31 Days to Scare ~ The Fan (1981)


The Facts:

Synopsis: An obsessive fan of actress Sally Ross strikes out at her and her loved ones when his fan letters are rejected.

Stars: Lauren Bacall, James Garner, Maureen Stapleton, Hector Elizondo, Michael Biehn, Anna Maria Horsford

Director: Ed Bianchi

Rated: R

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: I don’t think the words ‘tacky’ and ‘Lauren Bacall’ have ever been used in the same sentence…until now. Yes, the legendary star really slummed it up with this misguided effort from 1981 that unfortunately was released several weeks after the murder of John Lennon outside of his apartment building in New York.  Also set in the Big Apple, The Fan suffered not only from bad timing but a general lack of good taste, turning what Bacall thought would be a stylish thriller into a gruesome slasher film.

So why does it pop up in my 31 Days to Scare?  Well, because for all of its wrong-headedness it has some decent passages and winds up being a helluva good showcase for Bacall (Murder on the Orient Express).  The luminous screen siren doesn’t just elevate the screen adaptation of Bob Randall’s novel, she sets a fuse under it and lets it rocket up to the heavens.  It’s total trash but in the hands of its leading lady it’s classy trash.

Sally Ross has a fan and he’s different than the rest.  Over a prolonged credit sequence ominously scored by Pino Donaggio (Carrie) that feels like director Ed Bianchi was auditioning to direct the opening of Masterpiece Theater, Douglas (Michael Biehn, The Abyss) narrates his letter to Sally as he types.  He’s her biggest fan but wants nothing from her…except for a new picture autographed to him.  When he feels like Sally’s secretary (Maureen Stapleton, Heartburn) isn’t giving him the attention he deserves by forwarding his correspondence to his admired star, he becomes increasingly unhinged.  If she won’t respond to his letters, maybe she’ll respond to his violent actions against her friends and co-workers on the new Broadway musical she’s rehearsing.

Working with a straight razor, Douglas slices his way through a lot of people until setting his sights on the star herself.  There’s some pretty ghastly violence toward women and a stomach turning killing of a gay man Biehn picks up as part of his plan, all apparently added without Bacall’s knowledge. Whatever tension could have been built is dried up by the time the finale rolls around, with Bacall and Biehn acting out a scene that feels inspired by Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in a darkened theater.

Bacall makes mincemeat out of anyone that dares to share the frame with her.  Second billed James Garner (Maverick) shows up in a glorified cameo as her ex-husband that still has feelings for her and Hector Elizondo (Pretty Woman) is the policeman assigned to her case that screenwriters Priscilla Chapman and John Hartwell awkwardly try to make a romantic rival for Garner’s attentions.  Biehn was criticized for being less than threatening but his good looks and internal rage ready to boil over actually works well for his psycho patron.

The scariest thing about the movie are the musical numbers staged by Arlene Phillips with music by Oscar-winner Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics from Tim Rice.  Bacall had triumphed on Broadway ten years earlier with Applause, a musical version of All About Eve and was currently finishing up a run in Woman of the Year in NYC so she’s more than comfortable with the singing (even though you may not be) but man, is this music bad.  The climax of the movie comes when Bacall warbles Hamlisch and Rice’s ‘Hearts, Not Diamonds’ to an opening night crowd while her biggest fan (arriving late…why would he miss the first act?) stalks her from the audience.  The music, the dancing, the singing, the costumes, the set…it’s surreally terrible.

The memory we’re left with is Bacall, who wouldn’t appear in another movie for almost a decade after The Fan bombed at the box office and was trounced by critics. Essentially playing a version of herself, it was a rare chance to see an honest to goodness movie star that went to Broadway playing an honest to goodness movie star on Broadway.  Wisely not letting Stapleton steal too much screen time from her (Stapleton would win an Oscar for Reds the same year), Bacall owns the film and unfortunately shouldered the blame for its failure.

See The Fan for her performance but remember you were warned.

Movie Review ~ The Accountant

The Facts

Synopsis: As a math savant uncooks the books for a new client, the Treasury Department closes in on his activities and the body count starts to rise.

Stars: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jean Smart, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow

Director: Gavin O’Connor

Rated: R

Running Length: 128 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Here are a few professions I wouldn’t have a hard time believing Ben Affleck to have onscreen: firefighter, steel worker, bartender, caped crusader, kingpin, suburban dad, cowpoke.  One profession I couldn’t see?  Accountant.  Look, Affleck has matured into a solid actor (Gone Girl) and talented director (Argo) during his time in Hollywood.  There’s little he could lend his name to that I wouldn’t willingly sit through and for the most part, The Accountant is a solid thriller that’s predictable but nonetheless entertaining.  Yet try as he might and squint as I may, I never fully bought Affleck playing an on the spectrum number cruncher by day and gunslinger by night.  I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

I’m naturally squirmy when I go to the movies.  I’m a habitual watch checker, sometimes in desperation to see how much longer I have to spend in movie prison with drek like Mother’s Day or to attempt to halt the clock hoping to have more quality time with the movies I do enjoy.  I almost feel my ratings should be in watch checks and if I did, The Accountant would have scored high.  It took me 105 minutes to get the itch to check and that’s in large part due to the film’s entertainment value as a throwback vehicle for its star.

Affleck plays Christian Wolff, an autistic savant posing as a small-time CPA that’s great with numbers but not so great with people.  He’s so good at his job in fact that all sorts of unsavory clients come his way, most of them in need of finding the leak in their amassed fortunes.  This talent brings him to the more legit high-tech robotics company owned by brother (John Lithgow, Interstellar) and sister (Jean Smart, Hope Springs) needing to uncover the mole that’s been skimming millions off of their bottom line.  Working with a curious but overly talkative whistle-blowing employee (Anna Kendrick, Cake), they aren’t even 24 hours into the investigation when someone winds up dead and their services (in the office and on earth) are no longer needed and are targeted by a mysterious hitman (Jon Bernthal, Sicario).  While all this is going on, a Treasury Department agent (J.K. Simmons, Zootopia) blackmails a young analyst (Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Star Trek Into Darkness) into finding out who this rogue accountant is so Wolff winds up having two factions after him.

The Accountant is structured in a way I happen to love.  Random threads in the beginning half start to slowly tie together as Bill Dubuque’s (The Judge) screenplay introduces a multitude of twists and turnbacks all the way until the final frame.  There’s one big reveal that seemed to come as a shock to some audience members that was clear as day to me an hour earlier.  This isn’t an attempt to toot my own clue following horn but it’s not as landmark of a bombshell as the movie wants it to be.  There are a few strands that don’t get a proper tie off or even a deeper explanation after they’ve been introduced, but Dubuque keeps his head in the game most of the time.

Stuck behind a pair of glasses with a square haircut and stiff suits, Affleck commits to the piece and does what he can in a part he ultimately just isn’t right for.  It’s not a knock against him in the least, sometimes the spark just isn’t there.  Kendrick has played this type of chatty pixie before and, aside from holding her own in a claustrophobic fight scene, she seems to be coasting.  Same goes for Simmons who has a monologue right before the final reel that slows the film to a jarring halt…that’s when the watch got a peek, by the way.  For me, Addai-Robinson was the real find for me, though her promising arc feels forgotten before the movie was half over.  Director Gavin O’Connor fills the rest of the cast with interesting character actors like Smart and Jeffrey Tambor (The Hangover Part III) that I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of.

While I was energized by the fact the movie was born from an original script and not an established property or novel, The Accountant finds some trouble when it comes time to sum itself up, falling prey to curse of one too many endings.  You’ll be half out of your seat in anticipation of the credits rolling until O’Connor adds in another unnecessary establishing shot of something we already understand.  All nitpicks aside, for the fall movie-going season The Accountant represents entertainment at its most cozy and I engaged with it more than I thought I would.  It’s not going to rock your world but it’s a nice way to spend a few hours of your time.  It’s not even tax season yet, but take some time to audit The Accountant.