Category Archives: Movies that take place in the Big Apple

Manhattan (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Writer has relationship issues.

Isaac (Woody Allen) is an unemployed TV writer who’s currently dating Tracy (Mariel Hemingway) a 17-year-old girl, but he feels guilty about this and thinks it’s only a matter of time before she moves on to someone else that is more her age. In the meantime he begins seeing Mary (Diane Keaton) who is the mistress to his best friend Yale (Michael Murphy). Eventually Isaac falls for Mary, but she then goes back to Yale forcing Isaac to beg Tracy to come back to him even as she’s prepares to go off to London to study acting.

Although this film became a critical darling I agree more with Allen himself who considers this to be the least favorite out of all of the movies he’s directed. The much ballyhooed black-and-white cinematography is a detriment especially when it shows the fireworks going off above the skyline, which if done in color would’ve been vibrant, but here it’s less than thrilling. The film also doesn’t give you much of a feel for the city since all it does is give brief shots of the skyscrapers and never any of its eclectic neighborhoods, shops, street life, or people. Looking at various photos of the city in Wikipedia gives one a far better visual taste of Manhattan then this film ever does and the George Gershwin score has unfortunately lost its uniqueness since United Airlines used it for many years for its ad campaign and I kept thinking of that the whole time it gets played here.

Allen’s trip with Keaton to a planetarium is interesting visually and their facial expressions during a visit to a concert is amusing, but otherwise the storyline dealing with their budding romance is boring and predictable. It’s fun to see, and a testament to Keaton’s great acting ability,  her playing a completely different type of person than the one she did just two years earlier in Annie Hall, but the character itself is off-putting and not someone most men would want to warm-up to. Maybe it’s the way she thinks that just because she’s from Philadelphia that makes her or anyone else from there morally superior, which I realize is meant to be amusing, but I didn’t find it that way mainly because I know people in real-life who are actually like that.

Allen’s visits with his ex-wife, played by Meryl Streep doesn’t jive either because I could not believe that they were ever compatible enough to ever have gotten married in the first place.  It’s also weird that her new partner Connie (Karen Ludwig) remains so civil and calm when in Allen’s presence since he apparently tried at one time to run her over with a car, which to me would make her not want to be anywhere near him, or even allow him into her home.

Allen’s relationship with Hemingway is the film’s only interesting aspect. Some of course may consider this to be controversial due to the wide age differences between the two although technically in the state of New York the age of consent is 17, so in the eyes of the law it was legal even though the characters themselves amusingly don’t seem aware of this. What I liked though was that Hemingway, despite being so young, comes off as the mature one in the relationship and when they’re shown walking side-by-side she is actually taller, which I found to be the funniest part of the whole movie. She also does a very convincing cry, which isn’t easy.

Unfortunately the relationship also leaves open a plethora of questions that the movie never bothers to answer. For instance where are her parents and what do they think of her living with a 42-year-old man? What do her friends think of Allen and what exactly does she see in this scrawny, whiny little man to fall-in-love with him anyways?

Supposedly her character is based on actress Stacey Nelkin who had a on-going relationship with Allen for 8 years starting when she was 16, but that made more sense because she was a young would-be starlet who most likely was mesmerized by Allen as a well-established director and who she probably saw as being her ticket to possibly breaking into the business, but here Isaac is an unemployed nobody yammering incessantly about things like Ingmar Bergman, which is something most teens can’t get into, so again I ask what does this Hemingway character see in this guy that would make her want to move in with him?

I’ve been a fan of many of Allen’s other films especially his comedies from the early 70’s and some of his dramas too, but this one left me cold. I felt that way when I first saw it over 20 years ago and nothing changed upon the second viewing as it seems to be cramming in three diametrically different storylines giving it kind of a jumbled narrative instead of just focusing on one.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 18, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Unfaithfully Yours (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Conductor suspects wife’s infidelity.

Claude Eastman (Dudley Moore) is a famous orchestra conductor who’s married to Daniella (Nastassja Kinski). While he is on vacation his friend Norman (Albert Brooks) hires a detective (Richard B. Shull) to keep an eye on her and he mistakenly thinks that she’s cheating on Claude with Maximillan (Armand Assante). When Claude finds this out he comes up with a crafty plot to kill her and frame it on Maximillian, but once he tries to put the plan into action everything goes awry.

This is a remake of the film with the same title that was released in 1948 and starred Rex Harrison. That film was quite funny especially the second-half, but it wasn’t perfect and this one makes several changes to the original script that I felt actually improved it. One of the changes is that while Claude is conducting the orchestra he comes up with the plan of how he wants to kill her, but in the original it was three different ideas while here it is only one. Some viewers have complained about this, but the truth is that the other two ideas weren’t very funny or interesting, so whittling it down to only one works better.

I also felt that it was dumb at how in the original Harrison had no interest in reading the report that the private eye hands him and at one point even tries to set it on fire, but I would think any reasonable person, even if they wanted to believe that their partner wouldn’t cheat on them, would still be curious enough to want to take a look at it. In this version Moore initially resists but eventually his curiosity gets the better of him, which is how I think 99 % of other people would act if in the same situation, which therefore makes Moore’s attempts at retrieving the report after initially discarding it all the more comical.

The actual murder plan though is better handled in the first one, where if done exactly right was rather ingenious and even believable. Here though the idea that Moore comes up with has a lot of glaring holes in it right from the start including the fact that he attempts to record his wife’s laughter/screams while inside a restaurant, but the noise of the other customers would conceivably drown out the wife’s voice. The recorder is also placed too far away from where the wife is sitting making whatever noise it does pick-up from her come off as quite muffled and distant.

I felt that Harrison’s acting in the original was what really made it work, but Moore does just as good here particularly in the animated way he conducts, which is a laugh onto itself. However, the scene where he mistakenly drinks some coke that is laced with crushed tranquilizer pills, which presumably should’ve knocked him out completely, but instead it makes him behave in a slightly drunken state is too reminiscent to the alcoholic character that he played in Arthur and therefore should not have been done here due to the comparison.

Although it doesn’t quite hold-up and loses steam by the end it’s still an entertaining ride. If you’re more into classic Hollywood films, or you want to watch and compare both, then I’d say the black-and-white original is just as good as both films had me laughing-out-loud at several points and both deserve a 7 out of 10.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 10, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Shamus (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Detective uses unorthodox methods.

Shamus (Burt Reynolds) is a down-and-out private detective who uses a pool table for a bed and seems more able to attract woman that he doesn’t know for indiscriminate sex than he does at finding cases to solve. Eventually he gets hired by a millionaire businessman (Ron Weyand) to retrieve diamonds stolen during a violent robbery, but the more he pursues the case the more convinced he becomes that it’s a set-up.

This film has the perfect blend of funny Burt/tough-guy Burt and it’s one of the main reasons why it manages to remain engaging. Most other films that he was in never had the right balance. By the late 70’s his humorous side had gotten overused to the point that his image had become that of a silly country boy, but then in the 80’s he over-corrected by starring in a lot of sterile action flicks where his characters were overly-serious and moody and even less entertaining than his comical side. Here though it’s a fun mix as he playfully jumps from saying quips with a twinkle in his eye to beating the crap out of the bad guys when he needs to and the opening bit where he wakes-up and tries to get ready for the day after a long night of partying is a total gem.

The actions of his character though gets a bit over-the-top particularly with the way he extorts information from those he encounters. Unfortunately he’s no Jim Rockford who would use his cunning and wit to get people to talk, but here Shamus gets physically rough with them to the point that he literally strangles a man with a chain until his face turns purple making it look like he was as bad as those he was pursuing. It also made me wonder how long he could go on using these unsavory methods before it would finally catch-up with him.

He also doesn’t use much of his own brain power as he gets underlings at a bar he frequents to do most of the research for him making it seem like they should be the ones receiving the pay. I was also confused why he’d stay on the case even after the person who had hired him cuts off his funds. For the majority of the film he’s emotionally detached and only doing what he needs to, to get paid, so why continue to pursue something when the incentive is gone especially when there’s nothing in it personally for him?

The story has a lot of twists and complications, but it all ends up circling back to the person that we had suspected from the very beginning making the ending not only predictable but boring. It would also have been nice since this film does make some attempts at being gritty to not have every lead that he comes upon always magically pan out. In real-life many so-called ‘hot leads’ go nowhere and for the sake of balance the film should’ve shown Burt coming to a few dead-ends before finally getting the clues that he needed.

As for the action it’s okay and the foot chase outside of a warehouse is good not so much for what happens, but more because it was shot in late autumn and the orange sunlight coupled with the bare trees gives off a surreal feeling, which gets ruined later during another foot chase where everything is suddenly plush and green and strangely turned springtime without warning. The fact that Burt is always able to jump into vehicles that routinely have their keys already in the ignition hurts the credibility and how he was able to get a forklift to drive itself during the warehouse segment is even more perplexing.

The film starts off with a bang and I was hoping this would be something really different, but ultimately it becomes like a slow, leaking tire that gets flatter as it goes along. That’s not to say it isn’t adequate as it is, but there’s nothing about it that’s truly memorable. Dyan Cannon’s is particularly wasted. Supposedly she had to be coaxed out of semi-retirement to do this after her bad experience in Such Good Friends, but I failed to see the point as her character doesn’t have much to do with the story and could’ve easily been cut out altogether.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 31, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Buzz Kulik

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Harry and Walter Go to New York (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two vaudevillians rob bank.

Harry and Walter (James Caan, Elliot Gould) are two down-on-their-luck marginally talented comedians living in the 1920’s who go to jail when they’re caught trying to rob their audience members during a tacky onstage ‘psychic’ stunt that goes horribly wrong. While in the slammer they meet up with Adam Worth (Michael Caine) a rich man from society’s upper crust who enjoys robbing banks just for the thrill of it. They come upon the blue print for his next proposed heist and take a picture of it and then after they escape from jail challenge Adam on who will be able to rob the bank first.

This is one of those 70’s movies that I found to be refreshingly original and quite funny, but when it was released it was met with harsh reviews and was a bomb at the box office. After some bad test audience reactions it was heavily cut much to director Mark Rydell’s dismay who felt a lot of the better jokes went missing although producer Tony Bill and star Caan blame Rydell for the film’s failure and insist that much of the humor in the original script was never even filmed or used.

I can’t explain why the film didn’t do well as I personally found as bank heist movies go this one to be quite  unique. So many bank robbing films from that era, and even today, paint the scheme in a one-dimensional way by portraying the robbers, who we are usually supposed to sympathize with, as a modern-day Robin Hood, while the cops and those out to stop them are represented as being the greedy,oppressive establishment, but this film takes things a step further, which is what I found interesting. The competition aspect gives it an extra.,likable edge and really made me want to root for Harry and Walter and their gang of losers who take on the arrogant Caine and his snotty buddies. Instead of the viewer just being intrigued at how they’re able to pull of the robbery as is the case with most heist films we are much more emotionally invested with its outcome.

Caan and Gould are what Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman should’ve been in Ishtar. These guys are definite losers, but still appealing and comical at the same time. Caan has never been known for his comedy and he has referred to this movie as ‘Harry and Walter Go to the Toilet’, which is a shame because he shows nice energy here and is able to keep Gould in check by not allowing him to drone on and steal the spotlight as he can sometimes do when left alone or with a less capable co-star.

If the film fails at all it’s by entering in too many supporting players. The title mentions only Harry and Walter and they should’ve pulled off the heist alone with maybe only Keaton tagging along for balance. As it is though a whole massive group gets in on it to the point that the two leads have little to do. While the group is busily trying to figure out how to open the safe Harry and Walter are on stage trying to extend a stage play  The film still works pretty well despite this issue, but technically the two men should be at the center of the action and in a lot of ways they really aren’t and in fact become almost like supporting players by the end.

The film also goes on too long with the denouncement being far more extended than it should, but it’s still a fun, breezy watch that reflects the gilded age flavor well and uses leftover sets from Hello Dolly to enhance the scenery perfectly.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mark Rydell

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Love at First Bite (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dracula dates fashion model.

After being kicked out of his castle by the Romanian government Count Dracula (George Hamilton) moves to New York City where he starts up a relationship with the beautiful, but troubled fashion model Cindy (Susan Saint James). Her boyfriend Jeffrey (Richard Benjamin) who also acts as her psychiatrist, is not pleased by this and becomes obsessed with destroying the count by using all the old vampire killing methods, but the count always stays one step ahead of him, which is enough to send Jeffrey to the mental hospital.

Although this film isn’t well remembered it was a big hit when it came out and a comeback movie of sorts for Hamilton whose dramatic leading man roles during the 60’s and early 70’s had completely dried-up by this time. His foray into comedy was a last ditch effort to save his floundering career and the gamble paid off as he’s quite funny and almost like a natural.

Saint James on-the-other-hand seemed too old for her role as she was already in her mid-30’s, but she manages to pull it off surprisingly well. Normally having a film character invite a stranger, in this case the Count, who she has just met at a club back to her place would be considered insane, but here it works as a nice satire on the one-night-stand fad of the 70’s and the on-going conversation that the two have as they proceed to make-out is by far the funniest bit in the film. I also liked how her messy apartment nicely reflected her screwed-up life and personality.

Unfortunately the film falls flat when it introduces the Jeffrey character. Benjamin has played this obnoxious jerk-type one time too often and although he is quite good at it, it was still getting to be old shtick and it’s easy to see why he quit acting soon after and went into directing. The whole thing would’ve worked better had it focused exclusively on Saint James and Hamilton and analyzed their attempts to make their offbeat relationship work, which could’ve put a fresh spin on the vampire theme instead of devolving it into Jeffrey’s dumb attempts at trying to destroy the Count  by using all the cliched methods like garlic, mirrors, etc., which quickly becomes stale and cartoonish.

The film does have a lot of famous cameos including the two stars of ‘The Jeffersons’ TV-show who appear separately in bit parts. Arte Johnson also successfully hams it up as the Count’s faithful assistant in a comic send-up of Dwight Frye’s role in Dracula. Overall though there’s more misses than hits, which includes the ill-advised flying bat special effects that comes off looking so hokey that it almost demotes this to a B-movie level.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 13, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stan Dragoti

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Driller Killer (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Electric drill relieves stress.

Reno (Abel Ferrara) is a New York apartment dweller who frets over his inability to pay his bills and the constant noise coming from a punk band next door who perform at all hours of the day and night and to which his landlord (Alan Wynroth) refuses to do anything about. The pressures to finish his latest painting, which he hopes to sell, become too much, so to alleviate the tension he takes a power drill out onto the streets and kills random homeless people with it late at night. For awhile this is enough but he eventually decides to use it on other people in his life who he feels have wronged him, which includes not only his girlfriend,but an art gallery owner (Harry Schultz) who refused to purchase his painting.

This is a definite step above the usual horror fare and seems in many ways like an arthouse film. It’s ability to capture New York’s dark urban underbelly gives the viewer a strong taste of what the main character is going through until you almost feel like you’re trapped there alongside him. The talky segments that come in-between the killings, which are usually the boring parts in most other horror films, are surprisingly captivating as they vividly convey all the reasons why Reno is so angry and give the viewer much the same feeling.

When the killings finally do start to happen it’s not so much the graphic violence that’s disturbing, but the fact that we relate to the man who’s doing it. We’ve understood his pent up rage by seeing how the unrelenting, impersonal urban system continually works against him making the murders act like a stress reliever not only to the killer, but the viewer as well as it breaks both us and him away from the never ending challenges of everyday life, which the film essentially portrays as being the real horror. Instead of being repelled by the bad guy we connect to him sending this movie into a far darker psychological realm than most.

While Ferrara shows a gifted ability as a director the film almost defeats it’s unique edge by dwelling too much on the urban hell hole theme as it makes its point and then drags it out by hitting-it-home again and again. The footage of the punk band becomes excessive too until it almost becomes more like a musical docu-drama. The killings aren’t very imaginative either as one quickly becomes like the other eventually making them seem like throwaway scenes that quickly lose their impact.

The film’s ending is particularly disappointing as it fades out before we know what happens to either the main character or his girlfriend (Carol Slaughter). A good horror film needs a strong finish and this one cops-out like it didn’t know how to end it, so it just leaves it up to the viewer to guess. While I commend its effort to take the genre into a more complex and unusual area I still felt it could’ve gone even further with its warped premise than it does.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 15, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Abel Ferrara

Studio: Navaron Films

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

Heartburn (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Husband cheats on wife.

Rachel (Meryl Streep) writes for a magazine as a New York food critic and meets Mark (Jack Nicholson) at a wedding that they both attend. Mark is a political columnist who’s known around Washington for being quite a ladies man, but the two get into a relationship anyways and then eventually despite their reluctance married. Things go smoothly for a while and Rachel even starts to think that she has a ‘perfect marriage’, but then as she is about to give birth to their second child she realizes that he has been having an affair.

The film is based on Nora Ephron’s autobiographical novel dealing with her marriage and subsequent divorce to newspaper reporter Carl Bernstein. The book starts out with her ready to give birth to the second child, but the movie unfortunately takes a more linear approach to the narrative as it plods along through the initial courtship and wedding even though the red flags are clearly there and the viewer knows exactly where it’s going. The story would’ve worked better had it started at the 50-minute mark where Rachel finds out about the affair and then through brief flashbacks shown how the relationship began, which would’ve cut the runtime, which is too long for such slight material anyways, and helped make the proceedings seem just a little less predictable.

A lot of the humor doesn’t work either. The sequence involving the wedding ceremony and Rachel not sure if she wanted to go through with it which keeps the guests there for hours gets botched because I don’t believe the people would’ve remained sitting there for so long. When she finally does decide to proceed with the wedding the guests all look strangely refreshed when in reality most if not all would’ve been long gone and it would’ve been funnier to see them getting married inside an empty room save for one bored wedding guest who remained there simply because it couldn’t find a ride home.

The dream-like segments where an Alistar Cooke-like character talks about Rachel’s marriage problems while hosting a TV-show is too surreal and should’ve been excised because doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the film, which is more reality based. The segment where Rachel finds out that Mark is having an affair and then it cuts to a shot of her holding a pie that she is taking to a dinner party is too obvious as the viewer immediately gets a strong sense that the pie will eventually be going onto Mark’s face and when it finally does it’s not funny, but anti-climactic instead.

The script fails to add any new insight into an already tired subject and the characters aren’t likable as they have too much of an elitist coastal feel about them and their lifestyles won’t resonate or connect with anyone living in another part of the country. There are just too many people in this whose only concern or form of entertainment is having catty gossip/conversations dealing with who’s cheating on whom, which quickly becomes derivative.

Streep and Nicholson are good and its interesting seeing them play together here as they also starred together just a year later in Ironweed playing two diametrically different people. Unfortunately Jack, who is for the most part quite likable, doesn’t look or behave at all like the real-life Bernstein, which his character is supposedly loosely based on. Dustin Hoffman, who had already played Bernstein in All the President’s Men was the first choice for the role and he would’ve been perfect, but for whatever reason he turned it down.

Ultimately though the film’s biggest drawback is simply Rachel herself as she frets and nitpicks about everything and her anxiety-ridden ways would most likely annoy any man, which makes the ultimate affair when it finally does happen seem inevitable and not a shock at all. When she ponders to Mark about if they should get married and she tells him that she fears she’ll drive him crazy and Mark replies ‘you already are’ I felt like saying ‘she’s driving the viewer that way too.’.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mike Nichols

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

“Crocodile” Dundee II (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Now that’s a knife.

Mick (Paul Hogan) and Sue (Linda Kozlowski) having been living together in her New York apartment for a year since their last adventures from the first film. Sue’s ex-husband Bob (Dennis Boutsikaris) is working for drug enforcement in South America. He witnesses and photographs the murder of a rival drug cartel leader at the hands of Luis Rico (Hechter Ubarry) and his men. Once Bob realizes that he’s been spotted he runs for cover to his hotel, but the men chase after him and kill him, but not before he sends the film negatives of the killing to Sue. The drug gang then kidnaps Sue in order to get their hands on the negative and it’s up to Mick to find a way to free her while also single-handedly fighting off the gang.

This sequel manages to avoid the missteps of so many others by wisely not trying to replay what we saw in the first installment, but instead taking it into a new direction and therefore allowing the theme and characters to progress. To some degree the plot does come off like an episode of ‘Miami Vice’ and the villains are also incredibly dull and generic. Do we really need bad guy Luis explaining to Sue why he got into the drug dealing business, because of the ‘money’ and ‘power’, as if there would be any other reason?

Having her ex-husband, someone who was never seen at all in the first film, act as a catalyst is problematic too. It seems like one’s ex-spouse; especially someone he hasn’t spoken to in years would be the last person to send crucial photographs to. He works for the DEA, so why not send it to them?

However, even with these issues I still kind of liked seeing Mick forced into action. The first film consisted mainly of him bragging about his exploits, but here we get to see first-hand some of his actual survival skills. It also puts to test his easygoing personality and we see if he can remain amazingly low-key and likable in situations that most other people couldn’t.

Unfortunately unlike in the first flick the comedy does not come from Hogan’s character, but instead from others around him that witness his exploits. Outside of an amusing segment that comes early on in the film where Mick tries to talk a man out of jumping off a ledge his character is portrayed in a darker more intense way although not enough to erase his ever going charm.

Kozlowski, who ended up marrying Hogan in real-life 2 years after this film was released, is stuck in a thankless supporting role where she doesn’t have much to do. The film poster portrays the idea that the two fight the bad guys side-by-side, but in reality Hogan does most of it while Linda simply tags along and observes. The real scene stealer is John Meillon whose last theatrical film this was. He was in the first one, but his presence there didn’t amount to much, but here his character, working in tandem with Mick, is an integral part of sending the drug gang on a wild goose chase.

The scenes shot in Australia are gorgeous and in fact the spot where the drug gang campout is the same place where Picnic at Hanging Rock was filmed. Charles S. Dutton who plays a man by name of Leroy Brown and pretends to be a drug dealer even though he really isn’t is quite amusing too and overall the film is a mildly entertaining way to spend two hours.

Spoiler Alert!

My only problem is in regards to Leonard Maltin’s review of it where he states that he felt the film was too leisurely paced and wished they’d “get on with it especially when all suspense about the outcome is eliminated”, but after watching it this makes no sense. The bad guys are not fully defeated until the very, very end in fact it quickly cuts to the credits once they are. There’s even some concern that Mick may have accidently been killed, which also occurs at the very end, so it seems that Maltin, who I generally like as a critic, either didn’t really watch the movie, or the whole thing, and therefore has no idea what he’s actually talking about.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 20, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Cornell

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Born to Win (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Junkie needs his fix.

J.J. (George Segal) is a former hairdresser now residing on the streets due to his heroin addiction. To help pay for his expensive habits he agrees to transport drugs for Vivian ( Hector Elizondo) which gets him into deeper trouble with the criminal underworld. Eventually two cops (Ed Madsen, Robert De Niro) catch up with him and agree to strike a deal, which will allow him to avoid jail time if he agrees to turn Vivian and his cohorts in. J.J. though is more concerned with getting his next fix and nothing else matters not even the hot young chick Parm (Karen Black) who he has just moved in with.

There were many 70’s films, some might say too many, dealing with the drug addiction theme. Some were quite compelling while most of the others were highly clichéd. This one though takes a slightly different angle by injecting comedy into the proceedings and surprisingly it works. J.J.’s conversation with an older woman cashier (Sylvia Syms) about enemas, which he does in order to distract her from seeing his buddies stealing the company’s safe, is quite amusing. The best part though is when J.J. is stripped naked and forced to wear nothing but a woman’s bathrobe and then when he’s held prisoner in an apartment bedroom he flashes a young woman from across the street in order to get her attention to call the cops, but instead she proceeds to just flash him back, which is a laugh-out-loud moment especially when the viewer later gets to see Segal running down the city’s streets in the pink bathrobe with startled pedestrians looking on.

The film though fails when it tries to get serious. The dramatic moment where J.J.’s friend Billy (Jay Fletcher) takes some corrupted heroin and it kills him gets botched. Maybe it’s just me as I’ve seen many movies, but I could tell where this scene was headed right from the start and the intended ‘shock’ and ‘surprise’ of it instead becomes boring and overly played-out.

Karen Black’s presence helps. Her character is quite goofy to the point that she gets turned-on by J.J. when she catches him trying to steal her car and even invites him back to her place afterwards. Normally this behavior would be considered too wacky to be believable, but Black’s ability to channel her inner freak gives the whole thing an authentic feel and her later conversations dealing with how many men she has slept with is a gem as well.

Segal’s performance is solid, but we never effectively get inside his character’s head. The film would’ve been far stronger had we seen what his life was like before he became an addict and the jarring contrast in his lifestyles could’ve made for a powerful statement, which unfortunately is lacking. We also never get to see him actually putting the needle into his arm. We see at one point the needle marks in his skin, but seeing him taking the drug would’ve hit the message home visually.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is frustrating as he is given a bag of heroin that he knows may be tainted and ultimately will kill him if he takes it and yet it is left wide open as to whether he tries it or not. The idea that someone would be so strung out to get a high that they would knowingly take something that they knew could instantly kill them is an intriguing quandary that needed to be answered and the fact that it doesn’t is why this film despite a few good moments ultimately misses-the-mark.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ivan Passer

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

“Crocodile” Dundee (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: That’s not a knife.

Sue (Linda Kozlowski) is a newspaper reporter who gets permission to cover a story about an Australian bushman named Mick better known by his nickname Crocodile Dundee (Paul Hogan) who was able to fight off a croc attack before successfully crawling to safety. To do this she travels to the outback, so she can learn about his way of life firsthand. After spending six weeks interviewing him she then invites him back to New York with her. Once there Mick finds the city life and the people in it quite confusing. He also takes an almost immediate disliking to Richard (Mark Blum) Sue’s fiancée.

Loosely based on actual events the laid back story goes down easy and is full of charm, but its basic premise is a bit hard-to-swallow. I thought the idea of having a reporter go clear across the globe to interview some no-name bushman over an obscure and completely unsubstantiated crocodile attack claim just wasn’t realistically worth the time or money. Crocodile/alligator attacks occur yearly all over. Why not save the money by sending the reporter to Florida instead where you could probably just as easily find and interview someone who survived a similar incident?

Most of the time a journalist will be accompanied by a photographer, but here she takes the pictures as well as doing interviews even though with most big time newspapers and many times even the small ones that is never the case. This also brings up the issue of her traveling for weeks all alone in the middle-of-nowhere and even sleeping under the stars with a man she essentially knows little about. What’s to say he wouldn’t attack her at some point and if so who would she call? I believe most women wouldn’t be comfortable in that scenario and thus having a third party present such as a photographer or other chaperone would’ve made far more sense.

The money issue, or the fact that the newspaper apparently pays him to come back to the states with Sue, seemed illogical and wasteful. Why is a newspaper spending money to bring a bushman into a foreign land? If it is to see how he adjusts to it that’s one thing, but the majority of the time Mick spends in New York he is by himself with Sue nowhere near him covering his reactions, so then what’s the point? Later Mick decides to stay in the Big Apple for a longer period, but where does he get the extra money to do that?

The scene where Mick puts a water buffalo into a trance-like sleep is baffling too. Supposedly he does this because they are driving along in a jeep and the buffalo won’t get out of the road and let them pass, but how is putting the animal to sleep where he then plops his big body onto the road going to help? The film then conveniently cuts without any explanation of how there were ultimately able to get around him.

The second act where Mick comes to New York is the funniest, but even here it doesn’t get played-up to its full potential. The amusing scene where Mick meets some prostitutes, but is unaware of what they do is hard to believe. Even a country boy should’ve been aware of the world’s oldest profession especially when he is over 40 and his naivety in that situation just doesn’t completely work. The film’s most famous scene where Mick scares off some muggers by showing them his large hunting knife also proves problematic when you realize that it is unlikely he would’ve ever been able to get that thing past customs.

Hogan’s appealing performance makes it work. However, it would’ve been better had the guy been younger like in his early 20’s instead of well over 40, which would’ve made some of his awe and wonderment seem a bit more genuine and believable.

For year’s Hogan, who also co-wrote the script, insisted that the Dundee character was of his own creation, but then later it was found that it was really based on the life of Rod Ansell who in 1977 at the age of 23 got stranded in the wilderness of Australia’s Northern Territory for 7 weeks when the dinghy he was riding in capsized and in the process he fought off a crocodile whose head he kept as a souvenir. His adventures were documented in the film To Fight the Wild, as well as published in a book. He did many TV interviews about his ordeal back in the late 70’s which is where Hogan first became aware of him and then when this film became famous he sued Hogan, but lost the case and the fact that he made no money off of it became a major source of bitterness to him, which lead to his addiction to amphetamines that subsequently lead to his death in a police shootout in 1999.

Here’s a pic of Ansell alongside Hogan’s movie likeness of him:

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Peter Faiman

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube