Introducing The #DFNYFive!

Here’s the first #DFNYFive, our five favorite flicks!  So hard to choose,  but these are the ones that consistently come to mind when people ask.  And it doesn’t necessarily mean that these are best movies ever made, just the five flicks that I can return to over and over again and enjoy just as much as the first time I saw them!

1. Annie Hall (1977)

2. Seven Samurai (1954)

3. All The President’s Men (1976)

4. A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway To Heaven) (1946)

5. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Hope you like the #DFNYFive,  what are your favorites? Looking forward to receiving some interesting responses!


Listening To Springsteen In Japan

(Blinded By The Light – Warner Bros. Pictures/ New Line Cinema /Entertainment One)

I was lucky to catch the film Blinded by the Light at the Tokyo International Film Festival at the last minute (thank you Naozo!).  Director Gurinder Chadha’s film captures the experiences of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor growing up as a young Pakistani immigrant in England in the 1980’s and is based on Manzoor’s memoir Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll. 

(The Boss with journalist Sarfraz Manzoor)

It was interesting to me as an American who had grown up listening to Springsteen’s music to see how much of an impact it had on a young man from a different country and culture, struggling in his adopted country, while I was watching the film in a THIRD country (Japan) going through my own challenges living in a different country.

(Bruce with director Gurinder Chadha)

I wasn’t a hardcore Springsteen fan per se (I was actually a David Bowie fan, which led to some memorable battles in the sixth grade!), but growing up in the Tri-State area in the early 1980’s, it was hard NOT to listen to The Boss.  In fact, I’m not sure exactly when I first heard Bruce’s music, but at my upstate New York summer camp, they played Born to Run on repeat over the loudspeakers so many times that it feels like that album is the soundtrack to my early childhood.

It wasn’t until the summer of 1987 (coincidentally the same year that Manzoor’s memoir and film are set in) and I was having very similar experiences as him (the pains of young love, wondering where life would take me, and a desire to be somewhere else) that I began to listen to a ton of Springsteen while driving alone at night – specifically Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, and of course, Born To Run.

Now listening to Springsteen in Japan (again on repeat, but now on Spotify!), I’m mentally brought back from here to a very different time and place, and realizing just how much his music captures the essence of the American spirit – a desire for exploration and aspirations for a better life while also being tinged with the difficulties of life and the struggles that so many go through.

From driving in a car as a teenager to flying halfway around the world in a jet airplane thirty-plus years later, I’m finally realizing that I truly was born to run, and looking forward to seeing where the (thunder?) road takes me next!

Blinded by the Light Wikipedia Entry:


Kawaii Halloween At Kawaii Monster Cafe In Harajuku

Kawaii Halloween!


What better way can there be to celebrate Halloween in Tokyo than at a place that literally has the word MONSTER in the name?  Harajuku’s most surreal gathering spot, the Kawaii Monster Cafe (designed by local artist Sebastian Masuda, the “Kawaii King”), is like a trip to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory after it having had all its candy-making machines set to KAWAII!


While it can seem like it’s Halloween everyday in Harajuku with its legions of Kawaii culture adherents and fans of dressing up in colorful cosplay outfits, October 31st brings out an even larger than usual number of costumed revelers to the storied area.

(Pink Warriors’ Dance show set on KMC’s famed giant revolving cake-stage!)

(Even the food gets in on the colorful act at KMC!)


(Dessert is as colorful as the rest of KMC!)

The Kawaii Monster Cafe seems to be the natural place for Halloween revelers to gather, whether it’s as the starting point for a late night out, or as a place to spend the night and celebrate with characters like mascot Choppy, Pink Fat Cat and also watch performers like Pink Warriors and Tempura Kids with their colorful costumes that are a perfect fit for Halloween!

(Checking out Choppy & Pink Fat Cat)


With its guests wearing a mix of costumes both kawaii (cute) and kowai (scary), the Kawaii Monster Cafe is the must-go-to place for any serious Halloween revelers in Tokyo!  Looking forward to seeing how the party grows next year!


Kawaii Monster Cafe is located at:
4-31-10 Jingumae
4F YM Square Bldg
Shibuya 150-0001

Tel +81-3-5413-6142

KMC Website:

Kawagoe – Memories Of A Distant Japan


Getting off the train at Kawagoe Station, it at first feels like any of the dozens (if not hundreds) of similar areas scattered throughout the Tokyo metropolitan area.  The usual assortment of shops, convenience stores, and fast food restaurants give way to an even larger mix of stores, pachinko parlors, and karaoke bars as one makes the fifteen-minute or so walk towards the Kurazukuri historical area that is separated from the station not just by distance, but seemingly by time.

Approaching the older part of the city, it’s immediately striking to see the black-tinged buildings that hint at previous encounters with damaging fires that were apparently held at bay by the local builder’s historical expertise at building structures with multiple layers of clay to help defend from fire damage.  Looking up at most of the remaining buildings, one can see the unique interlocking structures of massive window shutters that were designed to be shut to an almost paper’s-width thickness to block out fire.


But it’s hard to imagine such conflagrations on a beautiful October day walking along the central Chuo street with hundreds of other visitors to a city that has retained all the charms of a time long past.

An interesting feature of Kawagoe shops is that many have retained the old sign-boards of prior businesses, so you might find a clothing store with a sign for an old knife-maker in front, or an ice-cream shop that was previously a rice seller, etc.


Speaking of knife-makers, there is one shop, Machikan, with an impressive array of what seem to be razor-sharp tools, knives, and even farming implements.  The young man behind the counter took a break from his work at the whetstone to give an enthusiastic explanation of the hamon (blade patterns) on a beautiful collection of katana and naginata blades that would be at home in any museum.


The enthusiasm of locals for their culture and history didn’t stop there – I was fortunate to be able to just join a guided tour that had started at the Kawagoe City Art Museum given by a woman with more than enough energy to overcome any tourist’s jetlag.  She possessed an intimate knowledge of the area’s rich history as both an ally and friendly rival to Tokyo.  She mentioned how visitors to Tokyo (then called Edo) were so impressed by the neighboring city’s opulence, returned to Kawagoe, and then had luxurious (but hollow) adornments added to the top of their buldings.


Additionally, the name Edo for Tokyo, led to Kawagoe becoming known as “Koedo” or “Little Edo” (小江戸)  – a name which seems to have been taken by the current local craft beer, Coedo (but spelled with a “C,” possibly to avoid appearing to have an official connection to the city?).

Further encounters which included a kindly book-binder in another well-preserved building (that had previously been a livestock feed-producer), along with many friendly food vendors, souvenir shop owners, restaurant & ice-cream store workers, led me to believe that there is not one merchant in Kawagoe that does not have both a pride in their city, as well as a friendly spirit that seems to be fading in their neighboring city, Tokyo.


It seems that for neighboring Tokyo residents, Kawagoe has a very strong attraction.  While Tokyo has remnants of old townscapes that were not successful and have been taken over by new businesses, Kawagoe managed to have similarly old areas develop thriving businesses early on.

The old towns in Tokyo have had their beautiful old buildings mercilessly torn down by large developers and replaced with new buildings that seem to be all of one design, and by doing so, the loss of those towns’ individuality continues.


I’m curious to find out more about the process of how Kawagoe goes about preserving their classic look while at the same time allowing for new building construction.  In the meantime, it can definitely be said that Kawagoe seems to be a city that’s worth it to residents of Tokyo to take a day and visit, so it must be doubly so for foreign visitors as well!

Koedo-Kawagoe Website:


DFNYFocus On: Filmmaker Anna Takayama

ANNA TAKAYAMA was born in New York and raised in Tokyo. Her first short film, Neko Sees All, screened at the St. Louis International Film Festival as part of its Narrative Short Program, “Mixed Emotions,” and made its online debut on Kentucker Audley’s NoBudge.com. She is currently working on her second short film, The Voice Actress, which tells the story of a veteran voice actress living in Tokyo.

Q:   What is a film that you love that might surprise people who know you?
A: “The Brave Little Toaster” (1987). I think about this movie a lot. I love the idea of these banal everyday objects coming to life and going on an adventure looking for their owner. It’s kind of like the original Toy Story.
Q:   If you could pair up any two actors/actresses, living or dead, to appear in a “Dream Flick” together, which two would it be & what kind of film?
A: Setsuko Hara and Isabelle Huppert in a remake of “Mulholland Drive” (but set in Cinecitta like in “Contempt”)
Q:  Which film has had the biggest impact on you personally, and why?
A: “Stranger than Paradise”. My mom told me she skipped school one day to go see this film on repeat at a (now defunct) arthouse theater in Tokyo. I think that was probably the first indie arthouse film I ever watched… I also think this film might be one of the reasons why I came to NY.
Q: If you could have one prop from any film what would it be?
A: Flubber. Hands down.
Q: Is there any subject matter which you would not make/watch a film about?
A: Hmm… maybe military films. And films that show kids and animals being harmed.
#TheVoiceActress Kickstarter Campaign Is Live:



DFNYFocus On: Le Cinéma (@lecinema_)

Le Cinéma Can Also Be Found At Instagram, Posting “Pictures Of Films We Love” – Thank You For Your #DFNYFocus!


Q: What is a film that you love that might surprise people who know you?

A: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. I used to love Jim Carrey and this film so much when I was a child and I still watch it from time to time. It brings me happy memories.

Q: If you could pair up any two actors/actresses, living or dead, to appear in a “Dream Flick” together, which two would it be & what kind of film?

A: I would have loved to see a volcanic Anna Magnani and a cerebral Isabelle Huppert in a Pedro Almodóvar film.
Q: Which film has had the biggest impact on you personally, and why?

A: It may sound cliché, but ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ changed my vision of cinema. I was 16 and I had never seen something as mesmerizing, as visually beautiful. It blew me away and still does.
Q: If you could have one prop from any film what would it be?

A: The winged puppet from La double vie de Véronique.
Q: Is there any subject matter which you would not make/watch a film about?
A: Animal cruelty.

DFNYFocus On: Independent Filmmaker Jason Charnick

Jason Charnick is a Bronx-born, Los Angeles-based independent filmmaker. Starting his career in 1999, he has worked in post-production, writing and directing his own independent shorts 5:19 TO MOLINA and CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR, and now faces his family’s past and his own future by presenting his debut feature, the personal documentary, GETTING OVER.

DFNY: Which film do you love that might surprise people?
JC: It’s no surprise if you’ve known me for a while, but considering I’m a documentary filmmaker, it might surprise people to hear how much I’m still addicted to National Lampoon’s Vacation. The trials and tribulations of the Griswold family has been a personal favorite for over 30 years now. I can recite from memory BOTH the R-rated and the TV edit of Clark’s car meltdown!

DFNY: If you could pair up any two actors/actresses, living or dead, which two would it be & what kind of film?
JC: Oooh, good one… if I took some extra time to really think about it and go deep into the vault, I’m sure I could think of some crazy combinations, but off the top of my head let’s keep the comedy aspect rolling, and go with Gilda Radner and Chris Farley. That would have the potential to be the funniest movie ever!

DFNY: Which film has had the biggest impact on you personally, and why?
JC: Yet another question that I’m having a tough time narrowing down… I see what you’re doing here! I’m gonna take the easy way out and pick two! The first would be Scorsese’s Goodfellas. Yes, it’s almost a cliche mob movie at this point, but imagine a 15 year old year kid, sitting in the third row of the theater, looking up at this monstrous screen watching how Scorsese moves the camera around like the master that he is. It was the first movie that really broke through to me, and showed me the art form of motion pictures, rather than just something the family did on the weekends. The second would be Clerks. Less than three years after Goodfellas taught me how film can be art, Clerks taught me that I myself could be involved in making movies as a career. Growing up, the movies were always something other people did on such a grand scale, and Clerks was so gritty and homegrown, that it sparked a love of independent film that still burns in me to this day!

DFNY: If you could have one prop from any film what would it be?
JC: It’s funny… I collect autographs, and much of my collection are from famous filmmakers, but I never considered collecting movie props. But if I were to dive into that ocean, and nothing was off limits, I’d probably want that snow globe from Citizen Kane. Another cliche, yes, but Orson Welles is the original independent film icon, and I’m in a Welles state of mind lately with his last film and the new doc about it airing on Netflix right now.

DFNY: Is there any subject matter which you would not make/watch a film about?
JC: Very little is off limits in its entirety, but I’m squeamish, and not really a big fan of the really bloody/gory torture porn movies, or any kind of extensive real life violence. A good horror/thriller is always solid though, but blood for blood’s sake… no thanks. Also, anything that would deny the holocaust is an immediate dealbreaker.


Official website of GETTING OVER, an independent feature-length documentary by Jason Charnick about his father Ray, a hardcore heroin & cocaine addict and petty criminal who passed away from complications due to AIDS in 1997. Now available in stores on DVD & Blu-ray, and online on all streaming platforms. 

On My Introduction to Japan & Japanese Culture Via “Budo”

Image result for budo the art of killing

My earliest exposure to Japan and Japanese culture was my study of Judo at the age of eleven.  I’m honestly still not sure why I was drawn to it, I was never an athletic kid, and even during little league play, I was happy to sit and read a comic book out in left field as no one would ever reach out there.

But for some reason, I can still remember that when choosing among my elementary school’s weekend activities, the “gentle art” of Japanese self-defense just jumped out at me.  Perhaps it was because I had just moved to a new school, and was definitely feeling like an outsider.

I remember taking to it instinctively, and even now after almost 20 years of studying the Japanese language, when counting numbers, I still remember the memorization trick my first teacher gave me for counting “1,2,3,4” (ichi, ni, san, shi) – “You have an “itchy knee”, and the “sun” is what “she” is looking at”.

I loved it – the techniques were actually fun to learn, and I enjoyed the training a lot.  I’m sure my parents were surprised when this quiet, comic book-reading skinny little kid said he wanted to register to go to the Bronx for a Judo tournament.  And upon arriving there, they were definitely relieved to hear over the loudspeakers “no chokes for kids under 13”.  I don’t remember how I did, but it was an eye-opening entry to another world.

Not many of my friends knew that I was practicing Judo, but it definitely came in handy on the playground a few times – and its ability to be effective without pain definitely appealed to me.  After I got too old for the junior high school program, I took a couple of years off, but then, after seeing the film The Karate Kid (about another “new kid in town”) my interest in Japanese martial arts was reignited, and within a few days I was in a Karate dojo making LOTS of use of my “itchy, knee, sun, she” counting practice!

The dojo became my second home.  At one point, I was there 5-6 days a week while training for my black belt test.  My Sensei (teacher) became like a second father to me, and he loaned me a videotape that would come to have great significance to me many years later.  It was called Budo, and was a combination history/demonstration of most of the major Japanese martial arts, several of which I would end up studying over the next few decades.  When I finally arrived in Tokyo to study Yoshinkan Aikido, I would look around in amazement that this school was the same system and instructors (albeit in a new location) that was highlighted in that old videotape which I had first seen so long before (and watched dozens of times since then).

In addition to Judo, Karate and Aikido, my study of Japanese Budo (martial arts) over the years has included Daito-Ryu Aikijujutsu, Yagyu Shinkage Ryu Kenjutsu as well as Kendo.  This intense introduction has given me a deep appreciation and respect for Japanese culture, and ironically a big part of it was thanks to a film of the same name (Budo).  That film also has a symbolic meaning as an example of another art form that is of great importance to me – cinema.  My love of film inspired me to start writing about it via Twitter and this blog, and I’m hoping that via film I can help bridge some of the cultural gap that exists between Japan and the west, whether it is via introducing Japanese films to a western audience, or explaining some of the nuance of western films to a Japanese audience.

In that sense, the film Budo might have been the most significant film I’ve ever seen – hopefully somewhere down the road, someone who’s reading this will be similarly inspired to pursue something they love – but hopefully one that’s a lot less painful! 🙂

Budo – Full Fim at Youtube

(Image courtesy Mondo Digital)

Screenwriter Charles Shyer on “Smokey and the Bandit” and Burt Reynolds

Screenwriter and Director Charles Shyer (Private Benjamin, Father of The Bride 1&2, Alfie) earned his first screenwriting credit on the 1977 Burt Reynolds smash hit, “Smokey and the Bandit” – after the sad death of Reynolds at the age of 82, I asked Shyer about the experience:

Smokey and the Bandit Poster

1) How did you first get hired/hear about Smokey?

“I’d been trying to move out of TV – and into film. I was one of the head writers on “The Odd Couple” at the time – but never felt totally comfortable in the sit-com world.

I’d done a couple of rewrites for Universal and they came to me with a Burt Reynolds road picture that needed a quickie rewrite. I was a kid from the Valley who had never heard of a CB Radio… much less an 18-Wheeler. But I’d always loved country music…and thought Burt was pretty cool… so my partner and I jumped at the opportunity.”

On Location : Smokey and the Bandit (1977) Behind the Scenes

2) How was working with Burt? Lots of improvisation/major changes to script?

“I met with Burt and the director, Hal Needham a couple of times. We did have several meetings with the producers… but the meetings with Burt were great. He was an incredible raconteur and seemed to know everybody from Cary Grant to Sammy Davis, Jr…. you name it. He gave us loads of great lines… dialogue that’s in the final film… stuff about how handsome he looked from a certain angle… shit that was really funny… and charming. I taped recorded every meeting and by the way – still have those tapes.”

Charles Shyer

3) Did you have any idea it would be such a hit?

“Zero. I knew the project had a kind of a good ol’ boy reckless vibe to it and that was exciting. I remember Hal saying to us, “You write it, I’ll shoot it. Come up with any stunt you can think of – any-fucking thing – and I’ll make it happen”. He was fearless in this genre. And there are some fantastic stunts in the film.

But I had no idea it would be a hit. I remember being on location in Mexico on another film – and Variety arrived and there was this double-truck ad announcing that “Smokey” had made something like $250 Million… I nearly passed-out.”

"Smokey and the Bandit" Burt Reynolds, director Hal Needham 1977 Universal

4) Was anything not in the film that you really wanted?

“Gosh, I don’t really remember. The process of writing it was like a roller-coaster. We locked ourselves in a bungalow at Universal and worked day and night for two or three weeks. And when I say day and night – we hardly ever came up for air. We ate three meals a day at our desks… playing country music non-stop.”

Sally Field, Burt Reynolds, Jackie Gleason, and Mike Henry in Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

5) Was there ever another film that you wanted to make with him?

“We may have talked about Burt for a couple of other films… but nothing ever came together. I do remember when I first saw the movie – I thought it was okay… a little too Red State for my taste… But last year they had a 40-year anniversary screening and I went with my kids… and I was stunned.

The movie works on pretty much every level. Burt was fantastic. Couldn’t have been more charming… His chemistry with Sally was amazing… Jackie Gleason – what can you say – brilliant… Jerry Reed was the perfect sidekick. And it even had a cool soundtrack. I think “Eastbound and Down” hit #1 on the country charts.

But the best thing about the movie was the fact that it was Alfred Hitchcock’s all-time favorite film. Seriously.

Go figure…”


Here’s hoping we get to hear those tapes one day!


(Images via IMDB and onset.shotonwhat?)

Film – “Ekaj” (2015)

Jake Mestre in Ekaj (2015)

(Images via IMDB)

Into the world of a vanishing New York, with skyrocketing rents, high-rise condominiums on every corner and the daily replacement of local small businesses with bank branches, chain coffee-houses and retail stores, comes the film EKAJ, which feels like a throwback to the gritty cinematic world of the 1970’s and early 80’s in movies like Smithereens  and Downtown 81.  It’s probably hard for most people living in the upper echelons of this second gilded age to believe that these characters inhabit the same planet, let alone the same city, but EKAJ brings these marginalized people to the forefront in a very powerful way.

Interestingly, although the 2015 film from writer/director Cati Gonzalez  is named “Ekaj” which is a reversal of the first name of its star, Jake Mestre, it does not mirror elements of his personal life as I originally believed.  The script had been written before he was cast, although some scenes were improvised by the actors while under the direction of Cati.  Like most, if not all of the cast, Mestre is a non-professional actor, who has brought his real-life experience to the role of Ekaj, a young member of the LGBTQ community who’s run away to NYC to escape the persecution he faces at home from his abusive Puerto Rican father who can’t deal with a “homo c-cksucker for a son.”

A chance encounter on the street introduces him to Mecca, played by fellow non-professional actor, Badd Idea, and the two embark on a Midnight Cowboy-like relationship of two people struggling to survive in any way possible.  Mecca has AIDs, but actually brings some of the funniest moments to the screen in both very light (“I can’t hear you with that shirt on”) and dark (“Come on, everybody gets raped”) ways.  He begins his relationship with Ekaj trying to manipulate him into robbing Johns who think they will be getting sexual favors from him, but over time you see that their feelings for each other develop into something much stronger.

Jake Mestre and Badd Idea in Ekaj (2015)

Written and directed by Cati Gonzalez (also credited as De La Gata Real as the film’s cinematographer), who after 20 years as a fashion photographer, met Mestre as a potential photographic subject, but realized that he would be perfect as the main character in the film she was writing about people suffering in very real ways from both the prejudices they face due to their sexual orientations, as well as from the physical effects of a deadly disease.

The film also appears to include elements that mirror the life of Gonzalez’s partner (and the film’s co-editor and producer), Mike Gonzalez, who lost his mother to AIDS at a very young age, and subsequently also experienced homelessness like the film’s two protagonists.

Beyond the moments of suffering that these characters experience from abusive parents, lovers, violent street thugs, EKAJ also  highlights the therapeutic power of art, and how it can be such a powerful, driving force in the lives of those who might not have anything else to keep them going.  Hopefully this film is seen by all of them.

Cati and Mike Gonzalez are currently working on getting both a short and feature film into production, looking forward to seeing what comes next from this team!

EKAJ Official Trailer (Youtube)

EKAJ Facebook Page


In Development:

Sarai (feature)
I’m Not Going To Hurt You (Short)

Neil Simon On Film

Neil Simon

When I first heard the news about the death of Neil Simon, it felt strangely as if a beloved older relative had died.  Although I had never met the writing legend, his name was one of the first I remember seeing on a television screen, “Based on the Play The Odd Couple By Neil Simon” from the opening credits of the hit TV show of the same name.  The dialogue of its two main characters Felix and Oscar have been so infused in my mind, that there are times in certain conversations where I’m unable to respond (in my mind at least) with anything but what one of them had said in a similar situation.

Those two television characters were based on ones that Simon had created for a play, which was then turned into a hit film.  And although he conquered Broadway with literally dozens of plays, this post will focus on the big-screen adaptations of his writing, a combination of play adaptations, original screenplays, as well as the occasional adaptation of another writer’s work.  There is also one entry that was a television film, but is included as it completes a trilogy of two previous films (all three were adapted from Simon’s original plays).

Simon was a massive talent who started writing for television in the late 1940’s, and while his first play didn’t come out until 1961, they came fast and furious after that, with one every two years, until in 1966 he had four plays showing on Broadway at the same time – Sweet Charity, The Star-Spangled Girl, The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park.


Come Blow Your Horn (1963)

After writing for television for nearly 15 years, his first Broadway play was also his first to be adapted for film as Come Blow Your Horn (1963) – however, the screenplay was written by future television legend Norman Lear, directed by his fellow future television associate Bud Yorkin.  The film starred Frank Sinatra as a swinging bachelor considering changing his ways, and was the first of many Simon stories to take place in a Manhattan apartment.  The film was well received, and became the 15th highest grossing film for 1963, earning $12.7 million dollars, topping even an action classic like The Great Escape!


Caccia alla volpe (1966)

After Come Blow Your Horn came After the Fox (1966), Simon’s first (of many) adaptations of one of his own plays.  Directed by Vittorio De Sica and starring Peter Sellers, Victor Mature and Britt Ekland,  the seemingly-uncharacteristic for Simon heist film took place in Italy and the plot centered around utilizing the filming of a fake movie-within-the-movie to cover the theft of millions in gold.  At the time, Simon had three hit plays on Broadway (Little Me, Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple), and in interviews had said that he wanted to write a spoof of arthouse films.  The film received mixed-to-positive reviews, but Simon’s career as a screenwriter was now officially on a roll.

Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Charles Boyer, and Mildred Natwick in Barefoot in the Park (1967)

Next came Barefoot in the Park (1967), the first teaming of Simon with the director/actor Gene Saks, who went on to direct a total of four of Simon’s screenplays over almost 20 years.  The film starred Robert Redford and Jane Fonda (in their second of four screen pairings) as a young married couple quickly realizing that their personality differences might be difficult to overcome after a steamy honeymoon phase.  The film was generally well received, and earned $28 million – Simon’s theme of a couple having difficulties living under the same roof was soon to repeated (several times) with major success.

The Odd Couple Poster

Then, in what was Simon’s biggest commercial success up until that point, The Odd Couple (1968) arrived on the big screen.  A second teaming with director Gene Saks, the screenplay was again based on one of his hit plays, and its huge success led to the aforementioned television series of the same name, as well as dozens of revivals/adaptations over the following period of almost fifty years.

Like Fonda and Redford in Barefoot, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were also teamed for what was their second time together (after 1966’s The Fortune Cookie – the first of nine total for them).  They play a pair of divorced men, Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, living together after Felix’s wife throws him out.

It was the fourth biggest film of 1968 and earned $44 million – making it currently the 251st biggest box office hit of all time (adjusted for inflation it earned $315 million!).

There was a sequel exactly thirty years later (The Odd Couple II), also written by Simon, but it didn’t come close to matching the magic of the original (more to come below).

Sweet Charity Poster

After 1968’s Odd Couple, Simon followed-up with Sweet Charity (1969), a musical-comedy directed by Bob Fosse and starring Shirley MacLaine and Ricardo Montalban.  Simon again adaptated his own play, which was also directed by Bob Fosse, and was itself an adaptation of Federico Fellini’s The Nights of Cabiria (1957).  MacLaine plays a taxi-dancer (paid dancing partner) who is looking for love, but has a string of bad luck.  The film was relatively well-received, but was a box-office bomb, earning only $8 million on a budget of $20 million, which at the time was an astronomical loss for studio Universal Pictures.  But Simon would have better luck with his next film.

The Out of Towners Poster

Simon teamed again with Jack Lemmon for The Out of Towners (1970) with his first screenplay not adapted from one of his plays (although he originally imagined the story of the struggling visitors to be a segment of Plaza Suite).  The Arthur Hiller-directed film tells of an Ohio salesman traveling to New York City for a job interview with his wife (Sandy Dennis) and encountering an ever-increasing number of difficulties related to the economically depressed and crime-ridden NYC of the 1970’s which foreshadows another great 1970’s NYC film by Simon, 1975’s The Prisoner of Second Avenue.

The film’s screenplay earned Simon the Writers Guild of America award for Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen, and was remade in 1999 with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn as the unfortunate couple.

Plaza Suite Poster

Then, re-teaming with Out of Towners director Hiller and Odd Couple star Matthau, Simon adapted another of his plays for 1971’s Plaza Suite, a series of comedic vignettes with an ensemble cast about the various occupants of the titular suite, room #719 of NYC’s famed Plaza Hotel.  An interesting conceit was to have Walter Matthau play all three of the male roles, but Simon was unhappy with the results and said that, “..I think Walter Matthau was wrong to play all three parts. That’s a trick Peter Sellers can do.”

Star Spangled Girl Poster

The second time a Simon play was adapted with a screenplay not written by him was 1971’s Star Spangled Girl, based on his The Star-Spangled Girl.  The film from director Jerry Paris and screenwriters Arnold Margolin & Jim Parker is about two 1960’s San Francisco radicals  (Tony Roberts & Todd Susman) who get distracted from publishing their underground newspaper by falling in love with the all-American girl next door, Sandy Duncan, an Olympic athlete who represents everything they are opposed to.

Last of the Red Hot Lovers Poster

Simon returned to the typewriter to adapt his own play into a screenplay for Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1972), in his third collaboration with director Gene Saks.  In it, married restaurant owner Alan Arkin has a mid-life crisis and tries to seduce three different women (Sally Kellerman, Paula Prentiss & Renee Taylor) in his mother’s apartment, which he knows will be empty one day a week when she’s out doing volunteer work.  The film was critically panned, with noted film critic Leonard Maltin giving it a rating of “BOMB.”  But Simon was to comeback big with his next film in the same year.

The Heartbreak Kid Poster

In 1972, Simon had turned out two screenplays, the second of which was his first adaptation of another writer’s story, Bruce Jay Friedman’s “A Change of Plan.”  The result was The Heartbreak Kid (1972), directed by legendary comedienne Elaine May.  In the film, Jewish New York salesman Charles Grodin realizes on his honeymoon that he’s made a mistake in marrying Jeannie Berlin (May’s real-life daughter) when he meets blonde bombshell Cybill Shepherd.  It’s ranked #91 on the American Film Institute list of the 100 funniest American movies ever made, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Laughs, and was remade in 2007 starring Ben Stiller and Malin Åkerman, with Simon getting credit for his 1972 screenplay.

The Prisoner of Second Avenue Poster

After three years, Simon got back to NYC and one of his own plays for another adaptation, writing the screenplay for The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975).  He reunited with Jack Lemmon for the third time, and again with director Gene Saks, but this time as actor, playing Lemmon’s concerned older brother.  Directed by Melvin Frank, the film also stars Anne Bancroft as Lemmon’s wife who is very concerned for his mental health when he appears to suffer a breakdown after being fired.  Adding to his duress are the daily indignities of 1970’s New York City, including a run-in with a young Sylvester Stallone as a suspected mugger.

The Sunshine Boys Poster

Next, working with actor Walter Matthau for a third time, Simon again adapted one of his successful plays for The Sunshine Boys (1975).  The Herbert Ross-directed film teamed the then-fifty-five year old Matthau with the 79 year-old George Burns as a pair of aging Vaudeville veterans in their 80’s who are re-teamed for a television reunion despite not having spoken in 11 years.   The film features Richard Benjamin as Matthau’s talent-agent nephew trying to get his uncle one more gig, and was very highly regarded, earning several Oscar nominations and a win for Burns as Best Supporting Actor.

It was remade in 1996 as a television film with Simon’s former television writing colleague Woody Allen playing the George Burns role – Allen had been approached to direct the 1975 film, but wanted to play the part of Al Lewis, getting his wish 20 years later.

Murder by Death Poster

In his first approach to spoofing a specific genre film type, Simon next took on the classic “country house” mystery in Murder by Death (1976) in which an all-star cast spoofed some of the most famous fictional detectives in history.  The Robert Moore directed film starred Peter Sellers as Sidney Wang (Charlie Chan), David Niven and Maggie Smith portray Dick and Dora Charleston (Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles from the Thin Man film series), James Coco as Milo Perrier (Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot), Peter Falk as Sam Diamond (another Dashiell Hammett character, The Maltese Falcon’s Sam Spade) and Elsa Lanchester as Jessica Marbles (Christie’s Miss Marple).  The hysterical comedy earned $32 million in 1976, outperforming Taxi Driver, Marathon Man, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Carrie, Logan’s Run and Network to be the 13th highest earner of that year (Rocky was number one, with $117 million).

The Goodbye Girl Poster

Coming back to the theme of two people struggling to live together peacefully under the same roof of a New York City apartment, Simon wrote an original screenplay for The Goodbye Girl (1977).  Working with director Herbert Ross for the second time, the film stars Marsha Mason  as a single mother struggling to pay the rent, so she takes in aspiring actor Richard Dreyfuss and the tension rapidly mounts.  The film earned Mason (Simon’s wife at the time) her second Best Actress Oscar nomination, and it is the only Neil Simon film to be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award.  Ironically, it was defeated by a film from another NYC Jewish comedian with a take on urban living, Woody Allen – Simon’s junior from their days of writing television comedy.  Allen’s Annie Hall  also came out on top for Best Screenplay, but The Goodbye Girl was a much bigger commercial success, taking in $83.7 million, to be the number five movie of the year – but still light-years behind the number one film, Star Wars, which earned $461 million.

The Cheap Detective Poster

In his second try at a genre-film spoof, Simon took on the hardboiled detective and film noir genres with The Cheap Detective (1978).  Peter Falk returns for his second Simon film, and practically reprises his role from Murder By Death, but this time as the lead character, San Francisco detective Lou Peckinpaugh (again a nod to The Maltese Falcon’s Sam Spade, as well as Casablanca’s Rick Blaine).  Robert Moore also returns to direct his second original screenplay from Simon with Marsha Mason making a second appearance in a Simon film.  The film came in a respectable 18th place in box office for 1978, but Simon outdid himself by having a SECOND film for the year come out above it at number ten, his next screenplay, California Suite (1978).

California Suite Poster

Simon’s adaptation of his play California Suite returned him to an ensemble cast/vignette format similar to his 1971 film Plaza Suite.  Walter Matthau returned to star in his fourth Simon feature, and director Herbert Ross was back to helm his third.  The re-teaming was a smash hit, earning $42 million for his second entry in the top 20 films of 1978, and would likely have earned much more if not for that being a very competitive year with phenomenons like Grease ($181.8 million), Animal House ($141.6 million) and Superman ($134.2 million).  The Heartbreak Kid director Elaine May stepped in front of the camera this time to portray Matthau’s wife (he was her co-star from her own directing debut, A New Leaf), with the rest of the ensemble cast rounded out by such talents as Alan Alda, Michael Caine, Bill Cosby, Jane Fonda, Richard Pryor and Maggie Smith.  Doc Simon was on a roll!

Chapter Two Poster

Simon’s next project, Chapter Two (1979), was an adaptation of his semi-autobiographical play of the same name.  James Caan plays the main character, a widower who is introduced to a recently divorced Marsha Mason.  The actress returned for a third appearance in one of her husband’s films, basically playing herself, as Simon had written the story about how they met (Caan and Mason had also previously portrayed a couple in Cinderella Liberty).  Murder By Death director Robert Moore also returned for his second turn in a Simon film.  The film’s $30 million take landed it at twenty-eighth place for box office in a year when the number one film, Kramer vs. Kramer (which was also about a couple navigating divorce), earned $106 million.

Seems Like Old Times Poster

Capitalizing on the success of their 1978 hit film, Foul Play, Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn re-teamed as a divorced couple in Simon’s next original screenplay, Seems Like Old Times (1980), directed by Jay Sandrich.  Hawn’s character’s new husband Charles Grodin (his second appearance in a Simon film after 1972’s The Heartbreak Kid), is the D.A. after suspected bank robber Chase.  The film earned $43.9 million to come in at fifteenth place for 1980, a year which was capped by the blockbuster The Empire Strikes Back, earning $209 million.  Additionally, 1980 was a huge year for Hawn who had another film in the top 10, Private Benjamin, which came in at number six with $69.8 million.

Only When I Laugh Poster

Marsha Mason returned for a fourth time, starring in Only When I Laugh (1981), an adaptation of Simon’s play The Gingerbread Lady.  Directed by Glenn Jordan, the dramatic-comedy features Mason as an alcoholic actress trying to navigate reconciling with her estranged teenage daughter, acting auditions, as well as the risks of meeting strangers in bars.  The film earned $25.5 million to be the number thirty-one top earner in a year crowded with action/adventure films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman II, The Cannonball Run, Time Bandits, Clash of The Titans, Excalibur, and Escape From New York.

I Ought to Be in Pictures Poster

The similarly-themed but gender-switched I Ought to Be in Pictures (1982) brought Herbert Ross back to direct his fourth Simon screenplay, as well as Walter Matthau to star in his fifth Simon film.  The Cheap Detective’s Ann-Margret returned for her second Simon role, this time as Matthau’s girlfriend, helping his estranged visiting daughter reconnect with him.  Even competing with so many blockbusters (E.T., Tootsie, Rocky III, Star Trek II, Poltergeist, First Blood, Conan the Barbarian, Blade Runner, The Road Warrior and many more), in the banner year of 1982, I Ought to Be in Pictures‘ $6.9 million in receipts to come in at eightieth for the year signaled that perhaps the Simon express was running out of steam.

Max Dugan Returns Poster

In Simon’s next original screenplay, Max Dugan Returns (1983), he flips the plot of his previous two films, and this time it is the parent coming back into the life of the child.  Jason Robards as the titular Max shows up at daughter Marsha Mason’s house with a briefcase of money he’s embezzled from a casino in the hopes of reconciling with her and his grandson, played by Matthew Broderick.  Amazingly, both director Herb Ross and actress Mason made their fifth and final collaborations with Simon on this film, and  while it was Broderick’s first appearance, he was soon to return in the the second film of Simon’s “Eugene Trilogy”  The comedy-drama brought in $17.6 million, more than doubling the return of I Ought to Be in Pictures, for fortieth place in a year loaded with blockbusters like Return of the Jedi, Trading Places, Risky Business, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Scarface.  In comparison, Simon contemporary Woody Allen’s Zelig came in at sixty-first place, with $11.8 million in box-office receipts.


The Lonely Guy Poster

In what appears to be the only time Simon adapted a work which then had the screenplay written by someone else, he shared credit on The Lonely Guy (1984) for adapting Bruce Jay Friedman’s book “The Lonely Guy’s Guide to Life” (whose rights had been acquired by the film’s star, Steve Martin), with screenplay credit going to Ed. Weinberger & Stan Daniels. Simon had previously adapted Friedman’s work for The Heartbreak Kid,  whose star, Charles Grodin, returned here for his third outing in a Simon work, the same total as Lonely Guy director Arthur Hiller.  Martin plays the titular character who after finding his girlfriend cheating on him, enters the world of “lonely guys” and basically commiserates with Grodin while searching for true love.  Earning $5.7 million, it didn’t break the top 100 films for the year, and while it would seem that Simon should have written the screenplay himself, his next original work fared even worse.

The Slugger's Wife Poster

Simon’s screenplay for The Slugger’s Wife (1985) was directed by his first-time collaborator Hal Ashby, known for such great 70’s films as Harold and Maude, Shampoo, Coming Home and Being There, but despite this pairing, it was a critical and box office failure.  The romantic comedy about a baseball player whose performance varies depending on how confident he feels about his singer-wife’s love for him was a definite low point for Simon, with the film earning only $1.8 million to come in at number 143 for the year (three entries below the horror-comedy Re-Animator), but his next script was the first step on a major comeback.

Brighton Beach Memoirs Poster

Longtime Simon associate Gene Saks returned to direct his fourth script, an adaptation of a Simon play for Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986), the first entry in his semi-autobiographical “Eugene Trilogy“.  Jonathan Silverman portrayed the angst-ridden, Jewish teen growing up in Depression-era Brooklyn, but Matthew Broderick (the grandson from Max Dugan Returns), would later return to play the character in the next entry in the series.  Broderick had played Jerome on stage in the first two entries, and Silverman would return to play the character on Broadway for the third.  Reviews were mixed, and the film earned $11.9 million to come in sixty-ninth in a year filled with big standout films and sequels like Top Gun, Platoon, The Karate Kid Part II, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Aliens. The stage-Jerome Broderick’s smash hit, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came in at number ten for the year, with $70 million.  The stage was set for the next entry in Simon’s “quasi-autobiographical trilogy.”

Biloxi Blues Poster

Mike Nichols, the former comedy parter of Simon directing/acting alumna  Elaine May helmed the next entry in the “Eugene Trilogy”, Biloxi Blues (1988).  Broderick had honed his Eugene Jerome character over 524 performances on Broadway, and the results showed.  Taking Simon’s alter-ego through basic training in the deep South, Broderick’s interactions with drill sergeant Christopher Walken are definitely the funniest moments in the film.  It had generally positive reviews, and did very well at the box office in a year where seven of the top ten films were comedies (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Coming to America, Big, Twins, Crocodile Dundee II, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! and Beetlejuice), earning $43 million to land at number twenty three.

The Marrying Man Poster

Before completing the “Eugene Trilogy” (albeit on television), Simon wrote an original screenplay for The Marrying Man (1991), helmed by director Jerry Rees, who had mostly done short animated films.  The film stars Alec Baldwin as a rich playboy and Kim Basinger as the nightclub singer that he becomes enamored with, ultimately marrying and divorcing her several times.  Baldwin and Basinger who met during filming had their own tempestuous marriage which ended in (one) divorce.  It is possibly Simon’s least-well received film, and received mostly negative reviews (although Roger Ebert gave it three stars), earning $12.4 million, coming in at number eighty-eight with films like Drop Dead Fred and Ernest Scared Stupid ranking just above it.

Broadway Bound Poster

Possibly owing to the commercial and critical failure of The Marrying ManBroadway Bound (1992), Simon’s final entry in the “Eugene Trilogy,” did not get a theatrical release, instead being shown on ABC Television in March of 1992.  In completing the tale of Simon’s alter-ego Eugene Jerome, it brought back Jonathan Silverman, the star of the first film in the trilogy, but this time portraying older brother Stanley.  It would have been interesting to have Broderick play the younger brother and see the two “Eugene’s” play against each other, but like for questions of its potential reception as a film and what box office it would have earned, we can only guess what the results would have been like.

Lost in Yonkers Poster

The Goodbye Girl’s Richard Dreyfuss returns for his second Simon outing in Lost in Yonkers (1993), a dramatic-comedy adaptation of Simon’s play about two brothers who are forced to live with their grandmother in the titular town after their father takes a job as a traveling salesman to pay off the debt incurred during their mother’s fatal illness.  Directed by Martha Coolidge (Rambling Rose, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge), the only woman to direct a Neil Simon film, Yonkers received mixed reviews and earned $9.2 million to come in at number 116 for the year.  Interestingly, coming in at  number fourteen for the year was Grumpy Old Men, starring Simon’s original “Odd Couple” and frequent stars of his films, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

The Odd Couple II Poster

Sadly, the success of Grumpy Old Men which capitalized on the famed pair’s re-teaming, would not be duplicated in their true re-match as Felix and Oscar in 1998’s The Odd Couple II (1998).  In it, the former roommates who haven’t spoken in many years discover that their children are getting married.  Ironically, the Howard Deutch-directed sequel which was based on the original work that had earned Simon so much critical acclaim and financial success (as well as spawning not just one but two network television shows as well as dozens of revivals both in the U.S. and abroad) was to be Simon’s last produced original screenplay for Hollywood.

What followed were the aforementioned remakes of  The Out-of-Towners (1999) and The Heartbreak Kid (2007), as well as a variety of adaptations for TV movies and series, both foreign and domestic, but for me it is very bittersweet that the last screenplay that Simon had turned into a feature film would be a callback to the the two characters that had first introduced me to him in the first place.

"Odd Couple II, The" Jack Lemmon, Neil Simon, Walter Matthau

Rest in peace, Doc!

Marvin Neil Simon (July 4, 1927 – August 26, 2018)


(All images courtesy IMDB)