Tag Archives: Albert Finney

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)

Looker (1981)

looker-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Models can be replaced.

Dr. Larry Roberts (Albert Finney) who is a plastic surgeon finds himself embroiled in a mystery when three of his past patients turn up dead. He soon becomes a prime suspect when he is caught inside the apartment of one of them just after they were killed, which forces him to become his own detective in order to clear his name. He learns that all three of them were linked to an advertising agency run by John Reston (James Coburn) and Jennifer Long (Leigh Taylor-Young) who scan the model’s body in order to use a 3D generated computer image of them in their commercials.

The concept is intriguing, but the execution gets horribly botched. It’s like a screenplay that’s still in the early draft stage with a plethora of poorly thought out story lines that leave open a wide range of loopholes, unanswered questions and inconsistencies.

For one there is the fact that Dr. Roberts gets caught in the apartment of the latest victim just after she was pushed over her balcony and yet the police only question him for a couple of minutes and then let him go. In reality he would be brought into the station for hours of interrogation especially since there were already clues implicating him at the death scene of the victim before this one and if they did possibly let him go after all that they would most likely be tailing him quite closely, which they don’t do here.

When he enters the ad agency he secretly steals one of their access cards, which they become aware of and should be no big deal because they could simply disable it electronically and yet they don’t and he is able to use it later on to get inside. There is also no explanation for what happens to his many patients while he goes wildly cavorting around chasing after nebulous clues that should really be done by the police. Also, the scene where Roberts gets beaten up in the lab by a guard, which sends him crashing against a hard wall several times and even going through a glass window would be enough to break several bones with any other person and not something that could simply be shaken off like here.

Why such a highly regarded actor such as Finney would feel the need to accept something this pedestrian is a mystery. Her services at the time were in high demand so why not pick a project that offered a wide acting range or interesting character instead? Coburn as the villain is equally wasted and barely has any screen time at all.  Susan Dey comes off best and should’ve been given the lead as she is not only beautiful, both with and without her clothes, but quite likable and the only character in the film that seems discernably human.

There is one cool scene involving a victim falling onto the hood of a car that shatters all of its windows before the body then bounces off onto the ground, which gets done in slow-motion, which is cool, but everything else is boring and unimaginative. However, the L.O.O.K.E.R. gun that is able to put people into a trance is worth mentioning and I liked actor Tim Rossovich’s glazed over expression every time he gets put into one, which makes his appearance here quite memorable despite the fact that he utters no line of dialogue.

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My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 30, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Crichton

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Wolfen (1981)

wolfen 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Wolves on the attack.

Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney) is assigned to investigate a particularly savage attack that occurred in Battery Park in New York City where a real estate magnate and his wife and bodyguard where gruesomely killed by some mysterious being that the police initially peg as a terrorist act. As Wilson investigates further and in talking with some experts he comes to the opinion that it may be wolves that killed them, but not the everyday wolf instead they are ghostly spirits intent on protecting their sacred ground. As the body count continues Wilson tries unorthodox methods to understand and stop these strange animals that remain invisible and elusive to the human eye.

For a horror film, which is based on the novel by Whitley Streiber, it has a refreshingly different approach to the material making it seem more like a modern-day drama and character study. Director Michael Wadleigh nicely captures the ambience and attitude of the city. The authentic feel and multi-dimensional lead character helps make the story more compelling. The use of showing things from the wolves’ point-of-view that gets captured through a unique colored lens is initially captivating and creepy.

Unfortunately the film does the P.O.V. thing too often, which eventually becomes redundant and boring. The genteel tone does not create enough tension and the film is barely ever suspenseful. There is one good decapitation scene, but otherwise the gore and special effects are minimal. The runtime is too long and the pacing could have been better. A good horror film or even a thriller needs a good scary image of the threat at hand to hold onto and create the fear for the viewer, but we are never shown the wolves at all until the very end. I did like the one part where the Diane Venora character goes roaming around an abandoned church and almost gets attacked by one of the wolves whose red eyes we see, but I wanted to see more of this since it was the only time I got even slightly frightened.

Finney is an odd choice for the lead. Simply because he has a reputation as being a great actor does not mean he is perfect for every role and having a grizzled New York cop speak with a British accent is off-putting. He also too old and his relationship with a female cop that is clearly 20 years younger looks weird. I did like Edward James Olmos who takes off his clothes at one point and effectively acts like a real wolf and the scene where he has a menacing conversation with Finney while high on top of a bridge is memorable.

Spoiler Alert!!

My biggest beef comes with the ending in which Finney finds himself surrounded by the wolves and in an attempt to appease them smashes the model of the construction site that was going to be built on their sacred ground, which satisfies them enough to leave him alone and go away, but it came off as corny, farfetched and anti-climactic to me. It also makes the wolves who the viewer has feared throughout the film suddenly look like the ‘good guy’  and thus stripping all the ‘horror’ from this supposed thriller and making sitting through it a pointless waste of time.

End of Spoiler Alert!!

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 24, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Wadleigh

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Shoot the Moon (1982)



By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: A look at divorce.

After fifteen years the marriage between George and Faith Dunlap (Albert Finney, Diane Keaton) finally dissolves. He has been carrying on an affair with another woman (Karen Allen) and so he is forced to move out of their house and away from their four daughters. Sherry (Dana Hill) the oldest is angry at him and refuses to speak or even spend time with him when he has custody of the children, which starts to create major friction. Faith begins a relationship with Frank (Peter Heller) a handyman who has come over to build a tennis court in their backyard and when George finds out about this his simmering temper eventually boils over in an uncontrolled and frightening way.

If there is one thing you take away from this film it is in the luscious photography of the San Francisco bay area. The large, isolated two-story house looks almost like a dream location and was specifically built for the picture and filmed in Nicasio, California. The scenes showing George writing at his typewriter next to a window exposing crashing waves of the ocean and well as his pondering things in a small rowboat all alone in a still lake have the same dream-like quality and an ambience that allows for a rush to the senses.

The film also has an interesting music score because there is no composer credited for it even though it has pieces of simple piano interludes played throughout, which effectively reflects the mood of the film and characters and proves once again that less truly is more.

The family life scenes are on-target with everything from the perpetually chaotic atmosphere of four kids running around with endless energy to the always cluttered rooms and the mother seen picking up their discarded toys and clothes. The children are portrayed as being realistically perceptive and ask some pointed questions and not as naïve as most adults may like to believe. Hill is a real standout and her final meeting with her father late at night on a dock beside a lake is touching. Although she was 18 at the time because of her severe diabetes that stunted her growth she looks very much like the 13-year-old that she was portraying.

There are some memorable scenes including the amusing moments inside and outside a courtroom as well as Faith and George having a shouting match inside a fancy restaurant that ends up involving another couple sitting next to them. George’s angry tirade at the end in which he destroys the brand new tennis court with his car is exhilarating.

The only liability is with Finney himself. Normally he is a superior actor, but he is miscast here. For one thing there was too much of an age difference between him and Keaton and at times he almost looks more like her father. Weller who plays her boyfriend seems much more like her type and he would have been a better choice as the husband. Finney’s character borders on being unlikable and comes off at times as being a prick of the highest order. His blowups at Faith for seeing another man and at Sherry for not talking to him seem unreasonable especially since he started it all by having an affair. I did like the part though were he helps Timmy the young son of his new girlfriend late at night when he gets sick and the comment that his new girlfriend makes to him when he comes back to bed with her is a gem.

The film gives a great overall look at the emotional side of divorce, but it fails to dig any deeper.  We gain no real insight to these characters or what caused the marriage to go bad in the first place, which ultimately makes this otherwise slick production rather shallow and placid.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 22, 1982

Runtime: 2Hour 4Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alan Parker

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD, YouTube 

Charlie Bubbles (1968)

charlie bubbles 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s detached from life.

Charlie Bubbles (Albert Finney) is a successful English writer who finds that he is no longer connected to the world around him. He sits in his office and views life from the television monitors around him. He has an affair with his secretary Eliza (Liza Minnelli in her film debut), but it means little. He travels to the countryside to visit his estranged wife Lottie (Billie Whitelaw) and his son Jack (Timothy Garland), but finds the effects of his detachment have worn off on them. No matter how hard he tries he cannot get his son to emotionally connect with him, which he finds troubling.

This is to date Finney’s only cinematic foray behind the camera and on a visual level it proves interesting. Most actors who turn to directing lack the needed cinematic eye, but Finney is just the opposite. The scene, which gets protracted, showing all the action inside Charlie’s sprawling home from within the television monitors that he has set-up is really cool. It’s like in the film Network where you see several monitors on top of each other and two per row. Each monitor shows a different room in the mansion as well as the garage. As the action moves from each room it also moves to a different monitor, which becomes fascinating to follow. The scene inside a hotel hallway with milk bottles and newspapers lined up at each door has an interesting design to it and the part where Charlie and Eliza come upon a lonely marching band in a desolate rundown part of the city has a unique visceral appeal. The massive food fight between Finney and actor Colin Blakely near the beginning of the film deserves a few points as well.

The downside to the direction is that the film is slow and almost as aloof as the character. The scenes become too extended and the dialogue has little to say. The segment inside a roadside diner has the sound of cars passing by it during the character’s conversation, which becomes distracting and unnecessary.

The Charlie character seems almost like he is sleepwalking and barely responds to anything. I realize this is to show his detachment, but it goes overboard. It’s like viewing a corpse who has no screen presence or energy and absolutely no connection with the viewer nor any ability to wrap them in to his quandary.

Minnelli makes for an odd choice to represent the film’s sexual tensions. She was never considered attractive and her constant and incessant chattering while the two ride in a car would be enough to make most men want to throw her out let alone make love to her. The sex scene itself is about as mechanical as you can get and lacks eroticism. It also becomes like a throwaway scene that doesn’t end up having that much to do with the story as a whole.

The viewer needs more of a background to this character in order to make him real and interesting. Simply showing someone who is detached doesn’t mean much unless we know why and if he was at any time any way else. The ponderous ending leaves a lot to be desired and watching this movie is similar to viewing a program on C-Span as it comes-off like a nonevent.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 11, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Albert Finney

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.