1977 Movie Review: KILLER OF SHEEP, 1977

KILLER OF SHEEP, 1977
Classic Movie Review
Directed by Charles Burnett
Starring: Henry G. Sanders, Kaycee Moore
Review by Marques Williams

Synopsis:

Stan works in drudgery at a slaughterhouse. His personal life is drab. Dissatisfaction and ennui keep him unresponsive to the needs of his adoring wife, and he must struggle against influences which would dishonor and endanger him and his family.

Review:

Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep has spent the last 30 years in cinematic purgatory. Unable to get distribution when it was finished due to expensive music rights, it has been seen only by small crowds in large cities across the country. However, last year it was restored by Milestone Films and the UCLA Film and Television Archive; and how fortunate the world is because of this. Killer of Sheep is one of those works of art that penetrates to the very soul of the viewer. There has never been a film that displayed the Black experience with such sensitivity, honesty, and spirit. Burnett succeeded in making a film that is to Black America what Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thief” was to post-war Italy.

Killer of Sheep is heavily influenced by Italian Neorealism and presents a simple story all shot on location. The film revolves around Stan, a slaughterhouse worker, who seems to be in a deep depression. He and his family live in the impoverished Watts, where there is always crime and suffering. There really isn’t much of a plot to the film, but is comprised of several vignettes. We see Stan’s son and his friends having a dirt fight, Stan and a friend going out to buy a $15 car engine, Stan’s wife getting dressed for Stan to come home while their daughter sings along to a record, and various other everyday activities. The

film is full of moments of humor and joy, while others are melancholy and heartbreaking. For instance, we see Stan as he slaughters sheep at his job. It’s a disgusting, hard, and thankless job but he has to do it to support his family. It’s obvious he doesn’t like it, but he never complains about it. One night when he gets home, his wife is waiting for him. She’s gotten dressed up for him and greets him with a smile, but Stan is so tired and distant that he barely notices her. They sit at the table in silence as they have dinner. The pain of his wife cannot be ignored and we instantly connect with these two characters.

The film is unique in its approach to its subject matter. Never does a character talk about how bad life is and Burnett never tries to offer any solutions of getting out of this life. The camera just observes these characters that exist the best way they can. Life may not be perfect for them, but it’s the life they have. In doing this, our emotions and reactions feel natural. We don’t necessarily feel sorry for them but instead can empathize with their small victories and failures. This honest depiction of poverty is rare in Hollywood today, and it’s refreshing to see a film that doesn’t attempt to put the blame on anyone or sugar coat the truth. Poverty is, unfortunately, an inevitable truth of human existence and Stan and his neighborhood represent millions of quiet sufferers all over the world.

When hearing the soundtrack, it becomes understandable why Burnett didn’t want to change the music. It gives the film another level of authenticity and sincerity. The music covers several genres and eras, most of which are African American. Blues, early Jazz, Soul, Classical music, and Gospel play during various scenes. Because of this, the film feels almost like a dedication to all of Black America who have suffered throughout centuries of hardships. When he originally shot this film, Burnett set out to make a film that was “anti-Hollywood” and would help provide a “full range of the black experience”. He succeeded admirably. Although other films have gone deeper in exploring the Black experience, Killer of Sheep proves the most successful in capturing the spirit of a culture that has been underrepresented and ignored for too long.

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KILLER OF SHEEP

1977 Movie Review: JABBERWOCKY, 1977


JABBERWOCKY, 1977
Movie Reviews

Directed by Terry Gilliam
Starring: Michael Palin, Harry H. Corbett, Max Wall, John Le Mesurier, Warren Mitchell
Review by Mark Engberg

During the Dark Ages, an impressionable cooper’s apprentice is forced to slay the legendary Jabberwock monster in this farcical adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic poem.

 

REVIEW: “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe/ All mimsy were the borogoves,/ And the mome raths outgrabe.”

After the triumphant release of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, director/animator Terry Gilliam makes his solo directorial debut by tackling the historic realm of the Dark Ages yet again with this chaotic adventure regarding a young man and his quest to slay the famed Jabberwocky, a hideous monster that has been burbling through the woods of a nearby city castle and devouring everyone in its path.

Ironically, Gilliam’s dark comedy, which he co-wrote with Charles Alverson, has little to do with the dragonlike Jabberwocky. Like Peter Benchley’s heinous novel “Jaws” (wonderful movie, awful book), the narrative content is reluctant to feature the central monster, and is more involved with the heroic challenger seeking to destroy it. In this case, that story begins with Dennis Cooper (Monty Python’s Michael Palin), and his wretched life as a peasant.

 Hearing his father’s dying words of abandonment, Dennis must travel to the walled big city in order to attain business opportunity. Once inside the castle’s confines, he discovers that the guilds are operating the city’s businesses as a monopoly, thereby making the citizens a desperate and impoverished community. As Dennis sidesteps chaotic turmoil among the starving townsfolk, he discovers that the most successful townsfolk are profiteering off the fear the Jabberwock monster has created.


Due to the increased faith in religion and church attendance, the Bishop is hindered by the King’s mission to slay the Jabberwock. Since King Bruno the Questionable’s list of priorities is hopelessly flawed and ridiculous, he initiates a tournament to select a champion who can defeat the monster. Realizing their profits are in jeopardy, the town’s merchants conspire to send a deadly Black Knight to eliminate this warrior in order to save the monster.

But as Dennis is tossed and shoved in numerous directions by the town’s miserable inhabitants, he finds himself in the center of action staring straight into the Jabberwock’s eyes of flame.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!/ The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!/ Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun/ The frumious Bandersnatch!”

Gilliam’s film, however, differs from Carroll’s classic nonsensical poem in that Dennis is not offered any significant guidance or support from his peers. In fact, the only character who openly speaks with him is Ethel the Squire (Harry H. Corbett), who manipulates Dennis into accompanying the champion on his quest to conquer the Jabberwock.

 Almost every other character in this story beats, spits, or urinates on Dennis at one time or another. The only other character who shows him any affection is the King’s daughter (Deborah Fallender), who misinterprets his accidental presence in her chambers as an act of chivalric courtship.

Dennis’ unbreakable ability to remain happy is one of Gilliam’s major themes in this movie. Since he achieves all of the goals typical of a fairy tale hero, his history of pain and aggravation are ultimately insignificant. Dennis defeats the Jabberwock, wins the princess’s hand in marriage and earns the adoration of the King and his people. Like Alice in Wonderland, he attains these goals purely by accident.

“Jabberwocky” is a fitting piece of work definitive of the directorial works of Terry Gilliam. The film is dark, apocalyptic, and suggests a macabre glee that would later prosper in Mr. Gilliam’s subsequent works. It is a departure from his traditional use of sketch comedy in “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” Indeed, “Jabberwocky” marks the first time the former Python player created a comedy in pure narrative format.

While many fans will no doubt be resistant to its crude sense of humor (the film features countless references to bodily functions), other viewers will respect “Jabberwocky” for its pioneering sense of dark comedy and epic cinematography. Shot by Terry Bedford, the film consists of several glorious scenic views of Pembroke Castle and Chepstow Castle in Wales.In today’s age of computer borne digital effects, it is refreshing to see the monster depicted in costume form, similar to the classic Japanese Godzilla movies. Built as a large marionette, the Jabberwock’s head is controlled by an unseen puppeteer’s pole, while the performer manipulates the beast’s wings with his arms.

Even though, the Jabberwock is only briefly presented to the audience, Python fans will most likely celebrate the intensive use of gore, bloodletting, and nudity.

 

JABBERWOCKY

1977 Movie Review: HIGH ANXIETY, 1977

HIGH ANXIETY MOVIE POSTER
HIGH ANXIETY, 1977
Movie Reviews

Directed by Mel Brooks
Starring: Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn, and Harvey Korman
Review by Mark Engberg

SYNOPSIS:

A demented hospital staff in this classic parody of Alfred Hitchcock’s suspenseful classics threatens a renowned psychiatrist suffering from vertigo mental illness.

REVIEW:

After tackling the traditional Western, the classic horror epic, and even the pioneer style of the silent movie, Mel Brooks takes on the most ostentatious of Hollywood entities: Alfred Hitchcock. This is a movie that not only suggests but demands familiarity with Hitchcock’s reputation as the master of suspense in order to get the better half of the jokes.

In traditional Mel Brooks style, the comedy is delivered without subtlety. In fact, he crams the references in your face like it was a pie from an abusive waiter. Or a bellboy (who gets no tip).

While the level of wit can be described as sophomoric, it must also be acknowledged that Mr. Brooks surpassed all level of expectation in this project mimicking the great works of Mr. Hitchcock: “The Birds”, “North by Northwest”, and of course “Vertigo”. Roger Ebert disapproved of Brooks’ satirization here, stating that Hitchcock classics were already full of wit and that a slapstick farce mocking the director’s style of storytelling was inadequate and heedless.

Mr. Ebert may have a point regarding Brooks’ simplistic style of principal shooting. Honestly, did the man ever study three-point lighting? Or how to eliminate a boom mike shadow from a reflecting angle? If not for Brooks’ impeccable sense of timing and unconquered comedy, his production would seem amateur and somewhat unnatural.

But given Mel Brooks’ pampered edge of such a heralded style and his respectful style of soft-core mockery, I must disagree with Mr. Ebert and his speculation of improper irony. Who better to challenge the Master of Suspense than the Master of Farce?

Instead of appearing as a cameo, as Hitchcock did in every one of his own classics, Brooks takes the center stage as the star lead in his sixth directed feature. While some may complain about the director’s preference for his own performed comedy, you have to admire the man’s ability to sculpt his own comedic invention into actual product. Mel Brooks is one of the few filmmakers from Hollywood who can be credited, or blamed, as the writer, director, and star of his own celebrated comedy.

Even though his lounge act performance of “High Anxiety” is badly lip-synced, it is obvious that this man is an extremely talented performer, capable of great physical comedy as well as insight. True, his films may have a production value comparable to art house theatre rather than cinema. But his sense of humor appeals to audiences of all ages, which today is an infrequent occurrence for a live action comedy.

Jaded from his harrowing airline flight, Dr. Richard Thorndyke (Brooks) arrives to assume control of the Institute for the Very, Very Nervous. Harvey Korman resumes his role as a spineless villain with many of the same traits he exposed in “Blazing Saddles”. His character, Dr. Montague, is hip deep in devilish conspiracy with Nurse Diesel. Cloris Leachman plays the demented villainess with such grace, her slurred speech and tightened jaw actually frightened the hell out of me when I first viewed this picture as a young boy. Her Cruella de Vil-like interpretation of Ken Kesey’s Nurse Ratched is a hallmark in comedic performance.

Montague and Diesel are bloodthirsty with deception. They plan to eliminate Thorndyke and run the institute as a prison ground for mental patients. Their imprisonment of a famous industrialist incurs the concerned reaction from his daughter, Victoria Brisbane (Madeline Kahn in yet another scene-stealing performance). Her best scene in this movie is a phone call from Thorndyke while a professional killer is strangling him. Except she thinks it’s a heavy breather. You have to see it to believe it.

As Thorndyke and Victoria join forces, their quest enables a frantic chase sequence, which pits our vertigo-challenged hero against a climactic backdrop of heights and bad men who have only half a mustache. I could explain, but why ruin it?

Howard Morris adds genuine warmth to the story as Thorndyke’s mentor, Professor Lilloman (pronounced “Li’l Ol’ Man”). As he nurtures Thorndyke out of his acrophobia, he supplies many laughs as temperamental comic relief. Comic rule #87: Old Jewish doctor types who swear loudly= huge laughs.

Also, watch for the scene where the bellboy attacks Thorndyke in the shower of his San Francisco hotel. While it may be clear that Brooks is spoofing “Psycho” in this shot-by-shot send-up, it took me repeated viewings until I finally recognized the actor playing the bellboy: none other than Barry Levinson, who co-wrote the screenplay with Mr. Brooks. After “High Anxiety”, Levinson would go on to direct his own immortal comedies such as “Good Morning Vietnam” and “Rain Man”.

HIGH ANXIETY

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1977 Movie Review: GRAND THEFT AUTO, 1977


GRANT THEFT AUTO, 1977
Movie Reviews

Directed by Ron Howard
Starring: Ron Howard, Nancy Morgan, Elizabeth Rogers, Marion Ross, Clint Howard
Review by James Aston

Teenage lovers Sam Freeman (Ron Howard) and Paula Powers (Nancy Morgan) want to get married in Las Vegas. When Paula introduces Sam to her wealthy parents they take a disliking to him, believing that Sam wants to marry Paula for money. Paula’s parents think their daughter would be better suited to local rich kid and busybody Collins Hedgeworth (Paul Linke). They throw Sam out of their house and send Paula to her room but Paula escapes and steals her parents priceless Rolls Royce before picking up Sam and hitting the road. Paula’s father, Bigby (Barry Cahill), deploys his helicopter to chase the couple as they race towards Vegas, Collins Hedgeworth joins the chase shortly after, stealing a car as he goes. Collins calls a local radio station and offers listeners a reward of $25,000 for anyone that can stop the fleeing couple. What ensues is an ever-growing chase full of crashes and explosions as everyone tries to claim the reward. As media coverage of the chase escalates Bigby makes a plea to his daughter over the telephone, but she refuses to listen. Sam wonders whether Paula’s motivation is love for him or a desire to spite her father, but Paula persuades Sam that she loves him. An epic pile-up occurs and the priceless Rolls Royce is destroyed. Sam and Paula manage to escape, eventually getting married in Las Vegas. 

REVIEW:

They say the simplest stories are told the best, and Grand Theft Auto succeeds where many exploitation movies failed. Few exploitation flicks made for particularly challenging viewing, but often the plot was so badly paced or paper-thin that it was in no way compelling or believable. Frequently the story was only a background device on which the supposed shocks, thrills and spills were hung. Considering the fact that exploitation movies were made in a matter of weeks to save money there was little time for writers to work on a script anyway. Not that the script mattered to the studios. Their motive was to attract an audience by making big promises about ‘dangerous’ subject matter in order to exploit the curiosity of the paying public. Quite often it turned out that the studio was over-hyping or downright lying about the content of those movies. Yet Grand Theft Auto manages to adhere to its promotional promise of seeing “the greatest cars in the world DESTROYED!” while telling a simple but well paced story that grows from a private affair between a teenage couple and the girls family into an all-out battle that involves the entire town. This is a breathless little comedy chase movie, although in 2009 you’ll probably laughing at delivery of the comedy rather than the jokes themselves. Grand Theft Auto delivers entertainment between the crashes and explosions thanks to a well paced story that is simple and nicely paced. However Grand Theft Auto is not a great movie by any means.

It might come as a surprise that Grand Theft Auto was directed by Academy Award-winner Ron Howard. Anyone that has seen Howard’s newly-released abomination Angels and Demons (2009) will tell you that the film is ridiculously convoluted and makes no sense whatsoever, and yet it is very well directed. Young Ron was never going to win an Academy Award for his direction on Grand Theft Auto, it’s clear that he was just finding his feet here. Admittedly Howard’s direction is on par with most other B-Movie directors of the time, excluding the occasionally brilliant Roger Corman, in that their mantra seemed to be “point, shoot and never retake a scene.” That’s understandable really considering the studios demanded a quick production. The fast turnaround of these movies meant that directors had no choice but to work quickly if they wanted to get paid, so it’s not entirely Howard’s fault that he doesn’t excel as director here. Perhaps it was also the added pressure of taking a starring role in the movie that stunted Howard’s work in both areas because Nancy Morgan shines the brightest out of the two leads. As those well versed in this genre might expect the dialogue is frequently corny and the acting is only a notch above diabolical across the board, but it really doesn’t matter. Every character is played for laughs apart from the lead characters, which makes Howard and Morgan stand out as ‘wooden’. Howard and Morgan are good choices as leads though with his youthful good looks, and while the chemistry between Sam and Paula doesn’t exactly crackle, they are well matched in terms of looks which is what is most important in a movie like this.

Teenagers in the late 1950’s were not visiting movie theaters because there absolutely nothing being produced by the main studios that appealed to them. Small exploitation studios such as New World Pictures made movies cheaply, quickly and frequently with the sole intention of getting those teenagers to spend their disposable income at the theater or drive-in every week, and in doing so made huge profits for decades until the major studios caught up. With Grand Theft Auto New World Pictures skilfully did everything they could to achieve that goal. The fact that this love story is based around a cars is a stroke of genius because of the huge audience that would go with their lover to the drive-in every Saturday. The teenage audience loved the extremely rebellious storyline because their own parents would disapprove, and they loved the promise of illegal activity from the title alone. They were thrilled by the coarse language and the destruction. NWP pitched the movie perfectly for their audience and it shows. NWP spent $602,000 making Grand Theft Auto and grossed a spectacular $15 million. They did have twenty years of refining the formula though, take a look at Teenage Caveman (1958) for a laughably bad early attempt at attracting this audience.

The acting is bad. The direction is sub-par. This could be repeated for many of the mass produced exploitation films that were released during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Grand Theft Auto is by no means a five star movie but when viewed alongside its peers it stands out. Other movies from this genre often gave a whole lot of sizzle without any smoke. They didn’t deliver the incredible, shocking or lurid content that they promised in their trailers and on their posters and those were the things the audience came to see. In fact they were utterly shameless when it came to exploiting their audience, and to add pain to injury these movies didn’t even provide much entertainment as part of the deal, because nobody took the time to pace the story correctly. Grand Theft Auto scores against its rivals by not insulting its audience. Watch this movie for what it is: a 1970’s exploitation movie that for once actually tries hard to deliver what it promises.

 

GRAND THEFT AUTO

1977 Movie Review: THE GAUNTLET, 1977

THE GAUNTLET, 1977
Movie Reviews

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Cast: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle, William Prince, Bill McKinney, Michael Cavanaugh, Carole Cook
Review by Surinder Singh

SYNOPSIS:

Strong-willed but mediocre cop Ben Shockley (Clint Eastwood) is given a special mission by his superiors: to escort prostitute and witness Gus Mally (Sondra Locke) from Las Vegas to Phoenix. The only catch is that the two of them are being set up and are never supposed to reach Phoenix alive! Shockley and Mally form a relationship to be reckoned with as they dodge bullets and enemies on the road to Phoenix.

REVIEW:

It’s fair to say that not all of Eastwood’s directorial forays have been greeted with awards and critical praise. What is clear is that he has embraced a wide range of subjects and genres over the years with his directing career never afraid of tackling any subject head on. The Gauntlet is a more offbeat, character piece despite what the movie poster is trying to sell you. Sure the bullets fly and the vehicles smash but this is not the heart of the movie.

Like in the masterful Play Misty For Me (1971) Eastwood has put forth another strong female character. The charismatic Mally arrives in the typical western guise of the ‘hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold’ but sheds the clichÈ as soon as the films gets going. While she’s clearly vulnerable, she is also incredibly intelligent and immediately out smarts the intimidating, unflinching chaperone of Clint Eastwood. The best scenes in the movie are those showing Mally manipulating the slightly slow-witted Shockley.

Eastwood is knowingly playing against type here. He knows we are expecting him to tear up the screen and outsmart the bad guys with his amazing physical ability. But like all great directors Eastwood goes the opposite way to expectations and plays Shockley as a man on equal terms with his female character. Locke and Eastwood cleverly play their scenes like a bickering married couple rather than the obvious hero and damsel in distress.

Sondra Locke deserves a lot of praise for being able to hold her own next to one of cinema’s most formidable screen talents. Her most powerful scene is where she coldly pushes a chauvinistic cop to the point of mental breaking point with a long, insightful put down. Such is the intensity of Locke’s performance that we almost forget Eastwood is even in the car! The point made here is that no matter what label society hangs on you, a person can be strong, confident and survive the toughest of social situations.

It’s very pleasing to see Shockley and Mally’s relationship bloom into a real relationship over time. While it’s a convention we are expecting, the relationship is believable and not contrived. They’re the classic tortured souls who could certainly go further in life if they stayed together. The other side to this relationship is that Mally teaches Shockley things about himself he never noticed and vice versa. Despite his failure to catch onto the conspiracy, Shockley learns from Mally that he’s actually a better cop than he realizes.

Everything comes to a head in the film’s final climax. The title of the film refers to the final action set piece of Shockley and Mally driving through a gauntlet of gun fire (complements of a corrupt police department) in a bus turned to Swiss cheese. It could be argued that the sequence is slightly too long and doesn’t really develop as a piece of action. But what the slow pace does do is give you a feeling of suspense that our two main characters may not survive the ordeal.

The films ends with a final genre defiant move; Mally draws the gun and shoots the bad guy. In a standard cop thriller it would be customary for Eastwood to do this but after the entire journey it feels rather fitting that Mally do it! The film proves that a successful partnership between two people has to be a 50/50 scenario. Yet despite having such universal themes The Gauntlet seems to be a hard movie to place. Perhaps in time film audiences will re-visit this seventies classic!

the gauntlet.jpg

1977 Movie Review: ERASERHEAD, 1977

  MOVIE POSTERERASERHEAD, 1977 
Movie Reviews

Director: David Lynch

Stars: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart and Judith Anna Roberts

Review by Russell Hill

SYNOPSIS:

A deranged man is forced to look after his strange-looking baby and struggles to cope with his own demons.

REVIEW:

David Lynch has always been an odd director. Turning narratives on their head, Lynch makes regular storylines seem unreal and not like anything which is based on reality. Take Blue Velvet for example – it’s a love story at first but weird and fantastical individuals appear throughout. Eraserhead is no different, especially as its imagery and storyline is more akin to Salvador Dali’s Un Chien Andalou.

Harry Spencer (Nance) lives in squalor. With an untidy apartment, Spencer leads a twisted existence. His strange girlfriend Mary (Stewart) informs him that she has given birth to a grotesque-looking child. Spencer and Mary struggle to cope looking after a deformed child and she leaves them both. Spencer tries to juggle his romantic feelings for the girl who lives opposite him with caring for his child. Will Spencer give into his rage and kill his child?

Eraserhead is certainly not for family viewing. Its use of strange imagery is similar to what might be in the psyche of a demented maniac. However, for adult viewers, it’s a fascinating film. As any new father learns, their baby can be terrifying. Although Eraserhead takes the metaphor to a completely different level, especially as the child doesn’t look human, one can sympathise with Spencer.

Lynch’s direction is sublime. Eraserhead was his first feature-length film and shows a truly great director in his infancy. The film touches on a subject which was very important to Lynch, especially as his own child had recently been born with clubbed feet. Although basing a character on his own personal life and turning it into an alien-like creature might be a step too far, the similarities are certainly evident.

Although it is an odd movie, Eraserhead is one of the best surreal films to have been made in the past fifty years. It isn’t surprising that it has been likened to the work of Luis Bunuel and Last Year at Marienbad because it takes several viewings to fully appreciate.

eraserhead.jpg

1977 Movie Review: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, 1977

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, 1977
Movie Reviews

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Bob Balaban, Lance Henriksen
Review by Steven Loeb

SYNOPSIS:

Cableman Roy Neary is one of several people who experience a close encounter of the first kind, witnessing UFOs flying through the night sky. He is subsequently haunted by a mountainlike image in his head and becomes obsessed with discovering what it represents, putting severe strain on his marriage. Meanwhile, government agents around the world have a close encounter of the second kind, discovering physical evidence of otherworldly visitors in the form of military vehicles that went missing decades ago suddenly appearing in the middle of nowhere. Roy and the agents both follow the clues they have been given to reach a site where they will have a close encounter of the third kind: contact.

REVIEW:

In the early days of science fiction movies, beings from other planets were often used as a symbol of fear and destruction. During the Red Scare of the 1950s, aliens were often used as a representation for the invasion of Communism. They came, they saw and they destroyed everything in their path. By the late 1970s, though the Cold War was still going strong, the Red Scare was long over, and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) had improved relations between the United States and Russia, leading to a reduction in the number of missiles that each country would be allowed to keep in their arsenals. It seemed that the two super-powers might be coming toward some kind of resolution to their decades-long war; of course this would not actually happen until more than ten years later. Nevertheless, if there is one film that shows a prevailing optimism in the direction that the Cold War, and the world in general, was taking at the time, it was Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), the third film directed by Steven Spielberg.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the story of a small town electrician named Roy, played by Richard Dreyfuss, who experiences a seemingly random encounter with a UFO. After the experience, Roy becomes obsessed with aliens and UFOs. His behavior becomes extremely strange and erratic, including drawing the same mountain over and over. When he is unable to explain his behavior to his wife, she leaves him, and only then does he realize that he is drawing Devils Tower in Wyoming, the site where the UFOs are about to make contact with humans. As he races to get there, the government, having made a list of people who will be allowed to visit the aliens, apprehends him. After being questioned, Roy is added to the list, the aliens return the numerous people who had been abducted over the years, Roy and the others on the list enter the spaceship and are taken away to make contact with the friendly aliens.

Close Encounters was a film that Steven Spielberg had been working on for almost a decade by the time it was finally released. After shopping the film around, Spielberg was finally able to sell the script, and get creative control of the project, following the massive success of Jaws (1975). Based on a story he had written as a teenager, it is one of the few scripts for which Spielberg gets full writing credit, even though the script went through numerous changes and numerous other writers worked on different drafts of the story. Despite the contributions of other writers, in many ways, this is the first real Spielberg film, as this is where he began to incorporate themes that he would use in many of his later films, some of which reflect his own life and would come to define him as a director. This is the first of Spielberg’s films to depict an unhappy marriage; Spielberg’s own parents had divorced when he was a child and he often incorporates broken families, or single parent homes, in his films. Roy and his wife have a tempestuous relationship to begin with, and they see their marriage become even more strained as a result of Roy’s obsessions, ultimately leading to the collapse of their relationship. Spielberg would use this theme most famously in E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982), a film about a lonely boy who finds friendship with a lost alien. Spielberg’s films also often incorporate the themes of wonder and child-like innocence, seen here as Roy enters the spaceship at the end of the film. Though he is unsure of what is going to happen, he is excited and awed instead of afraid. This motif was used again in the Indiana Jones movies and, perhaps most successfully, in Jurassic Park (1993).

Close Encounters was the second collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss, the first being Jaws two years earlier. Dreyfuss, who had first gained fame for his role in American Graffiti (1973), became a major movie star after Jaws. In 1978, he became the youngest actor ever to win the Best Actor Oscar for his role in The Goodbye Girl (1977), though this honor has since been surpassed by Adrian Brody.

Unfortunately for Dreyfuss, at the peak of his success, he developed a serious drug habit and, after crashing his car and being arrested for cocaine possession in 1982, he was forced to enter rehab. He was eventually able to resuscitate his career, going on to receive a nomination for Best Actor for Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995). After Close Encounters, Dreyfuss and Spielberg would work together one more time in Always (1989), a film that is widely considered to be one of Spielberg’s worst movies.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a huge success, both critically and at the box office. It was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including a Supporting Actress nomination for Melina Dillion, playing the mother of an abducted child, and Spielberg’s first for Best Director; the film would walk away with two Oscars, for cinematography and sound editing.

close encounters.jpg

1977 Movie Review: ANNIE HALL, 1977

ANNIE HALL MOVIE POSTER
ANNIE HALL, 1977
Movie Reviews

Directed by Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton
Review by Eli Manning

SYNOPSIS:

Neurotic New York comedian Alvy Singer falls in love with the interesting Annie Hall.

REVIEW:

First lines of film:
Alvy Singer: [addressing the camera] There’s an old joke – um… two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.” Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.</br

That is the overall theme of this movie and Woody Allen tells us about it straight up.

There’s been a lot written about this film and many of the film’s core ideas are in other people’s films because this is just one of those films! It triggered a great emotion in the world and is considered the Classic Comedy film of all-time.

Woody Allen is a master of the art of laughter and sadness. When he is in his own films he always plays a man who loves himself and hates himself at the same time. His self-love and confidence puts himself in great spots and situations until his self-hatred brings him down and out of those good situations. And that is the grammar of Woody Allen. These are the films he makes: then, now and in the future.

Allen plays moderately successful comedian Alvy Singer. He’s been married before and is seasoned in the world of relationships. Seasoned but really a failure in it. He falls for the woman Annie Hall, a young idealist with different core values than himself – played brilliantly by Diane Keaton (who picked up an Oscar for Best Actress). Annie Hall likes Alvy because he’s the type of guy that she can learn a lot from and has been in situations where she wants to be.

Right from the start it becomes a mentor/protege relationship and the madness of this situation is that Alvy can learn a whole lot more from Annie than vice/versa. But Alvy is too much into Alvy and his own love/hate of himself. It’s just too hard for him to really see or understand this.

Of course this is a comedy and it’s a very funny film. So funny in fact that I believe that someone who watches this film 100 years from now will laugh just as much as we do now and when they did in 1977 when it opened. It has universal appeal as we all want to find love but the trick is that you need to love yourself first in order to love someone else.

Emotionally most of us attach ourselves to Annie Hall because she carries this genuine kindness for herself and humanity. And we want her to get far away from Alvy because he’s a selfish jerk, even though we can’t help but like him. Avly (and Woody Allen) has charm and charm seems to go a long way in life.

A film everyone needs to watch and see. Some will hate it I understand because it’s just a film that hits too close to home for some people to really laugh at. Or they just hate quirky comedies. In my opinion it’s the best comedy of all-time.

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1977 Movie Review: AIRPORT 77, 1977

AIRPORT 77 POSTERAIRPORT 77, 1977
Movie Reviews

Directed by Jerry Jameson

Cast: Jack Lemmon, Brenda Vaccaro, Lee Grant, Joseph Cotton, Olivia De Havilland, Darren McGavin, Christopher Lee, Robert Foxworth, Robert Hooks, Monte Markham, Kathleen Quinlan, James Stewart, George Kennedy, James Booth.
Review by Jason Day 

SYNOPSIS:

A luxury Jumbo Jet, kitted out as a swish, flying convention centre, sets off on it’s maiden voyage carrying a passenger list of the rich and redoubtable and owner Stewart’s priceless artwork collection. Some of the crew are bent on carrying off this loot for themselves so they takeover the plane and fly it into the bermuda triangle to avoid detection. Hitting an off-shore oil rig, they plunge into the sea, ditching the air-liner on the sea-bed. Harrassed captain Lemmon has to try and save everyone as the air runs out and the water starts seeping in.

REVIEW:

Universal’s third entry in their increasingly tired series of airborne disaster dramas features perhaps the oddest casting for this type of venture, perfectly in keeping with the daft plot in what has become something of a guiltily enjoyable late-night viewing pleasure.

Comedy film legend Lemmon slums it in the lead role and is off-key and clearly embarrassed, despite being surrounded by some hard working and classy support actors, the best of which are Grant who is on top-form as a bitchy, boozy passenger making best friends with the drinks cabinet and the requisite relics of Hollywood’s Golden Age de Havilland and Cotton as two old flames reigniting their romance beneath the waves.

Stewart, Lee, Vaccaro, McGavin, a young Quinlan et al are completely wallflowered by the dismal and sodden script. These are actors who had shown themselves to be capable of much more but are ultimately defeated by thinly drawn, cardboard characterisations and a distinct lack of dialogue. Though for some of them, this may have been a blessing in disguise when looking back on their CV (pity poor McGavin who gets the award for the worst line as he sagely intones: “And oxygen. That could be a very important factor”).

Jameson, a former movie editor, still knows how to make a winner and is smart enough to completely side-step the loopy plot and focus his and our attention firmly on the well-orchestrated rescue operation. Here, the US Navy came in handy, as the liner is painstakingly raised from the sea and water rushes into the cabin area in the film’s most impressive moment.

Despite being hampered by special effects that wouldn’t allow for a decent crash into the sea (see it to believe it – a kid’s toy chucked into a bath and a bin hitting someone on the head would never make this stand up against Titanic), Jameson still jumps on any moments of action to ensure the excitement is pushed to the limit.

A film like this was never going to win any major film awards (or even the minor ones), but thanks to a decent budget the good looking production managed to garner itself Oscar nominations for production design and Edith Head’s costumes.

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