Tag Archives: Charles Grodin

Real Life (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ordinary family reality show.

Albert Brooks plays Albert Brooks a hot shot young filmmaker determined to make a splash by filming a regular American family in their home and capturing everything that they do. The idea is for the family to go about their daily lives as if the cameras aren’t really there and then record their interactions. Things though go off-kilter almost immediately, which sends Brooks into a panic as he fears his movie won’t be entertaining enough and forcing him to compromise the project by instilling outside influences in order to make the movie more commercially viable.

This is another film that gets listed in the book ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’, but I’m not sure why. I’ll admit when I first saw it over 30 years ago it struck me as being quite irreverent and edgy at least the beginning, but the second half fades as Brooks loses sight of the main theme and writes himself into a hole. This results in a lot of tired jokes that focuses too much on the filmmaker and not the family.

The idea is based off of the documentary called ‘An American Family’, which was broadcast on PBS from January to May of 1973. This is where a filmmaking crew followed around the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California for 7 months in 1971 and filmed everything that went on between them. The idea was not to sensationalize anything, but instead have it work as an educational program examining the dynamics of how a typical American family works. Although things started out normal it soon began to unravel when the wife asked for a divorce and the couple’s 20 year-old son suddenly came out as gay. All these things were unexpected and many critics felt it was the presence of the cameras that brought them out.

Unfortunately this film misses the mark by having the family’s unraveling occur almost immediately and therefore not taking advantage of a prime comedic arch. The family members also lack any discernable personality and proceed to just get more boring as the film progresses. Certain darkly humorous moments like the scene where the father, played by Charles Grodin, performs a botched operation on a horse as part of his veterinarian practice are not funny at all and instead quite disturbing especially since a real horse was used.

The audience comes into this thing expecting to see a story about a family, but instead gets bombarded with Brooks whose sarcastic personality is only tolerable in small doses. The intended satire of a popular TV-series morphs into scenes of a narcissist filmmaker endlessly whining about his anxieties making the whole thing seem more like a vanity project or worse a limp remake of Federico Fellini’s 8 ½.

Some great moments particularly the opening scenes showing the audition phase get lost amidst a rapid fire of sardonic gags that go nowhere.  I started to wonder if Brooks had even seen the actual series that he is supposedly trying to make fun of, or if he just considered the concept as an excuse to try and make himself the star. The intended surrealism doesn’t work and actually gets in the way with a whacked-out Gone with the Wind-like finale being the worst and only helps cement this as a misfire.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 2, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Albert Brooks

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

King Kong (1976)

king kong 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant ape terrorizes Manhattan.

Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin) works for the Petrox Oil Company and heads an expedition in search of hidden petroleum reserves. He is particularly interested in a small, isolated island that is perpetually shrouded in fog and along the way they rescue Dwan (Jessica Lange) a beautiful, but flighty girl that is a lone survivor of a shipwreck. When the crew arrives at the island they find that it is inhabited by natives who perform some ancient, tribal ritual for a beast that they have caged inside a fenced-in area. They are intent in sacrificing one of their women to the beast, but when they spot Dwan they decide to use her instead where she then becomes the source of fondness to a giant gorilla named Kong. The crewmen are able to rescue Dwan and take the gorilla back to New York where Fred hopes to exploit the beast for his own monetary gain, but the gorilla escapes from his cage and goes on a rampage through the streets of New York looking for Dwan who he considers to be his.

This is a remake of the 1933 classic, which was later remade for a third time in 2005. Out of the three this one is considered to be the weakest, but I found that to be unfair as it still, while not being perfect, holds up well. The story itself is a bit dull and it takes too long until we are finally able to see the ape, a whole 50 minutes to be exact, but once the special effects get going it is impressive.

Some of the best moments come when he goes on a rampage in Manhattan and singlehandedly derails a subway car from its tracks and shakes it until all the people come tumbling out. His ride back to the states inside a freighter and the moment when he bursts through the giant fence on the island are equally exciting visually.

The gorilla is played by special effects artist Rick Baker inside an ape suit, which is something that he has done in other films as well. For the most part he does an excellent job, but I was bothered at the way the animal’s walk gets portrayed. To me it was too fast like the way a human walks instead of an animal and most apes walk on all-fours most of the time, so the fact that this one didn’t appeared unnatural. There are times too when the fur clearly looks like its sewn into a suit and not coming from the skin.

I also didn’t like the moment when the ape gets unveiled for the first time to the American spectators and he is shown wearing a giant crown. Adding in the crown gave it too much of a campy flair and hit home the exploitation theme in a heavy-handed way that was not needed. I also found it hard to believe how they were able to measure the beast’s head, build the crown to a correct proportion and then somehow get it on as they would’ve had to use a crane to do it and he would’ve fought with them while they did and most likely ripped it off the second it was put on.

Grodin is fun as the egoistical, but clearly clueless leader of the expedition and he ends up getting most of the film’s laughs.  Lange though in her film debut is fantastic and I loved her free-spirited, thrill-seeking character who is partially scared of the beast, but also intrigued by him and so consumed with getting media attention that she compromises her better judgement in the process.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1976

Runtime: 2Hours 14Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Guillerman

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

The Woman in Red (1984)

woman in red 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lusting after a model.

Teddy (Gene Wilder) seems to have it all. A great wife (Judith Ivey) a good home in the suburbs and stable job, but then one day that all changes when he inexplicably meets Charlotte (Kelly LeBrock) a beautiful model who turns him on so much he can no longer think straight and jeopardizes his marriage in the process. He gets his friends Buddy and Joey (Charles Grodin, Joseph Bologna) to cover for him while he makes any excuse he can to get away and see her. Unfortunately through a misunderstanding the homely Ms. Milner (Gilda Radner) thinks she is the source of Teddy’s affections, so as Teddy tries to get with Charlotte he must also avoid Ms. Milner who is just as relentless.

The film starts off with lots of potential, but is unable to fully deliver. Part of the problem is that it introduces this amusing side-story involving Radner’s character and then abruptly drops it during the second half. Radner makes for a perfect comic foil and her scenes should’ve been played up much more. However, her attempts to get back at Teddy by vandalizing his car is amusing, but you would think that Teddy would want to know why she is so angry at him as he is unaware that he has mistakenly asked her out or at the very least sued her for the damages that she has done and yet the film doesn’t tackle any of this, but realistically should’ve.

Wilder, who also wrote and directed the film, is okay, but it doesn’t take enough advantage of his signature comic rants and high strung persona. Bologna is good as Teddy’s brash, womanizing friend, but I didn’t understand why he got so upset when his wife left him as he had openly fooled around on her with a lot of different women and most men in his situation would rejoice that they were now ‘free’.

The usually reliable Grodin is ineffective and the segment where he pretends to play a blind man that inadvertently tears up a bar is dumb and unfunny. I did however enjoy LeBrock who looks gorgeous throughout.

There are a few amusing moments including Teddy’s attempts at riding a horse despite having no experience, but overall the comedy is spotty. The pacing is poor and the story is disjointed coming off more like a bunch of vignettes strung around a one-joke plot. The only thing that saves it is the ending where Teddy attempts at ‘hiding out’ while standing on the ledge of a tall building that quickly attracts a lot of onlookers who think that his ready to jump, which is the movie’s best moment.

This film is actually a remake of the 1976 classic French film Pardon Mon Affaire, which I will review for next week.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Gene Wilder

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The Heartbreak Kid (1972)

the heartbreak kid 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Newlywed cheats during honeymoon.

Lenny (Charles Grodin) meets Lila (Jeannie Berlin) at a bar and after a brief courtship decides to take the plunge. However, while traveling to Florida for their honeymoon he becomes aware of all of her annoying habits and quickly realizes he’s made a terrible mistake especially after coming into contact with Kelly (Cybill Shepherd) a statuesque blonde college girl who appears to have the hots for him.

It’s hard to tell what the moral of the story is supposed to be whether its date someone for an extended period of time before jumping into marriage or the idea that being with someone for ’40 or 50 years’ as the Lila character says constantly throughout is just not a sexy or romantic notion for some. Either way it’s a funny concept and the Lenny character with his self-serving needs is highly relatable. Grodin is perfect for the part and one of the main reasons the film succeeds. His facial expressions are great and his running excuse about visiting an ‘old army buddy’ every time he wants to see Kelly is hilarious.

Shepherd is good as well playing a snarky character that seems to closely resemble her persona. However, the motivations of her character seem all wrong. Had Lenny initially approached her I might have bought into it, but instead she is the one who makes the first move, which seemed hard to believe that this beautiful young woman would be attracted to such an average looking guy or why he even caught her attention out of the hundreds of other men already on the beach. Her character also comes off as a bona fide cocktease, someone who enjoys leading a guy on for the attention it gets her, but will quickly bail once it gets serious, which makes their eventual dreamy relationship seem all the more farfetched.

Eddie Albert gets one of his best latter career roles here and was even nominated for the Academy Award in the part as Kelly’s stubborn father who takes an intense dislike to Lenny. However, I wished their confrontations had been played up a bit more and felt cheated when Albert tells Grodin he will never agree to him marrying his daughter only to have the film immediately cut to showing him giving Kelly away to him at their wedding, but what exactly did Grodin do to win Albert over? We are never shown what it is and this in the process makes the viewer feel frustrated and confused and the film seem incomplete.

This same story was remade in 2007 by the Farrelly brothers with Ben Stiller playing the Grodin role and although that movie was overlong, poorly paced and filled with a lot of running jokes that weren’t funny it at least was a little more plausible especially with the way Stiller meets the other woman.

the heartbreak kid 1

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Elaine May

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS