Category Archives: Movies that take place in the Big Apple

Slow Dancing in the Big City (1978)

slow1

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)

enemy1

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)

rivals1

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

Honeymoon (1985)

honeymoon1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Married to a stranger.

Cecile (Nathalie Baye) is a French woman living in New York City who’s at risk of having her Visa revoked due to being in a relationship with a recently arrested drug offender (Richard Berry). In order to help her remain in the country she gets involved with a shady, underground firm run by Novak (Peter Donat) who can marry her off to a stranger. Cecile is reluctant at first, but desperate enough to play along especially after she’s assured she’ll never actually see the man she is marrying and both parties are simply doing it for their own personal benefit. However, after she agrees to it and then returns home the man that is her fake husband, Zack Freestamp (John Shea), shows up at her doorstep and demands to be let in. He then takes over her apartment and acting like he’s her real husband and she’s obligated to play the role of the dutiful wife. She resists, but becomes increasingly hounded. Where ever she goes he follows and she can’t seem to ever shake-him. Due to being involved in an illegal activity she’s unable to go to the police and therefore must use her wits to outsmart him, which won’t be easy as Zack’s killed before and is used to getting what he wants.

This is one of those obscure movies, which was filmed on-location in New York, but by a French production company and thus making it a foreign film, where you wonder how it could’ve fallen through the cracks. It’s possible, as evidenced by the film’s promotional poster as seen above, that it was marketed to the wrong audience as you’d get the impression from looking at it that this was a horror/slasher film, which it’s not, and those coming to the theater expecting that were disappointed and thus gave it bad word-of-mouth. In either case it’s deserving of another look though not by those looking for a conventional thriller.

What impressed me had nothing really to do with the stalking element, but more the excellent performance by Baye, an award-winning performer in her native country though not too well known here. Her portrayal of a person lost in a cold, lonely environment really hits-home and you get a genuine feel for her desperation and how others in her same situation would react and think. If anything this movie should’ve been promoted as a drama that gives viewers insight to how foreigners that live in this country, but aren’t yet citizens, see our world and deal with the alienation, which I believe would’ve made this a critically acclaimed film instead of a forgotten one.

Shea’s casting is interesting as he’s cursed with having a boyishly cute face like he was snatched directly from a modeling agency and only given onscreen work due to his appearance over any actual talent. He had just been in Windy City where he played a sickingly sweet nice guy, so I’m sure he was determined to prove his acting range, and possibly even advised to do so by his agent, by taking a part completely different from that one. Does he succeed? Well, for the most part he’s competent, but the character would’ve been even more frightening had he been ugly instead of a pretty-boy.

Spoiler Alert!

The story fortunately doesn’t have too many loopholes and manages enough twists to keep it interesting though it does wear itself out by the end. My main complaint is the part where Cecile is taken by a blind date in his car to a darkened alley where he plans to assault her and yet she’s rescued by Zach who appears out of nowhere. I thought it was because he had again been following her, but no car that he was in is seen making it seem like he had just been in that alley by himself when they got there, but what would be the chances that out of the thousands of alleys in New York City they’d conveniently park at random at the one he was in?

There’s another scene where Zach’s being chased by the cops who are in a squad car while he’s on foot. He turns and shoots at them from behind and manages to hit the driver squarely in the head, but the prospect of him having such great aim while running is extremely low. Later a nervous and shaking Cecile shoots at someone and manages to nail-him right in the heart, but since she was clearly not confident in using a gum her great aim seemed implausible. I also didn’t care the chase through a house of mirrors at an abandoned carnival side show, which came-off as a rip-off of a similar one done in the classic Lady of Shanghai. Overall though it still has its solid moments and in need of more attention than its unfortunately gotten.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 20, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Patrick Jamain

Studio: Malofilm

Available: VHS

Cancel My Reservation (1972)

cancel

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Celebrity accused of murder.

Dan (Bob Hope) is the exhausted TV-personality of a New York talk show that he co-hosts with his wife Sheila (Eva Marie Saint). The two have spent a lot of time bickering and on his Dr.’s advice decides he needs to retreat to a rural area to catch-up on some rest and relaxation. He travels to Arizona where he briefly meets Mary Little Cloud (Betty Ann Carr) at the Phoenix airport. Later on when he arrives at the ranch he discovers Mary’s dead body in his bedroom. When he goes back to the living room to notify the police and then returns to the bedroom her body is gone. Later the police find her corpse in the back of his car and immediately arrest him on the suspicion of murder. Now out on bond he and Sheila must follow the clues in order to solve the case themselves to prevent him from spending the rest of his life in the slammer.

This marked Hope’s last starring vehicle and may be close to being the worst film he did. Reports were that at the premiere he kept complaining to his wife that he looked too old on the screen and felt he was no longer leading man material. A lot of the fault for this goes to Hope himself had he played a character his same age, like a grandpa who enjoys spending his retirement being an amateur sleuth, then it might’ve worked, but instead he tries to play-it like he’s a middle-aged guy, which is just absurd. This comes to a ridiculous head right at the start when he’s brought into the police station and the sheriff, played by Keenan Wynn, asks him his age and Hope, who looks every bit of the 68 years of age that he was, replies that he’s ’42’. I had to actually rewind the film just to make sure I heard it right and the cops don’t look at him with an incredulous look like anyone else would’ve, which makes this the funniest moment in the film even though it’s unintentional.

Pairing with Saint was another mistake. Originally he was supposed to re-team with Lucille Ball, but at the last minute changed course and decided to go with Saint. Presumably this was again for his own vanity as he thought playing a character with a hot, youthful-looking blonde would make him come-off appearing younger even though it does the exact opposite and just makes him seem even older, like an aging daddy going out with his daughter. The two share no chemistry and Saint lacks the comic ability that Ball could’ve brought. The two don’t even fight. They do a little bit at the start while they’re still in New York, but once they reach Arizona they get along even though having them bicker would’ve at least allowed some comic banter, which is otherwise lacking.

The story, which is based on a Louis L’Amour novel ‘The Broken Gun’, is uninspired and gives away the identity of the killer half-way through. What’s the use of sitting through a mystery if you know well before it’s over who the bad guy is? Paul Bogart’s direction has no visual style with bland sets that would be better suited for a TV-sitcom than the big screen.

Hope’s voice-over narration are the only amusing bits. There’s also a dream segment where Hope imagines himself being hung in front of a large group of onlookers, which amongst the crowd is Johnny Carson, Bing Crosby, and John Wayne, who say brief quips as they watch the noose being fitted around his neck, which is the film’s only diverting sequence. I came away thinking it would’ve been more interesting had Carson, Crosby, and Wayne starred in the film alongside Hope playing a group of actors set to do a film, but then turn detectives when one of the cast gets murdered. It might not have been perfect, but certainly couldn’t have been any worse than this.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 21, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Paul Bogart

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS

Move (1970)

move

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Relocating to another apartment.

Hiram (Elliot Gould) dreams of being a successful playwright, but is only able to find work writing sex stories for adult magazines. He and his wife Dolly are both bored in their marriage, but find no alternatives, so they continue to exist in a union that no longer has any zing. They also prepare to move into another apartment, but complications with the movers and repeatedly strange phone calls from a man claiming to be holding their stuff hostage, only increases Hiram’s ongoing anxiety. Just when things begin to look completely bleak he bumps into a beautiful young lady (Genevieve Waite) one day while walking a dog. Just like a plot in one of his sex stories she invites him back to her apartment for an afternoon of unbridled passion. Hiram enjoys the visit and returns the next day for a rendezvous, but finds she no longer is there and no one he asks knows who she is. Was she simply a fleeting stranger, or a product of his over-active imagination?

While I’m a fan of quirky, offbeat comedies from the early 70’s this one doesn’t hit-the-mark. It’s quite similar in theme and style to Little Murdersa dark comedy that dealt with the alienation of living in New York City and also starred Gould, as well as The Steagleabout a man who enlivens his otherwise mundane life by living out wild fantasies in his head.  Both those movies had a far faster pace, which is what a zany comedy needs, and were able to distinguish the fantasy elements from the real-life. Here it gets confusing and you can’t tell it’s a dream until well into the segment. Since the rest of the movie is slow and boring the fantasy moments needed to be over-the-top to make-up for it, but instead they get underplayed making the whole thing a big, pointless mess.

Much of the blame could be squarely placed on 20th Century Fox who paid $85,000 for the rights to the novel before it had even been published. The studio execs apparently felt that the theme of apartment living in New York was trendy enough to be worth taking a risk on before even knowing if the story itself was workable. They labeled it ‘dirty Barefoot in the Park’ and gave the book’s author, Joel Lieber, who jumped to his death from his Upper West side apartment just a year later, the job of writing the screenplay. However, his lacking a background in screenwriting shows as there’s no cohesive structure. Assigning Stuart Rosenberg to direct, who up until then had solely focused on dramas, only helped to cement this thing into the disaster that it became.

I did enjoy the wild costume party that Gould goes to near the end where all the guests, many of them seen earlier in character roles, wear tasteless and provocative stuff, but the film doesn’t stay on this segment long enough to make sitting through the dull drivel that comes before it worth it. Waite, who’s the mother of Bijou Phillips and former girlfriend of Mama’s and Papa’s lead singer John Phillips, does offer some unique energy during her moments, which are alas too brief. Otherwise nothing else works. There needed to be more of a clear point to what we were seeing for instance revolving around all the crazy mishaps that can occur during a move, which could’ve been both funny and original, but examining the inner turmoil of the main character, in a medium that places emphasis on the visual, was a problematic idea that should never have been green-lit.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 31, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD-R

Eat and Run (1987)

eat2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Alien eats Italian people.

Murray (R.L. Ryan) is a large, bald-headed creature from another planet who begins devouring any Italian person that comes along. This started when he ate some Italian food and liked it so much he decided that the people who made it must be good to eat too. Mickey (Ron Silver) is a police detective trying to find out why so many Italians in the city are disappearing. He begins an affair with Cheryl (Sharon Sharth) a judge who has a propensity of letting criminals off with light sentences. When Mickey arrests the creature it was found-out that his rights were violated when Mickey read him his Miranda warning in English despite the fact that the alien didn’t understand the language, which causes Cheryl to drop all charges against him. She then dumps Mickey for the creature and the two move in together. Their relationship goes well initially until the alien realizes that Cheryl is Italian and thus begins eyeing her as his next meal. Can Mickey save her before she gets eaten?

This is yet another example of an Airplane-wanna-be that mimics the same rapid-fire jokey-style of that film, but was written by those who didn’t have the clever sense of humor of the Zucker brothers to pull it off. This one was done by the father and son team of Stan and Christopher Hart. Stan had spent years writing for ‘Mad’ magazine as well as winning several Emmys for his work on the ‘Carol Burnett Show’, but his humor is dated. I’m okay with some jokes misfiring, but it went 15-minutes in before I even chuckled a little. The gags are quite corny and done with a lack of style or creativity. It also relies on a lot of running jokes, like Mickey’s tendency to narrate the movie while talking to himself, which annoys those around him, which wasn’t funny the first time it happened, and proceeds to get redundant and stupid the more it continues.

The film lacks cohesive logic. I realize this was supposed to be just a silly movie, but the concept should be thought-out at least a little. For instance, where did this alien come from and how did he get here? None of this gets shown, or answered. It’s like the Harts were more concerned with dishing-out lame gags and couldn’t be bothered with the basic foundations for a story. For that matter, why does the alien always spit out the buttons worn on the shirts of his victims after he’s eaten them? Is it because they’re too hard to digest and if so why doesn’t he also spit out their watches and belt buckles as I’d presume they wouldn’t agree with his stomach either.

There’s no special effects to speak of. Normally I’d complain with movies like these that they compromise too much on the gore, but this film doesn’t even attempt to show it. The creature just approaches the victim, exposes his razor sharp teeth, and then the camera cuts away while he eats them, which takes only seconds even though animals that eat large prey can take a long time to chew-up their victims, so having it done so quickly is a cop-out.

I have no idea why Silver would’ve taken on this project as he had already starred-in several Hollywood produced productions, so he didn’t need to do low budget work to make an income. My guess is that he wanted to take a stab at comedy and the Hollywood producers wouldn’t let him, so he had to turn to the indie route to find any takers. The experiment though doesn’t work. Silver just isn’t cut-out to be funny and if anything gets upstaged by the tubby lesser known Ryan who steals each scene he’s in without ever speaking a word of dialogue.

The film’s biggest travesty though is that it features a mime. I was hoping at least that the creature would eat him as retribution to all those who find them universally annoying and yet this stupid movie can’t even do that. Had the mime been killed-off  I would’ve given it higher marks, but when that didn’t happen it cemented this as being a complete dud.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: February 20, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Christopher Hart

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD (Region 4)

Over the Brooklyn Bridge (1984)

over1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hoping to buy restaurant.

Alby (Elliot Gould) is tired of slaving away as a cook at a small Brooklyn diner run by both he and his mother (Shelley Winters). He dreams of owning a swanky restaurant in downtown Manhattan and finds the perfect place, but he needs help with the financing. He goes to his rich uncle Benjamin (Sid Caesar), who at first is reluctant to loan him the needed money, but eventually agrees. However, it comes with one big stipulation; Alby can get the money, but only if he ends his relationship with his live-in girlfriend Elizabeth (Margaux Hemingway), who his uncle has never liked since she’s not Jewish.

From the outset I internally groaned when I saw that it was produced by Cannon Pictures, which was notorious for making a lot of cheesy action flicks during the decade, but this one is approached differently. The script, by Arnold Shulman, who died at the young age of 48 before filming of his screenplay had even begun, is much more personal than the usual Cannon fodder as it delves into the close-knit, extended Jewish family who can be both a source of great support and hindrance.

I was happy too, at least initially, to see Hemingway get another shot at a co-starring role. She was a model, and granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway, who broke into the movie scene with the controversial hit Lipstickwhere she played a rape victim, which was too demanding of a part for someone with so little acting experience. This role here was more reasonable, but without sounding too harsh, I couldn’t stand her voice. Her famous sister Mariel has a very pretty sounding one, so why Margaux got stuck with such an unusually raspy one that belied her otherwise young age I didn’t understand. I know when I watched Lipstickwhich was released 8 years earlier, her voice was only slightly raspy making me believe her smoking caused it to get worse and in my opinion the reason why her onscreen career never took-off.

Gould’s presence doesn’t help either. During the 70’s he was a cinematic counter-culture hero taking it to the establishment, but by the 80’s that persona was no longer in vogue, so he had to settle for benign, nice-guy parts, which is clearly not his forte. He tries hard, and at one point tells-off a few people in semi-classic Gould-style, but for the most part he’s quite boring. His attempt to portray a 36-year-old even though he was actually 45 doesn’t quite work and there’s no explanation for why this frumpy guy with a limited income is able to snare such a young, good-looking babe.

Winters, who seems born to play the meddling, overly-protective Jewish mother, which she did to great success in Next Stop, Greenwich Village, but here her character is too subdued making her presence transparent. Ceasar is a surprise. After his work in the 50’s TV-show ‘Your Show of Shows’ his later parts couldn’t quite match his unique talents, but he scores both on the comedy and drama end here. Carol Kane is a delight as she courts Gould and talks breathlessly about philosophy as she hurriedly walks in a New York subway and then later at her place reveals some very bizarre sexual fetishes. Burt Young has some very funny scenes too as Gould’s cynical friend who doesn’t shy away from expressing his low opinion of marriage.

The story though is too simple for such an a relatively long runtime and by the second-half becomes strained. The idea that Gould had such a great relationship with Hemingway as the movie wants us to believe is dubious as she immediately dumps him the second his uncle tells her to leave him and then callously throws Gould out of the apartment instead of being honest and telling him about her meeting with the uncle and then talking it out like a truly close couple would. Later when Gould, who still doesn’t understand why the break-up happened, calls her to get an explanation and try to make amends, she coldly hangs-up making it seem like he was way more into her than she was into him and thus causing this to be a weak romance instead of a strong one.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 2, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Menahem Golan

Studio: Golan-Globus Productions

Available: VHS, DVD-R

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

taking

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Subway passengers held hostage.

Four men wearing disguises and going by code names: Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw), Mr. Green (Martin Balsam), Mr. Grey (Hector Elizondo), and Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman) board the same subway car, this one being the Pelham 1-2-3, at different locations. Once all four are onboard they take out their guns and take over the subway car by holding both passengers and conductor hostage. For their release they demand $1 million in ransom to be paid in 1-hour and for every minute that it is late one passenger will be killed. They communicate these demands to Lt. Zack Garber (Walter Matthau) who is a part of the New York City Transit police. As Mr. Blue and Garber communicate with each other over the radio and the city races to meet the crooks demands Garber begins to try and surmise who these men are and how they’ll be able to get away with it since they’re trapped in an underground subway. Garber is convinced that it will not work and the men will eventually be caught unaware that Mr. Green, who used to work for the subway system until he was, in his mind, unfairly terminated, has come up with an ingenious contraption that can override the dead-man’s switch and allow the train to keep running even with no one at the controls.

The film is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by John Godey, who was a subway enthusiast and came-up with the plot after spending many years using the subway system. While the movie rights for the paperback were sold for $450,000, in anticipation that it’d make a great movie, the film almost didn’t get made due to the reluctance of the Metropolitan Transit Authority to allow the production to be filmed on-location.  Much of the reason stemmed from their fear that it might give ‘kooks’ the idea to pull-off a real-life heist, but eventually they caved once screenwriter Peter Stone added in the fictional contraption that could override the dead-man’s switch.

As a caper/action flick it is quite exciting from literally the first-frame to the last, but it’s some of the other added elements that make it a standout. I really enjoyed how the city of New York becomes like a third character and the unique, brash attitude of the people. Every character, no matter how small the part, has a distinct personality and memorable. My favorites were Mari Gorman as the feisty hooker, Michael Gorrin, as the elderly passenger convinced that the subway car must eventually come to a stop even as it careens out-of-control and everyone else panics. I also enjoyed Louie Larebee as an alcoholic woman, who is so drunk that she passes out when the crime begins and sleeps through the whole thing as well as Carolyn Nelson, the real-life wife of the film’s director Joseph Sargent, playing a college coed who believes she can stop the train through sheer mind control and meditation.

On the ground there’s some great character bits too including Tom Pedi as an aging, misogynist who doesn’t like the idea of having to work alongside women, nor that he should stop cursing because of it, who walks right into the line-of-fire when he stubbornly refuses to listen to the kidnappers warnings. Kenneth McMillan, is very funny as an exasperated street cop trying to direct traffic, and Dick O’Neill lends moments of drama as an outspoken transit employee who doesn’t like the idea of giving into the kidnappers demands and isn’t shy about voicing his disapproval, which leads to a tense confrontation with Matthau.

Matthau’s anti-hero take where he seems initially like nothing more than a aloof, laid-back guy, who doesn’t seem to have the cunning, or initiative to defeat the bad guys. At one point even openly insults a group of Japanese reporters who he thinks can’t speak English only to learn to his regret that they can, is excellent and in patented Matthau style seems to be able to do it without much visible effort.

Shaw is solid, but I felt there needed to be an explanation for how he got bought into the scheme, which never comes and ultimately is the film’s only real weak point. His personality is so different from the other men in the group that I couldn’t understand why he’d want to pull-off a robbery with them, nor why, being such a careful planner that his character is shown to be, he’d only realize as the crime is happening that the Mr. Gray was too much of a hot-head and not right for the job, as I’d think he would’ve observed this much earlier during the planning stage and had Gray removed before the actual crime had ever been carried out. Having scenes of the backstory spliced in would’ve helped made it more complete.

This was remade as a TV-movie in 1998 and then as another feature film in 2009 that starred Denzel Washington in the Matthau role and John Travolta playing Shaw’s part. I never saw the TV version and it’s been many years since I viewed the theatrical remake, but I remember finding it a letdown mainly because it centered too much around Travolta, who would go on long rants that bogged down both the pace and plot making it not nearly as exciting as this one.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 2, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Sargent

Studio: United Artists

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

All That Jazz (1979)

all that1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Overworked choreographer battles exhaustion.

Joe (Roy Scheider) is a dance choreographer who’s busy staging his next play while also editing a film he has directed, which the Hollywood studio is demanding get completed. These pressures cause him to take his anger out on his dancers as well as his ex-wife (Leland Palmer), who’s helping to finance the play, as well as his live-in girlfriend Katie (Ann Reinking). As the deadline for both approaches he begins seeing visions of the angel of death (Jessica Lange) whom he has a running conversation with. Eventually he starts to have chest pains, which cause him to be sent to the hospital even as he continues to drink and smoke over his Dr.’s objections. When he finally does have a heart attack he’s whisked into surgery where he directs extravagant musical numbers inside his head while the producers of the play hope for his demise as their insurance proceeds will not only help them avoid a financial loss, but even make a net profit.

The film is based in large part on writer/director Bob Fosse’s own experiences. He started out as a dancer who eventually became a choreographer who shot to fame in the 50’s with such musicals as The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees. By the 70’s he had become an award winning film director and it was while he was staging the Broadway musical Chicago in 1975 and also completing the editing for the film Lenny that much of what happened here got played-out. The biggest irony though is that Cliff Gorman, who starred onstage as the comedian Lenny Bruce of which the film and play Lenny is based, plays the star of the fictional film that Joe is editing even though in real-life Gorman lost out on the starring film role to Dustin Hoffman simply because Hoffman had a more bankable name, which is a shame because from the clips seen here you can easily tell that Gorman was an edgier Lenny that would’ve made that movie stronger.

As for this movie it’s directed in similar style as Frederico Fellini’s 8 1/2. The art direction and editing, which both won an Oscar, come fast and furiously as it constantly jumps back-and-forth from reality to dream-like sequences. While this type of non-linear narration could prove distracting and confusing in most other films here it actually helps. The script does a good job of revealing the stressful and competitive nature of the dance business, but it doesn’t show us anything that couldn’t have been presumed already making these scenes less impactful and the dance numbers, some of which are provocative, more entertaining.

Some complained that Scheider, who by this time was better known as an action star, was miscast, though I came away impressed even with his pale complexion and thin frame (he lost weight to help replicate a sickly/exhausted appearance) that became a bit difficult to watch. It’s the character that he plays that I found to be the biggest issue as the guy is a complete jerk sans the few scenes that he has with his daughter, played by Erzsebet Foldi, who is the one person he treats nicely and I wanted to see more moments between them. The dance number that she and his girlfriend put on for him inside his apartment is the film’s brightest moment while the reoccurring segue of Joe getting up each morning and putting visine into his blood shot eyes before looking into a mirror and saying “It’s showtime, folks!” become redundant and annoying.

On the technical end it’s near brilliant, but as an emotionally impactful character study it’s a total flop. The protagonist is too selfish for anyone to care about and shows too little redeeming qualities, nor much of an arc, to make it worthwhile. Ultimately it’s an exercise in extreme self-loathing that will leave the viewer as detached from the proceedings as the characters who are in it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1979

Runtime: 2 Hours 3 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Fosse

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection)