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The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974) Review


Excellent
An archeological specimen from nearly two decades before the advent of the Metrocard, Joseph Sargent's expert thriller The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, like brethren Serpico and The French Connection, is another quintessential 1970s New York City movie that might read as alien dialect to those who aren't familiar with the geocentric love/hate relationship between the city and its inhabitants. To those who are familiar, however, the film will unfold like ghostscript, a bygone era of Abe Beame, Gotham teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and President Ford's apocryphal claim that the city could "drop dead."

There certainly aren't any Urban Outfitters to be seen in 1970s Manhattan, though a train ride on the 6 is still a life-and-death proposition. That becomes a bit more literal for the dozen or so that are held hostage on a single car by a pack of hijackers who refer to themselves by color; a gimmick Tarantino would cop 20 years later in Reservoir Dogs. The leader is a coiled ex-soldier-of-fortune who goes by Mr. Blue (the brilliant Robert Shaw, a year before Jaws) with Green (Martin Balsam), Grey (Hector Elizondo), and Brown (Earl Hindman) under him. His foil, a metro cop named Zach Garber, is oddly played by Walter Matthau.

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Grumpy Old Men Review


OK
Grumpy Old Men, directed with general disinterest by Donald Petrie, is 100 minutes of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon pulling pranks, calling each other names, complaining and falling in love with Ann-Margret. I am suitably entertained by these things. Whether or not you are will be the deciding factor of what you think of what is ostensibly a geriatric Odd Couple.

Milking a 50-odd year rivalry, John Gustafson (Lemmon) and Max Goldman (Matthau), for reasons where logic dare not tread, live right next to each other in suburban Minnesota. Their lives hinge on very few things: Their kids, fishing, grandkids, fishing, evading tax collectors, fishing, and going to the bait shop to talk with Charlie (Ossie Davis) about fishing. That is when they aren't being a royal pain in each other's asses.

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The Odd Couple Review


Excellent
There was a time, a little less than four decades ago, when Neil Simon was the literary benchmark of both Broadway and the Silver Screen. After a successful stint as a TV scribe on Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows, the soon to be phenomenon went on to create such Great White Way staples as Barefoot in the Park, Sweet Charity, Plaza Suite, and The Prisoner of Second Avenue. In 1966, he had four shows running at once and it wasn't long before Hollywood came calling.

After adapting his Come Blow Your Horn and Park for the big screen, Simon was given the complicated task of translating his mega-hit The Odd Couple as a movie. While the studios would accept Oscar- and Tony-winner Walter Matthau as Oscar, Art Carney's cinematic clout as Felix was questioned. Luckily, director Gene Saks hired friend and Fortune Cookie co-star Jack Lemmon as the notorious neat freak. The rest, as they say, is motion picture history.

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Hello, Dolly! Review


Grim
Come back, Carol Channing! All is forgiven! The epic screen version of the charming musical Hello, Dolly! hasn't aged well, but then again, it wasn't so great when it was new, either. An overstuffed extravaganza populated by thousands of extras gallivanting in period costumes, the movie is hamstrung by the miscasting of Miss Barbra Streisand in the lead role. Babs can sing, of course, but the fact that she is 30 years too young to play Dolly Levi derails the entire enterprise. The producers made a seemingly logical choice to cash in on Streisand's immense star power, but all the glorious hats in the world can't disguise the fact that Dolly is supposed to be at least 57, not 27.

We're transported back to turn-of-the-20th-century New York, where widowed matchmaker Dolly Levi is flouncing around meeting people, being charming, and trying to make matches. She journeys up to Yonkers to meet the "well-known unmarried half-a-millionaire" Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau) and to bring him and a couple of his employees, a hatmaker (there are lots of hats in this movie) and her assistant, back to New York so they can all romantically entangle with each other. Dolly's goal is to wind up with Vandergelder herself, but it won't be easy. Why? Because he's Walther Matthau, and that means he's perpetually cranky and cynical.

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Earthquake Review


OK
The land-based counterpart to The Poseidon Adventure provides the same decay of civilization, the same mix of jaw-dropping special effects (remember, no CGI in these days) and cheese, and the same George Kennedy. With names like Heston, Roundtree, Bujold, and Greene (Lorne), the film has plenty of star power to manage its obvious plot: The Big One strikes L.A., and a handful of stories play out in the aftermath. Some are inspired (a group of office workers attempt to escape a crumbling high-rise) and some are absurd (Roundtree is a stunt motorcycle driver whose wooden track falls apart). The stories roughly interlock, but the impressive effects steal the show, not to be outdone by some amazing howlers, like the crudely animated blood that "splatters" on the screen when an elevator falls to its doom. Priceless. (The movie had four Oscar nominations, won one, and got a special achievement award for visual effects. On DVD, the sound is awesome.)

Earthquake Review


OK
The land-based counterpart to The Poseidon Adventure provides the same decay of civilization, the same mix of jaw-dropping special effects (remember, no CGI in these days) and cheese, and the same George Kennedy. With names like Heston, Roundtree, Bujold, and Greene (Lorne), the film has plenty of star power to manage its obvious plot: The Big One strikes L.A., and a handful of stories play out in the aftermath. Some are inspired (a group of office workers attempt to escape a crumbling high-rise) and some are absurd (Roundtree is a stunt motorcycle driver whose wooden track falls apart). The stories roughly interlock, but the impressive effects steal the show, not to be outdone by some amazing howlers, like the crudely animated blood that "splatters" on the screen when an elevator falls to its doom. Priceless. (The movie had four Oscar nominations, won one, and got a special achievement award for visual effects. On DVD, the sound is awesome.)

I'm Not Rappaport Review


Weak
Turning a play into a movie is always a hit-or-miss process, and I still don't know quite what to make of the latest film to take that journey, I'm Not Rappaport.

Based on the critically-acclaimed play of the same name, I'm Not Rappaport as the story of two elderly men, Nat, a Jewish/socialist radical and compulsive liar (Walter Matthau), and Midge, a black, nearly blind apartment superintendent (Ossie Davis). The pair has an uneasy friendship based on the fact that they sit on the same bench in Central Park, where Nat fills Midge's head with fabrications. Nat's flair for creating new personae for himself draws the pair into one minor adventure after another, involving a young artist-in-training (Martha Plimpton), a drug dealer (Craig T. Nelson), a mugger (Guillermo Diaz), and threats from Nat's daughter (Amy Irving) regarding the ever-looming old folks' home.

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Fail-Safe (1964) Review


Extraordinary
An underseen classic, Fail-Safe is based on a very similar story (though not the same book) as filmcritic.com's #1 movie, Dr. Strangelove. (In fact, Kubrick sued Sidney Lumet and co. over the similarities between the films, before either ever came out.) But Fail-Safe plays it straight, to equally powerful effect: An accident sends a bombing team on its way to Moscow, and the U.S. wrestles with what to do when it can't be recalled. Walter Matthau is a scene stealer, playing a rare serious role as a civilian advisor to the Pentagon who advocates all-out war. Jaw-dropping and tense, despite some rough production values.

Hanging Up Review


Weak
There's just something really screwy about a family like the Ephrons.

A pair of sisters (Nora and Delia) collectively control the purse strings of many a woman and hold they keys to the heart of the modern romantic through two movies: Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail. Nora Ephron (along with Meg Ryan), redefined delis and male-female interaction with 1989's When Harry Met Sally.... Both are the daughters of a screenwriting duo, children of The Industry, and have become higher-level powerbrokers than their parents ever were with a string of well publicized hits and soon forgotten misses that formed a winning streak that lasted up until now.

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The Life And Times Of Hank Greenberg Review


Excellent
While Keeping the Faith cracks enough Rabbi jokes to keep the masses happy, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg actually has something to offer to the cinematic world. Blending fan interviews with archival footage, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg is one of the most lighthearted documentaries to come out in ages.

Hank Greenberg was not the first Jewish ballplayer, but he was the first Jewish ballplayer to keep his last name when he entered the game. As such, Greenberg faced anti-Semitic comments in addition to the insults that come with the game. As its title would suggest, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg discusses how Greenberg dealt with that (such as the decisions to take certain religious holidays off). It also discusses how Greenberg's very presence brought hope into the hearts of Jewish people everywhere, and does all of this in a humorous fashion, to boot.

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A Face In The Crowd Review


Excellent
Every great film has a great screenplay, and A Face in the Crowd is no exception. Budd Schulberg's script is sharp and ambitious and works as a psychological study, slightly over-the-top political satire, and a morality play. But it is Andy Griffith's awesome, energetic, nuanced performance of a demagogue that makes this film a classic.

A reporter in rural Arkansas (Patricia Neal) interviews a bum in a local jail (Andy Griffith) and discovers he can sing, so she gives him a spot on her local radio show and christens him Lonesome Rhodes. He turns out to be a fountain of homespun charm who is especially empathetic with women listeners (the premise is not improbable -- many careers were launched in a similar way). On his first night on TV, Rhodes makes love to the audience while raising money for a homeless family. He becomes an overnight celebrity, rising from national TV star into advertising, opinion-making, and finally becomes a political kingmaker.

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Plaza Suite Review


Weak
The Odd Couple excepted, this is the best way to take Neil Simon material: In short, manageable chunks. Plaza Suite was the first of Simon's "Suite" series (follwed by California and London), telling three short stories each of which takes place in the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

Oh, and all of them star Walter Matthau, in three different roles, with three different leading ladies.

Continue reading: Plaza Suite Review

The Sunshine Boys Review


OK
A highly regarded yet infinitely rambling Neil Simon comedy, The Sunshine Boys is notable mainly because of the Oscar-winning appearance of an 80-year-old George Burns, who returned to the screen after more than 30 years in retirement. The movie itself is a bit lackluster (clever dialogue, but it really goes on and on and on...), with two aging ex-Vaudevillians (Burns and Walter Matthau) in a duel of tongues after Matthau's nephew/agent has hauled them out of retirement to make a quick buck. Life imitates art, no? Burns would become a bigger star than ever in later years, as the Oh God series made him, well, a diety.

Continue reading: The Sunshine Boys Review

The Fortune Cookie Review


Excellent
This very funny Billy Wilder comedy actually stands as the first on-screen pairing of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and Matthau took home a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Whiplash Willie, a shyster attorney who convinces his cameraman brother-in-law (Lemmon) to sue the NFL when he's injured a football game, exaggerating his injuries. A bit long (over two hours), but Wilder's use of title cards to present numbered "chapters" keeps things moving along pretty well. The banter between Lemmon and Matthau is, as always, priceless.

The Front Page Review


Good
Billy Wilder's version of the classic play carries a lot of fond memories for former newspapermen like myself, but I don't expect The Front Page to resonate quite so well with the rest of the populace. Lemmon plays it straight as a reporter bent on getting out of the business in order to get married while Matthau's hilariously over-the-top editor does everything in his power to keep him on the payroll during a fantastic jailbreak in 1920s Chicago. It drags in the middle, but a good first act and a stellar finale make the movie completely worthwhile.
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