Film Review: Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Also known as: Phantom, Phantom of the Fillmore (working titles)
Release Date: November 1st, 1974
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma
Music by: Paul Williams
Cast: Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, Rod Sterling (voice, uncredited)

Harbor Productions, 20th Century Fox, 91 Minutes

Review:

“[to Beef] Never sing my music again. Not here, not anywhere. Do you understand? Never again. My music is for Phoenix. Only she can sing it. Anyone else who tries, dies!” – The Phantom

This film often gets lumped together in conversations with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The films came out around the same time, share a lot of similarities and have both developed cult followings. However, this film is far superior and I find it strange that it’s cult following is nowhere near as massive as Rocky Horror‘s.

I think this film has the edge in that it was written and directed by Brian De Palma, who was one of the top up and coming directors of the time. He was at a creative high and even though this film merges a lot of genres and is overly surreal and very absurdist, it’s kind of a masterpiece in that all the parts fit together and there has never been anything like this since. Well, at least nothing like this that was anywhere near as good as this.

Additionally, I’ve gone on record multiple times about my general dislike of musicals. Well, De Palma made a musical with this film and it is one of my absolute favorite films of the 1970s. In fact, I dig the hell out of the music in this picture and it all works in a way that makes sense. And I guess it’s not a musical with a traditional musical structure but it is chock full of tunes that progress the story without unnaturally pulling you out of it for the sake of wedging in another musical number.

The film stars actual rock star Paul Williams in what is my favorite role he’s ever had, playing Swan, a demonic record producer.

But the film is really carried by De Palma favorite, William Finley. It’s Finley’s over the top and batshit crazy performance that takes this film to heights it would not have reached without him in the title role as the Phantom. Finley is always great but this truly is his magnum opus, as he gives great range, exudes his passion for this role proudly with every frame and commits to the bit full throttle.

As good as both Williams and Finley are though, the film is also bolstered by the talent of Gerrit Graham. He’s had a lot of great roles within the horror genre but this is Graham at his best, as well. He plays a rock star simply named Beef. His onstage performance is incredible, his comedic timing is superb and he is a big, sweet cherry on top of this already perfect sundae.

And then there’s Jessica Harper. She’s most famous for being the lead in the original Suspiria from 1977 and even has a small role in the 2018 remake. She plays the apple of the Phantom’s eye and she’s terrific. Her performances are also solid and she has a lot more spunk in this film than what fans of Suspiria might expect. It’s really cool seeing her play a role that’s a departure from the one she’s most known for.

Phantom of the Paradise also boasts some incredible visuals. The film feels like a true rock opera of the highest caliber and even if this was made on what I guess was a modest budget, De Palma takes advantage of his surroundings, his sets and the talent he had working on this picture.

The cinematography is damn good and it is greatly impacted by the lighting, as well as the camera movement and shot framing of De Palma. It’s not just the colorful characters on the screen and the stupendous tunes that give this film all of its energy. A lot of it comes from the camerawork and the attention to detail within every single frame of this picture.

I can accept the fact that most people probably won’t view this movie the same way that I do and that’s fine. But from where I sit, it’s a damn fine motion picture that is incredibly unique and a pillar of imagination and creativity.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: I guess The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the closest film to this but it pales in comparison.

Film Review: Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

Release Date: May 27th, 1977
Directed by: Hal Needham
Written by: James Lee Barrett, Charles Shyer, Alan Mandel
Music by: Bill Justis, Jerry Reed
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed, Mike Henry, Pat McCormick, Paul Williams, Macon McCalman

Rastar, Universal Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“What we’re dealing with here is a complete lack of respect for the law.” – Sheriff Buford T. Justice

Smokey and the Bandit is one of those pop culture things that was huge and often times talked about when I was a kid. Granted, I wasn’t born until the end of 1978 but this was a film that I couldn’t escape, as it spawned a few sequels and was so beloved that it was on television and VHS everywhere I looked. But justifiably so, because there is just something bad ass and cool about Burt Reynolds, especially with Jerry Reed as his partner and Jackie Gleason in hot pursuit. Not to mention the charming charisma of Sally Field.

While this is a massively cherished movie, I personally don’t see it as a classic worthy of the highest levels of esteem. Is it fun? You bet your ass. It is also hilarious, at times, and the characters are all pretty lovable. All that aside though, it’s not a great movie. Well, not great in the sense that it should be a true cinematic classic.

The action is better than decent but it isn’t anything exceptional. It really plays like an episode of The Dukes of Hazzard except it is a feature length picture. As a kid, I certainly enjoyed The Dukes of Hazzard a lot more but maybe that is because I had the car, the poster and it was on television just about every single day. Sure, that television series was obviously inspired by Smokey and the Bandit and a whole slew of cowboy car and trucker movies but it had a bigger impact on me and I certainly feel more nostalgic for it than Smokey.

Burt Reynolds is still pretty damn enjoyable in anything but therein lies the problem. Had this not been a vehicle for Reynolds, it probably would have just come and went and not reached the pop culture heights that it did. Take out Jackie Gleason and you’re not left with much other than a run of the mill car stunt movie.

This is a film that is truly carried by its stars. While I would probably still find enjoyment with it had someone else played the Bandit, I doubt that the general public would have gotten behind it like they did.

The direction isn’t great and the editing is choppy in some parts and actually has a lot of mistakes, especially in regards to where vehicles are in relation to each other from cut to cut. Also, Coors is a pretty shitty beer but the microbrewery revolution hadn’t really kicked off in 1977 and rednecks today still drink mass produced swill.

While it may sound like I am being hard on this film, I’m just putting the facts out there, as I see them. I really like Smokey and the Bandit but not in the same vein as its hardcore fans. But that’s okay. Everyone has their cup of tea and while this is a very good cup, it isn’t a great cup.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Baby Driver (2017)

Release Date: March 11th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Edgar Wright
Music by: Steven Price
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Flea, Paul Williams

Big Talk Productions, Working Title Films, Media Rights Capital, TriStar Pictures, 113 Minutes

Review:

“Fuck your baby.” – Bats

Edgar Wright has been one of my favorite directors of the last decade and a half. Granted, he hasn’t directed as much as I’ve liked and his last effort before this, The World’s End, was pretty lackluster and also came out four friggin’ years ago. He was involved in Marvel’s Ant-Man but left the project after putting in a lot of time, so that excuses the four year hiatus, I guess.

After the long wait, Baby Driver is not a disappointment. To be completely honest and frank, this is my favorite Edgar Wright film, which is pretty unbelievable with Hot FuzzShaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in his oeuvre.

Now this is a film that is getting a lot of hype between the critics and other reviewers and bloggers online. This is one of those rare cases where you can believe the hype.

With fast car movies being a dime a dozen these days, Baby Driver is completely its own entity. It is better than all the films you could compare it to. The Fast & Furious movies have become cartoons and have never been able to tell a story this great. Drive, while a mesmerizing marvel to look at, doesn’t come close to having the heart of Baby Driver nor does it match its personality and characters.

Additionally, the action in Baby Driver is pretty realistic and it all seems plausible. The Fast & Furious films are ridiculous and while Drive felt authentic, it didn’t have the amount of getaways and fast action that Baby Driver does. The film shifts from car chases, foot chases and machine gun shootouts quickly and seamlessly.

All of the action, and really all of the film, revolves around music. This is not a musical, by any means, but the narrative is driven by the tunes hand-selected by Edgar Wright for this picture. The soundtrack is magnificent and I’m picking up the vinyl when the record store is open (they were closed when I swung by after seeing this at its first showing).

Not only does the music enhance the experience but so does the cast. I didn’t know much about Ansel Elgort or Lily James before seeing this but they were superb as Baby and Debora. I’ll definitely check out their future films and maybe look back at some of their earlier work.

The rest of the cast was like an all-star team of great bad asses. You had Jon Hamm (in my favorite role after Don Draper), Jon Bernthal (the Punisher, himself), Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx and Flea. All of these men were criminals and each was unique and interesting. Well, Flea and Bernthal could’ve used some more meat to chew on but that may have had a negative effect on the film’s flow.

Baby Driver is the most adrenaline heavy movie I have seen since Mad Max: Fury Road and it may even be a better film than that. They are two very different action flicks but Baby Driver is a perfect marriage of all its elements. I can’t think of a single thing that could have been better.

The film exceeded the expectations I did have and this is one of the best movies I have seen over the last decade. It is the best summer film this year and nothing else really compares to it. And the thing is, this isn’t even trying to be a tent pole film but it blows them all away. Better action, better acting and just a better movie, hands down.

Rating: 8.75/10