Film Review: Easy Rider (1969)

Also known as: The Loners (working title), Sem Destino (Brazil)
Release Date: May 12th, 1969 (Cannes)
Directed by: Dennis Hopper
Written by: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern
Music by: The Band, The Byrds, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Roger McGuinn, Steppenwolf
Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Toni Basil, Bridget Fonda (uncredited)

Raybert Productions, Pando Company, Columbia Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“[giving Capt America some LSD] When you get to the right place, with the right people, quarter this. You know, this could be the right place. The time’s running out.” – Stranger on the Highway

In an effort to rectify the injustice of not seeing every American classic ever made, I watched Easy Rider. I know, I know… there are countless American classics, at this point, but there are many I haven’t seen, this being one of them. Every year since film was invented there have been at least a handful of great pictures, if not more. So I don’t think anyone, other than Roger Ebert, has seen them all.

I’m not quite sure why I haven’t seen Easy Rider until now. I’ve known about it pretty much my entire life but it’s never really been something I felt like buying and it hasn’t really streamed anywhere until it popped up on FilmStruck. But having seen other classic biker films, I wanted to check this out before it was cycled out of streaming circulation.

I’ve been a massive fan of Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson for decades. Seeing the three of them come together for this motion picture, which forever altered filmmaking, was quite a treat.

However, even though this is credited as being a movie that changed everything going forward, it wasn’t the first of its kind. Peter Fonda starred in two films, which were produced by B-movie king Roger Corman. Those films were The Wild Angels and The Trip. Both dealt with the two main things that are intertwined in this film, biker culture and hallucinogenic drugs.

Now Easy Rider is superior to its two predecessors but I don’t think that this movie could have existed without Roger Corman having the foresight to make those other counterculture pictures and paving the way for Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda to write, direct and star in this movie.

The film is a reflection of the time it was in. A time where America was in a state of flux: politically, socially, culturally and artistically. The film really carries a sense of aimlessness and hopelessness with it. It’s a clash of cultures, ideas and displays an American spirit that is tired, lost and without direction or any real inspiration. This is the artistic antithesis of American Exceptionalism.

Now I don’t agree with it but within the context of its time and setting, I understand the sentiment. Frankly, I don’t know where my head would be at in 1969, but I know I’d share some of the same feelings and emotions, especially in regards to the political landscape and the emotional exhaustion caused by the Vietnam War.

I really liked this movie, though. It was magnificently shot. All the scenes of these guys riding cross country were nothing less than beautiful and majestic. I can see why this made people want to sort of adopt the free spirited biker culture into their lives.

And that’s the thing, this film does a fine job romanticizing the freedom of the road but it also shows the side effects of that lifestyle with a heavy handed fist to the head.

My only real issue with the film is the ending. I understand why they did this to end the movie but ultimately, it felt pointless and a bit nonsensical. It came off as edgy just to be edgy. These guys could have met a similar fate without it being some random ass situation that was just thrown in to shock people. For me, it kind of cheapened the overall film. I felt that Hopper was leading towards some sort of larger message but the movie kind of just shits on your emotions and spirit and then just says, “Fuck you!”

Easy Rider is a depressing film. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good or worth your time. It’s a solid piece of filmmaking with a few hiccups I wasn’t too keen on but those hiccups didn’t really detract from the overall sentiment of the picture.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: A couple earlier films that lead to this one even being possible: The Wild Angels and The Trip. Both of those also star Peter Fonda.

Film Review: You Only Live Twice (1967)

Release Date: June 12th, 1967 (London premiere)
Directed by: Lewis GIlbert
Written by: Roald Dahl, Harold Jack Bloom
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsuro Tamba, Mie Hama, Teru Shimada, Karin Dor, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Charles Gray, Donald Pleasence

Toho Co Ltd. (assisted on production in Japan), Eon Productions, United Artists, 117 Minutes

Review:

“I shall look forward personally to exterminating you, Mr. Bond.” – Ernst Stavro Blofeld

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of people consider this film the one where James Bond movies dipped in quality. I disagree with that, as I love this film and it is one of my favorites in the whole series.

I also connect to this chapter in the series pretty deeply on a nostalgic level, so I may have a bias towards it in that regard.

The thing is, this is where Bond and Blofeld come face to face. I am a huge fan of SPECTRE and their long story arc in the Connery and Lazenby films. I am also a huge fan of Donald Pleasence and he’s f’n great as Blofeld and is my favorite version of the character. This is also the version that would inspire Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies.

Additionally, I love the Japan elements, especially the ninja army. The scene where the ninjas storm Blofeld’s volcano lair and are dropping from the ceiling with machine guns and swords still looks absolutely incredible. It’s one of my favorite sequences from any James Bond movie.

Being that I am a fan of kaiju movies, especially those put out by Toho Co. Ltd., I love that they were involved in the production of this picture and lent some of their acting talent to Eon. Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi, the two Japanese Bond Girls in this film, have been in several Toho productions between Godzilla films and other sci-fi epics put out by Toho. Sadly, no cameo by Godzilla himself.

Another thing I love in this film is the big helicopter battle in the middle of the picture. For the 1960s, it was well shot, the special effects looked good and it was pretty exciting. It still plays well today.

Now the film does have some cheese and I think that’s what seems to be some people’s issue with it.

The whole sequence where Bond has to get a wig and prosthetics to look Japanese is laughably bad and so is the final result, as it just looks like Sean Connery with a bad haircut. I don’t really understand the point of the wig either, as most of the real Japanese men in the film have hairstyles closer to Connery’s natural look. This whole cringe fest is one of those things that would severely upset the overly sensitive audiences of today.

This is the last of the great Sean Connery James Bond films though. He would quit after this picture but come back later, two more times. One for Eon with the film Diamonds Are Forever and once more for another studio for Never Say Never Again, which isn’t an official Bond picture and is really just a shoddy remake of Thunderball.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one.

Film Review: The Choppers (1961)

Also known as: Rebeldes del volante (Mexico)
Release Date: November 30th, 1961
Directed by: Leigh Jason
Written by: Arch Hall Sr.
Music by: Al Pellegrini
Cast: Arch Hall Jr., Marianne Gaba, Robert Paget, Tom Brown, Burr Middleton, Rex Holman, Chuck Barnes, Bruno VeSota

Fairway International Pictures, Rushmore Productions, 66 Minutes

Review:

“[to Jim Bradford, as he is being arrested] We had a ball. A real ball.” – Jack ‘Cruiser’ Bryan

Out of all the films with Arch Hall Jr. in them, this is the best. I first discovered him on Mystery Science Theater 3000 years ago when the Eegah episode first aired. Most of his films are written and directed by his father, Arch Hall Sr. While this one is written by Sr. it isn’t directed by him. That’s probably why this is a better film than the others and Hall Jr. came off a bit more relaxed and natural than when he was directed by his dad.

For those that aren’t familiar with Arch Hall Jr., he was an aspiring pop singer and guitarist that was really into hot rods and the rockabilly lifestyle. That being said, The Choppers was a good vehicle for him, pun intended.

The premise is about this gang of young hoods that chop up parked cars and steal their valuable bits. The don’t really steal the cars, they just strip them and then use the parts to make or enhance their own vehicles.

Arch Jr. plays Jack ‘Cruiser’, who is a hot rod driving, guitar strumming, wannabe badass. He gets in way over his head due to his gang of misfits and eventually finds himself in some serious shit.

This film is pretty damn tame though. It’s like if you took The Outsiders, stripped it of everything that made it cool, tried to edit it down to a G-rating and then de-saturated all the color and gave the lead a guitar so he could randomly break off into song from time to time, than you would have this movie.

In the end, this is a really short picture and it isn’t boring. It’s not exciting but it has some value, more so than the other films from this creative team.

But there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to this picture other than reminding kids in 1962 to not be juvenile delinquents.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: ’60s hot rod and biker movies. Also, other stuff with Arch Hall Jr. like Eegah and Wild Guitar.

Film Review: The Producers (1967)

Also known as: Mel Brooks’ The Producers (complete title), Springtime for Hitler (alternate title)
Release Date: November 22nd, 1967 (Pittsburgh premiere)
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Written by: Mel Brooks
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars, Dick Shawn, Lee Meredith, William Hickey, Mel Brooks (voice)

Embassy Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“How could this happen? I was so careful. I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast. Where did I go right?” – Max Bialystock

I have seen just about every Mel Brooks film, as well as the remake of The Producers, the stage show and the season of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry was starring in the play. But I have never seen the original.

Being a fan of early Mel Brooks movies and Gene Wilder, I’m surprised it took me this long to get to the film but I spend a lot of time watching complete dreck because I review a lot of obscure movies, some of which I discover should remain obscure and mostly unknown.

Anyway, I was glad to see this pop up on FilmStruck because I’ve always wanted to watch it and because I needed something funny and entertaining to get me out of the funk I was in after a half dozen horrible pictures.

Quite frankly, this is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. It is in the upper echelon of all comedy for me and right up at the top of the list of Mel Brooks’ best. This and Young Frankenstein take the cake for me but it’s hard to decide between the two.

What makes this film unique in comparison to Brooks’ most famous work, is that it isn’t parody. This is an original story and it showed that Brooks can make comedy gold outside of just making fun of genre tropes.

Plus, the superb talent of Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel is on full display here, as both men play off of each other so well, they almost have a presence similar to other great duos like Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello and well… Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor.

The cast is also rounded out by other hilarious performances. Kenneth Mars is hysterical, as is Dick Shawn. In fact, Shawn really steals the show in the few scenes he has.

This is a rather short film, at just shy of 90 minutes, but it packs a lot of laughs and energy into that time.

The Producers is absolutely one of the greatest things that Mel Brooks has ever done. It has held up exceptionally well and deserves its status as a true comedy classic.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Other early Mel Brooks films: Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles.

Film Review: Cape Fear (1962)

Also known as: The Executioners (working title)
Release Date: April 12th, 1962 (Miami premiere)
Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Written by: James R. Webb
Based on: The Executioners by John D. MacDonald
Music by: Bernard Hermann
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Martin Balsam, Polly Bergen, Lori Martin, Telly Savalas

Melville Productions, Talbot Productions, Universal Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“I got somethin’ planned for your wife and kid that they ain’t nevah gonna forget. They ain’t nevah gonna forget it… and neither will you, Counselor! Nevah!” – Max Cady

I had to rectify a grave injustice that I have committed against myself for decades. That injustice was never seeing the original version of Cape Fear. Strangely, I love both Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck, plus this has Telly Savalas in it. That alone should have had me on board for this years ago but alas, I didn’t see this wonderful picture until 2018. In my defense, if I had already seen every classic, I wouldn’t be able to be wowed by them the first time.

This is, far and away, better than the remake done by Martin Scorsese and I am a big fan of that picture. That version got in my head when I was a young teen and it never really released its grip. I do need to go back and watch that one too, in the near future.

Anyway, Robert Mitchum is one of the most charismatic actors to ever grace the screen. When Mitchum decides to delve into darker roles though, the audience is in for a treat. Well, if they consider terror as a treat. He’s just so damn good playing such an evil bastard. Between this movie and The Night of the Hunter, he really exists on an evil level in a way that other actors don’t. If you want to see a master of their craft at work, this is a prime example of Robert Mitchum transcending his craft and having a presence that reaches through the screen and haunts your imagination.

Gregory Peck was perfection as the other side of this coin. He represents good and is a solid moral character that believes in law and justice. He is pushed to his limit and almost crosses over to the dark side a few times but ultimately, he keeps his soul clean and pure. If this was made in modern times, the ending would have looked like an obvious attempt at leaving things open for a sequel. But in 1962, goodness prevails without evil being mortally wiped out. Plus, in 2018, they would have had the hero blast a dozen holes into the bad guy while the audience cheered.

This is just a classic tale of good versus evil and that’s why it works so well. There are no bones about how terrible of a person Mitchum’s Max Cady is and the same can be said about the goodness of Peck’s Sam Bowden.

What was surprising about this, at least for me, is that a motion picture from 1962 could cross the lines that this one did. There were the threats of rape and pedophilia, which are disturbing now but imagine seeing this unfold through the eyes of someone in 1962 when film’s were censored by the morality police and the rating system wouldn’t exist for another 6 years.

Cape Fear is near perfect as a straight up thriller. It gives you an immediate sense of danger and dread and slowly simmers for 90 minutes before its nerve wracking climax.

Every actor in this was superb.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: PsychoThe Night of the Hunter and the 1991 Cape Fear remake.

Film Review: Lemon (1969)

Release Date: 1969
Directed by: Hollis Frampton

Janus Films, 7 Minutes

Review:

Let’s do a little quiz, shall we?

Do you hate yourself?

Do you hate yourself to the point of torturing yourself for seven long minutes of excrutiating boredom?

Do you like pretentious bullshit art?

Do you like pretentious bullshit artists that think they’re changing the world by giving it absolute dreck of the lowest and most dumbed down caliber possible?

Do you like 1950s beatnik poetry?

Do you like eating dried up pieces of cat poop?

If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, then you’ll probably connect with Hollis Frampton’s Lemon.

This “short film”, as some academic weirdos have called this, is very much like his other film Carrots & Peas, which I also reviewed some time ago (see here) and concluded that I would never watch anything with this guy’s name on it again. But alas, I lost a bet. So I was subjected to this seven minute train wreck that felt like seven days.

All this is, is staring at a fucking lemon for seven minutes as a light slowly moves around it. This is like some test footage an amateur trying to get into cinematography would do as a learning exercise but would never show the world because it’s just some bullshit test footage. But this motherfucker made it into fucking art and some USDA prime queef patties running museums and art exhibits let this guy play this thing on a loop.

Full disclosure, I am an artist by trade. This is the kind of art I fucking hate because it isn’t art. This is pretentious, no talent bullshit that a grade schooler would try to pass off to their teacher in art class and then get a “D” because you can’t give mentally handicapped people an “F”.

There really isn’t much else to talk about because this is just seven minutes of staring at a lemon. I can do that on my own with the right kind of drugs. You know, the kind of drugs that’ll just put me into some sort of stupor, as a I stare off into space… or at a lemon I strategically placed in front of myself before before popping the magic pill.

Below I added the entire movie sped up to seven seconds instead of seven minutes so that you don’t have to waste your time like I fucking did.

Rating: 0.25/10
Pairs well with: Carrots & Peas, which is basically just staring at produce again. Also, chewing on earthworm jerky.

Film Review: First Spaceship On Venus (1960)

Also known as: Planet of the Dead, Silent Star, Spaceship Venus Does Not Reply, The Planet of Death (alternate titles)
Release Date: February 26th, 1960 (East Germany)
Directed by: Kurt Maetzig
Written by: Kurt Maetzig, J. Barkhauer (uncredited), J. Fethke, W. Kohlhasse, G. Reisch, G. Rucker, A. Stenbock-Fermor
Based on: Astronauci by Stanislaw Lem
Music by: Andrzej Markowski
Cast: Günther Simon, Julius Ongewe, Yoko Tani

VEB DEFA-Studio für Spielfilme, Künstlerische Arbeitsgruppe ”Roter Kreis”, Film Polski, Crown International Pictures, 93 Minutes (original), 79 Minutes (US version)

Review:

It’s rare that a movie featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 isn’t rated at a 4 or below. But this one just barely rose above having to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. Kudos to East Germany and Poland. I wouldn’t quite call this a victory for communism though. It’s not like this was as good as Solaris or anything.

Also, this isn’t a very good movie by any stretch of the imagination but it had pretty good effects and visuals for a really low budget sci-fi epic from its era and from a couple communist countries.

Watching this, I almost thought it was a Japanese production due to the Japanese actors in it. I figured it was from Daiei, Toei, Tsuburaya or Shochiku… you know, one of the tokusatsu studios with less money than Toho. It was also done in a similar style to those films and had a similar type of ingenuity in achieving effects that came off better than they probably should have.

I really love the sequence where the astronauts are trying to get away from the molten goo. I also love the design of the spaceship.

But other than the shoddy effects that I found impressive due to the production’s limitations, there isn’t much else that is good with this picture.

The acting sucks, the dubbing is terrible and even though the cinematography and lighting are fairly decent, the film is often times dull to look at. However, the surviving print isn’t in the greatest quality either.

First Spaceship On Venus is good for what it is. Most people today won’t want to watch it but it does make for a solid episode of MST3K.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: Assignment: Outer Space, Space Probe Taurus, This Island Earth and The Day Mars Invaded Earth.