Film Review: THX 1138 – Director’s Cut (1971)

Also known as: THX-1138 (alternative spelling)
Release Date: March 11th, 1971
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: George Lucas, Walter Murch
Based on: Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB by George Lucas
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Don Pedro Colley, Maggie McOmie, Ian Wolfe, Sid Haig

American Zoetrope, Warner Bros., 86 Minutes, 88 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 81 Minutes (1971 Studio Theatrical Cut)

Review:

“Let us be thankful we have commerce. Buy more. Buy more now. Buy. And be happy.” – OMM

I had to review the Director’s Cut edition of THX 1138, which is unfortunately the only version the world has access to anymore. It’s similar to the original Star Wars trilogy after George Lucas altered those films. Frankly, I’d rather see and review this film in its original form but I don’t have this on a VHS tape from the ’80s or a working VCR.

For the most part, this film isn’t altered too greatly and the bits that have been updated are obvious due to them employing modern CGI, which sticks out like a sore thumb. But I can’t really examine the skill of George Lucas’ special effects prowess because those things have been wiped clean and replaced with modern tweaks.

Anyway, this is obviously inspired by some of the most famous dystopian novels and motion picture adaptations. However, even if it dips into Brave New World, 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, it still has it’s own identity and look. Frankly, despite heavy narrative similarities to what it was inspired by, this is still a unique and really cool film.

Being George Lucas’ first feature length movie, it’s damn impressive. This is also why I’d rather see it in its original form and not altered for modern eyes.

The film also benefits from the performances by its core cast members. While Robert Duvall is stellar in this, he’s backed up by Maggie McOmie’s memorable performance, as well as the always enjoyable Donald Pleasence.

Additionally, it’s impressive how much Lucas was able to achieve with so little. The sets are very minimalistic but nothing about this picture feels cheap. The world feels real, authentic and lived in, even with its generic, sterile, hospital hallways looking appearance.

I like this motion picture quite a bit and I always have. Seeing it in HD is pretty glorious but I still wish I had the ability to see it as it was original seen.

Lastly, this film features one of the coolest cars in motion picture history, which is featured in the big chase scene at the film’s climax.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other dystopian science fiction films of the late ’60s through the ’80s.

Film Review: The Godfather, Part III (1990)

Also known as: The Death of Michael Corleone (working title)
Release Date: December 20th, 1990 (Beverly Hills premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Music by: Carmine Coppola
Cast: Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Andy Garcia, Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna, Bridget Fonda, George Hamilton, Sofia Coppola, Raf Vallone, Franc D’Ambrosio, Donal Donnelly, Richard Bright

Zoetrope Studios, Paramount Pictures, 162 Minutes, 170 Minutes (VHS Special Edition)

Review:

“I, uh, betrayed my wife. I betrayed myself. I’ve killed men, and I ordered men to be killed. No, it’s useless. I killed… I ordered the death of my brother; he injured me. I killed my mother’s son. I killed my father’s son.” – Michael Corleone

Godfather, Part III gets a lot of shit from just about everybody but I think the general hatred for it is asinine and people dismissing it mainly do so because it doesn’t live up to the bar set by the two films before it. That doesn’t make it a bad movie on its own, though. And honestly, if you look at it, as its own body of work, it’s a pretty compelling and interesting picture.

I like that it takes place at the end of Michael Corleone’s life and it shows how much power he’s amassed for the family, decades after the first two films.

Michael also tries to sort of legitimize everything and wash the blood off of his hands from the past. You also see how certain decisions he’s made have haunted him, such as killing his brother Fredo. However, it’s hard to change one’s nature and its influence and as much as Michael struggles to make things right, old habits die hard and the family finds itself in another war.

This time, the Corleone Family is so powerful that they have a scheme going with powerful people within The Vatican. I don’t want to spoil too much about the plot details but all of this I found really damn interesting. Even if you don’t agree with Michael’s methods, it’s hard not to respect what he’s accomplished with what he convinces himself are noble intentions.

I love that the movie takes this guy, at the end of his life, and exposes his flaws, his doubts and explores how haunted he is and how it’s changed him while still keeping him cold, callous and calculated. It’s a damn masterpiece in how this film showcases his inner conflict and both sides of his character. This is a testament to how good Al Pacino is as an actor, as well as how great of a writer Mario Puzo was and how well Francis Ford Coppola understands these characters.

Additionally, the relationship with Michael and his children has a massive impact on his evolution. I think that Coppola, also coming from a large, close Italian family understood these dynamics quite well and was able to pull from his own experiences as a father and make them fit for the Corleones and their unique situation.

Everything between the core characters’ relationships felt genuine and real. You could sense the pain and the regret between Michael and his ex-wife, Kay. You felt the tension between father and son, as wells as the love between father and daughter. Frankly, with this being as strong as it was, it made the final moments of the picture truly gut-wrenching.

Now I can’t call this movie perfect, as the criticisms of Sofia Coppola’s performance over the years are pretty accurate. Well, the real criticism, not the cruel criticism from those that hate the movie just to hate it. Originally, this role was meant for Winona Ryder but she dropped out of the film and I think that it suffered quite a bit because of this.

Also, the pacing is a bit slow at times and even though this is the shortest of the three Godfather films, it feels like it’s actually the longest.

Other than those two things, I don’t really see any other negatives.

Coppola’s direction is stellar and his eye for visual perfection is uncanny. Cinematographically, this is one of his best films. Everything and I mean everything looks absolutely majestic and flawless. This is a beautiful film from the opening frame to the last and there isn’t a moment that isn’t visually breathtaking.

The score by Carmine Coppola is also superb but then, so is all the film’s music from the party scenes to the big opera house finale.

As I stated in my first paragraph, I don’t get the amount of shit that this picture receives from fans of the series. It’s a damn fine film with minimal flaws and it gives a satisfying ending to a massive family saga. It’s like the third act to a Shakespearean tragedy and when you look at the whole body of work, over the course of three great movies, it’s a tale worthy of rivaling some of literature’s greatest epics.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: its predecessors.

Film Review: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Also known as: D (working title)
Release Date: November 10th, 1992 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: James V. Hart
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: Wojciech Kilar
Cast: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Anthony Hopkins, Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell, Sadie Frost, Tom Waits, Monica Bellucci, Jay Robinson

Osiris Films, American Zoetrope, Columbia Pictures, 128 Minutes, 155 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“Do you believe in destiny? That even the powers of time can be altered for a single purpose? That the luckiest man who walks on this earth is the one who finds… true love?” – Dracula

While I was never a massive fan of this Dracula adaptation, which I will get into, I’ve still always enjoyed it. It’s generally well acted and it looks incredible. I also have to say that it’s stood the test of time, as it doesn’t feel as dated as I thought it would and because many people still talk about it and refer to it as one of their favorite vampire films of all-time.

I think that Francis Ford Coppola did a good job in giving the famous novel some new life and helped to inject vampire movies back into the mainstream consciousness. However, it does fall short of the great 1994 Interview With A Vampire adaptation, as well as some of the other Dracula movies of the past.

This tossed away certain tropes, as Dracula no longer takes on the visual style of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and instead, was reworked with inspiration taken from Catholicism. The hair is different, the costume is different and its sort of refreshing, allowing this movie to actually break the mold and exist as its own thing, as opposed to just another rehash of what Dracula movies had been for sixty years.

The film also uses characters from the book, who were mostly ignored in the countless other adaptations. In a lot of ways, this is very accurate to Stoker’s original work. However, it also has some major differences, which makes it more of Coppola’s Dracula than Stoker’s Dracula.

The biggest of these changes is Dracula’s origin, which now connects him to Vlad the Impaler, a historical ruler of Romania, who fought off and conquered the Turks. Additionally, we see how he becomes a vampire, where the original novel didn’t really answer that question.

Beyond that, this is much more about romance, as Mina has an attraction to Dracula and he allows her to choose him. In the novel, Dracula didn’t care about love and his goal was to move to England and drain it of blood. That being said, I do like this modification that Coppola made and it gives the story more nuance, context and purpose. Plus, these moments between Dracula and Mina were beautifully shot and well acted.

My biggest gripe with the film, which sucks to admit, was that Keanu Reeves was out of his depth. I know that it is popular to criticize his performance in this film but those criticisms aren’t wrong. His British accent is somehow off, feeling forced and unnatural. Also, every time he shares the screen with Gary Oldman, he is outshined by a very wide margin. I guess Christian Slater was originally cast as Jonathan Harker and man, what a different and probably much better movie this could have been, especially when considering Slater and Winona Ryder’s chemistry in Heathers.

A strong positive for me, is that Coppola insisted on using old school effects techniques, as opposed to relying on newly developing CGI technology. The effects shots are really neat and give them film a sort of authenticity that CGI just can’t replicate, even now, nearly thirty years later.

The practical monster effects, the costumes, the hair, the makeup, all of that stuff is phenomenal and it has all held up so well.

I also like that this wasn’t filmed on location and that Coppola did just about everything indoors on massive soundstages. It gives the film a great, classically cinematic look and it reminds me of Hammer’s vampire films, as well as the old Universal Monsters pictures.

Lastly, the score is fucking perfection. Wojciech Kilar created one of the most iconic horror scores of all-time. The main theme of the film is even better, as it has become just as iconic as this film, if not, more so. I wish Kilar did more American movies over the course of his career but between this and his score from The Ninth Gate, he’s one of my favorite composers that I discovered in the ’90s.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a better film than I remembered it being. I still can’t say that it’s on my Mount Rushmore of Dracula adaptations but it’s one of the most unique and coolest versions of the story.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Interview With A Vampire, as well as other vampire films from the late ’80s through mid-’90s.

Film Review: Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Release Date: November 17th, 1999 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker, Kevin Yagher
Based on: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones, Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths, Ian McDiarmid, Michael Gough, Marc Pickering, Christopher Walken, Ray Park, Lisa Marie, Peter Guinness, Martin Landau (uncredited)

Mandalay Pictures, American Zoetrope, Paramount Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“Villainy wears many masks, none so dangerous as the mask of virtue.” – Ichabod Crane

This is one of my favorite Tim Burton movies and every time I watch it, it just makes me wish that he did more straight up fantasy horror films.

This is Burton’s take on the famous story by Washington Irving but it takes the Sleepy Hollow legend and makes it a lot darker and more badass than other adaptations. For many, the classic Disney animated version is probably the one they’re most familiar with. This Sleepy Hollow is very different.

I love that this is gothic horror at its core and you can see the influences of Hammer Films, as well as those Edgar Allan Poe movies with Vincent Price. In fact, Burton does more than homage Hammer, here, as he also includes some Hammer legends in the film: Michael Gough and Christopher Lee, to be specific.

This also features Ian McDiarmid and a visually obscured Ray Park, making it the only movie to feature Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and Darth Maul: Star Wars can’t even claim that.

Anyway, the film is led by Johnny Depp and I love him in this. He plays a sort of whimsical, awkward character and his version of Ichabod Crane shows early signs of what Depp would later create as his most famous character, Captain Jack Sparrow.

I love the humor in this movie and I don’t think that it would’ve worked quite the same way without Depp. Here we have a great investigator that has to get down and dirty… and often times bloody. The humorous bit is that he’s a germaphobe and winces every time he has to do something unsettling or gross. It’s a reoccurring gag throughout the film but it works every time and it isn’t overused.

Depp also has Christina Ricci to play off of and I always like when these two are together. I honestly wish that they worked together more often, as they have real chemistry and always tend to accentuate each other’s performance.

The rest of the cast is padded out with some immense talent between Christopher Walken, Michael Gambon, Miranda Richardson, Martin Landau, Jeffrey Jones, Richard Griffiths, Lisa Marie and Casper Van Dien, who had just come off of the cult classic Starship Troopers.

I enjoy the look and tone of the film and my only real complaint about it is that it seems a bit too drawn out. The story is too complex and should have been refined and tweaked to bring the film down to around 90 minutes. It doesn’t really need more than that but at the same time it could’ve also used a bit more head chopping and action.

Apart from that, the only other negative is that the CGI looks cheesy in two parts but both of those moments happen really quick and it doesn’t wreck the film. I just found it a little bit jarring in those split seconds and it does pull you out of this period piece setting.

In the end, this is still pretty solid and it’s one of the highpoints of ’90s horror, as the decade came to a close and gave us a new millennium full of subpar, mostly shitty horror.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other gothic horror films around 2000, as well as other Tim Burton films with Johnny Depp.

Film Review: Dementia 13 (1963)

Also known as: The Haunted and the Hunted (UK alternative title), Dementia (working title)
Release Date: August, 1963 (Indianapolis premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Francis Ford Coppola
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: William Campbell, Luana Anders, Bart Patton, Mary Mitchell, Patrick Magee, Eithne Dunne

Roger Corman Productions, The Filmgroup, American International Pictures, 75 Minutes

Review:

“It’s nice to see her enjoying herself for a change. The mood around this place isn’t good for her…. Especially an American girl. You can tell she’s been raised on promises.” – Louise Haloran

Dementia 13 is the first film that Francis Ford Coppola directed that wasn’t a nudie cutie. It was also produced by Roger Corman, after Coppola had worked on Corman’s The Young Racers. With leftover funds and some of the same actors and being in the same country, Corman intended to shoot another quick low budget flick but he ended up giving the reigns to Coppola with the request being that he make something Psycho-like and it had to be done cheaply.

Coppola wrote a brief draft of the story in one night and gave it to Corman while also describing the most vividly detailed sequence. This impressed Corman and he gave Coppola the remaining $22,000. Coppola also raised some extra funds himself by pre-selling the European rights to the film without telling Corman.

Ultimately, Coppola’s antics didn’t really strain the relationship between he and Corman and the film has gone on to be somewhat of a cult classic. It’s hard to say whether or not it would’ve reached that status without being Coppola’s first legitimate movie but nonetheless, it’s definitely earned its money back more than tenfold over the years.

Overall, it’s not a great film and the story is kind of meh but I do enjoy the performances of Patrick Magee, a long-time favorite of mine, as well as William Campbell and Luana Anders.

Additionally, the film does create a solid, creepy vibe that has held up well.

For the most part, it is competently shot and Coppola showed great promise and a great eye with his work, here.

I think that the plot could’ve been better if there was more time to write it and refine it but Corman productions rarely had that luxury and these things were just pumped out on the cheap with the crew immediately having to move on to the next picture.

All things considered, this is still better than it should have been and Coppola did make chicken salad out of chicken shit. While it’s not the best chicken salad, it is certainly palatable and mostly satisfying with enough sustenance to get you by for the time being.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other horror films of the 1960s, as well as other very early Francis Ford Coppola movies.

Vids I Dig 112: Defunctland: The History of ‘Captain EO’

From Defunctland’s YouTube description: Defunctland takes on the troubled 4D, sci-fi, Disney, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Michael Jackson, and Michael Eisner film, Captian EO.

Documentary Review: Spielberg (2017)

Release Date: October 5th, 2017 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Susan Lacy
Cast: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Richard Dreyfuss, John Williams, J.J. Abrams, James Brolin, Bob Balaban, Tom Hanks, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford, Oprah Winfrey, Frank Marshall, Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Robert Zemeckis, Cate Blanchett, Holly Hunter, Dustin Hoffman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tom Cruise, Eric Bana, Daniel Craig

HBO Documentary Films, Pentimento Productions, 147 Minutes

Review:

This was a pretty stellar documentary for fans of not just Steven Spielberg but filmmaking and film history in general.

It reminded me a lot of the 2001 documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures, in that this spent a lot of time breaking down most of the key movies in Spielberg’s oeuvre.

Every segment here was rich, detailed and featured interviews with some major directors, actors and producers. But the film also gets into Spielberg’s personal life and how real life experiences influenced his movies.

This was a lengthy documentary, just as the Kubrick one was and rightfully so. In fact, this could have been the length of a ten part, two hour apiece Ken Burns documentary and I still would have been fully engaged.

Spielberg’s career has been long and full of at least a dozen classic films that will be remembered forever. Each segment could’ve been it’s own documentary film and it actually kind of sucks that a few films were mentioned but not given as much detail, most notably A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, the Jurassic Park sequels and some of his production work like Back to the Future.

Still, this is pretty thorough and there is so much to unpack and take away from this. It is one of the best documentaries on a filmmaker’s life and career.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on specific directors but this reminded me a lot of Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures.

Film Review: Captain EO (1986)

Also known as: Captain EO and the Space Knights (working title)
Release Date: September 12th, 1986 (Walt Disney World – Epcot Center, Florida)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: George Lucas, Rusty Lemorande, Francis Ford Coppola
Music by: James Horner, Michael Jackson
Cast: Michael Jackson, Anjelica Huston, Dick Shawn, Tony Cox, Debbie Lee Carrington, Cindy Sorenson, Gary DePew

Three D D D Productions, Eastman Kodak Company, Lucasfilm, Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 17 Minutes

Review:

“Now listen, the command considers us a bunch of losers, but we’re gonna do it right this time because we’re the best. If not, we’ll be drummed out of the corps.” – Captain EO

Captain EO is a pretty bizarre short film but it wasn’t made to be viewed in a traditional sense or to even have a traditional narrative. It was made to be an attraction at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Being an attraction it had to be short enough to keep the asses moving in and out of seats.

It was also made to be 3D. While that was hardly a new concept in 1986, it was a concept that had sort of faded away and was somewhat new to a generation of ’80s kids that weren’t old enough to go to the theater to see things like Friday the 13th, Part III in 3D.

However, this was actually promoted as being the first film in “4D”, as it used special effects, lighting, smoke and lasers within the physical theater to enhance the overall viewing experience in the theme park.

The film does start out like a fantasy sci-fi space opera but quickly evolves into an extended music video for the Michael Jackson song “We Are Here to Change the World”. It also ends on another, more famous Jackson tune “Another Part of Me”.

Now this came out when Michael Jackson was literally the biggest thing in the world, so a partnership with Disney was huge in 1986. Add in the fact that this film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, written by George Lucas, whose Lucasfilm provided the effects, had costumes designed by the team behind Cats and had it’s makeup overseen by the legendary Rick Baker, this project was a pretty big f’n deal.

Also, James Horner, just coming off of his success with Star Trek II and III, provided the orchestral score for the film.

Production was a bit of a clusterfuck and the process took a lot of time with several different groups trying to fix some of the film’s issues but on screen, most of it came off well.

The narrative is pretty incomprehensible and you have to severely suspend disbelief when Captain EO uses dancing and singing to turn an evil space queen and her minions into nice people but when I was a kid, I totally bought into it and it worked. Seeing this again, as an adult, it’s a pretty wonky and strange narrative but I can’t deny the commanding presence that Michael Jackson has on screen. It’s not too dissimilar from his music video for “Thriller”.

Captain EO is a unique experience. It might not be a great one but it’s certainly interesting enough to sit through for just 17 minutes.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and lengthier music videos like Thriller and Ghosts.

Ranking the Films of Francis Ford Coppola

*Written in 2014.

It has been a while since I’ve ranked a director’s films. In this edition, I tackle Francis Ford Coppola.

Coppola is a man that has made some of the best films of all-time, given birth to another accomplished filmmaker and created some fine tasting wines. He was also good friends with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and all three helped launch each other’s careers.

Here I rank the films that Francis Ford Coppola directed:

1. Apocalypse Now
2. The Godfather, Part II
3. The Godfather
4. The Outsiders
5. Bram Stoker’s Dracula
6. Rumble Fish
7. The Rain People
8. The Conversation
9. Gardens of Stone
10. The Cotton Club
11. The Rainmaker
12. Dementia 13
13. Tetro
14. Jack
15. Tucker: The Man and His Dream
16. The Godfather, Part III
17. Youth Without Youth
18. New York Stories
19. Peggy Sue Got Married
20. Twixt
21. You’re A Big Boy Now
22. Finian’s Rainbow
23. One From the Heart
24. The Bellboy and the Playgirls
25. Tonight for Sure

Film Review: Tonight For Sure! (1962)

Also known as: Meet Me Tonight for Sure
Release Date: October 25th, 1962 (Los Angeles)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Francis Ford Coppola, Jerry Shaffer
Music by: Carmine Coppola
Cast: Don Kenney, Karl Schanzer

Searchlight Productions, Premier Pictures, 69 Minutes

Review:

“The Harem Club, home of the most beautiful girls in burlesque presents: The most beautiful girls in burlesque!” – Announcer

Every director has to start somewhere and for legendary auteur Francis Ford Coppola, this was his directorial debut. There is nothing to be ashamed of about this, however. It really just sort of fits in with the nudie cuties of the time – none of which are good movies.

Yes, this is an awful film but it is basically a softcore sex picture without any sex, really. It just follows two guys around doing dumb shit and then is constantly interrupted to show a girl shaking her juggies for no real reason other than people wanted to see bare boobies on the big screen after the motion picture industry wasn’t forced to adhere to outdated government mandated morality codes. Film was now free to be art and sexploitation pictures flourished.

To be honest, Coppola didn’t show any real signs of his talent with this movie. He hadn’t fully been exposed to the tutelage he’d get from B-movie King Roger Corman. Regardless, this still helped him develop the tools and skill set that would lead to his magnum opus The Godfather, just ten years later.

The cinematography on this film was handled by Jack Hill, a man that would go on to direct several pivotal exploitation films. His directorial work includes the Pam Grier movies Coffy and Foxy Brown, as well as a personal favorite of mine, Switchblade Sisters.

Compared to other nudie cuties, this one is pretty standard. Now while I don’t enjoy it as much as Ed Wood’s Orgy of the Dead, it still fits well within this bizarre and short lived genre. Also, it was a launching pad for one of the best directors of the last half century.

For this being what it is, even with such a low rating, I can’t run it through the Cinespiria Shitometer. It works for its genre, which was a genre not known for its quality. Plus, presenting a cornucopia of fabulous titties gets you off the hook.

Rating: 2/10