Category Archives: Dry Humor

The Formula (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nazis create synthetic fuel.

While investigating the murder of his former police mentor, Lt. Barney Caine (George C. Scott) stumbles upon a an underworld of drug money and illicit funds that connect back to a petroleum company run by Adam Steiffel (Marlon Brando). He later learns that it has to do with a synthetic fuel invented by the Nazis during World War II that could be created from coal instead of oil, which if unleashed would unbalance the world markets and those that know about it are now being silenced permanently.

MGM offered to make the movie before Steve Shagan had even completed the novel of which is is based figuring that the topic of synthetic fuel would grab audiences since it conformed to the issue of the energy crisis that was making headlines during that era. Unfortunately the story works better in novel form because as a movie it amounts to nothing more than scene after scene of talking heads with no visual style or cinematic quality to it and the only interesting images, which include watching a frog swim across a chlorine filled pool and alligators munching on their lunch, has nothing to do with the actual plot at all.

Scott’s character is equally dull. He’s seen at the start leaving a movie theater with his son (Ike Eisenmann), which I guess is a cheap attempt to ‘humanize’ the character, but then he’s never seen with him again. He’s also initially straddled with a police partner (Calvin Jung) and their relationship gets off to a rocky start, which I thought would offer some secondary drama, but then he disappears too leaving him only with Marthe Keller, who replaced Dominique Sanda who Scott disliked because of her French accent, who acts as a potential love interest that is both stale and unneeded.

The film’s only entertaining aspect is Brando who manages to steal every scene he’s in by playing up the comic angle. He demanded complete control over how his character dressed and in the process sported a goofy comb-over and a hearing aid, which gives the guy a quirky charm. He also mostly ad-libbed his lines and refused to learn the ones in the script, which helps enliven the otherwise staid drama with some nice offbeat touches that I wished had been played-up more and it’s a shame that he wasn’t made the star as he’s the only thing that saves it.

The plot does have some intriguing qualities to it, but Shagan who also acted as the film’s producer, gives away all the secrets too early. Instead of waiting until the very end to find out what the code name Genesis stands for we’re told the answer at the halfway mark making the second half seem pointless and petering itself out with one of the dullest, most anti-climactic finales ever filmed.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 19, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John G. Avildsen

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD

Manhattan (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Writer has relationship issues.

Isaac (Woody Allen) is an unemployed TV writer who’s currently dating Tracy (Mariel Hemingway) a 17-year-old girl, but he feels guilty about this and thinks it’s only a matter of time before she moves on to someone else that is more her age. In the meantime he begins seeing Mary (Diane Keaton) who is the mistress to his best friend Yale (Michael Murphy). Eventually Isaac falls for Mary, but she then goes back to Yale forcing Isaac to beg Tracy to come back to him even as she’s prepares to go off to London to study acting.

Although this film became a critical darling I agree more with Allen himself who considers this to be the least favorite out of all of the movies he’s directed. The much ballyhooed black-and-white cinematography is a detriment especially when it shows the fireworks going off above the skyline, which if done in color would’ve been vibrant, but here it’s less than thrilling. The film also doesn’t give you much of a feel for the city since all it does is give brief shots of the skyscrapers and never any of its eclectic neighborhoods, shops, street life, or people. Looking at various photos of the city in Wikipedia gives one a far better visual taste of Manhattan then this film ever does and the George Gershwin score has unfortunately lost its uniqueness since United Airlines used it for many years for its ad campaign and I kept thinking of that the whole time it gets played here.

Allen’s trip with Keaton to a planetarium is interesting visually and their facial expressions during a visit to a concert is amusing, but otherwise the storyline dealing with their budding romance is boring and predictable. It’s fun to see, and a testament to Keaton’s great acting ability,  her playing a completely different type of person than the one she did just two years earlier in Annie Hall, but the character itself is off-putting and not someone most men would want to warm-up to. Maybe it’s the way she thinks that just because she’s from Philadelphia that makes her or anyone else from there morally superior, which I realize is meant to be amusing, but I didn’t find it that way mainly because I know people in real-life who are actually like that.

Allen’s visits with his ex-wife, played by Meryl Streep doesn’t jive either because I could not believe that they were ever compatible enough to ever have gotten married in the first place.  It’s also weird that her new partner Connie (Karen Ludwig) remains so civil and calm when in Allen’s presence since he apparently tried at one time to run her over with a car, which to me would make her not want to be anywhere near him, or even allow him into her home.

Allen’s relationship with Hemingway is the film’s only interesting aspect. Some of course may consider this to be controversial due to the wide age differences between the two although technically in the state of New York the age of consent is 17, so in the eyes of the law it was legal even though the characters themselves amusingly don’t seem aware of this. What I liked though was that Hemingway, despite being so young, comes off as the mature one in the relationship and when they’re shown walking side-by-side she is actually taller, which I found to be the funniest part of the whole movie. She also does a very convincing cry, which isn’t easy.

Unfortunately the relationship also leaves open a plethora of questions that the movie never bothers to answer. For instance where are her parents and what do they think of her living with a 42-year-old man? What do her friends think of Allen and what exactly does she see in this scrawny, whiny little man to fall-in-love with him anyways?

Supposedly her character is based on actress Stacey Nelkin who had a on-going relationship with Allen for 8 years starting when she was 16, but that made more sense because she was a young would-be starlet who most likely was mesmerized by Allen as a well-established director and who she probably saw as being her ticket to possibly breaking into the business, but here Isaac is an unemployed nobody yammering incessantly about things like Ingmar Bergman, which is something most teens can’t get into, so again I ask what does this Hemingway character see in this guy that would make her want to move in with him?

I’ve been a fan of many of Allen’s other films especially his comedies from the early 70’s and some of his dramas too, but this one left me cold. I felt that way when I first saw it over 20 years ago and nothing changed upon the second viewing as it seems to be cramming in three diametrically different storylines giving it kind of a jumbled narrative instead of just focusing on one.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 18, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Daisy Miller (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She’s a real tease.

While studying in turn-of-the-century Switzerland Frederick (Barry Brown) comes upon the beautiful Daisy Miller (Cybill Shepherd) who’s touring Europe along with her nervous and talkative mother (Cloris Leachman) and precocious younger brother Randolph (James McMurty). Frederick is smitten with her beauty, but unable to handle her free-thinking ways. Nonetheless he follows her around Europe where he continually becomes confounded with whether she likes him or not, or whether he’ll ever be able to convey his true feelings towards her.

This film, which is based on a short story by Henry James, was originally conceived by Peter Bogdanovich as being a vehicle for both him and his then girlfriend Shepherd to star in with Peter playing the part of Frederick and Orson Welles directing it. Peter had become mesmerized with Cybill while directing her in The Last Picture Show and left his then wife and children to move in with her in a situation that was later satirized in Irreconcilable DifferencesFortunately Welles realized that Peter’s obsession with making Cybill a big screen star had sapped him from all common sense and bowed out of the film project considering the material to be weak and lightweight, which it is, but this only then helped to convince the determined Peter to direct it himself.

The result isn’t as bad as I had initially presumed and in a lot ways it’s strangely engaging and certainly  far better than At Long Last Love another Bogdanovich/Shepherd concoction that was rejected by both audiences and critics alike. This one though takes advantage of Cybill’s conniving, flirtatious nature, which is something I feel she’s been doing her whole life and therefore makes this character a reflection of who she truly is. Leonard Maltin described her performance as “hollow”, which I agree as we only see one side to her personality, but when she plays that one side as well as she does then it becomes entertaining nonetheless.

Brown is excellent too and far better in the role than Peter ever would’ve been as Brown manages to retain the necessary modicum of self-respect even as he chases her around like a lovesick mope. Instead of this becoming off-putting we sympathize with his internal quandary and this then helps to propel the story forward even as it seems to be going nowhere.

The film’s other big asset is its on-location shooting. Some viewers have described the period costumes and set-pieces as being great, but for me this was only so-so. What I really liked though was the scene done inside the Coliseum at night under the moonlight, which gives off both a surreal and creepy feeling and adds an extra ambiance making me wish the segment had been extended as well as adding a trip to Rome on my own personal bucket list.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest failing though comes at the end where Daisy catches malaria and promptly dies, but we never see her sick and only gets told this after she’s already dead. Having a scene showing her ill and vulnerable as opposed to always being free-spirited and in control would’ve helped give the character an added dimension especially if it had been done with Frederick at her bedside.

The idea that if Frederick had just been less ‘stiff’ towards her that the relationship might’ve blossomed is ridiculous as I think this was the type of woman who enjoyed manipulating men and even if she got married to one she’d continually toy with them until she got bored and moved on to the next. Having her die isn’t ‘sad’ as the film suggests, but instead a happy one for Frederick as now he’s ultimately out of her grip and able to free himself to find someone who would really care for him.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Big Jake (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Grandfather tracks grandson’s kidnappers.

In 1909 a group of outlaws led by John Fain (Richard Boone) raid the McCandles homestead and kidnap their grandson (Ethan Wayne). Martha (Maureen O’Hara) is the home’s matriarch who decides that the help of the army and Texas Rangers just won’t do and the family’s estranged grandfather, Big Jake McCandles (John Wayne) will. Big Jake, who was once a legendary gunfighter in his day has been roaming the west alone for many years, but once he gets word that his grandson has been kidnapped he snaps into action using the help of an old Apache associate named Sam (Bruce Cabot) to help track where the kidnappers are.

This another film where in Leonard Maltin’s review book he gives two different takes of the film depending on which version, older vs. newer, that you have. I realize Maltin does not review all of the movies that are in his book, but whoever reviewed this movie in the older versions gave it only 2-stars and describes it as an ‘uneasy combination of a traditional Wayne western and a Butch Cassidy-type spoof’. In the newer versions Maltin or whoever did the review now suddenly likes it and gives it 3-stars calling it ‘an underrated western that’s well paced and handsomely shot’. The only consistency between the two is that both consider Boone’s performance as being ‘especially good’.

For me the original review is far more accurate. Although the film does start out with a rather offbeat, Avant-garde opening everything that comes after is formulaic and mechanical. The plot is too basic and not all that exciting or gripping you never see or learn much about the boy who has been kidnapped and therefore one’s concern for his safety wanes. It starts out right away with the violent kidnapping without any backstory and then deviates into a lot of side-story adventures until you almost forget about the kidnapping plot completely only to finally come back to it with a so-so shootout finale. In a lot of ways the kidnapping theme could’ve been excised completely as the only time it gets amusing is during Wayne’s bantering with his co-stars as they ride around looking for the bad guys, so everything should’ve centered on that while possibly changing the plot around to them looking for gold or lost treasure instead.

Wayne’s presence is the biggest detriment as he has played this domineering, stubborn old codger for far too long and there needed to be a fresh new spin put on it, but none is supplied. I was hoping for one brief moment that the arrogant, brash Wayne character might be proven wrong at something, or forced to swallow his immense pride just to keep things balanced, but of course its only everyone else that has do that while the mystical Wayne proudly plods on like he can do no wrong.

I thought the introduction of the automobile into the plot, where some of the men decide to ride in those while Wayne stubbornly sticks with his horse, might offer this by having the old-fashioned character eventually forced to modify his thinking and embrace change and modernization. In reality everyone must eventually have to do this at some point in their lives, so The Duke should too, but instead here the reverse occurs, where those that adapt to change are made to look foolish while the hard-headed Wayne rides off unblemished, which to me made it too agonizingly predictable.

Having Wayne’s real-life son Patrick playing Big Jake’s feisty and rebellious son is fun, but I wanted their confrontations to be played up more. Christopher Mitchum is okay too as Big Jake’s other kid who rides a motorbike and this was the last movie that Mitchum did with Wayne because afterwards he quit speaking to him due to Wayne’s right-wing leaning politics, which I found ironic since 25 years later he ran for a California congressional seat as a conservative republican.

O’Hara is sadly wasted and seen only during the film’s first 15 minutes and then that’s it. Singer Bobby Vinton also appears at the beginning, but his acting is terrible and fortunately for the viewer his time on the screen is brief.

The only thing that I liked about the movie is the gorgeous view seen outside the ranch home in the opening scenes and I wished that the entire story had taken place in the home so we could keep enjoying its breathtaking surroundings, which was filmed on-location in the Mexican state of Durango. Otherwise everything else is a bore.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 26, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated G

Director: George Sherman

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Local Hero (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Businessman travels to Scotland.

Mac (Peter Riegert) works for a gas company out of Houston, Texas that wants to buy up the small town of Ferness, which sits on the north shore of Scotland and turn it into an oil refinery. It’s Mac’s job to travel to the town and offer the citizens a generous monetary offer to sell their homes. He is not excited about going as he enjoys doing business over the phone, but once there he grows attached to the more laid-back pace. The townspeople grow found of Mac as well and eager to take the money and become rich. The problem is that through research they find that it is actually Ben Knox (Fulton Mackay) an eccentric man who lives in a ramshackle house on the beach who owns the land and he is unwilling to sell no matter what the price.

This film received positive reviews at the time of its release and one of the few movies to get a 100% positive rating at rotten tomatoes and yet after watching this now twice I’m still mystified over what all the fuss is about. When I first saw it several decades ago I came away feeling like I had just viewed something where very little happens and upon the second viewing I felt the exact same way.

I get that the emphasis is supposed to be on the quirky humor and that’s fine, there’s even a few chuckles, but the script flat lines after its initial set-up.  The eccentric characters and offbeat quality becomes one-dimensional and the story offers no true conflict or tension. Everything gets handled in such a subtle, dry way that there’s barely any drama at all and seems not really worth the effort to watch.

It would’ve worked better had there been one true antagonist, somebody that would be in stark contrast to everybody else and create genuine upheaval to the otherwise benign complacency. Initially it seemed that Lancaster’s character, who owns the oil refinery, would be a perfect foil to the serenity. Most business owners are consumed with the profit margin, but this one is instead more interested in astronomy. I realize that writer/director Bill Forsyth wanted to work against the grain and not portray the typical caricature of a hard-driven business man, but how can a guy run a successful business if the financial bottom line isn’t his main drive? Making the business owner a lovable kook as the rest takes away any potential confrontation of which this movie could’ve used some.

Riegert is equally transparent. His yuppie tendencies should’ve been played up more and his dramatic arch from big city businessman to lover of small town life more apparent. I was hoping that after he slowly became fond of the place that he would be one to throw the monkey wrench into the proceedings by refusing to make a deal and fighting to save the town even as the other residents are more than happy to leave it, which would’ve been much funnier.

The townspeople are blah too. The viewer only gets to know a few of them and they’re indistinguishable from the other. The only one that stands out is the lady with a punk look and I was intrigued to learn more about her and how she was able to get along with everyone else despite dressing in such a radical style and yet we never hear her utter a single word.

Ben Knox is the only character that offers a twist as we initially perceive him to be a homeless nobody only to realize that he ultimately holds all the cards and yet it just teases the viewer with a potential confrontation between he and the townspeople that never comes to fruition. I was also disappointed that we didn’t get to see the inside of his makeshift home that looked so rundown and precariously put together that you truly wondered what the interior looked like or how someone could survive living in it for as long as he does. Lancaster goes into the home to negotiate a deal with him and I felt the camera should’ve followed him in.

If you’re looking for lightly amusing comedy that goes down easy then you may take a little more of a liking to this. If you desire a movie with something more than just incessant whimsy then this flick will not suffice.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 18, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bill Forsyth

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

92 in the Shade (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rival fishing boat captains.

Tom (Peter Fonda), a lifelong drifter, moves back to his hometown of Key West, Florida where he hopes to start up his own charter boat business. However, Nick (Warren Oates) already owns one and not happy about having competition. He along with his friend Carter (Harry Dean Stanton) decide to play a cruel practical joke on Tom, who in an effort to get some revenge, destroys Nick’s boat, which sets off a warring rivalry.

Thomas McGuane was lucky enough to get to direct his own novel despite having no experience behind the camera yet frittered it all away with wild parties as well as an affair with the film’s co-star Elizabeth Ashley despite being engaged to Margo Kidder who was also cast in the movie and which set off quite a few fireworks behind-the-scenes. On a technical level I loved the way the working class/old town side of Key West gets captured along with the glowing gold sunshine of the region and Michael J. Lewis’ soothing banjo strumming soundtrack helps bring out the film’s laid-back ambiance, but outside of a few amusing moments that’s about it.

Initially the leisurely pace and quirky nuance is refreshing and I liked the contrasting personalities of the two leads, but not enough happens. By the second act you wonder what happened to the story as too many extraneous scenes and characters get thrown until it ends up being an abyss to nothingness.

The cast though is definitely game. The wacky dialogue between Burgess Meredith and Sylvia Miles, which I’m pretty sure was all ad-libbed, is quite amusing although the scene where she tries to shatter a glass by wailing out a high-pitched screech should’ve been extended. Joe Spinell, one of cult cinema’s great character actors, practically steals the whole thing with his few minutes of screen time. The scene where he is taught about the different kinds of fishes by having them displayed on top of a pool table is the funniest moment of the movie although the garish outfit that he wears when he goes out on the boat with Fonda comes in as a close second.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending, at least in this recent version I saw from Amazon Video, took me by complete surprise. I had seen this movie twice before and both of those times it ended with Oates confronting Fonda on his boat, but instead of attacking him they sit down and have a friendly chat. Here it ended with Oates shooting Fonda and then immediately freezing the frame and rolling in the credits.

For me this alternative ending was frustrating as it left open too many unanswered questions. Having a film drag on as it does with virtually nothing occurring during its second and third act only to abruptly end it when it finally gets interesting is like a slap-in-the-face to the viewer and helps to explain why this bombed so terribly at the box office.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 22, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes (Alternative ending) 1Hour 33Minutes (Original ending).

Rated R

Director: Thomas McGuane

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video.

Bad Company (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two deserters go west.

Drew (Barry Brown) is a young man living in the south during the civil war who manages to avoid going into the army by hiding from the soldiers when they come to his family home to retrieve him. After they’ve left his mother (Jean Allison) gives him $100 and tells him to go west. When he gets to St. Joseph, Missouri he meets up with Jake (Jeff Bridges) and the two form an uneasy alliance with Drew even getting invited into Jake’s young gang (Damon Cofer, John Savage, Jerry Houser, Joshua Hill Lewis) of youthful outlaws. The six ride off into the west hoping to find adventure and opportunity, but instead meet hardship and violence.

The film’s stark tone would’ve been more compelling had there not been so many other westerns coming out at the same time with a similar theme. Instead of being this refreshing change-of-pace from the old western serial it just ends up creating new clichés from the then budding revisionist  genre. At certain points it seems almost like a carbon copy of The Culpepper Cattle Company, or even The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, which star Brown had been in just before doing this one.

The attempt to mix dry humor with harsh reality works fairly well and placing the setting amidst the sprawling wheat fields of Kansas gives it a distinctive look that is perfectly captured through the lens of cinematographer Gordon Willis although the piano score by Harvey Schmidt gets intrusive. This becomes particularly evident towards the end when the two boys get into a gun battle with a gang of outlaws and the action is choreographed to the beat of the music, which only helped to take me completely out of the story. What’s the use of spending so time creating a gritty realism if you’re just going to suddenly sell-out on it in a cheap attempt to be ‘humorous’ and ‘cute’?

The acrimonious friendship between the two leads is what I liked, but the film misses the mark by not focusing on this enough. The supporting cast wasn’t needed and the film should’ve focused solely on the two stars from the beginning making it like ‘the odd couple of the west’, which could’ve been memorable. Instead it meanders and only starts to gel by the third act, but by then it’s almost too late. I also wasn’t too crazy about the wide-open ending either, which offers no satisfying conclusion.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Benton

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Brannigan (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Duke in London

Jim Brannigan (John Wayne) is a gruff Chicago cop hired to extradite mob boss Ben Larkin (John Vernon) from London back to the states, but Brannigan finds that England’s more restrained form of policing doesn’t conform to his and is at immediate odds with British police commander Charles Swann (Richard Attenborough) from the beginning. Things become even more problematic when Larkin gets kidnapped forcing the police to engage in a ransom drop in order to get him back. Brannigan must also avoid a very aggressive hit-man named Gorman (Daniel Pilon) who was hired by Larkin to kill him.

This was Wayne’s second attempt at playing a modern day tough guy policeman, which was mainly in response to being snubbed from the starring role in Dirty Harry. His first flick as a cop was McQ, which was quite derivative and made The Duke look like an old, sickly walking corpse ready to keel over at any second. Here though Wayne is strangely reinvigorated and seems much spryer on his feet. He also doesn’t take himself quite as seriously and spends most of the time eliciting humorous quips and comebacks, but by the end the London scenery and array of supporting characters start to overshadow the big guy until he becomes almost like a co-star in his own movie.

The story is a bit different from a typical Wayne vehicle in that the first half has virtually no action and consists mainly of the police surveillance of the kidnappers and trying to figure out what they’ll do next. One drawn out scene even deals with Wayne and lady cop friend Jennifer (Judy Geeson) following a mail truck around London in order to see where the ransom money, which they think is in the truck, will be taken.

While this subdued approach may annoy the more action addicted Wayne fans I found it to be a refreshing change of pace and I liked how the film analyzed the boring aspects of police work instead of just glamorizing the sexy shootouts. Unfortunately the second-half devolves back into the familiar formula, which includes not only an uninspired car chase, but a big barroom brawl as well. The brawl, which was filmed at the exclusive Garrick Club, is the most off-putting because it’s done in a comically slapstick way that drains all the grittiness and realism that the film tried so hard to create in the first-half right out of the movie altogether.

The sleek looking, dark glasses wearing hit-man, who drives a ritzy looking sports car seems like a character straight out of a James Bond movie. The segment done in slow motion as well as the running joke of having every hotel room that Brannigan stays in get destroyed by those who is after him only helps to cement this as being just another whimsical, uninspired cop outing that despite a first half that showed some promise has nothing edgy or original about it.

The idea of having Brannigan essentially trying to ‘save’ a mobster’s life just so he can bring him back here to go to trial isn’t a very riveting plot point to begin with. The Larkin character is completely unlikable, so the viewer could care less whether he can escape the clutches of his kidnappers or not and the story would’ve been far more compelling had Brannigan been out to save a kidnapped child instead, which along with the other misguided ideas described above probably explains why this thing ended up tanking badly at the box office.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 26, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Douglas Hickox

Studio: United Artists

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

Only When I Laugh (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Actress is an alcoholic.

Georgia Hines (Marsha Mason) has just been released from a 12-week alcohol rehab program and returns to her Manhattan apartment looking to readjust to civilian life with the help of her two friends; Jimmy (James Coco) a gay unemployed actor and Toby (Joan Hackett) a woman unhappy at turning middle-aged. To Georgia’s surprise Polly (Kristy McNichol) her 17 year-old-daughter shows up wanting to move in with her and ‘patch things up’ from their tumultuous past. Georgia isn’t sure she’s emotionally ready, but forges ahead and things start out okay, but then the demons from the past rear their ugly head forcing mother and daughter to face some harsh realities both about themselves and each other.

The film is based on Neil Simon’s Broadway play ‘The Gingerbread Lady’ that starred Maureen Stapleton and ran for 193 performances. It was not considered a success and when adapted to a film Simon made changes to the story, but to me it all seemed like every other Neil Simon dramedy that he’s done before. Both this film and The Goodbye Girl that also starred Mason featured male characters that were struggling to become professional actors. Both this film and Chapter Two, which again starred Mason, had characters who were playwrights going through writer’s block. His films always take place in New York and have characters who see analysts, and can apparently make enough to afford them. I realize there’s the old adage ‘write what you know’ and that’s exactly what Simon is doing, but it would be nice if he’d get a little bit out of his comfort zone as nothing that gets shown here seems fresh or original.

The first hour is way too serene and I would’ve expected much more of a frosty relationship between mother and daughter, but instead for the most part they get along great, at least initially. There are some passing references to previous drama, but I felt this should’ve been shown and not just talked about. The second half improves significantly with some strong scenes, but I’m afraid that with such a lifeless beginning most viewers will have fallen asleep before it even gets there.

McNichol is excellent and every bit Mason’s equal, but this exposes another of Simon’s weaknesses, which is that although he’s good at writing character parts for adults he seems unable to do so for anyone younger. In The Goodbye Girl the Quinn Cummings character seemed too infantile for a 10-year-old and here McNichol is more like a 20-something and the intended mother-daughter drama more like just two girlfriends rooming together.

Coco and Hackett are excellent and help hold things together and the movie does manage to deliver, at least in the second-half, but I couldn’t help but feel that Simon had gone to this well too often and was starting to lose his edge. You can also spot young Kevin Bacon as a college dude trying to pick and Mason and McNichol as they eat at a café.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours

Rated R

Director: Glenn Jordan

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available:  DVD-R, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Great Train Robbery (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A daring gold heist.

In 1855 Edward Pierce (Sean Connery) comes up with an idea to rob a large shipment of gold from a traveling train.  He recruits the services of his mistress Miriam (Lesley-Anne Down) and a screwsmen named Robert Agar (Donald Sutherland) to help him do it. The heist requires that they make copies of four keys that are used to open the safe, but each are possessed by four different bank executives forcing them into an elaborate scheme to attain them all. Eventually the authorities become aware of their plan making their heist even trickier to pull off.

The story is based on an actual incident that occurred in 1855 that Michael Crichton became intrigued by, which inspired him to write a fictionalized account that became a best-selling novel and in turn lead to him being offered the chance to direct the film version. As a period piece it succeeds as I loved the variety of wardrobes that the characters wear and the lavish settings that not only reveals London’s rich neighborhoods of that era, but its poverty-stricken ones as well all in amazingly accurate detail.

The film has an underlying quirky tone that is engaging, but this also makes it seem less authentic. For a crime caper to be enjoyable one must believe that it could really happen, or what the characters do is actually possible. There were times when I wasn’t convinced of either and the blame goes to the film trying too hard to be cute instead of just sticking to the detail.

Henry Fowler (Malcolm Terris) is one of the bank executives with a key who proudly proclaims to wear it around his neck, which he states that he ‘never’ takes off. In order to get the key and allow Robert to make a wax impression of it, Miriam pretends to be a prostitute who convinces him to take off the key, so they can make love, which he immediately does. This seems too easy as rarely do humans behave exactly as you think they will. When things come together without any hitch you start to question its validity. If a guy says he ‘never’ removes his key than make it much harder to convince him to do it, or force Robert to make the wax impressions of the key while Henry still has it around his neck and making out with Miriam, which would’ve been funnier.

Another segment has Robert breaking into an office at the railway station where two of the keys are stored inside a cabinet. The night watchman that guards the office always leaves at the same time for exactly 75 seconds to go to the bathroom. Robert is then forced to break into the office and make the wax impressions of the keys and then get out within that same 75 second time frame, but who goes to the bathroom at the exact same amount of time each and every time they go? Most people will go within a certain time range, but no one is that robotic to literally ‘count out the seconds’ as they pee. Having a character behave in such an extreme way only accentuates the film’s whimsical quality while throwing the believability out the door.

Later on in an effort to get inside the train compartment Robert pretends to be a corpse inside a coffin. To create a stench a dead cat is put in alongside him, but how was Robert able to withstand the horrible odor as people standing outside the coffin kept complaining about the unbearable smell. What was it about Robert that made him tolerate it as long as he does when almost no one else could’ve? This makes Robert seem super-human and gives even more leverage to the fact that this couldn’t have really happened at least not in the way done here.

The exciting ending features Connery, not a stunt double, but the actor himself getting on the train roof as the train is running at 55 mph and trying to go from the front of it to the back while ducking under numerous bridges that come whizzing by at lightning speed. This had me holding my breath, but I still came away wishing the film had stuck more to the original account. I read a brief overview of the real crime that was written in more detail by David C. Hanrahan in ‘The First Great Train Robbery’.  There are many differences between the real event and how it gets portrayed here with the real account being far more interesting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Crichton

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video