Eating Raoul (1982) Paul Bartel

EAting Raoul

Sex is disgusting, at least according to Paul and Mary Bland, the ‘heroes’ in Paul Bartel’s wonderfully perverse black comedy. The film originally premiered at the New York Film Festival in late September 1982 and a week later opened at the 69th Street Playhouse in Manhattan for a healthy run.

Starring Bartel and Mary Woronov as Paul and Mary Bland, “Eating Raoul” is about a straight laced couple, who may be duller to spend a night with than watching paint peel off a wall, are surrounded by the wild sex scene of 1980’s Hollywood.  The Los Angeles apartment complex the Blands live is filled with sleazy party goers, swingers and connoisseurs of S&M. Not exactly an environment for a couple who find sex a foul deed. Among the depraved your will find Buck Henry and Ed Begley Jr. in small but memorable roles. Not surprisingly, the Blands have no children. Continue reading

Stardust Memories (1980) Woody Allen

When I saw “Stardust Memories” for the first time back in 1980 (Baronet Theater in Manhattan) I was completely lost as to what Woody Allen was doing. Filled with Fellini like imagery, bizarre inhabitants straight out of Diane Arbus and seemingly resentful, bitter attacks on his fans.  I found the film, to say the least, hard to swallow. I wasn’t and am not one of those folks who keep wishing Woody would trek back to his ‘funny’ early films. I actually relished his celluloid journey, his growth from dubbing a cheesy Japanese spy flick with completely new dialogue turning it into “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?’ through his early visually clumsy, but oh so funny, films like “Take The Money and Run” and ‘Bananas” to his classic “Annie Hall” and on to the Bergman like “Interiors” and the homage to his home town in “Manhattan.” Woody always seemed to be expanding his artistic horizons. At the time of its original release, I chalked up “Stardust Memories” as a failure, hell everyone is entitled to a failure now and then, right?

Now, let me just say here, I watch many of Woody’s film all the time, over and over, true some more than others, I have lost count on how many times I have seen “Manhattan,” “Bananas,” “Sleeper,” “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” “Annie Hall, “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “Broadway Danny Rose” and so on. His films are like old friends with whom you gladly sit, have a drink, and reminisce about those days gone by. The one film I never went back to was “Stardust Memories.” Frankly, until I watched it for the first time in years, just a few months ago, I remembered little about it except for the feeling of confusion I had and a why bother attitude about taking a second look. One day I found a copy at a local library and for no particular reason decided to give it another shot. All I can say is hallelujah brother! I have been seen the light and have been converted! Continue reading

Dressed to Kill (1980) Brian DePalma

Of all the filmmakers who came to be collectively known in the 1970’s as the movie brats, Brain DePalma was the one who liked to push most the cinematic buttons of both critics and audiences. He delights in making his audience uncomfortable. With a sardonic wit and an ice cold point of view, DePalma has never been a middle of the road filmmaker, critics and audiences either love his work or hate it. He is viewed as either a violent, immoral rip-off artist who hates woman or a visionary artist who flies in the face of conservative thinking enjoying the shock and loathing his films have sometimes unleashed over the years. The more uncomfortable the audience is the better DePalma likes it. Like Alfred Hitchcock, DePalma’s films are planned well in advance with each detail written into the script. What you read is what you get, little changes.  Editing is just putting the finished pieces together and not an exploration to potentially discover alternative new themes or ideas during the process.

Like Hitchcock, Brian DePalma’s films are a voyeurs’ delight. Examples abound, the slow motion dream like opening shot of the girls’ locker room in “Carrie” or the TV game show called “Peeping Tom” in “Sisters.”  In one of his earlier films, “Greetings” Robert DeNiro’s character is a porn filmmaker and in “Body Double,” Craig Wasson’s Jake Scully watches a beautiful, sexy neighbor undress in front of her window. Hitchcock himself gave us “Psycho” where the camera works its way into a hotel room catching Sam Loomis and Marion Crane finishing up a lunch time affair and later just before Norman murders Marion Crane he is seen watching her through a peephole in the motel room next to hers. Hitch also gave us the ultimate voyeur movie with “Rear Window.” Continue reading

Broadway Danny Rose (1984) Woody Allen

“Broadway Danny Rose” opens at the famed Carnegie Deli located in midtown Manhattan, known for its huge Pastrami and Corned Beef sandwiches and as a well known show business hangout for many of the old time Borscht Belt comedians of yesterday. At one table dishing out old show biz stories are comedians Corbett Monica, Sandy Baron, Jackie Gayle and Will Jordan among others all playing themselves. Also in the group is Jack Rollins, Allen’s long time producer. The tales go around, back and forth, names come and go until Sandy Baron announces he has the best Danny Rose story ever. We flash back to a time not too long in the past.

Danny Rose (Woody Allen) is a fourth rate theatrical agent whose client list is filled with some of oddest acts in show business including a one legged dancer, a woman who plays musical glasses, a blind Xylophonist and a stuttering ventriloquist. Danny is a good hearted loser who believes in his clients worth no matter how bad they are. He is willing to go to the extreme to keep his acts happy and get them jobs. It’s this dedication that gets him in trouble when he becomes involved with his top client’s mistress and some unfriendly gangsters who mistake Danny as her lover. Continue reading

Lost in America (1985) Albert Brooks

“Tune on, Tune in, Drop out!” Timothy Leary once proclaimed. Albert Brooks takes it to heart and is born to be wild in his hilarious off-beat comedy, “Lost in America” his third feature film as a director and writer, actually co-writer, the script was co-written with his long time writing partner, Monica McGowan Johnson. (1)

Woody Allen and Mel Brooks pretty much dominated the writer/director  comedy ledger during the 1970’s and 1980’s but rising fast in the background was Albert Brooks whose first venture into filmmaking was a short called “The Famous Comedian’s School” originally shown on PBS. In 1975, he made a series of short films on the first season of “Saturday Night Live.” After several acting gigs including a role in Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” Brooks wrote and directed his first feature-length film in 1979, “Real Life,” a satirical take of the on the pioneering PBS reality show, though it was not given that now dubious label, “An American Family.” Today, after too many years of “reality” shows that are unintentional more comical and demeaning to viewers than realistic, the film can be still be seen as a mirror to the seemingly endless number of fabricated “reality” TV  shoved down our throats. “Real Life” had a very limited distribution and modest financial success but did launch Albert Brooks career as an important comedic writer/director.

“Lost in America” concerns the story of David (Albert Brooks) and Linda (Julie Hagerty) Howard, two materialistic yuppies who have good jobs and a pleasant life in California but still do not feel fulfilled with their lives. David is expecting a big promotion to Senior Vice-President with the advertising company he works for, but on the big day he finds out his boss has other “big” plans for him, a transfer to New York to work on a major new account…and no promotion. Continue reading

Eight Men Out (1988) John Sayles

 

Disillusionment with sport heroes is something sport fans have had to deal with quite a bit recently. However, is it really a new occurrence?  Scandals in sports seem to have been with us throughout the years. Way back in the 1870’s, a professional ballplayer named George Gerchtel was accused of throwing games. Over the years, innumerable boxing matches have been fixed, the career of Primo Carnera being a prime example, with many of his fights being considered mob influenced set ups. The College basketball world was rocked in the 1950’s when seven colleges involving thirty two players were bribed by bookies to keep games close.  The mob was also involved in bribing Boston College players during the 1978-79 season. One of the mob members included Henry Hill, a name movie fans will remember from Martin Scorsese’s, “Goodfellas.” Then there was the Pete Rose gambling mess, the continuing steroid mess that has destroyed the integrity of baseball, the tour de France incidents a few year back where various cyclists were disqualified for using dope or testing positive for steroid use. There was also the NBA referee who was under investigation for betting on games including some he actually worked in. Tonya Harding was banned from ice-skating for her 1994 involvement in the Nancy Kerrigan episode. Notre Dame Coach, George O’Leary resigned after it was proven he fabricated his resume. Gambling, poor sportsmanship and even criminal activity, remember Michael Vick? And of course, the infamous1919 Black Sox scandal. 

In John Salyes 1988 film, “Eight Men Out,” a young boy is seen standing outside the courthouse when “Shoeless” Joe Jackson exits. The boy yells out to his hero, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!”   Those same words can be yelled out today by so many young boys and girls, looking at today’s sports “heroes.”  Change Joe to Roger, or Jose, or Barry, or Jason and we are in modern times.  Continue reading

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) Carl Reiner

The screen opens with the old Universal logo switching to a rain soaked dark Los Angeles night as the credits begin to roll. In the first scene, a car is speeding out of control; it suddenly swerves and goes crashing off the road. We cut to the messy office of private eye Rigby Reardon (Steve Martin) who is reading the morning newspaper. The headlines scream about the disappearance of cheese maker king John Hay Forest.

There is a knock at his door; a beautiful mysterious alluring woman dressed to the nines in 1940’s fashion enters. She is Juliet Forest (Rachel Ward) the daughter of the missing big cheese. She wants to hire Reardon to find her father. Reardon is always willing to help a beautiful lady, (even willing to adjust her breasts when she faints, explaining to her after she woke, they had shifted all outta whack)… he takes the job.

Add to this mood and ambiance, the orchestra sound of Miklos Rozsa’s soundtrack, a perfect dead pan voice over by Martin and we are transported back to 1946 and those dark rain filled streets of film noir. Well sorta, after all that is Steve Martin sitting in the detective chair and it is Carl Reiner in the director’s seat. “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” is an affectionate and technically inspired tribute to the murky cinema of gats, dames and mean darkly lit streets.

Written by Carl Reiner, Steve Martin and George Gipe, they are obviously a group that loves old movies and are a talented lot when it comes to comedy. Reiner’s career goes back as far as Sid Caesars “Your Show of Shows.” He also interviewed the 2000 Year Old Man, Mel Brooks on one of the first comedy albums ever recorded and was the creative source behind the classic 1960’s sit-com, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”  He previously directed Steve Martin in “The Jerk” and would do two more films with him, the underrated “The Man with Two Brains” and along with “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”, one of my favorite Martin films “All of Me.”  Reiner even appears here in a couple of scenes spoofing Otto Preminger’s screen Nazi roles.

In 1982 when this was made Martin was still an adventurous comedy maverick willing to take chances with films like “Pennies From Heaven” and “Roxanne” among others instead of the series of tepid “Pink Panther” and “Cheaper By the Dozen” remakes of recent years (Though I have to admit “Shopgirl”, based on his own short novel was a surprising nice trip back to those more adventurous days).

The highest accolades for this film though are saved for film editor John DeCuir, director of photography Michael Chapman, sound editor James J. Klinger and many other techies for the flawless matter in which they matched the many classic clips used here with the new material. Well over twenty actors from the classic era “co-star” with Martin. They include Kirk Douglas, Barbara Stanwyck, Ingrid Bergman, Joan Crawford, Charles Laughton,  Alan Ladd, Burt Lancaster, James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart who  as Marlowe, works for Reardon as his legman and is continually picked on by Reardon for the way he dresses. There are also some of the great character actors of noir popping up in the clips like William Conrad, Jeff Corey and Edward Arnold. Rachel Ward’s wardrobe was by the legendary Edith Head. This would turn out to be Ms. Head’s last film.

Some of the dialogue are take offs on classic lines from Hollywood films. When Juliet Forest leaves Reardon’s office she looks back seductively as she departs saying, “If you need me, just call. You know how to dial don’t you? You just put your finger in the hole and make tiny little circles.”

And while Reardon is in many ways a homage to Marlowe, Spade and other hard boiled screen P.I.’s he does have his own unique quirks, for example whenever someone says “cleaning lady” it turns Reardon into a murdering out of control maniac. Think Abbott and Costello and their “Niagara Falls” routine.  Another scene have Reardon dressed up as a woman, specifically as Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson from  “Double Indemnity,”  blonde wig and white sweater included. He also witnesses “Swede” Anderson’s murder in “The Killers”.

Beside the technical aspects, what makes this all work so well is the over the shoulder shooting style many of the 1940’s filmmakers used back then. As an example, we see Reardon talking to someone who is dressed up like Ingrid Bergman in “Notorious.” In the shot, the camera is shooting over “Bergman’s” shoulder, as we watch Martin speaking. The camera then cuts to the real Bergman speaking in a scene from the Hitchcock film and we view Reardon only from over his shoulder.  In most instances this works very well, though in this particular scene if one looks closely at Bergman’s hairstyle in the “Notorious” clip you will notice her ears are exposed and would be visible when shooting an over the shoulder shot. In this instance the Bergman stand-in’s hair covers her ears. As they cut back and forth a few times in this scene the mismatch becomes very obvious. Happily in most scenes this is not the case, the matches are very well done. Additionally, there is one scene where Martin appears in the same shot with Cary Grant. The scene is from “Suspicion”, which takes place in a train compartment, Grant asks Martin if he smokes, to which he answers, “No, I have tuberculosis.” Grants replies, “oh, thank heaven for that.”

Reiner and company have to be given credit for doing all this one year before Woody Allen did in the celebrated  “Zelig” and twenty years or so before Robert Zemeckis had  Forest Gump meet JFK! Overall, the film is funny, silly at times but always affectionate toward its subjects.

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