Film Review: The Black Hole (1979)

Also known as: Space Station One, Space Probe (working titles)
Release Date: December 18th, 1979 (London premiere)
Directed by: Gary Nelson
Written by: Gerry Day, Jeb Rosebrook, Bob Barbash, Richard Landau
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Robert Forster, Joseph Bottoms, Yvette Mimieux, Ernest Borgnine, Roddy McDowall (voice – uncredited), Slim Pickens (voice – uncredited), Tom McLoughlin

Walt Disney Productions, Buena Vista Distribution, 98 Minutes

Review:

“[to Reinhardt] If there’s any justice at all, the black hole will be your grave!” – Kate McCrae

I love science fiction from this era but that’s also probably because it’s the sci-fi I grew up with in the ’80s.

The Black Hole was always one of my favorite films when I was really young and I wore out the VHS tape in the same way I did TRON, The Last Starfighter, Logan’s Run and the original Star Wars trilogy.

This is just incredibly imaginative, a ton of fun and it channels 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea quite well.

The film is about a small crew in a small vessel that come across a seemingly derelict spaceship of massive size. The ship, the Cygnus, sits at the edge of a black hole. However, the small crew soon discover that the ship is inhabited by a scientist named Reinhardt, who is essentially Captain Nemo in space. And with Maximilian Schell playing the role, he comes across with the same sort of eloquent authority as James Mason’s Nemo from Disney’s 20,000 Leagues.

The rest of the cast is also solid, especially the three male character actors: Robert Forster, Anthony Perkins and Ernest Borgnine. Not to mention the sweet and lovely Yvette Mimieux and the uncredited voice performances by Roddy McDowell and Slim Pickens, who play the two good robots.

As the story rolls on, we discover Reinhardt’s sinister plan, meet his robot army and also discover that many of his robot crew are the deceased, zombie-like crew members that have been modified by Reinhardt to serve his nefarious purposes and fulfill what he sees as his destiny: entering the black hole.

Even though this came out two years after the original Star Wars, the film shows what almost all other sci-fi films of the time show, that big studios hadn’t yet caught up to the artistry and special effects mastery of George Lucas and Lucasfilm. But that’s okay, as late ’70s into early ’80s science fiction almost has its own unique style apart from Star Wars.

The Black Hole is visually similar to films like Logan’s Run and Saturn 3, as well as shows like the original Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers In the 25th Century. However, The Black Hole feels more fantastical and looks better than those other properties.

It is both dark and bright, it uses a lot of color in almost a vivid and vibrant giallo style while employing shadows, high contrast and the use of electronic starship instruments to accent the general cinematography. The film also does a fine job of creating an environment that feels as cold as space, despite its liveliness.

The one thing that really works in this film, above all else, is the musical score. This is my favorite soundtrack that John Barry has composed outside of his more famous James Bond work. The opening overture followed by the opening credits and title theme are stupendous and set the stage for something sinister, brooding and cool.

By the end, the movie gets really bizarre and kind of channels Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. But the score is really the glue that holds all the pieces together, allowing you to embrace this unique and neat motion picture.

They don’t make films like this anymore. And I don’t mean that in regards to the visual style and the dated effects. What I mean is in the way this tells a compelling story with a good adventure, some real darkness and a sort of coolness that Hollywood has lost.

I love The Black Hole because it really is cinematic magic. Modern audiences would probably disagree and think of it as a relic of the past that should probably be remade as a Disney+ exclusive movie starring Charlie Hunnam. But those people are dumb. Well, Disney has become dumb too, so this may happen.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other late ’70s and early ’80s sci-fi.

Film Review: Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Release Date: May 25th, 1969 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: John Schlesinger
Written by: Waldo Salt
Based on: Midnight Cowboy by James Leo Herlihy
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Sylvia Miles, Brenda Vaccaro, Jennifer Salt, Bob Balaban

Jerome Hellman Productions, United Artists, 113 Minutes

Review:

“I like the way I look. Makes me feel good, it does. And women like me, goddammit. Hell, the only one thing I ever been good for is lovin’. Women go crazy for me, that’s a really true fact! Ratso, hell! Crazy Annie they had to send her away!” – Joe Buck, “Then, how come you ain’t scored once the whole time you been in New York?” – Ratso Rizzo

I’ve seen this movie three times now and I’ve always loved it. But it’s that type of film that drains on the soul and frankly, I can only watch it about once per decade, as it just weighs on me for days after seeing it.

It’s absolutely depressing and its hard to peg what it is about the film that makes it so endearing but I have to give all the credit to the two leads: Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight. In fact, the men are great actors and both have done several great motion pictures but this may be the best performances that both men have ever given.

What’s amazing about the film is that both characters are pretty despicable people but you end up caring for them, pretty deeply. The film does humanize them and gives you their backstories, which show you why they are the way they are. However, by the end, Voight’s Joe Buck has probably killed a man and is on the run, even if he planned to leave New York City anyway. But you still feel for him because even though he’s done dark shit, he’s a stupid person that pretty much has the mind of a child. He tries to take life head on but continually gets his ass kicked by his own ignorance and inability to comprehend the depth of the water he keeps diving into.

As for Hoffman’s Rizzo, he’s a conman, he takes advantage of people but when you see into his world and into his past, you hurt for him. The fact that he’s sick and degenerates over the course of the story becomes a hard pill to swallow and you want him, despite all of his flaws, to find the peace he needs. The scene where he falls down the stairs and then has to walk himself home, alone and in the cold, is pretty damn heart-wrenching.

I think that the direction and cinematography greatly enhance the film. This is a fluid movie with a lot of motion, matching the quick moving world of New York City. But it doesn’t shy away from the gritty reality of New York and the dark lives these men lead. Frankly, the film doesn’t sell you a Hollywood fantasy about New York City, it shoves its harshness down your throat and force feeds it to you from the moment Joe Buck arrives in town until the moment where he and Rizzo get on the bus to Miami.

Interestingly, this motion picture was rated X. That’s not a rating that really has any meaning in modern times but for the late ’60s, this was controversial for its harshness but also because it examined sexuality in ways that were pretty taboo and uncomfortable for the general public. It’s one of the earliest films that specifically deals with a protagonist trying to figure out whether he’s gay or not. I can’t think of anything that is this open about it that came out earlier but if such a film exists, please let me know in the comments.

The sexual exploration and Joe’s uncertainty over who he is, is the driving force behind his development throughout the movie. He’s lost, confused, wants to know himself and find his place in the world but the reality of his emotions and what does or doesn’t arouse him is a hard pill for him to swallow. And this just shows how difficult these things were for people in 1969. It’s clear that Joe hates himself but the possibility that he may be gay just compounds his self-hatred. And the tragic thing, is that he’s too dumb to make sense out of his emotions and his situation.

Midnight Cowboy is a pretty important motion picture in the history of film. It’s especially important in how it addresses and looks at LGBT issues. For a lot of filmgoers who saw this when it was current, it had to be their first experience in understanding the struggle of gay or sexually unsure people.

It’s a superbly acted and produced movie; certainly one of the top social films of its time. I feel like it also sort of set the stage for what became the cinematic view of New York City in the 1970s, as seen in the films of Martin Scorsese, Sidney Lumet and others.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other films of the era: Easy Rider, The Graduate and The American Friend.

Film Review: Body Heat (1981)

Release Date: August 28th, 1981
Directed by: Lawrence Kasdan
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan
Music by: John Barry
Cast: William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, J. A. Preston, Mickey Rourke, Kim Zimmer, Jane Hallaren, Lanna Saunders

The Ladd Company, Warner Bros., 113 Minutes

Review:

“I’m really disappointed in you, Racine. I’ve been living vicariously off of you for years. You shut up on me now, all I have is my wife.” – Peter

Lawrence Kasdan is probably most known for being one of the writers that worked alongside George Lucas on the original Star Wars trilogy, as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark. But here, he not only writes but he directs. And it was his working relationship with Lucas that helped him get this film produced. In fact, Lucas put up some of the money himself, even though he’s not officially given a producer credit.

It’s interesting that Kasdan’s directorial debut was something so different than what audiences had known him for, which were primarily high adventure pictures. But Kasdan made a very true to form film-noir picture. But maybe it was too close and that worked against it; I’ll explain.

Kasdan’s story for Body Heat drew inspiration from the 1944 film-noir classic Double Indemnity. In fact, there are some pretty stark similarities but Body Heat is not a complete rehash and it certainly stands on its own, despite having very similar cues.

The film is really carried by the strong performance by William Hurt. Kathleen Turner stars alongside him as the typical femme fatale and while she’s pretty good, she comes off as more of a caricature of the femme fatale archetype than feeling like she is giving a genuine performance. But I don’t think that’s on her, as she’s proven how capable she is. I think it could be a combination of Kasdan’s direction and writing, as he was possibly trying to squeeze her into an image he had, as opposed to letting her put more of herself into the role.

Still, Hurt offsets the awkward clunkiness of Turner and the rest of the cast between Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, Mickey Rourke and everyone else, keeps the ship moving in the right direction.

The story is pretty good but it’s not anything new, especially if you’re a fan of the noir genre. Despite a few good twists and turns throughout this labyrinthine plot, nothing that happens is shocking and it is kind of predictable in retrospect. In fact, even though I enjoyed this, it didn’t give much of anything new to the genre it emulates.

In regards to it being a modernization of classic film-noir, it isn’t the first film to do that either. But if this is anything, it’s Lawrence Kasdan’s love letter to film-noir and for the most part, it’s a nice love letter that makes its point rather well.

Body Heat certainly isn’t forgettable but it’s a long way off from redefining what noir could be like Blood Simple and The American Friend did. But strangely, I did enjoy this a hair bit more than Blood Simple.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other neo-noir films of the era: Blood Simple, The American Friend and the remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Film Review: The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

Release Date: December 14th, 1974 (Japan)
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Hervé Villechaize, Clifton James, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn

Eon Productions, United Artists, 125 Minutes

Review:

“A duel between titans. My golden gun against your Walther PPK. Each of us with a 50-50 chance.” – Francisco Scaramanga

This is the last of the pre-Daniel Craig era James Bond pictures for me to review. And well, I saved one of my favorites for last.

Why do I love this one so much? Well, it has the legendary Christopher Lee as the villain and also features Hervé Villechaize and Britt Ekland, who was one of those early crushes I had as a young kid discovering movies. But I also love the story and the locations in this film. Plus, we even get to see Sheriff J.W. Pepper one more time but sadly for the last time.

As grandiose as James Bond movies are, and this one still lives up to that, the actual threat is smaller, more intimate and very personal. Essentially, James is lured into a duel: one on one, man to man, for all the marbles if those marbles are your own mortality. And there really was no one greater than Christopher Lee to play the role of Francisco Scaramanga, the anti-Bond with his iron sights aimed at Britain’s greatest spy.

Scaramanga was also assisted by Nick Nack, played by the tiny Frenchman Hervé Villechaize, who is most famous for his role on Fantasy Island. Nick Nack was a sinister little shit and amusing in every scene he was in. In the end, his fate is pretty hilarious.

The film spends a lot of time in Asia but primarily features Thailand, which is just a beautiful country. The sights are nice, the action is great and seeing Sheriff Pepper stumble through an exotic land was entertaining.

I loved the opening of this film and it’s one of my favorite in the series, as it sees a hired hitman trying to kill Scaramanga in his maze. The maze was cool and it would return in the climax of the film for the duel between Bond and Scaramanga. I liked the very ’70s style of it and it was inventive and clever and something we hadn’t seen in a Bond film up to this point.

I’d hate to say that Lee really steals the show here but this is very much his movie more than it is Roger Moore’s. Moore is still fantastic in all the ways that make him great but in this film, Lee really proved that he was a major player and should be given more roles of this caliber. At this point, he was typecast as just a horror actor but this showcased his talents at a higher, more mainstream level. He would eventually get other major mainstream roles again but not until the early ’00s, thirty years later, with the roles of Count Dooku in the Stars Wars prequels and Saruman in The Lords of the Rings trilogy. But I doubt Lee would complain, as he loved his horror career and still worked on over 200 pictures.

The Man With the Golden Gun is just a fun, exciting film and it kind of grounds James Bond after the voodoo shenanigans of Live and Let Die. It’s simple, effective and just a good movie.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Roger Moore James Bond movies.

Film Review: Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Release Date: December 14th, 1971 (West Germany)
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood, Jimmy Dean, Bruce Cabot, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Bruce Glover, Putter Smith, Norman Burton, Sid Haig

Eon Productions, United Artists, 120 Minutes

Review:

“If at first you don’t succeed Mr. Kidd…?” – Mr. Wint, “Try, try again, Mr. Wint.” – Mr. Kidd

Sadly, Diamonds Are Forever is closer to the tone and style of the Roger Moore era than the Sean Connery era. Maybe the campiness that would be front and center in the early Roger Moore Bond films wasn’t really because of Moore but were because the films were a product of the 1970s. Connery’s pictures were more serious until this one but all the others came out in the ’60s. And then once Moore got into the ’80s, his films weren’t as cheesy. I blame the ’70s.

Anyway, this is the worst of the Sean Connery James Bond pictures. This is even worse than the unofficial sequel Never Say Never Again. Frankly, this is one of the worst Bond films ever made. But this is James Bond and it is still quite enjoyable and certainly better than the worst films of the Brosnan era.

I love the old school Las Vegas setting in this movie, it just fit the time and the James Bond mythos well. Plus, Bond going to Vegas was probably long overdue, by this point. But I’ve also always had a love for old school Vegas, its setting, its culture and its style.

I also really enjoyed Charles Gray’s take on Ernst Stavro Blofeld. This wasn’t Gray’s first Bond movie but he got to ham it up in a key role and he’s one of those actors that is just great as a villain. This is one of my favorite roles that he’s ever played, alongside the fiendish Mocata from The Devil Rides Out, which also starred Bond alum Christopher Lee (a.k.a. Francisco Scaramanga from The Man with the Golden Gun).

In this picture, we also get Jill St. John, who has the distinction of being the first American Bond Girl, and the Jimmy Dean, country music and breakfast sausage king.

My favorite characters in the film though, are the duo of Bruce Glover and Putter Smith as Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. They plot, they scheme and they get the better of Bond… twice! Granted, they should have outright killed him quickly in both those moments but Bond escaped death and came back to bite them in the ass. They also had a relationship that probably points to them being gay, which was pretty uncommon for a 1971 film that was made for the mainstream.

On a side note: scorpions don’t usually sting people and they typically don’t kill humans, let alone instantaneously.

This film did do some clever stuff too. I liked how Blofeld had decoys and the movie really points out that he has been surgically altering his face this whole time and that it wasn’t just a case of not being able to get Blofeld actors to return to the part.

The biggest issue with this film though is the scale. Following up On Her Majesty’s Secret Service wasn’t an easy task but this film feels smaller, more confined and cheaper. Maybe this has to do with the big salary that Connery needed to come back to the franchise. It was a record setting fee for an actor at the time and it’s possible that it effected the actual production and that the movie had to be made more frugally.

Still, I do love this motion picture. The classic era of Bond from the ’60s through the ’80s is hard to top. These movies are just magic. Even when things don’t work, the films all still have something cool to take away from them. Diamonds Are Forever is no different.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one. But this is actually is closer in tone to the Roger Moore films of the ’70s.

Film Review: You Only Live Twice (1967)

Release Date: June 12th, 1967 (London premiere)
Directed by: Lewis GIlbert
Written by: Roald Dahl, Harold Jack Bloom
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsuro Tamba, Mie Hama, Teru Shimada, Karin Dor, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Charles Gray, Donald Pleasence

Toho Co Ltd. (assisted on production in Japan), Eon Productions, United Artists, 117 Minutes

Review:

“I shall look forward personally to exterminating you, Mr. Bond.” – Ernst Stavro Blofeld

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of people consider this film the one where James Bond movies dipped in quality. I disagree with that, as I love this film and it is one of my favorites in the whole series.

I also connect to this chapter in the series pretty deeply on a nostalgic level, so I may have a bias towards it in that regard.

The thing is, this is where Bond and Blofeld come face to face. I am a huge fan of SPECTRE and their long story arc in the Connery and Lazenby films. I am also a huge fan of Donald Pleasence and he’s f’n great as Blofeld and is my favorite version of the character. This is also the version that would inspire Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies.

Additionally, I love the Japan elements, especially the ninja army. The scene where the ninjas storm Blofeld’s volcano lair and are dropping from the ceiling with machine guns and swords still looks absolutely incredible. It’s one of my favorite sequences from any James Bond movie.

Being that I am a fan of kaiju movies, especially those put out by Toho Co. Ltd., I love that they were involved in the production of this picture and lent some of their acting talent to Eon. Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi, the two Japanese Bond Girls in this film, have been in several Toho productions between Godzilla films and other sci-fi epics put out by Toho. Sadly, no cameo by Godzilla himself.

Another thing I love in this film is the big helicopter battle in the middle of the picture. For the 1960s, it was well shot, the special effects looked good and it was pretty exciting. It still plays well today.

Now the film does have some cheese and I think that’s what seems to be some people’s issue with it.

The whole sequence where Bond has to get a wig and prosthetics to look Japanese is laughably bad and so is the final result, as it just looks like Sean Connery with a bad haircut. I don’t really understand the point of the wig either, as most of the real Japanese men in the film have hairstyles closer to Connery’s natural look. This whole cringe fest is one of those things that would severely upset the overly sensitive audiences of today.

This is the last of the great Sean Connery James Bond films though. He would quit after this picture but come back later, two more times. One for Eon with the film Diamonds Are Forever and once more for another studio for Never Say Never Again, which isn’t an official Bond picture and is really just a shoddy remake of Thunderball.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one.

Film Review: A View to a Kill (1985)

Release Date: May 22nd, 1985 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: John Glen
Written by: Michael G. Wilson, Richard Maibaum
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Roger Moore, Tanya Roberts, Grace Jones, Christopher Walken, Patrick Macnee, David Yip, Alison Doody, Dolph Lundgren, Maud Adams (cameo), Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Robert Brown

Eon Productions, United Artists, 1.. Minutes

Review:

“You slept well?” – Max Zorin, “A little restless but I got off eventually.” – James Bond

From memory, this is a cheesy, goofy James Bond film. Having now revisited it for the first time in nearly a decade, this may actually be one of my favorites of the Moore era and of all-time. Quite simply, this is really f’n fun!

But then Moore’s films have always been fun and I am being reminded of that, as I have recently rewatched all of his ’80s era stuff. Something about this movie puts it ahead of the other two ’80s Bond pictures he did though.

This is a really good cocktail that also features the always fantastic Christopher Walken, as the villain, as well as Grace Jones, who commands everyone’s attention whenever she appears in anything. I friggin’ love the duo of Walken and Jones in this and they are one of the best villain tandems in Bond history. They have a strange but amusing relationship that is accented by both actors’ unique personalities. I almost wish they would have survived and been around in more than one movie but unless you’re Blofeld or Jaws, that just doesn’t happen in classic Bond-lore.

Tanya Roberts was far from the most memorable Bond Girl ever but she was really good here. She just fit in well with everyone and did her job, quite solidly. She wasn’t a complete damsel in distress but she also wasn’t some KGB badass either, she just felt more like a real, normal woman when compared to most of the other Bond Girls.

It’s also worth mentioning that this has one of my favrotie title sequences in the franchise. I have just always loved Duran Duran though, probably because I was a kid of the ’80s and heavily under the influence of the pop culture of the time.

Additionally, I really like the scheme in this picture. It’s nutty and ambitious but it just works for a Bond film of the classic era and it was probably the perfect plot on paper in the mid-’80s when the tech industry was blossoming and booming.

Another highlight was the San Francisco setting in the latter half of the film. The Golden Gate Bridge finale was top notch and a high point of the Roger Moore era.

The only thing that really bothered me about the film was that incredibly cheesy moment in the opening sequence, when Bond is trying to evade the Soviet enemies on skis and “California Girls” starts blaring. It’s a jarring moment that pulls you out of the movie and the gag wasn’t that funny.

I know that a lot of people look down on this chapter in the Bond franchise and see it as a low point. I don’t. This movie has a special place in my heart but it also might be that it is hard to push down nostalgia and see things more clearly. This was the second Bond film I ever saw in its entirety and I rented it a lot as a kid.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Roger Moore James Bond movies.