Tag Archives: Ellen Burstyn

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

Twice in a Lifetime (1985)

twice-in-a-lifetime

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He has an affair.

Harry MacKenzie (Gene Hackman) is a steel mill worker living in Seattle who has just turned 50. On the night of his birthday Kate (Ellen Burstyn), his wife of 30 years, tells him that he can go by himself to the local tavern to celebrate as she is not into the drinking. When he does he meets Audrey (Ann-Margret) who has just started working there. The two immediately hit-it-off and soon are in a relationship. When Harry finally tells his wife and family about it they are devastated, but learn to cope with it in unexpected ways.

The way Harry and Audrey’s relationship begins is too rushed as he simply spots her in a crowd and then quickly becomes entranced. If eyeing an attractive woman is all that it took then he should’ve been having a string of affairs way before this one. Making Audrey more of the instigator while Harry remained hesitant only to later realize how stale his marriage had gotten once the relationship started would’ve worked better. There is also no indication at the beginning that there was anything wrong with his marriage or that he was even bored with it.

It should’ve opened with Harry simply coming home one day and admitting to the affair and then focusing on everyone’s reactions, which would’ve been less contrived. I was also annoyed that two key scenes including when Kate first gets informed of the affair by a friend as well as Kate’s later confrontation with Harry are not shown. The film just cuts away before either of these conversations gets going, which to me was frustrating.

The second half is an improvement. I liked how the film sends the message that divorce isn’t always bad, but instead can act like a rebirth for both parties. I also enjoyed the on-location scenery of the Pacific Northwest and seeing Harry and Audrey sitting amongst a crowd at an actual Seattle Seahawks football game.

It was also great having Hackman playing a character that lacked confidence and at times was even socially awkward, but it’s Burstyn’s performance that really makes it special. Watching her shy character coming out-of- her-shell and learning to become independent is the film’s highlight. Unfortunately Amy Madigan as the eldest daughter is a turn-off as her angry outbursts come off as forced and overdone while the much quieter Ally Sheedy as the other daughter is far better.

Surprisingly no studio would agree to finance the picture even though the script was written by Colin Welland who had just won the Academy Award four years earlier for the film Chariots of Fire, so director Bud Yorkin was forced to put up his own money by using the earnings he had made through producing ‘All in the Family’, which helps explain why a clip from that show gets seen briefly. It could also be the reason why the production at times has a cheap look to it and like it had originally been shot of video and then later transferred to film. Paul McCartney, whom I’m a big fan of, does the closing tune, which unfortunately has to be the worst of his career.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 8, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bud Yorkin

Studio: Bud Yorkin Productions

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Tropic of Cancer (1970)

tropic of cancer

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Writer living in Paris.

Rip Torn plays author Henry Miller living in Paris during the 1930’s and struggling to find work, shelter and money. He spends his time shoplifting items from food stands while also having sexual conquests with prostitutes and even the wives of his friends.

The film is based on Miller’s landmark novel that was published in France in 1934, but banned in the US until 1961 and even then went through several obscenity  lawsuits, which were finally all dropped in 1964 when the US Supreme Court deemed the book to have artistic merit. The novel, which is considered highly influential and won wide critical acclaim, has an odd mixture of stream-of-consciousness elements as well as autobiographical ones that works well in book form due to Miller’s first person narrative, but fails on the big screen. It was never meant to be made into a movie and director Joseph Strick’s ambitious attempt to make it into one, who just three years earlier tried to do the same thing with James Joyce’s equally unfilmable novel Ulysses seems futile and ridiculous.

The production looks cheap and lacks any type of atmosphere or visual flair. The setting is supposed to be the late 20’s, but it hardly seems like it. The acting is weak particularly by the supporting actresses playing the prostitutes who almost come off like people pulled off the street with no acting training of any kind.

The film’s most notorious claim to fame like with the book was its explicit sexual content that by today’s standards seems quite tepid. There are some nude scenes here and there including seeing actress Ellen Burstyn fully naked from the front, but it adds little. The best stuff is Torn’s voice over-narration describing his character’s sexual fantasies much of which was lifted directly from the novel. This was the first film to ever use the word ‘cunt’ and it gets said frequently. In fact it’s the character’s sexual conversations and the caustic way women get described in them that are the most amusing thing about the movie.

A few other funny moments include Miller having sex with a prostitute while she is also taking care of her sick mother and who would sometimes leave the bed to look in on her and although Miller initially pays the woman for her ‘services’ he eventually steals it back when she is away during one of her trips to her mother’s room. Miller’s roommate Carl (David Baur) has a great scene where he writes love letters to a woman he wants to have sex with and the two finally meet only to have the actual encounter not live up to the fantasy.

This was filmed at the same time as Quiet Days in Clichy, which was also based on the same novel. Both films were made in Paris and Henry Miller would routinely sit-in on the productions, which were done not far from the other. However, despite an admiral attempt the movie comes off as flat and boring and the viewer would be far better off skipping this and reading the source material instead as the only time it ever gels is when it uses text taken directly from the book.

tropic of cancer 2

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 27, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated X (Reissued as NC-17)

Director: Joseph Strick

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube