Movie Reviews postsSaturday August 05, 2017
My Father's Original 'Annie Hall' Review from 1977
In March I posted my father's original “Star Wars” review from 1977, and in May, on the 40th anniversary of its release, the Minneapolis Star Tribune did the same. Then they got him to write a follow-up. Had he changed his mind? Of course not. And to be honest, his review is pretty spot-on. “Leave your brain at home.” Moviegoers have been doing that ever since.
The 1977 movie he preferred to “Star Wars” was this one. He was right about that, too. No follow-up necessary.
At the Movies
May 15, 1977
If you’ve held off from seeing Woody Allen’s latest film, “Annie Hall, because of reports that it’s his first “serious comedy,” disabuse yourself of the notion at once. If “Annie Hall” is different from Allen’s previous movies, it’s only in being more personal, more autobiographical.
But its subject matter—Jewish boy meets goy girl, loses girl—is no more serious than, say, the Russian novel or a bank robbery. And the one-liners still fly thick and fast, particularly in the first half of the film.
I think it’s his funniest film yet, and his best, but I’ve thought that about his last three, which suggests either that his grasp of the medium keeps getting more controlled as he gets older or, more likely, that the last joke you heard is always the funniest, because it’s still fresh.
The film, especially considering the title, comes off mainly as a protracted valentine to Diane Keaton, his frequent costar and the actress with whom he once lived, just as Alvy Singer, the hero of the film, lives with Annie.
The strength of “Annie” comes from the unlikely liaison between the two, this woman who says things like “la-di-da” and “neat” and the comedian who says, “My grammy never gave gifts. She was too busy being raped by Cossacks.”
The contrast in lifestyles culminates in a family dinner at the Hall (Keaton) household in Chippewa Falls, Wis., at which Singer-Allen feels so much the outsider that he imagines himself bearded and garbed like a Hasid.
Allen develops his themes in a variety of ways, not all of them successful: time warps in which the current Allen looks at his childhood, subtitles that contrast people’s thoughts with what they say (I thought that went out with “Strange Interlude”), split screens showing both he Singer and Hall families at the dinner table, speeches to the audience.
There are lots of interesting casting assignments, too, and again some of them misfire. Paul Simon works out well as a rock artist attracted to Miss Keaton, and Tony Roberts gets to listen to Woody’s paranoia as if this were a remake of “Play It Again, Sam.”
If Allen wanted the epitome of Waspiness for Annie’s mother, however, he certainly shouldn’t have chosen Colleen Dewhurst, who is as Irish-looking as the Blarney stone.
After making love to Miss Keaton, Allen describes sex as “the most fun I’ve ever had without laughing.” Well, his films—and those marvelous essays of his in the New Yorker—are some of the most fun I’ve ever had with laughing.
He’s a national treasure, and if he wants to make more “serious” films such as this, fine. But not too often. My ribs need time to heal.
Lane on 'Big Sick'
“If [Kumail] Nanjiani cuts a likable figure, onstage and off, it's because he never pleads to be liked. His punch lines are not punched at all but flicked as casually as cigarette butts.”
-- Anthony Lane in his review of “The Big Sick” on The New Yorker site. I liked this line even though I don't know how true it is. Flicking a cigarette butt has a kind of contempt that I don't see in Nanjiani. Not to mention the fact that Lane seems so-so on “The Big Sick,” which I consider the best movie I've seen so far this year. And it should've been the lead review, not secondary and after-thoughtish. Right, New Yorker? I mean, WTF? It's like you don't even know.
My Father's Original 'Star Wars' Review from 1977 (with special guest star Muhammad Ali!)
A few days after Christmas, my 84-year-old father, me (53), and my 15-year-old nephew Jordy sat in the basement of my sister's house in south Minneapolis and did a podcast on three generations of movie reviewers talking about three generations of movies: “Four Feathers” from 1939, “Star Wars” from 1977, and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” from 2009. I first wrote about it here. You can listen to it here.
During the podcast, we referenced my father's 1977 review of “Star Wars,” which he famously, or infamously, didn't like, or at least didn't gush over. He has gripes. But if you read the piece, he's not wrong.
Because the Minneapolis Star-Tribune currently doesn't give subscribers access to its archive the way The New York Times does (and Strib: I would totally be a subscriber if you offered this service), I typed it up myself from the original newspaper review. I typed up a few other reviews of his from the '70s, too, including “Annie Hall” and “The Godfather Part II,” which I'll post someday.
Dad's “Star Wars” review shared a column with another film—The New Yorker still does this. Anyone remember “The Greatest” starring Muhammad Ali? Ironic title, given its release the same week as “Star Wars.” I've included that one, too, to give a better feel for the times.
‘Star Wars’ may be good fun, but leave your brains home
June 5, 1977
George Lucas’ “Star Wars,” his first movie since “American Graffiti,” is obviously the film phenomenon of the year, judging by the crowds it’s attracting at the St. Louis Park theater. It even packed them in at 11 a.m. last Sunday, which is an ungodly hour to see a movie. Clearly it’s the “Jaws” and “Exorcist” of 1977.
But is it also the best film of the year? Time magazine has already awarded it that accolade without bothering to check out the competition. If Time’s editors are so confident of premature judgments, why don’t they also select their Man of the Year now, instead of waiting till December?
I certainly don’t think it’s the best film of the year, or the month, for that matter (it ranks well behind “Annie Hall” and “Jonah” in my May rankings). It does have some gorgeous special effects and an amusing plot, if you like comic strips. There’s also a certain fun in spotting all the sources from which the eclectic Lucas has drawn his material.
It’s got some Flash Gordon, of course, but there’s also a good hunk of “The Wizard of Oz,” with a gold, English-speaking version of the Tin Woodsman and an apish version of the Cowardly Lion looking for that Yellow Brick Road in the sky, and a tribe of Sand People that sounds suspiciously like Munchkins. [Editor's Note: Yes, Jawas.]
Not to mention the Arthurian legends—the golden-haired, untested squire tilting lances with the Black Knight, who turns out to be a heavy-breathing warrior who sounds like the wrong end of an obscene phone call.
Most of Lucas’ dialogue sounds as if he’d lifted it unaltered from World War II John Wayne movies. “This is it, boys!” says the squadron commander as he prepares to attack the space station, followed by “Cover me!” (Sorry about all of those exclamation points, but this is a comic strip, so every sentence, no matter how innocuous, must end with an exclamation!)
The film also contains an ear-splitting amount of gunfire, none of which hits the outnumbered good guys. There’s a cornball story interred somewhere in the mish-mash—something about an interplanetary rebellion, a kidnapped princess (more of a take-charge type than we’re accustomed to in costumed epics) and the attempt to recover some secret plans. Your kids will love it, and you may too. But leave your brains at home.
Watching “The Greatest,” which is the filmed autobiography of Muhammad Ali, is like attending the weigh-in for one of Ali’s fights. For two hours.
The braggadocio, the doggerel, the taunting of a glowering opponent are all amusing in short doses. Stretched out for 120 minutes, they lose their fizz fast.
A hint of part of the problem emerged from a recent interview with Ring Lardner Jr., who wrote the screenplay but encouraged Ali to rewrite his own lines in the interest of authenticity. As a result, many of those lines become speeches—pontifical, redundant, verbose. It may be the way Ali talks, but it’s not very dramatic.
That’s just one of the problems, however. “The Greatest” certainly deserves one superlative: It’s the worst edited film I’ve seen in some time. Scenes are built up, then dropped, and key scenes are omitted. There’s very little about Angelo Dundee’s effect on Ali, for instance, either because it would have intruded on Ali’s ego or because it’s convenient to ignore his pre-Muslim past.
Ali is certainly an engaging actor, and the fight sequences are exciting, particularly if, like me, you’ve forgotten who won which fights. But despite the promise of the ads to discover the “real” Ali, you don’t learn much about him that you didn’t already know from the papers.
That “Leave your brains at home” line? Who knew we'd be doing that for the next 40 years?
The False Positives in the 29% Rotten Tomatoes Rating of 'Batman v Superman'
'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' currently has a 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is rotten indeed, but I got curious about those critics that liked it. As in: What exactly did they like about it?
That's what I went searching for, but I found something else.
Yes, a few of the positive reviews are positive:
- “Unfairly maligned, Snyder's dark vision is impressive and starkly different from the competition. The plot is perhaps too ambitious but the film delivers more often than it doesn't with Affleck's Bruce Wayne and Gal Gadot being highlights.” — Chris Bumbray, JoBlo's Movie Emporium
But many sound like shrugs:
- “You take the good. You take the bad. You take them both and there you have a Zack Snyder film.” — Wesley Lovell, Cinema Sight
- “Above all of it's [sic] flaws, what works in Batman v Superman is enough to please the less demanding audiences.” -- Cuauhtémoc Ruelas, Tijuaneo
While a few are so negative they make you wonder what a critic has to say to give a movie a thumbs down:
- “Unfortunately, director Zach [sic] Snyder's scattershot, overly complicated and hugely drawn-out exposition depletes the story of all its fun and power, reducing his leads to impotent cranks.” - Roe McDermott, Hot Press
- “While the actors and the show are worth [sic] of a superhero film, it sacrifices the humanity of the characters and drowns in endless videogame sequences that ultimately leave us an emptiness and without amazement. Totally numb.” -- Mario P. Székely
A few of these were translated (poorly) from the Spanish. Maybe that's how they got translated into positive reviews, too: poorly.
Michael Shannon by Anthony Lane
Came across this nice description reading Lane's review of Jeff Nichols' new film, “Midnight Special”:
The actor Michael Shannon appears in all four [of Nichols'] films, starring in three of them, and, if you seek a reliable guide to Nichols's work, consider Shannon's face. Smiles do not become it; the mouth tightens, by reflex, to a crinkled line, and once, in “Take Shelter,” it gapes wide in a terrible and soundless O, as the hero wakes from a nightmare. The eyes, not quite matched, are set far apart in a square and noble head, which feels too heavy with care to be borne upon his shoulders. Although he is rangy and tall, anxiety freights him down, or brings him to a devastated halt. Shannon does not look alien, exactly, but never, even in company, do his characters seem like happy members of the human tribe.
Lane found the movie flawed but resonant. He would like to see it again, “to revel anew in its group portrait of those who are haunted by the will to believe.”
Michael Shannon in “Take Shelter”