Monthly Archives: February 2016

A Man, A Woman and a Bank (1979)

man a woman and a bank 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A very large withdrawal.

Small-time crook Reese (Donald Sutherland) teams up with his computer expert friend Norman (Paul Mazursky) to pull of what they hope will be the perfect crime. Their plan is to reprogram the alarm system of a bank while the building is still under construction. Then when it finally gets completed they’ll break into the vault undetected and walk away with a cool 50 million dollars. Things though get off to a rocky start when commercial photographer Stacey (Brooke Adams) snaps of picture of Reese as he is stealing the blueprints of the building. In an effort to get the negatives back he tracks her down, but ends up falling in love with her instead putting their elaborate plan at risk.

There’s been a million and one bank robbery films done and many of them can be quite entertaining, but this one misses the mark from the very beginning. For one thing it gives us no backstory to the characters, or how they were able to come up with the idea in the first place. Giving a compelling reason for the viewer to become emotionally attached to the characters and their quest helps and this film fails to give it. The plan itself seems too easy and full of a lot of potential pitfalls that the script conveniently overlooks. The idea that the Norman character would be able to break into the bank’s security system by simply feeding the computer with a lot of useless usernames until it finally breaks down and starts spitting out the secret information is in itself quite questionable.

The pacing is poor and the story meanders onto several different story threads that have nothing to do with the crime. Analyzing Norman’s marriage difficulties and Stacey’s troubles with her possessive boyfriend (Allan Kolman) seems like material for a whole different movie and does nothing to help keep the interest going in this one. In fact the movie spends so much time on these other tangents that the robbery begins to seem almost like a side-story.

Stars Sutherland and Adams reunite after starring in Invasion of the Body Snatchers just a year earlier. The two share a good chemistry, but Sutherland is too laid back in the role and Adams’ hyper energy helps only so much. The film’s best performance and ultimate scene stealer is Mazursky who is completely on-the-mark as the nervous friend and gets quite a few good lines.

The film does have a couple of unique scenes that I liked including a collection of candles made to look like well-known game show hosts and a security guard who does jumping jack exercises only to light up a cigarette the minute he sits back down. The crime though is boring and does not offer enough tension. I was almost hoping they’d end up getting caught as they are able to pull it off too easily with a plan that I don’t think would ever work in real-life.

man a woman and a bank

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 8, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Noel Black

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD

Lucky Lady (1975)

lucky lady

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Three’s not a crowd.

Walker (Burt Reynolds) and Claire (Liza Minnelli) make money by helping people illegally cross the Mexican border into the states, but when their third partner in the business dies and they almost get arrested they decide to get into an easier line of work. With the help of Kibby (Gene Hackman) they become rum-runners who transport liquor by boat under the cover of night during the prohibition era. As the three start to have some success and get to know each other they also form a love triangle and spend their evenings involved in a ménage-a-trois.

If you’re in the mood for non-think, grandiose style entertainment made in the same vein of classic movies from Hollywood’s golden era then you should find this more than satisfying. The plot moves along at a nice breezy pace with characters that are distinct and fun and full of snappy dialogue. The majority of the story takes place on water, but manages to remain quite exciting and ironically only becomes waterlogged when it goes on land. The lavish sets are splendid and the film could be enjoyed by simply taking in those alone.

The three leads are in top form and play against type. Minnelli, who actually looks sexy here in a flapper styled hairdo, is quite amusing with her acerbic one-liners. Reynolds is great as the klutzy member of the trio and Hackman is solid as always playing someone who seems meek at first, but eventually takes over things with his patented strong personality. Unfortunately John Hillerman, best known for playing Higgins in the ‘Magnum P.I.’ TV-series, is the only weak link of the cast playing a bad guy that never conveys enough menace to be truly threatening.

A young Robby Benson who was 18 at the time, but looks more like 14 is quite good in support. I was never all that impressed with the former teen heart throb, but here he is effective playing a shy kid who says little, but when he does say something it’s a gem. Geoffrey Lewis is also quite funny as an inept Captain of the Coast Guard. Mills Watson, who is best known for playing Deputy Perkins on the ‘The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo’ TV-series can be spotted in a couple of scenes. IMDb does not have him listed here, but I recognized him and his name does come up on the closing credits as a character named Giff.

For lightweight entertainment the film does have quite a few action sequences that are surprisingly well choreographed and even quite bloody, but the climatic sequence becomes too cartoonish. I was also disappointed that the one unique element of the story, which is the three getting into a relationship, is only mildly touched upon and basically forgotten after the first hour. The film could’ve gone a lot farther with that and even made it the centerpiece of the plot, which would’ve helped make it more character driven and groundbreaking.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stanley Donen

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

 

Throw Momma from the Train (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two guys trade murders.

Larry (Billy Crystal) is a creative writing teacher who’s bitter about his ex-wife (Kate Mulgrew) stealing his story idea and using it to write a successful novel that has made her rich and famous while he wallows in the realm of writer’s block. Owen (Danny DeVito) is a writing student taking one of Larry’s classes who is stuck living with his miserable mother (Anne Ramsey) who he’d like to see dead. After watching the movie Strangers on a Train he comes up with what he thinks is a brilliant solution. He’ll murder Larry’s ex-wife while Larry in turn will murder his Momma. Owen does his part, but Larry is reluctant to pull his end of the ‘deal’.

DeVito gets a lot of accolades for his acting, but in many ways I think he is an even better director and doesn’t get enough credit for it. This movie was way ahead-of-its-time and ushers in many interesting juxtapositions and edits that we take for granted now, but was considered quite novel back then. I loved the close-up of Owen’s Hawaiian shirt with palm trees and then a jet plane formatted over it, which is used to cut to the next scene as well as the scene showing Larry’s students sitting in class and then the camera panning over in one take to Larry sleeping on the sofa in his apartment. The segments with a camera spinning around the characters is good and gives it a very Hitchcock feel especially the one with Larry lying on the floor as the camera rotates above him, but the best directorial touch is when Owen goes bowling while imagining that the pins are his mother.

Ramsey’s performance as the ultimate mother from hell is another selling point and one that has made this a cult classic. The fact that the woman was dying of cancer at the time and was in severe pain during the entire time that the movie was being filmed makes it all the more impressive. My only complaint is that it would’ve been nice had there been at least one moment where her character revealed a softer side and made her seem at least slightly human. I also felt that her eventual demise was quite unimaginative especially for a film that was otherwise very creative.

DeVito scores as well in his performance of the nebbish grown son in a character that could’ve easily been unlikable had it not been perfectly balanced, which he does marvelously. Crystal is excellent as a sort of sane everyman stuck in a very insane situation. His best part comes when he paces his house endlessly while trying desperately to come up with the opening sentence of his novel, which I found to be one of the funniest moments in the movie and something every struggling writer can relate to.

The wrap-up is a bit too good natured and works against the story’s otherwise dark comical roots, but it still gets a few points for showing Owen’s children’s pop-up book that he made, which illustrates the film’s scenario.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Danny DeVito

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray