Tag Archives: Alan Parker

Bugsy Malone (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The gangsters are kids.

It’s the 1920’s and rival mobsters, who are all played by children, fight over control of a club that illegally sells liquor. Fat Sam ( John Cassisi) is the one who currently controls it, but Dandy Dan (Martin Lev) makes a play at a violent overthrow in which his men attack the club by using machine guns equipped with whipped cream that ‘splurge’ their victims. Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio) is a penniless boxing promoter caught in the middle. He tries to help aspiring singer Blousy (Florrie Dugger) get an audition at Sam’s club, but then becomes distracted by Sam’s alluring girlfriend Tallulah (Jodie Foster) who causes Sam’s ire by flirting with Bugsy.

This odd concoction was the product of Alan Parker in his feature film directorial debut who came up with the idea while driving his kids on a weekend trip to a countryside cottage. To keep his kids entertained he started telling them a story about some prohibition era gangsters based on old gangster movies he had seen as a child. It was at one point where one of the kids brought up the idea of having gangsters be children instead of adults.

The first 15 minutes or so are quite inventive and fun. I enjoyed the freeze-frames showing each victim splattered with whip cream and the pedaled powered automobiles, but after awhile it starts to repeat the same gags over and over becoming a one-dimensional, one-joke flick.

I kept wondering where the adults where and despite this being a fantasy what exactly where the ‘rules’. Is this a type of universe where there are no adults at all and the kids remain at that age forever and if so does that ultimately then make them the ‘adults’? For me it would’ve been better had the story been book-ended with some connection to the world as we know it. Perhaps with a Wizard of Oz type structure where the film starts out, maybe even in black-and-white, with adults in the parts of the gangsters and then one of them gets hit on the head or drinks something with a drug in it and has this weird dream involving kids suddenly taking over the roles previously played by the adults. Showing the differences at how kids approached things versus how the adults do would’ve been a funny contrast instead of keeping it at the kiddie-level the whole way through, which ultimately falls flat.

The performances of the young cast are quite energetic although I could’ve done without the musical numbers. Cassisi, who in real-life ended up serving jail time of his own for money laundering, steals it with his humorous send-up of a mob boss. Baio is quite good too especially with his over-the-top Brooklyn accent, but I felt Foster got shamefully underused. If anything her role should’ve been combined with Blousy’s to make one and cutting out Florrie Dugger, who now goes by the name of Florence Garland, completely. I didn’t have anything against her per say, but she didn’t have the onscreen spark that Foster did. She also apparently disliked Baio and the scene involving her hugging him required many retakes as she didn’t want to get near him and this lack of chemistry comes through onscreen.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 12, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Alan Parker

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

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

Fame (1980)

fame 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: School of Performing arts.

Filmed at the now demolished Haaren High School the film is intended to be a showcase of New York’s famous Fiorello LaGuardia High School that specialized in training students in the arts, dance and drama. The story centers on an eclectic mix of teens that join the school. There’s Doris (Maureen Teefy) who is pushed by her mother (Tresa Hughes) into becoming a singer/actress despite suffering from horrible stage fright. Leroy (Gene Anthony Ray) wants to become a dancer despite not being able to read while Ralph (Barry Miller), Montgomery (Paul McCrane) and Bruno (Lee Curreri) all suffer from personal demons/insecurities of their own.

I’m sure in its day this came off as fresh and exhilarating, but time has not been kind to it. The film starts out with the teens auditioning to get into the school, which might have been interesting had it not come off as a poor man’s version of ‘American Idol’, which has dulled our senses so much to the audition process that anything else now seems second-rate. I think what surprised me most about these scenes is how patient the judges/instructors were as all of the teen’s auditions were quite poor and they should’ve been politely escorted out a minute into them instead of being allowed to continue on with something that was clearly not working. What shocked me even more though is that several of the main characters gave horrid auditions that made it look like they had no talent at all and yet somehow they were accepted into the school anyways making it look like this wasn’t necessarily a place for gifted students after all, but instead just someplace willing to bring in any loser that wanted in.

The characters aren’t appealing either. Doris is much too neurotic; Montgomery is boringly benign and Ralph comes off as an obnoxious, attention-seeking clown. There are many scenes showing the students being highly disrespectful to their instructors that normally would’ve gotten them kicked out of any other school, but here for some reason they don’t. Out of all the students Coco (Irene Cara) was the only one I liked as she had genuine talent and also seemed much more dedicated, but the film ends up degrading her by having her character go to a rundown apartment of some slimy producer who wants to ‘audition’ her for his next film even though it is quite obvious to any viewer that the guy is a first-rate sleazebag and his audition is clearly just a set-up to a scam, or in this case an underground porno.

The script is filled with a lot of unresolved storylines and loopholes. For instance Leroy is unable to read and when this gets discovered he tears up the school in a fit of rage and yet somehow still remains a student for the full four years. Did he eventually teach himself how to read and pay for the damages that he caused? These pertinent questions never get answered, but really should’ve.

I enjoyed the shots capturing the New York’s busy and sometimes dangerous city sidewalks as well as a bird’s-eye shot of Times Square. The scene where a couple of students go to a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture is great, but the rest of the movie is just one long mish-mash. At certain points it tries to be a gritty drama and then at other times it breaks out into tacky dance routines. Instead of being a compelling drama it’s more of a broad overview and would’ve worked much better had the number of main characters been paired down to just one or two and the time span cut from four years to just one.

 

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 16, 1980

Runtime: 2Hours 13Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alan Parker

Studio: MGM

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