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Annie Hall (1977)
I am an unabashed Woody Allen fan. Now, I know that most of us native New Yorkers are predisposed to liking Woody. I have found many midwesterners and Californians who ask why I like him, and, after a collection of well-thought-out reasons, they nod their heads knowingly and dismissingly if I mention that I am originally from New York City.
This movie, though, is about more than New York vs. L.A. It's about more than Jew loves Shiksa. It's about love, life, and disappointment, and it is put together in a very entertaining and precocious way. This is a film maker stretching the envelope. Only Woody Allen could come up with the idea of pulling Marshall Macuhan from behind a billboard to berate a pseudo-intellectual for him. Leave it to a warped mind to toss in an animated section where his love becomes the evil queen from "Snow White." And the subtitled sequence is just perfect.
As with most geniuses, there are many who may not "get" what Woody is trying to say. This is a film, though, that can be seen a hundred times, and something new will pop out every single one of those times. Take it from me; I wrote a sixty page thesis on this movie, and after watching it nearly every day for a semester, I was still learning and discovering.
Woody is in the doghouse these days because of some questionable personal choices. Ignore the man. Consider the work. If you give "Annie Hall" the chance, you will discover a masterfully wrought film that is hilarious, insightful, and touching without ever slipping into the bog of sentimentality. Movies like this are few and far between.
All That Jazz (1979)
A Personal Favorite
As a theatre professional, this movie is my personal favorite. I can understand that there are some who maybe put off by the theme and tone that Fosse takes, but when looking for a snapshot of hedonism, creativity, genius, and the pre-"Phantom" American Musical Theatre, this movie is amazing. Oh, and did I mention the incredible dancing?
Shunned by reviewers because of its nastily undisguised look at such theatre luminaries as Harold Prince, Michael Bennett, Stephen Schwartz and Gwen Verdon, and film luminaries such as Dustin Hoffman, the movie has started to re-emerge as the definitive movie of musical theatre and dance. You can't help but realize this when you discover that even Paula Abdul has used the famed "Take Off With Us" dance sequence as the basis of one of her own music videos.
Not for the faint-hearted, this movie is loaded with talent, beautiful and jarring images, and even a moral. It maybe intentionally repugnant, but this was a "mea culpa" from a generously talented man who survived his hedonism and sought to warn others awary from its inevitable effects.
See it. Enjoy it. Revel in it. If you're not careful, you might even learn something from it.
Remember my name...
Okay, it's rather ironic, but I was a featured extra in this film, and it was the highest point of my limited childhood film career.
"Fame" has become remembered more for the mediocre T.V. series than for the impressive film that started it all. It is a reasonably honest, if a little fanciful, look at growing up with stars in your eyes. It is filled with solid performances, interesting insights, and some great music and dance sequences. It's funny, touching, and dramatic, and ends with a bang.
If only the arts could really be this exciting...
If you haven't seen this movie, by all means, rent it. While it maybe a tad cutesy at some points, it also has teeth, and gives a view of the arts that isn't always rosey (and rightly so). If you haven't seen it in awhile, drop in on the characters once again. It still has the power to lift, even nearly 20 years later. "I sing the body electric..."
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Horrific? Horrible? You decide...
Way back in 1983, my friends and I ignored the preview warnings about this film that said that people with heart conditions and pregnant women should avoid attending, and we viewed what became our running joke for the rest of the '80s and most of the '90s.
Cheesey? Kraft Macaroni and Cheese doesn't hold a candle to this film. Badly written? Yes and no. Badly acted? Yes and no. Badly produced? You get the picture. Its biggest problem is that it seems so earnestly portrayed, and yet it has some of the worst acting to come from any camp horror film. But then, it looks like they've invested big-time moolah in it, since the death scenes are all very impressively staged. I mean, they even got the aerodynamics of an arrow going through someone's throat right (arrows spin as they fly, and so does this one, even as it goes into the person's throat--very impressive). It's truly weird...
Did the cast and crew really mean it to be this bad? There are a few honestly good actors in this. The actor playing Mel did a lot of dramatic roles in '50s and '60s tv, and even appeared in an episode of "The Twilight Zone." So why does he deliver a mumbled--what can only be called a soliloquy--over a woman's corpse? Did the woman playing Meg really think this was going to be her breakthrough performance? Why did the woman playing Angela need to look offscreen during emotional scenes? And why does the killer chop up all of those little kids anyway?
Horrific special effects, horrible script and performances.
Despite all of this, I am forced to admit, I still pull out the video when my high school friends visit, just to laugh and wonder all over again.