Category Archives: 1979 Movie reviews

The Tin Drum-1979

The Tin Drum-1979

Director-Volker Schlöndorff

Starring-David Bennent, Angela Winkler

Scott’s Review #1,047

Reviewed July 31, 2020

Grade: A

A fantastic and mesmerizing film experience that goes deeper than most films do the longer you stick with it, The Tin Drum (1979) takes a brutal point in world history and completes a layered production. The film brings humor morphing into tragedy and back again in the most original of ways seen through the eyes of a young boy named Oskar (David Bennent), who decides to physically grow no further than three-years-old in an allegory of political turmoil amid World War II. The film is riddled with thought provocation and historical meaning resulting in brilliance.

The film begins in 1899 and ends in the early 1940’s. The story starts hilariously in Polish lands when Oskar’s grandfather meets his grandmother while fleeing police. Their tryst in a potato field produces Oskar’s mother, Agnes (Angela Winkler). She is then later torn between two men, her cousin Jan (Daniel Olbrychski) and Alfred Matzerath (Mario Adorf), whom she marries. Oskar is born with his parentage in question since Agnes carries on an affair with Jan throughout the years. Oskar’s grandfather flees to America and becomes rich sans family.

When Oskar turns three, he is given a tin drum as a present that he adores and refuses to part with. He throws himself down the cellar stairs much to his family’s chagrin and develops the uncanny ability to shatter glass by screaming at a high pitch. As the 1930’s become the 1940’s Oskar witnesses his mother’s affair, her tragic death, his father’s and uncle’s deaths, and a beloved Jewish man committing suicide rather than being caught by the Nazis. He finds love with a sixteen-year-old shop girl named Maria and may or may not father her baby.

The Tin Drum is not always an easy watch and teeters between fun and frightening. Oskar is not the lovable kid next door that everyone adores. He is creepy looking and unattractive at first glance, almost demonic in nature. Actor David Bennent is perfectly cast and has a way of offering moments where he stands transfixed, mouth dropped open, taking in the action and making gazing observations. Oskar goes from three years old when the film begins to a grown man when it ends but never changes appearance.

Some viewers may be bothered by certain scenes. Bennent was only eleven years old and suffered from a growth defect in real-life. More prudish viewers may find the youngster’s intimacy a bit shocking since he appears nude and beds a woman in full view. I found it in no way gratuitous or exploitative and would argue that it is vital to show the growth and maturation of little Oskar. Foreign language films typically get away with more sex and nudity than American films, but the scenes are artistic and beautiful.

The pacing in The Tin Drum is terrific. At two hours and forty-three minutes there is plenty of time to explore relevant scenes and sequences slowly letting them brew and marinate. The comedy of Oskar’s grandparent’s sexual appetites taking place under her big dress are hilarious and reminiscent of Federico Fellini’s best films. The intriguing dwarf characters that Oskar meets and befriends bring life and zest to the film as they embrace their peculiarities and profit from them encouraging them to do the same.

The second half of The Tin Drum turns dark. Agnes, now pregnant, vomits after witnessing eel being collected on the beach. When they are prepared for dinner, she at first resists then embarks on a fish-eating obsession resulting in her untimely death. Is this an example of showing German’s stuffing themselves with Nazism? The deaths of Jan, Alfred, and others follow in rapid succession as clips of the Nazi occupation are featured.

A valuable history lesson is offered when The Tin Drum incorporates real-life footage of Adolph Hitler. Most frightening is a clip of him outside of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. How he overtook this magical city and almost destroyed it is unfathomable. This perfectly counterbalances the fairy-tale or ridiculousness of other scenes bringing home the terrible message that much of what the film explores are true events.

The greatness that oozes from The Tin Drum (1979) is layered and dynamic. The filming is mostly in West Germany with bits shot in Poland which gives an authenticity of the experience. Other offerings are surrealistic, sometimes child-like innocence, sometimes tragic and too realistic. The picture drizzles with life, energy, synergy, and multi-faceted character relationships. One of the greats to watch more than once to grasp the numerous things going on. The film version is adapted from the novel of the same name, written by Gunter Grass.

Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film (won)

When a Stranger Calls-1979

When a Stranger Calls-1979

Director-Fred Walton

Starring-Charles Durning, Carol Kane, Tony Beckley

Scott’s Review #1,046

Reviewed July 29, 2020

Grade: B+

When a Stranger Calls (1979) has the great honor of possessing one of the most frightening twenty minutes in horror film history, kicking the daylights out of the stunned and transfixed viewer from the first frame. While still a very good film, the pacing slows down and changes into a different kind of film before kicking back into high- gear again for the final twenty minutes of action. This results in some imbalance and imperfections throughout. Carol Kane, Tony Beckley, and Colleen Dewhurst make the film as good as it is and are the standouts for me.

Teenage babysitter Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) calmly walks through an affluent California neighborhood for a quiet evening of watching two children. The doctor and his wife are embarking on a night of dinner and a movie and the children will be no trouble, Jill is told, since they are recovering from colds and are already fast asleep in their beds. Shortly after they leave, Jill begins to receive odd phone calls from a man simply asking, “have you checked the children”? At first assumed to be a practical joke, the calls become more menacing prompting Jill to get the police involved.

Now terrified, Jill is told by the alarmed police to calmly get out of the house because the calls she is receiving are coming from inside the house! She flees and is met head-on by Detective John Clifford (Charles Durning), who apprehends an English merchant seaman named Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley), who has ripped the children to shreds with his bare hands. He is subsequently sent to an asylum only to escape seven years later prompting Clifford to hunt him down like an animal.

The film is really sectioned into two segments and multiple genres. The beginning and conclusion are standard horror sequences while the guts of the film delve into psychological thriller or crime drama territory with similarities to Dirty Harry (1971) emerging. Clifford spends much of his time trying to track down Duncan in a cat and mouse game throughout Los Angeles. Colleen Dewhurst plays a middle-aged woman who catches the eye of Duncan one night in a seedy downtown nightclub.

Director, Fred Walton, makes Clifford a hard-edged, grizzled detective who has seen it all and has no mercy for Duncan, intent on killing him dead rather than capturing him. Durning is not the best part of the film and the role might have been cast with a more charismatic actor. Perplexing is what Duncan’s motivation is for killing other than simply being crazy which is not a good enough explanation. Was he abused as a child? During some scenes he is sympathetic, more like a wounded child than a crazed killer. He simply wants a friend, whereas Clifford, the good guy, is sometimes unsympathetic and tough to root for.

With “deer caught in headlight’s eyes” expressions and emotions, Kane’s Jill is brilliant using her eyes to great benefit. The audience feels her peril, fear, and panic during her scenes. When Duncan resurfaces looking for her again (though it’s not clear why he obsesses over her), her nice life, two children, and husband’s lives are all placed in jeopardy. Dewhurst, who could have easily been cast as the lead in Gloria (1980) is tough as nails and no-nonsense, though she does feel sympathy, and some attraction for Duncan.

In 1996, when Scream was released and provided the oomph that the horror genre desperately needed, thanks was justifiably given to When a Stranger Calls for its mighty influence. The first twelve minutes of Scream are a direct homage to this film, when a stranger calls (pun intended!) and the leading ladies life spirals out of control due to a phone call and menacing voice. Parts of the opening sequence are influenced by Black Christmas (1974) a brilliant horror film instrumental in the making of so many others. The revelation that the killer is inside the house is a plot device that remains scary and satisfying.

Offering a cross genre approach that works best with the terrifying horror elements, When a Stranger Calls (1979) is a sometimes terrific and sometimes an uneven picture. Thanks to compelling acting, the slowed down middle portion does not ruin the entire experience, but what an erupting and memorable beginning and end. Followed by an unsuccessful sequel and an even more disappointing remake in 2006.

Moonraker-1979

Moonraker-1979

Director-Lewis Gilbert

Starring-Roger Moore, Lois Chiles

Scott’s Review #770

Reviewed June 8, 2018

Grade: A-

Moonraker (1979) is an installment of the James Bond film franchise not usually well regarded and rarely appearing on critics top ten lists. Perhaps a reason for this is the timing of the film, hot on the heels of the late 1970’s Star Wars craze. Plans for a different Bond film were scrapped in favor of an outer space story. Regardless, I adore most of Moonraker, save for the final thirty minutes when the plot gets way too far-fetched for anyone’s good. The rest of the film is a superior entry and holds up quite well in the modern age of all things Bond.

Many of the familiar elements remain intact following the successful and lavish The Spy Who Loved Me (1975). An even heftier budget featuring gorgeous locales like Venice, Rio de Janeiro, and the Amazon rain forest are featured as well as a capable, intelligently written “Bond girl”. The villains, compelling and suave, including the return appearance of Jaws (Richard Kiel), and handy, dandy gadgets make Moonraker a treat for fans. Therefore, I find the non-love for the film rather mystifying.

The action starts off as a jumbo airplane carrying a Drax Industries Moonraker space shuttle is hijacked in midair causing the plane to crash and the shuttle to disappear. Since the space shuttle was on loan to the United Kingdom from the wealthy and powerful Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), 007 (Roger Moore) is tasked with finding its whereabouts. He visits the grand shuttle-manufacturing plant in California where he learns that Drax and his bodyguard Chang are sinister and plotting global destruction.

Bond befriends the gorgeous and highly intelligent Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), an astronaut who works at the facility, and Corinne Dufour (Corinne Clery), the beautiful personal pilot of Drax. As events roll along Jaws returns to the story seeking revenge on Bond and subsequently serving as Drax’s new bodyguard. Of course, treasured favorites like M (Bernard Lee), Q (Desmond Llewelyn), and Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), return to the fold.

To explain the weakest portion of the film first, producers were clearly attempting to capitalize on the tremendous success of 1977’s Star Wars by featuring a space exploration theme. Interestingly, only the final half hour does this come into play as Bond and Goodhead, and nearly all the cast, don bright yellow space suits. Drax’s evil plan is to eradicate all human kind and begin a new world with only beautiful people existing and reproducing.

The inevitable final battle scenes take place in a sprawling space station amid laser guns shooting bright beams- a direct rip off from Star Wars. In fact, the entire sequence is too long and quite reminiscent of my criticism of the tedious finale from the otherwise brilliant The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker’s predecessor.

Otherwise, the film is top notch. Fantastic sequences involves Bond’s mid-air fight with a bad guy and a dangerous struggle for a parachute, a fight scene high atop a Cable Car during Rio Carnival, a vicious sparring in a Venice museum, and a female character chased and torn to bits by Drax’s carnivorous dogs, all make for great action sequences. The highlight though, may very well be Bond’s harrowing ordeal inside an out of control centrifuge chamber.

The return of Jaws is certainly a highlight to Moonraker especially as the popular villain turns “good” and finds a love interest! When he sees the cute blonde girl with pig tails and glasses, both characters eyes light up in a “love at first site” moment. As Jaws realizes Drax plans to both of them exterminated his alliances suddenly switch resulting in a touching scene between the two over champagne.

Moore and Chiles have tremendous chemistry as the MI-6 agent teams with the capable female CIA agent. In fact, Holly Goodhead is portrayed exceptionally well: female, intelligent, gorgeous, and savvy. Impressive (and progressive) is how Goodhead takes charge as she and 007 make a harrowing journey back to planet Earth and then work nicely together to destroy Drax’s deadly missiles. Sure the romance is there, but also the mutual respect between the two.

Fondly recalling childhood memories watching this film numerous times, Moonraker (1979) holds good memories for me. More importantly, it possesses wonderful Bond qualities that will enchant many Bond fans seeking fun and entertainment. The film admittedly contains a ludicrous plot attempting to fit the times, but thanks to lavish sets and a competent main Bond girl, the film is quite memorable.

Oscar Nominations: Best Visual Effects

Hair-1979

Hair-1979

Director-Milos Forman

Starring-Treat Williams, John Savage, Beverly D’Angelo

Scott’s Review #664

Reviewed July 14, 2017

Grade: B+

Hair is a 1979 musical film that, in addition to catchy singing and dance numbers, possesses quite a serious theme- that of the Vietnam war. This film is not your traditional Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer style musical prevalent in the 1950’s. Rather, the entire experience is a unique one with an underlying dark tone and is presumably a message film with a liberal slant.

Made in 1979, yet set in the late 1960’s, Hair centers primarily around two young men, along with a bevy of hippie friends, while most of the action is set in New York City. Despite the time period, the film does not always succeed in the authenticity category- many of the costumes and hairstyles scream late 1970’s. The film also has a late 1970’s “look”, clearly on the cusp of the 1980’s with poofy hair associated with the times. This forces the viewer to escape into a world largely of make-believe.

Claude (John Savage) is a naïve young man from folksy Oklahoma, clearly having lived a sheltered and religious life,  proper and away from big city living.  He is drafted and sent to the Big Apple, where he will wait assignment. Charismatic Berger (Treat Williams) and company befriend Claude after he gives them spare change, soon becoming the best of friends. Claude falls in love with socialite Sheila Franklin (Beverly D’Angelo) in town from neighboring Westchester County, NY and a love story ensues.

When Claude, Berger and company interrupt a lavish dinner party hosted by Sheila’s parents, a hilarious yet informative scene develops.  While  Sheila secretly is gleeful at the arrival of her new friends, Sheila’s parents are none to pleased, which results in a standoff between Berger and  Sheila’s family. Part comical, this scene also displays the severe class distinctions between many of the characters.

The rest of the film centers on the friends antics involving drug use, relationship trials and tribulations, and culminates in a cross country drive to desperately see Claude before he is shipped to Vietnam. Multiple scenes involve songs in relation to the turbulent race issues of the times- my personal favorites are the opening number, “Aquarius” and the scandalous, “Black Boys” and “White Boys”, performed by Nell carter.

Never one to be disappointed with a film set in Manhattan, Hair is a film basking in fantasy and the entire production seems to be one big dream as the carefully crafted musical numbers intersperse with the more dramatic elements. Still, much of the film consists of the group prancing around Manhattan and wonderful areas such as Washington Square park are featured as well as several changes of seasons, giving the film a slice of life feel.

My favorite performance is that of Treat Williams as Berger. Part showman, part jokster, and part earnest, he fills the role with dynamic energy that comes full circle in the last act when he drastically changes his appearance for the sake of a friend.

The ending of the film is melancholy and an inevitable reminder of the coldness and finality of war in relation to human life. The encompassing song is “Let the Sunshine In”, a powerful and worthy conclusion to the film as the gang visits Arlington National Cemetery, to join an anti-war peace rally and say goodbye to a friend.

The film version of Hair may be drastically changed from the stage musical version,  a version I shamefully have yet to see, but on its own merits the film is a poignant, powerful, and wholly entertaining musical adventure.

Escape from Alcatraz-1979

Escape from Alcatraz-1979

Director-Don Siegel

Starring-Clint Eastwood

Scott’s Review #656

Reviewed July 2, 2017

Grade: B+

Made during the heyday (the 1970’s and the early 1980’s) of a slew of action and thriller type films to star popular actor, Clint Eastwood, Escape from Alcatraz is a gritty, guy-focused film with not one single female character in sight. The film is directed by Don Siegel, who also directed Eastwood in several previous films, most notably, Dirty Harry in 1971, and contains a grittiness frequently used in this genre of film during the time period.

Reminiscent in style to 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest in its authority repressing and taking advantage of  the victimized common man, the film itself is also a good historical account of one of the most famous prison escapes ever achieved, in 1962. Having recently visited the long since shut down Alcatraz prison near San Francisco, California, the film was wonderful to watch at this time as much of it was shot inside and around the actual prison grounds.

We immediately meet Frank Morris (Eastwood) as he is unceremoniously led to the infamous Alcatraz prison on a stormy, chilly night in foggy San Francisco. The dark, harsh weather perfectly sets the tone for the dreary prison experience he will face. Morris is stripped, searched, intimidated by the warden and the guards, and paraded around naked, finally taken to his tiny cell, where he will presumably spend the rest of his life. Interestingly, the film does not reveal what crimes Morris has committed to warrant his tenure in Alcatraz-in this way the character is more sympathetic.

Slowly, Morris befriends other inmates and formulates an idea to escape the impossible prison by digging through the cement walls with spoons and escaping through pipes. The other inmates featured in the film are the Anglin brothers, in for robbery, a kindly older man named Doc, who fervently paints the time away, nervous Charlie Butts, and English, an intelligent black man in for two life sentences for killing two white men in self defense. All of these men in some way aid Morris in his escape from the torturous Alcatraz.

A side story involves a bully named Wolf, who has designs on Morris from day one. Whether Wolf is actually gay or merely a menace is unknown and not explored. Throughout the film, Wolf and Morris fight and spend time in solitary confinement and their rivalry is an interesting sub-plot.

The film clearly wants the viewer to be on the side of the prisoners and I am not sure if in real life the prisoners would be as sympathetic as portrayed in the film. Most of them seem to be confined to Alcatraz for robberies or for crimes they did not do or circumstances deeming the crimes inevitable in some way. Furthering a liberal slant to the film is the friendship between Morris and English. An interracial friendship between the men reveal that our hero Morris is progressive thinking and a “good guy”.

Conversely, most of the guards and certainly the Warden (Patrick McGoohan) are written as terrible, unsympathetic people. When an inmate drops dead of a heart attack, the warden coldly remarks “some men are destined never to leave Alcatraz-alive”.  In this way, and other examples, the Warden is the clear foil of the film and in the final scene the warden gets a bit of comeuppance when a mocking souvenir is left for him . To further compare Escape from Alcatraz to One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, the Warden is a similar character to the infamous Nurse Ratched in their mutual, diabolical sadism.

I am unsure if in “real life” the distinctions between the prisoners and the authority figures were so black and white, but it sure makes for good film drama. In a sense, it is “the heroes versus the villains” but in reverse.

The inevitable escape sequence is predictable, but highly compelling as Morris and company enact their escape plot during an overnight. The usage of papier-mache dolls to fool the guards is heavily dramatic and compelling.

Escape from Alcatraz is not high art, but works as a historical account of a real-life incident in one of the most discussed prisons in United States history. The film is also a perfect starring vehicle for Eastwood as he is well cast in the gritty, yet likable role of prisoner Morris. The film is a good, solid, late 1970’s thriller.

Alien-1979

Alien-1979

Director-Ridley Scott

Starring-Sigourney Weaver

Scott’s Review #94

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Reviewed July 5, 2014

Grade: A-

Alien is a science-fiction success from 1979 that began a long running franchise and made Sigourney Weaver a household name. It has the brilliant direction of Ridley Scott, who sets up the atmosphere and camera angles perfectly. Arguably in the horror genre as well as science-fiction, the film is riveting from start to finish. Weaver stars as Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley, a member of a spaceship returning to Earth. The ship picks up a distress signal and is ordered to investigate. They discover an alien existence. From this point, the film certainly has a horror element to it as the members of the doomed spacecraft are knocked off one by one in pure horror fashion, but the brilliant part is you do not know when or how and many of the deaths come out of nowhere.

The captivating visual effects in this film take it to another level and the narrow spacecraft tunnels and hallways are stunning. The villain of the film, the alien, is masterful as it is mysterious to the audience. The fact that it is only sporadically seen only adds to the tension. Alien is a memorable classic that is high up there on the sci-fi genre list of excellent films.

Oscar Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects (won)

The Amityville Horror-1979

The Amityville Horror-1979

Director-Stuart Rosenberg

Starring-James Brolin, Margot Kidder

Scott’s Review #60

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Reviewed June 23, 2014

Grade: B-

The Amityville Horror was undoubtedly more thrilling upon its original release in 1979, but sadly, time has not been kind to this particular film, as it does not hold up well any longer. It feels dated, but that is not to say it is at all un-enjoyable.

The atmosphere of the movie and the building tension and sense of dread are effective. The audience knows bad things will eventually occur. The look of the film is dark and creepy and actors James Brolin and Margot Kidder are adequate in the lead roles. The main problem with the film is all along there is a feeling that I am watching a pale version of The Exorcist or The Omen, far superior films in my opinion, with the religious theme that was heavily used in the horror genre throughout the 1970’s. Also, horror in 1970’s cinema was at its best and by 1979, horror had shifted into the knife wielding maniac vein. Add to this the fact that the supposedly “true story” has since been proven a silly hoax, so it certainly takes away any shred of seriousness. To be fair, the scene involving the herd of flies is scary, but other scenes seem silly and inconsequential. The Amityville Horror is not a bad movie, but similar films are far superior.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Score