Tag Archives: Offbeat

The Gong Show Movie (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jaye P. Morgan topless.

A very fractured, offbeat look at game show host Chuck Barris and his trials and tribulations as producer and host of the hit 70’s game show ‘The Gong Show’. In between there are some very short snippets of acts that never made it past the network censor. If you are unfamiliar with the show it featured three B-celebrities, usually Jamie Farr, Artie Johnson, and Jaye P. Morgan, who would watch talent acts performed by amateurs. The acts were usually done in the comic and absurd vein and could include anything from singing, dancing, or stand-up comedy. If they were really bad the celebrities would get out of their seats and bang a big gong that was behind them, which would have the performer thrown off. If the participant avoided being gonged they would then have the potential of winning a monetary prize at the end.

If you were not a fan of the show then you probably won’t be a fan of this movie either. If you were a fan you still might not like it because Barris acts consistently embarrassed by his creation and seems to want to disown it.

The film lacks cohesion. It mixes absurdity with surrealism and even trashy segments thrown in for good measure. The quirky bits are forced and the ‘hilarious’ dialogue is just plain stupid. There is also too many scenes involving a stuffy, uptight network boss who is so over- the-top clichéd that he becomes annoying.

Barris never seemed completely cut out for a game show host and even less as a leading man. He has no charisma and  spends the whole time moping around. He comes off as very burdened making you wonder if his stories about being a part-time CIA hit man were true. Either way he is not an engaging centerpiece for a movie. It would have been better had it broadened out and shown more of “The Gong Show” cast especially Jaye P. Morgan who is as raunchy as ever in the few scenes that she is in including her topless part!

The show always had a unique and perverse brilliance, which comes out every time it features one of the acts from the show making me feel that using this simply as a highlight reel of all of the best and most outrageous acts would have been a better idea. The ones that they show aren’t bad, but they are cut pretty short. A few of the ones that I liked featured two teenaged girls performing fellatio with their popsicles. Another one has three men standing at a urinal and making music with their zippers until one of their zippers gets caught! There is also two obese Siamese twins singing the Captain and Tennille hit ‘Love Will Keep Us Together’.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 23, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated R (Language, Brief Nudity, Raunchy Humor)

Director: Chuck Barris

Studio: Universal

Available: None

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She is all alone.

Rynn (Jodie Foster) is a 13-year-old girl living alone in a big house in the countryside. Her father has leased the place for three years from nosy landlady Mrs. Hallet (Alexis Smith) and her adult son Frank (Martin Sheen) who continually makes lecherous advances towards Rynn. No one has seen her father and when anyone asks for him she comes up with excuses, which starts to make everyone in town suspicious. She meets fellow teen Mario (Scott Jacoby) who she lets in on her secret and the two devise a plan that will rid them of the meddlesome Hallets.

Although she has stated in interviews that this is the least favorite out of all the movies that she has done I can’t think of anyone more perfect for the part of an independent headstrong young woman than Foster, who has always carried that persona. Despite the vast age difference she easily carries the picture from her older co-stars. There is even a nude scene involving her character although it was done by her older sister Connie working as a body double. This was done despite her adamant protests as was a scene where she goes to bed with Jacoby, which she has said made her extremely uncomfortable and probably explains her dislike for the film.

Sheen is menacing as the perverted Frank, who enjoys ‘younger girls’ and his ongoing banter and advances with Rynn is consistently creepy and tense. Alexis Smith is excellent as the mother and her worn face and attitude gives her a witchy presence and it is too bad she couldn’t have remained for the entire movie. I also found Jacoby engaging and amiable and I really enjoyed his character, which I found a bit surprising since he is best known for playing dark, sinister characters in Rivals and the TV-movie Bad Ronald.

The on-location shooting, which was done in both the Canadian province of Quebec and in Maine, is excellent and gives one a nice taste of small town life on the east coast. There is some nice synthesized music that gives the film a dark tone. The premise is offbeat and to some extent, at least during the first half, it is enough to keep you intrigued.

My main issue with the film is the fact that not enough happens. Almost all the action takes place in the main room of the house, which eventually becomes dull, especially visually. There are no scares, or shocks and the twists aren’t all that clever, or surprising. In fact the final twist I saw coming long before it happens. There are times when cutaways would have been helpful and spiced things up particularly when Rynn talks about a visit from her mother and her ‘long red finger nails’, which we never see and is just described. The conclusion leaves A LOT of unanswered questions making this thing empty and incomplete. The final shot is one very long take of a close-up of Foster staring at a subject while the credits role by, which eventually becomes annoying and it would have been better had they done a freeze-frame instead of forcing her to sit and stare at something way longer than humanely possible. Also, composer Mort Shulman is badly miscast as the policeman. His acting abilities are clearly limited and he shows no presence or authority and makes the scenes he is in weak.

It is hard to know what genre to put this in. It is really not scary and the mystery angle has too many loopholes to being taken seriously. The story, based on a novel by Laird Koenig, seems rather tame despite some dark elements and geared more for teens, or young adults.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG (Brief Nudity, Mild Cursing)

Director: Nicholas Gessner

Studio: American International

Available:  VHS, DVD, Netflix Streaming

Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad (1967)

oh dad poor dad

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Overprotective mother dominates son.

This is an awful, awful film based on the Arthur Kopit stage play of the same name. Overly domineering mother Madame Rosepettle (Rosalind Russell) keeps her son Jonathan (Robert Morse), who is 25, in a near infantile state. She also travels around with her dead husband in a coffin. Problems ensue when they arrive at a resort and meet up with nubile Rosalie (Barbra Harris) who tempts Jonathan and threatens to break him away from his mother’s clutches.

If done right this film could have, I suppose, gained some sort of cult following. Yet it is so poorly realized and so thoroughly botched that it is impossible to know where one could begin to improve it as it deserves to be in the top ten of worst movies of all time.

One of the problems is the setting itself. For some reason it was filmed in Montego Bay, Jamaica. This certainly does provide for sunny and exotic scenery, but it does not at all work with its twisted, dark subject matter. The music score is also really bad. It was done by Neal Hefti the same man who did the music for the “Batman” TV-show and the soundtrack here sounds just like that one. He also has the theme song sung by children which is as irritating as nails scratching on a blackboard. The color schemes are garish and ugly. The humor is flat and the story itself is threadbare. When you get past the weird fringes all you have left is a stale, plodding coming-of- age tale.

Morse seems a natural for the part as the ‘man-child’ since he has always had a very boyish face. Yet, in an attempt to show that he is never let outside, he is made to look extremely pale and the effect is a bit sickening to look at. His infantile state is played too much to the extreme and comes off as pathetic. It is not at all funny even in an absurd, or dark way.

Russell’s presence makes it somewhat interesting. She was a legendary actress and this was certainly a very unique career move. Maybe she wanted to prove herself versatile after her Mother Superior part in The Trouble with Angels, which she had done just a year before doing this, yet in hindsight it was bad judgment. Seeing her in the strange part is fun for a few seconds, but eventually it gets over-the-top. She ends up looking like Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest. You do however get to see her wear a variety of wigs and even do a wild water ski stunt at the end.

Harris has always been one terrific actress and she is good even here and the only reason I’m giving this film one point. She made a career out of playing neurotic women, but here plays a more normal one and it is interesting to compare this performance with her others.

Jonathan Winters (no relation) adds some amusing bits doing voice-over as the dead father. He was brought in after the film was completed and some of his lines have nothing to do with the plot.

The message of the story is nebulous. The video box cover states that it is a study of “human confusion”. Yet the characters seem too extreme to be relatable on any human level. They also don’t evolve and act the same idiotic way at the end as they did at the beginning so neither they nor the viewer come to any better understanding of anything. It is a complete waste of time.This film deserves its near extinct status and isn’t fun even as a curio.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: February 15, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Richard Quine

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS

Bunny O’Hare (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bette becomes a hippie.

Extremely odd Bette Davis vehicle made in her later years when her career had crested and she was forced to be less choosy about her projects. The story has to do with a lonely widow named Bunny O’Hare (Davis) who losses her home to foreclosure and is rendered homeless. She meets an older man named Bill Gruenwald (Ernest Borgnine) who is an escaped bank robber. Together they dress up as hippies and rob banks throughout the state of New Mexico in order to survive.

Davis is exceptional. Usually she plays cold, manipulative characters, but here she gives a perfect, touching performance as a nice old lady. She is terrific in every scene that she is in and the only bright spot in what is otherwise a misfire. Borgnine though seems wasted and thrown in only as a stock character.

The story really has nowhere to go. The intention was to make the film a mixture of social satire and slapstick, but it fails on either end. The novelty wears off quickly and it soon becomes derivative. Initially their ploy to rob the banks seemed clever as Bill releases a bird into the bank, which causes such a distraction that they are able to rob it without detection, but it becomes tiring when it gets played-out again and again. The police are portrayed as being universally bumbling and making it seem like a six-year old could rob a bank and easily get away with it. I also did not like the banjo music being played as they are trying to get away from the cops as it seems too similar to the much better film Bonnie and Clyde and in fact the original title for this movie was going to be ‘Bunny and Claude’.

The casting of Jack Cassidy as Lieutenant Greely, the policeman who becomes obsessed with capturing them, should’ve worked.  He was very adept at playing cold, cunning, slightly offbeat characters as evidenced by his Emmy Award winning performances on the old Columbo TV-show as well as the cult TV-series He and She. He was the husband of actress Shirley Jones and the father of Shaun and David Cassidy whose career was unfortunately cut short when he ended up dying in a fire in 1976 after falling asleep with a lit cigarette. His unique talent here is stifled because the character is portrayed as being unrealistically dimwitted and saps any possible energy from the scenes that he is in.

Actress Joan Delaney makes a terrific addition as his female counterpart R.J. Hart. She is young, attractive, and hip. She plays off of Greely’s old, regimented ways quite well and it is a shame that, with the exception of a very brief appearance in the 1991 comedy Scenes From a Mall, this ended up being her last film.

The New Mexico landscape is nice, but I got the feeling that the location shooting had not been scouted out sufficiently. The police station didn’t look authentic at all. It seemed like scenes where shot in any building that they were able to attain a film permit. The lighting consists of one bright spotlight put on the subject while the sides of the frame and the background are dark and shadowy. Sometimes, in a good movie, this is done for artistic effect, but here I felt it was more because that was all they could afford. This one is for Bette Davis completest only.

Well known character actors John Astin and Reva Rose appear as Bunny’s two grown children, but are essentially wasted. The then acting governor of New Mexico, David Cargo, plays one of the state troopers.  Larry Linville, who would later become famous for playing Major Frank Burns on the classic TV-series M*A*S*H, can be seen very briefly at the end, but has no lines of dialogue.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gerd Oswald

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: Netflix Streaming

Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1971)

 

happy birthday wanda june

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Macho men are annoying.

Since today is my birthday I’ve decided to spend the next two days reviewing films with a birthday theme. Today’s review is based on a play by celebrated writer (and Indianapolis native) Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who also wrote the screenplay.  It examines what happens when an egotistical man and war hero from the past (Rod Steiger) returns home after abandoning his family eight years earlier.

Vonnegut’s script takes a lot of shots and makes some great comments about the empty bravado of the male image and the male’s changing role and expectations in modern society.  The protagonist, Harold Ryan, is deftly written as a relic from the past harboring all the age-old macho characteristics and clinging onto embellishments of the past while unable to evolve, or even communicate with those around him. Dr. Woodley (George Grizzard) represents the more educated and new-age man who is peaceful, sensitive, and cultured. The story revolves around the two battling for the same woman (Susannah York) and culminates with an interesting and off-beat symbolic type of showdown.

Director Mark Robson does an adequate job of implementing a cinematic quality to what is otherwise a filmed stage play. The cutaways involving dead characters that are now in heaven and speak directly to the camera help, but there needed to be more of them and more evenly placed. I would have also liked a few scenes shot outside and in the daytime as the perpetual indoor scenery becomes stagnating and claustrophobic.

Steiger, normally a very good and diverting actor, seems miscast here. He is never convincing as a tough guy and it affects the story’s impact. York, another fine actress if given the right role, doesn’t seem right for her part either although she does look surprisingly sexy in a skimpy waitress outfit during a flashback scene.

I did like the child performers and felt that they did better than their adult counterparts. Steven Paul is excellent as Paul Ryan who initially idolizes his father until exposed to his many flaws. Pamelyn Ferdin is cute as Wanda June, the girl who gets hit by an ice cream truck and spends the entire time jaunting through heaven. Ferdin later became a famous animal activist and was runner-up for the Regan MacNeil role in The Exorcist. Linda Blair was of course great, but Ferdin’s uniquely piercing gaze always made me wonder if she might have ended up playing the part better.

William Hickey is engaging and amusing as Harold’s best friend. Don Murray almost steals it from everyone as Herb Shuttle a very vapid man whose pathetic attempts at trying to be macho are hilarious and make up most of the film’s humor.

The one thing that eventually ruined it for me was the main character who is too obnoxious. At least Archie Bunker in ‘All in the Family’ had a vulnerable side, but the guy here is ignorant without being funny and having to watch the callous way he treats everyone is straining and unpleasant. Also,the musical score is dreary and almost non-existent.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 9, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R (Adult Theme, Language)

Director: Mark Robson

Studio: Columbia

Availability: None 

Taking Off (1971)

taking off 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Running away from home.

This is a thoroughly entertaining gem that takes a look at the early 70’s American culture through a foreigner’s eyes in this Milos Forman’s first American feature. The comedy bounces playfully from the wry, to the absurd and even the satirical without ever losing its charm.

The film examines what happens when parents Larry and Lynn Tyne (Buck Henry, Lynn Carlin) find that their daughter Jeannie (Linnea Heacock) has run away. Instead of focusing on the teen, as most films tend to do, it instead looks at the parents. It shows that the adolescent years can be as awkward for the father and mother as it is for the teen and parenting is a journey much like growing up is. I especially liked the part of the message showing how people in their forties have a need to run away and find themselves too.

The film matches its unique perspective with offbeat humor. You get to see parents smoking pot for the first time in order for them to experience what the kids go through. Another scene has them getting together for a wild game of strip poker. There are also amusing cutaways of auditioning singers, which is where the daughter runs away too. One of the singers is a sweet young thing who sings a soft melody that is laced with the word ‘fuck’ and has to be heard to be really appreciated.

Both actors who play the parents are excellent. Balding, bespectacled Henry fits the mold as the overworked, henpecked father/husband quite well and it is fun to see him display isolated moments of unexpected rebellion. Carlin conveys a nice characterization of an overwrought mother who wants to communicate with her daughter, but has no idea how.

Jeannie is the one we learn the least about, which is actually to the film’s benefit. This isn’t just the Tyne’s daughter, it’s everybody’s daughter complete with all the trials and tribulations that every parent goes through with their teen. In fact the film’s most definitive moment is probably the freeze-frame shot of disdain on the daughter’s face as her parents try to entertain her and her boyfriend with a song from ‘their’ generation. It’s the type of look that defines the parent/teenager relationship no matter if it’s today, tomorrow, or a hundred years from now, which may help to make it accessible to today’s viewers despite an overabundance of early 70’s period flavor.

Characters actors Audra Lindley, Paul Benedict, and Vincent Schiavelli are terrific in support. This also marked the film debuts of Georgia Engel and Kathy Bates. Ike and Tina Turner appear as themselves.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: March 28, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R (Language, Adult Theme, Brief Nudity)

Director: Milos Foreman

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Region 2)

The Anderson Tapes (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: They can hear everything.

In Sean Connery’s long and storied career in which he has played in a wide variety of films, The Anderson Tapes somehow always gets lost in the shuffle, which is unfair as it is really an offbeat gem waiting to be discovered and appreciated.  Fortunately in October it was finally released to DVD and the print is excellent and there is now discussions of a remake, but see the original first.

It involves a man by the name of Duke Anderson (Connery), who upon being released from prison, seeks to borrow money from the mob in order to finance a high scale robbery of an apartment building that is filled with affluent tenants. The problem is that Duke is being tailed by the government who, through means of sophisticated electronic devices, are able to record everything he says and does.  Even by today’s standards I thought the gadgetry and the way it was used was quite clever.

Many things help make this film stand out. One is the very distinctive music score by the legendary Quincy Jones.  It has a weird electronic, techno quality to it that nicely compliments all the gadgetry in the story.

The casting is also interesting.  Martin Balsam, who made a career playing typical, everyman characters, appears here as a flaming gay interior decorator, which he does hilariously well. Comedian Alan King gets cast in a serious role as the crime boss. Even the casting of Connery is offbeat.  Usually he plays characters with strong personalities who are very much in control.  Here he plays a character who is constantly forced to compromise and trying desperately just to hold everything together  he even ends up getting rejected by his girlfriend (played by Dyan Cannon) for another man and all Connery’s character can do is stand there looking dumbfounded.

The script has some really sharp dialogue. This is probably the third or fourth time that I have seen this film and yet I was still impressed by some of the great lines that I hadn’t caught from the previous viewings.  One should actually make a point to watch this film twice just so they can take in all the great writing, which coincidently was done by Fran Pierson the same person who did Dog Day Afternoon.

The most unique thing about the movie though is the actual robbery sequence, which is made memorable due to director Sidney Lumet’s innovative approach.  It is told in semi-flashback form where you see a scene of the robbery and then it cuts to a scene where the victim recounts what happened to the police, which makes for some creative segues. The robbery victims are full of odd quirks and quite amusing.  Two of the best ones involve Margaret Hamilton best know as the wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz who plays a cursing, argumentative elderly woman in this her final film role. I also like the bedridden, paraplegic young boy (Scott Jacoby) who is far more resourceful than anyone thinks and ends up single handily ruining all of their well thought out plans.

This sequence also edits in scenes of the police force quietly getting set-up to raid the building.  I especially like the shots of the S.W.A.T. team members sliding along a rope from one high rise rooftop to another.  It is photographed in a realistic way so you see them dangling high in the air with nothing but the street below, which made me cringe a little.  This is also a great chance to see Garret Morris in a pre-Saturday Night Live role playing the head of the S.W.A.T. team.

There is very little that I didn’t like in this film that I otherwise found to be original and engaging from start to finish. However, of the two issues that I do have, one is the ending, which in typical 70’s fashion was a bit of downer. It does have a twist to it, but it is not as clever as I think the film-makers thought it was.  There is also a glaring factual error that in a film as sophisticated and polished as this should never have happened.  It deals with a woman on a phone stating that she is calling from Wichita Falls, Kansas.  Now Kansas does have a city of Wichita, but Wichita Falls is actually in Texas.

I highly recommend this movie not only to those who may be fans of Connery or director Lumet, but also to those who enjoy movies with an offbeat story and approach.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Prime Cut (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Shoot-out in Kansas.

If you enjoy a great compact action flick, but are tired of the same old formula then Prime Cut may be for you.  It is the story of Nick Devlin (Lee Marvin) who is head of the crime syndicate in Chicago who travels to Kansas City to take on the head of their syndicate and avenge the death of one of their men as well as recouping an unpaid debt.

The movie has a lot of great offbeat touches that starts during its opening montage that takes place in an actual slaughterhouse.  Here you get a graphic glimpse of the inner mechanics of meat packing while soft, romantic piano music is played in the background.  The credits are displayed in a way that makes them look like they are being sliced by a meat cutter with cool meat cutting sound effects.  From here the quirky elements just keep coming. There is a wild chase through a wheat field where Marvin and Sissy Spacek find themselves attacked by a giant wheat thrasher that eats up their limousine and spits out the car parts into hay bails.  There is also a well filmed shootout amidst a sunflower field as well as Spacek’s revealing see through dress, which she wears to a posh restaurant and a giant plastic cow that gets shot up with holes and spews out milk.

This film is so unique that I am amazed it hasn’t acquired a stronger cult following. It stands up very well by today’s standards and even seems a bit shocking as it includes a scene involving white slavery where drugged young women are caged naked in stalls just like cattle and ranchers inspect and bid on them.

Marvin does well in his tongue-and-check role and pretty much steals it. He speaks his snappy lines in his usual terse manner with his famous stone expression, but he does it with a wink in his eye and at times even shows a soft side.  Sissy Spacek, in her film debut, looks young and fresh faced here. She is pretty and appealing in a very natural way. Only Gene Hackman as the villain named Mary Ann seems wasted. He does a good job for the material that he is given, but he needed more screen time and his character is not allowed to evolve at all.  Honorable mention also needs to go to Gregory Walcott as Hackman’s slimy henchman named Weenie.  The two get involved in an amusing scuffle while their accountants sit at their desks and busily add up their numbers and futilely try to ignore them.

Director Michael Ritchie nicely captures the Kansas landscape and gives it a very picturesque quality. It is probably the best on-location shooting of Kansas since Picnic. I did wish that the film was a little longer and showed more of a history between the two adversaries. It also seems to run out of steam at the end with a final shoot-out that isn’t all that clever or exciting and not up to the standards of the rest of the film.  Still this movie should appease any action fan and the story and direction are consistently original.

My Rating: 8 out 10

Released: June 28, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Ritchie

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD