Tag Archives: Andrea Marcovicci

The Front (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Covering for blacklisted writers.

In 1953 during the height of the Red Scare where many working in Hollywood were blacklisted if they had any connections with communist sympathizers writer Alfred Miller (Michael Murphy) suddenly finds himself out of work and unable sell any of his scripts. He asks his friend Howard (Woody Allen) who works as a cashier at a cafe to act as a ‘front’ for him by selling his scripts to producers and acting as if he wrote them instead of Alfred. In exchange Howard would be able to collect 10 % of the profit, which he readily accepts. Soon Alfred’s other writer friends hire Howard to sell their scripts, which quickly makes him financially comfortable, but he soon sees the dark side of the business especially when he gets investigated for being communist sympathizer himself.

The film was written and directed by those who personally went through the blacklisting when it happened, which is great, but the film cannot seem to decide whether it wants to be a drama or comedy and takes too much of a timid, middle-of-the-road approach that is neither impactful nor memorable.  Lots of prime comedic potential gets completely glossed over like when Howard is forced to do a rewrite on a script in a hurry despite having no background, or knowledge on how to do it. This occurs twice and both times the film fails to show what he does to get out of the jam, he is shown for a couple of seconds on the phone presumably with Alfred getting advice, but it would’ve been funny hearing their conversation and seeing him quite literally sweat his way through the process.

Spoiler Alert!

The drama gets handled in too much of a genteel way too making the intended message mild and not something that completely connects emotionally with the viewer. The scene where Zero Mostel jumps out of a hotel window when he realizes his career is over happens much too fast. One second we hear the window being opened and the next second the camera quickly pans over to see that Mostel is no longer standing in the room making it seem more like he just disappeared into thin air. The ending where Howard finds himself forced to testify in front of the House of UnAmerican Activities panel is weak as well. The final 20 minutes is spent with this big build-up of what Howard will do when he is put in front of them, but the payoff is slight and hinges on him telling them to go ‘fuck themselves’, which is such an overused expression in this modern age that it hardly resonates as it once might’ve been.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Allen is an obnoxious protagonist that I did not find funny or sympathetic. He became so unlikable that I started wanting to see him get caught and even humiliated, which I don’t think was what the filmmakers intended the viewer to feel. I also thought it was ridiculous that this scrawny, dorky looking guy would be so brazen to come-on to hot looking women like he does. I know in the movies that he directs this always occurs and I looked past it as Woody simply revealing his diluted, narcisstic ego, but this film was done by a different director, so things should’ve been presented in a more realistic way by having the beautiful women laugh at Woody when he attempted to ask them out and forcing him to settle for someone his physical equal. I realize that Andrea Marcovicci’s character falls for Woody because she thinks he’s the writer of the scripts, but I would think after she went out with him for awhile she’d start to realize he wasn’t the same person she thought he was and not have to have it explicitly spelled out  for like it ultimately is.

It would’ve worked much better had Michael Murphy been cast as Howard as he was more able to convey likable qualities. Zero Mostel is also quite strong as the desperate comedian and had his character been cast in the lead it would’ve given the viewer a stronger feeling of what it was like to be blacklisted during that era as the story would’ve been told from the victim’s point-of-view instead of having those directly affected by the McCarthyism relegated to only supporting parts.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 30, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Martin Ritt

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Hand (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He loses his hand.

Jon Lansdale (Michael Caine) is a gifted comic book illustrator who loses his hand in a freak car accident. They are unable to locate the missing limb at the scene and therefore unable to reattach, so he’s fitted with a prosthetic one made of metal. In the meantime the severed one goes on a murderous rampage killing all those that Jon has a problem with.

The film, which is based on the novel ‘The Lizard’s Tail’ by Marc Brandell, can best be described as an experimental horror and to some degree is quite intriguing. I liked the psychological subtext showing the hand as being a symbol to Jon’s subconscious and acting out the anger that he felt from others, but ordinarily too reluctant to do anything about. The story conveys a very universal message that we are in many ways two people, the one we choose to display to the world and the other more politically incorrect one that we try to hide from it.

Had it remained more on a subtle, intellectual side it might’ve worked, but showing the severed hand as much as it does is its biggest downfall. The scenes showing the hand strangling people looks quite tacky as instead of seeming like the victim is trying to pull the hand off of their throat it looks more like they are trying to hold it in place so it doesn’t fall off. It also brings up all sorts of unanswered questions like how is the hand able to move around so quickly and sneak inside buildings and cars and where does it get the strength to strangle people, or jump up to their throats when all the muscles connected to it have been severed away.

It would’ve worked better had the hand not been shown at all and kept a mystery as to what was causing the murders and then only at the end expose the hand as being the culprit, which would’ve made Jon’s final confrontation with it much more startling and impactful. An even better idea would’ve been to have the metal hand act as the one that does the killing since this one resembled Freddy Kruegar’s and looked far creepier.

Oliver Stone’s direction is interesting especially his technique of going from color to black and white and then back again, but the story drags on longer than it should and seems to give too much away. The twist at the end is great because it’s actually a logical one that makes perfect sense, but then at the last second Stone sells-out by throwing in tacky ‘second twist’ that is nothing but a gimmick that makes the whole thing seem too commercial.

On the acting side Caine is adequate, but I found his wavy hair far more fascinating than the hand and I especially enjoyed seeing how progressively disheveled it gets the more insane that he becomes. Andrea Marcovicci is standout as his wife. Initially I thought she was too young to play his spouse as there was a 16 year difference between the two, but her very expressive face particularly her blue eyes and the way it conveys fear helps heighten the suspense.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Oliver Stone

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Stuff (1985)

the stuff

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ice cream can kill

An old man comes upon some white stuff bubbling up from the ground and when he tries it he becomes addicted to its delicious taste. Soon everybody in the small town he is in becomes hooked to it as well. Some businessmen, who would never touch the stuff themselves, decide to market it as the next new variation of ice cream and call it The Stuff. It becomes a national craze, but when 11-year-old Jason (Scott Bloom) finds it crawling around in his refrigerator late one night he becomes convinced that there is something wrong with it, but he can’t get his family to stop eating it. Mo Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) begins to get his suspicions as well when he is hired by a competing company to find out what the secret ingredients are only to come at a dead-end with people he talks to. When everyone starts to display odd zombie-like behavior the two join forces to shut down the company that produces.

It is really hard to figure out what genre to put this thing into. Most movie sites list it under the horror category, but there really isn’t anything that scary in it. I might actually put it as sci-fi, but it is a bit vapid at that level. If anything I would say the true category would be as a parody of all those old sci-fi movies from the 50’s as well as a satire on mass consumerism.

The film does feature some goofy commercials advertising the product that is spread throughout the story and features famous B-celebrities as the spokes people. My favorite was the one with Abe Vigoda and Clara Peller. Peller was famous for doing a Wendy’s commercial in the 80’s where she asked “Where’s the beef?” and in the ad here she asks “Where’s The Stuff?”

The special effects are hit and miss. The best ones feature the white liquid that looks like a cross between marshmallow topping, shaving cream and the white foamy stuff that comes out of a fire extinguisher. The best moment is when it starts to spew out of a pillow in a hotel room with such force that it completely covers a man with it and sticks him onto the ceiling. I also liked the part where actor Garret Morris has his mouth opened to an extreme size before he spits it out and then has his head explode.

Moriarty with his unique acting style scores again as a sort of anti-hero. His presence gives the movie an interesting edge. His bowl haircut, Cheshire grin and beady eyes make him almost look like some loner psycho killer from the sticks and allow for one funny exchange between him and actor Alexander Scourby’s character:

Scourby: You’re not as dumb as you look.

Moriarty: Nobody could be as dumb as I look.

As much as I love Andrea Marcovicci who is a truly beautiful woman to look at as well as a great actress I felt her character was not needed. She plays a woman who also teams up with Mo and Jason in their crusade to stop the Stuff. The romantic interplay between Mo and her character didn’t work and takes away from the quirkiness and edge that the Mo character had at the beginning. Having the heroes exclusively been between a kid and a middle-aged man would have been much more of a fun novelty.

The film does not have the schlocky, low budget production values that are a characteristic of most Larry Cohen movies. The lighting, variety of locales and reproduction of an Ice Cream factory are actually quite impressive. This is also one of the few films where you get to see the inside of a liquid storage truck. However, it lacks any type of interesting twist or payoff. There is never any explanation about what this white stuff is, or how it got there. There is also hundreds of potentially interesting scenarios and story threads that it could have taken, but doesn’t. In the end I felt this thing was just tapping the surface and the final result is rather empty and forgettable.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 14, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming