Sunday, September 20, 2015

THE ODD COUPLE (1968), FACES (1968)

Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon
in The Odd Couple
The Odd Couple-Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, the comedy about two divorced men sharing an apartment in New York City, debuted on Broadway in 1965 and has been a perennial stage production all over ever since. I grew up with the television version starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman which will always remain a favorite of sitcom of mine.

But for many the definitive version is the original movie starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Matthau plays Oscar, the sloppy sportswriter and Lemmon plays Felix, the fussy neurotic These two actors worked so well together, that they went on to appear together in numerous successful films in subsequent years. However, I can't bring myself to watch their thirty year later Odd Couple II

But for all these positives, The Odd Couple is NOT in the 1001 movie book! But never mind that, see it anyway.
Gena Rowlands and John Marley playing another
odd couple in Faces

Faces-Faces...close-ups...laughing...joking...crying...yelling...drinking....more close-ups...wrinkles...and more close-ups. It's a hard movie to define, unless you want the simple definition of it being the story about the dissolution of a marriage. Cassavetes movies are like that. It doesn't have a plot that's easy to follow or characters who we can get to know or even know who they are very easily! And the overlapping dialogue makes it difficult to catch everything being said. It's kind of like life that way and Cassavetes certainly doesn't make it easy for the viewer. Undoubtedly a hard film to get into at times, but worth the effort.

I mentioned The Odd Couple didn't make have made the 1001 list,  and here are a few more films from 1968 that I’ve seen that didn’t quite make the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die cut.

1. The Swimmer
If I could add one movie to the 1001 book, it would probably be the existential swimming movie starring Burt Lancaster and based on the John Cheever novel. It's one of those movies that strikes you or doesn't. Clearly I'm in the "strikes me" camp.
Burt Lancaster temporarily out of the water
in The Swimmer
2. The Green Berets
John Wayne's ill-fated attempt to make a positive Vietnam film during the year the war was most unpopular. Recognized as politically naive and a poor film to boot, but at least it did have that catchy theme song by Sgt. Barry Sadler!

3. Oliver!
Another Best Picture winner that didn't make the 1001 movie book but is certainly worthwhile for any fan of musicals. At least catch it on stage if you can.

4. Charly
Based on Flowers for Algernon, which is one of my favorite books. The structure of the Daniel Keyes's novel doesn't lend itself easily to a film treatment, but Cliff Robertson's Oscar-winning performance and the Ravi Shankar music is worth checking out.

5. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Dick Van Dyke's success in Mary Poppins led him to leave his classic television series to pursue a movie career, with very mixed results. I do think I liked the flying car when I saw this as a kid.

6. Head
The Monkees...The Pre-Fab Four star in a film that has gained a certain amount of cult status, but also pretty much killed their career. But never fear, The Monkees in one form or another have made many a comeback over the years and had the last laugh.
Mike, Peter, Davy and Mickey in Head
Yes, I grew up watching their TV series

7. Yellow Submarine
The real fab four (The Beatles, I mean) didn't have a lot to do with this creative animated film about the lad's journey through Pepperland fighting blue meanies. They did do some new songs for the film, including John's "Hey, Bulldog," and Paul's "All Together Now."

8. Monterey Pop
If Woodstock wasn't enough of a journey down musical memory lane for you, I think Monterey Pop might help you to quench your 60's groove thirst. This music festival included The Mamas and the Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, Jimi Hendrix and many more.

9. The Lion in Winter
Even though it came from a stage play and was remade with Patrick Stewart, the version of The Lion in Winter with Katherine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole probably remains the gold standard for this story. I say probably because it's been an awfully long time since I've seen it.

10. Psych-Out
I have a special place in my film buffs heart for all the hippie movies that came out in the late 60's. The Trip, Blow-Up, The Born Losers, Easy Rider, Alice's Restaurant and others. Psych-Out was about...about...I guess I don't remember, man.

I at least remember Jack Nicholson was in Psych-Out
11. Pretty Poison
All the years after first seeing this movie at the Silver Screen theater in Atlanta, this movie still sticks with me. Beautiful Tuesday Weld gets involved with nutty Anthony Perkins, but she turns out to be even crazier than he is! I guess if I ever saw it again, I run the risk of it not being as good as I remember. That's the chance you take when you revisit.

12. No Way to Treat a Lady
Pretty good police thriller from what I remember. I also remember Rod Steiger does a W. C. Fields impression which foreshadows his later role as Fields in W. C. Fields and Me.

13. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Adaptation of yet another of my favorite Southern novels and does show a strong feel for the period and setting. And Alan Arkin as the deaf-mute Mr. Singer is every bit as good as Robertson in Charly.

14. The Love Bug
I certainly loved Herbie, The Love Bug when this first came out. And I thought that Buddy Hackett was so funny! I was at an impressionable age, you know. I also liked the sequel, Herbie Rides Again, a few years later. But as I got older, Herbie and I parted ways. Herbie Goes Bananas?...This I cannot abide.

15. Wild in the Streets
You can probably add Wild in the Streets to the previous list of hippie movies. This was one of the first movies I checked out after I got my first VCR! A rock singer who gets the voting age lowered to 14 and leads to a teenage takeover of the government is pretty silly stuff for the most part, but does hit on some real issues here and there.

Don't trust anyone over 30
in Wild in the Streets
Goodbye, 1968!

Thursday, September 10, 2015



Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon
in Atlantic City
Atlantic City-During the time they were handing out Academy Awards for the films made in 1981, Henry Fonda was on his death bed and everyone knew that he was going to win a long overdue Best Actor Oscar. But another performance from that year by a veteran was probably just as good if not better. That was Burt Lancaster's funny and moving role as a small-time gangster whose stories about his past are more exciting than the rather sad reality. Burt in his twilight and Susan Sarandon just beginning to hit her movie star sride make a great team in this little but excellent film.

Scanners "Blowed him up, real good!"

Scanners-The first thing I think of when I think of this movie is the sketch on SCTV with John Candy and Joe Flaherty called Farm Film Celebrity Blow Up. That skit featured these two as yokels reviewing movies and especially loving movie where people blow up! Thier favorite movie was Scanners because people "blowed up real good!"

But despite being aware of the movie Scanners, I never got around to seeing it until now. Scanners are people with the psychic ability to force other people bodily harm and yes, occasionally blow up! The movie has pluses and minuses. The story about one of the scanners as a fish out of water chasing after something that is bigger than he is that he doesn't understand and must stop is good and is a plot that has been re-used in many a Hollywood thriller since. The special effects range from pretty good to a bit on the cheesy side, but I appreciated the pre-CGI special effects. There are some continuity errors such as a man's head exploding and the subsequent cut back to the table showing no blood! The leading actor, Stephen Lack is, well, have you ever heard of Stephen Lack in anything since? We have more success here with the supporting players. Patrick McGoohan (formerly of one of my favorite shows, The Prisoner) is the head of the organization that hires Lack. Best of all is Michael Ironside (I know him best from Total Recall) who began his seemingly endless number of portrayals of movie and TV heavies in Scanners.

Scanners is not in the 1001 movie book, but does have a cult following, as many of director David Cronenberg's movies do. It also got a video release by the usually higher brow Criterion Collection, which says something for it.

I mentioned Scanners didn't make have made the 1001 list,  and here are a few more films from 1981 that I’ve seen that didn’t quite make the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die cut.

1. Tarzan, the Ape Man
The infamous John and Bo Derek collaboration which was a lot more about Jane than Tarzan. The movie was panned mercilessly at the time, but was successful mostly because of Bo's nude swimming scenes and other topless scenes where she wrestled with an orangutan. At least I think it was an orangutan. I might be thinking of Every Which Way But Loose on that point.

Bo Derek and her leading man
in  Tarzan, the Ape Man

2. History of the World, Part II
Mel Brooks series of vignettes had its funny moments, but was the first one of his movies that I was largely indifferent about.

3. The Four Seasons
I saw this Alan Alda film being made when I was in high school during the spring in Atlanta. It was interesting to see that particular scene the following year on the screen set in the North during the fall. Overall, I do like The Four Seasons, but this may come with a bias towards movies that I saw as they were being filmed.

4. Under the Rainbow
Set during the making of the Wizard of Oz...the dwarfs are running wild in the streets...Chevy Chase and Carrie Fischer are trying to solve a crime or something...Well, that's about all I remember about that one.

5. American Pop
Ralph Bakshi's animated film depicting three generations of immigrants intertwined with popular music was pretty good. At least that's my memory of it, haven't seen in in thirty-two years. But that's my story and I'm sticking to it

6. All the Marbles
I kind of liked this movie with Peter Falk as a wrestling manager of a sexy female tag team. I saw one of the women, Vicki Frederick, on stage that same year in an Atlanta production of Damn Yankees. Maybe she's the reason I like this one. Actually, looking at her stills from the film-I'm definitely sure she's the reason I like this one.

All the Marbles Vicki Frederick is the brunette
7. Sharky's Machine
The more serious the film Burt Reynolds tried to make during his heyday, the less successful it seemed to be. I thought Sharky's Machine with Burt as an Atlanta cop was pretty good, but it seems audiences preferred the next one on the list...

8. Cannonball Run
Burt Reynolds and a bunch of celebrities go on a cross country race of some kind. Seems they ad-libbed a lot from what I remember. I also remember that I hated it. Have no desire to revisit it.

9. Looker
This Michael Crichton/Albert Finney movie about models dying under strange circumstances might warrant a second look. This is the problem when you comment on a movie that you haven't seen in over thirty years!

10. Caveman
Well, I thought this one was kind of funny. Probably the best starring role for Ringo Starr. And Barbara Bach looks pretty good as a cavewoman. Obviously, Ringo thought so in real life, too.

Mr. and Mrs. Richard Starkey
in Caveman
11. Tattoo
Any movie with Bruce Dern as a mentally-ill tattoo artist and Maud Adams in various states of undress has by definition got to have something going for it!

12. Private Lessons
During HBO's early days, a lot of cheesy R-rated fare showed up during the late night hours to titillate audiences. Some featured Sybil Danning or Marilyn Chambers. Private Lessons featured Emmanuelle star Sylvia Krystal as the teen boy's housekeeper/fantasy woman. 

13. My Bloody Valentine, Halloween II, Friday the 13th Part II, The Funhouse, Hell Night, Graduation Day, Blood Beach and Oliver Stone's The Hand!
1981 was the peak of the Hollywood slasher movie that started for the most part with John Carpenter's Halloween in 1978. I saw most of them, but to tell you the truth, they all seem to be running together at this point. 

14.  Student Bodies
I seem to be in the minority that thinks this parody of the slasher film is pretty funny. And who could forget Malvert the janitor?

15. Mommie Dearest
Despite all the horror movies that came out in 1981, Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford may have been the scariest image to emerge from that year.

Mommie Dearest

Goodbye, 1981. It's been fun!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015



I admit to being a bit biased here, but I've always thought of 1979 as the best movie year ever. My bias may be partly because of the fact that this was the year I started my senior year of high school and maybe I saw it as the end of an era...Maybe. But hey...that year gave us Apocalypse, Now, All That Jazz, Alien....and that's just movies that begin with A! Anyway, the first movie I re-watched for this year is definitely a good one to come out your senior year...

Dennis Christopher in
Breaking Away
Breaking Away- This story about a small town underdog bicycle team received good reviews when it came out and I remember it fondly, though I'm not sure it would be on my all-time list or anything.

So I was curious what my reaction would be after watching it again... And after viewing, I think the film has aged very well. It's still has the kind of underdog Rocky vibe to it, but I honestly think I like it more than Rocky at this point. A well-written and performed story with a lot of charm and humor.

Do I want to go to college? Do I want to speak Italian? Do I want to race bicycles? Well, life is full of questions when you're seventeen, isn't it? Anyway, Breaking Away is definitely on my on my 1001 list.

Steve Martin is The Jerk
The Jerk-The late 70's was the era of Steve Martin. He seemingly burst onto the scene out of nowhere to be just about everywhere all the time! Keep in mind, this was a time that was dominated by the three networks. Martin was always on The Tonight Show, often as guest host. He hosted the new Saturday Night Live show so often, that he was as close as anyone to being a regular as anyone who wasn't actually called a regular. And there was also his prime time specials. And then there was the record albums, of which I had every one, including: Let's Get Small and A Wild and Crazy Guy. Steve was always and I mean always in character as the goofball, dense but fun-loving guy was Steve Martin. He didn't break character...and that I loved!  But then I watched him on a Barbara Walters interview as...himself? Not the wild and crazy guy! I remember being so let down seeing that he was more of a regular guy than his goofball alter-ego persona. But, it was better for him and his fans in the long run.

Then the movies-where he did maintain the Martin character persona (At least until Pennies from Heaven). First, there was the funny short film The Absent-Minded Waiter as well a cameo in The Muppet Movie. Steve's version of Maxwell's Silver Hammer in Robert Stigwood's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is probably the highlight of that largely dismal film.

But Martin's decade ended with his magnum opus, The Jerk. It's still funny, if not admittedly silly. The plot has Steve as Navin Johnson as a white guy who was born a poor-black child (according to the narrator) and leaves home to obtain (and eventually lose) a fortune. But the plot is just an excuse for gags and funny lines from Navin, who seems to misinterpret everything: Calling his dog Shit-Head when told that's what he should name him, thinking a blow job was a type of employment opportunity, thinking someone who is trying to shoot him is trying to shoot the cans of motor oil next to him, complaining to a waiter about snails in his dates food after he orders escargot-are just a few examples. Navin is so good-natured and innocent about it all, you just have to laugh. At least I still do.

Martin made many fine comedies in the years that followed, but The Jerk will probably always represent the peak of Martinmania.

Breaking Away and The Jerk both made the 1001 list, but here are a few more films that I've seen that didn't quite make the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die cut.

1. 10
I remember the part of this movie when Bo Derek is running down the beach in slow motion and...that's really all I can remember about 10.


2. Americathon
I remember going to see this off-beat comedy about a a telethon to save America from corporate interests? or was it Native Americans? I don't remember. Apparently, neither does anyone else. Maybe it's time for an Americathon revival? It did have an interesting cast list that included: John Ritter, Fred Willard, Elvis Costello, Meatloaf, Peter Marshall, Chief Dan George and Tommy Lasorda!

3. Hair
The hippie musical re-imagined by Milos Forman has always been a favorite of mine. I'll take it over Grease anyday.

4. The China Syndrome
A tense drama (from what I remember) about a leak at a nuclear power plant. I'm a little surprised this isn't in the 1001 book.

5. The Concord Airport ’79, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure
The disaster movie craze of the 70's had really petered out by the time these sequels came out. If these movies didn't completely kill off the disaster genre, then Irwin Allen's When Time Ran Out put the final nail in the coffin next year.

6. California Dreamin'
I like the movie Califonia Dreamin'. And I know the main reason I like it is because I saw it while I was a senior in high school and it was a nice and pleasant diversion about guys and gals on the beach. If it had come out a couple of years later, I'd probably have no use for it. That being said, I haven't seen it since 1979 and probably hold it in higher regard than it deserves.

California Dreamin'

7. The In-Laws
Peter Falk and Alan Arkin in one of the all-time great movie teamings.

8. Fast Break
After John Travolta hit it big in movies, I guess it was time to make fellow Welcome Back, Kotter alum Gabe Kaplan a movie star! Didn't work out quite as well. Aside form that, Fast Break is a nice little film with Gabe as a basketball coach to a bunch of misfits. (That's how I remember it, anyway)

9. Going in Style
Touching comedy about three outcast elderly gents (George Burns, Art  Carney, Lee Strasberg) who plan a bank robbery just to feel alive again.

10. Boardwalk
1979 was a good movie year for Lee Strasberg. And he gets to kick some young punk's ass in this movie!

11. Caligula
Actually filmed a few years earlier, but how can I leave Caligula off a list of 1979 movies since that was the year it came out? I remember going to the midnight movie to see this one. I guess I was just really interested in Roman history. Yeah, that must have been the reason.
Malcolm McDowell as Caligula

12. The Kids are Alright
I was a Who fan. Still am. Went to see Tommy in 1975. Went to see this in 1979. What? Who? What was I saying?

13. Norma Rae, The Rose
Oscar worthy performances by Sally Field and Bette Midler in these two films. But the Academy could only give it to one. Sorry, Bette.

14. North Dallas Forty
One of the best movies ever made about American football. Actually, I can't think of a better one.

15. Meatballs
Yes, the silly summer camp movie doesn't really date that well. But I had to go see it at the time just to see Saturday Night Live's Bill Murray in his first starring vehicle. And that would still be the main reason to see it if I ever choose to sit through it again.

16. Phantasm
Bizarre, creepy, macabre horror movie that I actually didn't see until I went off to college the next year. Obviously a favorite of a bunch of drunk, loud college students. And who can forget the Tall Man?

17. Wise Blood

Putting a rather film unfriendly Flannery O'Connor story on film is a tricky task, but I admit John Huston does a nice job with this one.

18. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Don't try to be 2001: A Space Odyssey! Don't try to be Star Wars! Be Star Trek! But we had to wait until Wrath of Khan for that to happen.

19. Time After Time
Exciting thriller with H. G. Wells chasing Jack the Ripper through a time machine into modern San Francisco. Sorry that I missed the stars Malcolm McDowell and Jack Warner when they re-united at Dragon Con last year.

20. The Wanderers/The Warriors
Two gang movies from this year. The Warriors is the cult film that more people seem to remember (Warriors! Come out to plaaaayyy!) but The Wanderers, which is set in the early 60's is worth remembering too.

21. Rock N Roll High School
The true high school musical from the time I went to high school (And not Grease). And just for the presence of The Ramones and my former girlfriend P. J. Soles...What more do you need?
P. J. Soles and The Ramones
What else do you need?