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: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Housewife has secret fantasies.
Margaret (Barbra Streisand) is a neglected housewife taking care of her two children while her husband Paul (David Selby) busily works on his novel and thesis. She lives in a rundown New York apartment that seems to have bugs crawling from everywhere. Her nagging mother (Jane Hoffman) pressures her to move back with them to the suburbs, but she enjoys the excitement and independence of city life over lily white suburbia, so she resists. Now she finds that she is pregnant with her third child and this along with the other stresses causes her to slip into secret fantasies that become more and more outlandish.
This film didn’t do well upon its initial release and is a bit forgotten, but deserves a look simply for its unique and memorable fantasy segments. The scene where she joins a black militant group that gets inside the Statue of Liberty and wires it with explosives is pretty good as is the part at a party where her stomach suddenly balloons out as if she is pregnant and when she pushes it in it makes her breasts larger. The scene where she meets a Fidel Castro-like dictator who takes off his shirt to expose that he has female breasts is funny and the finale that takes place inside an abortion clinic is interesting. The best though is when she is captured by an African tribe of topless women. The shot of their grossly overweight leader whose gigantic, sagging breasts seem to overlap her entire body ends up being the film’s most lasting image.
Hoffman is hilarious and a perfect caricature of a meddling mother of adult children. The part where Margaret fantasies about stuffing her mother’s face into an anniversary cake and then the two roll around on the floor where Margaret then punches her in the face had me laughing-out-loud.
Paul Zindel’s script nicely balances the fantasy with the gritty reality of urban living. It also envelopes the feminist issues with the social upheaval of the times and the speech that Margaret gives about women needing to be less like men and more like themselves is excellent.
Director Irvin Kerschner makes fine use of the New York locales giving the viewer an eclectic taste of its crowded neighborhoods and street culture as well as its epic skyline. I loved the cinema vertite style that has a sophisticated and trendy feel.
Streisand herself seems to be having a lot of fun and purportedly this is her favorite out of all the films that she has done. This was just before she went through her frizzy hair phase and the long straight style that she has here I feel makes her look sexy.
The pace is unusual especially for a comedy in that it isn’t frantic and does not have any quick edits. Instead the set-ups are quite slow and seem at times to be almost dramatic before throwing in a surprise punchline. Personally I liked this approach, but the unconventional style might have proved confusing to certain audience members who didn’t know what genre to place it in and may have been the reason for the poor box office returns, which is shame as the production overall is excellent and intriguing.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: December 21, 1972
Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes
Director: Irvin Kerschner
Studio: National General Pictures
Available: VHS, DVD
Posted in 70's Movies, Black Comedy, Movies Based on Novels, Movies that take place in the Big Apple, Movies with Nudity, Surreal/Fantasy
Tagged Barbra Streisand, Entertainment, Irvin Kershner, Jane Hoffman, Movies, Paul Zindel, Review