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The Cook The Thief His Wife & Her Lover
The Last Broadcast
The Navigator: A Mediaeval Odyssey
Night of the Living Dead
Planet of the Apes
The Reflecting Skin
The Thing (Carpenter)
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The Wicker Man
The Mist (2007)
Faithful, but can't find the right balance
In the opening moments of 'The Mist,' we see Drew Struzan's famous poster artwork for John Carpenter's 'The Thing' among main character David Drayton's portfolio, and it's clear that director Frank Darabont has Carpenter's skin-crawling masterpiece in mind even before he lets the otherworldly horrors loose on his band of trapped and bickering survivors. Unfortunately, for all the film has going for it Carpenter influence, great source story by Stephen King, Darabont's willingness to deliver the horror goods (he cut his teeth in horror films in the late eighties and early nineties), Frances Sternhagen 'The Mist' ultimately emerges as a disappointment, and maybe a double one, considering how hard Darabont works to give us a faithful recreation of King's original. Not only are the concept and all the major characters unaltered from King's 'long short story,' the events progress in precisely the same order (the only notable change isn't really a change at all, but the addition of a coda to pick up where King left off and deliver a shock ending), a number of the most memorable setpieces are staged exactly as written (the rope scene, the invasion of bugs 'n' birds, even Mother Carmody getting hit by the can of peas), and great chunks of dialogue are taken directly from the text. But, paradoxically, here the reverence for the source material actually works against the final success of the film. King's story is a pessimistic, can-you-really-trust-your-fellow-Americans-in-a-pinch social commentary in the vein of fifties and sixties horror offerings like 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers,' the original 'Thing' and 'Night of the Living Dead,' and its classical format (random strangers stuck in a little room together) owes a debt to Rod Serling and Richard Matheson as well. But his dialogue, which reads well enough on the page, comes off as hideously stagey in this adaptation, and the fault mainly lies with Darabont's naturalistic but still 'movie-ish' style. To my mind, there are really only two ways a successful adaptation of King's story might have been made: in the first, you could retain the speechy dialogue and crank up artifice of the production to match it (I've often thought "The Mist" would make a better *play* than a movie); OR, you could chuck the words altogether, have the actors improvise their lines, and shoot it in as absolutely realistic a manner as possible. (Yes, I would have loved to see 'Robert Altman's The Mist.') In this age, a preposterous monster movie concept like this needs to do one or the other of these to be taken seriously, and while Darabont clearly wants us to take it seriously, he simply can't find the right balance between the artificial and the real. At times, his rapt devotion to the King story is frankly baffling: 'The Mist' is at times so head-scratchingly dated that you wonder why the hell they *didn't'* change more about it. It's got cell phones and one reference to stem cell research, but otherwise there's nothing in it to suggest it's not set in the early 1980s, when the story was published; the military research compound that makes the mischief is ostensibly working on a Reaganesque missile defense system, and despite the presence of soldiers throughout, there's no reference to terrorism or the war, or to any world events of the past 25 years (the most topical allusion is a reference to Fidel Castro). With the exception of one awful, talky scene in which the characters actually seem to be participating in a book club discussion of their situation ('We're a civilized society!' 'Sure, as long as the machines are working and you can dial 911. But you take those things away . . . no more rules'; 'The Trigger Effect' is another, better movie that examines the same themes without ever *having its characters tell you what they are*), the film doesn't seem to know what it's about in the least. The military characters, while always hanging around the film's edges, are such nonpresences that it's hard to believe in them (why don't they have guns? why don't they take over the situation?), much less associate them with any of the dramatic developments (the army's research and the monsters it unleashes are, after all, merely a red herring, a catalyst for the social devolution that occurs in this Anytown grocery store); and this just doesn't fly in our time of permanent Orange Alerts and daily death updates from Iraq on the nightly news. America's people of religious faith are stereotyped in the figure of Marcia Gay Harden's Mrs. Carmody (a ludicrously out-there caricature even in the original story, and a character whose lack of reinvention into a more modern, more believable American religious crazy is a critical misstep) and her cult of followers, whose numbers seem to expand from four to forty in the span of five minutes. As a simple monster movie, it's watchable enough, but it's not really scary. It actually makes one nostalgic for 'The Thing' or other genuine 1980s horror films like the (Darabont-scripted!) remake of 'The Blob' (which also features Jeffrey DeMunn), which outperform it in freshness, smarts and style; and its consistently clunky dialogue, an uncommitted performance by Harden and tentative ones from the rest of the cast, and Darabont's indecisive style make it a major disappointment. Recommended for horror fans only. 5.5 out of 10.
Children of Men (2006)
Clever, clever, clever
I must laugh when I read critics saying things about this film like "powerful, but doesn't explain enough," or raising objections like "unfortunately, we never find out what caused the infertility in the first place" or "how a single baby is going to change anything is never made clear." Ha! Despite the inevitable appearance of the term *dystopian* in their reviews, these writers seem unaware that what they've seen is a satire and satire, whether it's funny or whether it's sad, is always a kind of fantasy, and needn't play by the same rules as an artwork that pretends to exist in the real world. (I don't understand why these critics wanted the movie to explain itself more anyway, since the early scenes where it *does* do a lot of explaining are probably its worst.) In fact, probably the film this most resembles is another famous film satire, "Brazil," right down to its possibly-government-sponsored terrorism campaign and WWII-type propaganda. ("Suspicious? Report it" is right out of the earlier film, and the hilariously plausible "The world collapses . . . *only Britain soldiers on*" should have been.) On paper, the plot is just as classically comic, with a naïve, reluctant hero (he's even a civil servant!), recurring characters who pop up in unexpected places, and hairsbreadth, coincidence-based escapes.
But the key difference is that where Terry Gilliam inflated his movie with a cartoonish artifice, here director Alfonso Cuarón employs a punishing, sometimes shocking realism. The result is a film that, despite its (mostly visual) wit, feels so immediate, so intense, and so horrifying that you forget you're watching a comedy. But this isn't a criticism it's exactly that irony that makes the film seem so fresh. We usually associate irony with things which make light of very serious subjects; "Dr. Strangelove" works by taking something grave and terrifying and making it ludicrous. Cuarón is even cleverer he takes something ludicrous, a sci-fi chase caper, and makes it grave and terrifying. It's even moving you feel like you've been through "Schindler's List" at the end of it. His technique is masterful . . . his style, and the artistry of his cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, suggest documentary without ever fully giving over to it apart from a somber opening theme by John Tavener, there is no original music, and the production team puts the viewer into the film at the best/worst of times, as in the escape from the Fishes' compound, the raid on Jasper's house, the final hellish descent into the Bexhill ghetto, and, especially, in the harrowing attack on Luke's van. This scene, filmed from inside the vehicle and executed without any cuts (that I noticed), is one of the most gut-wrenchingly horrifying movie moments I can remember. (But even this comes with a Hitchcockian wink, as the nominal female lead gets snuffed out a quarter way into the film, without so much as a final speech.)
But while the film uses the realistic to transform the absurd, it also incorporates a third, even more surprising element: a poetry that gives this world a unique haunted quality. London makes a great ruined city; it's hard to imagine a New World metropolis having the same impact, as modern European cities already carry with them such a sense of lost and ancient civilization. In its use of architecture (actually, not only in that), the film sometimes resembles the latter part of "Full Metal Jacket," only this time the ruined British buildings are actually supposed to *be* ruined British buildings. The wet, green English countryside is used as a contrast to the urban horrors (though any tranquility it suggests proves false); most important of all is the amazing placement of animals they're everywhere in the film which are used in various ways. They give us welcome reminders of human kindness (the many beloved pets) and irresponsibility (the dead animals from farms that have become unmaintainable or unnecessary). Most of all, they are reminders of hope or at any rate of survival, as they appear in abandoned schools and buildings under siege. (And they, too, are reminiscent of Gilliam; remember the zoo animals that flourish in the plague-emptied Philadelphia of "Twelve Monkeys.")
In a world and directorial conception this size, the characters and the performances seem appropriately small. But they're all good. Claire-Hope Ashitey has an appropriate radiance, without seeming like too magical an earth mother (Kee's joke about immaculate conception is a great comment on our expectations). Clive Owen resists any temptation to be movie-heroic, and as a result Theo comes across as surprisingly, authentically brave, as when he plunges into the tank-surrounded building in the climactic battle scene. (Compare this character with Tom Cruise's in "War of the Worlds" and you'll realize what a failure that casting choice was.) Michael Caine gives a witty and ultimately very moving performance; his Jasper gets a brave death, too, although it's one of the moments where Cuarón edges perilously close to sadism. Pam Ferris brings real dignity to her faithful old nurse character (another familiar comic type), and Charlie Hunnam and Peter Mullan find the perfect scary/funny balance (you want to cheer when they get killed).
But again, it's all Cuarón's show, and "Children of Men" is really an amazing directorial achievement. There are movies that make you want to live inside them, and there are movies that make you want to live inside the brains of their creators. "Children of Men" is neither, but it gets under your skin as well as any movie in my recent memory; at least for a little while, it changed the way I looked at my own reality I was looking for its world in the real one. "Don't you expect to hear gunshots?" I said to a friend as we walked up the sidewalk after the movie. I think he thought I was crazy. 10 out of 10.
The Dark Crystal (1982)
Brilliant, woefully under-appreciated masterpiece. Even hardcore Henson fans seem to prefer the chaotic, tone-deaf disaster "Labyrinth" to this, and I've never understood why. "The Dark Crystal" would seem to be the perfect fantasy film it's often criticized for being inaccessible and remote from humanity (many writers seem simply baffled by it), but to me, the otherworldiness, so carefully wrought and sustained (the film never breaks character, even in its Muppetier moments), is a huge part of the appeal. Henson and his production team have created a unique, self-contained, utterly believable new world, and most surprisingly they have the artistic backbone to take it seriously. (Considering that much of today's entertainment for children consists of sitcom stars playing animated versions of themselves, this is very important.) The distinct subcultures are painted in broad strokes though not a work of science fiction, the film shares a perhaps simplistic sensibility with many sci-fi works of the time, sending up the western model of life and praising the eastern but they have to be, considering how much territory it sets out to cover in just 93 minutes. It's amazing how fully the various races come to life before our eyes, from the quasi-Buddhist Mystics, who are not characterized individually (which may be the point), but who are instead defined by marvelous touches like the booming nine-tone chord they sing, to the Podlings, with their Celtic/medieval folk culture like something out of a Brueghel painting. Most detailed of all, of course, are the Skeksis, conceived to satirize the worst excesses of western civilization, with individual characters lovingly (or maybe hatefully) realized as incarnations of politics, war, science, organized religion, and even fashion, with a couple of Deadly Sins thrown in for good measure. (Some question whether a handful of Skeksis in a board room could actually lay waste to an entire planet, but, again, that's probably the point.) In the midst of this explosion of creativity, the Gelflings are often criticized as bland and lifeless; it's a legitimate complaint, but it should be remembered that we are meant to see this fantastic world through their eyes, and so their blankness actually helps bring the other races into clearer focus. All this arty symbolism wouldn't amount to much, of course, if "The Dark Crystal" didn't also work aesthetically, and while the cinematic technique is actually surprisingly conservative, happily the film is well plotted and paced (for a film that lingers so much on the details of a fantasy world, there are few scenes that don't move the story along), often quite scary (the Garthim, organic tanks that can come into your house, are a terrifying concept), at times hilariously odd (the eye! my god, the eye!), extremely clever in its use of sound (from the aforementioned Mystic singing, to the Chamberlain's whining and shrieking, to the telltale clicking of the Garthim), and as an example of how to capture puppets believably on film, completely unparalleled. Ultimately, it may be too challenging in some ways to ever find more than a narrow cult following (in the U.S., anyway apparently the French and Japanese ate it up), which is too bad, and it's even sadder that its commercial failure sent Henson into a deep depression from which he never fully recovered. It's a magnificently original film; there should be more like it. 10 out of 10.
Match Point (2005)
Odd, clever film
Odd, clever film, if a cold one. At first, it almost numbs the viewer with its frankly clichéd scenario of marriage for money and cheap adultery. This is stuff of melodrama the production's emphasis on opera is no coincidence and yet, surprisingly, Woody Allen chooses not to emphasize the emotional aspects of his story, which might seem the best, or at least the most usual, way to make material like this work. Instead, he presents us with characters who aren't really even characterized despite the over-the-top setting (it's amusing that critics called this a departure for Allen; it's true that here we get the Stately Homes of England instead of the Upper East Side, but it's still his same upper-class fantasy world), they're simply left to be dull, ordinary people, from naïve Chloe and her family to Nola, who, despite the magnetic effect she has on the men of the film, isn't really anything more than a typical stupid young American abroad, first trying to live a starving artist life (and succeeding too well for her liking) and then turning into a panicky, dependent child when she learns she's pregnant. Into this mix of un-characters comes Chris, a person so blank I had trouble remembering his name, about whom we learn nearly nothing over the course of the film. He's a foreigner who comes from humble beginnings (the others very Englishly nickname him "Irish," despite his successful downplaying of his accent) and yet we learn nothing of his background beyond his reasons for leaving pro tennis. It's (somewhat unbelievably) suggested that Chris is a great reader, but, like many real people, for the greater part of this story he is neither a thinker nor an actor. He accepts the affections of Chloe (and the privileges associated with them) more out of politeness than anything else, even to the point of marrying her; when Nola enters into the picture he acts, but still doesn't think. By the time he decides to murder his now-inconvenient paramour in an incredibly careless way (with a shotgun! in her flat!), we're strangely absorbed that such action could come from such a ho-hum character in such a ho-hum plot, and then shocked when he actually goes through with the killing, wondering how this unthinking, unclever, almost amoebalike character possibly thinks he can get away with it. Though similarly prettyboyish, Chris is neither a blood-lusting overachiever like Patrick Bateman or an I-just-wanna-be-loved sociopath like Tom Ripley he hasn't the calculating ambitions (or the charm) of either, and it's hardly plausible that he could stumble out of his unpleasant situation as thoughtlessly as he stumbled into it. But stumble out of it he does Allen's misanthropy extends to the entire world of this film, and just as Chris's frankly doltish wife is easily distracted from her husband's odd behavior, so too is the one police detective who manages to put the obvious clues together easily talked out of his theory by a chipper subordinate. Though not marketed as a comedy, "Match Point" offers a coldly comic version of the world, and viewed in this light the film becomes almost paradoxically entertaining. Allen almost ruins it at the end with a twee bit of existential artifice that seems juvenile in the context of the adult tone to that point, but perhaps the oddest thing about "Match Point" is how watchable a mix of not- pleasing-in-themselves elements it is. It's probably too clever for its own good by half, but it contains enough incongruity to surprise just about any viewer. 8.5 out of 10.
The Skeleton Key (2005)
A missed opportunity
One's reaction to 'The Skeleton Key' is invariably something of a compromise. The movie is neither aggressively stupid nor particularly intelligent, and it lumbers along watchably without making us squirm too much, either in the bad way or the good. Most reviewers seems to have either written it off as 'typical,' which it certainly is not, or celebrated it as brilliant, which may be even less appropriate.
The latter argument seems to come entirely from the script's clever twist ending, which is certainly surprising and original. Unfortunately, the twist, while it does work overall, doesn't feel as satisfying as the very best surprise endings. A good twist should give the impression that a puzzle has suddenly been assembled out of things the viewer didn't even realize *were* puzzle pieces to begin with. 'The Skeleton Key,' on the other hand, doesn't as much bring everything together as it suddenly brings in an unexpected but plausible explanation for everything not quite the same thing. In the audience, we respond by saying 'Ooh, that's clever,' which is fine but ideally a surprise ending should make us jump out of our seats and scream 'Holy sh*t, all those strange random elements suddenly make sense now!' In fact, 'The Skeleton Key' is sort of the opposite of typical twist movies, where so often the twist doesn't live up to the setup. This is a movie where the setup doesn't live up to the twist, and it's frustrating that director Ian Softley seems to miss some very good opportunities to hint at the oncoming shock. (For instance, Violet pointedly does *not* fly into a seemingly-irrational-but-actually-appropriately-jealous rage when she catches Luke flirting with Caroline why not? Wouldn't that have been suitably baffling at the time, but have paid off beautifully when we realize that she is actually the younger man's *wife*?)
This is not to say that 'The Skeleton Key' is unwatchable, and, indeed, in many ways it's considerably less annoying than most other horror films. It's well acted, un-self-consciously scripted, and tastefully directed. (The direction actually makes us forget how much of an archaic cliché the Louisiana Gothic setting is.) But it really contains no genuine scares whatsoever, and ultimately its failure to build up to its good climax makes it seem a missed opportunity, even if it's a consistently watchable one. Recommended for horror fans, but not too enthusiastically. 6.5 out of 10.
Marathon Man (1976)
So-so schlock in serious seventies dress
Director John Schlesinger uses every trick in the book to save 'Marathon Man,' but while he succeeds at bringing a certain gritty elegance, so typical of the decade, to the film, he can't quite conceal (the overrated) William Goldman's contrived and fantastical script. The film may look like classic seventies 'neo-noir,' but it's still just a silly, coincidence-based comic strip, plunking Dustin Hoffman's Joe Nobody down into his brother's Bondworld of 'Spy vs. Spy' chases and lost Nazi loot. To be fair, Schlesinger also manages the many suspense set pieces extremely well (although the infamous 'Is it safe?' scene might surprise some by how *un*-explicit it is).
As for the acting, it's a classic mixed bag. Laurence Olivier comes off best, his Szell being of course authentically sinister, but also believably elderly, even frail. (The moment when he tells Roy Scheider that he's too old and too smart to fight him captures his character beautifully.) Dustin Hoffman works physically in the part he's certainly plausible as a marathon runner but the character is so poorly defined by Goldman's screenplay that the actor is forced into bombastic hamminess as the film moves along. Roy Scheider is a good actor, but he's badly miscast as the stereotypically witty and worldly secret agent, and Marthe Keller is such a mush-mouth that it's no surprise she didn't go on to any significant English-language success.
In the end, 'Marathon Man' is certainly worth a watch for hardcore fans of thrillers; more casual viewers won't be missing much. 6.5 out of 10.
A white man's pity party, but watchable enough
Alexander Payne began an exploration of White Male Angst in "Election" and continued it in "About Schmidt," and now it seems "Sideways" is the third movement of his variations on this particular theme. It's somewhat ironic that this film has found such a following among women, since it's a Boy Movie from beginning to end the female characters are purely functional, serving only to bring the agonies and ecstasies of the two male principals into sharper relief. In this respect (and others), the film is like an ostensibly more mature, but ultimately inferior brother to "Election," which had its share of WMA (in the form of the very tortured life of Matthew Broderick's Mr. M), but which was able to bring in several other rich characters to complicate and deepen its focus. "Sideways," on the other hand, is pure, distilled midlife-crisis stuff, and requires a lot of suspension of disbelief too (we're supposed to believe Miles and Jack have remained close enough friends to take a trip like this? we're supposed to believe somebody like Maya would go for Miles in the first place?). Add to that Payne's surprising hesitance to satirize Miles and Maya's pretentious wine-bore ramblings, and the film's embarrassingly pat ending, and it's kind of a surprise that it's watchable at all but it is, largely on account of the strong performances from the two leads. Paul Giamatti is able to breathe life into any role he takes, and it's his take on this part that wins our sympathy (or partial sympathy, anyway) for this believably flawed character, who could so easily have been obnoxious. Thomas Hayden Church's performance has more of the sitcomic about it, but he still is quite convincing (and very Californian) in the part, and keeps Jack from becoming entirely unappealing. As for Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh, there's nothing especially good or bad about their performances, but that's more a problem of writing than one of acting. In the end, I doubt that it would stand up favorably to even one repeat viewing, but Giamatti and Church make it worth the one. 7 out of 10.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
"The Muppet Christmas Carol" even the *name* fills one with trepidation. After all, how else can we approach the first large-scale Muppet project since the death of Jim Henson (and Richard Hunt), especially when it came so close on the heels of drastically increased commercialization of the franchise, symbolized, if not outright created, by the Muppets' sale to Disney?
That's why the film turns out to be such a pleasant, and even occasionally delightful, surprise. It's not perfect, by any means, and I guess I might as well start with the problems first. There's a *lot* of padding, including some rather cruddy songs for the Cratchits. Frank Oz, in his few scenes, seems to be phoning it in, and his Piggy voice has become so strained that's it's painful to listen to. And Steve Whitmire, while he performs an honorable, even admirable impression, can never approach Jim Henson's interpretation of Kermit for anyone who knew it first.
And yet, there's a kind of magic that creeps in and reminds us many times of the early "Muppet Show" days and their wonderful insanity. Throwaway gags like "Please sir I want some cheese" and the running commentary of Gonzo and Rizzo give the film that unmistakably Muppety flavor.
And not only is the movie good Muppets, it's good *Dickens*, which is perhaps more surprising. In fact, in some ways it's hard to imagine a better musical adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" it's certainly better than either of the other two musical Scrooges that first come to mind. To choose a random point of overlap, where Albert Finney and Kelsey (ugh) Grammar make their entrances hobbling along and singing their crabby wee hearts out, Michael Caine stalks silently in while the *chorus* comments on him. Like Bill Sikes in Carol Reed's "Oliver!," this pre-transformation Scrooge doesn't have the time or the patience for *singing*, as of course he shouldn't. Paul Williams's songs themselves vary in quality (and Caine, while in most respects an above-average Scrooge, is no singer), but the opening chorus and Scrooge's buoyant "revelation" number are terrifically tuneful, and wonderfully orchestrated with a brassy, classically Christmas-y texture. Having chains physically *drag* Marley (or rather "the Marleys") back into the netherworld would be a marvelous idea in a "straight" adaptation, and having the elderly Scrooge join in a sad duet with his decades-lost love is genuinely moving. The Muppet effects for the ghosts, while simple, are extremely effective, and very true to Henson's vision of elegant, beautiful, and frequently spooky puppet artistry.
In the end, it may not be a perfect film, but it's more than worth a look both for Muppet fans and casual viewers. And of course kids of all ages will love it. 7.5 out of 10.
Impossible to recommend, but I liked it
I'm beginning to laugh at the distinctions people draw between "good" and "bad" Dario Argento films. They all seem to have some common technical elements: clever camera-work, grotesque but deliberately unrealistic violence, weird music, incomprehensible plots, "impressionistic" titles, and poor acting. None of them work perfectly, even for fans of this style. The variations between the movies, then, come from the genre accidentals "Profondo Rosso" is a detective thriller, "Suspiria" an occult conspiracy tale, etc.; Argento seems to come along and apply his own unique vision of the giallo onto whatever horror style is fashionable at the time. It's his uniqueness, rather than his ability to produce great films, that has assured his place in the canon.
So, then, "Trauma" turns out to be exactly what we would expect from an early nineties Dario Argento film. Camera-work? Check even in this late period, Argento's eye and technique are strange and impressive. Violence? Double check although what the actual purpose of that Decapitron device is supposed to be, I can't imagine. Weird music? Check orchestral rather than Goblin this time, but still louder and a little more engaged than we would expect. Odd plot, check, arbitrary title, check, bad acting, check Asia Argento actually manages to make Aura a likable character, but you can't deny that she garbles her lines and seems mostly amateurish throughout. (And she's hardly alone in those respects.)
The slasher subgenre had died out a bit by this point, but no better reason for Argento to try to freshen it up a bit with his unique stamp. The story's quite watchable and fun, and occasionally funny too - more in the vein of "Phenomena" than the early stuff. It's frequently ridiculous, of course, but show me a movie of his that isn't. And while there's a sex element to the film, it has a surprisingly innocent quality, perhaps because Argento was directing his own daughter in the lead. (I'm sure Freud would have a field day with it, though.)
In the end, it's hard to strongly recommend it to anyone diehards are as likely to hate it as love it, and casual viewers are going to find his style absurd. So I'll give it a 6.5, with the simple comment that I would watch it again.
Runaway Train (1985)
Very watchable, despite some flaws
"Runaway Train" is hardly a perfect film as others have mentioned, there are plenty of things here that feel tacked on, implausible, or even ridiculous (the Captain Ahab of a villain risking his own life to destroy his enemy, the silly riot scenes in the prison, the over-the-top speechifying and florid epigraph at the end credits, etc., etc.). But surprisingly, we find ourselves left with an impression of overall integrity and intelligent artistry quite the feat, considering the number of melodramatic or otherwise un-subtle elements in the mix. In particular, Jon Voight's hamminess gets to be a bit much, but Eric Roberts's twitchiness for once creates a character who seems vulnerable and likable (if still occasionally obnoxious). And Rebecca De Mornay is quite surprising, and shows herself to be a real actress despite the vamp roles in which she most often finds herself typecast. The pacing and the rhythm of the dialogue is somewhat odd, but rather than irritating or alienating us, it seems to ground the film in its own unique textural world. At its best, "Runaway Train" reminded me of "Night of the Living Dead" or another great people-trapped-in-a-little-room suspense film, and it's worth the effort for most viewers. 7.5 out of 10.