Film Review: Bates Motel (1987)

Release Date: July 5th, 1987 (TV)
Directed by: Richard Rothstein
Written by: Richard Rothstein
Based on: Psycho by Robert Bloch
Music by: J. Peter Robinson
Cast: Bud Cort, Lori Petty, Moses Gunn, Gregg Henry, Khrystyne Haje, Jason Bateman, Kerrie Keane, Robert Picardo, Buck Flower, Carmen Filpi

Universal Television, NBC, 90 Minutes

Review:

“[referring to the urn] Oh that’s not saki, that’s Norman.” – Alex West

Let me start off by saying that this television movie is terrible. However, I still kind of dug it and felt that it had some good seeds planted in what could have been a solid television series had this feature length pilot been picked up by NBC and developed into a full series. Granted, it needed some time and experimentation to find its footing but I think it could’ve gotten there.

The main thing I liked about this was the top three members of the cast: Bud Cort, Lori Petty and Moses Gunn.

Also, it was a really cool take and reinvention of the Psycho film franchise that could have stood on its own, given enough time to grow and find its groove.

What hurts this pilot “movie” the most is its editing and pacing. It’s clearly a mish mash of two episodes that don’t work when wedged together. On their own, they probably would’ve been fine but it ruins the three act structure and narrative flow.

I guess this is how it had to be presented though, as the show wasn’t picked up by NBC but they probably wanted to make their money back, so they stitched it together and sold it as a “movie of the week” release. Which, probably worked out, as Psycho fever was pretty strong in the ’80s once Anthony Perkins turned the classic film into a four movie franchise starting with 1983’s Psycho II.

I have always liked Bud Cort and I always thought Lori Petty was just a really cool chick. This didn’t change my opinion of either actor and I enjoyed their scenes and thought they had a fun chemistry.

In the end, this really is a dud but it is still worth a watch for those who love the Psycho franchise and haven’t seen it. It’s pretty rare and mostly forgotten but it is on YouTube, at least for the moment. Although, that version is a crappy VHS rip. I still found it watchable but I also have a high tolerance for thirty-plus year old VHS tapes.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: the ’80s Psycho sequels and anthology horror/sci-fi television shows of the era.

Film Review: Shaft (1971)

Release Date: June 25th, 1971 (Los Angeles)
Directed by: Gordon Parks
Written by: Ernest Tidyman, John D. F. Black
Based on: Shaft by Ernest Tidyman
Music by: Issac Hayes, Johnny Allen
Cast: Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t let your mouth get your ass in trouble.” – John Shaft

When I was a kid, two movies introduced me to the blaxploitation genre and black cinema of the ’70s. Those films were Dolemite and Shaft. Since that time, I have gone on to immerse myself in the genre and to try and soak up all it has to offer. While I still like Shaft, it feels like diet blaxploitation, as it is pretty light when compared to some of the edgier and less commercially marketable stuff of the era.

But the thing is, Shaft really kicked the door down and left it wide open for all the other movies to come rushing in right after it. It wasn’t the first film of its kind but it was the first to make a massive impact and to help these films crossover with a bigger audience. Shaft went beyond the inner city theaters and bled into suburban America and eventually, it grew beyond that as well. Today, it’s widely considered to be a classic from its time period.

Shaft is just a really refined picture for what it is. It feels bigger and larger and less grindhouse-y. It was put out by a major studio and when compared to the blaxploitation films before it, it just has a sort of professional touch and a magic about it. That’s not to take anything away from Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, They Call Me Mister Tibbs! and Cotton Comes to Harlem but Shaft had a feel of Hollywood legitimacy to it. Granted, I prefer a lot of the lower budget blaxploitation stuff like Dolemite but I have to respect Shaft for what it accomplished and what that meant for its era in black filmmaking.

Plus, Richard Roundtree is perfect as the super cool, no nonsense, badass John Shaft. There aren’t a lot of men that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Roundtree and have his sort of presence. Okay, maybe Fred Williamson and Jim Brown but you get the picture, Roundtree is one badass MFer.

Moses Gunn is also in this and he has a strong presence as well. Gunn is a well versed actor that can be tough as hell and also quite sweet. He’s great as a domineering gangster in this film yet he was also incredible in The NeverEnding Story, which saw him play a role that was really the antithesis to his role here. I just love seeing Gunn in things and he also has these very powerful looking hands that draw attention to themselves and add an extra bit of mystique to his characters.

Shaft has good action elements to it but not as much as I’d like in an action crime film. Roundtree’s attitude and swagger certainly makes up for the lack of gun play and fisticuffs though.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The Shaft sequels and TV series, as well as the Shaft reboot with Sam Jackson. Also goes well with SuperflyCotton Comes to Harlem and Detroit 9000.

Film Review: Rollerball (1975)

Release Date: June 25th, 1975
Directed by: Norman Jewison
Written by: William Harrison
Based on: Roller Ball Murder by William Harrison
Music by: Andre Previn
Cast: James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams, John Beck, Moses Gunn, Ralph Richardson

United Artists, 129 Minutes

Review:

“The game was created to demonstrate the futility of individual effort.” – Bartholomew

Rollerball was remade in 2002 for some reason. Never, ever watch that version. Watch this one. This one is the only version that matters and even though it feels like a typical ’70s retro future picture, it still has more style, spirit and heart than that soulless recreation. Plus, this one stars James Caan and not Chris Klein, that really nice and sensitive guy from the American Pie movies.

I’m a big fan of the ’70s version of what our future was supposed to be. Because of that, I love the look and vibe of this film. It shows a bleak and gritty future ruled by corporations. It has an almost post apocalyptic vibe with a strong ’70s aesthetic. In a lot of ways, this film really works well being paired with Death Race 2000 due to its themes and visual style. Although, it isn’t as fun or as brilliant as Death Race.

James Caan plays Jonathan E. It sounds like a ’90s R&B singer or a character from a Tommy Wiseau movie but he is the world’s most badass rollerballer. His life is controlled by the corporation that owns his team and runs the government. He’s told to retire and he doesn’t want to. So Jonathan E. decides to fight back and figure out who makes these decisions and why.

The film’s story has an interesting premise but it really doesn’t have much else. The narrative is pretty boring, generic and dry. There isn’t a lot of excitement in the film’s plot and this would be a completely forgotten film if it weren’t for the sport element.

The rollerball matches are the highlight of the film. The sport is an interesting concept, as it takes the core of roller derby and ups the ante in every way. It even adds in motorcycles. There are three of these matches in the film and they’re the parts I love where the rest of the film just sort of gets in the way. However, I guess you need a plot to have a reason to have the movie. The plot just doesn’t measure up.

James Caan was convincing and did well with the material. But even he couldn’t salvage the uninteresting filler.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Death Race 2000Logan’s RunSilent RunningThe Warriors.

Film Review: The NeverEnding Story (1984)

Release Date: April 6th, 1984 (West Germany)
Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
Written by: Wolfgang Petersen, Herman Weigel
Based on: The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
Music by: Klaus Doldinger, Giorgio Moroder
Cast: Noah Hathaway, Barret Oliver, Tami Stronach, Moses Gunn, Patricia Hayes, Sydney Bromley, Gerald McRaney, Deep Roy, Tilo Pruckner, Frank Welker, Alan Oppenheimer

Neue Constantin Film, Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

I really like Flashback Cinema and the fact that they bring beloved classics back to the big screen for modern audiences. I was especially excited to revisit The NeverEnding Story, as it was one of the first films I saw in the theater as a kid. I also must have watched it a few hundred times on VHS from the mid-1980s through the 1990s. I had planned to review this a few months back but when I got wind that it was on Flashback Cinema’s docket, I decided to wait and see it on the big screen again.

It was cool seeing this in a theater, over thirty years later, with a new generation of kids present. Unlike most family films I have seen in recent years, the children were quiet and pulled right into the film. It didn’t feel hokey or aged or like an ancient relic that couldn’t compete with the giant blockbusters of the 2010s. The audience was engaged and it was nice seeing parents genuinely happy that their kids connected to something that they once held dear.

That being said, The NeverEnding Story still plays really well. Sure, it has aged and the effects are outdated but the magic is still alive and strong in the picture and it rises above its limitations and still transcends the screen.

I wasn’t a great judge of an actor’s performance when I was a kid, as most kids aren’t, but the performances by the child cast are phenomenal. Noah Hathaway is beyond amazing as Atreyu, Barret Oliver made Bastian relatable to every kid and Tami Stronach, even with limited screen time, is sweet, elegant and perfect in the role of the Empress. It is rare that you can see one good child actor but this is a film that features three great performances by children, who I wish had done a lot more work after the film. They are the real force that makes the film work.

Moses Gunn, Deep Roy and Tilo Pruckner were all fantastic as well, even though each of them had little time to shine. Gunn’s stoic but serious presence added a legitimacy to the narrative. However, it was Thomas Hill’s Mr. Coreander that really takes the cake, as every line he delivered was perfect and chilling. It is great seeing him return in the sequel, even if that film doesn’t live up to this one.

The special effects are really well done for a German film that didn’t have the budget of bigger American movies. The creatures and their facial animatronics were superb, especially those used for Falcor the luck dragon and G’Mork the evil gigantic wolf. Most of the sets were well designed and accompanied by fabulous matte paintings for their backdrop. This was also a great time for matte paintings in cinema and this film features some of the best work in the pre-CGI era.

The success of this film lead to great things for director Wolfgang Petersen, who would go on to do many more English language films and find a permanent place in Hollywood. He had already got an Oscar nomination for Das Boot before this picture but it was The NeverEnding Story that gave him a career that allowed him to direct later films such as Enemy MineIn The Line of FireOutbreakAir Force OneThe Perfect Storm and Troy.

The NeverEnding Story is a family classic. It is one of the best fantasy films ever made and based off of my experience, seeing it in the theater in 2017, it is a timeless motion picture. Hopefully, later generations will also find the film and appreciate it like millions already have.