My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.

This week focuses on three films written by, but not directed by, Paul Schrader.


The Yakuza (1974)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

As I continue to study Paul Schrader’s directing work chronologically, I’m also taking a look back at some of the films he wrote but did not direct.

This one, directed by Sydney Pollack, is a well-crafted gangster picture burdened by a sometimes convoluted story. Schrader said that Pollack’s “poetic realism” wasn’t the right fit for his material but, for a majority of the film, I beg to differ. Pollack leans into the romantic side of the story (he might be the most romantic director we’ve ever had) and that plays as a nice contrast to the tough world of the Yakuza, making the violent even more effective when it does come. The action is directed in a chaotic but not totally incoherent way; it captures the frenzy of a fight and how fast it all can go down. The climax, though impressive, is a little far-fetched as the Japanese and American leads take on too many foes for this viewer to believe it. Still, the film remains a solid if sometimes plodding thriller until that point.

The ending, however, or maybe I should say multiple endings, drag the picture down. The film has too many conclusions, too many times that it should cut or fade to black but keeps going. It overstays its welcome which dampens its overall impact but I do have a lot of admiration for this film.

Watched on HBO Max.


Old Boyfriends (1979)

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I’m surprised I haven’t heard more talk about this Paul Schrader-penned romantic drama. It’s not a great movie but it’s one of the few that gets some truths up on the screen about relationships between men and women.

It’s anchored by a good, if never surprising, turn from Talia Shire but the real stars are the three boyfriends from the past she revisits. John Belushi is more restrained than usual, the least interesting of the three but still doing great work. Keith Carradine creates his touched character with subtle gestures and nuances, providing another gem from the actor’s heyday. But it’s Richard Jordan who really takes the picture. His filmmaker character feels like a real man in a romantic situation and I suspect both Schrader brothers put some of themselves in writing the role. Jordan died way too early and his presence is still missed many decades later.

I have mixed feelings about the last twenty minutes. My instincts would have been to address Shire’s issues more directly but perhaps the Schraders and director Joan Tewkesbury were onto something, this is after all how it often happens in life.

Watched on Tubi


Obsession (1976)

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

This is the best of Brian De Palma’s Hitchcock imitations which I’ve seen so far. It far surpasses Dressed to Kill and though the “Master of Suspense” influence is always clear, Obsession takes on a life of its own.

The best part of the picture is Cliff Robertson. Yes, I completely disagree with Brian’s assessment of his own movie and lead actor (and according to a friend, Tarantino’s recent commentary on the movie too). Robertson gives an incredible performance. It’s all in his eyes, the pain and passion, and unlike many of De Palma’s shallow characters, his has layer upon layer of depth. In contrast, John Lithgow is totally phony. I like Lithgow’s work but casting the New Yorker as a Southerner is a blunder that goes in the long list of casting mistakes by Hollywood in their depictions of men and women from the South.

No, whether De Palma will ever realize it or not, the best part of his film is Cliff Robertson.

P.S. I watched this more because of Paul Schrader’s involvement as a screenwriter. It’s hard to tell what impact he had on the finished film but I do think this is one of the stronger scripts De Palma ever had to work with.

Watched on Tubi