Tag Archives: Carl Reiner

The Man with Two Brains (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Brain in a jar.

Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (Steve Martin) is a world famous brain surgeon who accidentally hits Dolores Benedict (Kathleen Turner) one day while driving his car. He immediately does surgery on her and during the recovery the two get married. However, Dolores is only interested in Michael’s money and continues to see other men behind his back. Michael on-the-other hand  meets with Dr. Alfred Necessiter (David Warner) who keeps live brains in jars in his condo. Michael (Steve Martin) begins communicating with one of the brains (voice of Sissy Spacek) via telepathy and decides it is she that he really loves. When he becomes aware that the brain will not survive much longer on its own he desperately tries to find a suitable body to transplant it into.

This Steve Martin/Carl Reiner production, which is their third project together, certainly has its moments and I particularly liked the the mysterious elevator killer although once his identity is finally revealed viewers today will have no idea who that person actually is. However for the most part the film is highly uneven. Having it centered as a horror movie parody would’ve given it better focus and the jokes more of a point-of-view instead of just throwing in any haphazard gag it wants many of which have nothing to do with its already paper thin plot.

I realize this is all meant to be a very silly comedy, but having two victims get hit by a vehicle, once with Turner and then later on with Stephanie Kramer, in her film debut, where neither victim shows any sign of blood, scratches, or bruising is a bit ridiculous. This is where if it had been approached as a horror/comedy then they could’ve thrown in some gore, but in an over-the-top goofy way, that would’ve allowed a new dimension for laughs while also given it just a smidgen of reality to it, which otherwise is lacking.

Martin’s ability to have a conversation with a brain in a jar without any special apparatus connecting the two is equally ridiculous. The excuse is that it’s ‘telepathy’, but why is he able to communicate with just the one brain when there are many others that are also in the room? What special ability does this brain have over the others and why is Martin the only one that can hear it and no one else?

Having Martin hear Spacek’s voice as her thoughts come into his brain doesn’t make sense either. The definition of telepathy is the  communication of thoughts and ideas other than the known senses, but nothing to do with voices. Thoughts in themselves don’t have a distinct voice connected to them unless the brain is attached to a voice box, which this one isn’t.  It is true that thoughts going on in person’t own head may have that person’s voice, so Martin should actually be hearing his own voice as his brain deciphers the messages being sent to it from the other one much like if he were reading out loud a note that had been written by someone else.

This also marks an odd career choice for Turner who burst onto the scene with her sexy performance in Body Heat . I realize that in her effort to avoid typecasting she wanted to do something that was completely different from her first film, but her character is too campy and one-dimensional and she ends up getting completely upstaged by Martin in every scene they’re in. The role also has a creepy foreshadowing as her character gains a lot of weight much like she has in reality due to her rheumatoid arthritis. In real-life it’s the drugs and chemo that caused the weight gain while here it’s created through make-up and a body suit and intended for comical effect.

There’s also an interesting behind-the-scenes story dealing with a scene involving a 5-year-old girl, played by Mya Stark, who must verbally repeat back to Martin from memory a very complicated set of directions that he had just told her. Since she was too young to read no cue cards were used and director Reiner figured it would take all day to film the scene convinced that many retakes would inevitably be required for her to finally get the lines right, but instead to his shock she repeated the lines back correctly the very first time. Then 30 years later in 2012 Reiner was standing in line at a store when a female business executive approached him and introduced herself. She stated that they had met many years before, but Reiner didn’t recognize her until she told him that she was that little girl now all grown up.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 3, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Enter Laughing (1967)

enter laughing

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Acting is his dream.

Loosely based on writer/director Carl Reiner’s experiences as a fledgling actor trying to work his way up into the business circa 1938. The story centers on David Kolowitz (Reni Santoni) who works as an apprentice at a machine repair shop, but dreams of one day making a living as a stage actor. He gets his break when he auditions for a part in a low budget stage production run by an aging, alcoholic actor named Harrison Marlowe (Jose Ferrer). Marlowe is not impressed with David’s acting ability, which is marginal at best, but at the insistence of his daughter Angela (Elaine May), who thinks David is ‘cute’, he decides to give him a try under the condition that David must pay them to perform in it and also must come up with his own costume.

Although this was a big success on Broadway as a film is has not aged well and is quite bland. The story is better suited as an episode for a sitcom and stretching out such a thin one-dimensional plot to an almost two-hour runtime becomes quite boring particularly with its plodding pace and direction. The only time it ever gets even mildly funny is during David’s audition scene, but even this ultimately falls flat particularly with the idea that David would be dumb enough to think that words in a script that are in parenthesis would be part of the dialogue and not a stage direction. You would think someone who has spent his entire life dreaming of being ‘the next Ronald Coleman’, who was a big movie star during the ‘30s, would know how a basic script is constructed and therefore this attempt at humor fails.

Santoni, in his first major film role, is terrific and despite being of Hispanic heritage, which Reiner is not, still manages to resemble Carl quite well during Reiner’s younger years. However, the character is too painfully naïve and dumb as he clumsily walks himself into messy situations long after the viewer, or anyone else with some common sense, would clearly see the obvious red flags.

Janet Margolin is beautiful playing David’s girlfriend Wanda and her presence gets an ‘A’ simply for her attractive face alone, but the romantic scenes do nothing but bog this already slow moving film down even further. Also, having David be so oblivious to her insecurities about him working with an attractive leading lady onstage makes him seem insensitive and not funny as intended.

Elaine May is good and so is Jack Gilford as David’s boss at the repair shop. It’s also fun seeing Carl’s real-life son, Rob Reiner, who later became famous for playing Mike Stivic on ‘All in the Family, making his film debut as a nerdy, would-be actor, but overall the film is dated and contrived.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: February 25, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS

The Art of Love (1965)

art of love

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Artist fakes his death.

Paul (Dick Van Dyke) is a struggling painter living in Paris who has not been able to make any money with his paintings and feels ready to give up and move back to the states. Casey (James Garner) is his roommate and best friend who tries to convince him to stay by coming up with a scheme where Paul fakes his death by jumping off a bridge and committing suicide, which should bolster the value of his paintings based on the concept that an artist’s work becomes more sought after once they are dead. The plan works, but it forces Paul to go into hiding and allows Casey to make a play at Paul’s fiancée Laurie (Angie Dickinson). When Paul finds out about this he confronts Casey and then things get really zany.

Carl Reiner’s script is trite to the extreme and although it moves at a brisk pace it is not very funny, or even passably amusing. The concept of an artist having to die in order to get his work to sell is an interesting idea to explore, but unfortunately like everything else in the film it is handled in a superficial way and used mainly as a springboard to all sorts of other wild scenarios that become increasingly sillier as it goes along.  Norman Jewison’s direction is dull and unimaginative and despite the fact that it has a European setting it was actually filmed on a Universal studios back-lot, which doesn’t help give it any atmosphere or distinction.

Van Dyke’s character is unrealistically ‘goody-goody’ and clean-cut.  He comes into contact with Nikki (Elke Sommer) a beautiful blonde woman who shows a strong interest in Paul, but he immediately and rigidly rebuffs her like he has no sex drive at all. The comic schtick that he does here is the same stuff we’ve seen him do hundreds of times before and he basically becomes Rob Petrie again simply transplanted into a European setting.

Although he has less comic opportunity Garner is clearly the better actor and has much more of a screen presence. It is easy to see why he continued to get choice movie roles for decades to come while Van Dyke became permanently demoted back to television.

Sommer is wasted in a transparent role. Dickinson, who three years later co-starred with Van Dyke in Some Kind of a Nut is equally forgettable and her constant propensity at fainting becomes increasingly more unfunny the more it occurs.

Ethel Merman makes the most of her role despite its limitations, but every time she speaks she seems to be shouting. Reiner is probably the most amusing out of all the characters in a brief bit as Garner’s shyster lawyer.

I wish I could tell you that there was at least one truly funny moment here, but there really isn’t. The humor is flat and dated and no better than a poor TV-sitcom and in many ways even worse.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 30, 1965

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.

Where’s Poppa? (1970)

wheres poppa 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mother has to go.

A beleaguered Gordon (George Segal) is a man who must take care of his invalid mother (Ruth Gordon). Despite being a handsome young lawyer he has literally become trapped by this very difficult woman. The majority of the film takes place in a 1940’s styled apartment. It’s gray, dusty bleakness permeates every shot and shows just how lodged Gordon is in his mother’s world. He is a normal man that is slowly being sucked into madness. He is becoming mad because the world he lives in and life in general is driving him to it. The wall between what he really wants to do in life and his obligations have become so thick that going crazy may be the only real answer.

In fact madness maybe pretty much is what this film is really about. It seems to be saying that there is a certain functioning normality to it and at times even a necessity for it. Everyone in this film conveys their own unique form of madness. There’s the overzealous war general (hilariously played by Barnard Hughes) There’s also the henpecked brother/husband Sidney (Ron Leibman) who goes to almost absurd lengths to make sure everyone is happy. Even innocent, conservative Louise (Trish Van Devere) opens into the crazy world when explaining her rather unique honeymoon experience. The film delves so deeply and consistently into the world of the absurd that at times the senile Mother really doesn’t seem so nutty.

This is the film’s genius. It takes everything we have always accepted and turns it inside out. It takes some of life’s most depressing things and then makes it into an inspired and creative masterpiece. A trip to the old folk’s home has never been considered by many to be funny or memorable, yet a trip to Paul Sorvino’s old folk’s home is. In fact it maybe one of the funniest scenes you’ll ever see.

Writer Robert Klane and director Carl Reiner show an amazing grasp of their material, which is crucial for its success. Everything is fluid and consistent in tone. It shows how you can indeed have an offbeat idea, do it in an offbeat way, and still succeed without compromising.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: July 9, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 22minutes

Rated R

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD