Film Review: The Wiz (1978)

Release Date: October 24th, 1978
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Joel Schumacher
Based on: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, The Wiz by William F. Brown
Music by: Charlie Smalls, various
Cast: Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, Lena Horne, Richard Pryor, Mabel King, Thelma Carpenter, Theresa Merritt, Stanley Greene, Roberta Flack (uncredited), Quincy Jones (uncredited), Luther Vandross (uncredited)

Motown Productions, Universal Pictures, 134 Minutes

Review:

“Success, fame, and fortune, they’re all illusions. All there is that is real is the friendship that two can share.” – Scarecrow, “That’s beautiful! Who said that?” – Dorothy, “[modestly] I did.” – Scarecrow

It’s been ages since I’ve seen this but I enjoyed it back in the day. Mainly, because I always thought the sets, style and overall visual look of it was pretty awesome. Although, it was also loaded with people I like such as Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Mabel King and more.

It wasn’t until more recently that I discovered that this was directed by Sidney Lumet with a script by Joel Scumacher. Also, Quincy Jones was very involved in the production. Having a newfound understanding of the talent involved in this made me want to revisit it with fairly fresh eyes and ears.

I’m really glad that I did, as it still captivated me and pulled me into its magical world.

Now the film has its share of flaws but it’s one of those movies that’s so fun and sweet that you don’t really care about the imperfections.

While Diana Ross was too old to play Dorothy, I still think she’s pretty great in this once you suspend disbelief. Originally, the film was supposed to star the young lead actress from the stage musical but Ross really pulled some strings to get this part. Honestly, I don’t blame her and movies are a cutthroat business.

Anyway, Ross is still Ross and she has immense talent, which shines through in her performance. Also, her scenes with Michael Jackson are so genuine and affectionate that it transcends the picture. The two were great friends before this film went into production and I think that personal connection really boosted their performances.

Nipsey Russell is tremendous as the Tin Man, as is Ted Ross as the Cowardly Lion.

I have to say, though, the absolute highlight of the film for me is the grand performance by Mabel King, this film’s version of the wicked witch, as she makes her factory workers slave away. Man, this scene is just amazing to watch from the size of the set, it’s design, the amount of performers in the sequence and King’s perfect performance.

Two other really solid sequences are the one where Dorothy meets the Munchkins, which was filmed at the somewhat dilapidated New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows. It was a site built for the 1964 World’s Fair but it created such an interesting looking location for Dorothy’s arrival in Oz.

The other was the Emerald City sequence, which was filmed at the foot of the World Trade Center. It’s a beautiful and opulent scene with great music and considering the world we live in now after 9/11, the scene just has much more meaning now. It makes you really appreciate the beauty and immensity of those two iconic structures.

Overall, this is a lively and jubilant picture. I typically don’t like musicals but this is one of the few that I do enjoy.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

Also known as: Eyes (working title)
Release Date: August 2nd, 1978
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
Written by: John Carpenter, David Zelag Goodman
Music by: Artie Kane
Cast: Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif, Rene Auberjonois, Raul Julia, Frank Adonis, Lisa Taylor

Major Studio Partners, Columbia Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

“I’m completely out of control!” – Laura

I’m surprised that I had never come across this film until recently. I just sort of stumbled upon its existence while reading an article where it was mentioned. Considering it was directed by Irvin Kershner, written by John Carpenter and had a damn solid cast, I wanted to check it out.

Also, it’s a ’70s psychic thriller flick and those tend to be right up my alley. It also has slasher-y vibes too and a neo-noir-esque flavor. So in some ways, it reminds me of those damn good neo-noir movies that Brian De Palma did in the early ’80s.

This stars Faye Dunaway, who truly ruled the ’70s and this is just another great role to add to her impressive filmography. She’s pretty much perfect in this and even if she finds herself in the killer’s crosshairs and is very afraid, she plays the role with confidence and some real chutzpah, not being an incompetent damsel in distress. Frankly, this character and Dunaway’s part in bringing her to life feels real.

Dunaway is supported by several top tier male actors, many of whom were up and coming and on the verge of breaking out into bigger things: Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif, Raul Julia and Rene Auberjonois. Each of these guys brought something worthwhile to the film and each one had a good, strong presence, that just made the picture better, overall.

The film also does a good job with its red herrings. As it got closer to the end and a certain character is murdered, I thought the identity of who the killer was, became pretty apparent. However, the movie does keep you guessing for about 85 percent of its duration.

Beyond that, the film looks great but then again, Irvin Kershner is a fine director, who is unfortunately mostly just known for being the guy that directed Empire Strikes Back. While I love Empire and its immense success and iconic place in motion picture history, it does overshadow all of Kershner’s other great movies.

Eyes of Laura Mars is entertaining, creepy and kind of marvelous from top-to-bottom.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s and ’80s psychic thrillers and horror films.

Film Review: The Fury (1978)

Release Date: March 10th, 1978
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: John Farris
Based on: The Fury by John Farris
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Kirk Douglas, John Cassavetes, Carrie Snodgress, Charles Durning, Amy Irving, Andrew Stevens, Fiona Lewis, William Finley, Dennis Franz, Gordon Jump, Daryl Hannah

Frank Yablans Presentations, Twentieth Century Fox, 118 Minutes

Review:

“…and what a culture can’t assimilate, it destroys.” – Dr. Jim McKeever

The Fury is a movie that I haven’t seen in a really, really long time. I’m talking, late night on cable when cable was still cool… that’s how long.

Also, I never saw it in its entirety from start-to-finish. I always kind of caught it in the middle and it’d be at times where I had to fight to stay awake in hopes of finishing it.

Having now watched it in its entirety for the first time without fighting sleep, I’ve got to say that it’s damn good and it just solidifies the greatness of Brian De Palma, especially in his early days.

This feels like a natural extension of some of the concepts De Palma worked with in Carrie but it isn’t bogged down by Stephen King-isms and it’s a hell of a lot cooler and expands on those concepts in a bigger way, as we now see psychic powered youngsters being abducted and turned into psychic super weapons.

The film stars two actors that are absolute fucking legends: Kirk Douglas and John Cassavetes.

Douglas plays the hero character, trying to save his son, who has been abducted and turned into an evil psychic killing machine. All the while, Douglas is trying to save a young girl from the same fate.

Cassavetes, who just does sinister so well, plays the main antagonist who betrays Douglas and tries to have him murdered so that he can abduct his psychic son and brainwash him while honing his skills. Cassavetes mostly succeeds in the opening of the film but doesn’t realize that Douglas survived the orchestrated assassination attempt.

The real highlight of the film for me was the big finale and the moments that led up to it, which saw the psychic son unleash his powers in twisted and fucked up ways. The special effects used here were simple, practical and incredibly effective.

There were a lot of psychic power horror flicks in the ’70s and ’80s but The Fury is certainly one of the best of the lot. If this type of stuff is your bag, you definitely should give it a watch.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s and ’80s psychic horror movies, as well as Brian De Palma’s other horror and thriller films.

Film Review: Circle of Iron (1978)

Also known as: The Silent Flute (working title)
Release Date: July 25th, 1978 (France)
Directed by: Richard Moore
Written by: Bruce Lee, James Coburn, Stirling Silliphant, Stanley Mann
Music by: Bruce Smeaton
Cast: David Carradine, Christopher Lee, Jeff Cooper, Roddy McDowall, Eli Wallach, Anthony De Longis, Earl Maynard, Erica Creer

Sandy Howard/Richard St. Johns Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Tie two birds together. Even though they have four wings they cannot fly.” – Blind Man

The concept and story for this film were developed by the legendary Bruce Lee and he was even slated to star in it but, as we all know, he died really young and with that he never got to see this go into production.

A few years after Lee’s death, however, this project got the green light and David Carradine was given the multiple roles that would’ve gone to Lee. What’s strange about that is Carradine was also given the main role in the television series Kung Fu, which Lee said was a role that was also originally meant for him.

This movie also has several legendary actors in minor roles. We see Christopher Lee, Roddy McDowall and Eli Wallach all pop up for different sequences. And honestly, all of them took this really seriously and gave solid performances.

The lead actor was the only really unknown to me but he was good with the material, believable as a hero and you bought into his arduous and challenging journey, which was more about self discovery than what he thought it was about upon starting the journey.

One thing I personally dig about this is that it’s a martial arts flick but it has more of a sword and sorcery aesthetic to it. Granted, there aren’t buff dudes with swords, it’s just a really cut, physically fit guy using his kung fu to conquer his challenges.

Being that this was Bruce Lee’s concept also means that it is much more philosophical than your standard beat’em up movie. It probably isn’t as philosophical as what Lee would’ve done had he been alive to make this but his spirit still exists in this and is weaved into every important scene.

This film surprised me. I figured that I would enjoy it but it definitely exceeded the expectations I had for it and I’d now rank it pretty high up on my list of favorite David Carradine movies.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other martial arts flicks of the ’70s and ’80s, as well as sword and sorcery pictures of the same era.

Film Review: Animal House (1978)

Also known as: Laser Orgy Girls (original script title)
Release Date: July 27th, 1978 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney, Chris Miller
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: John Belushi, Tim Matheson, John Vernon, Verna Bloom, Thomas Hulce, Donald Sutherland, Peter Riegert, Stephen Furst, Bruce McGill, James Widdoes, Douglas Kenney, James Daughton, Mark Metcalf, Kevin Bacon, Karen Allen, Sarah Holcomb

Stage III Productions, Oregon Film Factory, Universal Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“Christ. Seven years of college down the drain. Might as well join the fucking Peace Corps.” – Bluto

Animal House is a cult comedy that came out before I was born but was beloved by the generation slightly ahead of mine. I grew up hearing older people quote the movie constantly but I never actually saw it until the ’90s in my teen years. It’s also been that long since I’ve seen it, as although I love John Belushi, the film never hit the mark for me.

I feel like I did enjoy it more now, though, but that’s probably also because comedy is dead in the 2020s and everything in this film would be considered grossly offensive by modern snowflakes and “cancel everything” dweebs. Simply watching this felt like an act of defiance against Generation Bitch Made and everything their weak knees wobbly stand for.

Still, I can’t consider this a great movie, even if it spoke to an entire generation of slackers. However, it was never intended to be a great movie. This was made to entertain horny young folks that toked grass and drank a lot of beer. It also helped pave the way for a slew of mindless, funny films that did the same thing. Escapism is important to the human brain and National Lampoon’s Animal House provides solid escapism from your problems and your world for 109 minutes.

The film is also full of a lot of actors that would go on to have long careers, many of whom moved on to bigger and better things.

In the end, Animal House is goofy, obnoxious and reminds me of simpler times when people were still allowed to laugh and enjoy life.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other John Landis comedies, as well as the films of Ivan Reitman.

TV Review: Galaxy Express 999 (1978–1981)

Original Run: September 14th, 1978 – March 26th, 1981
Created by: Leiji Matsumoto
Directed by: Nobutaka Nishizawa
Written by: Hiroyasu Yamaura, Keisuke Fujikawa, Yoshiaki Yoshida
Based on: Galaxy Express 999 by Leiji Matsumoto
Music by: Nozomi Aoki
Cast: Masako Nozawa, Masako Ikeda, Kaneta Kimotsuki

Toei Animation, Fuji TV, 113 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Out of Leiji Matsumoto’s big three series, this is my least favorite. One of them has to be the odd one out, I guess, but it never appealed to me in the same way as the Captain Harlock stuff or Star Blazers a.k.a. Space Battleship Yamato.

This is a much smaller story and even though it has some action and adventure, it isn’t on the same epic scale as the other two franchises. But they all do exist in the same universe and crossover and because of that, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for this series, as well.

I also hadn’t seen anything Galaxy Express 999 related in decades, so it was kind of cool revisiting it. A lot of Matsumoto’s stuff is actually free to watch on Tubi for those interested.

Overall, I’d say that I actually like this even less now. I’d check it out when I had access to it in my younger days because it was pretty imaginative and was full of a lot of cool visuals and ideas.

However, the animation doesn’t hold up very well. I guess it’s fine for the time but it just doesn’t feel like it is in the same ballpark as Star Blazers or Harlock. I recently revisited both of those series too and I didn’t seem to really notice any glaring problems with the animation like I do with this. Mostly, it just feels kind of choppy and not as fluid.

The story is interesting enough but I was only able to watch about a dozen episodes and couldn’t commit to the entire run, which I did with the other series. Still, I will probably review the film versions that came out in the same era and see how I feel about those.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Galaxy Express 999 films and shows, as well as Leiji Matsumoto’s other work: Captain Harlock and Space Battleship Yamato a.k.a. Star Blazers.

 

Film Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Also known as: The Body Snatchers (informal title)
Release Date: December 21st, 1978 (San Francisco & Minneapolis premieres)
Directed by: Philip Kaufman
Written by: W. D. Richter
Based on: The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney
Music by: Denny Zeitlin
Cast: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Art Hindle, Robert Duvall, Philip Kaufman (cameo), Kevin McCarthy (cameo)

Solofilm, United Artists, 115 Minutes

Review:

“We came here from a dying world. We drift through the universe, from planet to planet, pushed on by the solar winds. We adapt and we survive. The function of life is survival.” – Dr. David Kibner

This is a movie that kind of terrified me, as a kid. I’m also a germaphobe and have a strange fear of plants that don’t look right, especially coming into contact with them. I’m probably much better in that regard, as an adult, but this film is still quite unsettling regardless of how many times I’ve seen it and how much I’ve aged in the process.

Out of all the adaptations of The Body Snatchers story, this is the one that’s the most effective. At least from my point-of-view.

There’s just something supremely creepy about this version of the story and a lot of that probably has to do with it being made in the ’70s, it’s use of incredible practical effects and the solid cast.

Being an old school Star Trek fan, I love that Leonard Nimoy plays an evil bastard in this. Well, after he’s been infected with the alien spores, anyway. But its great seeing Nimoy get to express himself in ways that he couldn’t while playing Spock, his most iconic role.

Additionally, I loved seeing a very youthful and cool Jeff Goldblum in this, as well as Veronica Cartwright and Brooke Adams, who I wish would’ve been a more prominent actress because she’s always really damn good.

Donald Sutherland takes the cake, though, as the lead in the film. He and his friends become aware that something strange is going on and he does his best trying to stop it, even though it becomes clear that the alien invasion will happen regardless of how human beings feel about it.

The movie is also full of sequences that are simply great.

The one that really stands out to me is where Jeff Goldblum brings the heroes to a strange body. Here, we get to see the first real physiological changes in those effected by the alien spores. We also get to see how the aliens move and try to absorb human DNA in order to be replicated into plant-based copies.

Following that, we get another great sequence that sees Sutherland fall asleep and nearly get assimilated by alien pods in a backyard. The effects in this scene are incredible and some of the best of the era.

Speaking of which, the effects of the opening credits were also damn impressive, as we see the alien lifeforms leave their home planet and soar across the universe on solar winds, eventually making their way to Earth and attaching themselves to our plants.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is simply awesome. I dig the hell out of it from top-to-bottom and it’s one of those films I have to revisit every few years.

At some point, I’ll probably review the other remakes/re-imaginings of this story but none of them hold a candle to this one, except for the original.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the original film, as well as other alien invasion and killer virus movies of the ’60s through ’80s.

Film Review: The Cat From Outer Space (1978)

Release Date: June 9th, 1978
Directed by: Norman Tokar
Written by: Ted Key
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Ken Berry, Sandy Duncan, Harry Morgan, Ronnie Schell, Roddy McDowall, McLean Stevenson, Sorrell Booke

Walt Disney Productions, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Frank, on my planet we have an expression. You rub my fur, I’ll rub yours.” – Jake

I wasn’t a big fan of this movie when I was a kid but I would watch it when it was on. I think I actually like it more now, as I found it kind of charming and otherworldly.

Honestly, I’m surprised that Disney hasn’t tried to remake this, as they have with dozens of their other older movies. I think that this would work well with a modernized version, even if I think studios should focus on original ideas, as opposed to rebooting and re-imagining everything under the sun. But let’s be honest, the creativity well in Hollywood dried up a long time ago.

Anyway, I mostly only know the actors in this film from the sitcoms they were on. Ken Berry was on Mama’s Family, Sandy Duncan was on The Hogan Family and Harry Morgan was on M*A*S*H. But you’ve also got Roddy McDowall, who I loved in the Planet of the Apes and Fright Night films, not to mention his one-off role as The Bookworm, a villain in the ’60s Batman television show.

That being said, I like the cast in this a lot and they bring a sort of whimsical energy to the proceedings.

While I don’t think that the chemistry between Ken Berry and Sandy Duncan was that great or natural, it didn’t break the movie and this wasn’t so much about their potential romance, as it was about having a story about an intelligent space cat trying to get back to his mothership. The cat can also talk to people via an advanced psychic power it has. It also wears a fancy light-flashing collar that has different types of magical powers that we have to mindlessly accept because this is a goofy kids movie.

Sadly, I don’t think that this will play well for modern audiences, especially kids. It feels pretty damn dated and even though it has genuinely hilarious moments, it employs the sort of smart humor that kids (and most adults) today won’t pick up on.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Disney live-action films of the ’60s and ’70s.

Film Review: The Big Sleep (1978)

Also known as: Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (UK)
Release Date: March 13th, 1978 (new York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Michael Winner
Based on: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Music by: Jerry Fielding
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Richard Boone, Candy Clark, Joan Collins, Edward Fox, James Stewart, Oliver Reed

Winkast Film Productions, ITC Entertainment, United Artists, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains!” – Philip Marlowe

I never saw this film until now but I had assumed that it was a proper sequel to Farwell, My Lovely, a film that came out three years earlier and also starred Robert Mitchum as the famous literary private dick, Philip Marlowe.

However, this is its own thing, as this takes place in a contemporary setting, as opposed to being a period piece like the previous movie.

Still, this makes Robert Mitchum the only actor to play Marlowe more than once in a feature film.

Overall, this is a star studded affair with James Stewart, Richard Boone, Oliver Reed, Joan Collins, Sarah Miles and Candy Clark in it. And honestly, everyone does a pretty fine job with the material and you do become invested in most of the characters.

This film is pretty harsh, though. Especially when compared to other films about Marlowe, especially the older version of The Big Sleep, which starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. And while this is a modernized noir, it’s grittiness is over the top and it loses some of the luster that the Marlowe movies had when they were traditional film-noir from the ’40s.

I did like this for what it was and it’s worth checking out at least once for fans of noir and Mitchum. However, it seems like it is trying to be edgy while not fully committing to the bit.

This isn’t bad and it has a few memorable moments but it’s far from Mitchum’s best and nowhere near the top of the list when it comes to Marlowe pictures.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Robert Mitchum movie where he plays Philip Marlowe: Farewell, My Lovely, as well as other ’70s neo-noir.

TV Review: Space Pirate Captain Harlock (1978-1979)

Original Run: March 14th, 1978 – February 13th, 1979
Created by: Leiji Matsumoto
Directed by: Rintaro
Written by: Haruya Yamazaki, Shozo Uehara
Based on: Space Pirate Captain Harlock by Leiji Matsumoto
Music by: Seiji Yokoyama

Toei Animation, 42 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This is probably where I should have started with Space Pirate Captain Harlock but I actually started with the prequel film Arcadia of My Youth. So I guess it’s okay that I watched them in chronological order instead of release order but I do often times find it is best to experience things in the order that they came out in like the Star Wars films or The Chronicles of Narnia books.

Regardless, I loved Arcadia of My Youth and it made me want to delve right into the Harlock show, which I was able to, as it is available to stream for free on Tubi.

Now the animation in the show isn’t as fantastic as the prequel film but it is still fantastic for the late ’70s and it reminds me a lot of another Leiji Matsumoto creation, Space Battleship Yamato a.k.a. Star Blazers.

However, unlike Yamato, this takes the space opera genre and adds in a little swashbuckling. In a lot of ways it is similar to Star Wars or at least the early films. It has space exploration, interesting worlds, an epic quest and the type of action you can only associate with proper sword fighting duels.

What I love most about the Harlock stuff I’ve now seen is the tone of it. It’s often times dark and bleak, giving the universe these characters live in the proper setting: the coldness and emptiness of space. Still, it is lighthearted and hopeful and it doesn’t dwell in darkness, in fact, it brings light to it.

In the end, this is just a damn cool anime television show with cool characters, a sweet spaceship and great character and vehicle design. I love Matsumoto’s ability to world build, especially in a visual and tonal sense.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Captain Harlock films and shows, as well as Leiji Matsumoto’s other work: Galaxy Express 999 and Space Battleship Yamato a.k.a. Star Blazers.