a couple, or focus too heavily on the ups-and-downs of the dating phase, but then once they get married act like it’s ‘happily-ever-after’.

Here we’re given the whole shebang. We see the awkward start, which forms into an equally awkward relationship that eventually unravels once both partners realize they have different needs, much like in reality. I enjoyed how each person plays the same role, but at different times. Sometimes it’s Annie that wants to rekindle the romance while at other points she wants to break free and then at times its reversed with Alvy being the one trying to leave, or wanting to get back together. This is why I consider this to be a good date movie, especially for young couples, as they need to see that a relationship is a work in progress that constantly needs nourishing. The dynamics can evolve and both partners must be willing to adjust to the every changing needs of the other in order to keep it going.

The film is also filled with a lot of funny highly original bits that I haven’t seen done before or since. I loved the segment where subtitles get added to a scene revealing what Annie and Alvy are really thinking about each other while they have a psuedo intellectual conversation. The scene where the spirit/soul of Annie steps out of her body and then sits and watches Alvy and Annie making love in bed is funny too as is the dueling analysts bit (where the screen is split and  we see/hear Alvy and Annie talking about their romantic difficulties to their respective therapists at the same time.) This same approach occurs again with Alvy and Annie’s ‘dueling families’. Honorable mention must also go to animated bit with Woody and the Evil Queen from Snow White.

The only sad aspect is that the movie’s original cut ran 2 Hours and 4 Minutes, but the studio wanted it whittled down to a 90 minute runtime forcing many other potentially engaging bits to end up on the cutting room floor. Some of the bits that sound interesting featured Alvy’s grade school classmates in the present day, a junk food restaurant segment with Danny Aiello, as well as a fantasy segment where the New York Knicks basketball team competes against a team of 5 philosophers. Another scene had Alvy and Annie visiting hell that was reworked 20 years later and put into the film Deconstructing Harry.

Spoiler Alert!

Some of my film friends consider the ending to be an unhappy one, but I disagree. Yes, their relationship ultimately doesn’t work out and they decide to just remain friends instead, but for some couples this is actually the best option. The two were still on speaking terms and weren’t stalking or jealous of each other. Both had adjusted to the breakup and were ready to move-on. Not every relationship your in, even the ones that were fun for awhile, are meant to last and that’s okay.

My Rating: 10 out of 10

Released: March 27, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: United Artists

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

Stroszek (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Germans relocate to Wisconsin.

Bruno (Bruno S.) has recently been released from prison and while warned to stop drinking as a condition for his parole he immediately goes to a local bar. It is there that he meets Eve (Eva Mattes) a prostitute in an abusive relationship with her husband (Burkhard Driest). Bruno offers to allow her to move into his apartment, but this angers her husband and her pimp (Wilhelm von Homburg)  who break into the apartment and terrorize Eva and Bruno making them believe that the only way they can escape the harassment is by moving to America, which we they do along with their elderly neighbor Scheitz (Clemens Scheitz). They presume everyone is the USA is rich and life will be easy, but find that not to be the case.

The story was based loosely on the real-life experiences of its star and the script  written specifically for him by director Werner Herzog as a conciliation for not casting him in Woyzeck as originally intended. Since Bruno had already taken a leave of absence from his job at a steel mill to star in that one Herzog decided to make it up to him by writing this script in a matter of 4 days and then filming it on-location in Plainfield, Wisconsin because that was where the notorious serial killer Ed Gein had lived.

The story should’ve been a complete downer as it focuses on some very depressing realities, but instead, thanks to the genius of Herzog, one comes away from it feeling almost upbeat at all the quirky humor that gets incorporated in. The most memorable moment, which the rest of the crew found highly offensive and refused to film forcing Herzog to do it himself, happens near the end when Bruno travels to North Carolina and uses the last of his money to insert coins into arcade exhibits featuring chickens inside cages that dance and play the piano. The amusing element from this comes when the police finally arrive on the scene and are more concerned with getting the chicken to stop dancing than with the welfare of Bruno.

I also enjoyed the moment when an auto mechanic (Clayton Szalpinski) decides to do his own oral surgery by using the same pliers that he fixes cars with to remove a painful tooth in his mouth. While more blood was needed, as there should’v been streams of it coming out of his mouth, but isn’t, it’s still quite darkly funny and was ‘inspired’ by a true-life scene in the  1972 documentary Spend it All in which a Cajun in Louisiana does the same thing to his teeth, which amazed Herzog so much when he saw that movie that it compelled him to work the scene into one of his stories.

The jabs at America are expectedely negative and to some degree are on-target while at other points goes too far. Watching the trio become overly excited at seeing their new trailer home driven onto a vacant lot and acting like this was a sign that they had finally ‘made it big in America’ is certainly sardonically funny. Yet the scene with two farmers holding rifles as they plow a field in their tractors ready to shoot the other one if either dared touch a small strip of disputed land played too much into the stereotype that Europeans have of Americans and really wasn’t needed especially since it had nothing to do with the main story.

Bruno S.’s performance, who was never formally trained as an actor, is boring as he conveys the same facial expression all the way through where a more seasoned actor could’ve given the role more needed nuance. Scheitz was an amateur actor as well, but his short stature and overall goofy appearance made him a fun part of every scene he’s in while with Bruno that same quality doesn’t exist. If anything Eva has the widest character arc and the film should’ve evolved around her instead.

Herzog casts a lot of non actors in secondary roles as well. I’m not sure if this was done for budgetary reasons, or just played into his long-standing desire to be experimental, but the results aren’t completely effective. I did however enjoy Scott McKain, an auctioneer in real-life, who plays the part of a bank employee that comes to visit the trio in their trailer home to inform them of their delinquent payments and yet no matter how bad the news is that he must convey he always manages to remain upbeat and peppy when he says it.

The film, which has been rightly placed in Steven Schneider’s ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’ is original in so many ways that it deserves to be seen just for the oddity it is and I really have no complaints with its avant-garde style, which even today comes off as fresh and inventive, but I was confused about why the Glen Campbell song ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’ got played so much. The lyrics are never heard, but the melody is and yet there’s no connection to the city of Phoenix in the story, for awhile I thought that was where they’d ultimately end-up, but they never do, so hearing it played so much is out-of-place.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 20, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Werner Herzog

Studio: New Yorker Films

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube