By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Everybody sees only static.
Ernie Blick (Keith Gordon) works at a crucifix factory, but dreams of making it big with his secret invention. The whole town that he lives in is abuzz about it and many take bets as to what it is. However, once Ernie unveils it no one is impressed. Ernie insists that he has created a device that can show live images of heaven, but all anyone else can see on the TV screen is static. Ernie becomes frustrated that no one can appreciate what he has done so he hijacks a bus carrying a group of senior citizens in order to create a media event that will allow him to share his invention with the rest of the world, but things don’t go as planned.
The film has that refreshing look and feel of an authentic indie flick made long before it was trendy and still in its infancy of being a trailblazer for original ideas. It’s fun and clever most of the way including a memorable shot of Ernie’s weird crucifix collection. The humor is subtle and hip with a cool music selection from lesser known 80’s bands. Director Mark Romanek shows great visual flair with his use of unique settings and color designs. The dialogue and characters are both engaging and quirky. I also loved the opening credits, which features a small, static filled TV screen in the distant background along with the sound of a low hum, which I found to be strangely hypnotic.
Gordon, who co-wrote the screenplay, does well in a difficult role where the viewer is supposed to find him likable and appealing despite the fact that he is clearly a bit unhinged. Amanda Plummer as his girlfriend gets a rare turn as being the most normal one in the film, which is interesting. Bob Gunton has a few choice moments as a conniving preacher man named Frank and Jane Hoffman is amusing as a senior citizen who tries to help Ernie on his mission.
Unfortunately the story doesn’t carry the quirky idea to a successful completion. It might have worked better had there been some image of some kind seen and then everyone could’ve debated whether that was indeed heaven or not instead of just seeing static, which comes off like a big buildup to nothing. The satire is too obvious and its overall message frustratingly vague. The violent and completely unexpected tragic ending is jarring and unnecessary and ruins its otherwise pleasant, whimsical tone.
There is also a scene where Gordon and Plummer go to a restaurant and order food, but when it gets served they barely touch it and then a minute later get up and leave after paying the bill, but why pay for something or even order if you’re just going to leave it there untouched? This is an annoying thing that I’ve seen happen in other films as well. I hate to sound preachy, but sometimes when I see these types of scenes I feel like screaming ‘There’s kids starving in Africa, so don’t waste your food people’!
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: October 1, 1985
Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes
Director: Mark Romanek
Posted in 80's Movies, Christmas Movies, Dry Humor, Moody/Stylish, Obscure Movies, Offbeat
Tagged Amanda Plummer, Entertainment, Jane Hoffman, Keith Gordon, Mark Romanek, Movies, Review
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: She needs a spanking.
Based very loosely on actual events this film looks at Annie McDoulet (Amanda Plummer) and Jennie Stevens (Diane Lane) two adolescent girls traveling in the Oklahoma Territory of the late 19th century looking for excitement and adventure. Annie becomes transfixed with the stories that she reads about the western outlaws particularly the ones about Bill Doolin (Burt Lancaster), but when they finally do catch up with his gang they find the men to be old, haggard, and tired as well as just one-step ahead of the relentless pursuit of famed western lawmen Bill Tilghman (Rod Steiger).
Plummer, in her film debut, is nothing short of electrifying. She is the daughter of Christopher Plummer and actress Tammy Grimes and she makes her presence strongly felt here. Her vulgarity and tenaciousness are infectious and help propel the film and easily steal every scene that she is in. She has her mother’s distinctively reedy voice and although not beautiful in the conventional sense her facial features still have an alluring quality that she makes the most of.
Lane as her cohort is good as well although not as strong, or riveting. Her plus is the fact that she is simply beautiful with perfect and delicate features of a young lady blooming into adulthood. The fact that her character is more shy and unassuming plays off well against the abrasiveness of Plummer’s and the tussle that the two have near the end is fun.
Lancaster is badly miscast. For one thing the real Bill Doolin was much younger and in fact was shot dead at the young age of 38 and yet here Lancaster was already 66 when he did the part. I also felt that the character was a little bit too good to be true. It just seemed too hard to believe that a rugged western outlaw would be so kind, gentle, understanding and wise. I suppose his fans wouldn’t want it any other way and the part seems to be written to conform to his star status, but the effect hurts the film’s overall authenticity.
Steiger on the other hand is quite strong and director Lamont Johnson makes perfect use of Steiger’s legendarily intense manner. In fact I was disappointed that he wasn’t in more of the film as his presence helps create some much needed tension in a film that at times seems too slow and laid back. His finest moment, and the best part in whole film, comes when he tackles Annie and gives her a nice long hard spanking.
The score, like the film, seems unfocused and creates an unnecessary mish-mash of moods. The vocal ballads done with a minimum of instruments is good as they have a country twang and fit the period, but there are other points when a jazzed up score with modern rock elements is played, which takes the viewer completely out of the setting. There is also too much music played when the natural sound and ambience would have been better especially with a western.
Watching the girls interacting with the gang as well as surprising them with their unexpected toughness is what makes the film interesting. The climatic sequence in which the two decide to go by themselves to get Bill out of jail and the very brazen and clever way that they do it is special. Why Universal decided to abandoned what is otherwise a pleasing little western is baffling. This film is long overdue for a DVD/Blu-ray release and fans of the cast should let the people in charge know as well as taking the studio exec, if he is still around, who decided to put the kibosh on this movie and throw him into a lake.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: April 24, 1981
Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes
Director: Lamont Johnson
Posted in 80's Movies, Buddy Movies, Movies Based on Actual Events, Movies Based on Novels, Obscure Movies, Westerns
Tagged 80's Movies, Amanda Plummer, Burt Lancaster, Diane Lane, Entertainment, Lamont Johnson, Movies, Review, Rod Steiger, Westerns