Film Review: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Release Date: December 7th, 1979
Directed by: Robert Wise
Written by: Alan Dean Foster, Harold Livingston
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Majel Barrett, Grace Lee Whitney, Mark Lenard, Persis Khambatt, Stephen Collins

Paramount Pictures, 132 Minutes

Review:

“Touch God…? V’Ger’s liable to be in for one hell of a disappointment.” – Commander Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy, M.D.

I feel like this chapter in the Star Trek franchise gets a bad rap.

Here’s the thing, it does not play like the films that came after it. This plays a lot more like an episode of the original television series, which should have been okay, actually. But I guess after Star Wars, two years prior to this, people wanted more action heavy science fiction. The film series rectified that after this picture, however.

The thing is, the reason why I liked Star Trek, as a kid, was because it was more than just sci-fi action. It went deeper philosophically and it tried to find solutions to problems and conflict without resorting to violence. This movie is an incredible example of that. But I get why it didn’t excite general audiences in the same way as Star Wars.

The mission in this film sees the original show’s crew reunite on a very updated version of the original Enterprise. They are sent to investigate a massive nebula looking space oddity that is traveling towards Earth and destroying anyone that comes close to it. The plot is really a mystery in trying to figure out what this massive thing is and what it wants. I really like the big reveal at the end and thought it was an imaginative idea that was executed well on screen. Others seem to differ on this but to me, it’s really just classic Star Trek in the best way.

Plus, the special effects are stunning and they still hold up quite well by today’s standards. The interior of the alien vessel is incredible and Spock’s journey through it was reminiscent of the final sequence from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is bizarre but it’s supposed to be. It all just adds more to the mystery and enriches the mythos as it develops on screen. It isn’t so bizarre though, that it is a hard film to follow. It doesn’t sacrifice narrative for style, it is a good marriage of both actually. It also has its own unique look when compared to the television series and the films that came later. This is a truly unique sci-fi epic that looks beautiful.

Now it can feel slow at times and that bizarre wormhole experience is a distraction but the strengths outweigh the weaknesses.

I really like this film. It is not my favorite in the series but it certainly isn’t as bad as Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

Film Review: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

Release Date: August 24th, 1979
Directed by: Allan Arkush
Written by: Richard Whitley, Russ Dvonch, Joseph McBride, Allan Arkush, Joe Dante
Music by: The Ramones
Cast: P.J. Soles, Dey Young, Vince Van Patten, Clint Howard, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, Dick Miller, Don Steele, The Ramones

New World Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Those Ramones are peculiar.” – Miss Togar

Roger Corman always liked to capitalize on whatever pop culture trends came along. Initially, he wanted to make a film called Disco High School. However, with the end of the film being capped off by the high school exploding behind dancing students, one of his collaborators said that the ending would fit much better with rock and roll. Corman agreed and after being pointed in the direction of punk rock legends The Ramones by Paul Bartel, a regular Corman collaborator, the rest is history.

Rock & Roll High School isn’t a good film but it is a ridiculous and fun motion picture that features the great tunes of The Ramones and the insane and infectious enthusiasm of its star, P.J. Soles.

The film also stars the always great Mary Woronov as the villainous principal and Paul Bartel as a music teacher that converts to a fan of The Ramones after getting doped up at a concert. We also get a good cameo by Dick Miller and get to enjoy a few scenes with the enigmatic and entertaining Don Steele. A young Clint Howard is also in this.

This movie is mostly a high school teen sex comedy with a heavy emphasis on The Ramones music. It isn’t quite a musical but it plays like one at times. The Ramones have a lengthy concert segment within the film but outside of that, we see P.J. Soles lead a group of girls singing in gym class, as well as the big finale which sees the students and The Ramones march through the school halls as they trash the place to the horror of the administration, their parents and the police outside.

Rock & Roll High School is highly entertaining but probably only for those who love the actors involved or who have a love for The Ramones. I’m not sure how it would resonate for others. It’s definitely a movie that is still well regarded by many because of its ties to punk music, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, P.J. Soles and because it has a massive nostalgia factor.

Film Review: Tourist Trap (1979)

Release Date: March 16th, 1979
Directed by: David Schmoeller
Written by: David Schmoeller, J. Larry Carroll
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones, Jon Van Ness, Robin Sherwood, Tanya Roberts

Compass International Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Oh sure, help yourself… but it doesn’t work. I got nobody to call.” – Mr. Slausen

For some reason, a lot of slasher aficionados think that Tourist Trap is the friggin’ bee’s knees. I think it’s the bee’s stinger… right through the heart of good taste.

Sure, the ladies are pretty nice to look at, especially Tanya Roberts who I always thought was MILFtastic on That 70s Show, not to mention when she was a Bond girl in A View To A Kill and a replacement Angel at the end of the original Charlie’s Angels run. Other than that though, this thing is a pretty lame attempt at a slasher flick.

The opening scene where the dude gets locked in a room and harassed by cackling mannequins for what seems like 45 minutes, is one of the dumbest sequences that I have ever seen in a slasher film and I’ve seen Don’t Go In The Woods.

There is this killer that kinda looks like Leatherface in that horrible fourth Texas Chainsaw movie. You know, the one where he was a wailing banshee in a dress and covered in lipstick. Granted, this predates that movie by almost a decade and a half but it isn’t a good look regardless.

The killer and his doofus older brother (played by Chuck Connors, who should’ve known better than to be in this thing) go around trapping teens and killing them. We’re looking at lowest common denominator cookie cutter bullshit here.

The plot is weak, the characters suck except Tanya Roberts, the killer is dumb and the cinematography looks like it was handled by my drunk Uncle Titus between trying to perfect his barbecue sauce and spearing frogs for hors d’oeuvres.

Tourist Trap is not a classic despite what some tasteless folks might tell you. It is pretty boring, pretty ugly and a big ass romp full of stupid.

When run through the Cinespiria Shitometer this comes out as a Type 5 stool, which is defined as “Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (passed easily).” I beg to differ with the “passed easily” part.

Documentary Review: Document of the Dead (2012)

Release Date: November 13th, 2012
Directed by: Roy Frumkes
Music by: Rick Ulfik

Synapse Films, 66 Minutes (1979 cut), 85 Minutes (1989 cut), 102 Minutes (2012 cut)

Review:

Document of the Dead is a documentary that has been released at three different times, as it has been updated and expanded throughout the years.

Initially, it was about the making of Goerge A. Romero’s 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead. Since then, it has looked behind the scenes at some of his other films, as well as checked in with the man and those close to him from 1978 up through 2006.

It is a sort of disjointed documentary, as the additions are very apparent in a way that distracts from the narrative. Also, the documentary jumps around a lot. It is entertaining and informative but it is a mess too.

I am reviewing the 2012 version, the final one released, so I can’t really say if the earlier versions, especially the 1979 original version, were more coherent. Anyway, it is the 1979 material that is the most compelling anyway.

Some of the cool things in this are seeing Tom Savini put the makeup on the Dawn of the Dead zombies, as well as his stunt work. Also, just seeing the behind the scenes stuff is cool, especially on an old school movie like this where DVD extras were still twenty years away.

Document of the Dead, while not a great documentary, is still a cool look into the world of Romero from a filmmaking point-of-view. For fans of Romero’s Dead series, it is certainly worth checking out.

Film Review: The Warriors (1979)

Release Date: February 9th, 1979
Directed by: Walter Hill
Written by: David Shaber, Walter Hill
Based on: The Warriors by Sol Yurick
Music by: Barry De Vorzon
Cast: Michael Beck, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, James Remar, Dorsey Wright, Brian Tyler, David Harris, Tom McKitterick, Marcelino Sanchez, Terry Michos, Roger Hill, David Patrick Kelly, Lynne Thigpen, Mercedes Ruehl, Paul Greco

Paramount Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

The Warriors is a classic. Albeit, maybe not in the same sense as 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Good, The Bad and The Ugly but it is a classic nonetheless.

Few films have as much style and grit as The Warriors. Even fewer are able to generate the nostalgic kinship this film has with its long-time fans. It is a gem at the end of a great era of film – closing out the 1970s and making way for the 1980s.

I wasn’t even two months old when this film came out but I have had a strong bond with it since my preteen years. Maybe that leads me to showing a lot of favoritism to this film but considering the amount of movies I have seen over the course of my life, being that I’ve been an avid film buff since I was five or six, the fact that I still watch this twice a year says something about how great it is.

The Warriors follows a street gang in New York City as they have to fight through several gangs and several territories in an effort to get back home after being framed for murdering the biggest gang leader in the city. It almost plays like a 1980s arcade fighting game and I can bet that many of the game developers of the 80s borrowed a lot from this film. Each borough is a new stage, each stage comes with a new gang or a new challenge and eventually, they win by getting to the end – some safe and sound but with many casualties and fatalities along the way.

Instead of just being a somewhat accurate portrayal of 1970s New York City gangs, the film is more of a fantasy portrayal. All the gangs have unique looks and gimmicks which may seem cheesy at first but ultimately creates an environment that is just as scary as it is bizarre. Also, even with the 1970s fashion and hair, it is a timeless feeling film because it creates its own world and isn’t necessarily a representation of 1970s reality.

This is my favorite film by director Walter Hill and he’s done a lot of films I like, such as Hard Times, The Driver, Streets of Fire, The Long Riders, 48 Hrs., Brewster’s Millions, Red Heat and Trespass. This is also my favorite film featuring the talents of David Patrick Kelly, who plays the villainous Luther – a character which gave us one of the best ad-libs in cinema history with “Warriors, come out to play-ay!” He went on to star in a lot of roles that were all almost equally as awesome – Twin Peaks and The Crow being my other favorites. James Remar, most famous now for being Dexter Morgan’s ghost dad on Dexter, is just fantastic in this. I also enjoyed Deborah Van Valkenburgh who went on to be in the Ted Knight sitcom Too Close For Comfort.

The acting isn’t superb by any stretch of the imagination, other than Kelly, but it doesn’t matter. Besides, the acting is much better than the run of the mill B-movies of the era. While this can seemingly fall into that category, it stands on its own as a unique film and an interesting experience. The film never tires, even after all these years.

If I were ever to open a film school, The Warriors would be required viewing. It has style, it is a really cool concept that is perfectly executed and it is a fun movie. Although, if you are a male in America, I’m assuming you’ve seen it already.

Film Review: A Force of One (1979)

Release Date: June 1979
Directed by: Paul Aaron
Written by: Pat E. Johnson, Ernest Tidyman
Music by: Dick Halligan
Cast: Chuck Norris, Jennifer O’Neill, Clu Gulager, Ron O’Neal, Bill Wallace

American Cinema Releasing, 90 Minutes

a_force_of_oneReview:

A Force of One was wedged between two other Chuck Norris “classics”, Good Guys Wear Black and The Octagon. This film fit the same vibe of the other two. They’re almost a trilogy of sorts due to their similar tone and being that they capture that late 70s/early 80s low-budget action film style. They were also the start of Chuck Norris as the star. I’m ignoring Breaker! Breaker!, which preceded these, because it was god awful yet somehow didn’t wreck Norris’ career before it started.

The premise for A Force of One is so goofy and the situations so cookie cutter for the time, that it makes it an amusing film. Basically, there is a karate killer targeting undercover detectives so the police force sends their detectives to learn karate from Chuck Norris (his character’s name isn’t even important). Norris then falls for the lead cop chick, gets caught up in the mess, one of his pupils gets murdered by the karate killer, he discovers that the karate killer is one of his own and he goes out for REVENGE!

There’s nothing exceptional about this film other than it is entertaining for it’s ridiculousness and it helped move Chuck Norris’ career a little further. I can’t comment much on the artistic merits of the film because there really weren’t any. The script was pretty much the same script that has been recycled since this genre began. The acting was less than mediocre. The action was typical and nothing extraordinary. However, there was a generic karate cop killer, so there’s that.

I liked The Octagon, which followed this film, a lot better because at least it had a gang of ninjas and a Double Dare style obstacle course for Chuck Norris to fight the ninjas in.

Film Review: Zombi 2 (1979)

Also known as: Zombie (USA)
Release Date: August 25th, 1979 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Dardano Sacchetti
Music by: Fabio Frizzi
Cast: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver, Auretta Gay, Olga Karlatos

Variety Film, 91 Minutes

zombi2Review:

Zombi 2, known in America as just Zombie, is a 1979 Italian horror film directed by Lucio Fulci. It was made to be a sequel of sorts to George A. Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead, which was known internationally as Zombi.

Yes, that’s confusing, especially since Zombi 2 produced its own new mythos and franchise and because Romero made his own sequel in 1985 called Day of the Dead.

I look at this as its own film and not part of Romero’s still expanding universe. The main difference between the two worlds is that this film’s zombies are created through Voodoo where Romero’s were not.

The film is one of the best Italian horror films of its time. It doesn’t have the visual insanity of a Dario Argento picture but it is chock-full of dread and very unsettling. There are scenes in this film that are still effective and terrifying.

There are also scenes that are so bizarre, that you can’t not love this movie. For instance, there is a zombie just hanging out underwater at one point and then it gets into a fight with a shark. And they used a real shark while filming. Some guy, in full zombie makeup, with his vision obscured, wrestled a living shark underwater!

Zombi 2 is also a beautiful film to look at. It was mostly shot in Latina, Italy and took place in the Caribbean. Watching the film, it truly does look like a Caribbean setting. The landscape is marvelous, the water is blue and pristine – it is hard to imagine a place so mesmerizing to be the center of such horror.

I love this movie, I always have. I first saw it as a young kid who shouldn’t have been allowed to rent most of the movies I did but back then, video store clerks weren’t censorship Nazis.

If you are a fan of Italian horror or zombie films, this one is worth your time. Unless you want fast moving zombies, constant gore and non-stop action. This film has its share of gore and action but the majority of the film is there to build suspense before the big final fiery crescendo.