Tag Archives: Laraine Newman

American Hot Wax (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: DJ plays the hits.

The film centers on real-life disc jockey (Alan Freed) who was instrumental in bringing rock ‘n’ roll music to the airwaves during the late 50’s and even credited with coining the phrase. Unfortunately he also got wrapped up in a payola scandal in which record companies paid him under-the-table to play their records on the air, which destroyed his career and left him in virtual poverty before dying in 1965 at the young age of 43 from cirrhosis of the liver.

I’ll admit I never longed for the nostalgia of the late 50’s or early 60’s.  Everything from that period seemed silly and antiquated to me and yet this film nicely brings out the excitement that people living then had. There clearly was a feeling of change on the horizon particularly in the music scene and it’s fun seeing all the young people jumping in and trying to become a part of it. The recreation of that energy is great and the one thing that this movie does well. Unfortunately it quickly becomes one-note with an unending procession of different music groups clamoring to become the next big act. Watching people stop Freed on the street and giving him a impromptu audition is at first fun, but seeing that scenario get repeated continuously is tedious.

There are some famous fresh young faces in the cast including Jay Leno, Fran Drescher, and Laraine Newman, but their parts are small and their appearances erratic. The story desperately needed a central character for the viewer to latch onto and none gets forthcoming. The barrage of people that get thrown in and then just as quickly forgotten makes the film unfocused and lacking any type of real plot.

McIntire is excellent, but his character badly undernourished. There’s a hackneyed dramatic segment where we see him conversing with his father on the phone and are given the idea that he is on rough terms with him, but it never gets explored further and for the most part we learn nothing at all about his personal life including the fact that he was married three times and had four kids, which never even gets mentioned while the payola scandal is only briefly touched on. The film would’ve had more substance had they explored the man’s personality and life more, but instead he remains as a frustratingly distant figure.

Clearly the filmmakers were looking to cash-in on the success of American Graffiti and hence the similar title, but just recreating the look and music of a bygone era isn’t enough. Even the appearances of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis fail to save a superficial effort that justifiably bombed badly at the box office.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 17, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Floyd Mutrux

Studio: Paramount

Available: None at the time.

Invaders from Mars (1986)

invaders from mars

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid fights off aliens.

In this remake of the 1953 original Hunter Carson plays David an 11-year-old boy who witnesses a giant spaceship landing just over the hill from his backyard. Initially no one believes him, but then his parents, teacher, and classmates start acting strangely and have weird marks on the back of their necks. The only one who believes him is Linda (Karen Black) the school counselor. Together they try to save the rest of the town and blow up the alien ship with the help of General Climet Wilson (James Karen) and the rest of the U.S. Marines.

Director Tobe Hooper crafts a loving tribute to Americana by creating a house on a soundstage and a picturesque hill where the aliens land that seems to pay tribute to the 50’s. Jimmy Hunt who played the kid in the original appears here as a policeman. The musical score by Christopher Young has a nice variety of tempos and beats. It’s loud and intense during certain segments and then almost like a lullaby over the closing credits. The special effects aren’t exactly impressive, but I did like the segment showing how the aliens surgically insert the device into the backs of people’s necks in order to turn them into zombie-like creatures. I also got a kick out of the aliens especially their leader who was made to look like a brain with eyes and a mouth, connected to something that looked like an umbilical cord that shot out of what appeared to me like a giant rectum.

The eclectic cast is fun. Louise Fletcher hams it up in another parody of her famous Nurse Ratched role this time as the overbearing teacher Mrs. McKeltch. The part where she swallows a frog whole with its green blood trickling down the sides of her mouth is a highlight.  It is also great seeing Laraine Newman playing David’s mother. The part isn’t all that exciting, but I always thought she was unfairly overlooked and underappreciated as one of the original cast members of ‘Saturday Night Live’ and her talents has never been used to their full potential.

Black is always interesting and here even more so because she plays the only normal person for a change instead of a kooky eccentric like she usually does. The only issue I had with the character is that she believed David’s story much too quickly and even showed him the back of her neck without asking why. It seemed to me that with kids and their wild imagination that she would be more hesitant and take more time in convincing.

To some extent casting Carson in the lead is interesting simply because he is Black’s son in real-life although he resembles his actor/writer father L.M. Kit Carson much more. However, the kid really couldn’t act and tries much too hard to show any type of emotion. I also thought that a normal child would have been so curious after having seen the spaceship land that he would have wanted to go to where it was beyond the hill and take a look at it and the fact that he immediately doesn’t seemed unrealistic.

The introduction of the Marines during the film’s second half backfires as it becomes too chaotic. The charm at the beginning is lost and it turns into just another campy action flick. The ‘double-ending’ is formulaic, ill-advised and ridiculous and comes very close to ruining the whole thing.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 6, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Tobe Hooper

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: VHS, DVD, YouTube