One of these days I'll come up with a snazzier title for these randomly timed posts...
Runaway Train (1985- Andrey Konchalovskiy) - A movie's got to be doing something right when it can survive the kind of performance that Eric Roberts gives here. Not that the escaped convict role he plays requires lots of shades of grey, but Roberts is completely uninteresting and shows contempt for the concept of subtlety. Granted, Jon Voight isn't exactly fine tuning his character either, but he fully embraces his lifelong convict role and relishes every moment he gets on screen. And that makes him interesting. Mix that in with the stunning winter scenery and great action sequences aboard the train without brakes, and you have a damn entertaining film.
Sweet Charity (1969 - Bob Fosse) - As I mentioned when I discussed Cabaret last year, Bob Fosse's first directorial effort was somewhat of a mixed bag of random tricks cobbled together under the guise of a retelling of Nights Of Cabiria. There are some wonderfully creative and entertaining moments in the film - in particular some of the dance sequences are strikingly original - but it just gets weighted down by goofiness. The humour is a bit cringeworthy, Shirley MacLaine is way too broad at times (there's a lot of mugging for the camera) and Fosse gets too wrapped up playing with little directorial gimmicks. From the moment one musical sequence would end, I couldn't wait until another began - partially because I wondered what new choreography he would come up with for the next song, but mostly because the stuff in between wasn't doing a damn thing for me.
The Visitor (1979 - Michael J. Paradise) - This one has received a lot of talk recently due to being released by Drafthouse Films and getting touted as one of the more "batshit crazy" late 70s Italian productions. It certainly lives up to be a bit on the WTF side of things, but not enough to make it much more than a curio and mildly entertaining during some of its really poorly thought out moments (like when the 8 year-old girl shoots her mother in the back after throwing the gun she just received as a present onto a table). With a cast including John Huston, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen, Shelly Winters (fully into her annoying 70s period), Mel Ferrer and Sam Peckinpah (!), it's hugely hampered by overdubbing and two pretty awful performances by the main mother and daughter characters in the film. Sure that opening is wonderfully goofy, there are tons of steals from other movies (including a hall of mirrors sequence that looks good for about 20 seconds and then devolves) and that foot chase between the girl and Huston makes no goddamn sense, but in the end it's really just a badly constructed and often dull movie.
Puzzle (2009 - Natalia Smirnoff) - Whereas The Visitor manages to be dull despite great potential, Puzzle takes an awfully simple premise - a 50 year-old Argentinian woman starts solving picture puzzles and looks to compete for the national title - but makes it firmly engaging all the way through. Though that premise is really all there is to the main story, the film is about this woman's re-awakening to joy in life. She has fallen into a life of servitude to her husband and two older sons (at the start of the movie she is hard at work in the kitchen and serving guests at a party...which ends up being her own birthday celebration) and struggles with hiding her new passion along with the practice sessions she has with her new partner. She starts to assert herself a bit more, begins to appreciate some of the little things in life that have been escaping her previously and manages to find the missing pieces of her life..