Category Archives: Movies that take place in the Big Apple

Off Beat (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not really a cop.

Joe (Judge Reinhold) works in the basement of a library. While he doesn’t hate his job he’s still looking for direction in life and feels he has missed his calling though he’s not really sure what that is. He’s friend with Abe (Cleavant Derricks) who is a New York City cop. One day Joe inadvertently messes-up a criminal sting that Abe was working on and in an effort to make it up to him Joe agrees to volunteer for a charity event that will require him to do ballet. It’s part of a city wide effort to get one policeman from each precinct to take part and Abe was chosen by his supervisor, but he has no interest, so he gets Joe to take his place while Joe pretends that he’s a cop in order to qualify for the audition. Joe is convinced he won’t make the cut, but when he meets the beautiful Rachel (Meg Tilly), who’s a cop that’s also trying out for the performance, he decides to press-on with it and in-turn finds that dancing gives him the interesting challenge that was otherwise missing in his life as well as a romantic relationship with Rachel. 

One of the things that really hurts the film right from the start is the totally wacky premise that seems to stretch all credibility. I found it very hard to buy into the idea that a policeman would be obligated, and in some ways almost forced, to get involved in a charity event that would take-up so much of his free time and require an extraordinary amount of rigorous training for no pay. Asking some cops to spend a few hours on one weekend at a soup kitchen passing out meals to the homeless is more reasonable, but pushing people into ballet that have no skills, or business in doing is just plain far-fetched. I felt too it was testing the friendship to obligate Joe in what turns out to being a very time consuming endeavor. Granted he learns to enjoy it, but upfront I can’t expect anyone to go that out of their way, even for a friend, over some simple mistake that the made earlier. Originally, and I can’t remember where I read this, the premise was for the characters to be prisoners and getting involved in the dance charity event would allow them the potential of getting their sentences shorten, which made much more sense, but the producers wanted to take advantage of the spate of comical cop movies that were popular at the time and therefore changed the characters into cops, but this just makes it dumb. 

The attempted comedy doesn’t gel either. It starts out at a park with undercover cops secretly listening into a conversation of two people, which seemed to have been taken right out of the opening scene in the far better movie The Conversation. It’s not made clear if that was meant to be an attempted parody of that one, but it doesn’t work either way and it’s best not to imitate a classic if you can’t improve on it as it ends up reminding one of that movie and how much more entertaining it was than this one. Later on there’s a bank robbery segment, which again seemed strikingly similar to another 70’s classic Dog Day Afternoonand again it’s not clear if this was intentionally stealing from that one in an effort to be amusing, but it doesn’t click either way. 

Reinhold shows why his Hollywood leading man career never lasted. He’s just not funny and all he seems good at is having that wide-eyed deer-in-headlights look and not much else. Other talented actors like Joe Mantegna, as Reinhold’s dance rival, and John Turturro, as Reinhold’s obnoxious boss, don’t get enough screen time and the friction that their characters create isn’t played-up enough, or results in any interesting confrontation. I did though really like Meg Tilly, who plays against type, as she’s usually cast as soft-spoken, flighty characters, but here plays someone who is tough and outspoken and does quite well.

The script, which was written by Mark Medoff, who had better success penning stageplays like Children of a Lesser God and When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?, does have a few heartfelt moments and having a main character feeling lost and directionless in this confusing world will be easily relatable to many, but there are just too many segments where the comedy misses-the-mark. The scenes where Reinhold is forced to try and chase down a thief and another moment where he has to arrest someone, but because he’s not a trained cop he doesn’t really know what he’s doing, could’ve been comical gold, but the film doesn’t play it out enough to be effectively hilarious. It peters-out with a fizzle by the end making it a definite misfire that didn’t do well with either the critics, or at the box office. 

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 11, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Dinner

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 2)

The Projectionist (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Projectionist escapes into fantasy.

Chuck McCann plays a man named Chuck McCann who works in a projection booth of a New York theater. He spends his isolated days winding the film reels and putting them into the film machines so that they can be broadcast onto the big screen. He finds his job boring and he does not get along with Renaldi (Rodney Dangerfield) who is the head usher at the theater and routinely chews him out for minor infractions. To escape his mundane existence he imagines himself the star of his own movie playing the superhero Captain Flash who helps save a beautiful damsel in distress (Ina Balin) while also fighting-off the evil villain known as The Bat, which he sees as being Renaldi and his way of getting ‘back at him’ without having to do it in real-life.

Writer/director Harry Hurwitz, who appears as an usher who visits Chuck in his film booth, had some creative movie ideas during his career though most of the movies he made were hampered by a low budget and not fully realized enough to break-out and gain mainstream attention. This film, which was his first, is generally considered his best. It was shot in September-October of 1969, at the same time as Myra Breckenridge, with both movies being credited as the first to use superimposition of older movies, known as Hollywood’s Golden era, into the main story. Some of the clips, which features everything from old cartoons to news reel footage, is fun and even at times provocative. The Captain Flash segments, which are filmed in a grainy black-and-white to replicate the other older clips, are amusing and I really enjoyed seeing actual photographs of Chuck when he was younger, from infancy to a teen and then young adult, over the opening credits. There’s even some cool surreal moments where he walks out of the theater he’s working in and on the marquee is advertised the film we’re watching as well as a segment where Chuck the actor walks down the red carpet at the premiere of this film while talking about playing Chuck the character.

McCann, who’s probably best known for co-starring with Bob Denver in the 70’s children’s TV-show ‘Far Out Space Nuts’, reveals definite talent particularly his spot-on impressions of famous stars making you wonder with that much talent why does this character not make an attempt to go on stage at a local amateur night and show his stuff to an audience instead of hiding it away to himself. If the character has stage fright, or social anxiety, and that’s why he’s so shy and lonely then that needs to be brought out, which it isn’t, making the character poorly fleshed-out and in-turn makes the film less interesting.

The segments examining Chuck’s day-to-day activities, between the old film clips, are dull and have low energy. It’s like the production was completely dependent on the old footage to save it, which is not how a good movie works. ALL the scenes in a successful film need to be captivating in some way and a great number of them here fall flat. The character does not grow, or change in any way. In would’ve been fun to see Chuck confront Dangerfield in real-life instead of just fantasizing about it, or making an attempt to ask-out the beautiful woman instead of dreaming about her from afar.

Dangerfield, in his film debut, plays against type. Normally he’s the loser taking-it to the oppressive authority figure, but here he’s the heavy and helps keep it engaging. Ina Balin, on the other-hand, is beautiful, but I found it frustrating that she wasn’t given a single thing to say.

The story doesn’t evolve and ultimately comes-off as an experiment that fails to click. I was also surprised with the dark nature of  some of the old clips including bits with Adolph Hitler, Mussolini, the Klu Klux Klan and even one recreating the assassination of Lincoln, which didn’t have anything to do with the main theme and not sure why they were put-in.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 17, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Harry Hurwitz

Studio: Maron Films

Available: DVD-R

Bum Rap (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: 72 hours to live.

Paul Colson (Craig Wasson) seems to have very little luck. While he works during the day as a New York cab driver he longs to be an actor and he practices his craft while alone in his cab as he waits for a customer. During his free time he attends auditions, but routinely finds himself being turned down for the part. His love life isn’t much better as he’s constantly getting stuck in the ‘friend zone’ with all the eligible women that he meets. Now things have turned even more sour when he goes to a Dr. about a ringing in his ear only to diagnosed with a rare blood disorder that will kill him in only 72 hours. Will Paul find any meaning and happiness with the time he has left? He isn’t sure, but becomes determined to find out by getting together with his friends and parents (Barton Heyman, Augusta Dabney) for one last goodbye while doing so with the company of Lisa (Blanche Baker) a street prostitute he has picked-up and agrees to go along with him for his last hurrah while also harboring the same ambitions of becoming an actor.

The film seems to want to tap into the indie vibe of Stranger Than Paradise, a quirky independent, cult hit that sent it’s writer/director Jim Jarmush into stardom. It even starts out in black-and-white like that one and there are a few keen moments here. When I was younger and just out of college I attended a few acting auditions like this character and found the same thankless experiences as he did; getting turned down not so much for a lack of talent, but more because he auditioned with someone who was sexier and better looking, so naturally they get all the attention and he doesn’t. His dating quandary where he treats the women real nice, and they get along well, but in the end they still chase after a married a man who treats them poorly can be a testament to what happens to a lot of single nice guys and in this area, examining the basic struggles of an ordinary life, it hits the bullseye.

Unfortunately the film fails to gain any momentum, or move along with an intriguing pace. The scenes lack energy and in certain instances, like when he invites his friends over for a game of cards, get bogged down with archaic chatter that does not propel the plot, or reveal anything about the characters. The disease, where the doctors can pinpoint exactly what hour the person will die and in what way, comes-off like something out of a sci-fi movie and hard to take seriously. I didn’t get why it shifts from black-and-white to suddenly color after he gets the grim diagnoses. You’d think it should work in reverse, be colorful when he still thinks he’s got his future ahead of him, only to turn black-and-white when he realizes his time is very limited, or at the very least don’t have it turn color until the very end when he’s learned to accept his condition and die gracefully, or leaves to enter some sort of afterlife

Wasson, who hasn’t appeared in a movie since 2006 and now makes a living as a audio book narrator, has stated that this was his most favorite movie that he was in and it’s easy to see why as he basically propels it along particularly with his impressions of famous actors, but his character’s transition through the 5-stages of grief is much too quick. It’s odd too that he chooses not to tell any of his friends or family that he’s dying as I’d think most other people in the same situation would want to say what’s going to happen to them if for anything to look for some comfort as they grieve.

Blanche Baker, the daughter of legendary actress Carroll Baker, is a good actor, but her character is cliched. As a street prostitute she lets down her guard too easily and quickly. For all she knows this guy could be lying to her about having a terminal illness in order to gain some cheap sympathy and since she’s been a hooker for awhile and spent time with other guys of a dubious quality, I’d think her opinion of men would be pretty low and she’d not be so trusting of Wasson when he tells her his situation and instead be cynical. This idea that all prostitutes have a ‘heart-of-gold’ if you just get past their rough exterior is a stereotype as some of them due to the harsh life on the streets can be genuinely embittered. Having Wasson deal with a more hardened one would’ve not only made it more realistic, but given the scenes some pizzazz as they could bicker and argue, versus having it get so sappy that it becomes cringe-worthy.

I suppose if you give it enough time it does have a way of growing on you emotionally, but the overly choreographed ending takes away all realism. Ultimately it’s a potentially interesting idea that thinks it has a deeper message and statement than it really does.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 26, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Danny Irom

Studio: Light Age Filmworks ltd.

Available: None

Roseland (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Participants of ballroom dancing.

In 1976 director James Ivory, who had already collaborated with writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala on 5 other films, wanted to turn her short story ‘How I Became a Holy Mother’ into yet another movie. The story required one scene to be shot at The Roseland Ballroom, a dancing venue in New York City, that was originally built as a ice skating rink in 1922 and then converted to roller skating only to eventually become a popular retreat for ballroom dancers. When Ivory approached potential investors none of them liked the story, but did like the idea of shooting a movie inside Roseland. They agreed to give money to the project as long as the entire setting took place in that venue.

Ivory then had Jhabvala interview the people at the club to get a better understanding of the folks who went there and to help generate story ideas. It was through these visits that Jhabvala was able to come-up with three different vignettes that is based closely on real-life events that occurred with people who attended the Roseland throughout the years and most of the dancers seen in the background were actual members of the dance hall and not paid extras.

While the owners of the Roseland were happy to give permission to shoot there it did come with several stipulations. One was they could only shoot during the day on Wednesdays and could not alter any of the interiors in any way, which included the lighting. Despite these restrictions he was able to succeed pretty well though at the 30-minute mark it’s obvious in a scene where Christopher Walken and Geraldine Chaplin are supposedly in a room alone that there’s a cameraman there as you can easily see his reflection on the wall mirror. Ivory was also forced, much to his chagrin, to hire a scenic artist and art director onto his crew even though they were unable to make any changes to the set, but union rules required one must be hired anyways, and the teamsters union picketed the production outside the building until Ivory finally relented, which resulted in 2 extra people being brought onto the crew to sit around and do absolutely nothing, but still getting paid.

As for the stories they’re okay, though the first one, ‘The Waltz’ is clearly the weakest despite excellent performances by the two leads. It stars Theresa Wright as a widow named May who keeps seeing a reflection of herself and her former husband when they were much younger in a mirror in the ballroom as she dances with her new partner named Stan (played by Lou Jacobi). No one else sees this same reflection except for May and most think she’s going nutty. Stan wants May to get over her memories of her old husband and focus solely on him, but when she doesn’t he loses interest in her though May finally comes around when she realizes that the past is the past and there’s no going back, so why not instead live for the present. This segment, unlike the others, relies heavily on voice-over narration of Helen Gallagher, who plays Cleo, a dance instructor, it also enters in weird supernatural elements as it’s never explained why May keeps seeing these reflections, is she really going nuts, or is some ghostly phenomenon trying to speak to her from the afterlife? This never gets answered and hence is why the story really doesn’t amount to much.

The second story, ‘The Hustle’, is the best one and features a terrific performance by Chaplin. It involves Russel (Christopher Walken) who is seeing the much older Pauline (Joan Copeland) not so much because he loves her, but more because she pays him to be her escort and he likes the money. He then meets Marilyn (Chaplin) who has just gone through a rough break-up. He immediately becomes smitten. Marilyn is at first reluctant in getting into another relationship, but eventually falls for Russel only to learn that he’s not quite ready to give-up Pauline, or her money and seems to want to juggle the two, which Marilyn does not want. While this segment is quite captivating I would’ve like a better, more dramatic confrontation and less of an ambiguous conclusion.

‘The Peabody’ is the third and final segment. It deals with Ruth (Lilia Skala) an older woman with a strong personality looking for a suitable dance partner to win a competition. She meets Arthur (David Thomas) a meek elderly man who agrees to partner with her despite having a weak heart. Ruth takes his friendship for granted and is quite demanding of him only to learn to regret it when he’s no longer around. Skala’s performance, of which she got nominated for the Golden Globe, makes catching this part well worth it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 2, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Ivory

Studio: Merchant Ivory Productions

Available: DVD

Not a Pretty Picture (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reenacting a rape incident.

While Martha Coolidge is known today for having directed such 80’s classics as Valley Girl and Joy of Sex she started her career in the 70’s doing documentaries mainly about high school students. After having done three of those she decided to do one that was more personal and dealt with a real-life incident that occurred to her when she was 16 when she got raped on a date with a college student who was 20. While she went about casting the actress to play her as a teen she was shocked to learn that the actress, Michele Manenti, had a similar experience. The film then weaves between reenactments of the date rape and the situations that lead up to it as well as the aftermath. There’s also interviews with the cast members who talk about the emotions they go through while playing the characters including Jim Carrington, who plays the rapist named Curly, who confesses that he thought women secretly wanted to be raped due to his belief that they fantasize about it.

What I got out of the film and enjoyed the most was looking at the acting process and how the performers used elements of their own experiences to help shape the characters that they play. I was genuinely surprised that only one of the cast members, Amy Wright who has a small role as Cindy, ever went on to do another movie. The two stars, who I felt were both outstanding, never acted in anything at least film or TV wise even though I felt they should’ve had long careers. I realize that the acting profession is a very competitive business and what may seem like the cream-of-the-crop in college may not be able to rise to the top in the real-world, but it still seemed sad that they weren’t able to do more, or at least more in front of the camera. It’s also surprising how non-dated this is. The conversations they have both about dating and acting is something that could’ve easily been shot today and just as topical. If it weren’t for them openly smoking indoors in a public setting, which is a major no-no now, you would never have known this was done in the 70’s.

While the conversations that Coolidge has with the cast proves to be insightful the reenactments aren’t as compelling. The scene involving the conversations that the four friends have inside a car has some interesting points, but it goes on too long and gets static. The aftermath where Martha is ridiculed by the other girls at her school and called a ‘whore’ because of the rumors that Curly spreads stating that she was a ‘willing participant’ and the stressful moments she has when she doesn’t get her period and fears she may be pregnant are quite dramatic, but the most important scene, the rape itself, gets botched. All the other recreated scenes where done as if in real-time and with sets that replicated the era, which was 1962, but with the rape it’s staged as a rehearsal with Martha and the other stagehands clearly in view as it occurs and Coolidge constantly stops the action to have them redo the scene several times in order to get it right, but this takes the viewer out of the moment and mutes the emotional impact. In hindsight I think they should’ve done the entire recreation, both the rape and what lead up to it as well as the aftermath, first and then went to the behind-the-scenes footage afterwards instead of inter-cutting it, which may have been novel for the time, but eventually gets off-putting.

The film’s focus was apparently intended to be on Martha and her reactions at seeing her own rape get played-out as the camera keeps panning back to her face as she watches the actors perform it and then at the end she describes her feelings in a emotional way. While I’m sure this was a tough thing for her to do I still felt it would’ve been more encompassing to have it about all the other women, including the actress in this film, that this has happened to and how men in that time period were able to get away with it and never had to be accountable. That to me was more disturbing and the film ends up missing that point, or not hitting-it-home hard enough, and thus isn’t as strong, or ground-breaking as it could’ve been.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 31, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 23 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Martha Coolidge

Studio: Coolidge Productions

Available: Vimeo

Old Enough (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Friendship over the summer.

Lonnie (Sarah Boyd) is a pre-teen living in an upscale neighborhood of New York while 14-year-old Karen (Rainbow Harvest) resides in a working class area. The two have many differences including Karen being Catholic while Lonnie is secular. Despite their contrasts they forge a tenuous friendship where Karen gets Lonnie to do a lot of things she wouldn’t do normally. Lonnie though enjoys the change of pace and getting away from having to go to summer camp everyday. However, when a sexually promiscuous woman named Carla (Roxanne Hart) moves into an apartment next to Karen’s she worries that her father (Danny Aiello) is having an affair with her. Lonnie knows it’s really Karen’s brother Johnny (Neill Barry) that’s been sleeping with her, but when she tries to tell Karen Johnny threatens Lonnie with violence.

The 80’s was known for its abundance of teen oriented flicks and with the exception of the John Hughes movies many of them were low grade. It seemed like it was impossible to make a movie about adolescents that didn’t require wild parties, abortions, crude language, and sexually provocative themes and yet this one manages to avoid all of that and is way better for it. It’s not like they’re squeaky clean either as they do at one point engage in shop lifting, but it’s all on a smaller scale focusing more on the little coming-of-age moments that happens to all of us when growing up without the over-the-top nonsense.

The acting by the two leads is perfect though Leonard Maltin in his review, or whoever wrote it for him, complained that Rainbow Harvest didn’t have much of a ‘screen presence’ though I felt she did just fine. One thing is clear is she definitely had hippie parents as that’s her given name and not a stage one. What I got a kick out of most about her character is that she’s streetwise in certain areas, but glaringly unsophisticated in others much like a teen at that age would be. Her indoctrination into Catholicism I found the most intriguing as she’s required to attend Catholic school and go through all the necessary rituals when she does something bad like reciting a specific prayer out loud and going to confession, which she does yet she continues to be susceptible to temptation including stealing money from a sleeping lady at one point. This made me wonder if having kids go to a religious school versus a public one really builds the ‘moral character’ that it’s intended, or they just end up doing what they want anyways and getting into just as much mischief as a regular kid who was not raised with any religion.

Boyd is excellent though she looks a bit too young. She states in the movie that she’s 11 and a half (IMDb incorrectly says her character is 12), but she looks more like she’s only 8 or 9. It was possible the intention was to make her younger than Karen in order to convey that she was more sheltered, but I think this could’ve been done with the girls being the same age. Again, I enjoyed Boyd’s performance, but her tiny frame made me nervous that she wouldn’t be able to defend herself and there are a few moments with guys where it comes close. Fortunately the movie never takes these moments too far, but it still ends up coming off like she’s a child more than someone ready to enter adolescence though the  shocked looks on her face, which happens frequently, are the film’s highlight.

Alyssa Milano is great too in her film debut playing Lonnie’s kid sister. She’s better known for her work in her other 80’s movie appearance Commandobut her acting here is better and while she’s not in it a lot she does manage to steal the scenes that she has.

Maltin complained the film was ‘too mild’, but for me that’s the selling point. Keeping it on a microcosmic level made it more relevant and reminded me of my own experiences growing up in the 80’s. In fact I’d rate this as being one of the better teen films from the decade and it’s no surprise it ended up winning first prize at the 1984 Sundance Film Festival.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 24, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Marisa Silver

Studio: Orion Classics

Available: DVD, Tubi, Amazon Video

Blackout (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Criminals invade apartment complex.

Inspired by the actual power blackout that occurred in New York City on July 13-14, 1977 the story centers on a group of felons lead by Christie (Robert Carradine) who are being transported to another prison. Along the way their police van crashes and the van drivers are killed instantly, but the felons survive. When they climb out they find that the city is without power. Using the police uniforms of the two dead drivers as well as their weapons they’re able to sneak their way into a nearby apartment complex under the pretext that they’re policemen and therefore the security guard allows them in only to be immediately killed once he does. The crooks then terrorize the residents by conning their way into each of the apartments the same way they did to get into the complex. Once they’re inside they rob the tenants and at certain points even kill them. Dan (James Mitchum) is an off-duty police officer who breaks into the complex to help save Annie (Belinda Montgomery) who’s being attacked and screaming for help from her balcony. He then single-handily goes about trying to track down the armed group despite being outnumbered.

This was yet another example where the entry in Leonard Maltin’s book does not accurately describe what occurs as whoever wrote the review states that it’s ‘balanced with black comedy’ though there’s really no comedy in it except for a brief exchange between a husband and wife attending a Greek wedding, which occurs at the beginning, but after that it’s all gritty drama.

The production was directed by Eddy Matalon who started his career doing music videos for Bridgette Bardot during the 60’s before graduating to soft-core porn in the 70’s under the pseudonym Jack Angel. He eventually, in 1977, tried his hand at horror with the universally derided Cathy’s Curse before following-up with this one, which fares better and as a grim thriller even succeeds though it’s not perfect.

My biggest complaint is that it cuts out too many pivotal moments. It shows how they enter into one apartment and even choose another because it has triple locks cluing them in that a rich person with a lot of expensive stuff must live there, but there’s other times when it does not show why they break into the apartments that they do. There’s hundreds of dwellings inside the complex and they weren’t going to be able to bust into all of them, so the reason for why they choose the ones that they do needed to be shown each time. There’s also a segment where Mitchum shoots and kills one of the perpetrators in the hallway, but it’s never documented where they take the body, or if they just leave it there for all to see.

Some of the stuff gets a bit over-the-top like when they kill the guard and then stage it to look like a suicide, but why would these desperate crooks care to take the time to do that? They’re in a rush to rob as many residents as they can before the power comes back on, who why not just put the dead guard’s body into a back room and be done with it? Tying Mitchum up into a contraption that would electrocute him once the power came back-on seemed too similar to the campy predicaments that would be the cliffhanger for each episode of the ‘Batman’ TV-show. These two-bit thieves wouldn’t have the care, or sophistication to do that. Either kill the guy, or tie him up the conventional way, but getting excessively overboard with it seemed too theatrical and predictably gives him just enough time to escape.

Mitchum is enjoyable. I liked how at the beginning he tries to chase down a purse snatcher, but fails, which shows that he’s not perfect and relatable, which makes you want to root for him even more to stop the bad guys. I did though have misgivings with Montgomery’s character who gets raped, but immediately after that she saves two people trapped in an elevator and even delivers a baby, which is too quick a recovery from such a traumatic event.

Aging stars from Hollywood’s gold era appear as the residents, but are given little to do especially June Allyson who’s seen for less than 5-minutes. Ray Milland’s segment had potential as he plays this rich, stuffy guy who refuses to give the intruders the combination to his safe even as they torture his wife. Eventually he gives in, but it would’ve been fun had he remained stubborn. They’d burn-up his place, which they do anyways, and kill his wife, but he’d still refuse to give it out. Then when the cops finally do arrive he could say in his last dying breath amidst the burned cinders “At least they never got the combination.”

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 25, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Eddy Matalon

Studio: Cinepix Film Properties

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Slow Dancing in the Big City (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Journalist falls for dancer.

Lou (Paul Sorvino) is a successful columnist for a major New York newspaper and is known throughout the city where ever he goes. He’s been in a casual sexual relationship with Franny (Anita Dangler), an early version of what’s now called ‘friends with benefits’, for quite awhile, but he’s ready to move-on. He then meets Sarah (Anne Ditchburn) a professional dancer who’s moved into an apartment next to his. She’s getting ready to star in a big ballet production, but is finding that during rehearsals she’s having a lot of difficulty doing her routines. She visits a doctor and learns that she has a degenerative condition that will make her continued dancing impossible. If she tries to dance for even a little while more it could mean she’ll lose her ability to walk. She wants to perform one last time in the premiere of her play, but will Lou, whose just learned of her condition, be able to talk her out of it?

This was director John G. Avildsen’s follow-up to his mega-hit Rocky and many in the film going public, both fans and critics alike, were excited in anticipation at seeing his next big project. Some promos even described this as a ‘female Rocky’, but after it premiered no one was impressed. It ultimately died at the box office and tainted Avildsen, who had struggled for many years before Rocky, with a lot of low budget independent stuff that was never seen by a wide audience, as being a ‘one hit wonder’. Of course it didn’t help that he went on to direct the wretchedly bad Neighbors, but in either case this was the start of his career downfall that was somewhat saved with The Karate Kid, but not completely.

One of the things that I did like were the two stars. Ditchburn, whose only other starring role in a feature film was in the Canadian slasher Curtains, I felt was super. She was a professional dancer and initially I thought she had been the inspiration for the story, but apparently that wasn’t the case as Avildsen had already auditioned over 400 other people for the part before he settled on her, which came after he saw a picture of her and her beauty so mesmerized him he couldn’t get her image out of his head. While her acting during her audition was by her own admission ‘a disaster’ Avildsen was determined to make it work and they went through long and exhausting acting lessons until it improved. Some critics labeled her performance as ‘wooden’, but her initial frosty reaction to Sorvino, who came-off like a middle-aged poon-hound, seemed reasonable and what most other women would’ve done. The many headbands that she wears throughout was an attempt to cover-up a bad haircut that she had gotten just before filming began and in my opinion they had a sexy appeal.

Sorvino is genuinely engaging playing a prototype of famous New York columnist Jimmy Breslin and while others have played a similar type of role, including Breslin himself, I felt Sorvino did it best and his presence helps keep the film watchable. I did though question why his character, who writes for a major newspaper and known seemingly throughout the city and occasionally even gets spotted as if he were a celebrity, would still have to be living in a rundown, two-bit apartment building like he does.

The empty-headed script by actress-turned-screenwriter Barra Grant is the biggest culprit.  There’s simply no rational, logical reason for why these two complete opposites, with a drastic age separation, would suddenly go ga-ga for each other at virtually first sight. For Sorvino I could see why an out-of-shape middle-aged man would lust after a cute young thing who’s moved in next door and hope if he heaps enough attention on her he might get lucky, but I didn’t understand why Sarah would fall for a guy who was so much older. She was previously in a relationship with another older man, played by Nicholas Coaster, but no explanation for why she liked guys who could’ve been her father, even though in an effort to make her motives more understandable, there should’ve been one.

To make the concept believable the two should’ve been put into some situation where they had to rely on each other to succeed and in the process fell-in-love. It could’ve been helping each other out of some disaster like an apartment fire, or car accident. Or working together on a long-term project. Having the female protagonist then get afflicted with some ‘disease-of-the-week’ just makes it even more corny.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending in which we get to see the musical Sarah’s been preparing for is actually the best part as the stage production allows for some visual creativity, which had been otherwise lacking, but I didn’t like the tension of whether she was going to be able to make it through her illness without collapsing. The fact that she’s able to perform and only collapses the second the play is over is incredibly hokey. It also ends too abruptly with Sorvino carrying the crippled Sarah onstage where she gets a standing ovation by the audience, but no denouement showing what happened afterwards. Does she get the operation, which would allow her to walk again, or does she become permanently confined to a wheel chair and if so does that affect their budding relationship? These are questions that should’ve been answered, but aren’t.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 8, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John G. Avildsen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Enemy Territory (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He can’t get out.

Barry (Gary Frank) is an insurance salesmen whose fallen on hard times. His boss, Mr. Beckhorne (Charles Randall), gives him an offer he can’t refuse. Sign-up an old lady named Elva (Frances Foster), who has expressed an interest, to a policy and he can make a big commission. The problem is that she’s located in the Lincoln Towers apartment building, which is in a dangerous area of the city. Barry hesitates at first, but then takes it convinced that as long as he can be out of there before sundown he’ll be alright. Once he arrives he can’t find the apartment, so he taps a young kid named Deacon (Theo Caesar) on the shoulder to get his attention, so he can ask for directions, but the kid is a member of the notorious street gang named the Vampires and touching any of their members is considered a major offense. Once the gang leader, known as The Count (Tony Todd), becomes aware of this he calls the rest of his followers to go on the attack. While Barry is able to get the policy signed and his commission paid in rolls of dollar bills he finds that he’s unable to leave the building and must plead for help after the security guard (Tiger Haynes), who was trying to escort him out, gets shot and killed by the gang. Will (Ray Parker Jr.), who resides in the complex, comes to Barry’s aid and between them and Toni (Stacey Dash), who also lives there, they try to help Barry find a way out by using the knowledge of a 10-year-old kid named Chet (Deon Richmond) who’s aware of a secret exit deep inside the basement of the place that no one else knows about.

This was yet another 80’s actioner produced by Charles Band who got a reputation for funding cheesy, low budget flicks, but this one is actually decent. The film has great tension from start to finish and the inside of the building, complete with graffiti all over the hallway walls gives it a surreal quality and looks like it was filmed in an actual place that was smack dab in the ghetto. The main character, unlike in so many Hollywood flicks, isn’t always cool and calm under pressure and at one point, after a dramatic incident, has a mental breakdown where he can’t remember his own name, which seemed more realistic as most regular people mentally would be ill-prepared for the dangers that heroes in action flicks go through and respond in post traumatic ways when faced with them.

I also liked that Barry gets shot at and bullet actually hits him. My biggest pet peeve with Hollywood action flicks is that the good guys may get shot at, and in some cases hundreds of times, but never hit, so it’s great that one does here. I enjoyed too that when Will tries to help him when he’s injured, which then slows him up from outrunning the gang members, and Barry says “If you think I’m going to say to go on without me you’ve seen too many movies.”.

Frank, whose career started with high acclaim for his work on the 70’s TV-show ‘Family’, but by the 80’s had crested. His part here was supposed to get things back on track, but that doesn’t happen because he gets completely overshadowed by Parker who dominates the proceedings to the point that Frank does nothing but respond to whatever Parker does. To have made the film really interesting the Parker character, although very well played, should never have existed, and instead the salesmen should’ve been some middle-aged, out-of-shape dude who must use his wits alone and maybe the help of the two young kids, to get out, which would’ve been beating the odds even more astronomically and therefore more unique.

I was disappointed too with the Jan-Michael Vincent character, who’s a feisty, handicapped Vietnam Vet that even the gang members are afraid of, but unfortunately gets woefully underplayed. Vincent, who was struggling with alcoholism at the time, just doesn’t have the energy needed and then having him get killed off so quickly just ruins what could’ve been fun, eccentric addition to the team.

Another negative is Stacey Dash, making her film debut, and not looking anything like she does now. I realize people’s appearances change as they grow older, but everything about her looked different and I started to wonder if it was the same person. A lot of it I guess was that she weighed more here and this kind of changed her facial features. Now when you see here her blue eyes are very pronounced as well as her over-sized mouth, but that along with a different hairstyle, wasn’t her dominate feature here. I felt her acting was subpar too. She doesn’t convey her lines with much urgency and the way she tries to outrun a group of would-be attackers, looked too strident like she was going out for an afternoon jog.

The one quibble I had plot wise was when Barry and Will are trapped inside Elva’s apartment and unable to exit because the gang members are outside her apartment door and blocking them from leaving. Since her apartment was 20 floors up they decided to tie together some bed sheets and then hang it out the window and use that to climb down to an apartment a couple of floors below. However, it appeared to be too many bed sheets tied together. This is a poor, single woman leaving alone, so I’d think she’d have only one or two that she’d need, but this appears more like she had 6 or 7 on-hand. They also don’t show what they tied the bed sheets to help anchor it when the person crawled out and since these sheets are not made of rope having them rip or unravel was most likely going to happen and it’s questionable that they don’t. Again, I enjoyed the movie overall, but this was one area, along with maybe a couple of others, where it kind of cheats things.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Manoogian

Studio: Empire Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD-R

Rivals (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Child dislikes mom’s boyfriend.

Jamie (Scott Jacoby) is the 10-year-old son of Christine (Joan Hackett) who’s still grieving over the death of his father 2-years earlier and very possessive over who his mother sees. Whenever she tries to get into a relationship he gets in the way to end it. When she starts seeing Peter (Robert Klein) a would-be comedian who gives bus tours of New York City, he immediately takes a disliking to him, but Christine marries him anyways though the home life remains rocky. Just when things seem to be getting better Jamie devises a scheme, which he hopes will kill-off Peter, but things don’t go quite as planned.

One of the lasting impressions of this so-so production are scenes of stuff you’d never see in a movie today. One is the child nudity of a very young boy sitting on the toilet looking like he’s about to fall in and a close-up of his penis. Another is an awkward scene featuring Jacoby, only 13 at the time as it was filmed in 1970, but looking more like he was 10, forcing his babysitter, played by Jeanne Tanzy Williams, who was 17, to undress in front of him and then make-out. Tanzy, who later became the manager for the Backstreet Boys, talked about the filming of the scene at length on her blog and how difficult it was to do.

Klein, who has lambasted the movie for years, is the biggest problem and it would’ve had more potential if it had cast somebody else. The character is meant to be a ‘lovable joker’, but his practical joke behavior becomes a turn-off when he locks some tourists inside his hot, cramped bus for hours just so he can go out on a date with Christine. His playful goofiness is obnoxious and his attempts at humor incredibly lame. I didn’t believe his character was originally from Los Angeles as someone this brash and aggressive could only be from New York and hope to get away with it. I was dumbfounded too how he knows he’s a poor lay and yet still pressures Christine to go to bed with him. I would think if he knew he was going to disappoint the other person he would just masturbate to porn in order to avoid the embarrassment, or if the character was to be consistent he’d think he was great in the sack, since he thinks he’s funny when he really isn’t, and the scene could have him proudly smoking a cigarette in bed after sex while Christine, turning away from him, could have an unhappy expression, which would’ve been funny. In either case he’s annoying as hell and you actually unintentionally side with Jamie in his efforts to off him.

Hackett, whose done some great dramatic work, looks lost here and not given much to do outside of having a perpetually pained look on her face. Jacoby is the one thing that keeps it intriguing. The scene where he yells at one of his mother’s potential boyfriends to “get out” after he catches them talking is quite creepy, but director Krishna Shah ruins it by immediately cutting to a scene with Hackett in a psychiatrist office where the doctor, played by James Karen, explains the underlying motives for Jamie’s outburst, which wasn’t needed and hurts the effect of the moment.

The musical score, which sounded like something better suited for ‘Sesame Street’ is atrocious and drags the whole thing down. It also takes too long to get to where it’s obviously going and a lot of the scenes could’ve been trimmed, or cut-out completely. The ending is a bit of a surprise and effectively grisly, but the film suffers from extreme shifts in tone, which hampers the suspense and doesn’t allow the story to achieve its full potential.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1972 (Filmed in 1970)

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Krishna Shah

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Tubi