Tag Archives: Richard Dreyfuss

Jaws (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 10 out of 10

4-Word Review: Shark in the water.

A young woman (Susan Backlinie) goes out for a swim late one night only to have her severed hand wash up on shore the next day, which causes the Amity Police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) to fear that her death may have been caused by a shark. Amity mayor Larry Vaughan (Murray Hamilton) doesn’t want his town to risk losing business, so he has his coroner deny that a shark was responsible and hence the beach remains open, but then more attacks occur. Eventually an eccentric shark hunter named Quint (Robert Shaw), Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) from the Oceanographic Institute and Brody head out on a small fishing vessel called Orca to locate the shark and then kill it, but they find the underwater beast to be far bigger and more cunning than they had ever imagined.

With its exceptional ability to slowly build tension and keep the viewer riveted from the first frame to the last easily makes this the quintessential thriller. John Williams’s legendary score adds to the murky ambience and in many ways is more memorable than the shark itself. Director Steven Spielberg wisely adds a secondary layer to the narrative by creating colorful and distinctive characters, most notably Quint, who gives the proceedings a flavorful nuance and makes the conversations and interactions that occur between the three inside the boat more interesting than what happens in the water.

The most amazing thing though is how little the shark is actually seen and in fact you don’t even get a glimpse of him until about an hour in. Part of this was due to the difficulty of getting the mechanical creation to perform properly in salt water, but in the end this became a blessing in disguise as it’s the mystery and allusion to its large size that makes it so riveting. The viewer feels as helpless and confused as the men on the boat, which makes the climactic sequence when the shark suddenly does jump onto the boat all that more impactful.

Spoiler Alert!

The film though does deviate heavily from the Peter Benchley source novel and a legitimate argument can be made as to which one presents the story better. In the book the tone is darker and the characters less likable. For me this makes it more intriguing from a psychological bent as it conveys the idea that humans are like the shark that they hunt as they both selfishly devour everything around them. Spielberg though didn’t care for this interpretation so the novel’s darker subtext gets erased, but it still made me intrigued, as much of a classic as this movie is, to see a reboot where the narrative stayed more faithful.

Some of the book’s subplots got too involved particularly the one dealing with the mayor’s connections to the criminal underworld, so I’m glad that one got toned down.  However I felt the one though dealing with Hooper’s affair with Brody’s wife (Lorraine Gary) should’ve been left in as it would’ve added extra tensions between the two while on the boat while also seeing how people can learn to work together even when they hate each other.

In the book Hooper dies when the shark attacks the cage that he is in while in the movie he is able to escape and somehow hide from the shark. This though seemed unrealistic as sharks have special sensing organs known as electroreceptors that allow them to detect the electromagnetic field emitted from a moving animal or at close range even the heartbeat of an immobile one, which means the shark most likely would’ve figured out where Hooper was hiding and gotten him.

In the book the shark dies from its many wounds just as it gets a few feet from Brody while in the movie it’s killed when the scuba tank that it has in its mouth explodes when hit by a bullet, but a 2003 episode of Mythbusters proves that in reality this wouldn’t have happened. My main beef though is that by having the shark literally blow-up into little pieces it denies the viewer the chance at seeing what the beast looked like as a whole. Supposedly this was one giant of a shark, so viewing it strung up at the end would’ve been a cool thing to have seen.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Despite these many differences the film still works splendidly and I don’t mean to imply that it doesn’t, but I would still suggest reading the book afterwards as it gives the story and characters an added dimension.

My Rating: 10 out of 10

Released: June 20, 1975

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steven Spielberg

Studio: Universal

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

The Competition (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pianists fall-in-love.

Paul (Richard Dreyfuss) is a gifted, but frustrated pianist. He has entered many classical piano competitions, but has always come just short of winning first prize. He wants to take one last stab at it, but his parents (Philip Sterling, Gloria Stroock) push him to settle down with a regular job and consistent pay. Paul though decides to forge on with his hopes at receiving a medal by entering a contest that will allow for a financial grant and 2 years of concert engagements for the winner. It is there that he meets Heidi (Amy Irving) who is also competing for the same prize. She immediately becomes smitten with him having met him a couple of years earlier at a music festival. She tries to get into a relationship with him despite warnings from her piano teacher (Lee Remick) who feels it might soften ‘her edge’ and allow him to attain the award instead of her.

The film does a masterful job at recreating a realistic atmosphere of a piano competition including showing the judges meticulously following each note on the sheet music they have at hand as the contestant performs while also taking studious notes of each performer afterwards before finally settling on a winner. The viewer is given a broad understanding of all six contestants involved helping to give the movie a fuller context on the human drama that goes on behind-the-scenes in these types of competitions while also showing how parents and instructors can at times be great motivators, but also crippling nags.

Watching the actors mimic the playing of a pianist is another major asset. Usually films dealing with pianists will never show the actor’s hands on the keys, but instead shoot them from behind the piano while editing in close-ups of a professional pianist’s hands later. Here though the actors, with the help and training of music consultant Jean Evensen Shaw, convincingly move their fingers along the keys in tandem with the music. How they were able to later effectively edit in the sound to stay on track with the finger movements and vice-versa is an amazing thing in itself, but watching the actors literally ‘play the piano’  helps to heighten the film’s realism and make watching the concert footage, which gets amazingly drawn out, quite fascinating.

The film has a terrific supporting cast as well including Lee Remick as Heidi’s no-nonsense instructor who looks at Heidi’s budding relationship with Paul with immediate cynicism and isn’t afraid to bluntly speak out about it either. Sam Wanamaker has the perfect look and demeanor of an orchestra conductor and the scene where Paul decides to ‘show him how it’s done’ by taking a stab at conducting is the film’s highlight.

The weakest element though is the romance and the movie would’ve worked better had this been only a side-story instead of the main focus. The idea that Heidi has to do all the sacrificing and at one point even considers dropping out of the competition because it’s ‘more important to him that he wins it’ is sexist. Woman can be just as competitive as men and sometimes even more so. The story would’ve been better served had they both been portrayed as fierce competitors who deep down have mutual feelings for the other, but remain guarded and slowly shows a softer side as the contest progresses and then only when it is finally over does the romance really blossom.

Having Heidi constantly chase after Paul, who is extraordinarily arrogant, is ridiculous. After his initial rebuff she should’ve quickly moved-on as she was pretty and there were plenty of other men for her choose from instead of having her literally throw herself at him like she were some dimwitted groupie. It was bizarre as well that when Paul finds out that is father is dying that Heidi is the first person he decides to turn to for comfort and solace. This is well before a relationship was established and the two had only spoken to each other in passing, so why does Paul consider her a trusted emotional confidant and shouldn’t he most likely have other friends that he would’ve known longer that he could go to instead?

The film has a side-story dealing with a Kazakh performer (Vicki Kriegler) whose instructor (Bea Silvern) decides to defect to the U.S. during the competition, which takes the film in too much of a different direction that distracts from the main theme and should’ve been cut out completely. I also thought it was odd that the music played over the closing credits is a disco sounding song. We’ve just spent 2 hours listening to classical piano music, so shouldn’t the music at the end have been kept with the same theme/sound?  Otherwise this is still a terrific study showing the emotional and mental sacrifices that go in to achieving success and how staying too focused on a central goal can sometimes affect a person’s relationships with their friends, family and lovers.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 3, 1980

Runtime: 2Hours 6Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joel Oliansky

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986)

down-and-out-in-beverly-hills

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bum befriends rich family.

Jerry (Nick Nolte) has been living on the streets for years to the point that he has become used to it. One day his dog that is starving runs away from him and befriends a lady on the sidewalk who gives him food and eventually takes him home with her. When Jerry realizes that his pet is gone he panics and goes throughout Beverly Hills on a mad search. When he can’t find him he decides to drown himself in a pool of a posh household. Dave (Richard Dreyfuss) is the owner of the home who saves Jerry before he can kill himself and the two begin an awkward friendship. Jerry is even invited to move in with the rest of Dave’s family, which quickly sends the household out-of-control.

This film is a remake of the 1934 French classic Boudu Saved from Drowning and director Paul Mazursky nicely weaves the theme of the rich befriending the poor into the tapestry of Reagan’s ‘80s capitalism. The pace is breezy and non-confrontational and shows the wealthy as actually being the weaker of the two as they are much less able to adjust to harsh elements while trapped in their sterile surroundings and boring livelihoods simply so they can keep up the challenging pace of staying in tandem to the standards of society’s upper crust.

Midler has some funny moments as the snotty wife who doesn’t at all enjoy Jerry’s presence until he is able to give her a type of orgasm that she never had. Nolte is excellent as the bum in one of his best all-around performances. The scene where he eats dog food straight out of the bowl alongside the family’s pet Matisse (Mike the Dog) is an absolute keeper.

There are also some great supporting performances including ‘50’s rock icon Little Richard who plays Dave’s rich African American neighbor and is just as wealthy as the rest of the people in the neighborhood, but still feels badly discriminated against and doesn’t mind letting anyone he meets know about it. I also enjoyed that Mazursky stays with his ongoing theme of employing his own real-life therapist (Donald F. Muhich) into many of his movies. Muhich had already appeared as a psychiatrist in three of Mazursky’s earlier efforts and here appears again as a mental health counselor, but this time for the family’s dog.

The film gets a bit too serene and seems to blithely ignore many of the more serious elements of homelessness. Many scenes make it seem almost like they want to be on the streets and even enjoy it. It also would’ve been funnier had Dave been more a rich snob and his personality contrasted more severely with Jerry’s only for him to eventually come down to his level at the end, but overall I still found the whole thing to be amiably entertaining.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 31, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Mazursky

Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Tin Men (1987)

tin men

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Feuding between two salesmen.

Bill (Richard Dreyfuss) and Ernest (Danny DeVito) are two aluminum siding salesmen living in 1963 Baltimore who one day find themselves involved in a minor car accident. Their feuding though escalates as each blames the other for the fender bender, which leads them to vandalizing each other’s cars when the other isn’t around and even having Bill begin an affair with Ernest’s wife Nora (Barbara Hershey). Yet as a federal commission begins honing in on their unscrupulous sales practices the two find that they may need to learn to work together in order to survive.

This is one film that is hard to gauge. For the most part I liked it. The cinematography and period detail are bright and vivid and I loved the row of track houses that the DeVito character lives in. The dialogue is sharp and Dreyfuss is good at playing the type of character DeVito usually does while DeVito is surprisingly more sympathetic. In fact I felt this may be the best performances of both of their careers.

The humor though fluctuates between being subtle to farcical and the over-the-top feud between the two becomes quite strained. For one thing I didn’t think the DeVito character had enough time to be sneaking around trying to destroy Dreyfuss’s car since he was barely able to make ends meet with his job. The fact that both he and Dreyfuss destroy the other’s car, but then don’t sue or even call the police when it continues made little sense. These two watch every little penny that they have, so having Dreyfuss’s car mysteriously get repaired after it was vandalized was questionable as most insurance policies won’t cover that type of repair and it’s highly unlikely he would’ve paid for it out of his own pocket when he clearly knew who had done it.

I also had issues with the Hershey character. Her acting is outstanding, but the fact that she decides to have an affair with Dreyfuss after only a brief meeting with him while inside a grocery store seemed unlikely. For one thing this was 1963 and before the sexual revolution, so even considering an affair was filled with shame and stigma and having her openly discuss it with her friend at work seemed quite dubious. She also ends up moving-in with Dreyfuss even before was she was divorced, which was another big no-no and makes her behavior far too liberated and completely out-of-place for the time period.

The film improves as it goes along, but the incessant fighting gets overdone and quickly loses its edge. Having them learn to get along at some point was needed. It eventually does occur to some extent at the very end, but it takes way too long to get there and it should’ve happened sooner and given the story and characters an extra dimension. There is also a scene where the two get together to play a game of pool where the winner gets to have Nora, but the film then cuts away without ever showing the game getting played, which was a bit of disappointment since the scene had potential for some interesting nuances.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 13, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Rated R

Director: Barry Levinson

Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Nuts (1987)

nuts

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fighting for her sanity.

In celebration of Barbra Streisand turning 72 on April 24th we will be reviewing three of her films, one from each decade during the week. This one is based on the Broadway play by Tom Topor dealing with a high priced call girl named Claudia Draper (Barbra Streisand) who murders one of her customers (Leslie Nielson) in self-defense and is arrested. Her mother (Maureen Stapleton) and step father (Karl Malden) think she should be diagnosed as incompetent to stand trial and sent to a mental institution, but she with the help of her lawyer (Richard Dreyfuss) fight for her right to stand trial.

The story and characters evolve in layers, which I liked, but Streisand doesn’t seem right for the part. Her presence makes it seem too much like a star vehicle instead of the character driven story that it should be. Her cantankerous outbursts become a bit excessive and self-destructive making it hard at times to cheer for her or empathize. In the Broadway play the character was played by a woman in her twenties, which made more sense and would’ve worked better instead of casting someone who was already 45.

Seeing her in provocative poises in snapshots that her lawyer obtains is a bit weird but fun as a novelty as is the scene where she spreads her legs without the benefit of any underwear for Dreyfuss, but having her constantly shown with a bright spotlight around her seems disconcerting. It gives her a ghostly appearance and makes her stand out in the wrong way.

The veteran supporting cast comes off better since they wisely underplay it as opposed to her overplaying. Stapleton is quite good especially the moving scenes showing her crying as she listens to her daughter’s testimony. James Whitmore is solid as the thoughtful judge, but it’s Dreyfuss who carries it as the feisty and sometimes exasperated counsel.

This film is also a milestone as it is the last time Leslie Neilson performed in a non-comedic role. He is surprisingly chilling as the psychotic attacker who was apparently so convincing that it scared Streisand during the filming of the scene.

There are times when it gets a bit too theatrical. The judge advises Claudia to quit disrupting the proceedings, but then she continues to do so anyways, which would have gotten most people thrown out of the courtroom. The scene where she sits on the witness stand and describes being a hooker in a very sensual and seductive way seemed over-the-top in a court of law as is the part where she is allowed to wander around the courtroom going on a long rant while everyone else just sits there and passively listens.

Still on the whole I found most of it to be quite riveting and as a drama its first- rate. I just felt Striesand’s presence didn’t help it. She can be quite good in certain other roles just not here. The part was originally intended for Debra Winger who I feel would have fared better.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 20, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated R

Director: Martin Ritt

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Big Fix (1978)

the big fix

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: 60’s radical turned detective.

Moses Wine (Richard Dreyfuss) was at one time a student radical during the tumultuous 60’s, but now it is 1978 and he is working as a private eye. Most of his cases are unexciting and even mundane, but then Lila Shay (Susan Anspach) a woman he had a fling with during his college days shows up asking for his help. She is now working for a candidate running for governor and she wants Moses to find Eppis (F. Murray Abraham) a former student radical himself who has now gone underground, but seems to be smearing her candidate’s campaign and hurting his ability to be elected. Moses takes the case on a whim, but finds it to be much more complex and dangerous than he bargained for.

The film is based on the novel by Roger L. Simon who also wrote the screenplay and it is almost like a revisionist private eye movie. Everything that we’ve come to accept in this genre gets turned upside down and for the most part with great and amusing success. Moses is not a tough, brawny, stoic figure like most detectives in these films, but instead a little shrimp of a guy that can easily get hyper and frazzled and is certainly never cool under pressure. Many times he will bring his two young sons on the case with him and even use there insight to help him solve the case. He makes mistakes and even has to write certain things down to avoid forgetting them unlike those other detectives that always seem to remember even the smallest tidbits of information. By making the Moses character more human he becomes better relatable and the viewer feels almost like they are in his shoes, which is what makes the story work.

Simon’s script also is a great character study showing how the student protestors from the 60’s have now begrudgingly and awkwardly taken on adult roles and even become a part of the dreaded ‘establishment’. This comes to a head with the Abraham character the one time head of an underground movement that now is seen living in suburbia as a ho-hum family man. His line about why so many of his fellow radicals ‘sold-out’ and became a part of the suburban culture is an excellent and keen observation.

Dreyfuss is perfect in the role as a wise-guy, cynical smart ass. Most of the times characters and actors with these traits are off-putting, but somehow with him it is always engaging. The character is also nicely multi-dimensional. He is acerbic and brash one minute, but then singing lullabies over the phone to his children the next. He acts like his has ‘moved on’ from the 60’s, but then later on tears come to his eyes when he looks at a film of some old student protests. Dreyfuss also broke his wrist just before filming began and so they wrote it into the script and it becomes a funny running gag as different people ask him how he broke it and each time he tells them something that becomes increasingly more outrageous and amusing.

Bill Conti’s musical score is bouncy and distinctive and gives the film an added kick. He also employs several different styles including ragtime, disco, electronic and even a ballad by Leon Redbone.

The mystery is full of twists and close attention must be paid, but it is doubtful anyone will figure the surprise at the end. Baby boomers that lived through the period may be more connected to this than others, but it is still entertaining and a terrific time capsule.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 6, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jeremy Kagan

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, Netflix streaming

The Goodbye Girl (1977)

the goodbye girl 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Goodbye doesn’t mean forever.

Paula (Marsha Mason) is a ‘dumped on’ single parent, whose live-in boyfriend has just left her, and now must contend with Elliot (Richard Dreyfuss) a rather obnoxious man who is subletting the apartment. Despite long odds the two end up ‘falling in love’ in this rather obvious, mechanical love story that is finely tuned to the female, especially those from that era. (The macho guy viewer will have run out of the room long before David Gates even has a chance to sing his soft rock title tune).

This was made when writer Neil Simon was still considered in vogue, although his patented one-liners are sparse and when they do come they are more cute than funny. This in some ways seems a retooling of his earlier ‘lovers in a New York apartment’ film Barefoot in the Park. Only here it’s a little rougher around the edges so it can appeal to a ‘hip’ audience. No clean-cut, cutesy newlyweds instead these people are more jaded to modern sensibilities and will routinely live with their partner even when they are not quite yet divorced.

If you can get past a rather strong late 70’s feel (gotta love that Fonzi poster hanging in the bedroom) then the characters remain solid and believable. No beautiful models living lavish and exciting lifestyles. These are average people just trying to make ends meet and find a little happiness along the way. It also doesn’t just show them when they are together, but also when they are out and alone in the ‘real world’, which allows us a rounded and sympathetic view of them.

Dreyfuss basically plays his usual opinionated, abrasive self. Whether the viewer sees the intended charm underneath is completely up to their own personal tolerance. His performance is good, but not exactly screaming for an Academy Award, which he won anyway, but then poked fun of it when he later hosted ‘Saturday Night Live’ on May 13, 1978.

Mason, who at the time was married to Simon, is the one who should have won it. Her performance is both believable and fluid. You truly see a lot of everyday people in her characterization and she clearly carries the film.

Quinn Cummings, as Paula’s daughter, is cute without being too precocious. Her sensibilities help compensate for the sometimes emotional immaturity of her adult counterparts. Though it really looks and seems dumb to have a ten year old still smearing food on the edges of her mouth and wearing a big napkin around her neck while eating.

Although I don’t always have a great eye for continuity errors this one has a doozy. When Dreyfuss comes home one night drunk he knocks over a table with a lot of stuff on it. He sticks his head out the window to shout something into the night air and then two seconds later comes back to where the table is standing and everything on it is neatly set.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 30, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video