Time Wasters and Time Abysses

Horror Express: written by Arnaud d’Usseau and Julian Zimet; directed by Gene Martin; starring Christopher Lee (Saxton), Peter Cushing (Wells), and Telly Savalas (Captain Kazan) (1972): Highly enjoyable 1970’s Italian horror film in which those two Hammer Studios horror greats, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, get to fight on the same side for once.
Lee plays a British archaeologist of the early 20th century who unearths the body of a strange hominid from a Chinese cave and then bundles it up and puts it on the Trans-Siberian Express so as to get it home to study. Cushing plays a rival scientist who’s curious about what exactly is in the crate Lee has in baggage. Needless to say, bad things start happening.

Lee and Cushing are both excellent as reluctant science heroes, as is much of the international supporting cast. Telly Savalas (!!!) shows up near the end to chew all the available scenery as a power-hungry Cossack officer. There’s some real tension and horror here, effective special effects and make-up, and a loopy scientific explanation for things that fits right in with some of the loopy pseudo-science of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One supporting character seems to be based on the infamous Rasputin. Recommended.

Parker: based on the character created by Donald Westlake and the novel Flashfire; written by John J. McLaughlin; starring Jason Statham (Parker), Jennifer Lopez (Leslie Rodgers), Michael Chiklis (Melander), and Nick Nolte (Hurley) (2013): Mediocre time-waster does no favours to Donald Westlake’s super-thief Parker. The two heists are handled so perfunctorily here that all of the joys of a good heist movie are neglected, probably because the film-makers wanted Statham to kick ass, which is really his strength as an actor. His weakness as an actor is playing anyone other than kick-ass Jason Statham. There’s not a moment here in which he seems believable as a master thief. A section in which Parker pretends to have a Texas drawl while wearing a giant cowboy hat seems like something out of SCTV’s 3-D Midnight Cowboy.

The film-makers waste Michael Chiklis, Bobby Cannavale, Wendell Pierce, and Nick Nolte in supporting roles, while Jennifer Lopez is game but far too well-coiffed and well-ornamented to be plausible as a desperate real estate agent with severe cash-flow issues. Perhaps worst of all for a heist film, it drags. Not recommended.

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