Tag Archives: Bud Cort

Electric Dreams (1984, Steve Barron)

Electric Dreams is a very strange film. And not just because it’s about a computer brought to life by champagne and electric fire. Not even because said computer has the voice of Bud Cort. It’s strange because it has no interest in having a conventional narrative structure, both in terms of the screenplay and the direction.

Lenny von Dohlen plays the lead. He’s a young architect in San Francisco who wants to create an earthquake-proof brick. The whole first act concerns this ambition, along with him meeting his fetching new neighbor. Virginia Madsen plays the neighbor. She’s a young cellist who’s just started with the symphony. Will Electric Dreams have anything to do with her ambitions or von Dohlen’s super-brick?

Nope.

Rusty Lemorande’s script even sets up various opportunities for these plot threads to return or pick up and he just leaves them. Director Barron seems more than comfortable with avoiding them because they don’t figure into what he enjoys doing in the film. He likes having scenes of von Dohlen and Madsen’s sometimes problematic courtship, usually set to music, or scenes with von Dohlen trying to deal with his newly self-aware computer. The computer even has to do with the two subplots–super-brick and symphony success–and Electric Dreams just skips it in favor of a far more audio-visual experience.

Barron’s direction is peculiar without being particularly ambitious. He maintains the awkward narrative tone, filling Electric Dreams not just with interludes between von Dohlen and Madsen, but in its fantastic montage sequences as well. Electric Dreams has spectacular cinematography, just in how Alex Thomson is able to get the camera swinging around the set. Barron loves crane shots and Thomson nails every one of them. Lots of tight focus on close-ups, which Thomson shots perfectly, and Peter Honess edits beautifully. Electric Dreams, even when it’s not trying to be a computer generated imagery spectacular, is always dynamic to watch. Until the end, when Barron’s music video direction instincts go too wild with the last montage.

Except he’s still got Honess’s editing and the fantastic New Wave soundtrack to get it through.

Von Dohlen’s a likable lead; the film doesn’t task him much. There’s an air of unreality to the whole thing–a San Francisco computerized fairy tale–and maybe Madsen weathers it better. Her part is easier; even though she has her own subplot for a while, she’s really just in the girlfriend part. She does get the film’s loveliest sequence though, when she’s playing a duet with the computer.

As the computer, Cort’s fine. Lemorande–and the film–don’t ask many big questions about existence; Cort’s just got to have personality and sympathy. He does both well.

Electric Dreams is a marvelously well-made film. It’s also quite a bit of fun to boot.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Steve Barron; written by Rusty Lemorande; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Peter Honess; music by Giorgio Moroder; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Larry DeWaay and Lemorande; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Lenny von Dohlen (Miles Harding), Virginia Madsen (Madeline Robistat) and Bud Cort (Me).


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Bates Motel (1987, Richard Rothstein)

Bates Motel is one of those “has to be seen to be believed (but isn’t worth spending any time on)” movies. It’s even better because it’s a late eighties TV movie slash pilot with a lot of contemporary television personalities guest starring, “Love Boat”-style. But it’s also a sequel to Psycho.

It’s also a complete mess of all those elements.

First, there’s lead Bud Cort. Having grown-up in the eighties and nineties, I eventually heard of Bates Motel, but I thought it was about Cort being this creepy motel manager and Jason Bateman being his assistant, possible victim, young adult lead. Like a mystery show.

Nope.

Bates Motel is about how Robert Picardo, in a high contrast, black and white flashback, gives just institutionalized Norman Bates a friend. It’s ludicrous, but writer Richard Rothstein really runs with it. And since he also directed the Motel, he’s always very nostalgic for Norman. Cort carries an urn with his ashes around the entire movie.

It’s nuts. Only it’s saccharine. Because Bates Motel, which actually does a Scooby-Doo reveal at the end, isn’t about being scary. It’s about being life affirming. Rothstein writes it for the commercial breaks; the break provides some transition, whether in the present action or just in Cort all of a sudden becoming the protagonist instead of a possible psychopath. Then Lori Petty shows up and everything goes crazy in a different direction.

Both Cort and Petty are bad, but Petty’s doing a schtick. She’s trying to sell herself (or the network is trying to sell her) and she doesn’t do a bad job of being calculated and commercial. As far as her terribly-written part? Well, no, she doesn’t do much with it. She’s unlikable, but better than Cort. And still bad.

Even Moses Gunn is bad, but in his case it’s because Rothstein can’t stage a scene. Bill Butler’s photography is actually pretty good too. Bates Motel isn’t cheap (I had always assumed it was cheap, it isn’t); it has good production values. It just has a crap script, crap direction and crap acting.

Except from Khrystyne Haje. Against all odds, she’s good. Jason Bateman, who has no scenes with Cort, is terrible. As the primary “Love Boat” guest star, the one in need of life affirming, Kerrie Keane is bad. You want to like her, but you can’t. I guess she does earn some pity, but it’s for being in the movie.

The super sweet music from J. Peter Robinson just makes it even more of an awkward, unpleasant misfire. However, it’s hard not to watch the first act, as Motel desperately tries to engage a vague franchise awareness with its viewer, and see it as a proto-franchise reboot.

Bates Motel is, just as I always thought, a piece of crap. The only surprise–besides Haje being good and Petty being worse than expected–has to be Cort. I expected to have sympathy for him being wasted in this crappy TV movie knock-off Psycho, but I didn’t. His performance is so distant, so cocky-eyed, it’s like I’d never seen him before and had no attachment (big problem for a TV pilot, incidentally). Rothstein can’t do anything right, not even cast Harold as a socially isolated, middle-aged man intrigued with death.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Rothstein; teleplay by Rothstein, suggested by a novel by Robert Bloch; director of photography, Bill Butler; edited by Dann Cahn; music by J. Peter Robinson; production designer, Robb Wilson King; produced by George Linder and Ken Topolsky; aired by NBC.

Starring Bud Cort (Alex West), Lori Petty (Willie), Kerrie Keane (Barbara Peters), Gregg Henry (Tom Fuller), Robert Picardo (Dr. Goodman), Moses Gunn (Henry Watson), Jason Bateman (Tony Scotti), Khrystyne Haje (Sally), Lee de Broux (Sheriff) and Kurt Paul (Norman Bates).


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