Tag Archives: John Lithgow

Footloose (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A town bans dancing.

Ren (Kevin Bacon) is a teenager from Chicago who moves with his mother (Francis Lee McCain) to a small town in Utah where he finds that dancing has been banned by the town’s fiery minister (John Lithgow). He becomes determined to try and change that and convinces the other kids including his new found friend Willard (Chris Penn) that dancing really isn’t all that bad. He also falls for the minister’s daughter Ariel (Lori Singer) who is far more liberated than you’d expect someone from a religious upbringing to be.

I remember when this film came out and I intentionally refused to see it as I felt that the plot was too absurd to be believable. I was born and raised in a small Midwestern town of about 7,000 people and the idea that some lone minister could overtake it and start making extreme rules that everyone would follow especially in the modern era of the 80’s is just not realistic. If the town was really small and isolated with a population of like 200 then maybe but the one portrayed in the film comes off as being fairly big and was filmed mostly in American Fork, Utah, which in the 1980 census had a population of 13,606. Having a scene dealing with a literal book burning makes the thing even campier and made me believe this would’ve worked better had the setting been the 1950’s.

There is also no explanation to what the penalty would be if one is caught dancing. Everyone acts like it would mean jail time or something like that when most likely it would just be a small fine and since when have teens ever been that compliant when it comes to rules? There are several scenes where they are seen with joints, so if they’re willing to fudge the law in that respect then why not do it with the dancing too?

The concept is loosely based on an actual incident that occurred in Elmore City, Oklahoma in 1978 where the local teens challenged a city ordinance that banned dancing. However, the incident there made more sense because it was an ordinance that had been on the books for over 90 years. Many cities and towns have old ordinances and laws that are no longer relevant, or followed, but just haven’t been officially removed as opposed to some minister coming into a town and implementing a new law that everyone is forced to comply with. The town was also much smaller (population of only 653 in 1970) than the one portrayed in the movie, so religious sentiment would be more able to oppress the rest of its citizens.

The drama for the most part is limp and does not justify its runtime as there are long segments that have nothing to do with the main story including cringe worthy scenes where we watch Singer dangerously trying to leap between two moving cars and a game of chicken between tractors with Bacon and another teen driving them. There’s also a B-storyline dealing with Bacon trying to teach Penn how to dance, which gets corny.

The most annoying aspect though for me was Singer’s character as she doesn’t seem like a minister’s kid at all. She behaves in too much of a free-spirited way and I would think someone raised in such a repressed environment would reflect some religious traits and yet Singer conveys none. Having her religious at the start and even opposed to dancing and then become tolerant to it after she meets Bacon would’ve created an interesting character arch. Also, if she behaved in a cult-like manner due to her strict upbringing then it would’ve made the minister character more menacing because the viewer would be made to feel that was what he wanted to turn the rest of the town into.

Lithgow is a great actor, but he’s not right for this type of part as he is too young and was only 12 years older than Singer who played his daughter. A much older actor would’ve better illustrated how the older generation was desperately trying to cling onto their old way of life in an ever changing world and how completely detached they were from modern teens. Also, the character here doesn’t seem threatening enough as he is unable to control his own daughter so then how is he expected to control the rest of the town?

The opening bit done over the credits showing the different types of dancing feet is the best thing in the movie although some may take a liking to Bacon’s dancing inside an abandoned warehouse although much of that was done with the help of body doubles.  Otherwise this empty-headed movie, which was remade in 2011, has very little to recommend.

I did want to mention too that recently there was an 80’s podcast that I listened to where they reviewed this movie and one of the critics complained that the town had only white kids and acted like somehow that was not politically correct, but having grown up in a small town during the 70’s and 80’s I can vouch for the fact that there were little if any minorities there and therefore having an all-white cast, whether it is politically correct or not, was realistic.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 17, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Paramount

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

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

adventures of buckaro banzai 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: This thing is weird.

Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) is part-time rock band singer who has invented a mechanism that he calls the oscillation overthruster that allows him to travel through rocks and other solid matter. He is somehow able to do this by tapping into the realms of the 8th dimension, but upon doing so he also attracts the attention of some aliens lead by Lord John Whorfin (Jon Lithgow) who wants to steal the device and use it for their own nefarious needs. Buckaroo, who is able to recognize these aliens who otherwise look human to everyone else after being zapped by some electronic component through a telephone receiver by a group of other aliens, gets a group of fellow geeks together to help fight the evil Whorfin and his men before it is too late.

In a lot of ways this film is a refreshing change-of-pace and it is not surprising that it has attained such a strong cult following. Most films with such an offbeat concept end up selling out and becoming quite formulaic and conventional with only a few odd elements thrown in for good measure, but this movie is completely weird in all facets and truly lives up to its campy over-the-top title. I loved the off-the-wall banter, ridiculously silly, but still quite entertaining special effects and characters that are uniformly warped. The comic book look is great and the story gets increasingly more absurd as it goes along. You have to tune out your logic and conventional movie mode to get into this and enjoy it, but the humor and chuckles are there if you let it.

Unfortunately the pace as well as the beginning become a bit too off. I found things to be completely confusing at the start that I really couldn’t understand what was going on for the whole first half-hour. The film seemed to jump from one outlandish scene and character to the next without any cohesion and the result was quite off-putting. It wasn’t until about 45 minutes in that I was able to finally get into the groove with it, but more of a background to the characters and a set-up would have helped greatly. There are still enough memorably unique moments to make it worth it including my favorite the Banzai Team March, which was filmed at the Sepulveda Dam in the San Fernando Valley and shown over the closing credits.

Weller is in fine form in the lead and seems much more at ease with this role than he was in Robocop where he came off as being miscast. Lithgow is a hoot as an over-the-top villain speaking with a heavy Russian/German accent. I also enjoyed Matt Clark as the Secretary of Defense who acts as if he is above all rules of protocol until finally being put into his place by a little kid with a rifle.

The closing credits listed a follow-up title that was supposedly going to be a sequel that unfortunately was never made due to the film’s production company going out of business, which is a shame as this thing had strong potential of becoming a major franchise. W.D. Richter who has an impressive screenwriting resume does well in his directorial debut and it’s an equal shame that he only helmed one other movie at this point as he shows potential to being uniquely talented in that position.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 10, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated PG

Director: W.D. Richter

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Dealing: or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues (1972)

dealing

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Drugs are a trip.

This review was originally slated to post in February, but due to the death on Christmas Eve of Charles Durning I decided to post it now. Durning was one of the all-time great character actors who always brought an amazing amount of energy to every role he played and could do a wide variety of character types well. Although he has very few lines of dialogue in this movie he still manages to become the most interesting part of the proceedings and helps enliven an otherwise slow moving film.

The plot, based on a novel by Michael Crichton, pertains to Peter (Robert F. Lyons) who is a recent Harvard graduate hired by John (John Lithgow) to transport a suitcase full of marijuana from Boston to Berkeley, California. Peter is new at this and things do not go as planned, but he meets beautiful Susan (Barbara Hershey) along the way and the two fall in love. John next hires Susan to transport another suitcase of narcotics, but when she loses the luggage at the airport and then tries to go back and get it she is arrested by corrupt cop Murphy (Durning) who resells some of the recovered stash back out onto the street. In order to get Susan out of jail Peter plays an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse with the cop, which culminates in a violent showdown.

The story is done in a laid-back style similar to the approach taken by many European films. The emphasis is on mood and subtle nuance yet when the Europeans do it this style seems refreshing, but here it is more off-putting. I really had a hard time getting into it as the first hour is slow with too many scenes going on longer than it should. The set-up is too quick and there is not enough background, or history shown to the main character.

The second hour improves. Durning gives the proceedings some pizazz and Peter’s scheming is fun. The shootout done in the snow has flair and style.

The music by Michael Small is impressive. It is one of the most original scores I have heard and really fits the mood of the script. The best is over the opening credits.

Hershey is as always gorgeous and fans may like that she is shown topless. The part of a free-spirited hippy chick seems to be her forte and she excels. However, having her fall for a guy that is rather dull and ordinary didn’t make sense. Sure they make love right away, but I thought that was more just because it was a part of her lifestyle and she does after all go around in a dress without wearing any underwear. She just seemed to be diving into the free love atmosphere of the era. Obviously having Peter fall for her made sense because she is hot, but why would she go head-over-heels for this schmuck when there are so many other guys that would be more than willing to do it with her. The romantic angle was forced and hurt the credibility of the story.

Lithgow is okay in his film debut, but I had problems with the character. One minute he is cool, conniving, brash, and arrogant and then in the next instant he becomes scared, confused, and meek, which was too much of a quick transition.

The under-rated Lyons is excellent and makes for a terrific lead especially with this type of part. Despite being in his 30’s he looks and acts very much like a college kid from that period. His performance is nicely understated and believable throughout.

The on-location shooting in Boston is vivid and people from the area may like to view this just to see how much it has changed. The DVD transfer from Warner Archive is excellent with a nice clarity and vivid colors. The movie itself is slick, but it also has a detachment to it that doesn’t allow the viewer to get as connected with the characters, or the situations like they should and thus making it an interesting period artifact, but nothing more.

Also, Demond Wilson can be seen briefly as one of the drug dealers. He did this just before his signature role of Lamont in the hit TV-series ‘Sandford and Son’. Ellen Barber is real cute as Peter’s girlfriend and so is Joy Bang who later became a registered nurse. Normally I don’t like women with buck teeth, but with her it actually looks sexy.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 25, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Williams

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive)