Documentary Review: Pumping Iron (1977)

Also known as: Pumping Iron & Stand Tall (Australia VHS title)
Release Date: January 18th, 1977 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: George Butler
Written by: George Butler, Charles Gaines
Music by: Michael Small
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Franco Columbu, Mike Katz, Ken Waller, Ed Corney, Serge Nubret

Rollie Robinosn, White Mountain Films, Cinema 5, 86 Minutes

Review:

“The greatest feeling you can get in a gym, or the most satisfying feeling you can get in the gym is… The Pump. Let’s say you train your biceps. Blood is rushing into your muscles and that’s what we call The Pump. You muscles get a really tight feeling, like your skin is going to explode any minute, and it’s really tight – it’s like somebody blowing air into it, into your muscle. It just blows up, and it feels really different. It feels fantastic.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

Pumping Iron is a much better film than one might think at first glance. It’s really more than just a documentary about bodybuilders, as it features Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno before both men would go on to become superstars of film and television.

With that, you really get to know these guys at this point in their lives and man, are they super competitive and charismatic. Most importantly, both of these mastodon men were incredibly driven and obsessed with taking the Mr. Universe crown.

This takes a subject that may seem completely uninteresting to an outsider and it makes it really damn interesting. The whole culture around bodybuilding in the ’70s was fascinating and this film captures it magnificently. In fact, had I been alive back then and saw this picture, I might have been inspired by it.

Pumping Iron is the culmination of multiple journeys, many of them incredible, as we see these men transform themselves just to be called “the best”. I loved the camaraderie between Schwarzenegger and Ferrigno’s family. This was just a really fun, entertaining watch.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno’s films and television shows, as well as other documentaries about competition.

Film Review: Wizards (1977)

Also known as: War Wizards (working title)
Release Date: January, 1977 (Avoriaz Fantadtic Film Festival – France)
Directed by: Ralph Bakshi
Written by: Ralph Bakshi
Music by: Andrew Belling
Cast: Bob Holt, Jesse Welles, Richard Romanus, David Proval, Steve Gravers, Mark Hamill, Susan Tyrrell, Ralph Bakshi (uncredited)

Bakshi Productions, Dong Seo Animation, Twentieth Century Fox, 82 Minutes

Review:

“I’m too old for this sort of thing. Just wake me up when the planet’s destroyed.” – Avatar

This is a movie I first saw when I was really young and as a kid, I didn’t really understand it. As an adult, it’s still a pretty bonkers picture but I understand what’s happening in it a bit better.

I think fans of Ralph Bakshi’s work will greatly enjoy this, as it’s definitely one of his most unique and otherworldly films. It also mixes mediums and experiments with its visual style throughout the movie’s 82 minute duration.

Wizards isn’t just a straight up fantasy epic like you might expect if you’ve only seen Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings adaptation or Fire and Ice. This mixes fantasy and science fiction and it’s a real clash of magic versus technology.

Out of everything I’ve seen from Ralph Bakshi, this is his strangest film but it’s also damn cool and pretty original.

The actual plot could’ve been a bit better and finely tuned but you’re so captivated by the intense and alluring visuals that you find yourself in somewhat of a mesmerized daze. Wizards has a hypnotic quality about it and if you went frame-by-frame, you could be lost, analyzing all the artistic detail for days.

In fact, this has so much detail worked into every panel, I feel like you will just miss most of it, as the film flows pretty quickly from moment-to-moment.

I absolutely love the art in this. I don’t like to throw the word “awesome” around too carelessly because it means “to inspire (or cause) awe”. But this is visually awesome, as I had to pause certain parts to appreciate just the detail of the background illustrations.

Also, seeing this now, it brought me to a realization. Even though I didn’t understand the movie as a kid, it had an artistic impact on me. The reason I say that, is I remember a lot of the art I did in elementary school and my style reflects a lot of the things seen in this film, most specifically the buildings and architecture Baskshi used throughout the story.

The detail and look also reminds me of the architectural design and detail that Dave Sim and Gerhard (more effectively) used in the Cerebus the Aardvark comics.

Wizards is a really neat film. It’s not a great one, as an overall package, but the art, itself, makes watching it a really worthwhile experience.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Ralph Bakshi animated features, as well as the theatrical animated films of the era.

Film Review: Eraserhead (1977)

Also known as: Gardenback (original script title)
Release Date: March 19th, 1977 (Filmex Festival)
Directed by: David Lynch
Written by: David Lynch
Music by: David Lynch, Fats Waller, Peter Ivers
Cast: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates, Judith Roberts, Hal Landon Jr.

American Film Institute, Libra Films, 89 Minutes

Review:

“The girls have heard this before but… 14 years ago I had an operation on my left arm here. The doctors said that I wouldn’t be able to ever use it. But what the hell do they know, I said. So I rubbed it for a half hour every day. And slowly I could move it a little, and use it to turn a faucet… and pretty soon I had my arm back again. And now, I can’t feel a damn thing in it. All numb! I’m afraid to cut it, you know?” – Mr. X

My close friends that are film aficionados always get pissy when the subject of David Lynch comes up. Mainly, because I think his movies are pretentious as hell and mostly just weird nonsense. That’s not to say that I don’t like some of his work but Eraserhead is one of his movies that just irks the shit out of me.

I get it, like all David Lynch things, it looks cool and it’s creative and weird and feels like a nightmare come to life. However, I can get great visuals and creative weirdness from hundreds of music videos. What I want with movies, typically, is a coherent story and a purpose other than being bizarre, nonsensical art projects.

Most Lynch films to me are like modern art. They’re a banana duct taped to an old telephone that’s put on display in some gallery window in 1980s Soho. And I also get that “art is subjective” and that these films mean a lot to some people. But I think that 90 percent of those people are full of shit and just don’t want to appear stupid, so they act like they’re in on this “brainy art”.

So now that I’ve come off as a total dick, I do like David Lynch, the man, and the guy is free to create whatever the hell he wants just as people are free to like it… or dislike it. For me, sometimes Lynch’s uniqueness does work but this isn’t one of those pictures.

To me, this does look great but it’s a pointless, overly drawn out, shrill nightmare that serves no purpose other than to warn me away from knocking up a woman. I actually concluded that I didn’t want any kids well before I saw this film.

As far as the look and design of the picture, it is good and somewhat alluring at first. I also thought that the special effects shots and the baby creature were kind of cool in a visual sense. I also respect what Lynch created without any real budget. However, all of that gets diminished by everything else in this overwhelming, maddening nightmare.

I thought that Jack Nance was good in this and I generally like the guy in every role I’ve seen him in. However, his deliberately understated performance is drowned out by the rabbit carcass sperm baby and the noisy atmosphere.

Despite how it might appear, I don’t get off on shitting all over movies. Well, unless they’re made by Uwe Boll or a director of that caliber. As an artist, myself, I want to try to see things through the artist’s eyes. But in regards to a lot of Lynch’s work, it’s just not my cup of tea.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: David Lynch’s other movies, including his early short film work.

TV Review: In Search of… (1977-1982)

Original Run: April 17th, 1977 – March 1st, 1982
Created by: Alan Landsburg Productions
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Laurin Rinder, W. Michael Lewis, Mike Lewis
Cast: Leonard Nimoy (presenter, host, narrator)

Alan Landsburg Productions, Rhodes Productions, *syndicated, 144 Episodes, 23 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

While it’s been decades since I’ve seen this show, I used to watch it in the late ’80s and early ’90s, where it would rerun on late night syndication. It was a favorite of mine, as were many of the television shows, back then, that dealt with ghosts, aliens, cryptids and other cool, unexplainable mysteries.

Out of all of these shows, though, this one was always my favorite. That probably has a lot to do with Leonard Nimoy being the host and narrator but it also has to do with it being kind of stylish and dated, even a decade later. The low budget ’70s television panache just made it a bit more magical and otherworldly than the similar shows that were current at the time.

I had no idea that there were as many as 144 episodes until I actually bought the DVD set off of Amazon, which is really cheap, by the way.

So while I haven’t watched the series in its entirety, yet, I have revisited some of the most memorable episodes and they bring me back to that magical place I was when I first experienced them.

That being said, it’s probably hard to review this without nostalgia giving it a boost but I think it’ll hit those same notes in people that already have a love of the weird, as well as television shows from this era.

While this is presented in a documentary style, the conclusions presented in the show are simply based off of the evidence that they had at the time. The show isn’t dishonest, as it admits to conjecture in its opening introduction. However, it’s sort of a time capsule now, as it presents these mysteries through the eyes, findings and interpretations of the world nearly forty-five years ago.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other shows about mysterious phenomenon, cryptozoology and things still left unexplained by science.

Film Review: The Sentinel (1977)

Also known as: Hexensabbat (Germany), De Watcher (Netherlands)
Release Date: January 7th, 1977 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Jeffrey Konvitz, Michael Winner
Based on: The Sentinel by Jeffrey Konvitz
Music by: Gil Melle
Cast: Chris Sarandon, Cristina Raines, Martin Balsam, John Carradine, José Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Arthur Kennedy, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Deborah Raffin, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D’Angelo, Hank Garrett, Nana Visitor (as Nana Tucker), Tom Berenger, William Hickey, Jeff Goldblum

Jeffrey Konvitz Productions, Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“It’s all right. Listen, listen. I know everything now. The Latin you saw in that book was an ancient warning from the angel Gabriel to the angel Uriel.” – Michael Lerman

The Sentinel came out in a decade that was packed full of religious themed horror movies after the successes that were 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby and 1973’s The Exorcist. So it’s easy to see why it may have gotten lost in the shuffle. However, in my opinion, it is one of the better ones out there.

The film also has a really great cast, even if most of the parts are fairly small, except for the two leads: Cristina Raines and Chris Sarandon. Sprinkled throughout though are Martin Balsam, John Carradine, José Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D’Angelo, Nana Visitor (of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Tom Berenger, William Hickey and Jeff Goldblum. Needless to say, there’s a lot of great talent here and the film truly benefits from it, as just about every scene includes someone of note and none of them are simply dialing in their performance.

The plot revolves around a young woman with a pretty screwed up past, wanting to live on her own for awhile. She moves into an old building near the water in New York City. However, the attic apartment has an old blind priest that just sits in the window 24/7. The place is also full of bizarre residents and as the film rolls on, we come to learn that these people are ghosts. We also learn that the building is a gateway to Hell and the old priest sits there to keep the evil from escaping the walls of the house.

The story almost feels like it’s ripped from a ’70s Italian demon movie. But also like Italian demon movies, this is eerie as hell and really effective. It’s just creepy as shit in the greatest way possible.

I like how the story evolves and brings in the detectives played by Eli Wallach and Christopher Walken. I like both of those actors tremendously and they were great together in this. In fact, I kind of wished they had their own film as two NYC detectives in the gritty ’70s.

The real scene stealer for me was Chris Sarandon. I’ve loved the guy since I first saw him in Fright Night when I was a little kid. He’s just solid in this and I like what they do with his character over the progression of the story.

I was definitely pleasantly surprised by this movie. I’ve known about it for years but never got around to seeing it. Had I known how many great actors were in this, I probably would’ve watched it years earlier.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other religious horror of the ’70s.

Film Review: Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

Also known as: Exorcist II, The Heretic (working titles)
Release Date: June 17th, 1977
Directed by: John Boorman
Written by: William Goodhart
Based on: characters from The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Linda Blair, Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, Max von Sydow, Kitty Winn, Paul Henreid, James Earl Jones, Ned Beatty, Dana Plato (uncredited)

Warner Bros., 117 Minutes, 102 Minutes (VHS cut)

Review:

“Pazuzu, king of the evil spirits of the air, help me to find Kokumo!” – Father Lamont

It has been a really long time since I’ve seen this film but since I’ve reviewed the first and third films in the series, I figured that revisiting this one was long overdue.

I put it off for ages because it’s the only one out of the three that’s not very good. However, it wasn’t as bad as I remembered it.

Honestly, this is a really strange movie that feels like a product of its time, as it uses some modern (for the time) science-based ideas to try and solve the mystery of Reagan’s previous demonic possession and the effects it had and still has on her. It’s kind of hard to explain but there are some neat retro-techie sequences in the film that probably play much better now than they did in 1977.

Additionally, I like that this doesn’t simply try to retread the material and narrative framework of the previous, classic film. Instead, it takes a new and fresh approach. While that can only be as good as the writing and the execution, it still made this an interesting and unusual film that was very different than what was the norm for religious based horror movies of its time.

The film is also loaded with talented actors from the returning Linda Blair, to Louise Fletcher, Richard Burton, Max von Sydow and smaller roles for Ned Beatty and James Earl Jones.

I also really enjoyed the score by Ennio Morricone, which probably deserves more credit than it’s gotten over the years, as the music is overshadowed by the public disdain for the film.

On top of that, I really liked the finale of the film, which saw the good people in the story return to the spot where Reagan was previously possessed. They want to confront and conquer this evil, once and for all, and what we get is a really neat sequence with solid effects and great sets.

The problem with the movie is that it is a very disjointed clusterfuck that drags along at a snail’s pace in some sequences. I think that the better parts of the film offset its general drabness but it’s a bad movie as far as the story and pacing go.

Also, the plot is so far outside of the box, it’s hard to envision this as a sequel to the original, even as it unfolds in front of you, featuring the same young actress playing the same character.

In the end, I get why people hate this movie. Looking at it as its own body of work, it’s palatable. It has some really cool moments but you have to drag yourself through the uneventful portions of the film to reach the more satisfying ones.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: I guess the first and third films but they’re both much, much better.

Film Review: The Gauntlet (1977)

Release Date: December 17th, 1977 (Japan)
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Michael Butler, Dennis Shryack
Music by: Jerry Fielding
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle, William Prince, Bill McKinney, Michael Cavanaugh

The Malpaso Company, Warner Bros., 109 Minutes

Review:

“You cheap shot, gutless bastard! You really get off roughing up girls, don’t you? Big man! Big 45 caliber fruit!” – Gus Mally

People often confuse this movie as a Dirty Harry film. It’s not but it is damn similar to that series and it fits well within its style and tone. I actually think of it as Dirty Harry 3.5 and often times mix it in when watching some Dirty Harry flicks.

While they actually played with the idea of making it a Dirty Harry picture, the film wasn’t originally made to star Clint Eastwood. In fact, Marlon Brando and Barbara Streisand were original cast for the film. Brando had some issues and was replaced by Steve McQueen. McQueen and Streisand pretty much hated each other and then both left the production. Clint Eastwood and his then significant other, Sandra Locke, were cast in their place. Eastwood’s production company then got involved and Eastwood ended up directing the film, as well.

The film’s plot is pretty simple. A tough-as-nails cop has to escort a prostitute from Las Vegas to Phoenix. However, the mob and someone on the inside of the police force wants her to die before she can make it to Phoenix. So Eastwood must protect her and get her to the finish line while dealing with an army of cops, criminals and a biker gang. Everything comes to a head in one of the greatest action movie finales of all-time, which sees Eastwood drive a bus into downtown Phoenix where he is met by the entire police force, who are armed to the teeth and dead set on preventing the bus from reaching its final destination.

That finale is so damn good and iconic that I think that people fixate on it when thinking about this film and forget about how good the movie is as a total package. In fact, this is my favorite non-western Eastwood film after the original Dirty Harry. And honestly, it’s pretty close in quality to Dirty Harry and I’d even say it has better replay value.

The action in the film is incredible, especially for the time. I don’t know if the movie holds the record for squibs used but it’s got to be pretty close to the top.

Also, it’s a picture that has aged tremendously well and plays much better than most modern action films that are created for the ADHD generation that needs constant engagement and for every stunt and action sequence to be bigger than anything they’ve seen before it. The Gauntlet is a very grounded film that feels real and seems plausible unlike one of the thirty-nine Fast & Furious movies.

If you’ve never seen The Gauntlet or just haven’t seen it in a long time, you should probably check it out. Eastwood is an absolute badass, Locke is tremendous and the greatness of that finale will outlive us all.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the Dirty Harry film series, as well as the Death Wish movies.

Film Review: Sorcerer (1977)

Also known as: The Wages of Fear (alternative title)
Release Date: June 24th, 1977
Directed by: William Friedkin
Written by: Walon Green
Based on: Le Salaire de la peur by Georges Arnaud
Music by: Tangerine Dream
Cast: Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, Amidou, Ramon Bieri, Karl John, Joe Spinell

Film Properties International N.V., Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, 121 Minutes, 92 Minutes (international cut)

Review:

“He robbed my church, shot my brother. I don’t care where he is or what it costs. I want his ass.” – Carlo Ricci

Sorcerer is a really interesting movie that follows a group of criminals on the run, strangers to one another, who have to transport gallons of volatile nitroglycerin 200 miles through a South American jungle. Along the way, they have to deal with many threats that make their highly explosive cargo, a death trap that must be protected.

My only real problem with the film is that the mission doesn’t start until you’re about halfway through the picture. That’s fine and the first act is very good but there’s this bit between the multiple prologues and the mission that drags for quite awhile. Once the mission starts, however, things pick back up.

Overall, this is pretty well acted and I thought Roy Scheider did exceptionally well in this and it might be my favorite role of his outside of his two Jaws movies and 2010. The rest of the cast is also good and you even get a small Joe Spinell cameo thrown in.

The story is pretty engaging and this would’ve probably been an incredible film if it didn’t have the pacing issues with the second act. I felt like the actual adventure across the jungle should’ve been a larger part of the story and there is so much more that could’ve been done with that.

Granted, this is also based off of a French novel, so maybe the source material was written the same way, only showcasing the adventure for the second half of the whole story.

That being said, there is also a 92 minute cut of this film and I wonder if that one actually flows better and cuts out some of the duller moments while putting more emphasis on the journey itself.

In the end, I like this movie quite a bit. It definitely needed to pick things up a bit and could’ve used some extra sizzle but it was a worthwhile experience, capped off with a really cool second half.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other late ’70s adventure and crime pictures.

Film Review: The Mighty Peking Man (1977)

Also known as: Goliathon (alternative title)
Release Date: August 11th, 1977 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Ho Meng-hua
Written by: Kuang Ni
Music by: Frankie Chan
Cast: Danny Lee, Evelyne Kraft, Hsiao Yao, Ku Feng, Lin Wei-tu

Shaw Brothers, Shochiku, 90 Minutes

Review:

What a delightfully bonkers, energetic and fun movie!

For a Hong Kong ripoff of King Kong, this is so fucking enjoyable and it honestly comes across more like a Toho styled kaiju flick, especially their two King Kong ones from the ’60s.

The overall plot is about the same as King Kong, however, the pretty girl in this film has lived on the island with the giant gorilla for most of her life already. When she was a small child an aircraft crashed on the island and she was the only survivor. The gorilla found her, took a liking to her and raised her into a Jungle goddess. Basically, she’s like Tarzan but a woman… and raised by one very large ape.

Anyway, some rich doucher ends up taking the giant gorilla back to Hong Kong to turn him into a carnival act. But once the doucher attempts to rape the girl, the gorilla breaks free and starts trashing the city.

There is also a male human hero in this, played by Danny Lee. He’s a cool and likable guy that falls in love with the girl while also trying to save her from the danger the government brings down on her gorilla father figure.

While Shaw Brothers was mostly known for their martial arts movies, they really did the kaiju genre well and honestly, I wish that there were more of these. Hell, Roger Ebert gave this film three out of four stars and referred to it as his “favorite Hong Kong monster film”.

I was impressed by the effects of the film and the miniatures especially looked good. If I’m being honest, the craftsmanship and skill was pretty close to Eiji Tsuburaya’s level when he was making magic in those Toho Godzilla movies.

Ultimately, this is a picture that is much better than I could have hoped for. While I do like a lot of non-Japanese kaiju flicks, this is certainly one of the better ones and it should have spawned a Hong Kong era in giant monster movies.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other kaiju pictures from outside of Japan, as well as the King Kong films, especially the 1976 remake and the Toho ones.

Film Review: Orca (1977)

Also known as: Orca: The Killer Whale, The Killer Whale (alternative titles)
Release Date: July 15th, 1977 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Anderson
Written by: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Donati, Robert Towne (uncredited)
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling, Will Sampson, Bo Derek, Keenan Wynn, Robert Carradine

Famous Films, Dino De Laurentiis Company, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I’d insisted on leaving South Harbor with them. I told myself that somehow I was responsible for Nolan’s state of mind. That I had filled his head with romantic notions about a whale capable not only of profound grief, which I believed, but also of calculated and vindictive actions, which I found hard to be believe, despite all that had happened.” – Rachel

I was originally introduced to this movie by my 6th grade science teacher circa 1991. While most of the class was dozing off, I really enjoyed it, even if it was one of several dozen ripoffs of Jaws.

Orca is somehow better than almost all of the Jaws wannabes, except for Joe Dante’s magnificent Piranha. But the reason for that is due to the movie’s ability to create great sympathy for the killer killer whale as well as Richard Harris’ ability to take a total bastard of a character and make him somewhat noble and redeemable.

I also really enjoyed Charlotte Rampling in this, as she added so much to the film’s context in a great way, as well as having a really organic chemistry with Richard Harris.

Being that I haven’t seen this in its entirety since that day in 6th grade, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the film all these years later. It was actually better than I remembered and there were some scenes I had completely forgotten, like the whale fetus on the boat deck scene, which my 6th grade teacher may have omitted from the movie when he showed us his VHS copy of it.

While this was a Dino De Laurentiis produced picture, which means it had a limited budget, most of the special effects were damn good. Even though I knew that some of the whale celebration moments with destruction in the background were composited shots, they actually look pretty great for the time, even when being seen in modern HD.

The two sequences that stood out to me the most were the coastal house being destroyed by the whale and collapsing into the sea, as well as the scene where the female whale is gruesomely captured and maimed, leading to her death and the death of the baby she’s carrying, all while the male whale watches on in agony. It may sound kind of cheesy but it’s surreal and haunting. Most importantly, it was incredibly effective. You felt the whale’s pain and understood his quest for vengeance against Richard Harris’ captain character.

I also really dug the Ennio Morricone score. The guy is an absolute legend and his score here is enchanting while also being brooding. While it’s not on par with John Williams’ Jaws score, it is very different and fits the tone of this movie, which wasn’t exactlyJaws ripoff. This just used the timing of its release to capitalize off of the killer marine life craze of the late ’70s.

The story is actually closer to Moby Dick and just modernized with a different species of whale. But that didn’t stop it from potentially taking a shot at Jaws by having the killer whale murder the crap out of a great white shark at the beginning of the film.

All in all, I was really satisfied with this. It’s not an all-time classic but it is better than most killer animal ocean movies not named Jaws.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other killer animal horror movies, especially those that take place on the water.