Category Archives: 1978 Movie reviews

A Wedding-1978

A Wedding-1978

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Carol Burnett, Mia Farrow, Paul Dooley

Reviewed January 6, 2011

Grade: A

A Wedding is an obscure, brilliant gem penned and directed by Robert Altman- a film genius in my opinion and one of my most adored directors. I love most of his movies and A Wedding is no exception. The creative way that Altman weaves intersecting story-lines and dialogue, thereby creating a real-life tone, gives immense realism to his films.

In A Wedding, he takes a basic life event, and turns it into a well nuanced, fascinating, comical, yet dramatic story. He is known for having enormous casts (in A Wedding it is forty eight principles), but every character serves a purpose. The viewer will feel that they are a fly on the wall of a real wedding.  Altman’s actors primarily improvise the dialogue, speaking at the same time, bringing a reaistic edge. I adore this quality.

The film is a satire- people either love or loath attending weddings and Altman’s film caters to the latter. He creates a setting, from the ceremony, to the reception, riddled with awkward moments, and social guffaws.

In pure satirical, soap opera fashion, two wealthy families gather at a lavish estate for the ceremony to commence. Hilarity ensues when the dead corpse of the matriarch of one family lies in her bed, nobody realizing she is actually dead. Other hi-jinks, such as the revelation of a nude, life-size portrait of the bride, the caterer falling ill, and a tornado wreaking havoc.

Slowly, secrets are revealed by the families, as the alcohol flows and the characters become involved in the perilous situations. Altman does it again as he creates a masterpiece based on a real-life situations that most can relate to.

Violette Noziere-1978

Violette Noziere-1978

Director-Claude Chabrol

Starring-Isabelle Huppert

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Reviewed February 16, 2016

Grade:B+

Another in the legion of thrilling and mysterious films by French director Claude Chabrol, Violette Noziere tells the true story of an eighteen year old Parisian girl, who plots her parents murder in 1930’s France. The fact that the tale is true to life makes it even more horrific and mesmerizing. It is beautifully shot, though the action largely takes place in interior settings. This film is a cerebral experience.

The film is classy in every way- like French films typically are, and Isabelle Hupert (Violette) takes center stage. She is gorgeous and interesting looking (reminiscent of a young Jennifer Jason Leigh) in the lead role. Violette appears to be a typical French teen, but harbors a dark secret and something always appears glum about the character. She works nights as a prostitute accosting wealthy men. When she meets handsome, but spendthrift, Jean Francois, a young man she fancies, she becomes his main source of income and slowly begins to plot the murder of her low-income, yet stable parents, in an attempt to inherit their apparent savings.

The story is somewhat murky as Violette’s version of events (mainly in the past and concerning her father) are accusatory. She insists that her father sexually abused her as a child, but is this in her fantasy world or did this actually happen? One never knows. Making the film compelling is that Violette’s parents are quite likable. Struggling to make ends meet and provide a quality life, they prepare home-cooked meals, enjoy life, and appear to be decent people. What is the reality?

Later, we witness a rivalry between Violette and her mother. In one scene we see Violette’s father bouncing his daughter on his knee while mother looks on filled with hatred. When she attempts to seduce her husband, unsuccessfully, Violette looks on amused. Is this solely in Violette’s mind?

Chabrol, an admirer of Alfred Hitchcock’s, keeps the suspense going throughout the film, but the heart of the film really belongs to Hupert. From the start of the film, amid meaningless banter with her more refined girlfriend, the audience can tell there is something amiss about Violette. She seems lonely, like a lost little girl yearning for some excitement as her eyes stare into the distance. Her true colors are slowly exposed, yet Chabrol never makes her all out crazy. Violette always has a cool, calm, demeanor and that is why the film succeeds.

For fans of Chabrol, or film fans eager for a foreign language treat, Violette Noziere is a rare find, a welcome addition to the growing number of his films I have watched with interest, and heartily enjoyed. The mystique, the beauty of the artistry, and the twists and turns are top notch.

Grease-1978

Grease-1978

Director-Randal Kleiser

Starring-John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John

Top 100 Films-#70

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Reviewed January 21, 2017

Grade: A

Grease is the ultimate musical fantasy come to life and can be appreciated by anyone looking to re-live their high school days through song, or merely escape life’s stresses with a fun, bright, musical, that is very well made. Is it realistic? Absolutely not, but sometimes escapism is just what the doctor ordered, and Grease is one of my favorite films that meets that criteria. It is light-hearted and sweet, and above all contains wonderful, legendary musical numbers.

The time period is the 1950’s, and we meet Danny and Sandy on a windswept beach with cascading waves and bright sunshine. It is summer break for the two high school students, who meet in California, she vacationing from Australia, he a local boy. They say their goodbyes and return to normal lives, but cannot forget about each other. Suddenly, Sandy arrives at Rydell High in Los Angeles, coincidentally where Danny goes to school. Her parents (whom we never see) decided to stay in California.

Danny is a “tough guy” in high school, much different from who he was on the beach with Sandy. He is the leader of the infamous T-birds, a group of boys who love their black leather jackets and cars. Torn, he continues his tough image and he and Sandy find their way back to each other through classmates, songs, and dancing, intermingling fun supporting characters who encourage each of them to find true love.

Travolta and Newton-John have magical chemistry, which really allows this film to work. Certainly, Grease has appeared on stage numerous times, but these actors are fine together. I buy them as teenagers in love, despite the fact that both were well beyond teen years. The supporting cast is excellent- specifically Stockard Channing as the lead Pink Lady, Rizzo, and Sandy’s kind-hearted friend Frenchy. Interestingly, no parents ever appear in the film as it really not about the adults. However, Rydell’s female principal, Mrs. McGee (played by Eve Arden), and her dotty Vice Principal, Blanche (Dody Goodman), are simply marvelous as comic relief.

Rizzo is an interesting character and can be argued is the only one who threatens to steal the thunder from Danny and Sandy. Containing a tough exterior, she is also vulnerable as she fears she has become pregnant mid-way through the film. Unwed and pregnant in the 1950’s was quite the scandal and Channing gives layers of emotion during her solo number, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”.

The wonderful high school dance scene is choreographed amazingly well. The excitement of the student body at being filmed for a special television show is apparent as dance numbers and dance contests, some raunchy, follow.

The musical numbers are intrinsically memorable from “Grease”, “Greased Lightning”, “Hopelessly Devoted To You”, and “Beauty School Dropout”, all of which are personal favorites of mine.

Grease is a film that is not meant to be analyzed, but rather enjoyed for the fantastic chemistry and energy in which it has. Sometimes in film all of the elements simply come together in perfect fashion and Grease is an excellent example of this.

Dawn of the Dead-1978

Dawn of the Dead-1978

Director-George A. Romero

Starring-David Emge, Ken Foree

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Reviewed November 25, 2015

Grade: B

One of the better installments by famed horror-comedy director, George A. Romero, though inferior to my personal favorite  film of his, Night of the Living Dead, Romero focuses slightly more on the comedy aspect with Dawn of the Dead, though for horror fans, there is plenty of gore to satisfy the more blood-thirsty viewer. This film is glossier and slicker than its predecessor was.

On a slightly larger budget than Night of the Living Dead,  the events largely take place in suburban Pennsylvania, and more specifically, a local mall. An unknown phenomenon has made non-buried humans change form into flesh-eating zombies that prey on other human beings. A group of survivors hunker down in a suburban mall and begin a life of adequacy-utilizing the contents of the mall until events threaten their existence. They must form a militant operation in order to continue to survive.  The four survivors are Stephen and Francine- two staff members of a local television station- and Roger and Peter- two SWAT team members whom they meet in the ensuing chaos. The quartet steal a helicopter and travel a short distance to the mall.

Having viewed Dawn of the Dead on multiple occasions, I am a fan of the film, but not an enormous fan, and it hovers below my Top 25 Horror Films list.  The main flaw of the film is how it delves into the personal lives of Stephen and Francine midstream, a fact I find meaningless and in fact, stalls the plot. Francine has realized that she is pregnant and I just do not understand the point of slowing down the action for this purpose. I am a huge fan of character development (even in the horror genre!), but this development does not work.

Still, the lengthy portion of the film, and with a running time of over two hours (highly unusual for horror), I am enamored with. The scenes in the mall are fantastic and the action in the final act is thrilling. Reminiscent of my youth and spending hours as a child, along with my mother and siblings, being paraded around the local mall, the look of the mall in Dawn of the Dead brings back a flood of memories. From the fake green plants, to the mannequins, the pool of water filled with coins, and, of course,  the redundant, but lovely Muzak in the background.

Romero, as he did with Night of the Living Dead, provides a social element to the film. In the case of Dawn of the Dead, it is the onset of materialism and consumerism that captured the United States in the late 1970’s and the 1980’s that he focuses on, and it took me a couple of viewings to catch onto this point- the zombies stupidly walking around the mall in numbing fashion mirroring how many people did during the day. One character mentions that the zombies are drawn to the mall because it is familiar- much like people frequented the malls in that time period frivolously spending away their time and their money.

Some of the deaths, including one main characters, are haunting. As the character suddenly “turns”, it is frightening to see them in this new light as compared to how they once were. And, in comic fashion, my favorite zombie character is the nurse. Clad in nurse-gear (white shoes, classic nurse cap, and white uniform) she is creepy yet mesmerizing in her body and facial expressions as she lumbers around the mall. It makes me smile each time I see her.

Dawn of the Dead is certainly one of the better, more interesting zombie movies around- I just wish the relationship drama, mainly in the center of the film, had been derailed or modified, as it slows down the pacing of the film. Still, a good, fun, late night flick.

Halloween-1978

Halloween-1978

Director-John Carpenter

Starring-Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence

Top 100 Films-#4     Top 20 Horror Films-#3

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Reviewed November 21, 2015

Grade: A

 Halloween is an iconic horror film from 1978 that set the tone for the barrage of slasher films to follow throughout the 1980’s and into the 1990’s.  Today, the film continues to hold up incredibly well and I am proud to list it as, not only one of my favorite horror films (in which I religiously watch every Halloween), but one of my favorite films of all time. The focus is on style and substance over gore (the film contains little) and the score is one of the scariest and most effective in cinema history.

The premise of the film is simple- a homicidal maniac is on the loose in a sleepy little town named Haddonfield, Illinois and is targeting three female babysitters one crisp Halloween night. The audience knows that the six-year old little boy dressed as a clown on a dark Halloween night years ago, and who butchered his older sister to death, is the now grown-up culprit. What we do not know, nor should we, is what his (Michael Meyers) motivation is.  This confusion only adds to the impact of the story. Subsequent remakes have added complexities to the character, needlessly so, but in the original, we see a seemingly happy child with stable parents and a good life.

Similar stories have been told over time in film history. But with Halloween, it is simply one of the greatest horror films ever made. As simple as the story is, it is the way the film is made that makes it a masterpiece. Everything about Halloween is mesmerizing- the lighting is perfect, the ambiance, the incredibly scary musical score brilliant, the battle between good and evil, the perfect feeling of a chilly Halloween night. Highly unusual for its time, the point of view of the killer and heavy breathing is prevalent throughout the film, which will startle and scare the viewer. The opening shot is through the eyes of a masked six year old kid wearing a clown mask. The unique technical aspects go on and on.

Director John Carpenter had a vision for this film and thankfully no studio influence ruined it since it was an independent film on a shoestring budget. The Hitchcock influences are evident in the character names- Sam Loomis. Many scenes involve someone watching the action or peeking around a corner, through a window, which makes the viewer anxious and nervous. Set in small-town USA, a frightening element of the film is that it could happen anywhere and the location is ingenious. There is very little blood, let alone gore, in Halloween- it is needless. It is the creepiness that makes the film brilliant.

The three teenagers are perfectly cast- Jamie Lee Curtis is the serious bookworm, P.J. Soles and Nancy Keyes are the flirtatious bad girls, but the chemistry between them is great and the audience buys them as best friends. The jump-out- of- your seat moments are incredibly well-timed and it is one of the few genuinely scary films.

Forget solely the horror genre- Halloween is one of the greatest films ever made.