Category Archives: Cold Climate/Wintertime Movies

Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their son becomes possessed.

A family moves into the infamous home at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York only to immediately start encountering paranormal events. Their eldest kid Sonny (Jack Magner) begins to display anti-social tendencies that eventually drive him to kill the entire family late one night. The family’s Priest Father Adamsky (James Olson) is convinced that Sonny did it because he was possessed from evil spirits that inhabit the home due to it being built on an ancient Indian burial ground and he takes it upon himself to perform an exorcism on the young man in order to free him of the demon.

The film is loosely based on the events of the DeFeo family, who lived at the residence, and was murdered by their eldest son on the night of November 13, 1974. However, the film deviates from what actually occurred including having the family just recently moved in when in reality the DeFeo’s had lived there for 9 years before they were killed. The film also portrays the family members as being awake and aware of what was going on when evidence had shown that most of them had been asleep when shot. There’s also a side-story dealing with a sexual relationship that Sonny had with his sister Patricia (Diane Franklin) that was only speculated never confirmed to have occurred with the real family.

This movie is only a slight improvement from the first one. Director Damiano Damiani manages to instill more of an atmosphere and uses fast moving tracking shots to create a point-of-view perspective of the demons. Also, James Olson plays the Priest role better than Steiger did in the first one by being less hammy and more understated, which is good.

Yet I still found the whole thing to be quite boring. The first half-hour is just a rehashing of many of the same scares that were done in the first one and we all know from the beginning how it’s all going to turn out, that the son will inevitably kill the family, so there’s no intrigue at all. The final half hour deals solely with the exorcism, which despite some decent special effects, is nothing more than a Grade B rip-off of The Exorcist.

There’s a lot of overacting too just like in the first one. Rutanya Alda, who plays the mother, is the biggest culprit in this area, which includes her death scene that deserves to be in the annals of all-time cheesiest death sequences ever put onto film. I was also confused why such an otherwise normal, well-adjust woman would want to marry a lout like Burt Young and having her show affection to him not more than a couple minutes after he had abused both her and the kids with a belt is misguided.

On the technical end the film seems to be done on a higher budget than the first, but the script is empty-headed and relies heavily on broad generalizations involving religion and ‘evil’. I also found it amusing that, like in the first installment, there’s a scene were the Priest tries to convince his church elders about the home being haunted and they scoff and insist that isn’t ‘rational’ when these same men have dedicated their lives to a profession steeped in supernatural, faith based claims.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 24, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Damiano Damiani

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

Devil Times Five (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Children terrorize the adults.

Two couples (Sorrell Booke, Shelley Morrison, Taylor Lacher, Joan McCall) visit the winter retreat ranch run by rich businessman Papa Doc (Gene Evans). They are expecting a pleasant wintry getaway, but instead find terror when a group of five children arrive (Leif Garrett, Gail Smale, Dawn Lyn, Tierre Turner, Tia Thompson). The children state that they were lost in the cold wilderness and simply there to seek refuge, but in reality they are psychotic and have escaped from a nearby asylum after the van they were riding in overturned on the icy roads. Now the adults find themselves getting mysteriously bumped off one-by-one. At first they think it’s only an accident and then realize it’s by some ‘unforeseen predator’, but fail to realize it’s actually the ‘innocent-looking-kids’ until it’s too late.

This cheaply made production has problems right away starting with the van accident. To a degree I thought it was cool seeing it overturn several times in slow-motion after it slides off the road, but I found it preposterous that none of the kids were injured and escape from the wreckage without a single scratch despite the adult driver getting badly banged up. In retrospect it would’ve worked better had this scene not been shown at all and left the viewer in the dark about what the true intentions of these kids were only to slowly unfold the truth to the audience just like it does to the adult characters.

The killings are pretty tacky as well. The scene where one of the victims gets set on fire is disturbing, but the rest doesn’t add up including when one child manages to somehow hold their adult victim underwater by using only one hand. There are also several instances where the victim dies right away when in reality they would’ve most likely only been injured including a fall through a window and another one dealing with a stabbing by a small ax. In both cases I think the person could’ve survived the initial blow and simply be writhing in extreme pain, but I presume the filmmakers felt that watching someone squirming around on the ground screaming in endless agony would be considered ‘too horrifying’ for most audiences so they went with the ‘clean-kill’ option, but unfortunately the one-blow-and-then-they’re- immediately-dead concept looks fake.

The pacing is also poor and the tension badly botched. One bit has the kids killing a man in slow motion and done through a black-and-white filter, which despite going on a bit too long is effective. Yet whatever tension gets achieved by watching that is immediately sapped when the next scene shows a drawn out session of one of the adult couples making love, which looks better suited for soft corn porn flick. The music is equally screwed-up as it sometimes sounds creepy while at other points like something heard in an elevator.

I found it interesting that it was directed by Sean MacGregor, or at least for the first three weeks of production before he got fired, as he had previously written the screenplay for Brotherhood of Satan, which had the same ‘creepy kids’-like theme. There’s also the novelty of seeing Dawn Lyn, who was 10-years-old at the time, taking part in her own mother’s murder, who plays one of the adults. Although overall it’s pretty spotty with majority of it being rather flat and forgettable.

Spoiler Alert!

I was also confused at how during the final credits it says ‘The Beginning’ instead of the usual ‘The End’. I presume this was the filmmakers attempt at being ‘clever’ by intimating that these young kids would now go on to murder many more people throughout the countryside, but since they had already killed quite a few it would’ve been more apt to say ‘The Middle’.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Alternate Titles: Peopletoys, The Horrible House on the Hill

Released: May 31, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sean MacGregor, David Sheldon (Uncredited)

Studio: Cinemation Industries

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

Curtains (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review A very deadly audition.

Well-known movie director Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon) is producing a new film and aging actress Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar) presumes she’ll get the starring role like with all of his other productions, but this time Stryker has a catch. He tells her that to prepare for the part she must commit herself to a mental institution to better understand the character she is to play. The desperate Samantha agrees, but then realizes Jonathan has no intention of getting her out once she is inside, so she escapes and seeks revenge at Jonathan’s secluded wintertime mansion where he is auditioning six younger actresses for the role. Now suddenly everyone starts dying off at the bloody hands of a masked assailant. Is the killer Samantha in disguise, or could it be one of the other actresses willing to kill in order to get the part?

The film starts out okay. I liked that we are shown a brief background to these actresses before they get to the mansion, which helps make them seem more like real people and less like caricatures. The mansion where the action takes place has an interesting exterior/interior and I loved the pristine winter time landscape, but that is pretty much where the good points end.

The narrative is horribly disjointed and most likely a result of a lot of rewrites and reshoots that had the production shelved for up to three years before it was finally released. The opening sequence done inside the asylum is clichéd to the extreme and makes the film come off as a complete campfeast. The idea that someone would intentional try to get themselves committed simply to get a movie role is stupid and overall there are no scares or frights at all.

The killings are mechanical and unimaginative. I couldn’t understand how this killer was able to sneak up on people and literally magically appear at the most in opportune times. For instance a victim, played by Lesleh Donaldson, manages to escape the clutches of the bad guy and proceeds to make more distance between her and him by running through a snow capped forest. She briefly stops to catch her breath by a random tree and wouldn’t you know that’s the one tree that the killer is hiding behind.  Another segment has a victim (Anne Ditchburn) dancing by herself in a big empty room where the killer somehow sneaks up right behind her, which I would argue couldn’t happen. Everyone has a sense when someone else starts getting too close to them, especially in a room devoid of anyone else, and she would’ve detected the killer’s presence long before he got right behind her.

The ending in which the killer chases the final victim through an array of old stage props inside the mansion’s basement gets overly prolonged. The young women end up looking too much alike, so it was hard to have any empathy for them because they weren’t distinctive enough and the story would’ve worked better had it taken the concept of Dead of Winter where just one woman goes to the isolated place for the audition and thus allow the viewer to create more of a connection to the protagonist.

The only bright spot is Eggar. Her starring movie roles from the ‘60s and early ‘70s were now long gone and much like the actress she portrays was forced to take cheap low budget horror offers to remain busy, but she still gives it a 110% effort. What impressed me was how different her character was from any of her others. In those earlier films she was mainly a young, sensitive and idealistic woman, but here she is cold, conniving and bitter proving that she must be a great actress if she is able to play such opposite personalities in the same convincing way. It’s just unfortunate that the filmmakers didn’t share that same type of professionalism as the sloppy execution destroys any potential that it may have had.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: March 4, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Guza Jr.

Studio: Norstar Releasing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Winter Kills (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who assassinated his brother?

19 years after United States President Timothy Kegan is assassinated and an independent investigation concluded that it was the act of a lone gunman, his younger brother Nick (Jeff Bridges) gets a deathbed confession from a man (Joe Spinell) insisting he was the real killer hired by a secret underground organization. Nick goes to his rich father (John Huston) with the news and then decides to do an investigation of his own, but becomes entangled inside a web of lies and deceit that drives him further away from the truth instead of closer.

The film is based on the novel by Richard Condon and in many ways is a stunning filmmaking debut for director William Richert. The cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond is richly textured with a colorful variety of backdrops, sets and atmosphere making it visually soar while the surreal tone helps give it an added edge.

Unfortunately the film suffered from many behind-the-scenes issues including running out of funding and forcing the cast and crew to put the production on hold while they went overseas to shoot The American Success Company in Germany and then used the proceeds from that one to finish this one. The final result is a fragmented narrative that at times gets too rushed. The story was significantly paired down from the novel, which leaves open a lot of loose ends and it should probably be remade as a miniseries.

The story is also permeated with a lot of dark humor which only makes the viewer even more confused. Some of it is genuinely funny, but it’s unclear what it’s trying to satirize. Certain absurd situations and oddball characters get thrown in for seemingly no reason and takes away from the otherwise compelling storyline while leaving the viewer baffled as to what the point of it was supposed to be and could easily explain why it bombed so badly at the box office during its initial run.

The casting is interesting. Jeff Bridges usually gets stuck in bland, transparent roles and that’s no different here, but he’s surrounded by so many eccentrics that his otherwise vanilla delivery seems refreshing and distinct. Huston is the real star in a bravura performance that steals the film and makes it memorable. There’s also a lot of recognizable supporting players that are on only briefly and if you blink you’ll miss them. This includes an uncredited appearance by Elizabeth Taylor who comes on near the end and has no lines of dialogue, but does clearly mouth the words ‘son-of-a-bitch’.

If you are looking for something that is offbeat, but still intriguing then this is well worth the effort. If it weren’t for its misguided humor this thing could’ve really had an impact although it does reveal its cards too soon and I was able to guess the twist ending long before it actually happened, but as a whole it has its moments and a potential cult following or sure.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Richert

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Russian Roulette (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to stop assassination.

When a Soviet leader decides to visit Vancouver the Russian Embassy puts the Canadian authorities on alert about Rudolf Henke (Val Avery) who moved to Canada many years back, but is reported to still hold grudges about the Soviet Union and could be a sniper threat. Timothy Shaver (George Segal) is then secretly hired to kidnap Henke while the Soviet leader is in town and then let him go once that leader has left. However, when Shaver gets to Henke’s apartment he finds out that he has already been abducted by somebody else, which leads him to believe that he is being made a pawn to an even bigger conspiracy and that he may become their next victim.

The story is based on the novel ‘Kosygin is Coming’ by Tom Ardies and the first 45 minutes of this are actually quite diverting. Director Lou Lombardo gave his actors the freedom to ad-lib and he instills some quirky humor, which made me believe this was going to be a new wave-like actioner that deftly mixes in the offbeat perspective with a story that had an intriguing mystery angle.

Unfortunately the second half devolves into cheesy action flick with all the usual formulaic trappings. The biggest problem is introducing the Russian bad guys who speak in inauthentic, corny accents that made them become like caricatures that lessens the tension instead of heightening it. The film would’ve been better served had it not shown the villains at all until the very end and kept things solely focused on Segal as he tries desperately to figure out what is going on while being chased by a mysterious group of people whose motives are unclear.

There are a couple of stupid moments as well.  One of them occurs when Segal and his girlfriend played by Cristina Rains return home. She immediately runs into the bathroom to take a pee, but then just as quickly comes back out wearing a strange expression. Segal then walks in to see a dead body of a murdered stranger sitting on the toilet. I know this may make me sound like a sexist to some, but the truth is women have a tendency to scream when they are startled and sometimes for a lot less than an unexpected sight of a corpse in their bathroom, so having her not instinctually scream here (hell even I would’ve probably let out a shrill yell at that point) is dumb.

Another part has Segal and Rains handcuffed and sitting in a backseat of a car that is being driven by one of the Russian bad guys. Segal, in an apparent attempt to escape, kicks the Russian guy in the back of his head, which sends the car reeling off the road and overturning into a ditch. However, this to me seemed dangerous because what guarantees that Segal and Rains wouldn’t be injured when that occurs. As it turns out the driver ends up conveniently dying in the crash, but miraculously the couple get out of the badly banged up car without even a single scratch, which is beating astronomical odds!

Segal wasn’t the best choice for the role. He spent the 70’s decade playing mostly in light comedies and romances, which he is more adept at, but presumably took the part to help stretch his acting resume and avoid being typecast. It doesn’t fully work and there were other actors who would’ve been better able to reflect the film’s gritty tone although watching Segal do mostly his own stunt work as he climbed out to the top of the roof of The Fairmont Hotel in downtown Vancouver does deserve kudos.

The supporting cast proves to be more interesting. I enjoyed seeing Louise Fletcher in her second movie after coming out of a 10-year hiatus. She has only a small role here, but she makes an impression nonetheless and it’s interesting seeing her play a person with such a sunny disposition when later that same year she portrayed the dour Nurse Ratched, which only proves what a talented actress she really is.

Val Avery is equally good in a part that has no lines of dialogue, by his own insistence, but still ends up being a scene stealer not only at the end when he stumbles into a scared crowd while wearing a bomb, but also in an earlier scene where he plays a cruel trick on a group of children playing roller blade hockey in the street.

Unfortunately the rest of the movie doesn’t have enough of a payoff. The action gets overplayed and the blaring music takes away the sophisticated feel and puts it more on the level of a bubblegum TV-show. Some good potential gets marred by an indecisive director who reportedly was suffering from drug addiction at the time and the effects show.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 20, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lou Lombardo

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD

A Small Circle of Friends (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Three friends sleep together.

Leonardo (Brad Davis), Jessica (Karen Allen), and Nick (Jameson Parker) are students attending Harvard University during the late ‘60s. As they become intertwined with the events of that turbulent era they also form a strong bond that lasts through their school years and on into young adulthood. Leonardo has a relationship with Jessica at first, but it doesn’t work out, so Nick steals her away. Initially Leonardo is angered, but he eventually adjusts and the three later form a ménage a trois.

This was the first film directed by noted producer Rob Cohen and overall I liked the feel. The narrative is fragmented and dreamlike, but it also has a nice nostalgic quality. The script is broadly written, but still gives one a good sense of what life was like on a college campus during that period. The final scene where Leonardo visits an underground student revolution movement where they resort to violent, unlawful means to achieve social change I found to be the most compelling.

Davis gives another great performance and I’m always amazed at the way he can play an effective gay character such as he did in the homoerotic Querelle, but still manage to pull off being a flaming heterosexual too. Allen says little, but her piercing emerald eyes had me hooked on her regardless. Parker is stiff and boring, but still successfully works as an anchor to the other two who are aggressively idealistic.

It’s also fun to see Shelley Long in her film debut. Her character has little to do with the main plot, but watching her portray a man during a stage production while wearing a mustache and male body hair glued to her chest is a hoot.

Usually with these types of films the viewer gets treated to a plethora of overplayed period rock hits, but not here. Instead it’s a loud, booming orchestral score that gets both obnoxious and pretentious as it makes it seem like this is an epic of some kind when in reality it’s just a simple story of young people learning to cope in the real world and the music should’ve reflected that with a quiet folk rock sound.

The film also doesn’t take advantage of the unorthodox sexual activity of its main characters. Three friends, even in these more liberal times, rarely end up becoming a sexual trio. Having this story element introduced late and then quickly dropped is frustrating and should’ve been more explored as it is the one unique thing in an otherwise derivative film that is good enough to get a passing grade, but not much else.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 12, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Rob Cohen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD

Four Friends (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Living through the ‘60s.

Four male friends from Indiana go from high school to college and then on into young adulthood while remaining close and supportive. All of them have a passion for Georgia (Jodi Thelen) a very independent woman who enjoys playing-the-field when it comes to men and at various points has jumped into relationships with the four of them individually and at different times. Yet it is Danilo (Craig Wasson) who seems to be the most infatuated with her and he spends his life chasing after her, but finds that when they are together all they do is fight.

The story is apparently very loosely based on the experiences of screenwriter Steve Tesich who immigrated to this country from Yugoslavia at a very young age. The film starts out realistically enough, but quickly devolves into a whimsical tale that introduces interesting plotlines only to resolve them in cutesy ways that ends up making this sprawling tale quite shallow.

One of the biggest detriments is the casting of Craig Wasson who is a horrible actor as he can convey only one type of emotion, which is that of anxiousness and only one type of facial expression, which is that of nervousness. If he dares to try to expand his limited acting abilities away from these two things it comes off as unconvincing. Hs character like all the rest have no appeal as they never grow or evolve and seem put in simply as props to help carry the transparent tale.

I did like Thelen who plays the part of a spacey, free-spirited woman quite well, but even here it ends up getting clichéd. The other male characters have no distinguishable qualities and she sleeps around with them like they are toys on her own personal roulette wheel. Wasson’s character was her exact opposite and the two share no real chemistry making their eventual romance come off as being quite forced.

The film also contains some campy over-the-top dramatic elements that are unintentionally laughable and ridiculous. One takes place during a wedding party where while in front of hundreds of guests the bride’s father goes inexplicably crazy and shoots his daughter, then groom and eventually himself. Later on during a performance art show one of Thelen’s friends, in an apparent drugged stupor, accidently puts her foot on the accelerator while sitting in a car that’s parked inside a building, which sends it crashing through the wall and spiraling several stories to the ground.

The one aspect that I did like is that it didn’t resort to the Forrest Gump formula where the main characters get involved directly into all the famous historical events of the era, but instead view them from afar, which is more realistic. However, the film doesn’t show enough ‘60s nostalgia and half the time you forget the setting is even in that time period.

I admire the ambitious concept, but it takes on too much and would’ve been better had the script been more focused and less sprawling. Nothing here is compelling or memorable and the viewer is left with a genuinely flat feeling when it is over.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Penn

Studio: Filmways Pictures

Available: DVD

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating:  4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who can he trust?

Joe Turner (Robert Redford) works at a New York City CIA office, which fronts itself as a literary agency for historical books. One day Joe decides to sneak out the back way in order to grab some food at a local deli. While he is away a team of assassins headed by Joubert (Max Von Sydow) enter the place and kills everyone inside. Turner, who goes under the code name Condor, returns to find his co-workers dead and no idea who did it, or why. He contacts the CIA headquarters, which is run by Higgins (Cliff Robertson), but soon decides he can’t really trust them and attempts to somehow find a way to survive on his own without returning to his apartment, as he is afraid the killers may be there. Through sheer desperation he kidnaps a woman (Faye Dunaway) at gunpoint and forces his way into her apartment where he hopes he will be able to buy himself enough time until he can figure out what is going on.

The film, which is based on the novel ‘Six Days of the Condor’ by James Grady, has an intriguing set-up, but ultimately gets ruined by having a protagonist become too skillful and shrewd at everything until he ceases to be just a regular guy on the run. For instance he is able to get into a telephone switchboard center much too easily and then uses the skills he had apparently learned as an Army Signals Corps technician to trace a call and find the whereabouts of the bad guy, but this is something a regular person couldn’t do and thus the tension is lost because it’s no longer just an everyman trying to survive, but instead a super-smart individual with convenient knowledge for every situation.

The script has too many situations where the bad guys make unbelievable dumb decisions as well making it seem that the odds really aren’t as stacked against our hero as it initially seems. For instance there is a scene where Redford invades the home of the CIA Deputy Director (Addison Powell) who is supposedly the man behind-the-scenes who had ordered the hit. Redford sits in a downstairs office of the home and plays music very loudly from a stereo until it awakens the CIA Director and he comes down to investigate, but wouldn’t you think someone who works in a secret organization would know enough not to walk into a trap as he does here, but instead call the police if he heard a noise downstairs, or if he does come down at least do it while also holding a gun? Also, as a CIA director living in a mansion he should certainly have his home rigged with a security system, but Redford is to be able to get inside without a sweat even though we are never shown how. Also, why does Sydow the hit man not shoot Redford when he is alone with him in an elevator, which would be a perfect opportunity instead of waiting and trying to do it later at long distance when the two are outside and Redford is in a middle of a crowd and much harder to target?

The film’s lowest point though comes with Redford’s relationship with Dunaway. Only a woman with severe mental problems would magically ‘fall-in-love’ with a stranger in less than 24-hours after he accosts her with a gun and forces his way into her apartment. Even if one would argue that it’s the Stockholm syndrome it’s highly unlikely it would occur so quickly.  There’s even a stylized love making scene that seems too similar to the sex scene in another Dunaway film The Thomas Crown Affair. Besides with all the stress that Redford’s character was going through I’d think he’d be unable to perform in bed, or concerned that she was simply leading him on in order to put him in a vulnerable position, so she could take advantage of it and escape.

Von Sydow’s character, who’s willing to switch allegiances almost instantaneously depending on who’s paying him, is the only truly unique thing about this otherwise shallow thriller. Director Sydney Pollack, who appears briefly as a passerby on a sidewalk, does give the material the slick treatment and captures New York City nicely. There is also a well-choreographed fight scene inside Dunaway’s apartment, but the unsatisfying, limp ending leaves open too many unresolved issues.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 24, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Paramount

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

Punchline (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: The perils of standup.

Lilah (Sally Field) is a New York housewife who enjoys making people laugh and takes a stab at stand-up, but finds the experience challenging and ends up paying someone $500 for jokes, but they don’t go over well. Then she meets Steven (Tom Hanks) a struggling med student who moonlights at the same comedy club that she does. Steven is genuinely funny, but so highly insecure that he ends up self-destructing at the most crucial times. He tries to help Lilah hone in her comedic skills while she gives him confidence.

The film, which is written and directed by David Seltzer, nicely analyzes the very unfunny side of the comedy business particularly its emphasis on how one must toil away at seedy clubs, hecklers, low pay, drunken audiences and a permeating sense of insecurity. Hanks abrasive character is spot-on and a good composite of those still stuck in the trenches and bitter about not yet being discovered. In fact I had wanted the surliness of his character to be played up even more as I had come into contact with struggling comedians during my time when I dabbled in improv and found a lot of them to be basket cases of insecurity and when not onstage were quite unpleasant to be around.

In fact it was because the Hanks character was so unlikable and even more so in some of the earlier versions that the script sat on the studio shelf for so long before it finally got the green light. To help compensate certain overreaching attempts were put in to soften his persona, which only ends up hurting the film’s authenticity. One scene has him inside a hospital doing one of his comedy acts for the patients and as he is leaving he suddenly shows this extreme concern for a sick child that he doesn’t even know and he immediately runs over to him, which seemed forced.

Another bit has him onstage and suffering from an extreme emotional breakdown when he sees his father sitting in the audience. Many people harbor demons from the past and frosty relationships with their parents, but they don’t have such over-the-top reactions especially when in front of an audience, which only helps to make this scene reek of hackneyed melodrama.

His friendship with Field, which I initially found cute as the two are complete opposites, gets ruined when a romantic angle unwisely gets thrown in. These two had very little in common, the Field character was married with three kids, ten years old than him and not particularly stunning, so I didn’t see the chemistry or reason for the sudden attraction on Hanks’ part. Having him gush all over her after only knowing her for a brief time is unrealistic. His personal struggles including the fact that he had been evicted from his apartment and had no money would be occupying his mind so much that a potential relationship wouldn’t even enter into it.

Fortunately the film recovers with a strong ending and Field is excellent, but I wished that we had seen more of a backstory to her character and were able to witness the very first time that she ever ventured out onto the stage. The supporting cast offers great performances as well including John Goodman as Field’s husband who initially isn’t supportive of her stand-up ambitions, but eventually warms up to it. Mark Rydell is solid as the club owner and Mac Robbins has a touching moment as an aging comedian who has seen it all before in a film that offers a revealing look at the comedy business.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1988

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Seltzer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: They all did it.

The time is December, 1935 and world-renown detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) boards the Orient Express as an unexpected guest who’s able to find a spare compartment due to his friendship with the train’s owner (Martin Balsam). During the night one of the other passengers (Richard Widmark) is found dead and it is up to Poirot to solve the crime while the train remains stalled by a large snow bank.

This production is considered by many to be the best film version of any of Agatha Christie’s novel-to-screen attempts and in fact the author herself said as much when she attended a showing of the movie on the night of its premiere. Director Sidney Lumet’s ingenious touch is on-target the whole way as he creates a nice blend of kitsch and camp until the over-the-top costumes, playfully sharp dialogue, and glossy camerawork become more of the fun than the mystery itself.

In fact it’s Lumet’s ability to capitalize on the little things and control every minute detail that makes it so captivating even on repeat viewings. Their ability to turn an abandoned warehouse into a bustling train station is just one example. I also enjoyed the moment when the train leaves the station that gets done to the sound of a waltz composed specifically for the film by Richard Rodney Bennett. Originally they were going to have train sounds edited in and had hired a sound engineer who had spent his whole life recording these noises for specifically this purpose only to get the disappointment of his life when he was told that they had decided to go with the music alone, which crushed him so much that his eyes welled up with tears and he never returned.

Finney’s performance is outstanding. He was not someone you’d have in mind initially for this type of part, but through his brilliant acting and effective make-up he disappears into the role and immerses the viewer in the presence of this highly eccentric character and his unusual habits including the way he puts both his hair and moustache into a hair net before going to bed and reads a newspaper while wearing gloves.

The star studded supporting players are perfectly cast for their parts too. Anthony Perkins nicely plays-up his nervous man routine while Wendy Hiller is enjoyable as the caustic aging Princess who wears a constant frown because her doctor advised her that smiling ‘was not good for her health’. Widmark has an amusing conversation with Poirot particularly with his inability to correctly pronounce the detective’s last name and Ingrid Bergman shines in a small bit as a poor, but devoutly religious woman, which was enough to net her the Oscar for best supporting actress.

Spoiler Alert!

The murder scene in which all the passengers file into Widmark’s cabin and systematically take turns stabbing him is, like with everything else, astutely captured particularly with the way it’s shot by using only a blue tinged light as its sole light source. Lumet craftily uses a two-camera set-up here in which one camera captures the characters and the other focuses on Lauren Bacall’s character’s reactions to it as she stands at the doorway as a lookout. Bacall was never known as an actress to show much vulnerable emotion, but here, at least through her facial expressions, she does quite well. However, this segment also reveals a fatal flaw as Poriot’s cabin was right next to Widmarks’s and earlier in the film he was able to hear the conversations going on in the cabin next him almost perfectly, but then as each participant takes turns stabbing Widmark they say something out loud and yet for whatever reason Poirot never hears this, which makes you wonder why.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The script, by Paul Dehn, gets talky but is saved by its amusing verbal exchanges and Lumet’s use of different lenses to capture it, so I didn’t find it a problem in a movie that deserves its classic status both a mystery and cinematic achievement. The remake directed by Kenneth Branagh is set to be released in November.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: November 24, 1974

Runtime: 2 Hours 8 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2, A/1)