Category Archives: Quirky

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

Sweetie (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sister is mentally ill.

Kay (Karen Colston) has begun a relationship with Louis (Tom Lycos) and things seem to be going smoothly as they move into a home together, but it quickly unravels when he sister Dawn ‘Sweetie’ (Genevieve Lemon) shows up with her boyfriend Bob (Michael Lake). Sweetie has been institutionalized in the past and her wild mood swings and erratic behavior quickly cause turmoil particularly with Kay. She asks her parents (Jon Darling, Dorothy Barry) for help, but her dad refuses to recognize Sweetie’s tragic current state and instead continually hearkens back to her childhood years when she was a cute kid with budding talent who would perform songs and dances to the family’s entertainment and delight.

This is a hard film to critique  as it starts off as a quirky comedy, but by the midpoint it becomes more dramatic and filled with a lot of uncomfortable even cringe worthy scenes as Sweetie’s mental decline becomes achingly apparent. Not only do you feel sad for her, but also for how it causes such a severe strain for the rest of her family, which accurately illustrates how mental illness isn’t just a one person issue as their behaviors will adversely affect those around them too.

The fact that the film’s tone switches halfway through, which would be considered a major no-no by Hollywood standards, is part of the reason why it works as it replicates real-life where sometimes you can have a touching, humorous moment only to suddenly get thrown into a troubling one.  This also shapes what life is like living with a mentally-ill individuals who may seem ‘okay’, but can turn erratic sometimes without warning and this ongoing tension vividly comes through for the viewer until they feel the same way as the characters.

I found the father though to be the most entertaining and interesting. One minute he’s scheming to get Sweetie out of the family car, so they can leave on a trip without her and then the next minute he’s driving back to pick-her-up, so they can be ‘one happy family’ again. While this may sound overly contradictory to some I felt it brought out  the inner turmoil many parents feel in dealing with their grown children where at times they can’t stand them, for whatever reason, but at other points can’t stand to be without them either.

Director Jane Campion, in her feature film directorial debut, adds in interesting touches like having the camera frame the characters off-center where instead of seeing them captured in the center of the screen they are shown in the right-hand corner, which helps accentuate the tone of the subject matter. There’s also an odd time-lapsed cutaways detailing a seedling tree pushing its way through the dirt and above ground, which wasn’t exactly necessary to the main plot, but kind of cool nonetheless.

Campion also wisely doesn’t insult the viewer’s intelligence with pat answers to a complex problem. Mental illness cannot be cured or even  always stabilized with medications, so leaving the viewer with a feel-good ending where everything works out and everybody is happy would be a cop-out and thankfully gets avoided here. Instead the we’re left pondering troubling questions, which stays with you long after it’s over and makes this a far better movie than most because of it.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 28, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jane Campion

Studio: Filmpac Distribution

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video

Fools (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lost souls find love.

Matthew (Jason Robards) is sitting in a park one day trying to read a book when two children begin taunting a dog, which causes it to bark and impedes Matthew’s peace and quiet. He then warns the children that if they don’t behave the dog will rip their arms out, which angers the dog’s owner (Marc Hannibal) who then proceeds to punch Matthew in the face. Anais (Katharine Ross), who was also in the park, comes to Matthew’s aid and the two quickly begin a romance, but she neglects to tell him that she’s being followed by a private detective (Robert C. Ferro Jr.) whose been hired by her jealous husband (Scott Hylands) who’ll stop at nothing to win her back.

The film is a very odd mix of drama and late 60’s quirkiness that never gels and most of the time comes-off as disjointed and amateurish. The relationship happens too fast and lacks any type of distinction from the thousands of other cookie-cutter romances already out there. The folk-tinged songs sung by Kenny Rogers and The First Edition are too sappy and bog the pace down, which is too slow and ambling to being with.

The biggest issue though is the way scriptwriter Robert Rudelson throws in all sorts of characters and bits that have nothing to do with the main plot. This includes two FBI agents appearing out-of-nowhere who raid the couple’s home and then just as quickly disappear and are forgotten. There’s also a weird bit where the couple confronts a trio of hippies, one of whom is played by Jack Nance in his film debut, who are strung-out on acid and it gets quite violent and ugly. Another segment deals with a psychiatrist (Mako) fighting off an oversexed patient (Laura Ash) and these two do not interact with the two main characters at all, so why this even gets put into the film is confusing.

85 minutes into its runtime the film also suddenly adds in flashbacks and surreal moments including Ross seeing herself jump off a tall building. Surrealism in film can be great, but it needs to get introduced earlier and trickle all the way through instead of popping up near the end, which throws off the tone completely.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending in which Ross gets violently gunned down inside a Church during a babies baptism is jarring, misplaced and like everything else comes completely out-of-nowhere. To some degree you can credit the film for being ahead-of-its-time as it deals with a stalking/jealous husband, which was a topic that had not yet come into the mainstream conversation, but the bird’s-eye view of Ross’ bloody corpse lying on the sidewalk is much too disturbing for a film that had otherwise been quite playful and lighthearted. The reactions by the other people inside the church, one of whom is played by a young Suzanne Somers, is off-putting too as they just stand there in a calm silence instead of screaming and panicking like you’d expect them to.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Robards, who is typically a very good actor, channels too much of the non-conformist quality similar to the character that he played in A Thousand Clowns, which in that film was charming, but here it’s annoying mainly because it doesn’t make sense. In that film he was poor and bordering on being homeless, so his contempt for society made sense, but here he’s a famous horror movie star renting a swanky apartment that overlooks the San Francisco skyline making his anger seem out-of-place. There’s also a brief bit where he attempts to climb over a barbed wire fence, the film cuts away so we don’t get to seem him fully do it, but it looked like a painful if not impossible thing to do and something that shouldn’t be done by someone who wasn’t insane.

Ross on the other-hand is appealing and quite beautiful in literally every shot she’s in, which is the only reason I’m giving this dopey production even two points, but she unfortunately is straddled with a script that appears to have no point to it and if it does it doesn’t convey it in any type of discernible way.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 23, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Tom Gries

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: None at this time.

Some Kind of a Nut (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Grow beard, lose job.

One day while out on a picnic in Central Park with his fiance Pamela (Rosemary Forsyth) Fred (Dick Van Dyke) gets stung on his chin by a bee. The sting takes too long to heal, so in order to avoid having to shave over it he grows a beard, which doesn’t go over well at his job. When his boss (Peter Turgeon) tells him to get rid of it and he refuses it leads to his firing, which mobilizes his co-workers to walk off of their jobs in protest.

Writer/director Garson Kanin has written many funny and award-winning screenplays with Adam’s Rib and Born Yesterday being two of his most famous ones, but this script seems like it was written by a completely different person altogether. The idea of Van Dyke bucking-the-system and discarding conventional mores has definite potential especially since it was filmed in the late 60’s when a lot of that was going on, but the movie goes nowhere with it. Instead of dealing with the ramifications of his rebellion the plot pivots to his ex-wife’s (Angie Dickinson) attempts at reconciliation, which is too contrived and has nothing to do with the main theme.

Van Dyke has one brief moment of non-conformity and then immediately snaps back into being his staid self without showing any real growth or change. Instead of him directly organizing the effort to have his co-workers walk off their jobs on his behalf it’s actually another associate (played by David Doyle) who inspires it while Van Dyke stands back in awe like a main character who has become a passive bystander in his own movie.

There was no need for three female love interests either. Forsyth was the youngest so in some ways it made more sense for her to connect to his rebellious side, but instead it’s Dickinson his ex-wife. However, it’s never made clear what lead to their divorce in the first place, so unless they tackle that direct issue then whatever reconciliation they have will only lead to another break-up down-the-road. Zohra Lampert, who plays this beatnik type lady that Van Dyke befriends and goes out drinking with, is far more lively here than the other two actresses and showed just enough bohemianism traits to fit with the film’s attempted non conformist theme.

There are some interesting camera shots like a close-up of the actual bee sting and a segment, which I thought was real cool when I was in the third grade and first saw this film, showing a map of the nation and then a red miniature car similar to the one Van Dyke and Forsythe are riding in driving around on it to  each city on their trip. However this amounts to just being a shallow way to cover-up how boring and empty the script really is, which meanders too much on scenes that don’t propel the story along. A good example of this is when Forsyth and her two brothers (Elliot Reid, Steve Roland) chase Van Dyke around his apartment complex in an attempt to shave off his beard, which seemed like a futile waste of energy because he could just regrow it in a matter of a few days, so why even bother?

Released: October 1, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated M

Director: Garson Kanin

Studio: United Artists

Available: Amazon Video

Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Businessman becomes a magician.

Donald (Tom Smothers) is tired of the rat-race and decides one day to impulsively walk off of his job  and become a trained tap dancing magician under the tutelage of Mr. Delasandro (Orson Welles). While the pay isn’t good he enjoys the freedom of being on the open-road and avoiding the stress of climbing up the corporate ladder despite the efforts of his former boss (John Astin) who tries anything he can to get Donald to come back and work for him.

This was Brian De Palma’s first studio made venture and he borrows heavily from the same type of surreal comedy that he used in his two earlier independent films Hi Mom! and Greetings. While not all of the gags hit there’s enough inventive camera work and editing to keep it interesting making the fact that the studio ultimately hated the final product and fired De Palma from the project all the more perplexing. This film follows the exact same blue print of De Palma’s earlier work. Had they not watched those films and just hired him based on recommendation? If so then they have no one else to blame but themselves.

While I enjoyed the eclectic energy there are too many comic bits that veer way off from the main storyline and have absolutely no connection to the main plot. The script, by Jordan Crittenden, would’ve been stronger had all the humor been focused around a main theme as it ultimately comes-off as too much of a hodgepodge with no connecting message to it at all. What’s even worse is that some of the gags have a lot of comic potential that aren’t played-out to the fullest, which makes it even more frustrating.

Smothers is quite boring and seems unable to convey any other expression except for a smiling deer-in-headlights look. Apparently behind-the-scenes he didn’t get along with De Palma and refused to show-up for necessary retakes making me think he should’ve been the one fired as he could’ve been easily replaced by a wide array of other comic actors who would’ve done a far better job. Even Bob Einstein, who appears very briefly as a brash fireman, gets far more laughs than anything Smothers does throughout the entire movie.

Fortunately the supporting cast is excellent and one of the reasons that helps keep the film afloat. Welles is especially good as the washed-magician with the scene where Smothers and he get stuck inside their escape sack while trying to perform the trick being the funniest moment in the movie. Astin is amusing too as Smother’s former boss who slowly turns his room inside a seedy hotel into a thriving office. Katharine Ross is also a delight in a perfect send-up of a starry-eyed groupie.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending though in which Smothers finds himself back working inside the same type of corporate office job that he had tried to escape from at the beginning is a disappointment. Sometimes cyclical endings can be clever and ironic, but here it’s more of a cop-out. We never get any sense of how the experiences that the character goes through changes him making it all seem quite shallow and pointless. It also completely forgets about the Orson Welles character, who gets written-out after the second act even though his presence was one of the most entertaining aspects of the movie.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 7, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Coke bottle causes problems.

One day while flying over the Kalahari desert a airplane pilot inadvertently throws a coke bottle out of his cockpit window, which falls to earth and is found by Xi (N!xau) and he brings it back to his nomadic tribe. At first everyone is intrigued with the object as they are an isolated people unaware of modern technology. They think it’s a ‘gift from the gods’ and make use of the bottle in different and creative ways, but eventually the bottle causes friction from within the tribe because there is only one and no one wants to share it. Xi decides to ‘give the bottle back to the gods’ by traveling to the end of the earth and throwing it off. During his journey he meets a clumsy biologist named Andrew Steyn (Marius Weyers) and a pretty school teacher named Kate (Sandra Prinsloo) while also saving school children who are kidnapped by a group of terrorists led by Sam (Louw Verwey).

This film became the biggest box office success in South African history and when released abroad became the most successful foreign film in the U.S., but the film initially comes off like a nature documentary complete with monotone voice-over narration by Paddy O’Byrne only to then shift uneasily into a flick dealing with political revolutionaries who systematically massacre the heads of state via machine gun. It’s not until about 30 minutes in that the gentle comical flow of the story gets going, but even then there’s a lot of sped up stop action photography, dubbed voices, and a cartoonish sounding musical score that gives it a choppy amateurish feel throughout.

Yet despite all this the concept is quite original and filled with genuinely funny moments. Writer/director Jamie Uys, who appears briefly as a Reverend, shows an amazing ability to squeeze laughs out of virtually any scene and sometimes in the most amazing of ways. Some of my favorite moments was when the jeep hangs upside down in a tree, or the scene showing the same disabled jeep getting tugged along by another vehicle and because the desert was so flat and barren the man driving the vehicle is able to get out of it and it simply drives itself with no fear it would run into anything. The shot where N!xau arrives at what he thinks is the end of the earth, but in reality is a place known as God’s Window is quite memorable and picturesque as well.

Of course the film does come with its fair share of controversy and accused of being racist with two countries, Trinidad and Tobago, banning the movie from being shown there because of it. The main complaint centers around the bushmen tribe that N!xau comes from being shown as completely cut-off from the modern world and unsophisticated when in reality this is not true. The 2004 Columia TriStar DVD edition has a wonderful documentary called ‘Journey to Nyae Nyae’ on its bonus section where a filmmaker travels to the real-life desert bushmen tribe that actor/star N!xau resided and found that although the people were quite poor they were far from ignorant and in fact excitedly embraced technology like a computer when it was shown to them. There’s even a really cute segment where the children get shown this film and laugh along at all the same antics just like American audiences.

This same documentary also has a very sad edge to it as it shows the impoverished life N!xau had even after the film became a worldwide hit. While the movie grossed over 200 million N!xau was only paid $2,000 for his work and the other actors who played the bushmen got paid nothing. Director Uys tried to rectify this by paying N!xau many years later an additional $20,000 and a monthly stipend, but by then he had already become sick with tuberculosis and ended up dying from it in 2003.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 10, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jamie Uys

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Birdy (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fly like a bird.

Al (Nicholas Cage) becomes friends with an introverted neighborhood boy (Mathew Modine) nicknamed Birdy due to his fascination with birds. Al begins to follow Birdy around as he collects pigeons and stores them inside an aviary that he has built in his backyard. The two share a strong bond, which is broken when they both get drafted and have to go off to war. Al returns from battle with facial injuries, but Birdy is sent to a mental hospital because after missing in action for a month, he refuses to speak. Al spends time with Birdy trying to get him to talk again, but finds it futile and fears that if he can’t get him to talk the Dr’s will confine Birdy permanently.

The film is based on the William Wharton novel of the same name that was initially rejected by director Alan Parker as a possible movie because he considered the story to be ‘uncinematic’, but after the screenplay was commissioned to writers Sandy Kroopf and Jack Behr who were able to restructure the thoughts of the main character from the novel into dialogue and action Parker was then willing to sign on. The result is a interesting drama that manages to have some touching, quirky moments, but it’s also quite reminiscent of Brewster McCloud and comes complete with the same winged flying contraption which Birdy uses to fly briefly over a junkyard that Bud Cort also used to fly around the Astrdome in that film.

While both Cage and Modine give excellent performances I found the friendship between the two to be confusing. They had very little in common and why Cage would want to follow Modine around all the time as he collected pigeons, which he himself thought to be kind of ‘weird’, did not make much sense. Had they both had an interest in birds then it would’ve worked, but they don’t, so what’s the bond that keeps them together? Having them portrayed as being gay would’ve been the solution and at times it seems that is what Birdy is since he shows no interest in women at all and in one amusing scene watches in boredom while Cage has sex with another women on a beach. Cage could’ve been portrayed as being bi-sexual, or not fully aware of his secret attraction to Birdy, but could later eventually come out and that could help explain why he’d stick with someone that he otherwise found ‘kooky’.

Despite the film’s length  and having some definite slow parts including Cage’s ‘conversations’ with Birdy when he’s inside the mental hospital, which are quite static and should’ve been trimmed, there’s still some memorable moments including a scene showing baby canaries hatching out of their eggs. I also like the tracking shot where Birdy imagines himself flying and done from the point-of-view of a bird, which gives one a very authentic feeling/experience of what it would be like and it was shot with a Skycam, at least partially, which is the first time that had ever been used in a movie.

I also enjoyed how the film examines the different dynamics of both Cage’s and Birdy’s family life and the contrasting personalities of the parents where in Cage’s family the father, played by Sandy Baron, was the dominant force while with Birdy it was his mother (Dolores Sage). My only complaint in this area is that there’s a running subplot dealing with the fact that Birdy’s mother would take all the baseballs that the neighborhood kids would accidentally hit into her backyard and keep them, but no one knew where she hid them. Cage then, years later, asks the Dr’s at the hospital to convince the mother to send the hidden balls to Birdy in an effort to get him to talk again and the mother complies, but the scene showing her retrieving the balls is never shown. So much time is spent talking about where she hid the balls that the film should’ve revealed the hiding place while also showing a tender side to the mother who otherwise came off as being quite cold, so not having this scene at all really hurts the film.

Spoiler Alert!

There’s also complaints by some viewers and critics about the ending, which some, like critic Leonard Maltin, refer to as a ‘gag’ ending. For me this wasn’t an issue as it offered some much needed levity in what is otherwise a very dramatically heavy film, but I was frustrated that there’s no conclusion given to what ultimately happens to the two characters. They’re shown trying to escape from the hospital, but never whether they were able to break-free permanently. After spending two hours following these two around the viewer deserves more concrete answers as to their ultimate fate and keeping it so wide-open is a bit of a cop-out/letdown.

 

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1984

Runtime: 2 Hours

Rated R

Director: Alan Parker

Studio: TriStar Pictures

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

Slither (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for embezzled money.

Dick Kanipsia (James Caan) is a former car thief who has just been released from jail and is now trying to go straight. While in prison he started up a friendship with Harry Moss (Richard B. Shull) and decides to go to his rural home for a visit. It is there that Harry suddenly gets shot by a mysterious gunmen, but just before he dies he informs Dick about a secret stash of stolen money that can only be retrieved by contacting his former partners in crime: Barry Faneka (Peter Boyle) and Vincent Palmer (Allen Garfield). Dick then goes on a road trip trying to find these two men while also coming into contact with a lot of oddball characters and situations along the way.

When I first saw this film over 20 years ago I really loved it and was impressed with W.D. Richter’s offbeat script that relies heavily on quirky scenarios and dryly humorous non sequiturs to help propel it. A theme he later polished to perfection in his most famous film the cult hit The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension While I still enjoy the engaging set-up I’ve found that during subsequent viewings the unsatisfying ending ruins everything else that comes before it and ultimately hurts the movie as a whole, but first lets go over what I did like.

The chase element that gets incorporated into the story is cool and has a strong connection to the one in Duel. The idea of having these large black vans driven by a person we cannot see constantly chasing after our protagonist no matter where he goes is intriguing and helps create an interesting mystery angle. The unique design of the vans, which was a 1973 Dodge Rectrans Discover 25R,  featured no front doors, which coupled with its all-black exterior gives them a very threatening presence that is almost creepier than the truck used in Duel.

Caan’s detached persona helps separate him from all the nuttiness around him and makes him likable in the process. Boyle is amusing as his eventual cohort and Louise Lasser is surprisingly restrained as Boyle’s wife. You also get to see  film director Paul Thomas Anderson’s real-life mother, Edwina Gough, in a small role during a scene at a bingo tournament.

The only character though that I didn’t care for was Sally Kellerman’s who plays this semi-crazy lady that proceeds to just slow-up the pace of the film with every scene that she’s in. I admit the part where she robs a diner at gunpoint is kind of fun, but I’ve never been a fan of her breathless delivery and didn’t feel there was any need for her reappearing after her character was pretty much dropped from the story and forgotten and there’s never any explanation for how she was able to successfully track Caan down after he abandoned her.

Laszlo Kovac’s cinematography is good although it would’ve been nice had this been a genuine road movie where our main character would’ve been required to travel to highly varied settings/landscapes  in his quest to find the hidden money. I realize this would’ve upped the budget, but having to constantly stare at the dry, brown landscape of Stockton, California, where the majority of the shooting took place, is kind of depressing.

As I stated earlier it’s the ending that hurts the film more than anything. To sit through what is otherwise a creative plot only to find that it all just leads to nothing is a big letdown. I know that during the 70’s it was trendy to have anti-climactic movie finishes, but here there needed to be more of a payoff . Movies should also have the main character change in some way from what they were at the beginning, which doesn’t occur. Caan just quietly walks away from the chaos around him like everything he’s just went through was nothing more than a blip on his life’s radar and ultimately that’s the way the movie becomes with the viewer as well. Goofy enough to hold your attention, but never memorable enough to stay with you.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 7, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), YouTube

UFOria (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: She dreams about spaceships.

Arlene (Cindy Williams) is a lonely woman living in a small town and working at a local supermarket. One night she starts having dreams about a spaceship landing in town and taking her away. Her new boyfriend Sheldon (Fred Ward), who is a shady drifter always looking to make a quick buck, works with his brother Bud (Harry Dean Stanton), much to her consternation, to use her ‘visions’ to make money off of it by portraying her as communicating with some outer worldly messenger that’s connected to God.

This film was made in 1980, but sat on the shelf for 5 years and it’s easy to see why as it’s difficult to put it into any predefined genre. It’s certainly isn’t a sci-fi flick and in a lot of ways it really isn’t a comedy either. There are a few funny bits, but they get lost inside scenes that go on far longer than they should, which never allows the film to gain any traction or momentum.

Williams is not right for her part and fails to convey the downtrodden look of a lonely woman in a role that would’ve been better served had it been played by an actress with a more plainish, dumpy features like Kathy Bates. It’s also annoying that she has these vivid dreams, but the viewer never gets to see them. Movies are a visual medium and should take advantage of that element as much as possible by showing what’s happening instead of just having a character describe it.

Stanton isn’t right for his part either. In certain films his low-key style is perfect, but here he fails to effectively convey the animated, fiery delivery of a TV evangelist, which is a part that needed to be comically played-up much more.

Ward was the only one that I liked and he really comes into his own with a character that isn’t particularly likable, but has an interesting arch where he goes from being a cynical non-believer to eventually defending Arlene from those who mock her. He also drives his car in the most bizarre way that I’ve ever seen with his feet up on the dashboard and not on the pedals.

Spoiler Alert!

I was hoping that the ending would be a payoff for having to sit through such a slow, poorly paced film, but ultimately it falls flat just like everything else. I liked the idea of a spaceship suddenly appearing, but then the film cuts to the closing credits without examining what happened to the people, how they reacted to it, or what the aftermath was, which I found frustrating.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The small town setting filmed in Palmdale and Lancaster, California gives off just the right rustic look and prime stomping ground for fringey, eccentric people like the characters here.  While the film does have a definite cult appeal the offbeat elements get stymied inside a lethargic pace that never allows it to gel, or become captivating.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Binder

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS