Category Archives: Cold Climate/Wintertime Movies

Avalanche (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sliding snow destroys resort.

David Selby (Rock Hudson) is a driven businessman determined to build a ski resort in an area that’s vulnerable to avalanches and despite the many warnings is able to get the building constructed and even have it host a ski tournament to kick-off its grand opening, but as the festivities get under way the snowfall continues. Eventually the weight of the snow on the nearby mountaintop becomes too much causing a massive avalanche forcing the guests at the resort into a fight for survival.

The film starts out with a lot of boring, poorly written soap opera-like drama that will put most viewers to sleep before the avalanche ever even takes place. The storyline concerning Mia Farrow’s and Rock Hudson’s marriage and his desperate attempts to ‘rekindle the old magic’ between them is particularly contrived as the vast age difference between the two, a whole 18 years, makes it look like the type of union that would have no chance of it working right from the start, so why even bother making it a part of the plot? The first 40 minutes are so draggy that you start hoping for the avalanche to happen and wipe out all the cardboard characters simply to provide some excitement.

The glossy cast if filled with some well known faces, but their parts offer them little to work with and in the case of Robert Forster, who acts as this environmentalist warning of the avalanche danger, is completely wasted. Only Cathey Paine, a lesser known actress, offers some diversion as a possessive girlfriend who becomes unhinged when she catches her boyfriend (Rick Moses) in bed with another woman and watching her try to kill herself by swallowing a bottle of pills only to be crushed by the snow a few seconds later is darkly funny. I also got a kick out of Jeannette Nolan sporting white hair, which you can tell is a wig because you can see her brown hair underneath it along the edges, and I felt this should’ve been shown falling off her head when the avalanches occurs, but of course it doesn’t.

The special effects, which would be the only reason to watch this thing anyways, gets highly compromised mainly because producer Roger Corman, in his patented stingy way, cut the budget in half just before production began and it definitely shows. The avalanche looks like nothing more than having the actors shot on a screen and then having styrofoam made snow blown in front of it. I also found the howling wind noise, which permeates every outdoor scene, to be irritating and unnecessary especially when all the trees in the background are completely still.

The third act, which deals with rescue efforts, offers some minor tension and is an improvement from the rest of the movie, which made me think they should’ve started it with this and then shown scenes of the avalanche happening, and some of the background ‘drama’, intermittently via flashback. The setting, which was filmed on-location at the Lodge of Tamarron in Durango, Colorado, is quite scenic. I even liked the snowmobile race, which has a Death Race 2000 feel to it especially the ugly wipe-outs.

Spoiler Alert!

Unfortunately everything else falls predictably flat, which includes the dopey ending where Hudson humbly admits that he allowed his greed to get in the way  and that the resort should never have been built, but this isn’t satisfying enough. He should’ve been handcuffed and thrown into prison, which is not shown nor any confirmation if this ever ultimately happened.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 29, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Corey Allen

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Romantic Comedy (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playwrights fall in love.

Just as Jason (Dudley Moore), a popular playwright, is getting ready to tie-the-knot with the beautiful Allison (Janet Eilber) he meets Phoebe (Mary Steenburgen). Phoebe is a school teacher aspiring to be a playwright and hoping to team up with Jason, who has had some success in the past, but looking for new inspiration. The two soon become a successful writing team, but begin to fall-in-love in the process, which creates a strain on Jason’s marriage.

The film is based on the play of the same name that was written by Bernard Slade, who also wrote the screenplay. Slade was at one time a television producer whose most noted creation was Th Partridge Family’, but by the late 70’s had moved into writing plays with his biggest hit being Same Tim Next Year about two married people who get together once a year to have an affair, which became a runaway international hit and inspired Slade to then write this one, which is basically just a minor reworking of the same theme. While his first play was hailed as being fresh and original this thing is much more mechanical and ultimately as generic as its title.

The story’s biggest failing is that we never get to see the relationship blossom and grow. Instead it starts out with their awkward meeting that exposes their contrasting personalities and temperaments and then jumps ahead several months later to where they’ve already become lovey-dovey to each other, but with no insight as to how that came about. Part of the fun of watching a romance is seeing how it flourishes between two very unlikely people, but here that gets glossed away making everything that comes after it seem very forced and contrived.

The film also offers no insight into the collaboration process and how two people can work together to create a play, which could’ve been both interesting and amusing. It also could’ve been revealing seeing what kind of plots their plays had and why some of them are flops while others are hits. Having a story within a story concept where the two write about the secret emotions that they have for the other into their characters could’ve added a unique angle, but like with a lot of other things here becomes another missed opportunity.

Moore and Steenburgen have no chemistry and there was a big 18 year age difference between them. Moore is too acerbic and having him go from being sarcastic and abrasive to suddenly loving and tender is unconvincing. Steenburgen’s young girl voice makes her seem empty-headed and not the sophisticated, witty type who would be able to write the type of plays that she supposedly does. Why Mia Farrow and Anthony Perkins, who played the parts in the original Broadway play, weren’t cast in the same parts here is a mystery, but they would’ve been far more effective choices.

The expected drama and conflicts involving the wife never culminates into anything making her presence virtually pointless. The laughs are non-existent as well. In fact the only time it ever gets even mildly amusing is when Moore and Steenburgen would argue and it would’ve been funnier had they been portrayed as hating each other, but teamed up anyways simply because they somehow managed to write hit plays when they worked together.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: MGM/UA

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Loving (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Commercial artist fools around.

Brooks (George Segal) is a commercial artist who spends most of his time chasing after clients, which he finds exhausting and takes away from the creative process. Although married to the beautiful Selma (Eva Marie Saint) he still sees  Grace (Janis Young) on the side, but she’s tired of being the other woman and wants him to divorce his wife and commit to her, which he resists. Despite all of these issues Brooks manages to keep his philandering hidden until one night when they attend a party at a friend’s house where his fooling around unexpectedly comes out into the open for all to see.

So many films have tried to capture that perfect day-in-the-life feel, but usually end up failing by either jazzing-up the drama, or becoming boring by  not having enough happening. Director Irvin Kerschner manages to find the right balance by having the characters continue to do things as they speak. For instance showing Brooks’ boss (Keenan Wynn) converse with him over the phone while folding up his hideaway bed. Why was he sleeping on the couch? Was he having marital problems of his own? Could be, but this visual approach allows the scenes to remain active while also conveying how everyone has issues and not just our protagonist. It also remains realistic as most people are usually doing other things while talking on the phone and never just sitting motionless like it gets portrayed in many other movies.

I enjoyed too how the film explores the job duties that Brooks has including the way he takes photos of models, sometimes he even using himself, and then traces their outlines from the picture to create a different artistic rendering, which I found fascinating. Much of the reason for these intricate details has much to do with the fact that the script is based on the novel ‘Brooks Wilson Ltd.’ by John McDermott under the pen name of J.M. Ryan, who was an illustrator in real-life, for Disney studios, and parlayed his experience of the craft to the main character. I also found it interesting how Brooks’ clients would sometimes have minor, subjective complaints about his work forcing him, for the sake of pleasing them and making money, to begrudgingly change what he had originally created and thus showing how the business side can squelch the artistic inspirations of creative people and take away the enjoyment they once had for their craft.

Even the children characters get handled much better than in most films. Granted their parts have very little to do with the plot, but still like in every parent’s life they’re always around causing disruptions and noise even when you have your mind occupied with other things. They’re also not portrayed as sickingly sweet or excessively bratty, but like with most kids an equal combination of both. The oldest girl, who looked to be about 8, also has one of the film’s funniest moments as she’s shown reading a book on the sofa while a nude model, who her father is sketching, stands right in front of her, which she finds to be no big deal.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s best moment though is still the ending where Brooks goes to a party and makes love to his best friend’s wife (Nancie Phillips) in a child’s empty playroom to the amusement of the the other guests who watch them in another room, unbeknownst to Brooks, on closed circuit TV. Not only is this scene hilarious, but dramatically powerful as Will (David Doyle), whose wife is caught fooling around with Brooks, physically attacks Brooks outside afterwards and the look of anger and betrayal on his face reveals, despite the funny set-up, how emotionally devastating philandering can be to the other spouse.

The film though fails to offer any conclusion. We sit through 90-minutes of seeing the marriage slowly disintegrate, but then are left watching the couple staring at each with no idea whether they were able to patch things up, or divorce. The viewer feels cheated that no clear answer is given and a brief denouncement showing where the main character ultimately ends up, whether it be with a new love, his same wife, or all alone, should’ve been added.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 4, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Irvin Kerschner

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Damien: Omen II (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Damien learns his destiny.

After the death of his adoptive parents, Damien (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) moves in with his Uncle Richard Thorn (William Holden) and his wife Ann (Lee Grant) in Chicago. Thorn is a rich industrialist and Damien lives a privileged life in the suburbs of Chicago alongside his cousin Mark (Lucas Donat), who is set to be heir to his father’s company, but first the two boys are sent off to the military academy. It is there that Damien learns that he is the Antichrist and puts a plan in place where he can kill off Mark and his parents so that he can take over Thorn industries and use it for his nefarious purposes.

It’s unfortunate that David Seltzer, who wrote the script to the original Omen film, choose not to pen this one and instead Harvey Bernhard the film’s producer outlined the story and then hired Stanley Mann to write the script, but the plot is basically a retread of what occurred in the first one with the father this time played by Holden, going through the same realizations that Gregory Peck did in the original, while offering no surprises or interesting twists. Had Seltzer written it he would’ve had it begin where the first one ended with Damien inside the White House having been adopted by the President and his wife, which would’ve offered far more intriguing scenarios than anything that gets played-out here.

The film also suffers from having Damien, much like in the first one, not being all that scary or mean at least not at the beginning. For the most part he behaves like a nice kid. The scene where he takes revenge on a bully at the academy actually had me on his side as well as when he shows-up a teacher in front of the class by knowing all the answers. Having an aunt character, played by Sylvia Sidney, despise him and consider him a ‘bad influence’ doesn’t help things as this is something that the viewer needs to see for themselves and not just have described by another character.

The characters played by Robert Foxworth and Lance Henriksen, who know about Damien’s secret and essentially ‘groom him’, is confusing because it’s never explained how these men would know this, or what their backgrounds are. If there’s a group of devil worshipers out there, or demons sent directly from hell in human form to help Damien in his evil quest than this needs to be elaborated instead of just having them appear knowing things that no else does, but without any explanation.

Like in the first one it’s the death scenes that make it worth watching and there are a few good ones including one that occurs under the ice of a lake and another very gory one that happens inside an elevator, but there’s also some where the victim just falls over dead due to Damien’s powers, which is a letdown. If the film is going to market itself on the death scenes then ALL of them need to be creative and memorable and not just a cherry-picked few.

The pristine, white wintry landscape is nice, although not exactly suitable for a horror film, and I did enjoy Lee Grant who plays the wife role in a far more multi-dimensional way than her counterpart Lee Remick did in the first one, she even gives the film its one unexpected wrinkle, which occurs at the end, but otherwise there’s nothing much else to get excited about here. In between the death there are a lot of boring segments with no tension at all. The movie, which is a bit overlong, does not have the terror increase as it progresses, but instead just gets more drawn-out.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 5, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Don Taylor

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Bloodline (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer stalks rich heiress.

When her father dies under mysterious circumstances Elizabeth (Audrey Hepburn) is given full control of the company he founded, Roffe Pharmaceuticals, a billion dollar empire. Elizabeth soon learns that there’s a power struggle going on amongst the board members and when she refuses to allow the company’s stock to go public she finds that her life is now the target of a mysterious killer who stages ‘accidents’ to occur where ever she goes.

This film marked Hepburn’s last starring vehicle in a theatrical feature and if it weren’t for her presence this thing really wouldn’t be worth seeking out and barely is anyways. The story is based on the best-selling novel by Sidney Sheldon, but comes off more like a hackneyed whodunnit featuring many derivative elements that you’ve seen hundreds of times before in other mystery films that were better done.

Some of the more annoying aspects include the loud, overplayed orchestral score that would be better suited for a sappy romance. There are also segments dealing with Gert Frobe, who plays the lead investigator on Elizabeth’s father’s case, who does most of his detective work sitting in a lab and interacting with a computer whose over-the-top robotic voice turns the whole thing into unintentional camp. I also thought it was dumb that Elizabeth listens to a audio tape recorded by her father just before he died in which he states that he thinks he knows which board member is trying to kill him, but then doesn’t reveal his name, but wouldn’t it have been wise to state that on the tape, so if he ended up getting killed there would be recorded evidence to help the investigators nab the right person? The film also features a recreation of the backstory showing how the father founded the company, which is corny as hell as well as a kinky subplot dealing with snuff movies, something that was added into the script after production had already begun, but wasn’t needed.

The accidents, which should’ve been the film’s highlight become boring throwaways instead. Hepburn’s car crash, which occurs when the killer fiddles with the brakes, is poorly edited and the injuries that she sustains are too superficial, a few bruises and scratches on the side of her face that immediately go away the next day. Her close call in a rigged elevator gets equally botched. We see a split second visual of an elevator speeding down a shaft and only later told that it killed her best friend (Beatrice Straight) who was inside it, but Hepburn decided at the last minute to step out of it to get something that she forgot inside the office, but this is something that the viewers should’ve seen as movies are a visual art and not just explained by Hepburn afterwards.

The variety of exotic locations, which was shot throughout Europe, adds some zest and the eclectic cast is interesting although most are wasted. With that said I still found Romy Schneider, who plays a female race car driver, to own every scene she is in, which proves what a great actress she was as she’s able to make her part flashy despite the weak material. Omar Sharif is also fun as a henpecked husband who finds himself not only dominated by his demanding wife (Irene Papas) but his lady lover as well.

Ultimately though it’s too hokey to take seriously and offers no intrigue. Even Hepburn becomes a problem by playing a character who doesn’t make any sense. She tries to get Ben Gazzara to marry her by admitting it’s for convenience only and that he’d still have his ‘freedoms’ to do ‘other things’ on the side and she’d agree to look the other way. Then when they finally do get married and he meets some of his other lovers at a restaurant she becomes enraged and runs out. This causes him to call her a ‘neurotic bitch’ which given the circumstances I would have to agree with.

Alternate Title: Sidney Sheldon’s Bloodline

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 29, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Terence Young

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Girl from Petrovka (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: An American/Russian romance.

Oktabrina (Goldie Hawn) is a young Russian ballet dancer living in the country without proper documentation. Joe (Hal Holbrook) is an American journalist staying in Moscow as a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Herald. Joe becomes attracted to her youthful beauty while she likes the fact that compared to her impoverished lifestyle he has a lot of money and lives in an apartment that seems ‘like a palace’. The two begin going out, which attracts the attention of the KGB who raid her apartment while she’s not there. This forces her to stay at Joe’s for awhile and allows their relationship to blossom only to have a misunderstanding cause her to move out. Joe then tries desperately to win her back, but finds it may be too late as the authorities close in.

The film has a nice casual pace to it that’s more like a European movie and the on-location shooting, which was originally intended to be shot in Yugoslavia, but eventually done in Austria, nicely brings out the gray, dismal life in the Soviet Union at the time. I even enjoyed the snowy late night scene where Joe and a friend are seen walking outside with a visual of the Red Square matted in the backdrop.

Unfortunately the film’s romantic angle becomes its weakest point, which ultimately pulls the production down to a painfully boring level. I just couldn’t understand why these two fell in love so fast. I got the fact that Joe found her attractive, any man would, but that’s lust not love and Oktyabrina’s interest centered mainly on the fact that he had money, which is equally shallow and nothing that would create this deep emotional bond after only two days together. There’s also a huge age difference between the two, a full 19 years, which makes the romance come off looking even more absurd.

Hawn’s a great actress, and she does okay here even though I found the heart shaped tattoo that she has underneath her left eye to be annoying, but it still would’ve worked better had the part been played by an actual Russian woman who could’ve given the character more authenticity. Holbrook has proven to be a fine actor in many other productions, but here comes off as too detached and glib and adds very little life or emotion to the proceedings. Anthony Hopkins as Oktyabrina’s Russian friend shows more energy, and speaks with an excellent Russian accent to boot, and would’ve been a far better choice for the lead.

In typical 70’s fashion the ending is a downer, which was completely different from the one in the film’s source novel of the same name that was written by George Feifer, and only helps to cement this as a complete waste of efforts by all those involved. This was just one of the many bad movie choices that Goldie made during the 70’s that put her career on life support that managed to be revived in 1980 when she did Private Benjamin.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 22, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Ellis Miller

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD-R (Universal Vault Series), Amazon Video

Joe (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bigot befriends successful businessman.

Joe Curran (Peter Boyle) is an unhappy factory worker who feels the blacks, liberals, and hippies are ruining the country and doesn’t mind telling all the patrons at his local bar exactly what he thinks. One night while going on another one of his racist rants he meets Bill (Dennis Patrick) a successful businessman who’s the father of Melissa (Susan Sarandon) who was put into the hospital for a heroin overdose. Earlier that day in a fit of rage Bill had killed her live-in boyfriend Frank ( Patrick McDermott) who was the one that got Melissa hooked on the drug. Now, as he sits at the bar in a drunken state he admits to Joe what he did and Joe uses this newfound knowledge to become friends with Bill and find out how the other half lives. Bill initially dislikes Joe and only stays friends with him because he’s afraid Joe will go to the police otherwise, but after awhile the two men start to share a weird bond, which eventually leads them both to the dark side.

Norman Wexler’s script manages to bring out the paradox of the American social hierarchy quite well and in many ways far better than most other better known dramas of the same subject. While the role was originally intended for Lawrence Tierney, who would’ve been a better choice due to being more age appropriate, Boyle, in his first starring role, shines as a younger version of Archie Bunker and manages to do it in a way that still keeps him human and dryly humorous.

The film’s major defect though is with Dennis Patrick’s character who is too bland and one-dimensional and walks around with the same nervous look on his face throughout. Having him become the main character and receive the biggest story arch does not help since he’s too transparent causing his personality change to be uninteresting and there needed to be a backstory in order to give him more depth. I also felt his relationship with his wife (Audrey Caire) needed fleshing-out and the scene where he admits to the murder to her and her reaction to this news needed to be shown.

While John G. Avildsen’s direction has some flair his selection of music for the soundtrack, which includes a droning, melodic piece by Jerry Butler during the opening credits, was too low key and doesn’t reflect the edgy, angry tone of the story. The scene where several people get shot inside an isolated home is poorly handled because no special effects get used. The victims just immediately collapse to the ground after being shot, almost like children pretending to get killed while playing cops-and-robbers, with no blood splatter or gun smoke, which makes it too fake looking and weakens the overall emotional effect.

Having Patrick able to kill the boyfriend so easily is unconvincing too. The boyfriend was far younger and bigger than Patrick, so having him die by simply getting the back of his head hit against a wall without putting up any fight comes off as pathetic and the struggle should’ve been much more prolonged and played-out. I also didn’t like the editing effects were the film repeats the shot of the head hitting the wall, which is too stylized in a film that otherwise was trying to be gritty and realistic.

The twist ending though is nifty and almost makes it worth sitting through. It’s also a great to see Susan Sarandon in her film debut. She looks pretty much the same as she does now, but her eyes for some reason look bigger here and more pronounced on her face. She gives a good performance as always and even jumps fully naked into a bathtub with her boyfriend to start things off.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 15, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John G. Avildsen

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Electric Horseman (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Aging cowboy steals horse.

Sonny (Robert Redford) used to be a championship rodeo star, but those days are long behind him. Now he works as a spokesmodel for a cereal company and his next gig has him in Las Vegas where he’s set to ride a horse on stage while he wears a string of flashing lights. Sonny though has become disillusioned with the business as well as upset to find that the horse has been drugged, which propels him to ride off with it while the authorities and an aggressive TV reporter (Jane Fonda) are hot on his tail.

The story can best be described as a lightly comical variation of Lonely are the Bravebut without any of the strong dramatic impact. The biggest problem is that it reveals its cards too quickly making it too obvious what Sonny is planning to do, so when he finally does y abscond with the horse it’s not surprising or even interesting. I was intrigued at how he would get it out of the casino and past security, but the movie cheats this by cutting from him inside the casino one second to showing him outside on the street in the next frame, which takes away from potential action and excitement of having him fight his way out.

The chase inside a small town where Sonny and his horse outrun a mob of police cars and cops on motorbikes is fun, but it ends up being the only exciting moment in the film. Everything else gets toned down too much where even the bad guy, played by John Saxon, is boring because all he does is sit in a office while getting reports from others as to Sonny’s whereabouts instead of having him actively chase after the renegade cowboy himself, which would’ve heightened the tension.

Fonda’s character comes off like an unwanted house guest who tries to take over the place even when they weren’t invited. Her character is too abrasive and while everyone else is laid-back she comes of as being quite aggressive and otherwise out-of-place with the tone of the movie. Valerie Perrine, who has a much smaller part as Sonny’s ex-wife, does a far better job here and is more in step with the unglamorous, rugged western theme. Had she been the one to chase after Sonny then the romantic side-story that develops would’ve been cute and engaging, but having Fonda become the love interest just makes the whole thing seem forced.

Had the action and humor been  more jacked-up than it might’ve been a winner as Redford himself is quite good. I was a bit surprised too because I initially didn’t think this was the right fit for his talents, but his subtle country accent and brash attitude is fun and Willie Nelson, in his film debut, is quite good in support. Unfortunately the plot never catches its stride and in fact the more it goes on the boring it gets.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1979

Runtime: 2 Hours 1 Minute

Rated PG

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Universal Pictures

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

Music Box (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: She defends her father.

Anne Talbot (Jessica Lange) works as a defense attorney in Chicago and is shocked when her kindly father (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who immigrated to the US from Hungary many years ago, is threatened at having his citizenship revoked due to being accused of committing past war crimes.  Several witnesses have come forward to identify him as being ‘Mishka’ a man who headed a Nazi terror unit known as the Red Arrow that systematically tortured and killed Hungarian Jews during WWII. Anne refuses to believe this and immediately volunteers to defend him in court, but as she researches the case she finds many unsettling elements that makes her question whether her father really is the victim of mistaken identity as he claims, or actually the man responsible for committing heinous acts against humanity.

The film was inspired by the true-life case of John Demjanjuk who immigrated to the US in 1952 and worked as an auto worker for many decades before being identified by 11 Holocaust survivors as being Ivan the Terrible who tortured and killed many Jewish prisoners while working as a guard at a concentration camp. Script writer Joe Eszterhas also adds his own experiences into the story by channeling the emotions he felt when he found out that his father had been involved in disseminating anti-semitic propaganda during WWII.

The plot had all the hallmarks of being a trenchant courtroom drama especially since it was directed by Costa-Gavras who has shown a knack for helming political thrillers with a psychological bent, but it all ultimately falls flat. Much of the problem is that we learn little about Mueller-Stahl’s character as his face never shows any emotion. At first this makes it interesting as he comes off like this kindly old man who seems the complete opposite of what he’s being accused of, but after awhile we need to see what’s going in his mind and beneath the facade. Whether it’s anger, fear, madness, or evil at some point it needs to get conveyed in his face as the trial goes on, but instead all the viewer sees is a constant blank stare that keeps the character frustratingly transparent.

Having a male model pose as the younger version of him in the wartime photos was a mistake too. Googling images of Mueller-Stahl when he was young shows that he looked much different than the model in the movie making the portions where the witnesses positively identify Stahl from the photos seem off-kilter since the guy in them even when given the realities of aging doesn’t look anything like the man sitting in the courtroom. To avoid this they should’ve cropped an actual pic of Mueller-Stahl into the war time photos.

The court case itself ends up becoming quite draggy because instead of focusing on one witness they put in several of them one after the other who essentially retell the same type of story, which gets redundant. There’s also some Hollywood theatrics that get thrown in like when Mueller-Stahl physically confronts one of the witnesses in the courtroom with no one attempting to restrain him before he collapses to the floor in a completely over-the-top fashion. Having everyone in the trial then get flown across the Atlantic to a Hungarian hospital to hear testimony from a dying witness only helps to turn the entire thing into a misguided spectacle.

Lange, who was Hollywood’s darling at the time and constantly offered first dibs at every ‘important’ movie that came out, gives a good performance, but her emotional character arch is predictable. The focus should’ve been on Mueller-Stahl’s character and what made him tick, but no insights are ever given even during the climatic final confrontation, which ultimately cements this as being a big disappoint.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 8, 1989

Runtime: 2 Hours 4 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Costa-Gavras

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD

Quintet (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Deadly game/frozen tundra.

During a future ice age Essex (Paul Newman) and his pregnant companion Viva (Brigitte Fossey) travel north in hopes of finding his brother Francha (Thomas Hill). They come to his apartment to find him and a group of other people playing a board game called Quintet, which has become the popular form of entertainment in an otherwise frozen, barren world. While Essex goes out to buy firewood the rest of the inhabitants in the apartment are killed by a bomb and when Essex chases the perpetrator (Craig Richard Nelson) he finds a list of five names inside the man’s pocket and realizes that the board game is now being played out in real-time with the winners killing the losers, which forces Essex to become a reluctant participant.

Although director Robert Altman had started the 70’s with the blockbuster hit M*A*S*H and followed it with Nashville his star status by the end of the decade had become severely tarnished especially after he helmed a succession of box office bombs with this film being a financial failure as well, which pretty much put the nail in the coffin for his career and hampered his ability at getting top projects afterwards, but I will at least give him credit for going outside of his comfort zone. While his past films were all dramedies this one was an interesting stab at sci-fi that if anything creates a vivid atmosphere. I particularly like the opening shot that shows nothing but snowy white and the sound of a cold hollowing wind only to slowly see the formation of two human figures walking in the far distance.

Unfortunately the other elements of the film are not as inspired. The costumes worn by the characters look like something leftover by a  Shakesperian college stage production and the board game itself played by the participants sparks no interest in the viewer because it’s never clear how it’s played. Supposedly the working rules of the game were passed out to audience members as they entered the theater, but it would’ve been nice had these same rules been explained in the movie itself.

The setting, which was filmed on-location inside  the abandoned buildings leftover from Montreal’s World Expo ’67 gives off an interesting futuristic vibe, but I was confused why despite being in the future there was no modern technology. I realized it was a new ice age, but are we to believe that all the computers and gadgets from the past generations got frozen over and the only thing left were the buildings? I also didn’t like how Altman smeared the edges of the lens with a translucent substance where only the middle part of the screen is in focus while the edges are fuzzy, which was intended to give it an ice over look, but doing this in literally every shot got to be a bit much.

Watching the characters die or wondering who will be next offers no tension at all as killing them seemed almost favorable as it put them out of their misery and away from their otherwise bleak existence. The plot needed an added angle to give it more intrigue like perhaps having a warm destination that still existed that the characters would try to get to while avoiding being killed in the process. Having it play out though the way it does with everyone locked inside this icy setting is not compelling at all. Altman proves here to be completely outside his realm while it also wastes Newman’s acting talents to the point that I was surprised why he even bothered to take the part at all. Some may wish to seek this out as a curio, but outside of its icy atmosphere there’s little else to recommend.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube