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Month: October 2014

Witness (1985)

Witness (1985)

“It’s not our way.”

Witness Poster

Synopsis:
When an Amish boy (Lukas Haas) travelling with his mother (Kelly McGillis) witnesses a brutal murder in a train station bathroom, the policeman (Harrison Ford) assigned to the case does whatever he can to protect the pair from harm.

Genres:

  • Christianity
  • Corruption
  • Cross-Cultural Romance
  • Harrison Ford Films
  • Peter Weir Films
  • Police

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “Australian director Peter Weir’s… fascinating meditation on violence/peace is extremely well made”: it’s “gorgeous to look at” (John Seale’s cinematography is “excellent”), “very suspenseful”, and features “truly memorable performances by the two leads” (though I’m equally impressed by Haas’s child performance as the wide-eyed “witness”). He points out the “delicately sensual sexual content”, including “beautiful, radiant McGillis standing bare-breasted and unembarrassed as she exchanges stares with [Ford] in the next room” and “the two danc[ing] in the barn” together. However, Peary concedes that “the Amish people’s protest that this film didn’t represent them properly seems to have foundation”, given that “we learn little about them except for their abhorrence of violence (which at times seems like a convenient plot device) and their sense of community” (he accurately notes that “the film has the best communal building scene since the one in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers“).

Peary further notes that “the major problem with the film is that it has trouble mixing commercial Hollywood elements with the mysterious elements that usually dominate Weir’s films”, specifically in its glorified emphasis on “violent action sequences” — though I believe this is intentional; indeed, Weir and “screenwriters Earl W. Wallace and Bill Kelley” seem to bank on audiences’ shock at the collision of these two radically different cultures (Amish country life and an urban homicide squad). Witness is ultimately a romantic thriller at heart — and my primary complaint is that its stock villains (sociopathically corrupt cops) are too predictably one-dimensional. However, what’s primarily at stake here are the lives of Haas and McGillis — and to that end, the film cleverly keeps us in suspense, all while bathing our senses in a uniquely pastoral late-20th-century setting.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Lukas Haas as Samuel
    Witness Haas
  • Kelly McGillis as Rachel
    Witness McGillis
  • An authentic sense of culture and place
    Witness Barnraising
  • Joan Seale’s cinematography
    Witness Cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a taut, well-crafted thriller.

Categories

Links:

Kentucky Fried Movie, The (1977)

Kentucky Fried Movie, The (1977)

“The popcorn you are eating has been pissed in. Film at eleven.”

Kentucky Fried Movie Poster

Synopsis:
A compendium of irreverently satirical commercials and T.V. snippets bookend a spoof of Bruce Lee movies.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that this “very funny, off-the-wall sketch comedy spoofing movies, commercials, old TV scenes and newscasts” is “still the best of the comedy revues”, and features “imaginative direction by John Landis and writing by Kentucky Fried Theater members”. He asserts that “the best routine is [the] lengthy takeoff of Enter the Dragon called ‘A Fistful of Yen’, with Evan Kim doing a remarkable impersonation of Bruce Lee (as well as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz)” — indeed, this section does contain some of the most hilarious moments in the film (see stills below). Peary names some of his other favorite bits in the revue — including one scene showing “a young black couple following the bizarre instructions on a how-to sex record” — and notes that there are “many hilarious sight gags”.

However, he concedes that the movie “gets laughs by having characters surprise us with vulgar language”, and notes that “some of the humor is too juvenile or tasteless”. The quote selected for this review gives an indication of how “vulgar language” is used for supposed-humor, but instead simply falls flat. As with all episodic films, the quality of each segment is variable — in this case, highly variable. Indeed, while I chuckled at a few select scenes, I’m ultimately not enamored with this early outing by producers Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker, who hit true comedy gold with Airplane! (1980) a few years later. Still, fans of Zucker et al. will likely be curious to check this one out, simply to see what portions might appeal.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Intermittently amusing segments and gags
    Kentucky Fried Movie Newscaster
    Kentucky Fried Movie Sex Ed Record
    Kentucky Fried Movie Spoof1
    Kentucky Fried Movie Spoof2
    Kentucky Fried Movie Death

Must See?
No; feel free to skip this one unless it’s your cup of tea.

Links:

Caveman (1981)

Caveman (1981)

“Atouk alounda Lana.”

Caveman Poster

Synopsis:
During prehistoric times, a caveman (Ringo Starr) lusts after the bodacious girlfriend (Barbara Bach) of the bullying tribe leader (John Matuszak) while ignoring the romantic interests of a sweet new acquaintance (Shelley Long).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that while “most critics mocked” this “funny prehistoric spoof done on the cheap”, “fans of the genre will get a kick out of the humorous dinosaurs created by David Allen”, as well as the “silly 15-word caveman vocabulary… created by director Carl Gottlieb and his co-writer, Rudy DeLuca”. Indeed, I was surprised to find myself genuinely amused when revisiting this cult favorite, which is filled with “hilarious sight gags” — including Peary’s favorite, in which “a giant insect land[s] on sleeping Dennis Quaid’s face, whereupon the concerned Starr squashes it, causing this gooey mess to pour over Quaid”. It’s all unbelievably silly stuff, but it’s impossible not to giggle (for instance) when watching the group’s attempts to fry an enormous egg (the “special effects” in this scene are impressive), or listening to the gaggle of misfits making nifty improv music together around a campfire. My main complaint is with how badly Starr treats poor Long, who sticks by his side no matter how many times he boots her in favor of obnoxious Bach; Starr’s character wins a prize as one of the most bone-headed, least appealing cinematic protagonists ever.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Several amusing and/or clever sequences
    Caveman Back Straightening
    Caveman Fried Egg
    Caveman Dinosaur
    Caveman Music
  • Lalo Schifrin’s score

Must See?
No, though it’s recommended for one time viewing, given that it may be to your liking.

Links: