A Note on Spoilers

I decided it might be a good idea to make what’s known as a “sticky post” here on the front page for those coming in who might be concerned about spoilers. In these posts I’m going to be talking about varying aspects of movies that I’ve been watching, This may include writing about things that some would consider spoilers, including, at times, the endings of these movies. Those who are particularly spoiler averse may want to avoid reading these posts if they are planning to watch the movie in question. In certain circumstances where I will be discussing events towards the end of the movie, including the ending in at least a vague way, or when a movie contains a particular plot twist that might be considered major, I will try to post a more specific spoiler warning, because I do recognize that even though I may be writing about a movie that is decades old, it’s still going to be new to some people. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get on with it, shall we?

A Sensual Noodle Fest – Tampopo (1985)

tp2There are times when eating is simply about fueling up the body for whatever is to come next.

Then there are those other times…

Juzo Itami’s Tampopo is a film that never forgets the sensual side of food and eating.

The movie takes its name from that of its heroine, who runs a roadside ramen stand in rural Japan. Her desire is to have the best ramen shop in the area, but unfortunately, her noodles simply aren’t all that good. Enter itinerant trucker Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and his sidekick Gun (Ken Watanabe), who stop in one evening as a break from the road. After Goro stops her son from being beaten by three of his school mates then takes a beating himself while defending her from harassing local Pisken, he awakens the next morning to find that she has taken him in and cleaned and bandaged his wounds.

When it turns out that Goro knows more than a thing or two about the proper cooking of ramen, Tampopo begs him to train her so that she can become a truly great noodle chef.

Okay, I know that at this point many of you are probably thinking “ramen chef”? How much does it take to boil water and toss in some dried noodles and a pack of seasoning? But of course, we’re not talking here about the sodium-laden six-for-a-buck college student staple. Instead, we’re talking a true bowl of Japanese deliciousness, with a deeply flavored soup, handmade noodles freshly cooked, thin slices of pork that actually cook once they are placed in the soup just before eating, and slices of vegetables and other ingredients that make for a heart, healthy meal.

tp1In other words, we’re talking about a dish that not only fulfills the body’s need for energy, but one which, if made and approached correctly, can be a delight for all the senses.

We’re also talking about a movie that celebrates that sensory and, as I said above, sensual side of food and of eating.

Back to the main plot of the film: from this point on, Tampopo plays out not unlike a parody of many a Samurai and Western movie – it was even promoted as the world’s first “ramen western” – a play on the Italian “spaghetti western” genre – with Goro not only teaching and training Tampopo to make the best bowl of noodles possible, but where his own expertise fails, recruiting others to help out. In many ways it has that classic “gather the warriors to help defend the village” feel to it. The pair also set about to learn the true tricks of the ramen masters, even at times going undercover to learn her competitors’ secrets.

tp5But that’s just the main plot. Interspersed within that are small vignettes which bring the true sensuality of eating to the forefront. For instance, the is one subplot which involves a gangster and his lover who are all about exploring the sexual nature and possibilities of different foods in a way that is somewhat reminiscent of the refrigerator scene from 9 1/2 Weeks. There’s even a scene involving a raw egg that… well, let’s just say that it may give you something different to think about the next time you’re making breakfast.

There’s also a memorable scene involving a women’s etiquette class which takes place in a restaurant and in which the teacher is attempting to instruct her young charges the proper “Western” way to eat spaghetti – without the characteristic slurping sounds that often are taken as a sign of the enjoyment of the food in Japanese culture. Her lecture, however is often interrupted by a man sitting a few tables over who is definitely enjoying his own bowl of noodles. And when it finally becomes time for the students to practice what she has been preaching, things do not go exactly as she had hoped.

tp4One of the beauties of Itami’s work here is how seamlessly he integrates these vignettes into the larger work, making them feel not so much like intrusions in the ongoing main plot, but explicative and evocative examples of the mood and atmosphere and themes that he is exploring. He is very ably assisted in this by the camera work of cinematographer Masaki Tamura who finds the perfect way to shoot each of these scenes in a way that makes them feel individualized, but none the less part of the whole.

At the same time, Tampopo is a movie which never loses sight of the inherent silliness at its core and therefore never falls into the trap that can be the downfall of so many comedies. It never takes itself too seriously. Instead it completely embraces its parodic nature and celebrates it just as it celebrates the culinary world.

tp3Also of note is the cast, each of whom seems perfectly chosen for their role. Yamazaki brings just the right combination of gruffness, world-weariness, and sensitivity to the role of itinerant driver/samurai, and Nobuko Miyamoto is utterly charming as the vibrant Tampopo (we’re told that her name means “Dandelion”) who transforms from somewhat dowdy and run down to become as shining and bright as her new restaurant once it. too, receives a near-complete makeover. The supporting cast, which includes many Japanese film stalwarts such as Kōji Yakusho, Yoshi Katō, Hideji Ōtaki, and Ryūtarō Ōtomo, are all perfectly cast and inhabit their roles extremely well.

All of this leads to Tampopo being a film which celebrates food and eating in all of its facets, one which emphasizes and celebrates the fact that food, both in its creation and in its eating can be so much more than just another uick stop along the way in the day, if only one takes the time to slow down and approach it properly.

It’s also a movie that will make you want to give up those little packages of “flavor” forever. Which you really should do anyway, you know.

Her’s a trailer:

 

 

 

 

A Covering Comics Bonus – New Neal Adams Covers

In the last Covering Comics column (#14), I did a spotlight feature on the covers of Artist Neal Adams, and at the end I noted that Mr. Adams is still doing occasional work in comics, though most of the time now he’s concentrating on illustrating mini-series which he is also writing.

As it turns out, this month is seeing the release of a number of variant covers from DC which are highlighting Neal Adams’ work.

nasFor those of you who are unfamiliar with the “variant cover” concept, the basic idea is that certain comics are published with different covers than the standard ones that will be on newsstands and other places that sell comics, and that retailers can purchase these variants (which are generally printed in much smaller quantities) at a ratio based upon the number of “standard cover” cpoies of the issue that they buy. So for instance if a variant cover is made available at a 10:1 ratio, then for every ten standard cover issues a retailer buys from the distributor, they have the option to buy one of the variant cover issues, which they can then sell at a much inflated rate, since these variants are considered rarities.

Though this practice fell out of favor for awhile, it is something that DC especially has recently re-embraced with gusto. Each month lately, they have chosen a different theme for their variant covers and printed a vast majority of that month’s issues with covers using that theme. Sometimes, like last month, the theme will be kind of off the wall – the January theme was Looney Tunes variants which showed their characters interacting with characters from the cartoon universe inhabitants, and sometimes, like this month they will focus on specific creators.

Oh, and I should also mention that quite often these covers, while interesting, really have nothing to do with what’s actually happening inside the comics themselves.

All of which brings us to this month’s covers and their Neal Adams variants. The idea seems to have been to get Adams to recreate some of his most iconic covers, putting new spins on them, then having them inked by some of today’s top talent.

I’ll admit I don’t usually pay much attention to these variant covers since I don’t actively collect comics anymore, but it is something of a treat getting to see Adam’s artwork get this kind of a spotlight. So, what you’re going to see below is really just a gallery of some of these new covers, most of which (except for the first one, obviously) I really have no idea which comics they will actually be on. Nonetheless, I thought you might enjoy seeing these new takes from Mr. Adams as much as I did. So, without further ado…

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By the way, if you want to see many of the original covers that these are based on, I refer you back to that Covering Comics column that I cited at the top.

 

Throwback Thursday: Rechained By Dubbing – Django (1966)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

For some reason, this post from the early days of this blog is, according to WordPress, one that continues to get hits, and one that seems still quite popular, so it seems like a perfect candidate for re-presenting today.

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Rechained By Dubbing – Django (1966)

***SPOILER WARNING*** In this post, I’m going to be discussing differences between the dubbed and subtitled versions of Sergio Corbucci‘s 1966 film Django, and specifically the ending of the movie, so if you haven’t seen it (and I highly recommend that you do) you might want to turn back now. You have been warned! ***END WARNING***

django_posterOkay, I’m going to just go ahead and get this part out of the way. I absolutely loved last year’s Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino‘s “ode” to the spaghetti western genre. Despite its flaws, obvious and otherwise – yes, I know, some say it’s too long, but to them I’d ask what specifically would you cut, and yes, we can all agree that QT’s “Australian” accent is a joke, but to me he’s earned the indulgence, and yes… and yes… – in the end, it’s exactly what it sets out to be: one film maker’s tribute to an influential genre that he obviously loves, and an entertaining afternoon or evening at the theater for the rest of us, and in the end, that’s enough for me.

But the biggest thing that I like about QT’s movie is that it has brought new attention to a genre of movies that I find is largely unfamiliar to a vast swath of today’s younger movie-going audience, the aforementioned “spaghetti western”, and the fact that it extends beyond just Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone. As a matter of fact, it’s because of Tarantino’s movie that my favorite place to watch films here in Nashville, the Belcourt Theater, was able to show a retrospective of films by one of the other great directors of the genre, Sergio Corbucci, which included his 1966 masterpiece, the original Django.

Now I could go into a lot of detail about Corbucci’s film and why I think it’s so good, but that’s another post for another time. Instead, today I simply want to look at one part of the movie, specifically the end of it, and to highlight what may be one of the greatest travesties of re-dubbed films ever.

You see, there are actually two versions of the film in circulation at the moment, one, the first one that I saw, is an Italiian language version with subtitles. The other, and the most commonly-found version on places like YouTube (as a matter of fact, the entire dubbed version is available there for streaming if you so desire), is the English language dubbed version.

Sometimes words like "compensating" don't need any translation.

Sometimes words like “compensating” don’t need any translation.

Now, you might think that in the process of dubbing a movie into another language the people responsible would try to stick as closely as possible to the original, and I’m sure in many cases that is true, and probably more so today than in the past. But there are other things which also have to be considered when movies are being dubbed. First there is the problem that both subtitlers and dubbers face – idiomatic language. There are simply some times that a direct translation, either because of cultural references or because the words have no direct correlation, just doesn’t make sense. (I was recently watching a subtitled version of a Japanese movie that attempted to use supertitles as footnotes to these kind of translation issues, but to be honest, that was truly distracting.) The other issue is mouth movements. One of the most often-heard complaints, especially back when I was growing up, about watching foreign movies was that the lip movement were so far out of sync with the words being said that it ended up being either incredibly distracting or downright humorous, and that’s why so many people said they simply couldn’t watch “furren” movies.

Now, it’s possible that if asked, the translators of the dubbed version of Django might claim either one of these to be the case in the defense of many of their choices throughout the film, and they may be legitimate claims. However, when it comes to the ending… Well, I’ll tell you what, before we go any further, why don’t we have a look at that ending? The part I’m specifically going to be focusing on is from about 4:00 to 6:20 in this clip, but go ahead and watch the whole thing if you really want the set-up.

Ok, so we have our protagonist at his seemingly most defenseless, his hands broken, trying to get off one last good shot, and being taunted by his greatest adversary, Major Jackson. And his cry of “Can you hear me ?!” is appropriate to the preceding lines about “You should start your praying.” and “I can’t hear you!”, which is fine as far as it goes.

However, if you watch the Italian version, you find out that the dubbing really diverges from the original in a way that not only lessens the impact of the scene, but also removes the ironic humor from it, a factor which goes a long way to making the entire film such a joy to watch. You see, in that scene the original version, which does have Jackson taunting Django about saying his final prayers, doesn’t have the inanities about his burial suit. Instead, Jackson emphasizes each shot by invoking a part of the holy trinity. So we wind up with “In the name of the father…” >BANG< “and the Son…” >BANG< “and the Holy Ghost” >BANG< to which Django then adds the capper, as during his final salvo which takes down the major and his men he shouts “AMEN!!!

"What did he say?" I don't know. do you know what he said?" "I got no idea." "Hell, it all sounds Greek to me."

“What did he say?” I don’t know. do you know what he said?” “I got no idea.” “Hell, it all sounds Greek to me.”

Now some might argue that the change was made due to sensitivity to the religious imagery which it invokes, but considering that that imagery is not only a recurring thread throughout the movie, but at times already a large part of its humor, I can’t see that as a reasonable defense. Nor do the other two arguments I mentioned above work, as there is no problem with the language translating, and the original lines actually fit the mouth movements perfectly.

No, this simply seems to be a case of “change for change’s sake”, and it’s one that, when I actually saw it while watching the dubbed version on the recent blu-ray release (both versions are on the disk, and I have to say they look gorgeous and it gets my highest recommendation) made me want to throw the box directly through the TV. Fortunately, I restrained myself, but really it was that bad a moment.

In the end, though, what it comes down to is this: if you have the option, you should definitely check out the subtitled version instead of the dubbed one, But if the latter is the only option available, then go ahead and watch that, with the caveat that there definitely is something “lost in translation” because despite those flaws, the strengths of the movie still largely come through.

So how about you? Have you seen either version? If so, which one and what did you think about it? And what are your thoughts in general about the argument concerning subtitles versus dubbing? I’d love to hear your comments, pro or con for either side. Just click on the comment button below and share your thoughts. Or head on over to the Facebook page and join in the discussion there.

Oh, and while you’re at it, why not click one of the share buttons below and bring your friends into the discussion too? The more the merrier! (Just please keep any comments civil, and respect your fellow commenters. After all, there’s no reason for gunfire here.)

And as always, until next time, happy viewing!

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

 

Quickie Review – Cloverfield (2008)

cf1After the recent surprise announcement of the follow-up film 10 Cloverfield Lane and the accompanying trailer which immediately turned me on if for no other reason than the presence of John Goodman who is almost always a selling point for me, I decided maybe it was time to go ahead and watch the original Cloverfield in preparation for the new one, and…

I dunno… maybe it’s a New York thing, where knowing the different locations and having a day-to-day connection to them makes it feel more threatening on a personal level. My son who lives there says he got completely caught up in the movie and it worked for him.

Or maybe it’s because I was watching it at home by myself instead of in a theater on the big screen with a proper audience where the monster would seem more menacing and you have the other film-goers also reacting to things.

Or maybe it’s just because of my general aversion to found-footage movies. While I can understand the supposed sense of immediacy and perhaps intimacy that these movies are supposed to have, and there have been some that I have really gotten into and enjoyed, for the most part I find them actually distancing and a distraction from the story that is being told.

Or maybe it’s because of the very nature of the”found” footage film – in order for it to have been found, it has to have been “lost” in the first place, meaning that there is a sense of inevitability to to final reel which lessens its impact to a degree that when the end does come, the feeling is more “Yep, that’s it.” than “Oh, no, they didn’t make it after all!” (Oops, I guess that was a spoiler, but as I said, it’s also part-and-parcel with the very nature of this type of movie, so it really shouldn’t be one.)

cf2Or maybe it’s simply the movie itself. I have no idea how much of the dialogue was scripted and how much was improvised, nor how much leeway the actors were given when it came to the interpretation of their characters, but – and I freely admit that it could be an age thing where I’m just too old to relate to the 20 somethings that populate the film – I just found myself feeling no real connection to any of them.

(By the way, one question that I simply have not been able to get past and which relates to the motivating force behind much of the action in the movie: I understand that Doug having slept with Beth is a surprise to many of his friends, but nonetheless she seems to be someone everyone knows and a part of their inner circle, so why was she not already at his going away party, when people like Marlena, who claims to barely know him are? Was there a line of dialogue that I missed that explains her absence? I’ll admit that it’s entirely possible that there was, but again that’s something I attribute to the very nature of this type of film – sometimes in all the chaos taking place on screen, important plot points like that simply get lost.)

cf3Whatever the reason, I found myself not connecting with Cloverfield at all.

That’s not to say that I think it’s a bad movie. For what it is, it works well enough, and I’m willing to admit that there is a lot of creativity taking place here. The monster design in particular is excellent – and the use of the smaller critters to provide a more immediate threat, while something of an overused trope works well here. Also there are moments – such as the actual rescue of Beth which take advantage of the single camera point of view to good advantage, but those really don’t make up for the negatives for me.

Overall, I suppose I’ll simply have to say that if you’re into this style of film, then you’ll probably like Cloverfield, but for me it really was just a non-starter.

On the other hand, I’ll also add that despite all of the above, I’m still looking forward to seeing what 10 Cloverfield Lane has to offer, but that’s mostly down to my wanting to see what kind of monster John Goodman really turns out to be.

Here’s your Cloverfield trailer:

Covering Comics #14 – Artist Spotlight: Neal Adams

I’ve often said that I miss the comics covers of old. Those covers were designed, unlike many of the ones being produced today which are merely mini-posters spotlighting the titular character without giving any indication of the story contained inside, to draw readers in and make them anxious about actually reading the stories contained therein. Of course, this was also a time when comic books could be found all over the place, from newsstands to the local drug store, as opposed to only in specialty comic-book shops, and they were largely focused on catching the eye of someone just passing by the comics rack instead of depending pretty solely on regular readers who are willing to go every Wednesday to get their weekly fix, but that’s a discussion for another time, I suppose. Anyway, “Covering Comics” is going to be an irregular series of posts where I take a look at various covers from the past, highlighting some of my personal favorites, or other covers of note for one reason or another.

Back in Covering Comics #11 I took a look at Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ legendary run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow, but Neal Adams did far more than just that series, and he was one of the most sought after cover artists at the time. Adam’s style was, as you will see, highly realistic, but he never forgot that he was drawing comics, so there’s also a very stylistic quality to his drawings.

Once again, I’m not going to comment on these covers because I think they speak for themselves. Enjoy!

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I should note that though most of these covers are from the 60s and 70s, Mr Adams is still alive and working infrequently in the comics field, and even has a new mini-series which he is both writing and illustrating coming from DC entitled Superman: Coming of the Supermen and is scheduled to launch next month.

 

Throwback Thursday – Rage At Dawn (1955)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

Today we’re heading back to March 2010 when I wrote on PDPDTC about the Randolph Scott starring 1955 movie Rage at Dawn. One major change that I have made to the post below is that originally I simply had a clip to a scene from the movie because I couldn’t find a good trailer for the film. This time I’ve edited it to embed the entire movie.

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Monday Oaters – Rage At Dawn Starring Randolph Scott (1955)

tt02aJust because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. Yeah, it’s become a cliche, but it definitely seems to be the attitude of the Reno brothers in today’s feature, Rage at Dawn.

Rage at Dawn is the story of the Reno Brothers, wild west outlaws who become, according to the opening of the film, America’s first train robbers. Yes, these are the same Reno Brothers that would be portrayed in the next year’s Elvis Presley movie Love Me Tender, but there’s no singing in this flick. Instead it’s definitely a rootin’-tootin’ film full of white and black hats, six-guns, betrayals and tough guys.

When one of the brothers is shot down during an aborted bank robbery, it becomes obvious that someone has betrayed them. They soon track down the informant who turns out to be the bartender at the local saloon, actually an undercover agent of the Peterson Detective Agency. In revenge, the boys knock him out, tie him up in his barn and set the place ablaze. They are able to act as they wish with impunity because they are paying off the local lawmen and judges, cutting them in on the loot from each of their jobs. Soon the Peterson Agency decides to bring in a new man, James Barlow, played by Randolph Scott. Barlow’s plan is to infiltrate the gang by posing as a train robber (the company sets up a fake robbery for the Reno’s to get wind of, with the full cooperation of the train company) and getting them to want to join him. Barlow also finds time to romance the Renos’ sister, in whose house the brothers are living.

tt03aOf course, there is no way that this movie can really live up to the true epitome of the paranoid western The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but it does a good job of evoking the distrust and suspicion that so often accompanies any criminal enterprise. This infection of paranoia is not limited solely to the Reno Brothers either, as, for example, when their co-conspirators first hear of the train robbery they immediately think that the Renos have pulled the job and are holding out on them. The question then becomes, as suspicious as the brothers are, is there any way for Barlow to actually gain their trust and lead them to capture without getting himself or his fellow agent killed?

The film is shot in color, and though it’s supposed to take place in Southern Indiana (hey, at some time in this country’s history, EVERYWHERE has been “the west”), the California scenery does not really look anything like that part of the country. Nonetheless, the movie is lifted by a number of very good performance. Besides Scott, it stars Forrest Tucker as Frank Reno, J. Carrol Naish as ‘Sim’ Reno, and Uncle Jesse himself, Denver Pyle as “good” brother Clint Reno.

No trailer today, I’m afraid, (if anyone out there can find one, let me know and I’ll be happy to add it) but I’ve embedded the entire film below:

Now, here’s the skinny:
Title: Rage at Dawn
Release Date: 1955
Running Time: 87 min
Black and White
Starring: Randolph Scott
Directed by: Tim Whelan
Produced by: Unknown
Released by: RKO Radio Pictures

If you’ve seen this flick, please be sure to leave a comment and let me and everyone else know what you thought.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

 

Quickie Review – The Super Cops (1974)

sc1Part buddy cop movie, part let’s fight police corruption movie, The Super Cops works pretty well as at least light entertainment. This is definitely one time where you should think Starsky and Hutch much more than say Serpico or even Lethal Weapon.

The setting is early 70s New York, and newly minted NYPD officers Dave Greenberg and Robert Hantz are eager to move beyond the day-to-day low level duties (such as directing traffic) that they are given, so they decide to spend their off-duty time making drug busts and attempting to get the attention of their superiors so that they can quickly make their way up to detective.

They definitely get attention, but it’s not really the kind they want, as the real detectives on the force feel like the pair are trying to make them look bad, and they are eventually investigated by Internal Affairs who assume that they must be somehow corrupt.

sc3Eventually they are assigned to the (fictional) 21st precinct in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Appalled by what they see there, they make it their mission to try to clean up the neighborhood and do what they can to get as much of the drugs off the streets and to bust the Hayes brothers who are the major drug suppliers in the neighborhood. Though they are secretly supported by their captain who wants the to make the busts so that they can get their detective badges and he can, as he says “ride their shirt tails” out of the precinct, this only further infuriates those who oppose them, including among others, a corrupt District Attorney.

Based on the true story of two real-life detectives, The Super Cops, directed by Gordon Parks (who also directed the seminal blaxplitation movie Shaft) from a script by Lorenzo Semple Jr. (who helped develop the Batman television show) does itself a favor by never seeming to take itself quite too seriously. Though it’s not a comedy, and the subject matter is serious, there is a light touch to the movie that keeps it rollicking along at such a breakneck pace that at least for me it seemed much shorter than it’s running time of 90 minutes.

sc2One thing that definitely helps keep the movie light and mving are the performances by leads Ron Liebman and David Selby who portray the pair as competent though frequently awkward, so that they always seem just slightly out of place both in social settings and while chasing down bad guys. Also of note in the cast is Pat Hingle who plays the IAD inspector charged with bringing them down. Hingle would later go on to portray Police Commissioner Gordon in Tim Burton’s Batman films.

As far as historical accuracy goes, I suspect that it’s best not to really question it, especially considering the later careers and corruption charges eventually brought against the real cops upon whom the movie pair are based.

I suspect that your reaction to The Super Cops will really depend on just how much you’re into this kind of movie. If you’re looking for a film where things are always exploding and everything is a matter of life or death and the end of the world could come at any moment then this is not going to be for you. If on the other hand, you’re just looking to some light buddy cop entertainment, and especially if you’re a fan of that late 60s early 70s New York setting like I am, then you could certainly do worse.

I couldn’t find a really good trailer for the movie to embed, but here’s a short clip to give you a feel for it: