Tag Archives: Alex Karras

FM (1978, John A. Alonzo)

After a somewhat linear, pratical first act, FM begins to meander through a series of vingettes. Occasionally these end in a fade to black, usually when there’s supposed to be some deep meaning to the scene, but occasionally just when it’s time to move an interminate period into the future. A day or two. Or a week. It’s never really clear, which is fine, since there’s not much internal reality to the film.

FM is about the highest rated radio station in Los Angeles. Only, they’re not highest rated because they’re a bunch of corporate squares, they’re highest rated because they’re a bunch of Hollywoodized hippies. Station manager and morning disc jockey Michael Brandon never gets to work on time, if the opening titles are to be believed, when he’s driving from home to work in approximately six minutes. In L.A. traffic. Brandon’s got long, shaggish hair and a beard and sometimes wears a cowboy hat. He doesn’t believe in commercials, he believes in the music.

Then there’s Martin Mull. He’s the sweet talker lothario DJ who has way too high an opinion of himself. He actually gets one of the film’s better story arcs, culiminating in the most creative direction director Alonzo does in the entire film. Cleavon Little is the other sweet talker lothario DJ who has just the right opinion of himself. He doesn’t get anything to do in the movie, except make the station seem hip for having a black guy. Eileen Brennan is the third of the successful DJs. She’s tired with the life. She has the worst story arc; of all the underutilized actors in the film, Brennan is most underutilized. Ezra Sacks’s script doesn’t have much in the way of character depth–calling the parts caricatures is a tad complementary–so it’s up to the actor and Alonzo to make the most of the performances.

Mull can kind of get away with it, but Brennan has less to do than Jay Fenichel, who’s the tech guy who wants to be DJ.

There’s also Alex Karras, who’s sort of around to give a sense of linearity, as well as giving Brandon some character development. Not enough because Sacks doesn’t do anything with Karras. And, frankly, when Karras takes a back seat to Cassie Yates, who at least is active and supposedly has a on-again-off-again with Brandon (though they have zero chemistry), it’s a fine enough change. Yates isn’t annoying in the little transition scenes between Sacks’s attempts at vingettes. Karras, however, does get annoying.

Tom Tarpey is okay as the company stooge who should be a foil for Brandon, except he disappears for too long somewhere in the second act. The second act is also when FM drops in a three song set from Linda Rondstadt, which Alonzo doesn’t direct any better than the rest of the film so it’s not even compelling.

Oh, and James Keach’s pothead Army lieutenant is an exceptional fail in everywhere–Keach’s performance, Sacks’s writing, Alonzo’s direction.

When the film finally does get to the third act, which basically just resolves stuff introduced in the first ten minutes… well, FM goes from being a genial disappointment to a complete waste of time. It doesn’t help Alonzo is wholly unqualified for everything the film needs him to do. And whoever thought Panavision was a good idea was very wrong. Alonzo can never find anything to fill the side of a frame in his one shots. He also can’t direct group shots, which is a problem since much of the film is the cast standing or sitting around the radio station.

Lawrence G. Paull’s production design isn’t bad though, even if the station is unbelievable as a successful radio station, Hollywood hippies or not. And David Myers’s photography is passable. It’s not his fault Alonzo doesn’t know how to compose a shot.

FM doesn’t run much over a 100 minutes, yet it begins to drag once it’s clear it’s not really going anywhere with the cast. Mull’s comic relief. Brennan’s around to give it respectably. Yates is supposed to give it spunk, Little color, Brandon heartthrob. As it does start to finish up, the film manages to drain all its enthusiasm. It can’t end fast enough; it’s already burned through the tepid goodwill it’s created and is just wasting everyone’s time.

FM doesn’t even end up deserving a turn your dial joke.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John A. Alonzo; written by Ezra Sacks; director of photography, David Myers; edited by William C. Carruth and Jeff Gourson; music by Steely Dan; production designer, Lawrence G. Paull; produced by Rand Holston; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael Brandon (Jeff Dugan), Martin Mull (Eric Swan), Cassie Yates (Laura Coe), Eileen Brennan (Mother), Tom Tarpey (Regis Lamar), Cleavon Little (Prince), Jay Fenichel (Bobby Douglas), Roberta Wallach (Shari Smith), Janet Brandt (Alice), Alex Karras (Doc Holiday), and James Keach (Lt. Reach).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE WORKPLACE IN FILM & TV BLOGATHON HOSTED BY DEBBIE OF MOON IN GEMINI.


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Blazing Saddles (1974, Mel Brooks)

Maybe the first two-thirds of Blazing Saddles are really funny, getting great performances out of lead Cleavon Little, his sidekick Gene Wilder and especially Harvey Korman’s villain. Wilder’s almost an add-on character; he’s around so Little, in addition to being funny and likable, doesn’t also have to be an accomplished gunslinger. It’s one of the most pragmatic elements of the screenplay, which has five credited contributors, and is otherwise all over the place.

Director Brooks splits Saddles out into sketches. Here’s a sketch with Little and underutilized proto-sidekick Charles McGregor, here’s a sketch with Slim Pickens and Korman, here’s a sketch with Brooks starring as the moron governor (Korman’s his suffering Judas attorney general), here’s one with Korman and Madeline Kahn, here’s one with Kahn and Little. The racist townsfolk–who get saddled, no pun intended, with black sheriff Little–have their own series of sketches. Brooks brings it all together somewhat well–the constant fade outs are more curtain lowering than transition–until the film hits the halfway point. Once Kahn and Little have their sketch, Saddles just starts racing to its conclusion.

And that conclusion is a madcap mess of Panavision and Technicolor. There’s no intelligence in the absurdity, except when Korman is around (Little is reduced to a bit player in his own movie for most of the conclusion). Korman gets Saddles’s best material, knows it and appreciates it. He delivers in every scene. Everyone else tries, but the material isn’t always there.

The script relies on caricatures–funny ones, sure, but still caricatures–instead of giving the actors anything to work with. Hence my describing it as a series of sketches. Burton Gilliam, for example, gets some solid material at the beginning, but then he just loiters around. McGregor follows a similar pattern–stronger material at the start, then he disappears only to return as a gear in the deus ex machina. One of the dei ex machina, the film’s got a couple, the second one pointless.

Brooks keeps it moving–Saddles runs under ninety minutes–but the last thirty or so are just spinning its wheels. Nice photography from Joseph F. Biroc and some rather funny songs for establishing montages (and Kahn’s number) help things along.

Saddles has all the pieces to be more than a madcap comedy, Brooks just doesn’t utilize them.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mel Brooks; screenplay by Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor and Alan Uger, based on a story by Bergman; director of photography, Joseph F. Biroc; edited by Danford B. Greene and John C. Howard; music by John Morris; production designer, Peter Wooley; produced by Michael Hertzberg; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Cleavon Little (Bart), Gene Wilder (Jim), Harvey Korman (Hedley Lamarr), Madeline Kahn (Lili Von Shtupp), Slim Pickens (Taggart), Charles McGregor (Charlie), Burton Gilliam (Lyle), Alex Karras (Mongo), Mel Brooks (Governor William J. Lepetomane).


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Against All Odds (1984, Taylor Hackford)

If Against All Odds had just a few more things going for it, the film might qualify as a glorious disaster. There are a lot of glorious elements to it, even if there aren't quite enough to make it worthwhile. Or even passable.

Hackford's direction is outstanding. He's fully committed to Eric Hughes's terrible script. It doesn't matter if it's plotting, logic or characters, Hughes can't do any of them. Odds is three films stuck together–Jeff Bridges as an injured football player (an absurdly old one) who has to figure out what to do with his life, Bridges and Rachel Ward's travelogue romance in scenic Mexico, and then a good old fashioned L.A. city corruption story. Actually, the first and last tie together somewhat; it's the lengthy Mexican sojourn where Odds uses up most of its goodwill.

It gets that goodwill partially from Hackford, who's got great photography from Donald E. Thorin and outstanding music from Michel Colombier and Larry Carlton. Odds always looks good and sounds good. But there's an excellent supporting cast–James Woods is phenomenal, Richard Widmark's great, Jane Greer, Swoosie Kurtz, Saul Rubinek–they're all good. The problem's the leads. Ward is awful. Sure, Hughes writes her as an object and can't figure out her character motivation, but she's still awful. Bridges isn't any good for similar reasons; silly writing, nonsense story arc. But at least he's likable.

There are a couple moments where all the good things collide and Odds is sublime.

There needed to be more.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Taylor Hackford; screenplay by Eric Hughes, based on a film written by Daniel Mainwaring; director of photography, Donald E. Thorin; edited by Fredric Steinkamp and William Steinkamp; music by Michel Colombier and Larry Carlton; production designer, Richard Lawrence; produced by William S. Gilmore and Hackford; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Terry Brogan), Rachel Ward (Jessie Wyler), James Woods (Jake Wise), Alex Karras (Hank Sully), Jane Greer (Mrs. Wyler), Richard Widmark (Ben Caxton), Dorian Harewood (Tommy), Swoosie Kurtz (Edie) and Saul Rubinek (Steve Kirsch).


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