Category Archives: Movies that take place in the Big Apple

Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He dreams of stardom.

In 1953 Larry (Lenny Baker), a young man in his early 20’s, decides to move out of his home in Brooklyn that he still lives in with his parents (Shelley Winters, Mike Kellin) and into an apartment situated in the artsy district of Greenwich Village. Larry dreams of becoming a movie star and feels the way to start his career is by living with fellow artists. He also wants to get away from his meddling mother, but finds no matter where he goes she always comes to visit many times at the most inopportune moments including when he’s holding wild parties, or making-out with his new girlfriend Sarah (Ellen Greene).

The film is loosely based on writer/director Paul Mazursky’s early life as a struggling artist, which is fine, but how much one likes this movie hinges almost completely on how much they can stand the main character. For me he wasn’t so likable. While I admit his mother was annoying she was still well-meaning and the way he constantly lashed-out at her seemed too angry and aggressive. I would’ve thought someone who had been raised in that type of overbearing environment all of his life would’ve figured out a more subtle way to placate his mom that wouldn’t have needed to be so abrasive. When he tells his neighbor lady (Rachel Novikoff) that he’s moving to Greenwich Village to ‘become a big star’ like it was going to be some automatic thing seemed a bit too deluded and you’d think by that age he would’ve been a little bit better grounded.

The friends that he makes, which include some early performances by Christopher Walken, Antonio Fargas, and Dori Brenner, are a bit off-kilter as well. For instance they visit a fellow artist friend named Anita (Lois Smith) at her apartment only to find her sitting inside the bathroom with her wrists slit and talking about how she wants to die. They manage to get her patched-up, but then return to the apartment a couple of weeks later with the same carefree spirit that they had the first time, but you’d think after what they witnessed they’d approach the place cautiously, or maybe never want to go there again, for fear that she’d try it again and this time succeed forcing them to witness a tragic sight and yet this bunch acts like for some reason the whole suicide thing will never reoccur only to be shocked when it does even though I as a viewer was completely expecting it.

The story is rather rudimentary and involves basic elements that seemed to be analyzed in a lot of coming-of-age films during the 70’s including having Larry’s girlfriend get pregnant and require an abortion, which wasn’t exactly a unique twist. I did though enjoy the scenes inside Larry’s acting class and the way his teacher (Michael Egan, who was portraying the legendary acting coach Herbert Berghof) challenged his students after his each performance that they gave in the class and requiring them to analyze why they portrayed a certain character the way they did. Not enough other movies capture the technical side to acting, so I felt these scenes stood out in a good way and were quite introspective to the craft. I also liked the dream sequence where Larry imagines himself as a successful star, but then this quickly turns into a nightmare where he sees himself booed by the audience and even has pies thrown in his face, which I felt brought out the insecurity many artists, especially actors, harbor, even the successful ones, where they secretly fear never being quite good enough.

Spoiler Alert!

My biggest complaint though was with the ending where for some inexplicit reason Larry gets hired to play a part in a movie and whisked off to Hollywood even though I didn’t see what was so great about his audition, or why this scrawny guy stood out to the casting directors from all of the other men that were also vying for the role. I realize that Mazursky was basing this on his own life as he was able to escape to Hollywood after getting the starring role in the Stanley Kubrick drama Fear and Desire, but this only occurs to a small handful of people and the vast majority who move to Greenwich Village never really leave it, or if they do it’s most likely to the suburbs where they’re forced to get ‘real jobs’, or maybe even back home to their parents after they run out of money. If the movie has Greenwich Village in its title then that’s where it should’ve stayed as most people who live there probably ultimately wouldn’t like Hollywood as it’s a completely different vibe and sometimes it’s better being a big fish in a small pond, which I felt is the message that the film should’ve conveyed as the Hollywood twist seemed too dreamy.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Either way the film is helped immensely by Shelley Winters, who plays the overbearing mother to a T and comes complete with realistic crying spells. This should’ve netted her a third Oscar and for all purposes was her last great role as the parts she got offered after this were virtually all of the B-movie variety. Baker on the other-hand, whose only starring vehicle this was as he died, at the young age of 37, less than 6 years after this film came out, is an acquired taste. I don’t know if it was his extreme skinniness that got to me, he was 6’0, 145 pounds, but I just couldn’t really ever warm up to him and felt that Harvey Keitel, who had been considered for the part, would’ve worked better. You do though get to see Bill Murray, in his live-action, feature film debut, as a party guest as well as Jeff Goldblum as a humorously obnoxious struggling actor doing whatever he can to stand out and get noticed.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 4, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 51 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Mazursky

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Another Woman (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She reanalyzes her life.

Marion (Gena Rowlands) is a college professor over 50, whose taken a leave of absence in order to write a book. Due to the construction at her place she sublets another apartment in order to have it quiet for her writing, but finds that it’s next to a psychiatrist’s office and through the vent can hear everything that the patients talk about. She becomes especially intrigued with a young pregnant woman named Hope (Mia Farrow) who talks about how empty her life is and this touches a cord with Marion, who despite being much older, feels the same way about her own life. This then forces her to reanalyze how she’s treated her family and friends through the years and causing her to face some harsh realities about herself.

While writer/director Woody Allen has the reputation of a being an intellectual as well as a perfectionist, the film’s opening shot had to be rewritten several times before he was happy with it, it’s surprising how dumb he is with basic physics. The idea that Marion could put a couple of couch cushions over the vent and this would be enough to blot out all of the noise coming from the neighboring apartment just doesn’t ring true. Sure it might muffle the voices a bit, but not a complete block of sound to where she’d hear no noise at all and having the vent be in another room in the apartment, which would’ve allowed her the convenience of simply closing that room’s door in order to cut-off the noise, would’ve worked better.

I was also surprised how later on in the film, Marion tells the psychiatrist about the ‘acoustical irregularities’ that allows her to hear everything that’s said in his office and the Dr. admits to being aware of this, but says he’ll ‘correct it’. What kind of psychiatrist though would knowingly allow his patient’s most personal thoughts to get out for others to hear? This made me think the plot would’ve worked better as one of Allen’s comedies where a writer puts the stories overheard from the patients into their book and when it becomes a best-seller, both the author and Dr. get sued and tormented by the angry patients sending them to a psychiatrists of their own.

Like with all of Allen’s dramas the cast of characters are entirely made-up of upper middle-class intellectuals, which gives the film an elitist, snobby vibe by implying that these types of people are the only ones sophisticated enough to have complex problems that people in the lower socio-economic classes supposedly don’t. They seem too much like caricatures as well who have the exact same interests (writing, the arts, and going to operas) and it would’ve been nice had there been one working class person who wasn’t into all of these things thrown into the mix simply to give it a better balance.

The fact that just about all of the characters are having affairs, many times with each other, makes it too soap opera-like. The scene where Gena bumps into Sandy Dennis and her husband and the three go to a pub for drinks gets particularly over-the-top when Dennis bluntly accuses her husband of paying too much attention to Gena. In most cases if a wife has a problem with her husband’s behavior she’ll keep it to herself and then bring it up later when the two are alone and not out in public for everyone to hear especially to a friend that she hasn’t seen in awhile and is only an acquaintance.

I didn’t like Marion as she’s too cold and while I realize this was intentional she’s not the type of person that the viewer can warm-up to, or care that much about. Mia Farrow’s character is far more appealing and I wanted more of her and was shocked how little screen time she ultimately gets. The part wasn’t even meant for her as she was set to play Marion before she got pregnant and then when Dianne Weist, who was originally cast as Hope, had to leave the production due to illness and her replacement, Jane Alexander, didn’t approach the character the way Woody wanted, so it was eventually given to Farrow, who does quite well despite the fact that she was already in her 40’s at the time even though the person she was playing was supposed to be in their 20’s.

The film does end on a strong note, but it does take awhile before it gets there and comes-off as clunky and unintentionally funny at other points. The scenes with John Houseman, who plays Marion’s father, are particularly hammy as he sits at the dinner table conveying his lines like he still thinks he’s Professor Kingfish speaking to an auditorium full of students. However, David Ogden Stiers impression of Houseman (he plays a younger version of him during a flashback scene) is spot-on and the movie is almost worth catching just for that.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 14, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 21 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Blu-ray (Region 0), YouTube

The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Challenging a crime boss.

Kid Sally (Jerry Orbach), who works within a crime family where he’s in charge of a small group of crooks, becomes increasingly frustrated at what he feels is a lack of respect that he gets from mobster boss Baccala (Lionel Stander). When Kid is put in charge of supervising a bicycle race that does not go over well he gets demoted, which convinces him to take down Baccala and become the mob boss himself, but the men under him prove inept at every turn. Each time they try to kill-off Baccala the only ones who die are Kid Sally’s guys.

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Jimmy Breslin and inspired by real-life mobster Joe Gallo who was also the inspiration for Crazy Joe that starred Peter Boyle. However, the Boyle film approached the material in a serious way and tried to keep things more closely tied-in with the actual events while this thing veers-off from what really happened and instead simply uses the situation as a springboard for a lot of zany, comical antics.

One of the main problems is the casting of Orbach who looks nothing like the real Gallo, Boyle was not a perfect match for him either, but he was at least in the same ballpark while Orbach appears too old and without any signs of the mental health issues that had afflicted Gallo who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in his youth. There are also too many characters to keep track of and Orbach half the time is barely even seen becoming more like a supporting player in his own movie.

The film does have a few amusing moments including the gang’s attempts to bring in a lion, which they use to blackmail the client’s of their opposition. Van Fleet is also quite funny as Kid’s mother who looks and walks like she’s ready to die from old age, but speaks as if she’s a young tough guy. The location shooting isn’t bad either and seeing the entire group of men crammed into Joe’s mother’s apartment as they partake in their weekly spaghetti dinner brings the Italian ambience to a nice head, but director James Goldstone approaches the material in a haphazard fashion and it’s edited in a way that makes it seem more like a collection of vignettes than a story.

The only interesting element is seeing Robert De Niro, complete with long hair, as this young con who comes to New York straight from Italy. He speaks with an authentic accent, which he acquired by going to Italy for a week and recording the people around him and then playing back their voices while he rehearsed. He even prepared for his role as a thief by stealing 2 shirts from a Macy’s department store requiring producer Irwin Winkler to intervene in order to keep him out of jail. Leigh Taylor-Young is excellent as his love interest and her performance as the Kid’s younger more idealistic sister has an organic quality and a far cry from the psycho role that she played in The Big Bounce just 2 years earlier. The romance between her and De Niro and their attempts to forge a relationship while living in a cramped, rundown apartment is kind of touching and had the film focused on these two it would’ve worked better.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated: PG

Director: James Goldstone

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Crazy Joe (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gangster’s rise and fall.

Loosely based on the real-life exploits of a New York gangster named Joe Gallo (Peter Boyle) the story centers on Joe’s rise in the underground criminal world and his challenging of Mob Boss Falco (Luther Adler) as well as Don Vittorio (Eli Wallach) the head of all crime families. When Joe and his brother’s agree to carry out a hit for Falco, but are only paid $100 each for the crime they feel rebuffed and plot revenge by storming Falco’s mansion and taking member’s of his family hostage. Through Don, who acts as an intermediary, they’re able to settle the dispute, but later Joe finds that he’s been double-crossed, which sends him to jail during a sting operation. While in prison he makes friends with Willy (Fred Williamson) an African American. The two form an uneasy alliance where he agrees to help Joe settle his score once they both get out.

With all of the gangster movies that came out during the early and mid 70’s it gets harder and harder to tell them apart, or have much in the way to say about them since they all tend to be alike with very little variation. This film is a clear example to cash-in on the Francis Ford Coppola classic by quickly producing this cheapie, which was shot in the U.S. with American actors by an Italian production company, which in essence makes it a foreign film. While the plot and action lack anything original I did find the opening sequence where they carry-out the hit by shooting a man and his cronies while inside a restaurant to be captivating. The action itself isn’t what’s interesting, but seeing the men singing and joking around inside the car, both as they drive-up to the place and then again as they leave it, to be fascinating in a disturbing sort of way where no matter how viscous the act they feel no guilt and happily go back to being their playful selves almost instantaneously.

Boyle’s performance helps a lot. He was in another film just 4 years earlier with a similar title called Joe where he played a violent right-wing extremist and he got so turned off by the fan mail he received with people telling him how much they enjoyed watching the ugly acts that his character did and said in that movie that he vowed never to appear in another violent film again and yet just a few years later that’s exactly what he did, but I’m glad. He exudes a great amount of energy and liveliness into the role and helps keep the movie entertaining to the point that it’s only interesting when he’s in it and a complete bore when he’s not. Effort is made to humanize him as it see-saws between moments where he’s killing people and then other points when he’s saving them particularly when he goes into a burning building to help some children get out.

The supporting cast is strong especially the always reliable Wallach and Williamson whose angry gaze melts right through the screen. I also really enjoyed Adler as the arrogant crime boss who feels he’s ‘all-powerful’, but physically is quite old and frail and eventually into the helpless position of being put inside an iron lung while still callously giving out all the orders and demanding full compliance. Louis Guss is equally amusing as a tough guy killer who when kidnapped immediately folds by wetting his pants and begging for his heart medication.

Unfortunately Henry Winkler, in his film debut, is not as effective as his demeanor is too refined and gentile and does not reflect the savagery of the others almost like he walked in on the completely wrong film set. Rip Torn is badly miscast as well. While the other actors appear to be genuinely Italian and speak with authentic accents Torn doesn’t. Instead he keeps his Texas draw intact, which is totally out-of-place, and while a good supporting player in other movies sticks out as a completely sore thumb here.

Ultimately though the poor production values sink it. To some extent it helps on the violent end as the killings are done in a more graphic and raw way, much like an Italian horror film, which makes it more real than The Godfather where it was handled in a lyrical fashion, but the plot has nowhere much to go. You know where it’s headed right from the start with an ending that’s completely predictable and has no impact. Doesn’t particularly help either that the film’s promotional poster gives away the final scene.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Carlo Lizzani

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: Available through Non-Standard DVD (Public Domain).

The Hospital (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: An incompetently run hospital.

Dr. Herbert Bock (George C. Scott) is the chief of staff at a teaching hospital in New York where patients routinely die due to misdiagnosis and other blunderings. There’s also a protest by a group of tenants from a nearby apartment building that’s been annexed by the hospital to make room for a drug rehabilitation center. Bock not only must deal with these issues, but also his crumbling personal life which has turned him to both alcohol and thoughts of suicide. His only ray-of-light is meeting the beautiful Barbra (Diana Rigg) who has come to the hospital to seek treatment for her father (Barnard Hughes), but just as Bock starts to come out of his depression the place becomes terrorized by an unseen assailant who begins killing both the patients and staff.

In 1969 after his wife had received poor care at a local hospital Paddy Chayefsky set-out to write a script exposing what he felt was the corruption and incompetence going on inside the American medical institutions. He managed to get full control over his screenplay and final say over any proposed changes, which was a good thing since initially the studio felt it was filled with too much medical terminology that would go over many viewer’s heads. I’ll admit there’s an excessive amount of lingo, both with the dialogue between the doctors and staff as well as the opening voice-over narration by Chayefsky, that’s done at a rapid-fire pace and I really didn’t understand it, but I still kind of liked it. I have no medical background myself, so I and most viewers aren’t going to get the ‘medical speak’, but leaving it in helps make it sound more authentic. It also impresses the viewer with how much research was put into it and you basically trust what’s going on because it ‘sounds intelligent’.

Another complaint was the shift in tone where things start out in a darkly-humorous slap-dash fashion only to end up during the second act becoming quite serious. Normally this would’ve been a big problem, but I liked the shift here. I think the reason is because underneath the comedy there’s still life-and-death consequences going on and if you’re going to make a statement movie, which this is attempting to do, then at some point things have got to slow-down and get serious in order for that statement to get out, which this thing ends up successfully doing.

While I enjoyed the fluid pace that manages to encompass not only satire and drama, but even shades of horror without ever losing its realism I did find that it spends an inordinate amount of time telling us about all of the problems without bothering to give us any solutions. There’s no focus on what the underlying causes are nor any balance by showing an well-run hospital in comparison. One might start to believe that all hospitals are like this and become afraid to ever go into one even if they are really sick, which isn’t exactly a good thing. This may have been the reason why Chayefsky himself died at the relatively young age of 58 from cancer because he feared Dr.’s would “cut me up because of that movie I wrote about them” and thus refused surgery that might’ve saved his life.

Spoiler Alert!

There’s a few issues with the casting as well. Overall, I was impressed with the performances particular Scott who got his second Oscar nomination for his work here. Rigg is also quite good, in a part that seemed better suited for Jane Fonda, who was the studio’s choice, but Rigg’s British accent and terse style makes for an interesting dynamic. You can also glimpse young soon-to-be-stars in small bits including: Nancy Marchand and Robert Walden, who later went on to co-star with each other in the TV-show ‘Lou Grant’ as well as Stockard Channing, in her film debut, and Frances Sternhagen as an exasperated medical clerk. The main problem though comes with Barnard Hughes, who appears for some strange reason in two completely different roles. He is very funny as the surgeon who finds he’s been operating on the wrong person, but then later he reappears as Rigg’s father, which didn’t make much sense. Since the father turns out to be the mysterious killer many people thought the scene with Hughes as the surgeon was meant to be the father in disguise, but that was not the intention. Again, if there’s no specific/underlying purpose story-wise for an actor to play two different parts in the same movie then don’t do it. There’s no lack of actors out there clamoring for work, so one of the two parts could’ve easily have been filled by someone else and thus avoided confusing the audience for no good reason.

It’s possible that the reason Chayefsky had Hughes playing dual roles was to help explain how the killer was able to get away with his crimes for so long. While the killer is always shown off camera, so the viewer does not know the identity, the Dr.’s and nurses do seem to recognize him as being a colleague and are put at ease just before he kills them. Of course the odds of a patient entering a random hospital and looking similar to one of the staff is astronomically low, but if this was the underlying concept, and it very well may have been, then the film should’ve eventually made this clear by having a split screen scene where Hughes the surgeon bumps into Hughes the killer.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, Tubi, YouTube

Bananas (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: From nebbish to dictator

Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen) is a shy, meek individual who works as a product tester, but comes to realize that his job has too many pitfalls and wants to pursue another line of work. One night while in his apartment he receives a knock at his door and meets Nancy (Louise Lasser) who is a social activist. Fielding doesn’t have much interest in politics, but finds Nancy attractive, so he pretends to be into her social causes. Their relationship though does not survive, but Fielding decides to travel to the Latin country of San Marcos anyways, which is where the couple was planning to go to before the breakup. The country is suffering through a revolution and Fielding inadvertently gets caught up in it to the extent that he becomes their acting leader and travels back to the US to ask for foreign aid, but once home Nancy recognizes Fielding for who he really is and this soon has him put on trial.

This was done during the period when Woody was just trying to be funny and without all the pretension and nostalgia that make up so much of his later work, which I don’t care for as much. While there are draggy spots, particularly during the second act, the beginning and end are so strong that it more than makes up for it especially the climactic court sequence, which is laden with a lot of non-sequitur sight gags that didn’t come into vogue in movies until 10 years later when it was introduced to mainstream audiences with great success in the movie Airplane. 

What I really liked though is that Woody actually seems to playing a character here and not just himself. No endless whining about his hypochondriac conditions, or New York being vastly superior to L.A., or how Ingmar Bergman is the greatest film director. This stuff seems to work into many of his later scripts and characters, but here he just plays an average blue collar guy whose only ambition is to get laid, which is wonderful and I really enjoyed pairing him with Lasser. The two had already divorced  by the time this was filmed, but she agreed to remain on as his co-star, which is great as I’ve always said she’s the female version of Woody and in many ways can easily upstage him in just about every scene they share. People like Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow, who became his co-stars in his later movies, were too normal and didn’t compliment Allen’s quirky style like Lasser does and it’s just a shame she disappears during the second act as her presence would’ve prevented it from getting as draggy as it does. 

While most of the gags are quite funny and even inventive I did have a problem with a few of them. The opening bit, which features a televised assassination of the country’s leader, manages to make even Howard Cosell, an obnoxious, egotistical sportscaster that I never cared for, enjoyable especially as he fights his way through the crowd to get an interview with the dying dictator. However, if you’re going to show a guy getting shot then some blood is needed. Allen said he wanted to avoid this because he feared it would hurt the film’s ‘light comic tone’, but its been proven in movies like Shaun of the Dead that gore and comedy can still work together and having Cosell ask the leader ‘how does it feel’ as he lies there bloodied would’ve been dark comedy gold.

The segment where Woody walks into an operating room to tell his parents (Stanley Ackerman, Charlotte Rae), who are both surgeons performing an operation, that he’s traveling to another country, is for the most part an aspiring bit except that in the scene the patient (Hy Anzell) is awake and talking. There is simply no way that anyone being cut open wouldn’t be put under anesthesia, so having him speak is not only unrealistic, but not necessary as the humor from the segment comes from Woody’s interactions with his folks and not from anything that the patient says. 

Overall though this still comes as highly recommended especially for Woody cinephiles looking to take in his wide body of work. His more serious directorial efforts are good too, but in a different way. Yet its his irreverent style that tests the movie making formula, which he does here, that I enjoy the most and while he has done many comedies after this they cease to have the same rapid-fire zaniness as this one. I also have to mention the cigarette commercial that takes place during a Catholic mass, which is the best ad-spoof I’ve ever seen. It did end up being condemned by the National Catholic Office of Motion Pictures, but it was worth it.

 My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 28, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video, YouTube

The Fan (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Obsessed fan stalks actress.

Douglas Breen (Michael Biehn) has become obsessed with aging film actress Sally Rose (Lauren Bacall) and wants to meet her. He begins by writing her fan letters, but Sally’s secretary Belle (Maureen Stapleton) intercepts them and sends an autographed picture of Sally in return, which gets Michael seething as he wanted a personal response from Sally instead. His letters become more frequent and threatening. Eventually he decides to injure Belle in order to get her out of the way as well as kill anyone else in Sally’s life, so that he can meet with Sally unimpeded and have her all to himself.

One of the quandaries that I had was the casting of Bacall who I felt was too old for the part. I realize that in the Bob Randall novel of the same name, which this film is based, the actress character was also an aging Hollywood star, but as stalking has become more prevalent since this film was released, it’s been shown that stalkers prefer younger, more attractive women with a ‘virginal’ appeal and who they feel they can better control or ‘possess’. With Bacall, and her very feisty personality, you don’t get any of that. She’s also supposedly playing someone who is 49, but looks more like 60 and was actually 56 when it was filmed. While I got more used to her as the film progressed, the script doesn’t take enough advantage of her patented bitchy side, and except for one brief spat with her secretary, her presence is too benign.

The real waste though came from James Garner, who’s given a bland part that doesn’t help propel the story in any way. Originally when the film was first released and I saw his name in the credits I thought he was the stalker, which would’ve been interesting as he’s rarely ever played a bad guy, so it would’ve been intriguing seeing him thrown out of his comfort zone, but unfortunately that ends up not being the case.

Biehn is certainly a good actor although his psycho character in the TV-Movie ‘Deadly Intentions’ is far more interesting than the one he plays here. His weapon of choice, a shaving razor, is not visually intimidating enough and the victims die too easily by slumping over dead after just one quick cut across the chest. The scene where he stabs and kills a guy by swimming underneath him in a public pool is well shot, but implausible as there were so many other people around, including in the pool that it seemed hard to believe that Biehn would’ve been able to escape undetected.

Director Ed Bianchi, who directed a lot of award-winning commercials before doing this, reveals a stylish flair and I enjoyed the way he captures New York particularly the urban cafes and city streets, but the plot itself offers few surprises. Ultimately it would’ve worked better had the identity of the killer been left a mystery until the very end. This way the tension would’ve mounted as the viewer would remain in the dark as much as Sally as to who actually was after her.

Spoiler Alert!

The climactic sequence has Bacall confronting Biehn all by herself while trapped inside an otherwise empty theater. Bacall doesn’t respond to things the same way a conventional female might by screaming, which is great, and she also literally tells the guy off right to his face just as he’s about to stab her, which is great too, but the way she props up his dead body into a theater seat seemed bizarre. Why would she bother doing this? Just leave the dead body lying on the floor and run for help. Seeing the bird’s-eye shot of the killer lying there would’ve looked creepier and instead of a voice over of him reading the first letter he sent her have another letter written by another obsessive fan read and thus creating the double-ending famous in a lot of 80’s slasher flicks where you think the threat had been defeated, but was actually still out there in another form.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 15, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ed Bianchi

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Playing for Keeps (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teens refurbish rundown hotel.

Danny (Daniel Jordano) has just recently graduated from high school and has big entrepreneurial dreams.  He becomes aware that his family has inherited a place called Hotel Majestic in Bethany, Pennsylvania and decides he wants to turn it into a nightclub for teens, but first he must first pay off the $8,000 due in back taxes. Together with his two friends: Spike (Mathew Penn) and Silk (Leon W. Grant) they devise a way to earn the money by pretending to be Boy Scouts and selling cookies to office workers. When they finally payoff the debt they find an even bigger challenge, which is fixing up the decrepit place while also fighting off a man named Harry Cromwell (Robert Milli) who runs a Chemical Company and wants to turn the hotel property into a waste dump.

This was Harvey Weinstein’s first directorial effort, which he did alongside his brother Bob and released under the then new Miramax studio, which was named after their parents Miriam and Max. This also marks Harvey’s first known case of sexual harassment when he invited an attractive 20-year-old waitress named Tomi-Ann Roberts, who was waiting tables in the town where they were shooting in, up to his hotel room to audition for a role he felt she’d be ‘perfect’ for and when she arrived she found him naked in a tub and requesting that she should disrobe as well to make sure she’d be ‘right for the part’ even though there’s no nudity in the movie.

If Weinstein’s name wasn’t so famous and you didn’t know who the director was you’d be convinced it was done by some talentless hack whose first and last film venture this was. While it does remain at least lively everything else about it is stupid including the corny, cliché-ridden comedy that permeates every scene. I found the three leads, who seem to be cast to meet some sort-of politically correct quota as they’re different races, to be quite bland particularly lead star Jordano who shows no varied emotions or facial expressions other than the same glossy smile all the way through no matter what other emotional situation he may be in.

The townspeople are boring caricatures too with their café jukebox having no other selections of music to play than Kate Smith, and the people behaving like they’d never heard of Billy Idol or Michael Jackson, which is ridiculous as I grew up in a small Midwestern town during the 80’s and our radio stations and juke boxes had a wide selection of the latest hits just like the big city. Having the only other open-minded person in the town being the farmer’s super hot daughter (Mary B. Ward) who magically falls for Danny was just a little too convenient.

The process of renovating the place, which takes up almost the entire runtime, gets so drawn-out that it becomes boring. I also couldn’t believe that all of Danny’s high school friends, which he recruits as ‘stockholders’, would be willing to stick through the arduous challenge of the fixing up the hotel like they do and most would’ve walked away pretty quickly. When they are finally able to complete the project the place gets filled with such tacky 80’s deco art that I found it better looking when it was rundown.

Marisa Tomei, who makes her film debut here, is quite engaging and I enjoyed her better in this role than her more famous Academy Award winning one from My Cousin VinnyI also liked Kim Hauser, who plays Danny’s kid sister, and has an appealing Karen Black-like cross-eyed look. Had these two been made the stars instead of the three transparent guys it would’ve been better.

It seems like, based off of the imdb reviews that I read, that the only reason people like this movie is because of its 80’s cheesiness and if that’s what you’re into you’ll be more than satisfied as this thing sure has a hell of a lot of it. Others though will find it shallow and mindless.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Directors: Bob and Harvey Weinstein

Studio: Miramax

Available: DVD

Jenny (1970)

jenny

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: An unmarried, pregnant woman.

Jenny (Marlo Thomas) is a young woman living in New York City who has a one night stand with a man engaged to be married and ends up getting pregnant. She fears the stigma of being an unwed mother, so when she meets Delano (Alan Alda), a struggling filmmaker who wants to marry in order to avoid the draft, she agrees. The marriage of convenience does not start out well as living together brings out all of their differences, but the closer they get to the delivery date the stronger their bond to each other grows.

This was intended to be a breakout role for Marlo, who was still doing her TV-show ‘That Girl’ at the time and filmed this while on hiatus from that one. She was hoping this would be the first of a long line of starring vehicles for her and even precipitated the ending of her series two years later in order to be available to do more movies, but the offers never came. One of the main reasons is that the movie did not do that well either at the box office, or critically. Much of the blame could be given to the limp storyline that acted like the social mores of 1939 were still intact in 1969 where having a baby without a husband would be considered ‘scandalous’ even though it was the height of the hippie movement where lovemaking outside of marriage had become the new trendy thing making this film very dated even before it was ever released.

The film should’ve been titled ‘Delano and Jenny’ as Alda’s performance is the one thing that manages to hold it together. He’s best known for playing Hawkeye in the TV-show ‘M*A*S*H’ where he was a touch-feely, sensitive 70’s guy, but here he’s character is quite self-centered and volatile. Yet this is the one thing in the movie that’s interesting. Marlo’s performance on the other-hand ends up being one-note. Watching her big, brown eyes show a constant look of pain and sadness becomes too excessive and too redundant.

The supporting players help a little. Marian Hailey plays Delano’s world-wise, jaded lover, which is a far cry from the nerdy, nasally sounding, neurotic character that she was in the cult hit Lovers and Other Strangers. Vincent Gardenia and Elizabeth Wilson, who play Jenny’s parents, also played another married couple that very same year in the movie Little Murders. The scene where everyone takes a look at a cabinet full of teeth that Jenny’s father had made during his career, as he was a dental prosthetist, and had encased in the middle of his living room did offer a rare funny moment, but the camera should’ve done a close-up on the dentures as he described them instead of  having the viewers only see it from a distance.

The first half is surprisingly watchable as it brings out the inevitable realities that would occur when simply marrying for convenience, but having the film shift to a love story at the end doesn’t jive. These two had so little in common it didn’t seem possible that they could’ve fallen in love even if they had wanted to. Jenny’s character needed to be better fleshed out as well. She comes-off as shy and cautious and yet is brazen enough to hop into bed with a guy engaged to someone else, which is a scene we needed to see played-out instead of only discussed in passing later.

Spoiler Alert!

When the nurse brings in the infant as Jenny and Delano sit in the hospital room was the one moment I thought there might be a surprise as the baby looked from the back to be African American and from the front to be Asian even though apparently he was neither. I was hoping that it was as that would’ve been something that that neither the moody Delano nor the viewer would’ve expected and helped given this otherwise sterile story the edgy twist that it needed.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 2, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated M

Director: George Bloomfield

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD

Deadly Hero (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bad cop stalks witness.

Sally (Diahn Williams) is a beautiful cellist living alone in a New York apartment. One day while returning home she gets abducted by an assailant named Rabbit (James Earl Jones) who forces his way at knifepoint into her apartment. Mrs. Broderick (Lilia Skala), a concerned neighbor, calls the police  and soon officers Lacy (Don Murray) and Billings (Treat Williams) arrive at the scene. When Rabbit tries to leave with Sally Officer Lacy stops him at gunpoint. Rabbit holds a knife to Sally’s throat threatening to kill her, but Lacy persuades him drop it. When he does Lacy then shoots him in cold blood. During the subsequent investigation Lacy insists that Rabbit was coming after him with a knife and had no choice but to shoot. Sally though knows the truth and while she’s reluctant to come forward at first she eventually does causing Lacy to begin stalking her and threatening her life unless she agrees to recant.

The film, which was directed by Hungarian native Ivan Nagy, has a wonderful New York City vibe that brings out the ambience of its neighborhoods and street culture better than most other films that were directed by Americans. The Seamus Murphy Dance Troupe, which makes up the artists who perform the dance numbers in the play that Sally plays her cello in, helps add an eclectic moody vibe that I liked.

The acting isn’t too bad either. Murray comes-off as a bad cop caricature, but he does it so well it can almost be forgiven though I didn’t like the segment intercut into the first act showing him speaking at a campaign rally for a local politician (George S. Irving) as he had not met this man until after the shooting when he gets deemed a ‘hero’ and therefore this scene should not have been interjected into the film before the story actually got there.

Williams is alright as the victim in what should’ve capitulated her into more film work, but during filming she found herself at constant odds with director Nagy prompting her to leave the acting profession and pursue a law career instead where she’s known as Diahn McGrath. There’s an interesting supporting cast here too including Jones who gives a colorful performance as the thug and brief glimpses of Danny DeVito and Debbie Harry in bit parts.

The main issue with the film is that the characters are not fleshed-out enough for us to understand what motivates them, or why they do what they do. Why is Lacy so angry and why does he decide to shoot an unarmed man? We’re told that he’s  had violent tendencies in the past, but we’re never shown it, nor any explanation for a possible cause. He’s also seems to be in a happy marriage with a younger woman, but you’d think such a psychotic person would be unable to hide his ugly side from his wife and yet the film portrays the spouse as being completely clueless to his dark nature.

Sally’s need to come forward with the truth even when faced with strong pressure not to adds more questions than answers. Why does she feel so compelled to put Lacy away even if so doing could risk her career and life? Many people would get intimidated and back-off on their pursuit for justice when given all the drawbacks, so what is it about her character that decides to forge on when others wouldn’t? This needed insight unfortunately never comes.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending devolves into a standard psycho-on-the-loose formula in which Lacy tracks down Sally and takes her to a remote farm in Upstate New York where he plans to kill her, but his reasoning doesn’t make sense. If she disappears he’d become the prime suspect and it’s very unlikely, whether she testified or not, that his job would ever get reinstated, so why then even bother?

The film’s first two acts examined the inner politics of a city police department and did it in a vivid, realistic manner, which is where the focus should’ve stayed. A far creepier ending would’ve had the corrupt police brass refuse to believe Sally’s allegations, which would allow Lacy to remain on the force despite his many transgressions, so she’d not only have Lacy as her threat, but all of his police friends as well.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ivan Nagy

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video