Category Archives: Spiritual Movies

The Heavenly Kid (1985)

heavenly3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Angel helps out geek.

During the early 60’s Bobby (Lewis Smith) dies in a fiery car crash after the vehicle he was driving goes over a cliff during a game of chicken that he was playing with Joe (Mark Metcalf). His spirit gets sent to purgatory otherwise known as ‘Mid-town’ where he meets Rafferty (Richard Mulligan) who tells him that to get to ‘Uptown’ (Heaven) he’d have to go back down to earth in angel form to help out a human in need. He gets assigned to Lenny (Jason Gedrick) a geeky teen who’s trying in vain to hit on high school hottie Sharon (Anne Sawyer), but to no avail. Bobby is put in charge to teach Lenny how to be ‘cool’ and be able to pick-up chicks, but in the process he learns that Lenny’s dad is Joe, the guy who he raced against before he died, and Lenny’s mother is Emily (Jane Kaczmarek), Bobby’s former girlfriend who he still has strong feelings for.

The movie starts-off with an ill-advised car race that looks like it was ripped straight-out of Rebel Without a Cause. What’s worse is they tack-on this blaring song by Joe Fiore ‘Over the Edge’ that gets played during the crash, which takes away from the drama of the imagery instead of enhancing it. Bobby’s trip to the heavenly way station, which he does via a subway, has comic potential and Richard Mulligan is certainly quite funny, but I didn’t get why there would be a cafeteria, or why they’d eat food. Again, even if they appear in human form they’re still technically spirits as their human body remains on earth after death and decomposes, so why would spirits need to eat and does this mean they’d still have the same digestive system where they poop out what was eaten?

While Gedrick gives a much better performance than his co-star I still felt he was too good looking for the role. A true geek should be scrawny, or overweight, and have bad acne. If he had suffered from those things than his attempted transformation to a ‘cool’ dude would’ve been funnier.

I also thought it was ridiculous that he already had this beautiful woman named Melissa (Nancy Valen) who was really into him, and I think most guys would actually agree better looking than the plastic barbie that he was after. If this doofus is too dumb to realize on his own the good thing that he already has and instead callously takes her for granted simply because he feels the other one is better looking, after all the only reason he’s ‘in-love’ with Sharon is because she’s ‘hot’ then he shouldn’t get ‘help’ from an angel and justifiably deserves to be a lonely loser. I also felt that Melissa should’ve been more geeky since she was into another geek and having her be so pretty didn’t make much sense as other guys would be hitting-on her and since Lenny was not picking-up on her clear signals she would easily move on with somebody else and not hold-out so long, or feel the need to, for Lenny to finally see-the-light.

Spoiler Alert!

The rehabbed car in which Bobby takes what is literally an a rusty, empty shell of an old vehicle and through his heavenly magic turns it into a retro sports car I had problems with. For one thing since it was built on Bobby’s magical powers I would think Bobby would need to be present for it to run instead of Lenny being able to drive it by himself. Also, where did this key come from that Lenny uses to put in the ignition to start the car? This was literally just an old car frame when it was spotted and it’d be doubtful there would be any key in it and if there was it’d be as rusted as the rest of it. If you want to argue that this key was also a part of Bobby’s divine magic then there needs to be a scene with him creating it using his powers and then handing it to Lenny because it comes-off as big logic loophole otherwise.

The shot where Joe wakes-up to see Emily floating up the stairs by herself doesn’t work either. The idea is that human’s can’t see Bobby, who’s the one carrying Emily up the stairs, because he’s an angel, but if a person is being carried their ascension would have more of a jostled appearance instead of looking like they’re riding up an escalator like it does here.

The big reveal, in which it’s found that Lenny is actually Bobby’s son, is problematic since Bobby’s car crash occurs during the early 60’s (1960-63) and the present day for the story is October, 1984, which is when it was filmed. A senior in high school would’ve been born in 1967, or at the very earliest late 1966, so unless Emily was carrying Lenny around in her womb for 3 full years before he finally came out this whole concept just doesn’t work.

The thing that I really couldn’t stand was Bobby who’s a walking-talking cliche. Smith plays the part in a one-dimensional way and he looked too old for a teenager and was in fact 28 when it was shot. His generic advice on how to pick-up women is simplistic to say the least and if he really believes just feeding a woman lines about ‘how nice her hair looks’ is enough to get her to go out with him, or any other guy, then maybe he’s the one that needs the teaching and wisdom instead of dispensing it.

I also couldn’t understand why Lenny’s situation was so ‘dire’ that he needed heavenly intervention. There’s lots of kids who get bullied in school and can’t get a date that don’t have guardian angels come down to help them out, so what makes Lenny so special? Even if you factor in that Bobby is Lenny’s dead father it still doesn’t work because there’s lots of kids out there whose parents die when they’re young who don’t come back to help them as angels, so the questions still remains; what makes Lenny so special and is he deserving of this ‘help’? There’s millions of people out there who are homeless and victims of horrible crimes and abuse, which is who Bobby should’ve been assigned to, not a dopey kid who’s living a comfortable suburban existence and whose only ‘pressing issue’ is that he can’t make it with a stuck-up superficial babe who’s way out of league anyways.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 26, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Cary Medoway

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Redeemer (1978)

redeemer2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Murdered for their sins.

Six people, who attended the same high school and graduated from the class of 1967, get invited to a reunion. When they arrive they find that the school has been shut down and the building abandoned, but are let in by a kindly janitor. Inside is a room set-up for a party including an array of delicious food and drinks. They partake in the meal, but still wonder why they were the only ones from the class that got invited. They then begin getting killed-off in violent ways and when the remaining survivors try to leave they realize they’ve been trapped inside, but none of them knows who’s committing the killings, or why?

This yet another proto-slasher made long before the release of Halloweenwhich has become the standard. Like with Savage Weekendwhich was reviewed here last October, this movie goes on its own tangents, unlike 80’s slashers, with deviations that make for a fun watch and are filled with a lot of weird twists and imagery.

The entire production was filmed on-location in the town of Staunton, Virginia in the summer of 1976. The Staunton Military Academy was the building used for the setting of the abandoned school. It was loaned out to the producers for one month by Layne Loeffler, who appears briefly near the beginning. He was hoping that by allowing the movie to film there that it would generate enough interest to allow the academy  to open back-up, but the movie didn’t gain as much attention as they thought causing it to eventually be torn down just a few years later.

As with most low budget films it has the expected trappings of an independent feature produced and directed by a bunch of first-timers including a grainy film stock, which detractors of the film used as an excuse to hate it. I felt though that the faded look worked in its favor as it made it seem more like viewing lost footage dug up from years in storage and thus witnessing carnage captured by a hidden camera.

Despite the majority of the cast never doing another movie after this one, which includes both the director and writer, I came away more impressed than disappointed. There are indeed some genuinely scary moments and the killings are surprisingly vivid. In fact they look more realistic than many of the ones done in bigger budgeted movies that came-out later. The pacing is handled much better too and doesn’t have the slow, awkward drama segments like in other horrors. Even the characterizations showing people’s need to impress others while simultaneously putting up facades to hide what they feel others will judge them harshly on, a common occurrence in most high school reunions, is well brought out.

Spoiler Alert!

Many only complaint is the ending that doesn’t offer any final twist. I was fully expecting that the character of the Redeemer, played by T.G. Finkbinder, would ultimately be exposed as a fraud since he did the killings over what he felt were various perceived sins committed by the others and yet the film acts like these brutal murders were somehow justified and the victims ‘deserved’ what they got, which is pretty warped. However, outside of its weird messaging, it’s still an interesting obscurity particularly for slasher film collectors.

Alternate Titles: The Redeemer…Son of Satan!, Class Reunion Massacre

Released: October 25, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Constantine S. Gochis

Studio: Dimension Pictures

Available: Blu-ray, Tubi, Amazon Video

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Messiah in the desert.

Based on the rock opera of the same name by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice, the story centers on the last days of Christ (Ted Neeley) and his interactions with one of his disciples named Judas (Carl Anderson).  Judas does not agree with the direction that Jesus is taking the group and the two share a falling out. The next day in Jerusalem Judas visits the Priests (Bob Bingham, Kurt Yaghjian), who have already made the decision that Jesus must die for the sake of the nation. Using money to bribe him they get Judas to reveal where Jesus will be staying. Then on the next night Judas arrives with guards who arrest Jesus where he’s then taken to the Priests home and sentenced to death.

This film is very similar to Godspell, which came out the same year and was also based off of a Broadway musical. In my opinion they should’ve combined the two into one as there’s not that much of a difference between them. Probably the biggest contrast is that one was filmed in New York City while this one was shot on-location in Beit Guvrin National Park in Israel.  While the extreme heat of the desert forced the cast to take breaks from filming every 20 minutes to hydrate it’s a definite plus cinematically since this was the location where the biblical stories took place and because few people from the US have ever been there, so the landscape holds a distinctive appeal.  Director Norman Jewison takes full advantage of the unique caves that were dug there centuries ago to create many interesting shots.

The cast of characters show a little more distinction and aren’t all dressed like free-spirited vagabonds from the early 70’s like in Godspell although they still act like hippies. Jesus in this film looks more like the accepted artist’s rendition of him as opposed to a clown, but he gets seriously overshadowed by Anderson’s flamboyant performance as Judas to the point that the whole movie would’ve been better served, and more interesting, had he been made the main character.

I enjoyed Yvonne Elliman’s ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’, which later became a chart topper, and ‘King Herod’s Song’, which gets performed with campy gusto by Josh Mostel. The film though makes the same mistake as the other one in that there’s no dialogue in-between songs it just goes from one musical number to the next, which gives it a dizzying quality. If you’re really into musicals, or its spiritual message, then you may enjoy it, but anyone looking for conventional type of storytelling will be put off from the very beginning.

I didn’t get why all the anachronisms that get thrown-in either. It starts out with everyone arriving to the scene on a bus like they’re present-day performance artists putting on a show, but then shifts into them becoming the parts that they’re playing until you can’t tell the difference. Several scenes feature army tanks and even airplanes, which were never a part of the actual time period, so why have them? If this was all done to make it ‘hip’ for modern audiences then it doesn’t work and for many will come-off as ridiculously kitschy, which it is.

The one thing it does do well (since I presume everyone, believer or non, knows the story I feel I don’t need to put a ‘Spoiler Alert’ on this one) is the crucifixion, which gets played-out in a far more intense way than in Godspell where he died on an electrical fence that lasted for less than a minute. Here it gets dark and genuinely disturbing and during the ’39 Lashes’ moment forced Neeley’s mother, who had attended the film’s world premiere, to walk out of the theater as she found it too intense.

From my vantage point it’s well produced, but shallow though Jewison did show the film to Pope Paul VI who proudly proclaimed “I believe it will bring more people around the world to Christianity than anything ever has before.” However, it was not without it’s share of controversy including from religious groups who accused it of being both blasphemous and anti-Semitic. Jewison even admitted, in response to the criticisms, that it was never meant to be anything authentic or deeply theological.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 7, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Ninth Configuration (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Insane man runs asylum.

Col. Vincent Kane (Stacy Keach), a former marine who is suffering from demons of his own, is selected to head a psychiatric institution built inside a converted castle that specializes in military personal who fought in the Vietnam war and now feign insanity. The challenge is to find if these men are truly mentally ill, or just faking it and Kane’s technique, which allows the patients to openly act out their darkest fantasies, is considered unorthodox. He begins to have an unusual friendship with one of them, Billy Cutshaw (Scott Wilson) a former astronaut who bailed out of an important mission with a nervous breakdown just before lift-off. The two begin to debate the existence of God and the correlation between faith and sacrifice.

The film has a rocky tone in which part of it delves into campy humor while the other half is more serious. The reason for this is that when William Peter Blatty first wrote the novel of which this movie is based in 1966 it was called ‘Twinkle, Twinkle “Killer” Kane!’ and told in a darkly humorous vein. In 1978 he rewrote the story with a more serious tone and that version was published with the same title as this film.

For me I found the humor off-putting and not funny at all. The whole first hour becomes a complete waste with comical bits that rely too much on mental hospital stereotypes and overall campiness from the performers. There’s also long drawn-out segments dealing with the patients barging into Kane’s office and going on long circular rants that are quite boring.

The second half improves when the tone becomes dramatic, which is what I wished it had been all the way through. It also features a wild barroom fight, which is a bit over-the-top with the way the biker gang dress and behave, but also features some great choreographed violence and a creepy performance by muscleman Steve Sandor as the head of the gang that torments both Keach and Wilson. The second act also features a few surreal, dreamlike sequences, which are the best moments of the film.

The eclectic cast is interesting, but many of them, including Robert Loggia and Moses Gunn, gets wasted in small roles and little screen time. Wilson and Jason Miller are good as two of the patients, but Neville Brand is the best as a drill sergeant that at times seems to be channeling R. Lee Emery and at other moments a confused, overwhelmed man with a deer-in-headlights expression. Blatty, who casts himself as one of the patients is good too, not so much for anything that he says or does, but for his unique facial features, especially his eyes making him look like a guy possessed and the fact that he wrote The Exorcist is even more ironic.

Keach is also excellent, in  a role that was originally meant for Nicol Williamson, but who got fired from the production early-on. Keach manages to be both creepy and hypnotic at the same time. A guy you fear one minute and feel sympathetic for by the end and he does it here without his usual mustache allowing the cleft lip that he was born with to be on full display.

The setting, which was filmed at Castle Eltz in Germany and done there because Pepsi financed the film under the condition that it had to be shot in Europe, is an impressive site. Yet it’s hard to believe that such a Gothic styled fortress, which began being built before 1157, could ever exist inside the USA, which is were the setting is supposed to take place.

The discussions that Keach and Wilson have in regards to the existence of a supernatural being are fascinating and help push the film forward, but the ending, which features a mystical twist, was not needed. The tone, even with the humor, was quite dark, so having it suddenly finish with an ‘uplifting’ moment doesn’t click with everything else that came before it and comes off like it’s selling out on itself.

Alternate Title: Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 29, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Peter Blatty

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Godspell (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jesus is a hippie.

A group of modern day young adults dissatisfied with their mundane lives decide to follow the calling of John the Baptist (David Haskell) to learn the teachings of Jesus (Victor Garber). They spend their days roaming the vacant streets of New York City while doing song and dances that are inspired by the Gospel of St. Matthew.

This film is based on the hit Broadway play that in turn was the brainchild of John-Micheal Tebelak. Tebelak was a student at Carnegie Mellon University in 1970 when he attended an Easter Vigil at St. Paul’s Cathedral only to end up getting frisked for drugs by the police simply because his clothing attire resembled that of a hippie. He became incensed that the modern day Christian was out-of-touch with the younger generation and became compelled to bridge-the-gap by going home and writing this play, which lead to him getting offers to produce and direct it, first at experimental off-Broadway theaters and then finally Broadway itself.

While this film’s intentions may be noble, it doesn’t completely succeed although its ability to take advantage of the New York City locations is a chief asset. Many prominent sites of the city get used including the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, and even a breath-taking dance sequence on top of the still being built World Trade Center. The film also manages to somehow, outside of the very beginning and very end, clear out all the other people from the city making the Big Apple seem like a giant ghost town, which in a way gives off a good surreal vibe, but it also would’ve been interesting seeing this troupe dealing with the everyday person and the reactions that would come from that.

The song and dance numbers are well choreographed, but there ends up being too many of them. The story lacks a plot and to a degree comes off as nonsensical. I realize they’re singing about parables from the Bible, but the viewer isn’t paying attention to that and instead focused on the colorful locales and comical antics of the hammy performers and it’s quite doubtful that a non-believer would suddenly get ‘inspired’ by anything that goes on here. Young children will most likely by confused and even frightened by it while teens and young adults, which was the target audience, will by today’s standards roll-their-eyes and consider it a relic of a bygone, drug-trippy era.

The cast shows a lot of energy and many of them were from the original stage version, but ultimately there’s no distinction between them. While most musicals have at least some dialogue and drama between the songs this one has none. It’s just two hours of non-stop singing and unless you’re deeply into the message this won’t really gel well with most viewers. The clothing styles, which at the time may have been ‘hip’, now look silly including having Jesus with an afro and walking around in over-sized shoes, which to me resembled a clown.

This might’ve worked better on stage where the intimate setting would allow one to feed off the vibe of the other audience members, but as a film it’s off-putting and the dazzling visual direction cannot overcome its other shortcomings.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated G

Director: David Greene

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Oh, God! You Devil (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: God versus the devil.

Bobby Shelton (Ted Wass) is a struggling songwriter who is becoming increasingly frustrated at his inability to make it big. He blurts out at one point that he’d be willing to sell his soul if it could get him success and this catches the attention of the Devil (George Burns) who goes by the name Harry O. Trophet. He offers to become Bobby’s agent as long as Bobby signs a contract that gives him his soul after an indefinite period of time. Bobby, so desperate to reap the benefits of fame and fortune that has alluded him all his life, decides to take him up on the offer and soon becomes a world famous rock star named Billy Wayne. Yet Bobby misses his girlfriend Wendy (Roxanne Hart) who he can no longer see because he’s inhabiting a different identity. He longs to go back to his old way of life and tries to contact the services of God (George Burns) to dissolve the contact he signed and return him back to the way it was before.

After the critical shellacking of Oh, God! Book II the studio realized their mistake and attempted to take the theme in a whole new and hopefully fresh direction. They commissioned both Josh Greenfield and Andrew Bergman to write separate scripts and then ultimately choose Bergman’s over the other one. While the idea may sound funny the way it gets handled is not. All Bergman does is simply rework the Faust legend while offering very little that is new or inventive to it. The plot gets handled in an extremely heavy-handed and melodramatic manner that is neither funny nor engrossing. Bergman shows little feeling for the material and the story plods along in a predictable and boring way.

Wass, who no longer performs in front of the camera and has since 1995 worked exclusively behind-the-scenes as a director, is extremely weak. His performance is one-note and his constant deer-in-headlights expression is annoying. The film doesn’t do a good job of portraying his desperate situation either. Despite making very little money he’s still able to somehow afford a chic-looking apartment and maintain a relationship with a very hot-looking woman. I realize the point of the movie is to show that he already had a good thing going and just didn’t realize it, but his situation should’ve been shown to be more bleak in order to have his signing of the contract make more sense.

Burns is the only thing that saves it. He had never played a bad-guy before, so seeing him fall into the devil character as well as he does is fun and some of the lines that he conveys are the only amusing bits in the movie. However, the big showdown between God and the devil in which the two play a game of poker is not interesting at all and they needed to do something that offered more action, which is badly missing from the film otherwise.

This marked the final movie to date in the Oh, God! franchise. There were discussions a few years back about reviving it with Betty White playing the role of God, but because of her advanced age no insurance company would back it, so the idea got scrapped, which is a shame as this would be one reboot I’d be interested to see.  It would be nice if someone would make a film that more closely resembled the ‘Oh, God!’ novel by Avery Corman, which had a satirical tone that none of the three films replicated.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: November 9, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Bogart

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Oh, God! Book II (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: God returns to earth.

Tracy (Louanne) is an 11-year-old girl who one day meets God (George Burns) when he invites her via a fortune cookie into the lounge of a Chinese restaurant where he asks her to help him spread the word that he exists. She then, with the help of her friends, creates posters that say ‘Think God’ which she puts up all over town, but this gets her suspended from school and then her parents (David Birney, Suzanne Pleshette) consider having her sent to a mental hospital after she keeps insisting that she’s spoken to the Almighty directly.

This follow-up to the 1977 hit lacks the freshness and originality of the first. The studio had initially wanted the John Denver character to return, but the producers insisted they wanted a ‘fresh start’ and not just continue the storyline from the first film. While the characters are different, the plot line remain the same causing the film to come-off like a boring reworking of the first one instead of a continuation.

Louanne, who now goes by Louanne Sirota, is adorable, which helps, but her hairstyle looks like something out of the 1940’s. She also believes in God right from the start even before she meets him, which doesn’t allow for any type of interesting character arch. It’s also quite  hard to believe that her ‘Think God’ poster campaign would have any affect and that a nonbeliever would somehow suddenly become a raging theist after spotting one of the amateurish looking signs.

Another issue is the God character who is full of idiosyncrasies. For one thing the concept of evolution gets glossed over and the film makes it like how we see things now in regards to animal and plant life is exactly how God envisioned them when they were created at the beginning of time. He also mentions having to sometimes sneeze, but why would a spirit need to do that? At another point he talks about answering phone calls, but why would there be telephones in Heaven?

It’s also confusing why God, who is supposedly an omnipotent being that knows what each person is thinking and feeling would need the help of a young child in order to ‘reach people’. He also seems like a cruel jerk as he coaxes this girl into this ad campaign, which puts her into a very traumatic situation as it gets her suspended from school and even on the brink of being put into an institution. If God is all-powerful why can’t he simply make himself appear on everyone’s TV at the same time in order to let everyone know that he exists instead of putting a young child through such unnecessary stress?

The humor is lacking and the only funny lines are the ones dealing with the big breasts of David Birney’s girlfriend (Denise Galik). I also didn’t understand why the word book gets put into the film’s title as there was never any second Oh God! novel written. Was this supposed to be a play-on-words in regards to the books of the Bible? If so then that joke, like just about everything else in the film, falls flat.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gilbert Cates

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Resurrection (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She can heal people.

Edna (Ellen Burstyn) manages to survive a car crash and briefly finds herself in the afterlife, but ends up coming back to this world along with an amazing power to heal sick people with the simple touch of her hands. This makes her a celebrity in the small Kansas community that she lives, but others question her ability and wonder, especially since she refuses to acknowledge religion, if it may have a satanic origin. Her newfound boyfriend Cal (Sam Shephard) thinks she may be the second coming and becomes determined to get her to admit this even if it’s through violent means.

The story is loosely based on the life of Rosalyn Bruyere a self-described clairvoyant and medical intuitive who also acted as a consultant to the film. Although initially conceived as a thriller the script by Lewis John Carlino instead takes a more spiritual route, which I found refreshing. I also enjoyed the way director Daniel Petrie captures the vast Texas landscape, which despite the setting being in Kansas, was fully shot inside the Lone Star state.

The scenes of the afterlife are interestingly captured, but I found it baffling why Edna would just write this off as being ‘weird dreams’ and not connect it to any religious connotations. Having these visions then get ‘interpreted’ by her Grandmother (Eva Le Gallienne) seemed heavy-handed as even if a person was not religious themselves they would still be able to connect-the-dots on their own without it having to be explained.

The healing scenes work off of a murky logic. Edna is told after the accident that she is paralyzed from the waist down due to a blood clot in her spine and yet after she learns of her healing ability she places her hands on her legs to help her walk again, but if the root cause of the issue is actually in the back shouldn’t that be where she places her hands instead? The scene where a woman (Madeline Sherwood) who suffers from 2 degenerative vertebrates in her back, but is able to stand-up  after she sees Edna doesn’t make sense either. Standing with missing vertebrae is liking walking without a knee or cartilage. It’s just not scientifically possible, so unless Edna’s healing can cause bone mass to grow where they isn’t any then I’m not sure how they her powers actually work.

I thought it was a bit loopy too that when Shepherd’s character gets injured in a bar fight his buddies take him to Edna’s isolated farmhouse miles away for her to stop the bleeding, but this is when Edna’s healing ability had not been fully established, before this she had only stopped the nose bleed of a young girl, which some might consider simply a fluke, so the most rational thing would’ve been to take him to a nearby hospital instead. The scene would’ve worked better had Edna been in the bar when Shepherd got injured and then jumped in to heal him after he got stabbed.

I didn’t feel Shepherd’s character had the right chemistry to make Edna want to have a relationship with him either. His beady-eyed stare made him look creepy and his father (Richard Hamilton) had accused Edna of being satanic, so why would she want anything to do with that family? He also came off too much like a nondescript redneck like all the other rednecks that made up that small town. Edna was clearly an outsider, so for her to be attracted to someone I would think that person would need to be an outsider as well.

I could never understand why Edna was so resistant to religion, or so completely confident that her powers weren’t heavenly sent. I got that her Christian zealot father (Roberts Blossom) may have turned her off from religion altogether and she didn’t want to deal with the pressures of being considered Christ-like, which is understandable, but I’m not sure Burstyn was the right choice to effectively pull off that type of character. I love Ellen and think she’s a great actress, but she’s also a very spiritual woman in real-life and it pretty much gets conveyed in her performance here whether that was the intention or not. An actress that displayed more of a cynical, snarky attitude, only to have her outlook change once these powers took hold would’ve created a more interesting and dramatic arch.

The third act has Edna going to Los Angeles where her powers are tested by researchers, but these scenes don’t have any satisfying conclusion to them, which I found frustrating. However, the scene that Edna has with her dying father I felt were strong and the best moment of the whole film.

The spiritual element gets left open to interpretation depending on one’s own perspective, which is good. It also has a really great, and to some degree, surprise ending, but I didn’t like the freeze-frame shots taken from the film shown over the closing credits, which cheapens it as this is typically something done on TV-shows and not movies.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 26, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Daniel Petrie

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD

Oh, God! (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: An atheist meets God.

Jerry Landers (John Denver) is a married man with two kids (Moosie Drier, Rachel Longaker) who works as an assistant manager at a local grocery store. He doesn’t consider himself to be religious nor does he attend church (he most likely could be called an atheist, but I assume that term was considered ‘too toxic’ of a label to put on a protagonist that mainstream audiences of the day were expected to like, so he’s just given the much softer description of being a non-believer.) One day he receives a letter in the mail stating that God would like to interview him at a certain location, but Jerry considers this to be a practical joke and throws it away, but when the letter keeps popping up at the most unlikely places he finally decides to take it seriously. He goes to the location and meets God (George Burns) who at first he does not see, but only hears, but eventually the almighty takes the form of an old man. He tells Jerry to spread the word that he exists, which Jerry does only to have it all snowball against him when everyone thinks he’s crazy and even his own family becomes embarrassed to be seen with him.

The film is based on the 1971 Avery Corman novel of the same name though the book had more of a satirical tone and the protagonist was a journalist. The film though manages to retain the same jaded sensibilities of the modern-day public, which is what makes it so amusing and for the most part quite on-target. Denver, who was known more as a singer and did very little acting both before or after this, is quite good here, but only if you can get past his bowl haircut. Burns is excellent as well and I always felt this is the performance he should’ve won the Academy Award for instead of the one in The Sunshine Boys as it easily became his signature role.

The script though by Larry Gelbart is full of incongruities. For instance the God here claims to be a non-interventionist who sets the process in motion and then lets things happen without getting involved. Everyone is given free will and he doesn’t intervene to stop suffering or ‘bad things’ from occurring because that would upset the ‘natural balance’, but then turns around and admits that he had a hand in such superficial things as helping the 1969 New York Mets win the pennant. He is also forced to become a ‘side show magician’ by performing what amounts to being magic acts, like doing a tacky card trick in front of a judge, in order to prove to Jerry and others that he really is the almighty. Yet he then becomes shocked to find that Jerry’s simple word-of-mouth as well as having Jerry pass out God’s ‘calling card’, which is nothing more than a white card with the word God on it, as not being enough to somehow convince others of the same thing.

There’s also a weird conversation, which I found loopy even as a child, where God tries to prove a point by explaining to Jerry that people only dream in black-and-white, which apparently was an accepted belief a long time ago. This idea has later been found to be incorrect, which is good as I’ve always dreamed in color, but it’s still off-kilter to have this supposedly all-knowing God argue a talking point from a debunked myth.

The performances by the supporting cast help  and in fact I consider this to be Teri Garr’s best role as I found her character arch to be more interesting than Denver’s. The aging Ralph Bellamy is good as an aggressive defense attorney and I also like Barnard Hughes as the overwhelmed judge. William Daniels is amusing as Denver’s snippy boss and a type of authoritative character he’d put to perfection years later in the TV-show ‘St. Elsewhere’. Paul Sorvino gets a few laughs too in a send-up of an over-the-top TV evangelist.

The only one that I had a problem with was Donald Pleasance who gets fourth billing, but only 2 lines of dialogue. With such a versatile talent as his you don’t want to waste it by giving him such a small role and unless a lot of his work here ended up on the cutting room floor I’m genuinely surprised why he even took it.

The film is mildly entertaining, but ultimately quite benign and nowhere near as ‘profound’ as some considered it. Nonetheless it was a big hit and even knocked Star Wars out of the top spot for 1-week. It also spawned 2 sequels as well as a TV-movie called ‘Human Feelings’ where Nancy Walker plays a female God set to destroy Las Vegas with a flood unless Billy Crystal, who plays an angel, can find 6 virtuous people that live there.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Romero (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Priest battles the oppression.

Based on the life of Oscar Amulfo Romero (Raul Julia) the film centers on his ascent to Archbishop of San Salvador during the political turmoil of 1977. It was presumed that Romero who had traditionally always been reserved and apolitical would act as a nice balance between the authoritative military regime and the congregation, but as the oppressive authorities welded more of a dogmatic style and killed anyone who spoke out against it, Romero became the symbol of the resistance sending him into a perilous position where his livelihood and life came into serious doubt.

On the technical end this film does quite well and noted Australian director John Duigan creates a vivid atmosphere of the time period. Many scenes are quite disturbing and even gut-wrenching as we see the faces of men, woman, and children shot and killed in cold-blood. The part where Romero sits inside the squalor of a prison cell while hearing the moans of someone being tortured in the next one and unable to do anything about it except cry out was for me the most unsettling. The outdoor scenery has a scorched earth look, which nicely reflected the mood and mind-set of most of the people living there and every shot showing a military tank passing by got me jittery. Sometimes nothing would occur, but just seeing a tank was enough to make me nervous and to that end the film does its job as I’m sure that was the same feeling those that lived through the ordeal also felt.

Although Julia does not resemble the actual Archbishop who was in his 60’s at the time and looked much older than Julia who despite the dyed gray hair still appeared to be in his 40’s, his all-around performance is quite exemplary. Throughout his career he had played many flamboyant parts, so seeing him effectively portray a buttoned-down persona was quite interesting and a testament to his acting skill.

Spoiler Alert!

The only issue that I had was that on the emotional level it fails. Since it was produced by the Catholic church I presumed that we’re supposed to feel ‘inspired’ when it’s over and yet I walked away from it feeling anything but. I kept waiting for a Gandhi-like moment where we would see first-hand how all of his struggles finally came to fruition and how one person can truly move mountains and make a difference and yet that never happens. Instead he gets murdered while conducting a religious service and the war he sought to end continued to rage on for another decade killing an additional 60,000 to 90,000 more people.

Yes, there were indeed moments where Romero displayed amazing courage, but every time he revealed his bravery it just made his situation even worse. If the idea was to motivate the viewer to go out and be a hero it doesn’t work. If anything it unintentionally seems to state that laying low and keeping your mouth shut in the face of adversity is a good thing because at least you’ll remain alive and if you do choose to fight, it will only lead to death and nothing substantial to show for it.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Release: August 25, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: John Duigan

Studio: Four Square

Available: DVD, Amazon Video