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.

Film Review: Deathsport (1978)

Also known as: Death Race 2050 (Germany)
Release Date: April, 1978
Directed by: Allan Arkus, Roger Corman, Nicholas Niciphor
Written by: Nicholas Niciphor, Donald E. Stewart, Francis Doel
Music by: Andy Stein
Cast: David Carradine, Claudia Jennings, Richard Lynch

New World Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“As much as I would enjoy killing you here tonight, I will enjoy watching you die more in the Deathsport tomorrow.” – Ankar Moor

Man, despite being a fan of this film’s style, this was a real challenge to get through, even at just 82 minutes.

Maybe part of the problem was that it had three directors. Also, it was trying to capitalize off of the cult classic Death Race 2000 and was intended to be a follow-up to it but switching out cars for motorcycles. It definitely fails at being anything close to the greatness of Death Race 2000 and another similar film also starring Carradine, Cannonball.

I think the biggest reason as to why this doesn’t have the charm and coolness of those other two films, is that this one wasn’t directed by Paul Bartell. And I think that is most apparent in the dryness of this film and it’s complete lack of clever humor and endearing spirit.

Put out by New World and Roger Corman, this was a bargain basement production. But it was also mired in production issues beyond the budgetary constraints.

The film looks cheap. In fact, it looks cheaper than Death Race even though it was made much later in the same decade. But maybe the clusterfuck of a production just didn’t have the wherewithal to get the best bang for the buck, as Paul Bartell did and as Corman usually does.

The acting is really bad, even for New World Pictures standards. Plus, the action sequences are bizarre and riddled with more mistakes than a typical Corman production.

While the film has an interesting visual style that isn’t too dissimilar from Death Race, it has really bizarre weapons, like transparent swords and these handheld spotlight things that vaporize people.

This also has one of the strangest bits from any Corman production. There are two scenes that feature a naked woman dancing around these suspended silver rods. Then the rods start shocking them, as they dance around, yelping in pain as an old fascist dweeb laughs in amusement.

Deathsport was a real disappointment. Granted, I didn’t go into it expecting it to be on the level of the rare gem, Death Race 2000. However, I had hoped that some of that spirit would’ve made it into this film. It didn’t.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: Death Race 2000 and Cannonball.

Film Review: Superman: The Movie (1978)

Release Date: December 10th, 1978 (Washington D.C. premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Robert Benton
Based on: Superman by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Trevor Howard, Margot Kidder, Valerie Perrine, Maria Schell, Terence Stamp, Phyllis Thaxter, Susannah York, Jack O’Halloran, Marc McClure, Sarah Douglas, Harry Andrews, Rex Reed (cameo)

Film Export A.G., Dovemead Limited, International Film Productions, Warner Bros., 143 Minutes, 127 Minutes (1980 video release), 151 Minutes (2000 restoration), 188 Minutes (Extended version)

Review:

“Easy, miss. I’ve got you.” – Superman, “You – you’ve got me? Who’s got you?” – Lois Lane

Few films feel as vast and epic as the 1978 Superman film. This was also the first superhero movie where the comic book medium was actually taken seriously. Years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC knocked it out of the park with this, the first real superhero movie.

It hasn’t aged too well and I’ve always had some issues with the story and the use of Superman’s powers in this film but this is still a true classic that opened a lot of doors for comic book films, even if it still took a long time for the genre to reach the level it has in the 2010s.

The thing that makes this film work is that it understands the spirit of Superman. It was made and written with great care, Christopher Reeve was fantastic in the role and for years, he was who I saw as the character, even when reading the comics. I know that some people had reservations about him and his portrayal of the character but he was wholesome and believable as far as creating the two personas: Superman and Clark Kent.

I was never crazy about Margot Kidder as Lois Lane but I see things differently now and I do like her take on the character. I like her attitude, her sass and her no nonsense persona. She feels like a tough New York girl (Metropolis in the movie) that can handle her own.

I was also never crazy about Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, especially since he refused to shave his head. I also thought his scheme was goofy and bizarre but not completely outside of what classic comic books were. Looking at this in the context of the original source material, the scheme isn’t too far fetched.

As a fan of the character and the comics, I liked that Superman had his normal power set but the script was written in such a way that it invented powers just to solve problems in the movie. Like the scene where he flies so fast he changes the direction of Earth’s orbit to time travel back before Lois was swallowed into a fault was beyond stupid even for 1978. It created a lot of plot holes, not that some didn’t already exist. At this point it became pure fantasy nonsense, ignoring any sort of real science or staying grounded in the source material.

Richard Donner did a fine job as the director and this is also one of John Williams’ best scores of all-time. The music really set the tone and enhanced Donner’s visual style.

I loved the Krypton stuff in the beginning and Brando was great even if he wasn’t completely on his A game. However, the bit with General Zod and his crew feels unnecessary within this film, as they don’t have an effect on anything until the second movie. Sure, they contributed to Krypton’s problems, which led to its destruction, but they didn’t need to be on screen characters.

Despite my issues with the picture, it’s still damn good and a lot of fun. I also grew up watching this a lot and I can’t not feel nostalgic for it.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Superman II, the 1980 Flash Gordon.

Film Review: Convoy (1978)

Release Date: June 28th, 1978
Directed by: Sam Peckinpah
Written by: B. W. L. Norton
Based on: the song “Convoy” by C. W. McCall
Music by: Chip Davis, C. W. McCall
Cast: Kris Kristofferson, Ali McGraw, Ernest Borgnine, Burt Young, Franklyn Ajaye

EMI Films, United Artists, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Piss on you, and piss on your law.” – Rubber Duck

Convoy came out during the heyday of car and trucker movies. While it isn’t as remembered as the iconic Smokey and the Bandit, I think that it is a better movie. It’s less comedic and more serious and therefore, not as marketable as Smokey but it has something to say, where Smokey was just a fun time.

While we don’t have Burt Reynolds or the always great Jerry Reed, we do get Kris Kristofferson playing a badass trucker with a trucker army. We also get Ernest Borgnine as a sheriff so evil he would probably frighten Jackie Gleason’s Buford T. Justice. Plus, Burt Young is also in this and I have to say, it is my favorite role he’s ever had after Paulie from the Rocky movies.

I would have to say that this probably popularized the use of CB radio outisde of the trucker community. It showed it as a cool sort of trucker subculture thing where everyone talked shit and had cool nicknames like “Rubber Duck”, “Love Machine” a.k.a. “Pig Pen”, “Spider Mike”, “Widow Woman”, “Big Nasty”, “Pack Rat”, “Cottonmouth”, “Old Iguana”, “Lizard Tongue”, “White Rat”, etc. I had friends well into the ’90s who were still using CB radios as their form of social media back before the Internet was bigger than AIM and Geocities communities.

Convoy follows Kristofferson’s Rubber Duck and his trucker buddies, who get harassed, entrapped and bullied by a crooked sheriff (Borgnine) and his cronies. The sheriff is literally mad with power but is always upstaged by the truckers he has targeted. Things escalate, the truckers take a stand against the crooked lawmen and we get a socially and politically conscious movie. However, Rubber Duck doesn’t even really know what he wants or even what to say when he becomes a leader to a growing convoy of pissed off truckers.

This is a film that’s message is very much a reflection of 1970s America, where we were in a sort of cultural limbo where authority wasn’t to be trusted and society started to question itself. This was just after Nixon and the Vietnam war and major racial tensions accented by riots and police brutality. But the film, like society, had no real answer for any of it. It shows us a group of people who are just sick of it all and pretty much say “fuck it.”

It’s funny though, because we do live in a world where people once again worship the police and the military. Sure, America is socially and politically segmented and not everyone blindly swallows the propaganda but films like this are a reminder that maybe we should question what the majority just accepts without any real thought. Or maybe I am seeing Convoy as a much deeper film than it was really intended to be but I don’t think so. Unfortunately, it is a message that seems lost today but should resonate just as loudly with police brutality being in the media so much more and with the countless wars we keep getting involved in.

But however you feel about these issues, this film does tap into that sentiment and when compared to Smokey and the Bandit or those other fun trucker and car movies of the ’70s, Convoy has something more to offer and is a more important film, even if a solution seems lost.

Rating: 8/10