Tag Archives: Buck Henry

First Family (1980)

first-family

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: President discovers giant vegetables.

Manfred Link (Bob Newhart) is the current President of the United States. His 28-year-old daughter Gloria (Gilda Radner) is a raging nymphomaniac and his wife Constance (Madeline Kahn) a closet alcoholic. He travels with his family to the fictional nation of Upper Gorm because their active volcano harbors an energy source that could be used to propel nuclear energy. While there he comes upon some giant vegetables that they grow and learns that if he and the nation are willing to sacrifice one virgin per year he could harvest the same results, but with a price.

I’ve been a fan of writer/director Buck Henry for many years, so I’m not exactly sure what went wrong here, but it’s a disaster of epic proportions. Literally nothing is funny and many times just plain excruciatingly lame. It’s almost like they intentionally were trying to make a bad movie and see how many dumb jokes they could throw out before the viewer went screaming from the theater. Much of the humor gets badly botched with a good case in point being the scene where Newhart sips a drink made from goat urine and when he finds out what it is his face turns green, but this effect was done by shining a filtered spotlight on his face and it is very obvious making the effect like much of the movie seem quite hokey.

The movie would’ve worked better had the humor stayed linked to actual politics or what could occur to someone who actually worked in the White House. Instead they throw in any dumb joke that they can simply for the sake of a cheap laugh. The satire is extremely dated and has no connection at all to today’s political scene. The story thread dealing with the giant vegetables is not only stupid, but makes it seem like a material for a completely different genre like cheesy sci-fi.

I didn’t like Gilda Radner’s part at all. Having the secret service constantly chase her down every time she tries to make-out with a man might’ve been funny had the character been an oversexed teen, but this is a 28-year-old woman who has every right to sleep with anyone she wants no matter if her father is the President or not and she should’ve had her parents sued for trying to deny her civil rights.

The rest of the cast is pretty much wasted as well especially Rip Torn who’s given only 4 minutes of screen time. Harvey Korman is mildly amusing as the exasperated Ambassador and Bob Dishy elicits a few chuckles as the wimpy Vice President, but the highly talented Kahn gets stuck in a very unfunny role with her character’s alcoholism being an attempted, but very tasteless satirical stab at First Lady Betty Ford who did suffer from disease.

The filmed bombed badly at the box office and it’s easy to see why. It’s sloppily put together with no eye for detail. Not only is the comedy a dud, but everything else too including the filming of the outside of the island nation which was clearly shot in an indoor set as well as the scene that is supposedly shot in Minnesota, but shows mountains in the background. I was born and raised in Minny and believe me there are no mountains anywhere making me wonder if there was any thought put into this useless tripe at all.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Buck Henry

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

the man who fell to earth

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Alien looking for water.

Thomas Newton Bryce (David Bowie) is a humanoid alien that has come to earth looking for water to bring back to his drought stricken planet. He works under the disguise as an inventor who uses the advanced technical knowledge of his home planet to patent many new inventions that eventually turns him into a millionaire head of a giant conglomerate. He even meets Mary Lou (Candy Clark) a hard-living, earthy girl who he falls in love with. Fuel technician Nathan Byrce (Rip Torn) suspects that Thomas may not be human and takes a secret picture of him with an X-ray camera that reveals his alien make up. Nathan then tips off the government and when Thomas tries to return to his home planet in a spaceship he built himself he is seized and taken into captivity and interrogated.
Director Nicolas Roeg has always had an incredible visual flair and able to take simple stories like Walkabout and Don’t Look Now and turned them into flashy masterpieces. I admire the way he can create atmosphere and attitude with every shot and tell a narrative in fragments and yet still have it come together into a fluid whole.

Watching this movie is particularly fun and the variety of music used is terrific. Whether it is a country oldie or new wave techno it fits and is always lively. The scenes are intoxicating and Roeg seems to be challenging himself by trying to come up with a unique way of capturing everything he shoots.

However, the story is light and proves to get even lighter as it goes along. The first hour, although fun, goes nowhere. The second half has some twists, but they are predictable. There are also tons and tons of loopholes with a letdown of an ending that explains nothing.

When compared to sci-fi films from the past it seems progressive, but in hindsight it is a victim of the 70’s era as it oozes too much with the irreverence of that period. Its main purpose seems to be turning-the- tables on all those sci-fi classics where the alien was always the threat by instead portraying the alien as the gentlest person in the picture. Yet they still could have made this message while giving it a more fleshed-out story and legitimate sci-fi leanings.

The overall glossiness maybe enough for some as it certainly does seem intriguing and promising at the start. Bowie is a perfect choice for the lead and unlike most rock singers, his foray into acting seems solid and almost like he is a natural.

Candy Clark is also outstanding. She is the perfect embodiment of a small town southern girl simple, sweet and generous yet also very to-the-point. Buck Henry is also good playing a part that most resembles his true self and his line describing his father’s advice on how to look a gift horse in the mouth is priceless.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 28, 1976

Runtime: 2Hours 19Minutes

Rated R

Director: Nicolas Roeg

Studio: Columbia

Available: VHS, DVD-R, Amazon Instant Video