Amateur Night at the Dixie Bar and Grill (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Five minutes of fame.

A bar on the outskirts of a nameless small town becomes the social setting for a group of everyday people who flock to it one night in hopes of winning an amateur act contest. Every one of the contestants is fighting some inner demon or insecurity and critiqued by a judge (Henry Gibson) that is being bribed by different parties to choose their candidate over the others. There’s also a dangerous serial killer lurking about known as the Disco Killer, who has shot up several other venues in the area and may be eyeing the Dixie bar as his next target.

This TV-movie, which was written and directed by Joel Schumacher, seems way too similar to Robert Altman’s Nashville to be considered original. Clearly that film was this movie’s inspiration and this one does not go far enough with the concept and would’ve been better had its runtime been extended and the characters more fleshed out. Certain actors, such as Don Johnson and Candy Clark, are underused and there’s not enough of an understanding of the town that the bar was in. Some shots of rundown buildings in an isolated area would’ve helped give the viewer a better feel for how bored these people were and why they would be motivated to go on stage and essentially make fools of themselves just for the lofty chance at somehow escaping their otherwise hopeless existence with a small shot at fame.

What I did like is that the entire story takes place in one setting. The only time the camera ventures outside of the cramped place is when it goes into its parking lot for brief periods, but otherwise this bar is the center of the universe for these characters, which for many small town people, especially before the advent of the internet, is what bars such as these represented.

The stage acts themselves were a bit disappointing and could’ve been played-up more as I was expecting something a little more along the lines of stuff seen on the old Gong Show or stupid human tricks from David Letterman. The scene where a big fight breaks out in a dressing room that is far more exciting than anything occurring on stage does allow for some irony and the part where actor Rick Hurst attempts to crack open a coconut by using nothing more than his bare teeth is engaging, but more acts in this vein was needed.

Having Tanya Tucker appear as this shy woman who lacks confidence despite possessing the talent and walks off the stage in humiliation at the start only to redeem herself later, is too manufactured. I much preferred Pat Ast as this homely, overweight woman who unexpectedly wows everyone with some rousing showstopping numbers that should’ve made her the winner instead. I also felt that the so-called prize, which was simply the privilege to appear on stage at that same bar for two straight weeks, was too skimpy. People have bigger dreams than that even in a dusty small town and want more of a reward like  a trip to Hollywood, New York or a contract with an agent in order for them to be excited enough to go through what they do.

There is also no payoff to the Disco Killer storyline. He gets discussed quite a bit and there are even TV news reports about him, but then he never appears, which feels like a letdown. I’m not saying there needed to be a bloody sequence where a killer shoots people dead, but maybe a scenario where the contestants, who are quite competitive with one another otherwise, manage to come together enough to subdue the bad guy, or some other lighthearted element that would’ve at least brought a conclusion to the subplot instead of just letting it hang.

Sheree North as an embittered alcoholic easily steals it and has some of the best lines. There is also a long tracking shot in which the camera starts out at the back of the bar and then slowly weaves its way up onto the stage that is great too. The film certainly has its share of moments and as a TV-Movie it’s impressive, but lacks finesse for the big screen.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 8, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Director: Joel Schumacher

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.

The Entity (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Invisible mass attacks mother.

Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey) is a single mother living with her three children who finds herself attacked one night in her home by an invisible being who proceeds to viciously rape her. When she tells this to her psychiatrist (Ron Silver) he initially doesn’t believe her, so she employs the help of two parapsychologists (Raymond Singer, Richard Brestoff) who come to her home and record the paranormal activity. With the help of Dr. Cooley (Jacqueline Brookes) who heads their department, they build a life-sized replica of Carla’s home in a gymnasium complete with liquid helium, which they hope to use on the mysterious entity in order to trap it.

The ghostly attacks aren’t impressive and consist mainly of seeing close-ups of Hershey’s face being rammed against the wall, or bedsheets, flying glass, shaking furniture and a musical sound effect reminiscent of a hammer rhythmically pounding against a sheet of metal. The attack scenes quickly become redundant and the ghostly presence is never seen, which eventually makes them yawn inducing whenever they occur. There are also many long dramatic interludes between the attempted scares that try to put a psychological spin on the proceedings, but come off more like pop psychology instead.

The whole thing is inspired by an actual incident which occurred on August 22, 1974, but incorrectly stated as happening in October, 1976 during the film’s denouncement. In the real-life case a woman by the name of Doris Bither (1942-1999) met two parapsychologists named Barry Taff and Kerry Gaynor while visiting a local library and told them of her repeated rapes inside her home by three ghosts who she considered to be of an Asian descent. She invited the men to her small Culver City, California home, which they found to be extremely cramped and dirty. During the event the men felt some unusual sensations and saw colorful orbs fly through the air, which was enough to inspire Frank De Felitta to write a novel about it, which later lead to this movie.

The film though would’ve worked better had the initial setting been Carla’s visit to her psychiatrist and then everything else played out in small segments as a flashback while she described her encounter. There was much speculation that these things were all just inside Bither’s head since she had suffered from substance abuse and a traumatic upbringing, but none of that gets touched upon in the movie. Instead we are left to believe that these strange occurrences are actually happening, but the film would’ve been more multi-dimensional had the viewer been allowed to question whether it was real, or simply an effect of mental illness.

Hershey gives a fine performance and shows what a great actress she is by playing a character that was completely opposite from the carefree/hippie-like ones that she played during her film appearances of the ‘70s. Silver though is annoying as the psychiatrist as his character unwisely gets too involved with his patient even though most other doctors in his position would be convinced that the woman was bat-shit crazy and keep themselves at an emotional distance from her. His attempts at trying to talk her out of going through with the experiment done at the gymnasium is irritating as it does nothing but hold up the story while failing to add an interesting dramatic tension.

The film’s freakiest aspect are the moments where Hershey’s bare breasts, in an attempt to show them being molested by the invisible hand of the ghost, start to ripple and show indentations seemingly on their own. How they were able to pull this off since this was well before visual computerized effects I’m not sure, but it is impressive and some may find it even strangely erotic.

On the whole though the film is frustrating as never explains why any of this occurs. The cause of the actual incident remains murky even though most would say that the woman was just looney, but since this film has already taken liberties with the real-life event why not at least throw in some sort of halfway plausible theory as nothing is worse than sitting through an overlong film that puts out many intriguing questions, but fails to supply them with any tangible answers.

(The Culver City, California home where the events that inspired this movie purportedly took place.)

(An actual photograph taken during the August 22, 1974 encounter.)

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 4, 1983

Runtime: 2Hours 5Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney J. Furie

Studio: American Cinema Productions

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Hot Stuff (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A phony pawn shop.

Tired of seeing the criminals they apprehend getting off on legal technicalities three cops (Dom DeLuise, Jerry Reed, Suzanne Pleshette) decide to turn-the-tables by opening up their own pawn shop, which will work as a front to reel in the crooks that try to resell stolen items. They use the magic of a hidden camera and video tape, which was a new thing at the time, to record the criminals as they bring in the stolen loot and therefore leave no question as to their guilt, but their plan gets off to a rocky start and only gets more convoluted as they proceed with it.

The film, which was directed by DeLuise, starts out fast and includes a car chase before the opening credits even occur, but once the premise is established it bogs down. Supposedly much of what occurs is based on real-life accounts taken from various police cases, but it lacks cohesion. There are gun battles and a wide array of criminal characters that pop up out of nowhere with the pawn shop setting being the only thing that loosely ties it together. Any element of reality gets lost during its farcical ending, which involves all the criminals attending a party that quickly turns into a long drawn slapstick-like battle that resembles something found in a cartoon and is really inane particularly the pathetic ‘fights’ that occur between the various characters where it is clear the actors are pulling their punches and not doing a very good job of disguising it.

The film does make an effort, at least at the beginning, to show the private side of a cop’s life and many of the frustrations that go along with doing the job, but by the end the characters seem too comically inept to be believable. I also found it amusing that DeLuise uses his own children to play the kids of his character even though with their blonde hair they looked more like they should be Reed’s offspring instead.

The one funny moment comes when DeLuise smokes some weed and goes off on a long laughing binge that is genuinely memorable, but otherwise this thing, which was shockingly co-written by the normally reliable Donald E. Westlake, suffers from an uneven focus that is more content at showing slapdash comedy than conveying something that is original, interesting or multi-dimensional.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 10, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Dom DeLuise

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

D.C. Cab (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Loser cab drivers unite.

In a long ago and far away time before there was Uber or Lyft and taxi cabs where the only service there’s a story of Albert (Adam Baldwin) a young man who comes to Washington D.C. looking to start up his own cab company, but finds it to be more difficult than he thought. He gets a job with Harold (Max Gail) who runs a cab company that is sinking fast and could get shut down. Albert motivates the other drivers to work together to help save the company and in return they help save him when he gets kidnapped.

The idea of having a story set in the nation’s capital and not having it centered around politics is probably the only novel thing about this film that is otherwise crude and obnoxious with characters that are embarrassingly moronic. Writer/director Joel Schumacher seems to want to sink to the lowest common denominator with each and every shot and in that regard he succeeds brilliantly.

The film’s grimy look helps accentuate the low class farce especially the incredibly tattered shape of the cabs that Harold’s employees drive around in. I realize this was for comic effect, but it goes overboard. There is absolutely no way anyone, no matter how desperate would want to take a ride in one of those things that look they are ready to fall apart at any second. The viewer can’t have much empathy for someone, even as likable as Harold is, who takes such little pride in his company’s product or dumb enough to expect people would consider his business with the vehicles looking the way they do when they are clearly other better competitors to choose from. In reality the vehicles would’ve been considered an obvious road hazard and impounded by the cops almost immediately anyways.

The film tried to feed off of Mr. T’s then popularity by billing him as the star during its promotion, but his screen time is limited. Baldwin is the actual star even though he is incredibly dull and says or does nothing that is funny or amusing. His character arch where he goes from quiet, passive schmuck to inspiring speaker, as he tries to motivate the other drivers, is too extreme. Jim Carrey had auditioned for the role and wanted the part, but Schumacher turned him because he felt he was too talented to be a part of an ensemble cast, which he probably was, but his presence could’ve helped a lot nonetheless.

Gail comes off best and should’ve been the lead, but since he was over 40 and the producers where aiming for a younger demographic he gets unfairly relegated to supporting status. His character’s relationship with his cold, bitchy wife, played by Anne De Salvo, offers a few chuckles particularly the scene where she locks herself in her house and wards off everyone else from entering by aiming a blow torch out of her bedroom window.

Seeing Bill Maher or Jill Schoelen in their film debuts might pique the interest of some, but the plot itself is too unfocused and goes off on too many different tangents with loosely connected story threads put in simply to pad the running time. The only really funny moment comes when a car crashes through a drive-in movie screen as it shows another movie dealing with a completely different car chase. I also liked the scene with Timothy Carey that comes after the credits are over, but otherwise this is one cab ride that’s not worth its fare.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joel Schumacher

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Aloha, Bobby and Rose (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: They dream about Hawaii.

Bobby (Paul Le Mat) enjoys racing cars and shooting pool, but resists being tied down with a steady job. Rose (Dianne Hull) is a young single woman trying to raise a small child on her own while still living with her mother (Martine Bartlett). By chance the two meet one day and instantly hit-it-off. They decide they want to run away together to the exotic locale of Hawaii, but lack the funds. Bobby tries to hold up a liquor store by using a fake gun, but the shop’s owner comes out of a back room and threatens to kill him, so Rose hits the man over his head with a bottle and the gun accidently discharges and kills the young clerk. Now the two must go on the run and evade the police who are after them.

Unfortunately the basic premise here is highly flawed making it hard if not impossible to get into it. For one thing there was no one else in the liquor store to ID the young couple, so the police would not necessarily be looking for them. Secondly the clerk was shot by the store owner, not by Bobby or Rose and the gun is clearly in the man’s hands when he falls to the ground. A simply residue test would prove that he was the one who fired the weapon and it wasn’t just planted on him afterwards. Since there was no one else in the store Bobby and Rose could simply say that the owner and clerk got into an argument and the owner threatened to kill the young man, so in an effort to save him Rose hit the owner with a bottle, but the gun went off anyways. There would be no else to refute this barring that the owner did indeed die and even if he had survived it would simply be his word against there’s and ultimately he would still be the one caught holding the gun, so in essence these kids seem to be running for no real reason.

There is another scene later on where the two crash the car they are driving and conveniently find another one sitting in a dark alleyway. The movie doesn’t even bother to show Bobby hotwiring it, which is how they usually steal cars in the movies, but later on we see him turning the ignition to the car in an effort to start the vehicle. This then signals that the keys were left in the ignition when they found it and the windows rolled down, but how many cars does one find out on the street, or anywhere for that matter, that are like that?

I did appreciate that the film shows in slow motion their heads hitting and cracking the windshield during the accident as this is what will occur especially when the occupants are not wearing their seatbelts. Yet later on they go into a washroom and wipe the blood away with a wet cloth and it’s all gone, but bleeding from the head most likely means that the skull was cracked and would require stitches, which means continual bleeding even if the dried blood gets erased.

The location is wrong as well. The setting is Los Angeles, but several characters speak with southern tinged accents and just about all of them convey small town sentiments. Very little footage is shown of the two actually out on the open road and the music that gets played is a scattershot mix of ‘70s tunes that runs the gamut of musical genres and never gives the film any unifying sound or mood.

The supporting cast helps a bit. I enjoyed seeing Robert Carradine looking like he was still in high school. Tim McIntire adds some verve as an outspoken Texan who has no qualms mixing-it-up with anyone that he comes into contact with and Bartlett is engaging as the flaky mother, but the story meanders too much and goes nowhere. There were many road movies that came out during the 70’s and many of them were well done, but this isn’t one of them.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: April 29, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Floyd Mutrux

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

Casualties of War (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He witnesses a rape.

Based on an actual incident that occurred on November 19, 1966 the story centers around five members of an American squadron during the Vietnam War where the pressures and ugliness of battle send their leader, Sergeant Tony Meserve (Sean Penn) over-the-edge. When his squad gets denied leave he decides to have his men kidnap a Vietnamese girl named Oanh (Thuy Thu Le) who is then raped by the four of them while one, Eriksson (Michael J. Fox) refuses.  The young woman is eventually killed and her lifeless body left in a field. When the men return to their base Eriksson tries to report the crime, but finds stiff resistance.

This same incident was used as the basis for another film called The Visitors, which came out 17 years earlier. That movie took a different approach as it hypothesized what would’ve happened once the men returned from doing prison time and came for a ‘visit’ to the man’s home who had turned them in. That film suffered from a lack of a budget, but still managed to have a little more tension and impact than this one. This version takes way too long to play itself out. The audience knows where it’s headed right from the start and thus makes it almost excruciating to have to sit through.

The film would’ve worked better had the story been told in a fragmented style. The horror of the situation gets lost by the plodding narrative that overplays the story’s shock element and seems to take an almost sick delight in dragging out the whole kidnap/rape sequence until it gets agonizing and even tedious.

The idea that Eriksson would mentally be going back through this whole situation while he dreams it during a nap on a bus isn’t believable. The story is supposedly told as a flashback, but people dream in a more surreal, nonlinear way that wouldn’t painstakingly go back through every detail that had occurred to them in real-life. Also, people tend to repress unpleasant experiences that they’ve had. At times certain bits and pieces of it may come to the surface, but most of it would be locked away in the person’s subconscious, which is why the fragmented approach would’ve made more sense because we would’ve seen things in the exact same way that they were being played out in Eriksson’s head.

Fox is miscast and looks more like Marty McFly stuck in a time warp and involved in a situation he has no business being in. His character’s upbeat disposition makes him seem like he’s in some sort of invisible bubble that allows him not to be affected by the horrors of war even though it has clearly taken its toll on everyone else around him.  The character is also a bit too passive and does little to prevent the rape from occurring, which will make some viewers feel that he is cowardly.

Although his character is a bit over-the-top Penn gives a strong and effective performance and the main reason if any to watch the film. John Leguizamo is also good as a shy, quiet type that initially refrains from wanting to take part in the crime only to ultimately cave to peer pressure.

The on-location shooting done in Thailand is good and I liked the way director Brian De Palma uses the point-of-view effect particularly when the men go around the sleeping village looking for a victim to choose, but ultimately the film fails to elicit much of an emotional effect. The quasi, tacked-on ‘uplifting’ ending in which a stranger tells Eriksson to simply ‘let go’ of his horrible memories and in essence ‘move on’ from it is terribly contrived as there are certain experiences one can’t simply leave behind, which only helps to solidify how shallow this potentially penetrating drama really is.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 18, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

The Ritz (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hiding out in bathhouse.

On the run from is homicidal brother-in-law (Jerry Stiller) heterosexual businessman Gaetano (Jack Weston) decides to hide out inside a Manhattan bathhouse unaware that it’s for gay men only until he’s already stuck inside. While there the overweight Gaetano gets harassed by an amorous chubby-chaser (Paul B. Price) as well as an aging starlet named Googie (Rita Moreno) who thinks Gaetano is a Broadway producer who can finally give her the long-waited break that she feels she deserves. Things get even worse when his brother-in-law finds out where Gaetano is hiding and proceeds to shoot up the place until he is finally able to weed him out.

For a farce, which is based on the hit Broadway play by Terence McNally and has much of the same cast recreating their roles for the movie, this thing is pretty much dead-on-arrival. The plot is thin and predictable and not enough happens to justify sitting through it. There are a few snappy lines here-and-there, but overall it’s effect is flat while filled with a lot of mindless running around that eventually grows quite tiring. Director Richard Lester has had success with this genre before, but the material here is unimaginative and second-rate and having everything confined to one setting gives it a claustrophobic feel.

The supporting cast gives the proceedings a boost and to some extent saves it from being a complete misfire. F. Murray Abraham nails it as a flaming queen and manages to elicit laughs with every scene he is in. Treat Williams is quite good as an undercover detective who’s a very well built man, but stuck with the voice of a 5-year-old. Jerry Stiller is surprisingly effective as the gun-toting bad guy and this also marks the film debut of John Ratzenberger.

Kudos must also go out to Moreno whose hilariously bad rendition of ‘Everything’s Coming up Roses’ is a film highlight. I also liked the precarious way that she puts on her eyelashes and the fact that her so-called dressing room is inside the building’s boiler room. The only performance that doesn’t work is Weston’s as his character is too naïve and his over-reactions to everything that occurs around him quickly becomes one-dimensional.

There may have been a time when this type of storyline would’ve been considered ‘fresh’ over even ‘daring’, but that time is long gone. In fact I couldn’t believe how tame and shallow it was. Whatever passed for farce back-in-the-day is no longer tangible, which makes this one relic that deserves its place on the back shelf of obscurity.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 12, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Lester

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

UHF (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Running a TV Station.

George Newman (“Weird Al” Yankovic) cannot hold down a steady job, but finally seems to catch his break when given an opportunity to be program director of a little known UHF TV station. George comes up with all sorts of oddball programming ideas that soon send the ratings soaring, which angers R.J. Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy) who runs a competing TV station and will do anything to take George’s station off the air.

The film, which was shot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was written by Yankovic and his longtime collaborator Jay Levey and it took over 3 years of them constantly shopping the script around to various producers and studios before Orion Pictures decided to pick it up, but only if Yankovic/Levey could guarantee that the budget would remain under $5 million.  Upon its initial release the film did quite poorly both at the box office and with the critics, but has since gained a strong cult following.

The humor is quite hit-or-miss. Some of it is indeed clever, but at other times it’s incredibly lame and kiddie-like. My biggest beef is the fact that they incorporate this dumb side-story dealing with a competing station that isn’t funny. The film would’ve worked far better had they not felt the need to have any conventional narrative or plot and instead structured it around a quickly edited collection/snippets of weird TV shows, which is the only time when the film gels and is actually creative.

As much as I love McCarthy I felt his character here was unnecessary. Word is that he really enjoyed the part and would crack-up between takes, but his over-the-top one-dimensional caricature of a rich, capitalistic asshole quickly becomes quite boring. Yankovic himself is equally dull and shows no acting ability whatsoever, but fortunately he wisely steps back and allows his supporting cast to get all the laughs, which they do especially Michael Richards as a freaky janitor turned children’s TV host as well as Trinidad Silva, who tragically died in a car accident before filming was completed, as a man with a houseful of exotic animals.

The best moment in the movie is the ad for spatula city, which is far and away one of the funniest segments I’ve seen anywhere and worth catching just for this. What’s even funnier is that the producers put up a giant billboard along a highway advertising this phony supermarket, which they used as a prop for the segment, but then after they were done filming they decided to leave it up. They presumed it wouldn’t be a problem as they figured no one would actually be interested in a place that sells only spatulas, but apparently in reality for several months afterwards many motorists drove off the exit listed on the billboard looking for the spatula city and inquiring as to where the place was located.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 21, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Jay Levey

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video, YouTube

Death on the Nile (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Murder on the river.

Based on the 1937 Agatha Christie novel of the same name the story centers around everyone’s favorite Belgium sleuth Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) as he tries solve a murder that occurs while he is traveling on a steamer going down the famous Nile River.

The on-location shooting in Egypt is the film’s chief asset. The scene where actors Simon MacCorkindale and Lois Chiles climb to the outer top of a pyramid is impressive as in the extended scene inside the Karnak Temple Complex. However, outside of this the visuals are blah and this entry fails to show the same cinematic flair done 4 years earlier of another Christie novel that was brought to the big screen Murder on the Orient Express.

I was also not too impressed with the steamer that was used to cart the characters down the river as it appeared to be too small and not at all luxurious. The fact that the production crew took a real steamer that they had found and then painstakingly recreated it to a minute detail inside the Pinewood studios in London is certainly commendable, but I felt the insides of the cabins were too big and too fancy and not in proportion to the actual boat that we see from the exterior, which looked like nothing more than a cheap, mid-sized thing that could be rented by a small family at a modest price for an afternoon on the lake.

The story itself takes too long to get going and in fact the murder and actual mystery doesn’t occur until 1 hour and 10 minutes in. Mia Farrow gives a provocative performance and it’s interesting seeing how things were before there were anti-stalking laws and people could simply follow around those that they hated, which is what the Farrow character does here, and harass the hell out of them without any fear of breaking any penalty, but the set-up gets too played out. The supporting cardboard characters are dull and put in simply to heighten the mystery with their own motives for wanting to kill the victim, which comes off as formulaic.

The ultimate denouncement isn’t too great either. I never read the book, so I don’t know how closely this follows it, but the explanation for how the killing is done hinged too much on careful split-second timing that I don’t think anyone would’ve been able to actually accomplish nor even want to risk trying. Also, the evidence that Poirot uses to solve the crime is threadbare and circumstantial to the extreme and if the killer’s hadn’t ultimately cracked under pressure I’m not so sure they would’ve been convicted.

The cast of big name stars is wasted and only Angela Lansbury is entertaining as the alcoholic erotic novelist, but even here her drunken condition gets overplayed as we never ever see her sober making it seem almost like she suffers from a degenerative disease like cerebral palsy. Ustinov is no fun as Poirot and Albert Finney was far better as he played the same character in a more lovable and amusingly eccentric way. He was asked to reprise the role, which he played in Murder on the Orient Express, but due to the unpleasant grind of having to wear a lot of makeup for the part he ended up declining.

If you’re a fan of Agatha Christie or enjoy mysteries then you may take to this a bit more. It’s still watchable and even marginally engrossing; however despite the excellent cast and splashy production values the ultimate effect is flat.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 29, 1978

Runtime: 2Hours 20Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Guillermin

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD

Chapter Two (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to start over.

George (James Caan) is a famous author who has just lost his first wife. His brother Leo (Joseph Bologna) gives him the phone number to Jennie (Marsha Mason) who has recently gone through a divorce. After an initially awkward first encounter the two form an attachment and quickly decide to get married. Then on their honeymoon the memories of George’s recently deceased wife comes back to haunt him, which jeopardizes his new marriage.

The film, which is based on the hit Broadway play that ran for 857 performances and was written by Neil Simon, is largely inspired by the events of his own life as he lost his first wife, Joan Baim, on July 17, 1973 and then quickly married actress Marsha Mason on October 25th of that same year. Mason is essentially playing herself and her performance here is one of the movie’s stronger points.

An aspect of the film though that I found even more interesting is the fact that it reteams Mason and Caan just 6 years after they had starred in Cinderella Liberty. The romantic angle here though is much more realistic as both people are on a more equal footing as a relationship cannot work if one person is too severely dependent on the other. I also enjoyed seeing how Mason, a highly underrated actress, could effectively play both an emotionally weak person as she did in the 1973 film and a very strong one as she does here. My only quibble is that her character is again portrayed as being an actress just like she was in The Goodbye Girl, but there she was wracked with anxiety and struggling financially as most artists do while here she seemed too financially secure and more like a woman working in the corporate business world.

The film has a nice breezy pace and the romance is allowed to blossom naturally without ever feeling forced, which along with the excellent on-location shooting I really liked. The problem though comes with the fact that the leads are quite bland when compared to their supporting counterparts, which are played by Bologna and Valerie Harper. Bologna seems to steal any film he is in and he really should be given more starring vehicles. Harper is equally strong and nothing like her more famous Rhoda Morgenstern persona. Their characters have engaging flaws and the banter between them is far more comical. The film shifts uneasily between scenes featuring Caan/Mason to those with Bologna/Harper until it seems like two completely different movies going in opposite directions.

Having Caan’s character go from being really crazy about Mason to suddenly and quite literally overnight becoming aloof towards her is too severe and comes off like he is afflicted with a Jekyll and Hyde disorder. Likewise Mason is too forgiving with it when most people would simply get a quickie divorce since they had known each other for only 10 days. Yet even with all of these weaknesses I still found it a soothing and easy-to-take movie that should please romance aficionados everywhere.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1979

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Moore

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD (Sony Choice Collection)