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.

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.

Film Review: Good Guys Wear Black (1978)

Release Date: June 21st, 1978
Directed by: Ted Post
Written by: Joseph Fraley, Bruce Cohn, Mark Medoff
Music by: Craig Safan
Cast: Chuck Norris, Anne Archer, Soon-Tek Oh, Dana Andrews, James Franciscus, Lloyd Haynes, Jim Backus

American Cinema Releasing, 96 Minutes

Review:

Good Guys Wear Black is one of Chuck Norris’ early films, coming out in the heyday when he was rising to fame in the action movie genre. This was just his second starring vehicle but it helped propel him forward.

The first act of this film was actually my favorite, as it sees a bad ass military squad dressed in black and led by Chuck Norris, raiding the compound of some scumbags. Initially, I thought this was what the film was about and I was enjoying it.

Then the film switched gears. It turned into a conspiracy movie, where members of Norris’ crew were getting killed off and Norris was a target himself.

The film was gritty and embodied the true essence of a late 70s action movie. However, it was broken up by a lot of filler and would’ve benefited from a bit more balls-to-the-wall ass kickery.

The weakest part of the film was the climax, instead of Chuck Norris throwing fists, feet and cracking skulls, he killed the main antagonist in the dumbest and least Chuck Norris way possible – ramping a car into a river, causing the bad guy to drown or whatever.

This film isn’t a complete waste of time, and style-wise it is interesting. The problem with it, is for a film with the title Good Guys Wear Black and starring Chuck Norris, it is like a neutered watered down version of what one should expect from the guy who has been the king of bad ass Internet memes.

Film Review: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Also known as: Zombi (Italy)
Release Date: September 1st, 1978 (Italy)
Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: George A. Romero
Music by: Goblin, Dario Argento, De Wolfe Music
Cast: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, Gaylen Ross, Tom Savini, Joseph Pilato, John Landis

Laurel Group, United Film Distribution Company, 116 Minutes (Italy), 127 Minutes (US)

Review:

I’m reworking my way through The Living Dead series of films. I’m going through the George A. Romero ones first and will then look at the films involving John A. Russo, as the two split the franchise down different creative paths after they made the original Night of the Living Dead in 1968.

The second Romero film and the most highly regarded of the series is this one, Dawn of the Dead.

This film came out ten years later and was a co-production between the United States and Italy, as Romero teamed up with Italian horror and giallo maestro Dario Argento. Argento edited the film for Italian audiences, who would see it first, and also brought in Goblin, who worked with him on the music for several of his pictures, most notably Suspiria, which came out a year before this.

In Italy, the film was released as Zombi and it would spawn a series of unofficial sequels, the most famous being Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2. That was released in the States, oddly enough, as Zombie.

To start, Dawn of the Dead is a damn good zombie picture. However, I am in the minority here, as I don’t consider it to be the best of the Romero Living Dead mythos. I actually prefer the other two of the original trilogy and especially consider Day of the Dead to be the best. But I’ll get into why, when I review that one.

Dawn of the Dead is still pretty stellar and it does show the world in a much broader sense than the original. The thing I really liked is that the zombies are everywhere but society hasn’t fully crumbled at the start of the film. Things fall apart over the course of the story, as we learn through television and radio broadcasts until things from the outside world go silent.

In this chapter, two SWAT team members, a helicopter pilot and his girlfriend land on top of a mall. They decide to live there, as it has power and it has all the things they will need to survive and then some.

The bulk of the story deals with the men cleaning out the zombies and securing the mall. They take out the living dead and fortify the entrances by moving semis in front of them. Eventually, things go south when a biker gang shows up, trashes the mall and bring the outside zombies swarming in. This isn’t just a movie where our heroes fight zombies, they also have to deal with a biker gang who want to take their home but ultimately ruin it for everyone.

This is the first film, that I know of, that shows humans having to defend themselves from other humans in a zombie scenario. This was the prototype of almost every zombie story after it. Hell, The Walking Dead is, at this point, a seven season television series based on this concept.

Dawn of the Dead is one of the best zombie movies ever made. To many, it is the best. The trilogy of films it is a part of are responsible for creating the genre and its tropes. It is also interesting, when compared to modern zombie entertainment, as the zombies are still fresh and newly created and therefore, aren’t just ragged flesh hanging off of bones.