The Black Hole (1979)
Written by Gerry Day & Jeb Rosebrook
Directed by Gary Nelson
Who is Disney’s The Black Hole for? It’s too dark and metaphysical for kids to understand, yet it’s presented as a 1950s B-science fiction film unironically, which makes it less elevated than the material could be. The Black Hole is a film for no one, yet it has fascinated me years after first seeing it on a library VHS tape borrowed when I was eight years old. It is essential to understand the landscape The Black Hole was released in, and how out of touch with contemporary cinema is feels at moments. It’s also an exploitation flick in that it cribs from Star Wars, Alien, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but never in a good way.
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The Million Dollar Duck (1971)
Written by Ted Key & Roswell Rogers
Directed by Vincent McEveety
This was the first film that critic Gene Siskel walked out on. He would only do that with two subsequent movies (1980’s Maniac and 1996’s Black Sheep). The story is a stock Disney script for the time, one of the gimmick comedies, not rising much above a Disney Channel original movie. The production quality is at the television level as well. By the midway mark of the film, I was checking out, despite trying to stay engaged from the outset. There are only so many gags you can do with this plot before it wears out its welcome.
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Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)
Written by Ed Graczyk
Directed by Robert Altman
Self-delusion is one of the scariest things you can experience. It’s a pretty big problem in our culture and has been for a long time. People become terrified of what they would have to do if they acknowledged reality, so they construct false realities that are more emotionally comforting. There is rarely a consideration of the harm these lies can have on the believer and the people around them; if someone is lost in their happiness, then we accept to some point that it’s okay. Media and the concept of celebrity have led to some particular types of self-delusion with fans becoming stalkers and some times even wishing violence on a figure they once adored. If a star dies tragically and/or young, they can elicit an even more fanatical response from admirers.
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Coming Home (1978)
Written by Waldo Salt and Robert C. Jones
Directed by Hal Ashby
Ron Kovic has proved to be an inspirational figure since the 1970s. His memoir, Born on the Fourth of July, was turned into a film by Oliver Stone in the 1980s. But before that, he served as the basis of this movie by Hal Ashby. Kovic was serving in Vietnam when he was caught by the Viet Cong while helping a South Vietnamese unit. The soldier was shot through his foot, then shoulder, ending up with a collapsed lung and a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down. Kovic’s passionate anti-war activism inspired Jane Fonda to want to make a film about injured veterans and their families to share the story of what happens after the parades and medals are handed out.
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Bound for Glory (1976)
Written by Robert Getchell
Directed by Hal Ashby
The details are all a lie, but the experience is authentic. The time and place look just like it would have during the Great Depression. The trials and travails of the Okies are just as it would have been. The film is engaging in myth-making, building episodes, and lore to capture the essence of someone who exists as an icon. There’s nothing wrong with myths, they served a fundamental purpose in the ancient times, informing humans about their world and how to be in it. I would think most music biopics weave stories about their protagonists to get across some sense of the themes in their music. To do that some times you have to make those stories up.
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Written by Robert Towne & Warren Beatty
Directed by Hal Ashby
By the time February 1975 rolled around, Nixon had been a former president for six months. The aftermath of the Watergate scandal was the death of much of the optimism of the 1960s, a nation splintered and mistrustful of people in power. The United States was driven to a Constitutional crisis with the Supreme Court being defied by then-President Nixon. Some people wanted to move on, get to the next thing, and forget about the wounds. Others wanted to perform an autopsy of the past decade, trying to figure out how we went from the hippie movement of the late 1960s to a ravaged industrial hellscape of the mid-1970s.
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The Barefoot Executive (1971)
Written by Lila Garrett, Bernie Kahn, Stewart C. Billett, and Joseph L. McEveety
Directed by Robert Butler
At some point in the late 1960s, Disney shifted from more fantasy-oriented live-action films like Mary Poppins or Bedknobs & Broomsticks to what is referred to as “gimmick comedies,” spurred on by the phenomenal success of The Love Bug. These movies were intended to be silly for kids and more “mature” and contemporary so that the parents would enjoy them as well. Roy Disney, Walt’s older brother, took over after Walt took ill and eventually passed away in 1966. The company actually created a cinematic universe with some of these movies, starting with The Absent-Minded Professor and leading into a trilogy of films starring Kurt Russell as college student Dexter Riley. A total of five films were set at the fictional Medfield College. The legacy of these movies can be seen on the Disney Channel with its original sitcoms. They are the spiritual successors to the cheap television-style plots of these movies.
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