Film Review: 1941 (1979)

Also known as: The Night the Japs Attacked (working title)
Release Date: December 13th, 1979 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, John Milius
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Ned Beatty, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Christopher Lee, Tim Matheson, Toshiro Mifune, Warren Oates, Robert Stack, Treat Williams, Penny Marshall, Nancy Allen, Eddie Deezen, Slim Pickens, Dianne Kay, Wendie Jo Sperber, John Candy, Frank McRae, Lionel Stander, Michael McKean, Joe Flaherty, Don Calfa, Elisha Cook Jr., Mickey Rourke, John Landis, Dick Miller, Donovan Scott, James Caan, Sydney Lassick (uncredited)

A-Team, Columbia Pictures, Universal Pictures, 118 Minutes, 146 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 142 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“You get me up in that plane, then we’ll talk about forward thrust.” – Donna Stratton

Considering that this was directed by Steven Spielberg and is loaded with dozens of stars that I like, having not seen this until now seems like a crime. But honestly, it came out when I was a year-old and it wasn’t something that I saw on TV growing up in the ’80s. Frankly, it flew under my radar for years and even if I saw the VHS tape in a mom and pop shop, the box art wouldn’t have piqued my interest.

I have now seen the film, though, and while I enjoyed it, I can see why it wasn’t held in the same esteem as Spielberg’s other work at the time.

This features a lot of characters and ensemble pieces like this can be hard to balance. With that, this felt more like an anthology of separate stories that don’t really come together until the end, even if there is a bit of overlap leading to the climax.

Everyone was pretty enjoyable in this but at the same time, they all just felt like tropes and caricatures, as none of them had much time to develop. That’s fine, though, as this isn’t supposed to be an intense dramatic story about war coming to US soil.

One thing I will point out as great in this movie is the special effects and being that this featured World War II military vehicles, it almost felt like Spielberg’s test drive before directing the Indiana Jones ’80s trilogy, which employed some of the same techniques and effects style that this film did.

The miniature work was superb and I loved the sequence of the airplane dogfight over Hollywood, as well as the submarine sequence at the end. The action was great, period.

I also generally enjoyed the comedy in this. It’s almost slapstick in a lot of scenes and it kind of felt like Spielberg’s homage the comedy style of Hollywood during the time that the movie takes place in.

That being said, the costumes, sets and general design and look of the film was great and almost otherworldly. This felt fantastical but in the way that the films of the 1940s did. There was a cinematic magic to the visuals and the film should probably get more notoriety for that.

What hurts the film, though, is that it just jumps around so much and it’s hard to really get invested in anything. There’s just so much going on at all times that your mind loses focus and starts to wander.

The story, itself, isn’t hard to follow but nothing seems that important, other than the Americans need to defend their home from this rogue submarine that appeared off the coast of Los Angeles.

In the end, this is far from Spielberg’s best and I’d call it the worst film of his uber successful late ’70s through early ’90s stretch. However, it’s still an enjoyable experience.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other comedies with Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi or other Saturday Night Live cast members of the era.

Film Review: Blazing Saddles (1974)

Also known as: Black Bart (working title)
Release Date: February 7th, 1974
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Written by: Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, Al Uger
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, Alex Karras, Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, David Huddleston, Dom DeLuise, Count Basie

Crossbow Productions, Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

“My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.” – Hedley Lamarr, “God darnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore.” – Taggart

I’m a fan of Mel Brooks’ work but not as much as the hardcore fans out there. Most of the ones I’ve talked to over the years seem to like this film the best out of Brooks’ oeuvre. Young Frankenstein is my personal favorite but I’ve also got a deep affinity for the Universal Monsters, which it paradoies.

I also really love westerns too, though. So, naturally, I like this picture quite a bit too. However, I don’t hold it in the same esteem as others.

Everyone in this is pretty damn great, however. Cleavon Little stands out the most, as the actual star of the picture and because he’s just so damn charismatic and likeable. Additionally, his camaraderie and comedic timing with Gene Wilder is incredibly good.

Beyond the two leads, everyone else in the picture is well cast and this is written in a way that allows them all to play to their strengths while also maximizing their value to this large tapestry of talent.

I guess it probably goes without saying but this is a film that you couldn’t make today. It features so much language that would overwhelm the easily offended, which seems to be everyone these days. Modern filmgoers would be so fixated on the language that they’d miss the point of it all.

This was a film that came out in the ’70s and American entertainment was greatly effected by the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the racial tensions the United States had to work through. This movie reflects that, as did most comedy of the time, and it features a lot of racially charged language and situations. But it’s how it handles all of that and presents it that is important. Nowadays, nuance and context are completely lost because fingerblasting your own pearls while on public display is the only way these kids know how to communicate, anymore.

Blazing Saddles is a film that doesn’t give a fuck about anyone’s feelings. It cannonballs into the deep end of the pool, splashing everyone and everything, and it just puts it all out there, letting people express their points and their social grievances through comedy. And this is why comedy was great. It could challenge us, turn the world on its head and directly engage with tough topics and things that many would otherwise try to ignore or suppress.

In reality, comedy brought people together and it built bridges between cultures and different points-of-view born from very different experiences. Also, it didn’t allow everyone to have such thin skins. It forced most people to toughen up and deal with shit, so we could all move forward.

And while I didn’t want a movie review to devolve into a political or social discussion, I know that it’s only a matter of time before the censors retroactively try to cancel this picture.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Mel Brooks parody films.

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: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Also known as: Dr. Strangelove (informal title), Edge of Doom, A Delicate Balance of Terror (both US working titles)
Release Date: January 29th, 1964 (UK & US)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, Peter George
Based on: Red Alert by Peter George
Music by: Laurie Johnson
Cast: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, Tracy Reed, Peter Bull, James Earl Jones, Shane Rimmer

Hawk Films, Columbia Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.” – President Merkin Muffley

This is my 1000th film review since starting Cinespiria back in November of 2016. That’s a lot of movies watched in 18 months. Granted, I did filter in reviews from other sites I worked on before this one. Anyway, I wanted review number 1000 to be something special. I chose Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb not because it was my favorite film but because it was partially responsible for putting me on my path of not just loving to watch movies but loving to intimately understand them.

When I was in film studies in high school, back in the mid-’90s, Dr. Strangelove was the first Stanley Kubrick film that we watched out of three; the other two were 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining. While I had seen some of Kubrick’s films before this, it was this experience that really made me learn who the director was and why he was so important and one of the greatest auteurs that ever lived.

Dr. Strangelove isn’t my favorite Kubrick picture but it is still one of my favorite movies of all-time. But I’d say that Kurbick would probably own four spots in my personal top ten.

I love this movie. It is exceptional in a way that films aren’t anymore. I’m not saying that filmmakers today aren’t capable of greatness, they certainly are, but Kubrick could touch any genre and leave a very distinct and very powerful mark.

Dr. Strangelove is a terrifying film, at its core, but it mixes a war story with comedy. Yet, despite its absurdity in several scenes, none of what happens seems all that implausible. Kubrick had that power, the ability to make something seemingly ridiculous and also very real, at the same time. I can only imagine that this film was even more effective when it was current during the height of the Cold War and just over a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Kubrick did an amazing job shooting and capturing this film. He collaborated with cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, who over his career, worked with Alfred Hitchcock, George Lucas, Roman Polanski and Mike Hodges. The two men really capture lightning in a bottle in nearly every scene. All of the material shot in the War Room is superb. In fact, the War Room scene has gone on to inspire countless films over the last half of a century.

The centerpiece of the film is Peter Sellers, who performed three different key roles within the film. All three roles were very different characters. The reason why this happened, is that Columbia Pictures originally wanted Sellers to play four roles, as they believed that the success of Kubrick’s previous film Lolita was due to Sellers’ character in that film assuming different identities. Kubrick reluctantly accepted Columbia’s demand in order to get the picture made. But frankly, it worked and it worked wonderfully. All three of Sellers’ roles in this film have become pretty iconic and all of them would steal the show if not competing for screen time against one another. Sellers should have won the Academy Award but he was beaten out by Rex Harrison for My Fair Lady.

Everyone in this really takes command of the screen, however. There are great performances by George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens and James Earl Jones, who plays a small but important role.

Additionally, the music selections for this film are fantastic and help drive the emotional narrative and growing tension.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a masterpiece that still plays well over fifty years later. It is stupendous and truly is a perfect motion picture.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Other Kubrick films that deal with war: Paths of GloryFear and DesireFull Metal Jacket.