Film Review: Soylent Green (1973)

Also known as: Make Room! Make Room! (working title)
Release Date: April 18th, 1973 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Stanley R. Greenberg
Based on: Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison
Music by: Fred Myrow
Cast: Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, Edward G. Robinson, Chuck Connors, Joseph Cotton, Brock Peters, Dick Van Patten

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 97 Minutes

Review:

“I know, Sol, you’ve told me a hundred times before. People were better, the world was better…” – Detective Thorn

As a big fan of ’70s era science fiction, it’s probably a crime that I hadn’t seen Soylent Green until now. I’ve had the film spoiled for me my entire life, as the last line of the film was a meme decades before memes existed. And frankly, knowing the big twist ending didn’t do much to make me want to actually sit through the picture in an effort to learn what I already knew. In fact, I knew the meme before I even knew it was from a movie.

All that being said, had I known that Edward G. Robinson was in this and that it was his final film, I probably would’ve watched it sooner. I’ve always loved and admired the man’s work, especially his range, as he can go from the vile, intimidating gangster type to the sweet, kind patriarch type without being typecast as one in favor of the other. The guy is a legend and he was one of the top actors of his generation, even if he’s mostly forgotten today by modern audiences.

This stars Charlton Heston and while I also like the hell out of that guy, at this point, he felt like he was just playing a version of himself. That’s not entirely a bad thing but he’s a better actor than he appeared to be in this era, where he didn’t seem to add much flourish to his roles, he just played them straight and went full Heston.

Apart from the two great leads and the twist ending, there isn’t much here to set the film apart from other ’70s dystopian movies and I’d have to say that the best of the decade is lightyears ahead of this film, which is pretty slow moving and a bit drab.

It has some definite highpoints and it explores a few cool ideas but I’d rather watch something like Logan’s Run, or hell, even the visually similar Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which despite being the fourth film in that series, was pretty damn cool.

Soylent Green isn’t as action heavy as I had hoped and the fascist dystopian nightmare only goes street level in one scene, really.

By the time you do get to the end, regardless of knowing the big reveal, it all seems kind of pointless. So what, society is being force fed something terrible by their government? What do you think big government will lead to?

In a nutshell, this is well acted and it is shot beautifully with some solid cinematography but it doesn’t bring much of anything worthwhile to the dystopian subgenre of sci-fi other than a big gross out reveal at the end. I’m not sure how the film compares to the novel but I hope that the book had more to offer for its readers.

Granted, I do like the metaphorical ending of Robinon’s character’s life in the movie but I wouldn’t call that an intentional artistic choice. The filmmakers probably didn’t know the guy would actually die before the film’s release. In fact, it’s been said on record that Robinson knew he was terminally ill but that the filmmakers did not. He died twelve days after the film wrapped.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The Ωmega Man, Logan’s Run, Westworld and other ’70s science fiction.

Film Review: Alligator II: The Mutation (1991)

Also known as: Alligator 2 (UK video title)
Release Date: March 28th, 1991
Directed by: Jon Hess
Written by: Curt Allen
Music by: Jack K. Tillar
Cast: Joseph Bologna, Woody Brown, Harlan Arnold, Nicolas Cowan, Brock Peters, Dee Wallace, Carmen Filpi, Voyo Goric

Golden Hawk Entertainment, 92 Minutes

Review:

“It was about the size of an Eldorado.” – J.J. Hodges

Man, did this film miss the fucking mark.

How hard is it to make a movie about a killer alligator? Also, by 1991, there were enough killer animal movies to look at and see what works and what doesn’t. Frankly, nothing in this film works. Hell, I don’t even think the actors were working.

The film stars Joseph Bologna, who should have changed his stage name to Joey Bologney. We also get to see Brock Peters in this, who I always enjoyed in Star Trek films, but here he looks like he misses his Starfleet friends. Horror queen Dee Wallace is also in the picture but I think she was just scooping up paychecks by this point. Although, in all seriousness, it is always a delight to see Dee Wallace because she can brighten up the worst movies.

The first Alligator was a badass, fun, killer animal movie. It had great moments with the gator going banana sandwich on people too dumb or too slow to get out of its way. There are so many cool scenes in the original film that one would think that a sequel would try to top them all. But this dud of a motion picture fails… miserably.

Nothing exciting happens over the course of this entire film. Even the gator effects are shit and pale in comparison to some of the coolest gator spots from the previous outing.

I was bored watching this and to be honest, I had some high hopes for it, as I enjoy the first flick and I vaguely remembered enjoying this one as a kid. But maybe I only saw the first one and thought that I saw both of these.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: I guess, Alligator but by comparison it makes that movie look like Jaws.

Film Review: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Release Date: December 6th, 1991
Directed by: Nicholas Meyer
Written by: Nicholas Meyer, Denny Martin Flinn, Leonard Nimoy, Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Kim Cattrall, David Warner, Christopher Plummer, Iman, Brock Peters, Kurtwood Smith, Mark Lenard, Grace Lee Whitney, John Schuck, Rosanna DeSoto, Christian Slater, Michael Dorn, Todd Bryant, René Auberjonois

Paramount Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Captain’s log, stardate 9522.6: I’ve never trusted Klingons, and I never will. I could never forgive them for the death of my boy. It seems to me our mission to escort the Chancellor of the Klingon High Council to a peace summit is problematic at best. Spock says this could be an historic occasion, and I’d like to believe him, but how on earth can history get past people like me?” – Captain James T. Kirk

Something has to be said for the quality that Nicholas Meyer brings to a Star Trek movie, whether as a director or a writer. He directed two of the very best films with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and this one. He also was involved in the writing of my personal favorite film in the franchise, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

While most fans consider The Wrath of Khan to be the very best, this chapter in the franchise is equal to it. Again, I like The Voyage Home the best overall but Khan and this film are very, very close seconds.

Where Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was almost the death of the franchise on the big screen, this was a breath of fresh air and a proper swan song for the original Enterprise crew, as it was the last time they would all be together. It also sort of closes a major chapter in Trek lore, as the Federation and the Klingons, after decades of conflict, agree to try their hand at peace.

It is that attempt at making peace between the two governments that brings out the worst in some of the characters in this film. People on both sides of the coin don’t want to trust each other and some of them conspire to kill the opportunity for peace. In fact, this is more of a political thriller and a conspiracy movie than just some fantastical sci-fi adventure.

Following a diplomatic dinner between the Enterprise crew and the Klingon Chancellor, the Klingon ship is attacked and the Chancellor assassinated. Everything is set up to look like Captain Kirk orchestrated the attack. As he and McCoy are framed for the assassination, they are sentenced to hard labor on a Klingon prison planet. All the while, Spock heads up an investigation on the Enterprise itself, in an effort to solve this mystery, save his friends and to win the trust of the Klingon Empire and bring forth much needed peace.

The Undiscovered Country isn’t just a great Star Trek movie, it is a great political thriller. It feels real and gritty, even if it takes place in outer space of the future. The experience of the cast really shines through here. Spock takes charge of things on the Enterprise and its really the first and only time we see him truly step into the role of leader. Nimoy knocks it out of the park and his chemistry with the other Vulcan on board, played by Kim Cattrall, was incredible.

We also get to see Sulu as a star ship captain and not only that, he is the captain of the Excelsior, a ship he greatly admired in Star Trek III and Star Trek IV. Seeing Sulu get his moment to shine in the captain’s chair was fantastic for those of us who have been fans of this series for decades.

Another highlight was Christopher Plummer as the Klingon villain General Chang. Plummer is the greatest villain in the film series after Khan from Star Trek II. While I loved Christopher Lloyd’s Kruge in Star Trek III, Chang is the best Klingon commander in the franchise. He’s a character I’d love to read more about, assuming he’s got a novel out there.

The Undiscovered Country is Star Trek at its best. It stands well above any of the modern films, as well as The Next Generation movies that would follow for a dozen years after it.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Star Trek‘s IIIII and IV.

Film Review: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Also known as: Star Trek IV: The Adventure Continues (working title)
Release Date: November 26th, 1986
Directed by: Leonard Nimoy
Written by: Harve Bennett, Leonard Nimoy, Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, Nicholas Meyer
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Catherine Hicks, Majel Barrett, John Schuck, Brock Peters, Grace Lee Whitney, Michael Berryman, Jane Wiedlin (cameo)

Paramount Pictures, 122 Minutes

Review:

“They like you very much, but they are not the hell your whales.” – Spock, “I suppose they told you that?” – Dr. Gillian Taylor, “The hell they did.” – Spock

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was the perfect film to follow the emotional roller coasters that were Star Trek II and Star Trek III. It was lighthearted, a ton of fun and I guess, the first and only Star Trek comedy film. However, it is still grounded in its roots and the comedy is mostly because of the crew we know and love finding themselves having to adapt to 1987 San Francisco culture in an effort to blend in and accomplish their time traveling mission. It’s actually cool seeing all these confident, savvy crew members, who are always at the top of their game, suddenly being awkward fish out of water in every situation they encounter.

This is also the third and final part of the trilogy of pictures that I like to refer to as The Genesis Trilogy. They aren’t officially a trilogy but all three films share a common plot thread and happen literally one after the other.

Like the previous film, this one is directed by Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy. This is also a superior film to the previous installment, even though I like Star Trek III a great deal. I feel like Nimoy really learned a lot on Trek III and took the lessons of that experience, better honed his skills and turned out this science fiction masterpiece.

Unlike the directing situation, the film’s music was created by newcomer to the series, Leonard Rosenman. While I much prefer the James Horner scores of TrekII and III, Rosenman created a bold and beautiful theme for the picture and it is still one of my favorite pieces of film music from the era. The overall score is fairly redundant, especially if you’ve watched the movie nine dozen times like I have, but it works well and captures the right kind of emotion for this picture.

The writing on this was absolutely fantastic. It had to have been a fun project to work on, as the Trek writers got to explore new territory in a new way. It was probably a nerve-racking task, to some degree, as there was really no way to know whether or not the fans were going to take to this drastic change in tone. However, in the end, Star Trek IV is a defining milestone in the franchise and also changed how future Star Trek stories were written. Humor became much more apparent in the television series that followed this film. The Next Generation, which came out a year later, was full of humor and fun adventures that took its crew out of their comfort zones. I don’t think that show or anything after it would have existed in quite the same way if it weren’t for Star Trek IV. Also, had the film not been a huge success, we might not have had new Star Trek projects for later generations.

The thing I love most about this movie, is every character has a purpose and their own mission to accomplish. We get Kirk and Spock on a mission, Bones and Scotty on another one, Uhura and Chekov go their own way and Sulu gets to fly an old school helicopter. The Bones and Scotty material is comedic gold, as is Chekov asking where to find the “nuu… clee… ar… wessels”.

A real highlight though, is Catherine Hicks joining the cast in this film. Her chemistry with Shatner, who she shares almost all of her scenes with, is great. I love the restaurant scene between the two where Kirk reveals who he is, where he’s from and why he’s there. It’s kind of a shame that we never got to see Hicks return after this film, as I feel like she had a lot to offer the franchise beyond just this one appearance. Plus, she was incredibly likable and witty.

When I was a kid and I had a bad day, I gravitated towards this movie. It was the right mixture of badass sci-fi and wholesome humor. It always sort of put me in the mood I wanted to be in. It still works the same way for me and honestly, this is the Star Trek movie I have seen the most. I’ve owned them all, pretty much my whole life, but this is the one that just resonates with me more than any other.

While most people will see this now and probably find flaws and be able to pick it apart, it has always been a film that is a true classic, in my eyes. It has just about everything I want: action, adventure, humor, William f’n Shatner, a Klingon Bird-of-Prey, a good environmental message, camaraderie between beloved characters, a deep dish pizza, outer space, a powerful score, good special effects and redemption for the crew.

I don’t care what anyone else thinks; this movie is absolutely perfect.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: The other Genesis Trilogy films: Star Trek II and III. Also goes good followed up with Star Trek VI. Maybe it’s best to ignore Star Trek V.

Film Review: SST Death Flight (1977)

Release Date: February 25th, 1977
Directed by: David Lowell Rich
Written by: Robert L. Joseph, Meyer Dolinsky, Guerdon Trueblood
Music by: John Cacavas
Cast: Lorne Greene, Peter Graves, Susan Strasberg, Doug McClure, Barbara Anderson, Bert Convy, Burgess Meredith, Tina Louise, Robert Reed, Billy Crystal, John de Lancie, Brock Peters, Regis Philbin

ABC Circle Films, American Broadcasting Company, 89 Minutes

sst-death-flightReview:

In the 1970s, America loved its disaster movies. They also loved TV movies with big ensemble casts made up of the stars from various television shows. So green lighting SST Death Flight was a no brainer, right?

A lot of the disaster films of that era didn’t hold up well at all. Now I am not sure what people thought about SST Death Flight when it aired on ABC in early 1977 but it is a friggin’ turd.

I almost feel bad for most of the cast that is in this. Burgess Meredith deserves better and Lorne Greene has done his fair share of cheese but both men are pretty accomplished and respected and have a certain gravitas that puts them above a picture like this. I can’t fault Billy Crystal, he’s pretty damn young here and was looking for that big break.

70s celebrities seemed to love being in these big disaster ensembles though, and to be honest, despite the movie being terrible, it was probably a hell of a lot of fun to make and to hang out on the set with a bunch of really cool colleagues. I wouldn’t have said “no” to it, if I was in the same position.

SST Death Flight is unexciting, uninteresting and is just a cookie cutter plane in danger picture. This formula has been done to death and this movie offers nothing really new or captivating. In fact, it plays like more of a parody but without the clever jokes.

Ultimately, a bunch of people die, some survive but no one really cares. It has the most predictable scenario, with the most predictable twists and turns all leading to the most predictable ending.

But you can watch it get riffed in the first pre-cable era season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. That version is currently streaming on YouTube.

Rating: 2/10