#229: Deconstructing Harry (1997)

With Woody Allen’s 43rd(!) feature film To Rome With Love soon hitting the cinema screens, it’s always great to go back and see some of his former glories and forgettable duds. Producing, writing, directing, and often starring in one film every year, the prolific comedian’s real-life is deeply rooted in his creative output, and the brutal satire Deconstructing Harry is no exception.

Allen stars as Harry Block, a neurotic creative going through a phase of writer’s block ahead of picking up a prestigious award from his former university. Before he gets there, Block spends time with his psychiatrist trying to pinpoint the reason for his creative. Together they release that, as with all Woody Allen films, the blame is on Harry’s borderline psychotic fixation with women. Telling all, he reflects on ex-wives and girlfriends, the love, the lies, and all the characters’  in his book who stem from Block’s real world. Truth be told, Allen Block is a nasty piece of work.

From thereon, the film gets a little confusing. A master writer, just about every person in Harry’s world has a fictitious doppelgänger in his writing. Recalling the revue style of his early days, these are all explored in fantasy sequences and surreal sketches, culminating in a tawdry “Welcome to Hell” skit.

What is most instantly surprising about this inflated nineties flop is the crass language. Woody is angry, dropping f, and even c-bombs like there’s no tomorrow. It is initially jarring, but Woody’s potty mouth is a rather welcome shift from the Allen we’ve seen in previous films. That is until he puckers up for an unrelenting, deplorable kiss with Elisabeth Shue (that’s her up above, the poor lady).

Always able to pull in a crowd, Deconstructing Harry has a producers’ wet dream of a cast list, with the likes of Robin Williams and Julia Louis-Dreyfus putting in measly performances as the people that make Harry’s life so self-loathing. Evidently making appearances just for the Woody Allen credit, they pitch in on a plot which is as convoluted and multifarious as the film’s title suggest. At the crux, Harry, and ostensibly  Allen, is wrestling with the blurred boundary between real life and fiction, and how the two can be detriment to each other.

For all it’s bawdy humour, Deconstructing Harry is surprisingly mournful. A story of an isolated man who pushes away any compassion thrown at him. Failing to convince anyone to come by their own accord, Harry captures his son Hilly (Eric Llloyd), a distant dying friend Richard (the hilariously understated Bob Balaban) and on-the-clock prostitute Cookie (Hazelle Goodman) to accompany him to the alma mater honouring. A career defining event, Allen suggests that the shoulder-rubbing highs of artistic life are also the most lonely.

Even more selfish than Isaac Davis in the timeless Manhattan, Harry is a little too loathsome to spend ninety minutes with. Deconstructing Harry sees Woody as an angry middle-aged man who really doesn’t give a fuck what you think. A nasty, perplexing and philosophical comedy which sees Allen exercise his demons. Considering he married his adopted daughter, it’s no surprise Allen’s got some shit going on.

★★★☆☆☆
IMDb it.

#199: The Absent-Minded Professor (1961)

Cross-cloud Traffic

If you’ve been a stalwart supporter of the #366Movies claus, and have followed this blog throughout the year, you may have heard me wax lyrical about my unequivocal fondness Robin Williams. Never mind the heydays of Dead Poet’s Society and Mrs Doubtfire, I’m into the real trashy stuff too: Jumanji, Toys and, dare I say it, even Patch Adams. One film of his I hold as a particularly sickening guilty pleasure is Disney’s 1997 quirky comedy Flubber. Sick of watching that film once every month (I’m kidding, that would be worthy of psychiatric help), imagine how overcome with excitement I was to stumble across The Absent-Minded Professor, from which it derives.

A forgotten gem in the live-action Disney canon, this early sixties family drama puts a friendly face to the world of science. Hollywood’s gentle giant Fred MacMurray plays Professor Ned Brainard, a zany chemist nerd who is so caught developing the next scientific breakthrough that, for the third time,  who forgets to attend his own wedding, leaving pretty college secretary Betsy Carlisle (Nancy Olson) jilted at the altar. Caught in an explosion at his home laboratory, he wakes up to discover that he has accidentally created anti gravitational, flying rubber (or FLUBBER, if you will). He finds novel ways to use it; such as in the heel of his college basketball team’s shoes and inside the motor of his Model-T car, which enables the car to miraculously fly high into the clouds, an impressive accomplishment for science, but it doesn’t do much to mend his broken heart. With the invention talk of the town, Brainard tries to win back his lost love and sell on the invention to the American government, all before he is accosted by unscrupulous businessman Alonzo P. Hawk (Keenan Wynn) who has his own advantageous ideas for the malleable play dough.

The comedy might not hit the high(ish) notes of the 1997 remake (a screenplay submitted by ‘king of the teen movies’ John Hughes), MacMurray is fantastically funny and comfortable in the lead, with Wynn stealing the show with a final scene that sees him exponentially bouncing into the high heavens wearing “flubberized” footwear.

Nominated for an academy award in the Best Special Effects category, The Absent-Minded Professor uses some archaic animation techniques and handmade visual tricks to great effects. Director Robert Stevenson clearly had a playful, creative vision for the look and feel of the film, so it’s no wonder that he was able to focus these ideas on a bigger budget four years later with the best Disney film ever made; Mary Poppins.

Of course, it’s all very silly and unsurprisingly dated, but The Absent-Minded Professor is a delightful, ‘fun for all the family’ yarn, effortlessly adopting that inexplicable Disney magic.

★★★☆☆☆
IMDb it.

#145: World’s Greatest Dad (2009)

Have you seen my eyes? I certainly haven’t.

Yesterday, Sunday 18th June, was a particularly momentous occasion for paternal figures worldwide. A day to spread peace, love and understanding, as well as golf accessories and/or whisky tumblers. Yes, it was father’s day.

Knowing that I probably lost about half of the readers there, who are now frantically sending out belated e-cards to begrudging dads, I’ll press on. Today’s fourth and final film is Bobcat Goldthwait’s World’s Greatest Dad. Made on a minor budget a couple of years back, this small indie takes the paternal instinct and nurturing to dark new levels. Robin Williams plays failed author-cum-english teacher Lance. Desperate for his big break, his small-town life is put on hold when his brattish son Kyle inadvertently commits suicide whilst partaking in a particularly risky sexual act. Trying to cover up the particularly awkward demise of his universally disliked son, Lance may have just stumbled on the creative breakthrough he’s been longing for.

A morbidly black comedy in part, this feature film looks more like an accomplished TV-movie rather than a summer blockbuster. Stylistically plaintive and narratively clawing, this unabatingly indy flick loses it’s darkened charm halfway through, fatiguingly dragging itself to a well deserved dying point.

Film done. I’m done. Until next time – meaning tomorrow – au revoir.

★★★☆☆☆
IMDb it.

025: The Fisher King (1991)

Gilliam’s forgotten gem and his most accessible comedy sci-fi film. Two very strong central performances from pre-Dude dude Jeff Bridges as shock-jock turned wash up Jack and Robin Williams as his unhinged homeless sidekick Parry, minus the Flubber. A solid, Twelve Monkeys-light story, one of the best enigmatic Tom Waits cameos ever and a staggeringly impressive set piece scene (you’ll know the one. Think ‘waltz’), makes this an absolute joy. Sure, it’s not in the top three best Gilliam films, but it’s not far off.

THE GOOD: Gilliams’ effortless ability to create a slightly surrealist world which we are all capable of understanding. As per.

THE BAD: The Brother’s Grimm. It’s not here, but just don’t. Ever.

THE UGLY: Robin Williams naked. More hair than skin.

★★★★☆☆

IMDb it.