TV Review: The Transformers – Original Miniseries & Seasons 1 & 2 (1984-1986)

Also known as: Transformers: Generation 1, Transformers G1 (informal titles)
Release Date: September 17th, 1984 – January 9th, 1986
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Transformers by Hasbro and Takara Tomy
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Robert J. Walsh
Cast (voices): Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Chris Latta, Michael Bell, Corey Burton, John Stephenson, Jack Angel, Casey Kasem, Scatman Crothers, Charlie Adler

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, AKOM, Claster Television, 65 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Sometimes even the wisest of man or machine can make an error.” – Optimus Prime

*Written in 2015.

The original Transformers television series, simply called The Transformers and now commonly referred to as Transformers G1 (for Generation One) was a sister show to Marvel/SunBow’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

It had the same art style, the same producers and directors and the voice cast of both shows were pretty much identical. It was also obvious to kids at the time but we didn’t care that Starscream and Cobra Commander had the same voice. All we cared about is that this show was just as badass as G.I. Joe.

Also, like G.I. Joe, this animated series was used as a vehicle to sell a tie-in toy line produced by Hasbro. It worked well, as the Transformers characters were some of the best-selling toys of all-time. In fact, after Star Wars, Hasbro’s G.I. Joe and Transformers lines have to be the hottest selling toys of the ’80s for boys.

In regards to the show, there were great multi-part episodes and many stand alone episodes. This was the typical format of male action cartoons of the era. We were treated to great stories, a rich mythos and interesting characters. The show was well executed and was one of the highlights of 1980s pop culture.

It has gone on to spin-off a bunch of other animated series, as well as live-action films (those are atrocious though), video games, comic books and thousands of toys. The franchise, born from this animated series, is still one of the most lucrative of all-time and continues to try and reinvent itself every few years.

In the end though, there has never been an incarnation of Transformers that has been as iconic and near perfect as the original animated series. And while people consider this era, the original miniseries and the first two seasons, which take place before the animated feature film, as the peak in Transformers entertainment, I am one of the weirdos that actually prefers the show after the film.

The reason why I wanted to single out the two halves with different reviews is that the second half, after the movie, is darker and has a slew of new characters and situations. The movie changed everything and it significantly altered the show’s tone. I will review the second half of this series at a later date.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow Transformers and G.I. Joe stuff.

Film Review: Detroit 9000 (1973)

Also known as: The Holy Hill Caper (working title), Detroit Heat (video title), Police Call 9000 (Canada), S.O.S. Black Guns (France), Call Detroit 9000 (UK & Ireland)
Release Date: August, 1973 (Detroit)
Directed by: Arthur Marks
Written by: Orville H. Hampton
Music by: Luchi de Jesus
Cast: Alex Rocco, Hari Rhodes, Vonetta McGee, Herb Jefferson Jr., Ella Edwards, Scatman Crothers

General Film Corporation, Rolling Thunder Pictures (1998 re-release), 106 Minutes

Review:

“Was this a honky caper to keep black power from taking over the state Senate?” – Reporter

Detroit 9000 was originally marketed as a blaxploitation film during the height of that genre’s run. In reality, it is less blaxploitation and more urban crime thriller.

It was never hugely successful but it had a resurgence in the late ’90s when Quentin Tarantino helped to get it in the public eye by sampling it on his Jackie Brown soundtrack and by helping to get it redistributed into some theaters. A DVD release followed that.

The film stars Alex Rocco and I love seeing him in his younger days. He’s a guy who I’ve appreciated in just about everything he’s done. Here, he plays a cop trying to do things by the book in a town full of corruption, crime and racial tension. His partner is black and played by Hari Rhodes. The two of them had a dynamic relationship that works well on screen.

You also get to see Vonetta McGee, one of the queens of blaxploitation cinema, and Scatman Crothers as a charismatic preacher.

The one thing that this film had working for it was the action. Sure, there are some flaws, like a noticeable squib on a guy’s neck before it blows open and that same guy firing an assault rifle in the most nonsensical way possible, but this picture is action heavy with a lot of gravitas.

It also feels gritty and real. While that was normal for urban movies of the era, this one just has an extra level of authenticity. It was filmed on location in Detroit and the city really is a character in this film in the same way that New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles really came to life in some of the top film-noir pictures of the 1940s.

I liked this movie a lot more than I thought I would. I’m a fan of blaxploitation flicks and while this isn’t a true blaxploitation picture, it was kind of better than that style’s average offering due to being more of a straight up crime picture. Yes, racial issues were at the forefront but this felt less like a political and social statement and more like a buddy cop action movie that just happened to take place in that cinematic landscape.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Cotton Comes to HarlemBlack CaesarThe MackTruck Turner and Bucktown.

Film Review: The Shining (1980)

Release Date: May 23rd, 1980
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson
Based on: The Shining by Stephen King
Music by: Wendy Carlos, Rachel Elkind
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Danny Lloyd, Joe Turkel, Philip Stone, Tony Burton

The Producer Circle Company, Peregrine Productions, Hawk Films, Warner Bros., 146 Minutes (premiere), 144 Minutes (US cut), 119 Minutes (European cut)

Review:

“Here’s Johnny!” – Jack Torrance

My big Halloween treat this year was getting to see The Shining on the big screen!

People often ask me what the greatest horror movie of all-time is. The Shining is always the first motion picture to pop into my mind and frankly, it has always been my favorite. John Carpenter’s The Thing is a very close second.

The reason I love this film so much is because it is a masterpiece. It is perfect in every regard. The direction, the acting, the cinematography, the music, the sound, the lighting, the whole overall ambiance: everything.

Some people, Stephen King included, were critical over the fact that Stanley Kubrick didn’t include some of the elements of King’s novel. King was even instrumental in the film being remade as a miniseries for television in the 1990s but that version falls short in every way. While this is based off of King’s writings, the film is very much a Kubrick picture and to be honest, Kubrick is the stronger artist of the two, especially behind the camera, because do you really want to try and compare King’s directorial effort Maximum Overdrive to The Shining?

Books and film are two different mediums and even then, The Shining film is better than The Shining book. Besides, walking shrub animals just wouldn’t fit into this film in a believable way.

As great as Jack Nicholson has always been, it is hard to think of a film where he shined more than he did here, pun intended. As Jack Torrance, Nicholson became the top movie monster, as far as a singular performance goes. Sure, he might not look as cool as Dracula or Freddy Krueger but he is much more terrifying and has a presence that no other actor has matched in a horror picture.

Shelley Duvall also nailed her role and honestly, she has never been better than she was in The Shining. A lot of her performance was enhanced, behind the scenes, by Kubrick terrorizing her on set. He did this in an effort to generate an authentic performance and it worked. His technique was harsh but it wasn’t any different than what many auteur directors have done in the past. I can’t think of a better actress for the role and Duval really is the character of Wendy. She’s terrified, frail but sweet in a way that your heart goes out to her and you wish you could go into the film and pull her and Danny away from mortal danger.

The film also has a few character actors sprinkled in. There is Scatman Crothers, who plays Mr. Holloran, an older cook that has the power to “shine” like the child Danny. His death still bothers me every time I watch the film because all he wanted to do was help Wendy and Danny escape the hell they were trapped in. Joe Turkel, most known as Tyrell from Blade Runner, plays the hotel bartender. Tony Burton, Apollo Creed’s trainer from the Rocky films, also has a small role as the owner of a garage.

While this is considered a ghost story and a haunted house movie on the grandest scale, it is more about madness and isolation. While the Overlook Hotel is incredibly haunted and ghosts appear to steer Jack into his state of madness, you feel as if none of this wouldn’t happen if the family wasn’t trapped in this massive snowed in lodge, by themselves for five months. You also get the feeling that Jack was already going to lose his mind and just needed a little push. It is also a film about abusive relationships taken to the extreme.

The film is full of violence, a good bit of gore and grotesque things but it is so artistic in the application of its imagery that everything seems to have some sort of deeper meaning than what is seen on the surface. People have been debating the “hidden messages” in this movie for years. There is even a whole documentary that analyzes that stuff. It’s called Room 237 and I already reviewed it here. It’s not great but for fans of this film, it is still a fun experience.

The Shining is a perfect motion picture. Some people take issue with the way Kubrick handled certain parts of it. Some people also think that it is lacking in substance. It really isn’t something that should be compared to King’s style or other haunted house stories. It is as unique as Stanley Kubrick was. It is the most terrifying tale that the auteur director has ever crafted and horror films like this just don’t exist anywhere else.

Film Review: Black Belt Jones (1974)

Release Date: January 28th, 1974
Directed by: Robert Clouse
Written by: Alexandra Rose, Fred Weintraub, Oscar Williams
Music by: Dennis Coffey
Cast: Jim Kelly, Gloria Hendry, Scatman Crothers

Warner Bros., 87 Minutes

Review:

Black Belt Jones is one of my favorite films in the 1970s blaxploitation genre. It mixes two things really well, blaxploitation and kung fu; two big staples of urban filmgoers’ diets in the 1970s.

While other films utilized this combination, Rudy Ray Moore’s Dolemite immediately coming to mind, it was the films starring Jim Kelly that had a real martial arts authenticity to them, as he was a legitimate world karate champion with a multitude of major tournament wins. He also starred alongside Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon, which gave him immense credibility. In any event, the proof is in the pudding, as Kelly executed the most impressive fight moves in the history of blaxploitation film.

The film also features Gloria Hendry, who came off as one of the most bad ass female characters in the genre, if not in the entire history of cinema. Her character of Sydney was a martial arts expert who could hold her own alongside Jim Kelly’s Black Belt Jones. She also brought a certain level of street cred to the picture, as she starred alongside Fred Williamson in Black Caesar and its sequel Hell Up In Harlem, a year earlier. She was also a Bond Girl in 1973’s Live and Let Die.

Scatman Crothers, a longtime favorite of mine, plays a small role but he has a major impact on the story and he takes over every time you see him on the screen during the first act of the film. Crothers always had a strong presence in everything he did, which is probably why filmmaking auteur Stanley Kubrick hired him to play Dick Halloran in his horror masterpiece The Shining.

The plot of Black Belt Jones is a pretty simple one that hits all the blaxploitation notes and utilizes the tropes that come along with it. It’s not necessarily well written but its strengths come with its execution. Creatively, this was something new in the genre because of the talent and credibility of its two stars.

There are a few highlights in the film.

The first is the sequence where Sydney kicks her heels off and, to the surprise of everyone in the room and the audience watching, whips the shit out of a gang of thugs. She is like a kung fu pixie versus a band of evil heavies that dwarf her.

The second highlight is the final battle where Black Belt Jones and Sydney take on the big crime bosses in a parking lot that is covered in suds and bubbles. It is a bizarre scene but it is visually stunning and a neat sequence. They both throw kicks and punches, annihilating their enemies with ease, as suds fly with every strike. Ultimately, it is really a memorable scene because of its oddness but somewhat cute nature.

Black Belt Jones is not a tour de force of filmmaking skill but it is a hell of a good time and cashes in at just under 90 minutes. It marries the blaxploitation and kung fu genres perfectly and it has a great sense of humor. It wasn’t intended to be serious and it doesn’t act as if it is. It is playful, exciting and most importantly, bad ass.