Film Review: Circle of Iron (1978)

Also known as: The Silent Flute (working title)
Release Date: July 25th, 1978 (France)
Directed by: Richard Moore
Written by: Bruce Lee, James Coburn, Stirling Silliphant, Stanley Mann
Music by: Bruce Smeaton
Cast: David Carradine, Christopher Lee, Jeff Cooper, Roddy McDowall, Eli Wallach, Anthony De Longis, Earl Maynard, Erica Creer

Sandy Howard/Richard St. Johns Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Tie two birds together. Even though they have four wings they cannot fly.” – Blind Man

The concept and story for this film were developed by the legendary Bruce Lee and he was even slated to star in it but, as we all know, he died really young and with that he never got to see this go into production.

A few years after Lee’s death, however, this project got the green light and David Carradine was given the multiple roles that would’ve gone to Lee. What’s strange about that is Carradine was also given the main role in the television series Kung Fu, which Lee said was a role that was also originally meant for him.

This movie also has several legendary actors in minor roles. We see Christopher Lee, Roddy McDowall and Eli Wallach all pop up for different sequences. And honestly, all of them took this really seriously and gave solid performances.

The lead actor was the only really unknown to me but he was good with the material, believable as a hero and you bought into his arduous and challenging journey, which was more about self discovery than what he thought it was about upon starting the journey.

One thing I personally dig about this is that it’s a martial arts flick but it has more of a sword and sorcery aesthetic to it. Granted, there aren’t buff dudes with swords, it’s just a really cut, physically fit guy using his kung fu to conquer his challenges.

Being that this was Bruce Lee’s concept also means that it is much more philosophical than your standard beat’em up movie. It probably isn’t as philosophical as what Lee would’ve done had he been alive to make this but his spirit still exists in this and is weaved into every important scene.

This film surprised me. I figured that I would enjoy it but it definitely exceeded the expectations I had for it and I’d now rank it pretty high up on my list of favorite David Carradine movies.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other martial arts flicks of the ’70s and ’80s, as well as sword and sorcery pictures of the same era.

Film Review: Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974)

Release Date: May 17th, 1974
Directed by: John Hough
Written by: Leigh Chapman, Antonio Santean
Based on: The Chase by Richard Unekis
Music by: Jimmie Haskell
Cast: Peter Fonda, Susan George, Adam Roarke, Vic Morrow, Roddy McDowall

Academy Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, 93 Minutes

Review:

“I’m gonna eat your lunch, you long-haired faggot!” – Hanks

Peter Fonda starred in several counter culture and road movies in the late ’60s and into the ’70s. So his casting here was pretty perfect and he owns every scene that he’s in.

However, the bulk of the work isn’t just on Fonda, as we also have Susan George, who is exceptional in this, and Adam Roarke, who I always liked but felt was grossly underutilized. Roarke truly gets to shine in this and it’s damn cool to see.

The film also has Vic Morrow in it, as a villainous sheriff, as well as Roddy McDowall in a smaller role. However, any McDowall appearance is worth mentioning.

The story is very Bonnie and Clyde-esque, as it follows a criminal that takes his girlfriend and a buddy along with him, as law enforcement closes in, creating a massive on-the-road manhunt.

While I do like this film a lot, it’s pretty slow for the first two acts. I enjoy the characters and the performances are damn good, especially between the main trio, but there seems to be a lot of filler and chatter. Sure, it helps to build up the characters but this didn’t really get to the good stuff until the long, great finale ramped up in the last half hour.

Once this does get going, it’s fucking perfect, though.

I dug the hell out of the vehicle stunts and all the sequences with the helicopter were damn impressive. I never tire on this sort of stuff, especially from this era when filmmakers couldn’t rely on CGI and post-production visual trickery. Everything in these action scenes had to be captured by real film in real time.

All in all, this is a motion picture that is a reflection of its time and that time’s trends. The story and how it plays out may be predictable and leave you with a feeling of hopelessness but the ’70s were a bleak decade and this doesn’t shy away from that.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other counterculture films with Peter Fonda in them.

Film Review: The Cat From Outer Space (1978)

Release Date: June 9th, 1978
Directed by: Norman Tokar
Written by: Ted Key
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Ken Berry, Sandy Duncan, Harry Morgan, Ronnie Schell, Roddy McDowall, McLean Stevenson, Sorrell Booke

Walt Disney Productions, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Frank, on my planet we have an expression. You rub my fur, I’ll rub yours.” – Jake

I wasn’t a big fan of this movie when I was a kid but I would watch it when it was on. I think I actually like it more now, as I found it kind of charming and otherworldly.

Honestly, I’m surprised that Disney hasn’t tried to remake this, as they have with dozens of their other older movies. I think that this would work well with a modernized version, even if I think studios should focus on original ideas, as opposed to rebooting and re-imagining everything under the sun. But let’s be honest, the creativity well in Hollywood dried up a long time ago.

Anyway, I mostly only know the actors in this film from the sitcoms they were on. Ken Berry was on Mama’s Family, Sandy Duncan was on The Hogan Family and Harry Morgan was on M*A*S*H. But you’ve also got Roddy McDowall, who I loved in the Planet of the Apes and Fright Night films, not to mention his one-off role as The Bookworm, a villain in the ’60s Batman television show.

That being said, I like the cast in this a lot and they bring a sort of whimsical energy to the proceedings.

While I don’t think that the chemistry between Ken Berry and Sandy Duncan was that great or natural, it didn’t break the movie and this wasn’t so much about their potential romance, as it was about having a story about an intelligent space cat trying to get back to his mothership. The cat can also talk to people via an advanced psychic power it has. It also wears a fancy light-flashing collar that has different types of magical powers that we have to mindlessly accept because this is a goofy kids movie.

Sadly, I don’t think that this will play well for modern audiences, especially kids. It feels pretty damn dated and even though it has genuinely hilarious moments, it employs the sort of smart humor that kids (and most adults) today won’t pick up on.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Disney live-action films of the ’60s and ’70s.

Film Review: Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

Also known as: Colonization of the Planet of the Apes (Germany)
Release Date: June 15th, 1973
Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Written by: Paul Dehn, John William Corrington, Joyce Hooper Corrington
Based on: characters by Pierre Boulle
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: Roddy McDowall, Claude Akins, Natalie Trundy, Severn Darden, Lew Ayres, Paul Williams, John Huston, Austin Stoker, Paul Stevens, John Landis

APJAC Productions, Twentieth Century Fox, 93 Minutes, 96 Minutes (extended)

Review:

“Ah, if only my mother and father, whom I was too young to remember… If only they’d lived, perhaps they would have taught me if it was right to kill evil so that good shall prevail.” – Caesar

Maybe it’s weird that I prefer the last three Planet of the Apes movies to the earlier ones, even if I can admit that the first is the most superior of them all, as far as artistic merit. There’s just something about the story of Caesar and his parents that resonates with me but I also think that has a lot to do with the great performances Roddy McDowall gave us over these three pictures.

This one takes place several years after the uprising of the apes in the previous movie. In fact, this takes place after mankind has essentially destroyed themselves with nuclear bombs.

Now there are two types of humans in this story. There are the normal humans who live with the apes but are dealing with prejudice and treated like servants. The other group of humans are survivors from the nearby metropolis that was ravaged by war. These humans are disfigured from radiation and are hellbent on destroying the ape civilization because humans gonna human.

This film, due to its post-apocalyptic vibe, almost feels like the first Apes film mashed up with a Mad Max movie, as the bad humans use decrepit vehicles when they bring war to the apes settlement.

I like the story, though, and really, this film is mostly about Caesar trying to figure out what it means to be a leader. A lot of trouble emerges and Caesar is challenged from different sides. He has to learn from his parents’ words and the wisdom he gains through his experiences in this story, as well as his interactions with his trusted allies and advisors.

While this recycles the ape versus human story, it’s more about the making of a great, noble king.

The story is multi-layered but it’s also very straightforward and doesn’t waste time getting to the point. It moves at a swift pace, features good action, great tension and solid twists, even if they are fairly predictable.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the four other Planet of the Apes movies from the original run, as well as the television show from the ’70s.

Film Review: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Release Date: June 29th, 1972 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Written by: Paul Dehn
Based on: characters by Pierre Boulle
Music by: Tom Scott
Cast: Roddy McDowall, Don Murray, Ricardo Montalbán, Natalie Trundy, Hari Rhodes, Gordon Jump

APJAC Productions, Twentieth Century Fox, 88 Minutes

Review:

“The King is dead. Long live the King! Tell me Breck, before you die – how do we differ from the dogs and cats that you and your kind used to love? Why did you turn us from pets into slaves?” – Caesar

As a kid, this was my favorite Planet of the Apes movie. While it isn’t the best from an artistic standpoint and I’d say that I now like the third one best, it is still a superb origin story of how the apes rose up and pushed back against mankind.

In 2011, when they rebooted the franchise for the second time, that film took most of its cues from this story. While that film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a better picture, overall, it kind of lacked the grit of this one. A lot of that could also be due to modern films relying so much on CGI effects and pristine post-production clean up.

Regardless of that, I still enjoy watching this version of the similar story more. There’s just something about the original Apes movies that is special and unique and none of the remakes have really been able to recapture their magic.

I think the thing that I really like about this film, apart from the premise, is the look of it. Most of the big scenes take place in the heart of a metropolis and you see these apes carrying guns and burning parts of the town, as large, monolithic (and somewhat generic) skyscrapers loom overhead. It’s modern yet it’s primitive and it creates an atmosphere that shows the animalistic nature of man and ape in a world that should seem civilized and advanced. There’s a duality that exists in several layers of this picture and I’m not trying to imply that this was even done intentionally but it just adds something really genuine to the overall picture.

Additionally, Roddy McDowall has never been better in this series than he is in this chapter. The guy probably spent more time in ape makeup than any other actor, as he’s played multiple characters in the franchise but man, it’s like the other films were just there to prepare him for this stellar performance.

I also liked that Ricardo Montalbán returned for this, as the same character he played in the previous movie. He was sweet, caring and this is honestly one of my favorite roles he’s ever played after Khan Noonien Singh from the Star Trek franchise and his roles in classic film-noir movies.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is still damn entertaining and it’s certainly fucking poignant. It knows what message it wants to send and it does it incredibly well. Leaving a real uneasiness in your gut, as the darkest days for humanity lie ahead while also knowing that humanity is very much at fault.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the four other Planet of the Apes movies from the original run, as well as the television show from the ’70s.

Film Review: Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971)

Also known as: Secret of the Planet of the Apes (working title)
Release Date: May 26th, 1971 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Don Taylor
Written by: Paul Dehn
Based on: characters by Peter Boulle
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Bradford Dillman, Natalie Trundy, Eric Braeden, Sal Mineo, Ricardo Montalban, M. Emmet Walsh, Norman Burton, Charlton Heston (archive footage)

Twentieth Century Fox, APJAC Productions, 98 Minutes

Review:

“They became alert to the concept of slavery. And, as their numbers grew, to slavery’s antidote which, of course, is unity. At first, they began assembling in small groups. They learned the art of corporate and militant action. They learned to refuse. At first, they just grunted their refusal. But then, on an historic day, which is commemorated by my species and fully documented in the sacred scrolls, there came Aldo. He did not grunt. He articulated. He spoke a word which had been spoken to him time without number by humans. He said ‘No.’ So that’s how it all started.” – Cornelius

I guess I remembered the beginning of this film wrong, as I said in my review of the previous one that the ending kind of didn’t leave it open for the films after it. However, this one starts off in what was then modern times. From memory, I thought that the apes in the picture went back in time at some point midway through the story but they actually start off in 1970s America.

Anyway, it’s been a few decades since I’ve seen this one and memories can do weird things, especially when one has spent a lot of the time between the memory and now, experimenting with several vices. Don’t worry, I barely party anymore because getting old makes you more chill and because amateurs at the local bars and opium dens is a deterrent.

I really dug the hell out of this film though and revisiting it was certainly a worthwhile and entertaining experience. As of now, this is my favorite film of the lot. While I see the first chapter as a better motion picture, overall, I found this one to be more entertaining and more effective at making its point, using the bigotry between apes and humans as a metaphor for xenophobia.

I was also really glad to see Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter move into the main focus of the story, as their arrival on Earth sets in motion a hope for unity but ultimately leads to fear overcoming the masses and eventual tragedy.

Due to the time travel element, this sets the stage for its sequels and it also makes the whole series a time loop. Honestly, after this sets in motion the events that cause the creation of the ape world from the first film, you can watch the five movies in a constant loop or start with whichever chapter you want and then loop back around to it. It’s a pretty unique thing and it’s one of the many factors that make the original Planet of the Apes franchise really damn cool.

The acting in this is also really good and it’s certainly a step up from the second, fairly mundane movie. I’d say the acting is on the same level as the original but with McDowall and Hunter doing most of the heavy lifting, that shouldn’t be a surprise.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the four other Planet of the Apes movies from the original run, as well as the television show from the ’70s.

Film Review: Planet of the Apes (1968)

Release Date: February 8th, 1968 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Franklin J. Schaffner
Written by: Michael Wilson, Rod Sterling
Based on: Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans, Kim Hunter, James Whitmore, James Daly, Linda Harrison, Norman Burton

APJAC Productions, Twentieth Century Fox, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” – George Taylor

I’ve been meaning to review the original Planet of the Apes film series for quite awhile but I’ve also been meaning to review a lot of other films too and I can only do so much at a time.

Anyway, I’m here now and I’m glad that I revisited this, as it’s actually been a really long time since I’ve watched the original five films. In fact, it would’ve been before the 2011 reboot series started.

While I’ve always loved the Planet of the Apes concept and I’ve enjoyed all the films in their own way, I never found myself being super nostalgic for them. That’s probably a generational thing, as the first film came out more than ten years before I was born. However, these movies were on television a lot and I grew to really love them but nowhere near as much as the other franchises I loved before I was born like Godzilla, Star Trek, Doctor Who and James Bond.

This first movie is, hands down, the best of the lot. I like the story of the fourth film best overall and it’s the one I would watch the most but this film is on a different level, as far as being cinematic art.

Also, a lot of this film’s greatness is due to Charlton Heston. While he also appears in the first sequel, from memory, that film was an extreme misfire and surprisingly didn’t wreck the franchise. Granted, I’ll have a clearer view on it after I revisit it and review it in about a week.

This film follows a group of astronauts after an accident, they wind up on a planet ruled by intelligent apes. Heston is the only one to really survive through the whole ordeal and the movie focuses on his captivity and his being immersed in ape culture. Mostly, the film serves as a sort of metaphor for xenophobia and bigotry. I think it was Hollywood’s way of making that message more palatable than trying to be heavy-handed about it. Plus, this was supposed to be entertainment. Maybe modern Hollywood should’ve taken notes from older Hollywood. But the message here isn’t too dissimilar from what Stan Lee tried to convey in his ’60s X-Men comics.

The point is, art doesn’t need to be extremely literal. The message, if presented well, can come across and seep into the minds of the art consuming masses. Planet of the Apes succeeded in that regard and that’s probably why it became such an iconic picture in the science fiction genre, which still was a long way off from reaching full acceptance by the general public.

Low brow entertainment aside, this is a well-crafted film with good pacing and even better cinematography and shot framing. From top-to-bottom, it’s a competent picture. It is also well acted and has some of the best special effects of its time. The ape makeup still looks tremendous in spite of its limitations. I was glad that Tim Burton carried the practical, physical style of effects into his 2001 reboot.

Ultimately, the original Planet of the Apes is a true science fiction classic, deserving of its praise and longevity.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the four other Planet of the Apes movies from the original run, as well as the television show from the ’70s.

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: Fright Night, Part 2 (1988)

Release Date: December 8th, 1988 (Australia)
Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Written by: Tommy Lee Wallace, Tim Metcalfe, Miguel Tejada-Flores
Based on: characters created by Tom Holland
Music by: Brad Fiedel
Cast: William Ragsdale, Roddy McDowall, Traci Lind, Julie Carmen, Jon Gries, Brian Thompson, Merritt Butrick

New Century/Vista, TriStar Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

“It was a performance.” – Charley Brewster, “She cast no reflection!” – Peter Vincent

You know that old sentiment that sequels are never as good as the original? Well, it’s not entirely true, as many sequels have eclipsed their predecessors. However, Fright Night, Part 2 is not one of those.

While it is great to see Roddy McDowall and William Ragsdale reunite, as vampire hunting friends, the film has a massive void from all the other characters who aren’t here. Granted, Chris Sarandon’s Jerry Dandrige is dead and we have a new vampire threat in this chapter but Amanda Bearse is sorely missed, as is Stephen Geoffreys, whose Evil Ed died but reappears in a tease at the end of the first movie.

We do get the additions of Jonathan Gries, a guy I love in everything, and Brian Thompson, one of the most intimidating heavies of the ’80s and ’90s. Plus, Traci Lind is really good, even if she isn’t Bearse, and Julie Carmen is absolutely alluring as Dandrige’s ancient vampire sister, seeking revenge for the events of the first film.

Sadly, this film is pretty damn boring. It has a few good momnets, here and there, but none of them really make up for the overall film being unable to even muster up just a little bit of the magic they had in the first picture. The only time you really feel anything, is when McDowall and Ragsdale are together but even then, it feels like a cheap imitation of the first movie. However, that vampire bowling sequence is fairly amusing.

Fright Night, Part 2 is neither bad nor good. It just sort of exists and isn’t all that memorable. It’s a highly sought after film, as it has been out of print for awhile but I’ve still got an old copy.

If you haven’t seen this sequel but have been dying to because you’re a fan of the first film, just be prepared that it isn’t the lightning in a bottle that was the original Fright Night. You also shouldn’t pay a lot of money just to get your hands on a rare copy of it.

Rating: 6/10

Documentary Review: You’re So Cool, Brewster! The Story of Fright Night (2016)

Release Date: December 2nd, 2016
Directed by: Chris Griffiths
Music by: Lito Velasco

Dead Mouse Productions, 217 Minutes, 146 Minutes (Condensed version)

Review:

If you don’t like Fright Night, we can’t be friends. I mean, seriously, it’s a hell of a good time and was a much needed return to traditional monsters in a decade ruled by slasher films.

This long documentary covers everything you could ever want to know about Fright Night and it even goes into its mostly unappreciated sequel.

The coolest thing about this film and what I love about these modern documentaries about old horror franchises, is getting to revisit the cast and creators all these years later.

It may seem bizarre to have a documentary that is much longer than the subject matter it is discussing but a lot goes into filmmaking and this documentary doesn’t leave a single stone unturned. You get candid looks at the special effects, props making, creature makeup and how certain sequences were shot.

The interviews with the cast, the director and all the other key people were really the best part of this film though. It was especially cool seeing William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, Amanda Bearse and Stephen Geoffreys in 2016. Geoffreys’ bits I liked because it showed the man himself and how different he is from the Evil Ed persona. He also discusses how he was apprehensive about performing certain aspects of the character.

Tom Holland, the director, discussed at length about how the whole project came to be, as well as shedding light on what lead him to it.

If you are a fan of the original Fright Night or you’re hardcore and love the whole franchise, this is certainly worth checking out.

Rating: 8/10