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

Film Review: Halloween (1978)

Release Date: October 25th, 1978
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: John Carpenter
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers

Compass International, Falcon Productions, Debra Hill Productions, 91 Minutes

Review:

“I met him, fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding; and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.” – Dr. Loomis

I’m not a massive fan of Halloween, the original film, as most people are. While I have loved slasher movies since I was a kid, and while I love the Halloween franchise, as a whole, my first real love in horror was Freddy Krueger and A Nightmare On Elm Street, followed by Jason Voorhees and Friday the 13th.

In debates, hardcore Michael Myers fans always want to point out that he came first. Yes, he did debut before Freddy and Jason. But despite the public consensus, Myers was not the first slasher. He may have popularized the genre but Halloween wasn’t anything new, even in 1978. There was Black Christmas, a nice little slasher from Canada that came out in 1974 and was actually a better movie, in my opinion. The Italians, specifically Mario Bava and Dario Argento, were also making giallo films for well over a decade before Halloween and those were the prototype for the slasher pictures of the 70s and 80s.

Not to take anything away from the greatness of Halloween but it was hardly original. Although, it may have been a lot cooler, due to the look of Michael Myers, and that’s what made it a cultural phenomenon that people still embrace four decades later.

By slasher standards, however, Halloween really isn’t that good. I’m sorry but there are a lot better films in the genre. Most of the stuff that happens to build suspense is completely nonsensical and goofy when not seen through nostalgic goggles.

The thing that saves this film are the elements that work for it. Primarily, Donald Pleasenca as Dr. Loomis and “The Shape” a.k.a. Michael Myers are the real glue of this picture.

The film also benefits from its look, which is a testament to how talented John Carpenter was behind the camera. He captured mood and tone in just the right way. He also enhanced this picture with one of the most famous scores in horror film history. His theme for the film is still creepy as hell and will never not be included on people’s Halloween playlists for the rest of time.

Jamie Lee Curtis got her real start in this film but even though the character of Laurie Strode is highly regarded as a supreme scream queen, she doesn’t do much other than stab Myers in the eye with a coat hanger. She’s mostly a damsel in distress and only defends herself with animal instinct once she is cornered and completely exposed to the killer. She certainly wasn’t anything like the badass Nancy was from A Nightmare On Elm Street or some of the leading ladies from the Friday the 13th films.

I don’t want to sound like I am trashing Halloween, I do truly love the film. I just kind of see it for what it is. It was significant and popularized slasher films in the United States. It also doesn’t hurt that it is simply called Halloween.

I’m also that asshole that thinks that Halloween III, the one without Michael Myers, is far superior to any of the Myers films for the fact that it is truly horrific, original, bizarre and just a ball of wacky insanity. Plus it has Tom f’n Atkins in it.

Film Review: Superdome (1978)

Release Date: January 9th, 1978
Directed by: Jerry Jameson
Written by: Barry Oringer, Bill Svanoe
Music by: John Cacavas
Cast: David Janssen, Edie Adams, Ken Howard, Clifton Davis, Peter Haskell, Susan Howard, Van Johnson, Donna Mills, Tom Selleck, Michael Pataki, M. Emmet Walsh, Vonetta McGee, Bubba Smith, Ed Nelson, Dick Butkus

ABC, 97 Minutes

Review:

This appeared in the first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, before the show went national. Maybe they never featured it once they went to cable because it was a film so bad that they couldn’t handle sitting through it twice. I really couldn’t handle sitting through it once.

I watched this movie and I really have no idea what the hell was going on in it. There was some plot about a killer, a football veteran with a bum knee, a young quarterback trying to make a name for himself and a really young hot girl swooning over some old fart. And while IMDb categorizes this as a sports movie, it doesn’t feature any sports moments, just people talking about sports as it leads up to the Superbowl. When the Superbowl begins, the film ends.

Superdome is awful. In fact, “awful” isn’t the right word, it just doesn’t have the weight or the meaning I am looking for.

For a movie that takes place in New Orleans, the capital of fun in the American South, it was bland, boring and felt like medieval torture.

I’ve been to New Orleans multiple times, it is a magical place. In fact, you’d have to try damn hard to make a movie in New Orleans and make it an uneventful bore with absolutely no style. I’d be less bored watching a lab rat in a computer class try to write code with C++ for two hours.

Seriously, this film was so damn boring and bogged down with thirteen dozen characters and ninety-three subplots that it was impossible to know what the hell was happening from scene to scene. I mean, at least Bubba Smith and Dick Butkus showed up and tried their best but it was obvious that they were bored too.

Superdome should have been titled Superbore or Superdumb. Either of those would have been more fitting. Besides, this is a slap in the face to the people of New Orleans, the New Orleans Saints, the actual Superdome, the NFL, the entire sport of football and America. The NFL doesn’t need Hollywood’s help in trying to destroy its image, they are doing just fine.

And you bet your ass that this is going into the Cinespiria Shitometer! The results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.”

 

Film Review: Jaws 2 (1978)

Release Date: June 16th, 1978
Directed by: Jeannot Szwarc
Written by: Carl Gottlieb, Howard Sackler
Based on: characters by Peter Benchley
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton

Universal Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“But I’m telling you, and I’m telling everybody at this table that that’s a shark! And I know what a shark looks like, because I’ve seen one up close. And you’d better do something about this one, because I don’t intend to go through that hell again!” – Martin Brody

Jaws 2 has its fans and its detractors. I’m more in the fan camp, as I think it is a pretty good sequel, all things considered. Besides, it is nowhere near as bad as the two Jaws films that followed.

For a sequel that lost its original (and legendary) director, two of its lead actors and the benefit of using mystery over a full reveal of the monster, Jaws 2 does pretty good with the pieces of the puzzle it still has.

Roy Scheider is back, as is Lorraine Gary, who plays his wife. Additionally, Murray Hamilton returns as the sleazy town mayor, who apparently learned nothing from his greedy follies in the first Jaws picture.

This chapter in the franchise is much more action heavy. You see the actual shark more often, which is fine. After the big reveal in the first movie, there isn’t much reason to hide him in this one, as the building of suspense in Spielberg’s “less is more” technique wouldn’t work a second time around and in the first movie it was employed to hide the fact that the shark robot never worked properly.

While Jaws 2 is not the near perfect masterpiece of its predecessor, it is a worthy sequel in that it builds off of the first film. It gives you more time with the Brody family and gets more personal than the original movie. The fact that Capt. Brody’s children are in direct danger, makes the tension and the finale work quite well.

Also, the finale has Schneider’s most bad ass moment in his long career. The scene where he finishes off the shark by feeding it an electrical cable is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen a manly man do on film and it tops the killing of the shark from the first movie, even if me saying that pisses some people off.

Jaws 2 is not a perfect picture but it is still a fairly strong outing and a good companion piece to the original. Granted, everything in the franchise just goes off the rails after this.