Category Archives: 1974 Movie reviews

Earthquake-1974

Earthquake-1974

Director-Mark Robson

Starring-Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner

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Reviewed June 2, 2016

Grade: B+

One of the several disaster films to populate film screens in the early to mid 1970’s, Earthquake is one of the “main four” blockbusters (The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and Airport being the others), that still resonate with viewers in modern times and are nostalgic to watch. In fact, one might argue that the aforementioned few largely influenced Earthquake since it was the last of the group to be filmed. Certainly, the influence is apparent.

Earthquake is a classic, traditional, disaster film containing many stock characters (or types) and is clearly an ensemble piece- as disaster films always are- frequently containing stars of yesteryear attempting exposure in the modern cinema.  The gender roles in Earthquake are quite mainstream for the day as the females are all clearly  “damsels in distress” types and the men portrayed as the heroes.

The action begins as we witness a Los Angeles based middle-aged couple (the central couple if you will) engaging in a dispute. Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner play Stewart and Remy Graff, an affluent couple, he a former football star, she a boozy socialite. Her father is the wealthy Sam Royce, played by Lorne Greene. Stewart is carrying on an affair with young actress, Denise Marshall, creating a soap-opera style romantic triangle, adding drama to the film. We meet other characters who round out the character’s stories- LAPD Sgt. Slade (George Kennedy) shares a flirtation with Rosa (Victoria Principal), while drunkard Walter Matthau and evil kineval character Richard Roundtree provide comic relief. These stories are merely filler until the inevitable earthquake arrives.

The earthquake is really the main character in the film just like the tidal wave, the fire, and the airline peril is in the other same genre films. The characters trivial relationships soon take a back seat to the action as the earthquake shatters the city in subsequent onsets and aftershocks, destroying buildings and resulting in many deaths. The very lengthy main earthquake sequence is second to none and hovers around the twenty minute mark. We see many characters in peril. The scene goes on and on, but is hardly redundant. The scene is masterful and well done. The effects, cinematography, and visuals alone hold up well today and must have been breathtaking circa 1974.

In one particularly thrilling scene, a group of office workers on the thirtieth floor of a skyscraper desperately try to scramble to the elevator as the building shakes and shimmies. One businessman shoves a secretary out of the way and selfishly immerses himself in the crowded elevator as others desperately pound on the elevator door to escape. Things do not end well for the folks on the elevator as bolts loosen and the car crashes to the ground. An animated blood splat fills the screen in a lighthearted, comical way. The film wisely does not take itself too seriously.

As fantastic as the destruction sequence is, Earthquake is not a film without a few flaws, mostly from a character standpoint. Unbelievable is Heston playing Greene’s son in law and Gardner being assumed to be young enough to be his daughter- they appear to be around the same age. A strange character, Jody, a store clerk, suddenly dresses as a soldier, wearing a wig, following the destruction and, assumed to be gay by thugs, is teased, which prompts him to shoot them with a machine gun. He subsequently becomes obsessed with and nearly rapes Rosa. The sub-plot seems uneven and very unnecessary.

With spectacular special effects, Earthquake is a must see disaster film with a slightly downcast, hopeless tone. It does its job well- it entertains, thrills, and features an all star cast of former Hollywood elite and a few rising stars. A fun time will be had.

Daisy Miller-1974

Daisy Miller-1974

Director-Peter Bogdanovich

Starring-Cybill Shepard, Cloris Leachman 

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Reviewed March 6, 2016

Grade: B

Daisy Miller is a largely forgotten 1974 film based on a Henry James novella of the same name, directed by Peter Bogdanovich and starring then-girlfriend Cybil Sheperd in the title role. I admire the film in certain aspects, but ultimately rank the film as good, but not spectacular. I pondered the film afterwards and had a feeling that there was something missing from it.

The story, set in the late 1800’s, tells of a wealthy upstate New York family, led by the naïve Daisy Miller (Sheperd), visiting Europe in the hopes of becoming more cultured and worldly, but instead, are largely met with defiance and snobbery from European sophisticates. Daisy attempts to find love with her numerous potential suitors. The film is largely shot in Switzerland and Italy.

The romantic story between Daisy and upper class Frederick Winterbourne is the focal point. Daisy, a chatterbox and flirtatious, captures Winterbourne’s fancy and he gradually woos her, but is conflicted by social norms and her innocent involvement with other men, most notably dashing Italian Giovanelli. This leads to conflict. I noticed some chemistry between Daisy and Winterbourne.

Bogdanovich, who only directed a handful of films, including the masterpiece The Last Picture Show, uses a number of great actors in both films. In addition to Sheperd, Cloris Leachman and Eileen Brennan appear in supporting roles. Leachman as Daisy’s equally chatty and naïve mother, and Brennan as the vicious socialite Mrs. Parker. Brennan, in particular shines. Outstanding at playing snobs and unique character roles, this was right up Brennan’s alley and she almost steals the show.

I adored the cinematography and the costumes featured in the production and thought both the films main strengths. The clothing that the characters were dressed in are both gorgeous and believable for the time period. The backdrop during the hotel garden scene is exquisite and picturesque as the lake, sky, and mountain are all in full view adding a unique viewing experience.

I also found the subject of cultural class distinctions quite interesting. The Millers are rich, but uneducated and unlikable- they live in Schenectady, and are considered far beneath the clever, intelligent figures of Europe. They clearly do not measure up and they lack the same breeding and class as many of the characters. Adding to this is the fact that the Millers never really seem all that interested in being in Europe, almost taking the opportunity for granted, so I was never completely captured by the Millers or found them particularly sympathetic as a group.

Given that she is the focus, I found the character of Daisy Miller a bit unlikable and this could be due to the casting of Sheperd. Daisy’s endless rants, largely about herself, teetered on annoying to say nothing of her irritant little brother. Sure, Daisy is sweet and is kindhearted, but there is something that did not compel me about me. She was a less charismatic, northern version of Scarlett O’Hara. I kept wondering if another actresses might have brought more to the character and given her more muscle. Was this role a showcase for Sheperd because of her relationship with Bogdanovich?

The conclusion of the film surprised me and features a downcast ending that I did not expect given the sunny mood of the rest of the film, and this is to Bogdanovich’s credit. He certainly did not make a mainstream film and I admire that. Daisy Miller is a mixed bag for me. I give my admiration for some aspects, but the story and the casting could have used a bit of altering.

Amarcord-1974

Amarcord-1974

Director-Federico Fellini

Starring-Bruno Zanin, Magali Noel

Top 100 Films-#81

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Reviewed February 13, 2017

Grade: A

Federico Fellini’s Amarcord, winner of the Best Foreign Language Oscar and Golden Globe for 1974, is a semi-autobiographical film based on the childhood of the famed director himself. Set in a small Italian village of Borgo San Giuliano, the film features quite an array of weird and eccentric characters inhabiting the village. The plot centers around young Titta, and his coming of age development as he blossoms into a young man- his sexual desires and fantasies are heavily explored in this zany film.

Since the time period is 1930’s and Fascism, led by the tyrannical Mussolini, was rearing its ugly head, Amarcord is not all light-hearted fun and games, despite how it appears on the surface- there is a serious undertone to the entire film. Still, the film lacks any sort of story that is able to be dissected very well, which both pleases and frustrates- the film is simply to be “experienced”. It can either leave your head spinning, scratching your head, or absolutely disliking the film.

That is not to say that I take issue or offence with Amarcord- in fact I adore the film, but it is not an easy watch. Scenes meander about in a dream-like fashion as we follow Titta through his sexual blossoming. In one memorable scene, Titta has a titillating experience with a buxom older female who lives in the village. Some of the other characters we meet are giddy with peculiarities: a blind accordion player and a female nymphomaniac to name but a couple.

Titta and his family are featured heavily as they eat together, fight together, and live together. When one day the family treks to visit their Uncle Teo, who is confined to an insane asylum, they take him out for a day in the country, where he climbs a tree and refuses to come down. A dwarf nun and two orderlies finally arrive and coax him down- he obediently returns to the asylum. It is a bizarre sequence, but one that sums up Amarcord perfectly.

Amarcord contains one wacky scene after another, but many of the scenes are not just to showcase outlandish behavior nor are created as fluff. Fellini has a distinct message to the film and several scenes mock Christianity or Mussolini’s crazy political ideas. The film is larger than life, but also encrusted with the fear of 1930’s Fascism and the fear that the Italians felt during this time period.

The film is also sweet and Fellini successfully adds a nostalgic feel to it- everyone feels cozy in a large sprawling town with unique characters, shenanigans, and a celebratory theme, but seriousness lurks beneath. Amarcord is a zest for life throughout a tumultuous time and Fellini successfully creates a hybrid of the two creating one fantastic film in the process.

The Man with the Golden Gun-1974

The Man with the Golden Gun-1974

Director-Guy Hamilton

Starring-Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland

Top 100 Films-#77

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Reviewed February 7, 2017

Grade: A

Though not typically regarded as one of the more appealing of James Bond films, and the second chapter to feature Roger Moore, Sean Connery’s replacement, The Man with the Golden Gun is one of my favorites, firmly placed in my top 5 of 007 offerings. This could be the result of the film being one of my first introductions to the world of 007 as a child. Moore seems more comfortable in the role than he did in the uneven Live and Let Die, released in 1973.

Qualities that make The Man with the Golden Gun a success in my view is the wonderful casting of Christopher Lee, a famed horror film icon, in the central role of Francisco Scaramanga, the title character, and nemesis of Bond. Who cannot think of Count Dracula while watching Lee act- his dark, swarthy looks, angular face, and his deep baritone voice make for a perfect villain. Known in large part for participation in Hammer Horror films opposite another legend, Peter Cushing, this is casting at its finest and a true high point of the film.

To summarize the story, MI6 receives a golden bullet with “007” sketched in the side, a clear threat to the life of James Bond. It is assumed to have been sent by famed assassin, Scaramanga, who’s trademark is a deadly golden gun. Bond is ordered to remove himself from his current mission, but he pays no mind and sets out to find Scaramanga on his own, leading him into a mystery involving a stolen solar energy weapon feared to destroy the world. The adventure takes Bond to a bevy of gorgeous locales such as Hong Kong, Thailand, Macau, and the South China Sea where our villain resides on a private island reached only by helicopter.

I found the main locale of the sunny deserted island and Scaramanga’s dwarf sidekick, Nick Nack, great aspects of the film. Majestic caves, sandy beaches, and a gorgeous array of water sets the tone with gorgeous fantasy elements. Servant Nick Nack is sinister, but with a sweet smile, one almost trusts him as he serves lunch or expensive champagne to guests sure to be killed afterwards. The secret maze of mirrors that Bond finds himself in is made perfect by Nick Nack’s taunting and cackling. And the flying car that Scaramanga and Nick Nack drive in, though gimmicky, is a real hoot.

A demerit to The Man with the Golden Gun that I have always been able to look past since other factors usurp the importance of her, is the miscasting of Britt Eklund as Bond’s assistant, Mary Goodnight. The writers pen Goodnight as simpering, silly, and a big goof. An attempt at comic relief falls flat as the character epitomizes a blonde bubble head- constantly screwing up everything. Scaramanga’s girlfriend and co-Bond girl, Andrea Anders, played by Maud Adams is much better, though we do not get to know the character very well before she is offed. Fortunately, Adams would return to star in Octopussy in 1983.

Perhaps middling at times and suffering from some negative characteristics, The Man with the Golden Gun is a love of  mine, a trip down memory lane to a time as a child when I was first discovering my love and zest for James Bond films. This offering cemented my love of Roger Moore in the central role and I still adore watching this film.

Chinatown-1974

Chinatown-1974

Director-Roman Polanski

Starring-Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway

Top 100 Films-#30

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Reviewed January 3, 2016

Grade: A

Chinatown is like a perfectly aged fine red wine- with each passing year or viewing, it becomes more and more spectacular. A thinking man’s film, if you will, Chinatown is a complex puzzle, just waiting to unravel in a layered, complicated fashion. However, this is to its credit, as it is a fantastic, rich, film noir, and as good as cinematic writing gets. Set in the 1930’s the set pieces and art direction are flawless- as great a film in look as in story.

Director Roman Polanski and star Jack Nicholson are largely responsible for the success of the film. The direction is a marvel as the cinematography, flow, and pacing are astounding. A slow build, the film takes off at just the perfect point as the mystery gets deeper and deeper, building to a crescendo.

Nicholson plays Jake Gittes, a handsome Los Angeles private investigator hired by a woman claiming to be Evelyn Mulwray. Evelyn desires to have her husband followed, as she suspects him of an affair with another woman. Jake begins tailing the woman’s husband, only to uncover an intriguing mystery involving the Los Angeles water supply. Soon, the real Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) turns up and the film segues into a masterful web of complications and turns of events. You will not see the ending coming.

Certainly, Nicholson leads the film as only he can. With his charismatic, aww shucks attitude, mixed with humor, he is eye candy for the camera, as he takes the case and becomes more and more immersed in the action. This film was a pivotal point for him as he began a slew of worthwhile and abundant performances in pictures.

Let us not forget to mention the acting performance of Dunaway, Smoldering, sexy, classy, intelligent, and vulnerable, she plays almost every emotion in a flawless manor. Chinatown, Bonnie and Clyde, and Mommie Dearest (yes, Mommie Dearest!) are her best works in a career that spanned well of a decade in successes.

Chinatown is an entity unto itself in film noir. It is incredibly well written, nuanced, and flawless.  This film simply must be seen. The final thirty minutes- in addition to the “great reveal” is also violent, shocking, and extraordinary. A blueprint of what great filmmaking truly is.

Horror Express-1974

Horror Express-1974

Director-Eugenio Martin

Starring-Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing

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Reviewed December 30, 2015

Grade: B

Horror Express is a fun 1970’s Spanish/British horror film starring legendary horror actor’s Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. A sort of horror version of Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express with a bit of camp thrown in, it is an entertaining late night experience, certainly on a low budget level.

It is the early 1900’s, and while traveling from Shanghai to Moscow, via the Trans-Siberian Express, a British anthropologist named Professor Alexander Saxton (Lee) brings an enormous,  mysterious crate on board that contains a creature he discovered in a cave. What we know is it has something to do with human evolution. A fellow passenger, Doctor Wells (Cushing), and various other passengers, become suspicious of the crate and demand to have it opened.  Things go awry and victims begin to be murdered by the creature (an ape-like monster) and left with eyes completely white with missing pupils and irises.

The best part of Horror Express is the setting. The cozy train is a perfect backdrop for the events taking place and it makes the film exciting as the different cars are set-decorated in a nice way. This lends itself to a sense of entrapment and being unable to escape the creature as it roams freely from car to car. For being a low-budget film,  the train sets are quite believable, as are the sounds of the train. It feels like the actors actually are on a real train as the tooting horns and the sounds of the tracks are authentic.

Certainly, having stars as big as Lee and Cushing give the film respect in horror circles and both actors do believable work. This film would not have been as good without the talents (and name recognition) of both. There are also interesting supporting characters and I did not find the acting to be too over-the-top as is known to occur in similar type horror films. Specifically, the countess role and the appearance of Telly Savalas as a Cossack officer investigating events are interesting.

Fans of this genre of horror will understand that suspension of disbelief is necessary as the plot gets a bit goofy- something about the creature taking the information from the victims brain and the victims subsequently turning into zombies- it does not make a whole lot of sense at times, especially towards the end, as some drunken Russians, and some weird resurrections happen, but that is somehow okay. For a late night viewing with some spirits, you can’t ask too many questions and Horror Express is a decent flick.

Black Christmas-1974

Black Christmas-1974

Director-Bob Clark

Starring-Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder

Top 100 Films-#36     Top 20 Horror Films-#11

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Reviewed December 29, 2015

Grade: A

Black Christmas is one of my favorite horror films of all time and, in my opinion, an under-appreciated classic.  Somehow it is just not the first, second, or third film mentioned when most discuss the influential horror films of years past. I make sure to watch it each holiday season. It largely influenced Halloween (another love of mine) from the killer point of view camera shots to the seasonal element. It is quite horrifying in several key scenes, in fact, and I am proud to list it as one of favorite films. Black Christmas is a must-see for fans of the horror genre.

The setting (a cold and snowy Christmas) is perfect and the film is shot quite dark. There are Christmas lights and carolers for a great winter holiday effect. Most of the film takes place at night and the location is primarily inside a huge, rather creepy, sorority house. The ambiance is well thought out.

Several sorority girls, led by boozy Barb (Margot Kidder) and sweet-natured Jess (Olivia Hussey), prepare to depart for the holiday season by having a small farewell Christmas party. Recently, the girls have been harassed by a prank caller spouting nonsensical gibberish on a daily basis. As in true horror fashion, the girls are systematically offed one by one as events turn dire. Two sub-plots which ultimately merge with the central plot include Jess’s pregnancy by suspicious boyfriend Peter, and the search in the park for a missing young girl.

The best part of Black Christmas is that it is an honest, raw film, made on a small budget, that does not include gimmicks or contrivances. It has authenticity. A disturbing film for sure,  one victim being posed in a rocking chair continuously rocking back and forth next to the attic window, while said victim is bound in plastic wrap, holding a doll, mouth and eyes wide, is one of the most chilling in horror film history. The nuances of the killer also scare and the brilliance of this is that his motivations are mysterious and unclear (in large part the success of Michael Meyers as well). We never fully see the killer except his shape and eyes, and that is the brilliance of the film.

The one slight negative to the film is the decision to make the cops appear incompetent. The desk sergeant in particular is a complete dope- one wonders how he got his job- as a sexual joke by one of the girls goes over his head while the other detectives laugh like fools. Why is this necessary? I suppose for comic relief, but isn’t that the purpose of Mrs. Mac, the overweight, boozy sorority mother?  Her constant treasure hunt for hidden booze (the toilet, inside a book) are comical and fun. And her posing and posturing in front of the mirror (she is a very frumpy, average woman) are a delight and balance the heavy drama.

The conclusion of Black Christmas is vague and fantastic and works very well. Due, once again, to the police errors, the final victims fate is left unclear as we see her in a vulnerable state, unaware that the killer is looming nearby. We only hear a ringing phone and wonder what happens next.

My admiration for Black Christmas only grows upon each viewing as I am once again compelled, noticing more and more ingenious nuances to the film. Can’t wait until next Christmas to watch it again.

Madhouse-1974

Madhouse-1974

Director-Jim Clark

Starring-Vincent Price, Peter Cushing

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Reviewed April 3, 2015

Grade: B-

Madhouse, a 1974 British horror film, stars horror icon Vincent Price who portrays a sympathetic Hollywood actor who is unsure of his sanity after the grisly murder of his trophy fiancé whom he may or may not have been responsible for murdering. Mainly set in London, Madhouse also stars famed British actors in the latter stages of their careers, such as Peter Cushing, and is a treat for classic British horror fans as the look of the film is stylistic and effective in mood- the story, while silly, is also fun.

Paul Toombes (Price) is a famed actor notorious for his character of Dr. Death in a successful film franchise. He seemingly has it all and is the envy of his contemporaries- wealth, notoriety, and a glamorous blonde fiancé named Ellen. After Ellen is murdered by someone dressed as Dr. Death, Paul is unable to remember the circumstances or his whereabouts during the murder. After spending years in a mental institution in a confused state he is summoned to London to mount an acting comeback of sorts, reprising his Dr. Death alter-ego. As the bodies begin to pile up, a whodunit commences- is Paul Toombes the killer or is someone impersonating him?

The film itself is quite pleasing to a horror fan like me. The deaths, while silly, are fun and campy. Mostly all female victims, a comical aspect is how the victims, when cornered by the killer, simply scream and stand there waiting to be sliced. Wouldn’t they fight back in real life? This film is certainly not realism at its finest, but rather is a fun horror film. It is a bit exaggerated and over-the-top in a campy way, but is also true to the 1970’s style with point of view scenes from the killer’s perspective. A wonderful aspect to this film is real clips of old Vincent Price films (The Raven, The Pit and the Pendulum, and House of Usher) to name a few, featuring deceased horror god Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone. Since the plot involves Price’s character being a former horror actor this is a wonderful opportunity to showcase long ago classic horror films and it works perfectly.

I enjoyed the television scenes within the film plot as Paul revives his career and shoots a series for the BBC- the film chooses interesting, haunting sets and Cushing’s character of Herbert Flay and his zany wife reside in a spooky, vast mansion with eerie spiders that the wife is obsessed with. The set pieces are great and very Halloween-like. And the spider-eating-flesh scene is excellent!

The tag team of Price and Cushing is fun to watch- both horror stalwarts they connect well and both actors play off of each other successfully. It is evident they had a ball while making this film.

Towards the end of the film the plot becomes confusing and the big reveal as to the killer’s identity and the motivations surrounding are a disappointment. The conclusion to the film is silly and makes little sense, although that is secondary to a film of this genre that borders on camp. Madhouse is an enjoyable midnight flick starring two of the top classic horror icons.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia-1974

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia-1974

Director-Sam Peckinpah

Starring-Warren Oates

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Reviewed February 14, 2015

Grade: B+

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a Mexican, cult-action film from 1974, directed by Sam Peckinpah, that clearly influenced famed modern movie director Quentin Tarantino in multiple ways. The film itself is violent, bloody, and traditionally Peckinpah in tone and look, similar to his other films (Straw Dogs and The Wild Bunch).

The premise of the film is intriguing- a powerful man known simply as “The Boss”, turns furious and places a bounty on the head of the man who impregnated his daughter, whom he, by the way, tortures in order to garner this information out of. He offers the enormous sum of $1 million dollars to the person who can “bring him the head of Alfredo Garcia”. From this point, the action centers mostly on Bennie, a retired military officer who is intrigued by the bounty up for grabs. Bennie, along with his prostitute girlfriend, Elita, traverse the lands of Mexico in search of Alfredo Garcia, whether he already be dead or still alive, which is a mysterious and fun element of the film.

I have a tough time taking the film too seriously as much as I enjoyed it- it seems an action farce and, without giving too much away, the scenes involving the carrying of a severed head, arguably the lead character, are as much comical as ghastly. The illustrious lighting is a major focal point, especially during the outdoor scenes and specifically the night time desert scenes when Elita is almost raped by two bikers. The moonlight radiates onscreen.

The character of Elita is a fascinating one for me. On the one hand she is an aging prostitute madly in love with Bennie and intrigued by a life with him living off their spoils. However, she almost enjoys the sexual experience with one of the bikers, played wonderfully by Kris Kristofferson, despite being roughed up by him-. In fact, the scene, while certainly violent, is in a way, almost tender as the biker and Elita realize their attraction for one another. It’s a surreal scene and has almost a sense of clarity for both characters. Are they in lust? Peckinpah women are traditional not treated well, but Elita borders on the exception.

The Tarantino influence is undeniable- the mixture of humor amid violence- a severed head being treated as a comical prop, is immeasurable in its comparison to later Tarantino films such as the Kill Bill chapters. Daring and pure genius, the film contains a dark tone, but does not take itself too seriously by going for any sort of melodrama or being overwrought. It is only a film and has fun with that fact. It tries to be nothing more and embraces being bizarre. Tarantino films are like Peckinpah films just made 20-30 years apart.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia has evolved into a cult classic after having flopped commercially and critically in 1974. How wonderful when a gem is rediscovered and laden with influence, in this case as much stylistically as otherwise.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre-1974

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre-1974

Director-Tobe Hooper

Starring-Marilyn Burns

Top 100 Films-#35 

Top 20 Horror Films-#10

Top 10 Disturbing Films-#5                                                          

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Reviewed December 31, 2014

Grade: A

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the grittiest, raw, frightening horror films that I have ever seen and still holds up incredibly well in present times. Containing a documentary-like look it is incredibly scary in its grainy, visual, real-life feel. It is not psychological horror- it is in your face, brutal horror. The perception of an incredibly hot, sticky, backwoods Texas summer is incredibly well done and only adds to the terror.

A group of five teenagers travel to the vast fields of Texas- aka- the middle of nowhere, presumably on a road trip. On their drive they pick up a strange hitchhiker who ends up stabbing one of the teens and cutting his own arm. Spooked by this odd occurrence, they stop for gas and directions, but veer off course and accidentally wind up at a slaughterhouse owned by cannibals. The group of teens is led by Sally Hardesty, played by Marilyn Burns.

As the teens are chopped off in grotesque fashion, similar to a slew of similar fashioned, but less interesting horror films to follow, Sally winds up the lone survivor of the group. Burns plays the first “final girl”, a title made famous in horror films as the last female remaining alive- it was almost always a female- to take on the maniacal killer.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre features one of the horror genre’s best villains- Leatherface. The viewer knows little about him as he does not speak- is he mentally disabled? Is he an intelligent man? He is disguised behind a mask made of strewn together human skin and wields a scary chain saw. We know nothing about him- only that he loves to kill. The ambiguity is immeasurable.

Besides the way that the film is shot, another shocking element is the reality of the story. Could this really happen to the viewer? The answer is yes of course it could. How many times have we been driving and gotten lost in surroundings unfamiliar to us? There are no supernatural beings or CGI effects in this film- only a group of youngsters crossing paths with maniacs and this could happen in real-life. This realization adds to the fright.

The famous- or infamous- dinner scene is revolutionary in disgust and distaste. The family attempts to serve Sally as dessert to the elderly patriarch and as he begins to suck blood from Sally’s finger, it will force the squeamish to turn away.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a short film, running at only 84 minutes, but the breathtaking finale- Sally running through the endless woods followed by Leatherface, seems interminable. Will he catch her? How can she possibly escape?

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is dirty, ugly, and intense. It is no-holds barred brutality. It is one of the best horror films ever made.

The Godfather Part II-1974

The Godfather Part II-1974

Director-Frances Ford Coppola

Starring-Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro

Top 100 Films-#3

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Reviewed: November 24, 2014

Grade: A

Frances Ford Coppola’s sequel (and technically also a prequel) to the highly regarded and successful The Godfather is one of the rare sequels to equal and even surpass the original in its greatness, creativity and structure. The Godfather Part II feels deeper, more complex, and ultimately richer than The Godfather- and that film itself is a masterpiece. Part II is much darker in tone. Ford Coppola had complete freedom to write and direct as he saw fit with no studio interference. The results are immeasurable in creating a film masterpiece.

The film is sectioned into two parts, which is a highly interesting and effective decision. The story alternates between the early twentieth century following Don Corleone’s life, now played by Robert DeNiro, as his story is explained- left without a family and on the run from a crime lord, Don escapes to the United States as a young boy and struggles to survive in the Little Italy neighborhood of New York City. He obtains a modest job as a grocery stock boy and finally celebrates his eventual rise to power in the mafia. The other part of the film is set in 1958 as Michael Corleone is faced with a crumbling empire, through both rivals and the FBI- investigating him and holding Senate committee hearings in Washington D.C., and a failing marriage to Kay (Diane Keaton). Betrayal is a common theme of the film from Michael’s wife, brother, and mobster allies revealed to be cagey enemies. Michael grows uncertain and mistrustful of almost everyone surrounding him. Is Kay a friend or foe? Is Fredo plotting against him? He even begins lashing out at Tom Hagen on occasion.
What makes The Godfather Part II so brilliant, and in my opinion richer than The Godfather, is that it is tougher to watch- and that is to its credit. Now, instead of being a warm, respected member of a powerful family, Michael is questioned, analyzed, and betrayed. New, interesting characters are introduced- Hyman Roth, played by Lee Strasburg, a former ally of Don’s, and Frankie Pentangeli, played by Michael V. Gazzo are intriguing characters and their allegiances are unknown throughout most of the film- are they loyal to the Corleone’s or deadly enemies?

The character of Michael goes from conflicted to all-out revenge minded, including revenge sought on members of his own family. Michael is now a dark, angry character- gone is the nice, decorated war hero with his whole life ahead of him. He is much older and a changed man. Similar to the original Godfather, the opening scene is a large celebration- this time of Anthony Corleone’s first communion celebration. Also in comparison, the finale of the film involves major character deaths one after the other.

Unique to this film are the multiple location scenes- New York, Nevada, Italy, Florida, and Cuba are all featured making for an enjoyable segue throughout and a bigger budget. The blow-up confrontation between Michael and Kay is devastating and shocking in its climax. When Michael punches Kay in a sudden rage, the audience also feels punched. The wonderful scene at the end of the film with the entire family gathered around for Don’s fiftieth birthday in 1942 is a special treat for viewers; familiar faces make cameo appearances. I love these aspects of the film.

The rich history of Don is the greatest aspect of The Godfather Part II as simply known as “Godfather” and patriarch of the family, his life as a boy and young father are explained so we see how he became one of the most powerful men in the crime world. I love how he remains a decent man and helps the poor and the victims of ruthless Don Fanucci, his predecessor. He loves his wife and children, but also loves his neighbors, and helps them, believing in fairness. Ultimately, the characters of Don and Michael are worlds apart.

The Godfather Part II is one of the most complex and well-written films in movie history- studied in film school, discussed, imitated, and championed. It remains vital and should be viewed and analyzed again and again and again.

The Towering Inferno-1974

The Towering Inferno-1974

Director-John Guillermin

Starring-Paul Newman, Steve McQueen

Top 100 Films-#43

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Reviewed November 12, 2014

Grade: A

The Towering Inferno epitomizes the disaster film craze heaped on audiences throughout the 1970’s (Airport, Airport ‘75 and ‘77, The Poseidon Adventure, and Earthquake to name a few). I am (guilt-free) a huge fan of this 1970’s movie genre, though some certainly look down on it, I am not one of them, and feel The Towering Inferno is one of the greats. The film is enormous and has such a sense of adventure and danger.

The grand film tells of the trials and tribulations of an enormous cast of characters trapped inside an inferno flamed skyscraper – led by Paul Newman and Steve McQueen (fun fact- the two actors reportedly despised each other). An incredible skyscraper is erected in San Francisco, at 138 floors it is professed to be the tallest building in the world and incredibly state of the art. At the ribbon cutting ceremony, an elaborate party is held atop the building overlooking the gorgeous Pacific Ocean. Due to faulty electrical wiring, the building catches fire and the cast of characters face one challenge after another to escape the grips of death. The stellar cast features stars like William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Robert Wagner, Jennifer Jones, O.J. Simpson in addition to Newman and McQueen.

The film is quite soap opera style- numerous characters are introduced, many having affairs with each other or suffering some sort of conflict with each other- Wagner having a torrid office romance with his secretary played by then up and coming star Susan Flannery is deliciously sexy. Holden’s son-in-law is responsible for the faulty electrical system yet blames his father-in-law for cutting budgets. Another subplot involves Astaire’s character attempting to swindle Jones’s character, but then falling in love with her. The plots are so melodramatic that, given the time period of the film, it has a definite primetime television soap opera style to it- think Dallas or Dynasty in a state of peril.

I enjoyed the enormous cast and trying to guess who will be killed off next and in what elaborate way the film will create to burn them to death is a joy to watch- several victims fall or jump to their deaths, which eerily (and sadly) bring back morbid images of jumpers from the World Trade towers on 9/11. The beginning of the film shows a dedication to firemen everywhere and the film has a definite moral and hero quality to the firemen sent to rescue the people in the building. They are portrayed as heroes and intended not to be forgotten in the midst of all the drama encompassing the story. This is admirable.

The special effects are elaborate and quite impressive- the glass elevator rescue scene is amazing! The beautiful set designs are a treat to watch as each lobby, apartment, or lounge in the skyscraper is exquisitely designed in the height of 1970’s style. Every sofa or carpet featured is plush, colorful, and sophisticated. The skyscraper, made of glass, is an amazing element of the film and the aerial views of the building, especially while ablaze are impressive to say the least- remember- 1974 was long before CGI. I am assuming small replicas of the building were used, but what an achievement from a visual perspective. The effects certainly champion the syrupy story elements.

My only small gripe with The Towering Inferno is, assumed to be 138 stories high, the action taking place at the top of the tower- the rooftop as well as the party scenes on the top floor- do not feel that high- The scenic outlook overlooking the water and some land feel about 25 stories high not 138. Some find The Towering Inferno to be nothing more than schmaltzy drama- I say schmaltz was never done better. Enjoy this feast of a big film.

Female Trouble-1974

Female Trouble-1974

Director-John Waters

Starring-Divine

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Reviewed August 4, 2014

Grade: A

Female Trouble is a deliciously naughty treat by famous Independent film legend, John Waters. Not exactly family friendly, it is a gem for those desiring more left of center fare with depravity and gross out fun mixed in for good measure. Water’s theme of the film is “crime is beauty” and the film is dedicated to Manson family member, Charles “Tex” Watson.

Clearly meant for adult, late night viewing, the film tells the story of female delinquent Dawn Davenport, who angrily leaves home one Christmas morning after not receiving her desired cha-cha heels as a Christmas present. Her parents, religious freaks, disown her and she is left to fend for herself on the streets of Baltimore. The film then tells of her life story of giving birth and subsequently falling into a life of crime in the 1960’s.  Her friends Chicklet and Concetta are in tow as they work various jobs and embark on a career of theft. Female Trouble stars Waters regulars Divine, Mink Stole, Edith Massey, Cookie Mueller, and others.

Interestingly, Divine plays a dual role- Dawn Davenport (in drag, of course) and also the father of her bratty child- Earl Peterson. Dawn and Earl have a less than romantic interlude on a dirty mattress on the side of the road, when he picks her up hitchhiking, which results in the birth of Taffy. Also featured is the hilarious feud between Dawn and her love interest’s (Gator) Aunt Ida, as the women engage in tactics such as acid throwing and chopping off of limbs as they constantly exact revenge on each other.

Favorite scenes include Dawn’s maniacal nightclub act in which she does her rendition of acrobatics and then begins firing a gun into the crowd. Another is of Dawn’s dinner party with Donald and Donna Dasher- serving a meal consisting of spaghetti and chips, Taffy’s tirade ruins the evening in hilarious fashion.

This film is certainly not for the prudish, squeamish, or uptight crowd, but a ball for all open minded, dirty fun-seekers. The film contains one over-the-top, hilarious scene after another. The line “just cuz you got them big udders don’t make you somethin’ special” is a Waters classic.

Female Trouble is one of a series of outrageous, cult-classics featuring the legendary camp star, Divine. Not meant to be overanalyzed or some might say, analyzed at all, Female Trouble is unabashedly trashy and makes no apologies for its outrageousness.

The Conversation-1974

The Conversation-1974

Director-Frances Ford Coppola

Starring-Gene Hackman

Top 100 Films-#5

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Reviewed July 1, 2014

Grade: A

The Conversation is one of my favorite films. It is thinking man’s psychological thriller that is pure genius. Had The Godfather not been the success that it was, this film would never have been made. It is a very personal story crafted by Francis Ford Coppola.

The film stars Gene Hackman as a surveillance expert, who is a technical genius, but social misfit Harry Caul, a cynical man suspicious of everybody. He is paranoid. He is hired by a mysterious Director to tap a young couple’s conversations and submit the recordings to the Director’s assistant played by a very young Harrison Ford (his first film).

Harry is also obsessed with his own privacy chastising his landlord for sending flowers to his apartment. His latest assignment becomes an obsession for him as he begins a downward spiral of paranoia concerning a young couple he feels are in danger.

For the viewer, and the character of Harry Caul, we feel we have everything figured out, but do we? Is the couple in danger? Who are they? Many aspects of the film are fuzzy and unclear which is genius of the film as it makes the viewer think. The atmosphere is repetitive and tense. The endless sound loops and the surveillance in the park are highly effective.

The creepy hotel scene towards the climax of the film is my favorite in its creepiness. Each time I view The Conversation I see something in a different way or try to dissect it in a new way. That to me is film-making at its greatest.

Swept Away-1974

Swept Away-1974

Director-Lina Wertmuller

Starring-Giancarlo Giannini, Mariangela Melato

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Reviewed October 4, 2013

Grade: B+

Swept Away is an Italian version of the film remade starring Madonna in 2004. A wealthy, spoiled woman is stranded on a deserted island with her male servant. The 1974 film is superb and, at times, deeply disturbing, as scenes of humiliation are almost too much to watch. The theme is certainly about the class system- the haves and the have-nots; and what happens when roles are reversed and individuals are stripped of titles is interesting, shocking, and, at times, troubling.

I was stunned, yet mesmerized, by a very animalistic scene in which a man beats a woman. At first, the man is the sympathetic one and the woman despised, then the roles are shockingly reversed. Amazingly, the film was directed by a woman, Lina Wertmuller, a brave, underappreciated German director. When, inevitably, the pair is rescued and return to normalcy, the plot takes a very dynamic turn.