Category Archives: Satire

An Average Little Man (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father avenges son’s death.

Giovanni (Alberto Sordi) is an accountant who’s ready for retirement. His son Mario (Vincenzo Crocitti) is following in his father’s footsteps by becoming an accountant as well. He has passed all of his exams and fully qualified, but competition is tough, so his father tries to use his leverage to get his son hired there, or at least have his name pushed to the top of the list. Unfortunately on the morning of the interview Mario is killed by a stray bullet from a bank robbery that was occurring across the street. Giovanni is devastated and the news is so shocking to his wife Amalia (Shelley Winters) that she has a stroke and is no longer able to speak, or walk, or even feed herself. Giovanni doesn’t trust the system to bring the killer (Renzo Carboni) to justice, so he decides he must do it himself by stalking the man and then eventually kidnapping him.

The film, which is based on the novel ‘A Very Normal Man’ by Vincenzo Cerami, who also wrote the screenplay, is filled with many memorable moments. I got a kick out of Giovanni’s tiny car that looked like something he could wear instead of ride and the way he gets around a traffic jam by driving it on the sidewalk. The mounds of paperwork in his office where no one can see each other because they’re literally swallowed up by them is a funny visual as is Giovanni’s supervisor (Romolo Valli) who cleans the dandruff off of his hair and onto his desk. There’s also a scene that is both darkly humorous and highly disturbing where because the cemeteries are filled to capacity the remaining dead bodies must be stored inside a warehouse with each casket put one on top of the other. Families and mourners crowd in to find which one has their loved one in it, but because of the gas coming out of the decomposing bodies that create sporadic explosions that cause the caskets to go tumbling.

The appearance of American actress Shelley Winters is another shocker in that she’s dubbed with an Italian speaking woman. Hearing her in a voice that is clearly not her own is at first disconcerting, but she gives a brilliant performance nonetheless. Normally she’s known for her talkative nature, both for the parts she plays in front of the camera, but also in her real-life interviews, yet she reflects a comatose woman quite convincingly and her facial expressions, particularly when she’s brought into the cabin to observe the killer’s torture, are excellent.

Sordi, a well known Italian film star and comedian, does well too and it’s interesting seeing his hair go from salt-and-pepper to fully gray as the movie progresses. His character though isn’t exactly likable. While he sees himself as being ‘selfless’ as he sacrifices everything, and potentially breaking the rules, for the love of his son, he seems more selfish because why should his son get a unearned break over all the other candidates? While he has his funny share of moments he’s also a bit unhinged even at the beginning with his almost naive belief that a system he knows is corrupt is now somehow ‘morally’ obligated to give him and his son a favor. Maybe this was the intended ironic point, but it would’ve played better had the son been less of a vapid, empty shell.

Spoiler Alert!

What makes this film stand-out from virtually any other is its extreme shift in tone where it starts as a satirical comedy, but ends as a grim thriller. Many script experts will insist this ‘can’t be done’ and in Hollywood would be considered forbidden. It also doesn’t have the inciting incident occur until an hour in even though books like ‘Save the Cat’, which is the ‘screenwriter’s bible’, will tell you it must happen within the first 5 pages of any script. There’s also no forewarning to the killing it’s just a completely random event with no connection to anything that came before, which again most people in the movie business will say is a ‘mistake’.

While I might’ve done it slightly differently by having Giovanni go insane when one of the supervisors refuses to hire his son after promising him they’d do it and then kidnapping that individual to make it seem a little more connected to the first half, I’m still impressed with how effectively it all works either way. It literally breaks every screenwriting rule and still succeeds and should be used as an example to anyone insisting that movie scripts that don’t stringently conform to the Hollywood formula will fail as this one clearly doesn’t.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: March 17, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mario Monicelli

Studio: Cineriz

Available: DVD-R (Italian with English Subtitles) (Moviedetective.net)

Carbon Copy (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: His son is black.

Walter (George Segal) is living the American Dream as a rich company executive residing in the gated community of a posh suburb while also driving a Rolls Royce. However, he’s not happy with his wife Vivian (Susan Saint James) who’s frigid, nor his daughter-in-law Mary Ann (Vicky Dawson) who’s mouthy and spoiled. Yet he remains in the marriage because Vivian’s father Nelson (Jack Warden) is also Walter’s boss and climbing the career ladder is important to him. Then one day Roger (Denzel Washington) drops by and introduces himself as Walter’s son from a relationship Walter had with a black woman many years ago. Walter enjoyed his time with her, but broke it off due to pressure from Nelson who said it would stymie his career. Now Walter feels guilty from what he’s done and wants to make it up by allowing Roger to move in with him, but once his wife finds out she gets him fired. All of his money is tied up in company stocks that is either under his wife’s or father-in-law’s control, so without any income he’s forced to move into a hotel with Roger and then eventually to a rundown apartment in a dangerous area.

The script was written by Stanley Shapiro who received accolades in the early part of his career for scripting many Doris Day movies during the 50’s and 60’s, but he clearly got in over-his-head with this one. The concept and overall reactions from the characters is dated even for 1981. I was around in ’81 living in a small Midwestern town and I didn’t see half the overt racism that the characters here display despite the fact that it all takes place in California known as the liberal capital of the world. I’m not saying there isn’t some racism everywhere, but it gets exaggerated.

The Saint James character is particularly problematic. She plays the part in a funny way, but it’s a caricature. It would’ve been more revealing had she not been this stereotyped rich white person who feels comfortable displaying her bigotry, which would’ve been socially taboo in L.A. and she’d know it, but instead pretending to be okay with it, or even being an outward liberal who tries to be hip with race relations, but then, in more subtle ways, becomes increasingly less comfortable as it goes along.

Segal’s character comes-off as a massive conformist who will do whatever is takes to a part of ‘acceptable’ society. He even changes his last name to hide the fact the he’s Jewish, so where is this rebel side who moved-in with this black lady back in the 60’s when that would’ve created outrage and scandal? Some may argue that people change, sure that can sometimes happen, but there needs to be some factor that created it and the movie does not make that clear. The fact that he morphs into somebody that was so different from what he used to be makes him seem like two different people with no connecting thread at all. A more plausible storyline would’ve had him getting drunk one night and picking-up a black women at a bar for a one-night-stand, or secretly hiring a black prostitute just because he was curious about having sex with someone of a different race and then thought nothing more of it once it was over. 

Susan’s character has the same issue. She coldly kicks Walter out of the house and then for some unexplained reason turns-up at the doorstep of his ratty apartment with her father and begs for him to come back, but with no clear rationale for what created this radical change-of-heart. I don’t think a racist, snotty woman like that would ever dare come into a dangerous area for any reason. She would’ve only done it had she been accompanied by armed guards, or maybe carrying a gun herself and openly flashing it, which could’ve been funny, but of course this stupid movie doesn’t even think to go there.

The over-the-top situations become increasingly ridiculous without a hint of nuance and as satire it’s about as sophisticated as an episode of ‘Gilligan’s Island’. That’s not to say there can’t be some excellent films about race relations as I found The Landlord to be terrific, but this thing lacks any serious insight. Many consider Soul Man to be the worst 80’s film about a white man trying to understand the black experience and get in-touch with their own inner bias and the bias of those around them, but this I consider to be just as bad. Denzel Washington, who makes his film debut here, is the only good thing about it, it’s just a shame they couldn’t have given him better material.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Schultz

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD/Blu-ray

Stanley: Every Home Should Have One (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to be normal.

Stanley (Peter Bensley) is a lovable eccentric living on a boat for the past 10 years whose had limited contact with the outside world. His father Sir Stanley (Michael Craig) is a powerful business tycoon who wants his son to take over his company, but after Stanley tries to get the board members to eat dog food his father decides he’s wants his son committed until he can learn to be ‘normal’. Stanley doesn’t want to be put away, so he escapes from his father and moves-in with an adopted suburban family who he hopes can teach him the finer points of normalcy, only to find they are more screwed-up than he is. In the meantime his father hires his butler (Max Cullen), who at one time used to work for the secret service, to track Stanley down and bring him back.

Quirky might be an understatement for this odd comedy with an unusual sense of humor that some viewers might not appreciate, or even get. The script hinges on a lot of non-sequiturs and offbeat situations that are loosely tied together. The emphasis is on odd points-of-view that may appeal to some . For those who are game it kind of works with a fresh indie vibe though by the end it wears itself out.

The main character is likable, but not as unique as he should’ve been. He only acts bizarre at the beginning, but after that becomes pretty normal and only reacts and responds to the goofy people around. The film’s title acts like he’s ‘special’, but really he’s not. In fact Graham Kennedy and Sue Walker, who play the married couple he moves-in with, are far funnier and the movie should’ve centered entirely around them as they’re the only two that get any genuine laughs.

Stanley’s romance with Amy (Nell Campbell), a woman he meets at an employment agency, is a subplot that wasn’t needed. Amy comes-off as cold and prickly and her sister Sheryl (Lorna Lesley) seemed to be a better fit as she conveyed the same wide-eyed optimistic approach to life as Stanley while Amy was the complete opposite. His constant badgering her for a date makes him seem like a creepy stalker who won’t take ‘no’ for answer. Having her eventually cave to Stanley’s unending persistence sends the wrong type of message making it seem like harassment is a ‘good thing’ and can get the other person to eventually ‘fall-in-love’ with them if done right when in reality it almost always leads to a restraining order instead.

The film’s theme is the same as the one in the 60’s cult classic King of Hearts, where the ‘crazy’ people are actually the normal ones while those that are considered ‘normal’ are really screwed-up, but the message here is handled in a heavy-handed way and not particularly insightful. The comedy itself dies-out by the final third culminating in a tired, slapstick chase that doesn’t even include Stanley’s incredibly tiny red car, which was the only interesting element in the film and should’ve been used more for comic effect.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 6, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Esben Storm

Studio: Seven Keys

Available: None

The Check is in the Mail (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suburban man drops-out.

Richard (Brian Dennehy) is a married father who’s finding the suburban American Dream not as satisfying as he thought. While he does live a semi-comfortable existence the bills and other demands are making him stressed and he feels the only way to fight it is by dropping-out. He turns his front lawn into a vegetable garden, buys goats and chickens, and even turn-off the electricity. While this gives him some local fame and even a subject of a TV-news report, it does not go-off well with the rest of his family, but Richard, who used to be a social activist during his college days, feels the need to stay the course.

While the film has an interesting premise, the script, which was written by Robert Kaufman, who had success in the early part of his career, but was clearly slumming by this point, goes nowhere. It takes almost 40-minutes in before the dropping-out part even begins and before that meanders around in a lot of loosely related stuff that makes it seem almost like a sketch comedy and not a cohesive story. Certain elements, like Richard’s gambling problems, get glossed over and the film makes no attempt at analyzing anything in any type of realistic way.

With that said there were a few funny bits. The chant that Richard starts and gets others to follow along at an airport is good. Him taking the his car out for a spin in order to test out the supposedly repaired brakes while the forcing the mechanic (Richard Foronjy) to ride along is entertaining too. I also got a kick out of Richard vacationing in Hawaii and sleeping overnight by the pool in order to be able to get a deck chair and how everyone is so desperate to get one and keep it that when a man who cannot swim jumps into the pool no one tries to save him even his own wife for fear they’ll lose their seat. The neighbor’s birthday party, which gets disrupted by Richard’s goats and chickens, who inadvertently raid the place via an open window, is quite funny and the best part of the movie. There are though some really dumb moments like Richard’s wife (Anne Archer) visiting a psychiatrist (Harry Townes) that gets needlessly prolonged, cliched, and not necessary.

Dennehy is likable and while consumers getting upset and losing their temper in public at modern-day inconveniences was a little more socially acceptable then than it is now, as this behavior could get him labled a ‘male Karen’ by today’s standards, he’s able to pull it-off in a way that makes you want to cheer for him instead of judging him as being ‘entitled’. Dick Shawn and Nita Talbot appear late in the film as Dennehy’s neighbors in scenes shot after the main production had wrapped and done by a different director (Ted Kotcheff). While these moments help give energy to a film that otherwise flat-lines, and Shawn even ad-libs, it still would’ve been better had they been introduced earlier.

Dropping-out is certainly something that everyone has secretly thought of at one time or another, but this film doesn’t do it justice. It fails to dig deeply into the subject and misses out on a lot of potentially unique scenarios and insights. The result is a mish-mash of quirky concepts that doesn’t add up to much and fails to makes any type of meaningful, or impactful statement.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 2, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joan Darling, Ted Kotcheff (uncredited)

Studio: Ascot Entertainment Group

Available: VHS

The Magic Christian (1969)

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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

Goodbye Paradise (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

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

Michael Stacey (Ray Barrett) is a retired cop whose written a scathing exposé on the corruption of his former profession, which has gotten him many enemies and, along with his alcoholism, pushed to the very fringes of society. He now lives in a tiny, rundown apartment while playing chess with himself as his only means of companionship. One day he gets a call from a high-ranking Senator (Don Pascoe) who wants Michael to find his runaway daughter as he’s concerned that she’s gotten involved with an underground cult movement, which he fears could be detrimental to both her safety and to his own political career. Have no other means of income Michael takes-up the offer and soon gets immersed with an array of odd people and many twists that ultimately finds him in the middle of a military coup.

This offbeat movie starts out strong, but eventually goes overboard. The original idea by screenwriter Denny Lawrence was to have an ex-cop working as a private investigator who takes on a case of a runaway daughter who joined a religious cult run by a charismatic charlatan that eventually lead to the deaths of many of its members. However, after the Jonestown massacre, which was led by religious cult leader Jim Jones, this idea got nixed and the plot, with the help of co-scripter Bob Ellis who wanted a more political bent, got turned into a completely different direction, which doesn’t work as well.

The whole idea of a parent hiring a down-and-out, aging guy to find his long lost daughter doesn’t make much sense. The father’s a rich senator with lots of connections, so why not use the resources of the police, or a more polished detective to do the searching instead of an old bum more focused on when his next drink will be? Had Michael’s actual job, like in the original script, been as an private investigator then maybe, but in this version Michael was a struggling writer, so why pay someone to do something that they had no practice in doing, or if they did it had been a seriously long time and someone else could’ve been found to do it better?

The protagonist is a lovable loser, a sort of anti-hero who was meant to be a modern-day Philip Marlowe, and the main reason that get me hooked into the movie right away especially with Barrett’s perfect portrayal that is both raw and funny at the same time. However, the supporting characters are dull. The is especially evident with the Senator’s daughter, which due to a case of mistaken identity, he ends up dealing with two different young women, but both of them are stereotyped and cliched to the extreme. The dialogue and conversational exchanges that they have with Michael are flat making these scenes the most boring part of the movie. Nothing is worse than a film that does a excellent job of creating a multi-faceted person in one area, but then cuts-corners with the rest making the viewer like they’ve gotten stuck with only half a movie.

Spoiler Alert!

The climactic sequence, which involves an all-out military coup and lots of warfare-like action, is just too extreme and surreal especially for a story that starts out in a realistic vein. Much of the fault could be blamed on the two script writers with Lawrence wanting it to be a genre piece while Ellis preferring a more political take. The result is an imbalance that gets increasingly more wacky and implausible as it goes on until it becomes too cluttered to make much sense. Whatever statements the writers hoped to make here gets lost in the insanity and leaves the viewer feeling overwhelmed with all of the absurdity.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 21, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 59 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Carl Schultz

Studio: New South Wales Film Corporation

Available: DVD (Region 0 Import)

You Can’t Hurry Love (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: From Ohio to L.A.

Eddie (David Packer) is tired of living in the Midwest and after a failed relationship decides to pack his bags and head out west looking for new opportunities. He moves in with his cousin Skip (Scott McGinnis) who already lives in Los Angeles, in order to check-out the scene, but finds everyone to be weird and wacky. He goes on several job interviews, but none of them hire him. He meets pretty Peggy (Bridget Fonda) who works at a video dating service and makes a video of his own, but his attempts to be somebody he really isn’t backfires at every turn. Can Eddie find true love and happiness and will anyone who watches this movie really care if he does or doesn’t?

One of the main problems is Packer, who strangely enough went on to star in another movie, The Runnin’ Kind, just a year later that had almost the exact same storyline. Quite frankly I was surprised he got any part at all as he came into this already with baggage, which stemmed from what occurred on October 30, 1982. On that night he was at the home of actress Dominique Dunne rehearsing a scene for the upcoming TV-miniseries ‘V’ when her ex-boyfriend John Thomas Sweeney came over and preceded to attack and kill her. Some felt that Packer should’ve/could’ve intervened and had he done so she might still be alive today. While I’ll refrain from passing judgement in that area I will say that his acting here is one of the worst I’ve ever seen in a mainstream Hollywood production. His eyes have a glazed over appearance and his face a shit-eating grin. His vocal delivery is quite monotone like someone who’s high and only half there. Fonda on the other hand (this essentially constitutes as her film debut since the 4 films she did previously were either animated, shorts, or non-speaking parts) is quite engaging despite her part being just as poorly written as his, but her superior acting ability shines through while Packer’s drags it down.

The script by Richard Martini tries too hard to recreate the surreal atmosphere from After Hours, but the cultish vibe from that one doesn’t click here. That one starred Griffin Dunne, (who was ironically Dominique’s real-life brother) who was better able to create a believable character that the viewer could identify with and emotionally connect to while Packer is a transparent guy you wish would just go away. It also overly plays-up the flaky stereotype of those living on the west coast. I resided in L.A. or 6 months and I can attest that some of the people out there are a bit eccentric, but they’re not all that way and the film should’ve brought in a few normal ones for balance.

Cameo appearances by famous actors do help a little. Charles Grodin is amusing as the blue collar-like father of one of Packer’s potential dates, who gives Packer, before they proceed on their date, some very brash and straightforward advice. Kristy McNichol is engaging too as a punk girl who harbors a man-hating streak. The funniest of them all though is Lu Leonard as the director of the video dating service that Packer joins who helps coach him on how to present himself to his potential dates. In fact the video dating aspect, of which I admit I was a part of back in the 90’s, is kind of funny and the movie should’ve centered everything around the inner-workings of a dating service franchise, which would’ve been far more interesting and insightful.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: January 20, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Martini

Studio: Lightning Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Shirley Thompson Versus the Aliens (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lonely girl meets spaceship.

Shirley Thompson (Jane Harders) is an alienated young adult living in 1956 Australia who one day makes contact with a group of aliens. It happens while her and her biker gang sneak into Luna Park after dark, which is a amusement place for children and when they go into after it’s closed they can go on the rides for free. It’s while doing this that Shirley sees a spaceship and starts communicating with it while the rest of the gang gets scared and leaves. The aliens within the ship tell her that they plan on invading earth and it’s up to her to warn the others of their intent, but if she does it right they’ll reward her with ‘power’, which is what she’s always wanted as she’s felt insignificant otherwise. The aliens then produce a massive rain storm that creates much damage and then the next day they interrupt a radio broadcast to proclaim what they’ve done, but no one believes them especially Shirley’s parents (Marion Jones, John Llewellyn) who thinks it’s a joke. Everyone else responds to Shirley’s alien warnings like she’s a kook, which ends up getting her committed to the mental institution where she then recounts her tale to a cynical staff.

This is the first feature length movie directed by Jim Sharman better known to American audiences for having helmed Rocky Horror Picture Show and to Australians for his work in experimental theater of which he is highly regarded. This film works in line with many of his other Avant Garde efforts where the emphasis is more on the imagery than the story. For mainstream audiences though it may be considered inaccessible as it bucks all areas of conventional storytelling including having it alternate between black and white and color with each scene. There’s also very little dialogue with the focus more on mood. The film does have its share of interesting moments, but how much one appreciates it is completely up to one’s own temperament.

I was struck by how similar the theme was to Sharman’s later film The Night, The Prowler with both movies dealing with an alienated young adult woman still living at home with her parents who feels that no one can understand her and has inner anger/disdain at the world around her. It also has shades of Liquid Skywhich came out 11 years later and dealt with a young woman who befriends some aliens, but instead of being scared of them like everyone else she has a special connection to them and feels as much like a stranger on this planet as they do.

If you’re looking for a typical sci-fi flick then you’ll be sorely disappointed as you won’t even end up seeing any aliens or spaceships. I’m not sure if this was due to budgetary restraints, but in any event the camera stays fully locked on Shirley and becomes more of a satire on life in the burbs and in that regard it succeeds. While not a perfect movie it does have its share of memorable moments especially the ending where Shirley gets strapped to a spinning hospital bed while laughing maniacally.  Why I found this part to be so cool I don’t know, but that’s how the movie works. You either go with the flow or you don’t, but those who are game may find it a fun ride. It’s certainly different than anything you’ll find released today and could only have been made in the early 70’s.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 6, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 11 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jim Sharman

Studio: Kolossal Piktures

Available: None

Bananas (1971)

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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

Head Office (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Climbing the corporate ladder.

Jack (Judge Reinhold) is a recent college graduate and business major who gets a job at a prestigious Chicago company named INC. Jack has very little ambition and more interested in making it with the women than climbing the corporate ladder, but despite his lack of effort he keeps getting promoted. He begins to realize that his ascension may not have anything to do with who he is and more with the fact that his father (George Coe) is a influential senator and the company’s CEO (Eddie Albert) wants to gain his favor in order to have a textile plant moved to a Latin American country that will allow them cheap labor and more profits.

The film, which was written and directed by Ken Finkleman, starts off with a bang and has many funny gags, but eventually wears out its welcome by relying too heavily on age-old clichés and caricatures.  Everyone knows the business world can be corrupt and filled with eager boot lickers driven by those with power-hungry career aspirations and willing to backstab anyone that might get in their way. Trying to fill 90-minutes with this same point-of-view that just gets repeated over and over is not amusing nor insightful and if anything becomes boringly predictable.

The characters lack distinction and are more like yes men robots than real people. I worked at several Fortune 500 companies during my lifetime and can attest that there are indeed the proverbial ass-kissers, but they’re plenty of people that have no interest in playing the company game and realize it’s sheer folly because the more you work up the ladder the more a pawn to the system you become. Some are simply satisfied to have a job and provide for their families and yet the film does not show these folks at all, which makes it one-dimensional and ultimately unrealistic.

Reinhold is weak in the lead, which is another reason it doesn’t work. This is a film that is in desperate need of a socialist or someone that is very anti-corporate and just there to openly thumb their  nose at the system and try to muck it up if they can and yet half the time it’s confusing what Reinhold’s position is. He’s too transparent and has no strong presence at all.  There’s also a scene where he gets shot at by a disgruntled ex-employee, which would’ve been enough to make most people never want to go back to that company again as no job is worth that and yet Reinhold returns like it somehow was no big deal.

The supporting cast is interesting and includes such familiar faces as Danny DeVito and Rich Moranis, but they die-off quickly. What’s the use of bringing in big-name stars if they’re going to be killed off right away? It’s fun seeing Jane Seymour playing against type as a power hungry boss. She made her mark in romantic roles for the most part, so it’s impressive seeing her doing a different type of part and doing it well and it’s just a shame she wasn’t in it more. Eddie Albert is good too and plays the violin in a convincing way, or at least is smart enough to know how to move his fingers so it looks realistic.

Spoiler Alert!

However, the gag involving Reinhold inadvertently destroying an expensive Stradivarius violin that gets handed to him by Albert gets ruined when it’s made known that it wasn’t authentic, but simply a prototype. That was the only moment in the film where I had laughed-out-loud, but leave to this dumb movie to botch even that.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 29, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Ken Finkleman

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD