Annette (2021) Written by Ron Mael, Russell Mael, and Leos Carax Directed by Leos Carax
Annette is a movie whose fans won’t simply like this picture, but they will adore it. The film is the brainchild of eccentric musicians Sparks (brothers Ron & Russell Mael), who have been itching to get into cinema for decades. In the 1970s, they were on the verge of collaborating with French comedic filmmaker Jacques Tati until he took ill. Now they have produced a film that most certainly their own, full of strange musings on death & love, all suffused with a wry sense of dark humor. I can’t say I loved this movie, but I certainly appreciated what a unique production it was; it’s genuinely unlike anything else coming out right now.
Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) Written by Melvyn Bragg & Norman Jewison Directed by Norman Jewison
I hate Jesus Christ Superstar. This is mainly because of Dame Sir Lord Andrew Lloyd Weber (shout out to my Comedy Bang Bang Fans out there). I cannot stand this man’s musical theater work. I don’t like Cats or Phantom or Joseph or any of the stuff he’s ever made. It feels grossly over-produced and gaudy in a way that is a complete turn-off to me. Jesus Christ Superstar (or JCS) has not aged well and feels like a relic of the 1960s/70s hippie movement. Even then, it doesn’t feel genuine, but a co-opted facsimile of the hippies. I don’t think the film does much to redeem the musical. It looks fine, but it is certainly not one of Jewison’s best.
Fiddler on the Roof (1971) Written by Joseph Stein Directed by Norman Jewison
By this time in his career, Norman Jewison had become dismayed over the political climate in the United States. It was clear that the government was meeting the multiple cultural uprisings and movements with hostility and brutality. He decided to move his family to England, which is where his subsequent few productions were based. Having gained considerable clout for his work on In the Heat of the Night and The Thomas Crown Affair, Jewison was offered to direct a film adaptation of the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof. The themes of Fiddler seem right in Jewison’s wheelhouse, but it was his first musical, so that aspect of the film remained to be seen until its release. The result is one of Jewison’s best pictures.
Her Smell (2018) Written & Directed by Alex Ross Perry
I don’t think I have felt this sort of whiplash on my feelings about a filmmaker in a long while. When Alex Ross Perry is writing about literary people (Listen Up Philip), he’s nailing it. After watching Her Smell, I am curious about how much research he did when writing this picture. It felt like a cliched musician biopic and was absolutely grating by the end. It does have high points, but overall, I was pleased when the movie was over because it was so unenjoyable to watch. This is one where my wife had a lot to say and articulated some of the things I disliked so intensely about the movie—more on that in a bit.
Annie (1982) Written Carol Sobieksi Directed by John Huston
The 1970s were a fruitful period for Huston, with several acclaimed films and an expansion of his aesthetics to fit a modern style. Huston also worked in front of the camera as the iconic villain Noah Cross in the neo-noir Chinatown. He voiced Gandalf in the Rankin-Bass animated production of The Hobbit. Huston even starred as the lead in Orson Welles’ final & delayed film, The Other Side of the Wind. On the bleaker side of life, Huston was diagnosed with emphysema in 1978, which would plague him for the rest of his life. He’d been a heavy smoker since he was a young man, so it was only a matter of time until it caught up with him. In the early 1980s, Huston was approached by producer Ray Stark to direct an adaptation of the Broadway musical Annie. Huston had never made a musical in his forty years directing, so he decided to give it a shot.
New York, New York (1977) Written by Mardik Martin & Earl Mac Rauch Music by John Kander & Fred Ebb Directed by Martin Scorsese
If you were like me, growing up, you just assumed the song “New York, New York” was just some old song from back in the 1930s/1940s. However, I discovered that it was initially written for Martin Scorsese’s musical film of the same title in 1977. It makes sense that I might be tricked into thinking it was an older piece of music as it was written by Broadway legends Kander & Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago). They have a pitch-perfect ear for the sound of Broadway and a specific period, so the song feels like it’s just been around forever. The problems came from having the wrong mix of elements, Scorsese trying to blend ingredients of harsh realism with something that clearly made out of love for the golden age of Hollywood musicals.
Earth Girls Are Easy (1988) Written by Julie Brown, Charlie Coffey, and Terrence E. McNally Directed by Terrence E. McNally
When I was a kid, this film, in its edited for television version, seemed to play often on one of the local channels, which pretty much bought and played anything they could find to fill airtime. My memories are incredibly spotty, and I remember images of the furry aliens and their transformation into resembling people. I haven’t revisited it since those years, now; as an adult, I figured it could be a part of this series, and I was interested to see what I would get from it now. With 1980s nostalgia being at its peak in the last few years, you would think a movie like this would get more attention, but it still remains a very obscure picture, or at least not brought up in discussion in the internet corners I frequent.
Popeye (1980) Written by Jules Feiffer, Songs by Harry Nilsson Directed by Robert Altman
The making of Popeye began with a bidding war for the film rights to the Broadway stage adaptation of Little Orphan Annie. When producer Robert Evans found out Paramount had lost the bid to Columbia Pictures, he held an executive meeting about what comic properties they owned that could replace Annie. One person chimed in “Popeye,” and so it was decided they would make a movie musical based on the spinach-eating sailor man. The original concept was to cast Dustin Hoffman as Popeye and Lily Tomlin as Olive Oyl, but that fell through. At one point, even Gilda Radner was considered for Olive. However, when things finally settled and production began, we ended up with a picture that Paramount wasn’t too happy with, but that has become a cult classic.
The Blues Brothers (1980) Written by Dan Akroyd & John Landis Directed by John Landis
Saturday Night Live has spawned many film spin-offs and become the launchpad for many comedic actors. It began with The Blues Brothers, the first movie to take characters created on the show and put them in a feature presentation. The Blues Brothers were established in 1978, and over the years, Akyroyd and collaborator Ron Gwynne developed a backstory about the duo growing up in an orphanage and learning blues from the janitor. With the success of Animal House, director John Landis and star John Belushi were in a perfect position to get The Blues Brothers movie made.
Rachel (Directed by Andrew DeYoung) I love the comedic duo of John Early & Kate Berlant. Their Vimeo exclusive series 555 is brilliant, and everyone should watch it. This short film, directed by Andrew DeYoung, who was also behind the show, dramatizes a real-life situation that occurred to Early and his friends at a small house party one night. I don’t want to give away the details, but the short is a beautiful blend of horror, comedy, and that nervous, anxious cringey feeling—one of my favorite shorts of all-time, so simple yet brilliant.