Winter Kills,
and five more movies

The Neverending
Film Festival

I'm the guy in the picture to the left, frowning, because today's movies are mostly disappointments.

Don't miss Winter Kills, though.

♦ ♦ ♦

About Time (2013)

Domhnall Gleeson plays Tim, a shy but nice enough young chap (it's a British movie, so he's a chap) whose father, played by the ever-charming Bill Nighy, pulls him aside for a serious talk on Tim's 21st birthday.

Big reveal: Turns out all the men in Tim's family have an unexplained genetic ability to travel back to an earlier point in their lives, to live any chosen moment again, or change it.

That's a ridiculous concept, of course, but it's a fantasy. Let's give it a chance.

Tim uses his time-control superpower to improve his chances with a woman he had the hots for, and when that flails he tries reconnecting with another woman he once met in a restaurant. He saves his sister from an auto wreck and a bad relationship. He tweaks time so that he can have a few extra days with a dead relative.

Every few minutes, Tim's excusing himself to step into a closet, clench his fists, and re-do the scene we've just seen. So it's Groundhog Day, with far fewer laughs, and way, way too much wholesomeness.

From beginning to end, About Time is slathered in schmaltz and saccharine, while bubbly pop music plays on the soundtrack. The result is reminiscent of riding "It's a Small World" at Disneyland — chirpy happiness on an endless loop.

Schmaltz and saccharine is what writer/director Richard Curtis does for a living, of course, and sometimes it's great. Sometimes you want a jelly donut, and some of Curtis's sweet pastries are Love Actually, Bridget Jones' Diary, and Notting Hill. He also co-created Mr Bean, and wrote one of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who, the one with Vincent Van Gogh. I am honestly a fan of Mr Curtis, willing to see almost anything with his name on it.

Someone needs to tell him, though, that jelly donuts shouldn't be baked into a pie and topped with chocolate syrup, candied yams, a sliver of fruitcake, Cool Whip, and maraschino cherries.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦

Cobb (1984)

Cobb is the opposite of About Time — it's over-the-top bitter with a kick in the nuts.

Ty Cobb was a great baseball player and a son of a bitch. All-time best batting average in baseball, but he played mean, often hurting other players during the games, on purpose. He got into lots of fights, had few friends, was a loud-mouth racist, wife-beater, and general douche.

If anyone could make a good movie about such a rotten bastard, it's director Ron Shelton, known for such sporting charmers as Bull Durham and Tin Cup. He doesn't pull it off, though. The movie portrays Ty Cobb (Tommy Lee Jones) accurately, so he's obnoxious every moment he's on screen, and it's not a 'lovable obnoxious' like Eric Cartman or Dwight Schrute.

Robert Wuhl plays a sportswriter, hired by Cobb to write his autobiography. Wuhl is one of the most aw-shucks likable actors in show biz, but his character is an idiot for putting up with Cobb.

I couldn't put up with either of them for the length of a movie, especially a bad movie.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Enemy (2013)

This is from Denis Villeneuve, who later made Arrival, a nifty big-budget science-fiction film that I liked. Enemy, though, is garbage.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays a history teacher who's bored with teaching history, and Jake Gyllenhaal plays a bit-role movie actor who's bored with his wife. These two men look very much alike, which is supposed to be mind-blowingly strange. There's also a subplot involving tarantulas.

Enemy has deep, ominous music and camerawork intended to amp up the spookiness, but it's a doppelganger movie. You've seen doppelganger movies before. It's a genre. Pretending that it's amazing to have one actor playing two roles doesn't make it amazing. It makes it boring.

Every moment of Enemy is primed to make the audience worried, even terrified that there are two Jake Gyllenhaals, but there is nothing to be even slightly worried about except falling asleep.

It's technically annoying, too. Most of the movie is at normal volume, but in several scenes the dialogue is whispered so quietly as to be inaudible, even with my amplifier maxed out at 120 decibels.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Lost Empire (1984)

The leading lady is blonde and buxom, and teams up with a buxom faux native woman wearing all-white with spangles. Their third teammate is also buxom, and wins a bikini mud wrestling contest at a women's prison. They're all quite bad actors, and there's a bad story, too, about some long-lost mystical snake-oriented kingdom, I think. 

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Prime Time (1977)

"Warning: The Surgeon General has determined that television is dangerous to your health."

Pirates or subversives have taken over the commercial television airwaves, and they're broadcasting nonsense into Americans' living rooms. That's the premise, from which the moviemakers hang a hundred short skits and commercial parodies, but this is darker and lots less funny than Kentucky Fried Movie or even Saturday Night Live.

One of the first bits is live coverage of a Congressman's assassination, but afterwards, doublechecking proves that the killing was staged, and the guy they shot wasn't even a Congressman. That's weird, but it's not funny. 

This is a comedy that doesn't care about being funny. Here's an episode of Celebrity Sportsman — "live from Austin, Texas, the Charles Whitman Invitational," where two men with rifles laugh and chat like old buddies, as they shoot students from the university's infamous bell tower. "Get the one in the yellow sweater over there, Billy! — Blam!" One of the marksmen is Warren Oates. And again, that's damned weird, even shocking, but it's not funny.

There are frozen TV dinners with the authentic flavors of Biafra, which are just empty plates, and here's Jesus and Mary singing "If I Was a Carpenter." Some of this is funny, some is shocking, but most of it is simply strange.

A few of the skits aren't merely unfunny, they're offensive — jokes about breast cancer, and "negroes" as the pollution-free energy source for the future, etc.

The skitsters include Joanna Cassidy, Art Fleming from Jeopardy, Stephen Furst pre-Animal House, and Harry Shearer pre-Simpsons, but none of them are on screen for long, and Prime Time is interesting more as a curio than a comedy.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Winter Kills (1979)

After America's flurry of assassinations and the upheaval of the 1960s, Hollywood started making paranoid political thrillers, like The Parallax View, The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor, etc.

Of this sadly short-lived genre, one of my favorites is a mostly-forgotten flop called Winter Kills, so I watched it for maybe the half-dozenth time last night, and loved it again.

Meet the Keegan family, a fictionalized version of the Kennedys. John Huston plays the foul-mouthed egotistical billionaire patriarch of the Kennedys Keegans, and Jeff Bridges is his son, Nick, baby brother of a President who was assassinated. The official investigation determined that Nick's brother was killed by a lone, crazed gunman, but new information has come to light, man, and young Keegan tries to unravel the truth himself.

"They will run you dizzy. They will pile falsehood on top of falsehood until you can't tell a lie from the truth, and you won't even want to. That's how the powerful keep their power."

It's a terrific political thriller, and also, just maybe, a parody of paranoid political thrillers. It has many secrets, many laughs, surprises, goose bumps, and Sterling Hayden in the role he was born to play, as a mad war gamer in a military tank.

Nothing in Winter Kills is what it seems, unless it seems cynical.

Verdict: BIG YES.


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twentyplex, you're missing out.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. I try to make these reviews spoiler-free, but sometimes screw up, sorry. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.   



  1. "I'm the guy in the picture to the left..." Oh, you mean your OTHER left!

    1. Now I've flipped the picture to the other side, thanks. Never have I learned the difference between left and right. I'm right handed, so every time anyone says left or right I feel the tips of my index fingers, and the one with the ridges from 60 years of writing with pens and pencils, that's my right side.

      Guess I forgot to feel my fingers.

  2. Winter Kills is an excellent masterpiece, I will respect and obey your spoiler rule but can we at least mention that the last scene is funny as fuck?

    I liked About Time, but it is determined to be sweet.

    We've been shortchanged, though. You always do movies in sevens.

  3. Agreed. The last scene of Winter Kills is funny as fuck.

    It was the second time I'd seen About Time, and I liked it too, a few years ago. Maybe it's all in my mood, but this time I almost went into diabetic shock.

    Sorry about 6 instead of 7. I miscounted is all.


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