Ultimate 70s Kickoff: Saturday Night Fever (1977)

It’s finally here! The Ultimate 70s Blogathon has begun! For the next several weeks, my co-host Kim, I, and many of our fellow film bloggers will be looking at some of our favorite films from the far out 70s. Check back regularly to see some of the great picks people have made. Earlier today, Kim reviewed the science-fiction horror classic, and one of my personal favorites, Alien, as part of the blogathon’s kickoff. Now it is my turn! Let’s get started, shall we?


Saturday Night Fever movie poster

Synopsis
A Brooklyn teenager feels his only chance to succeed is as the king of the disco floor. His carefree youth and weekend dancing help him to forget the reality of his bleak life. (From IMDb)

Review
Since I both open and close the Ultimate Decades Blogathons that I co-host, my opening entry isn’t necessarily my favorite film from the theme decade, but rather a film that is a snapshot of the decade. For me, the Ultimate 70s film is Saturday Night Fever and here’s why:

  1. The music. Every decade seems to have a distinct sound. In the 60s it was the rock pioneers like Elvis, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, in the 80s it was hair bands and heavy metal, and in the decade in between, disco music was all the rage. Bands like the Bee Gees, ABBA, and Chic defined the sounds of the dance floor in 70s. The Bee Gees, having great success and falling into a bit of a funk before this film’s release, created the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever, cementing the movie’s place as essential 70s.
  2. The dancing. To go with the music, disco clubs were popular places to hang out, dance, and hang out with others. Moves like the Hustle, the Bus Stop, and the aptly named Disco Finger could be seen all over the dance floor. John Travolta’s Tony Manero makes use of these quintessential 70s dance moves and more.
  3. The fashion. Like music, every decade can almost be determined by looking at the clothes and hairstyle of the time. Bellbottom pants, large-collared shirts, and uniquely patterned shirts all but scream 70s. Tony Manero and his friends are constantly wearing outfits that instantly remind you of Saturday Night Fever‘s setting.
  4. A young John Travolta. John Travolta was popular in the mid-1970s thanks to his role in the television series Welcome Back, Kotter. By the late 70s, he stared in the decade-defining films Saturday Night Fever and Grease before having a lackluster career in the 80s. So if you see a film with a young John Travolta, chances are you’re watching a 70s movie.
  5. Tony Manero’s room. Several scenes throughout the film take place within Tony Manero’s bedroom. On his walls are several posters of popular movies and actors of the time, including Rocky, Bruce Lee from Enter the Dragon, and Farrah Fawcett of the television series Charlie’s Angels. His walls are covered in that hideous wallpaper that was popular at the time and his drapes are that unique 70s floral and shade of pink.

Now, as for what I actually think of Saturday Night Fever, not too much, honestly. I wasn’t really sure what the central plot of the film was supposed to be. Was it the dance competition? Was it Tony trying to win the girl? Or one of the many other plots running through the film? I feel like it was supposed to be the dance competition but it didn’t have the dominance to make it the main focus. There were a bunch of interconnected plots that no single one seemed to specifically be what the film was supposed to be about. I guess my takeaway is that it’s an examination of what it meant to be a teenager during that time period.

It that’s its focus, then I would say it did it well. And perhaps that’s why I didn’t connect with it. I couldn’t find much to connect with Tony Manero and his friends. I didn’t agree with several of Tony’s choices or actions. Maybe I’m just too far removed from being a 70s teen.

However, I didn’t completely dislike it. I did really enjoy how the music was incorporated into the movie. In the opening scene, β€œStayin’ Alive” was integrated in such a way that Tony was moving along with the beat of the song. It reminded me of the opening scene of Baby Driver, which I loved as well.

I thought Saturday Night Fever was OK 😐 I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be watching the movie for. It might just be a simple examination of teenage life in the 1970s. If that is the case, then I can’t personally find much to connect with. I appreciate that there is an audience out there for this film. Unfortunately, it’s not me.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
John Badham – Director
Norman Wexler – Screenplay
The Bee Gees – Composers

John Travolta – Tony Manero
Karen Lynn Gorney – Stephanie
Barry Miller – Bobby C.
Joseph Cali – Joey
Paul Pape – Double J.
Donna Pescow – Annette
Bruce Ornstein – Gus
Julie Bovasso – Flo
Sam Coppola – Dan Fusco
Martin Shakar – Frank Jr.
Val Bisoglio – Frank Sr.
Lisa Peluso – Linda

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Priest review

Priest movie posterSynopsis
In an apocalyptic future, mankind and vampires were at war. In the war’s aftermath, most of mankind live in giant cities ruled by the church and vampires live in reservations far outside the cities. When one priest’s (Paul Bettany) niece (Lily Collins) gets kidnapped by a group of vampires in the wastelands, he goes against the church’s orders and leaves the city in search of her.

Review
Good action mixed with a good story and good characters can make for great movies. As for Priest, it only has one of those two things. Unfortunately, good action cannot carry a movie alone. The world it creates is an interesting one. It has futuristic elements inside its sprawling cities, western elements in the wastelands, and fantasy elements with the vampires. I rather enjoyed this unique blend because it gave the film its own look and feel. The look overall was hyper-stylized, not as much as something like 300 but similar to maybe Underworld. Given this movie is a loose adaptation of a Korean comic series of the same name by Hyung Min-woo, the style fits in and helps remind you of its roots, like in 300.

Now as I said in the beginning, Priest is a pure action flick. The characters aren’t deep and the story is straightforward and simple. It tries to throw a twist of sorts towards the end but it isn’t anything too dramatic. Paul Bettany as the titular Priest isn’t bad but he isn’t great either. Kind of a middle-of-the-road sort of performance. Maggie Q isn’t given much room to shine as the pretty-much-required love interest that this type of movie has. The best performance comes from Karl Urban as the villain Black Hat. He looked to be one the only one who was actually enjoying his role.

I thought Priest was OK 😐 I like a good popcorn flick as much as the next guy but there wasn’t a lot here to really enjoy. The action is good but it is nothing not seen elsewhere. Thin characters and bare-bones story drag down what the action manages to accomplish. Not the worst movie out there but there are decidingly better options.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Scott Stewart – Director
Cory Goodman – Writer
Christopher Young – Composer
Andrew Spence – Co-Composer

Paul Bettany – Priest
Karl Urban – Black Hat
Cam Gigandet – Hicks
Maggie Q – Priestess
Lilly Collins – Lucy Pace
Stephen Moyer – Owen Pace
Christopher Plumber – Monsignor Orelas

The Autopsy of Jane Doe Review

The Autopsy of Jane Doe movie posterSynopsis
Tommy (Brian Cox) and his son, Austin (Emile Hirsch), are coroners in a small town in Virginia. One night, a Jane Doe (Olwen Kelly) is brought in for examination. Shortly after they begin the autopsy, weird things begin happening around them and they try to solve the mystery of who this woman is.

Review
When I went to Toronto ComiCon this year, one of the booths I visited was for Raven Banner Entertainment. While perusing their movie selection, I came across The Autopsy of Jane Doe and remembering being intrigued by the trailer, and after talking with the guy in the booth for a bit, I picked it up. In the time since, I have heard a lot of praise for the film so I was eager to finally watch it. Maybe I missed something but I wasn’t drawn in like everyone seems to be.

I’ll give this movie its credit. It did a fantastic job of creating an eerie atmosphere. The entire film takes place in one location and is claustrophobic. It reminded me a lot of the video game Dead Space where it took place in a tight location and used that confined space to build the tension. Things like light and sound become very important and elevate the movie. Every small thing you see in the corner of your eye draws your attention because you know something is around the corner waiting to jump out and you can’t help but think that might be the thing. Then surprise! It’s not. This is a classic horror trope but in such a confining environment, the effect is amplified.

Since this movie takes place in a single confined space, the film rested on Brian Cox’s and Emile Hirsch’s shoulders. Thankfully, they were up to the task. This could have been one of those films where they simply phoned it in and make it seem like they were there just for the check. But no, they put an effort into their parts and it shows. Besides the great atmosphere, Cox and Hirsch make the watch worthwhile.

About the first half of the film is spent on performing the autopsy. As Tommy (Cox) and Austin (Hirsch) make their way through their examination, we slowly learn more and more about the body, which in turn builds and builds the mystery about Jane Doe. This is probably what I like most about this film. There is this β€œcharacter” who never moves or says anything for the entire movie and yet she is still interesting and just as captivating as the characters who walk around and speak. That is a very hard thing to accomplish but director AndrΓ© Øvredal pulled it off without a sweat. It might move fairly slowly for the first portion of the film but it works out to great effect.

Now here is the problem I had with this movie: I didn’t feel any fear or tension. As a horror, I wasn’t scared. As a psychological thriller, I didn’t feel tense. I know I just said the film did a great job to build the tension, and it did, but I didn’t feel tense, if that makes sense. I could tell there was tension but I didn’t feel it. I thought it was predicable which took me out of the horror element of it. The build up was great and the film was interesting once it started ramping up but I unfortunately wasn’t drawn in to it like I feel I should have been.

I thought The Autopsy of Jane Doe was OK 😐 Horrors are not unlike comedies where the success of the film depends completely on the audience’s reaction to it. In comedies, it comes down to if the director can make them laugh. For horrors, it depends on if they can make the audience be scared or feel tense. Regrettably, I did not have that feeling from this movie. It did everything right, from the characters to the mystery to the atmosphere, I just wasn’t engaged by it. I’m sorry AndrΓ© Øvredal, it’s not you, it’s me.

My Toronto ComiCon buddy, Kim, also picked this film up from the Raven Banner booth. You can read her review of this film here. Spoiler alert: she enjoyed it more than I did.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
AndrΓ© Øvredal – Director
Ian Goldberg – Writer
Richard Naing – Writer
Danny Bensi – Composer
Saunder Jurriaans – Composer

Brian Cox – Tommy
Emile Hirsch – Austin
Olwen Kelly – Jane Doe
Ophelia Lovibond – Emma
Michael McElhatton – Sheriff Burke
Jane Perry – Lieutenant Wade

Lightning Review: Dumb and Dumber To

Dumb and Dumber To movie posterSynopsis
When Harry (Jeff Daniels) learns that he has a long lost daughter, he and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) head go on a road trip to Oxford, Maryland in search of her.

Review
Dumb and Dumber is one of my favorite road trip movies and normally I would be eager for a (actual) sequel to a film that I consider to be one of my β€œfavorites.” However, going into Dumb and Dumber To, I can’t say that I was exactly excited to see it. As a result, my expectations weren’t very high, which I supposed helped since while it didn’t reach the low of Dumb and Dumberer, it was nowhere near as enjoyable as the first film. Thankfully, this film completely ignores Dumb and Dumberer, actually completely contradicting it at times. But that’s really the most positive thing I can say about this film. Its main problem is that lacks the heart that made the first film so entertaining despite its absurd premise. Dumb and Dumber To just feels absurd for absurdity’s sake. Since it is a sequel, especially a comedy sequel, there are plenty of call backs to the original that fans will recognize. The film wasn’t entire devoid of a few good jokes and I did chuckle several times but I couldn’t tell you any of them since they weren’t that memorable.

I thought Dumb and Dumber To was OK 😐 An improvement over Dumb and Dumberer but not by much. While it has its moments and I did laugh a few times, it doesn’t have the charm or endearing qualities of the first Dumb and Dumber. What we have here is just another case of a studio trying to make a sequel to a beloved film and falling short.

Also read my reviews for Dumb and Dumber and Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd.

Favorite Quote
Harry: Wow. That is the single most boring sentence I ever heard.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Bobby Farrelly – Director / Writer
Peter Farrelly – Director / Writer
Sean Anders – Writer
John Morris – Writer
Bennett Yellin – Writer
Mike Cerrone – Writer
Empire of the Sun – Composer

Jim Carrey – Lloyd Christmas
Jeff Daniels – Harry Dunne
Rob Riggle – Travis / Captain Lippincott
Laurie Holden – Adele
Rachel Melvin – Penny
Steve Tom – Dr. Pinchelow
Kathleen Turner – Fraida
Bill Murray – Ice Pick
Brady Bluhm – Billy
Michael Yama – Harry’s Dad
Nancy Yee – Harry’s Mom
Grant James – Mr. Stainer
Taylor St. Clair – Mrs. Stainern
Eddie Shin – Gordy
Tommy Snider – Tom
Atkins Estimond – Gus
Don Lake – Dr. Meldmann
Tembi Locke – Dr. Walcott
Patricia French – Ms. Sourpuss
Lindsay Ayliffe – Professor Garabedian
Elizabeth Cooper – Mrs. Julie James
Paul Blackthorne – Emergency Room Doctor

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor Review

Synopsis
Alex O’Connell (Luke Ford), trying to escape the shadow of his famous parents Rick (Brendan Frasier) and Evelyn (Maria Bello) O’Connell, locates the cursed first Emperor of Qin (Jet Li) in China. However, General Yang (Anthony Chau-Sang Wong) is also after the Emperor to resurrect him to rule the world. When the Emperor is awakened, the O’Connells must once again stop a terrible evil from taking over the world.

Review
It seems that in today’s movie landscape, studios try to milk their successful franchises for every cent they can. Brendan Frasier’s Mummy series is one such casualty. Released seven years after The Mummy Returns, Universal brings Rick O’Connell (Frasier) out of retirement to once again battle a mummy, one that is not Imhotep this time, and does so with a different creative team. The results, as you might guess, are a bit of a mixed bag.

The mummy this time, known as The Emperor, is played by Jet Li, who does well with such a one-dimensional character. Although his good performance might be because the role is much more action-heavy this time than Arnold Vosloo’s role as the mummy and Li excels at such action sequences. However, the character seemed to lack any motivation except for personal power, which is pretty generic. I wasn’t expecting anything deep from this sort of film but at least Imhotep’s actions were fueled by his love for Anck-Su-Namun.

Rachel Weisz did not return for this film. Instead, the role of Evelyn was played by Maria Bello. As Evy, I don’t think Bello did a bad job. She held her own during the action sequences and I don’t really have anything negative about her acting. However, throughout the entire movie, there was this small feeling like there was something off. She merely lacked the chemistry Weisz did with Frasier. It felt like they were simply going through the motions and didn’t feel like they were having as much fun together as Frasier and Weisz did. Although, Bello did have a good introduction scene which clearly noted she was not the same Evy as before.

Speaking of no chemistry, an older Alex O’Connell (who lost his English accent somewhere over the years) is played by Luke Ford. Alex forms a relationship with Lin (Isabella Leong), a protector of the Emperor’s tomb because how dare there be a young, handsome man in an action movie who doesn’t have a love interest. Like Frasier and Bello, Ford and Leong lack the chemistry to make their characters’ relationship feel genuine. That’s not even including the writing that makes it feel forced. Their entire relationship feels shoehorned in because they wanted a new couple by the end of the film.

I think this movie’s biggest flaw, though, is that it lacks the fun the previous two Mummy movies possessed. It is much more action-oriented than the previous films and lacking the comedy element. Which is not entirely a bad thing since there are plenty of action movies that don’t have a comedic component. However, there was a sense of whimsical fun the other films had that made them extremely entertaining, even if slightly campy. There is just too much seriousness in this film for the franchise it is a part of.

I thought The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor was OK 😐 As an action movie, it’s pretty good but when it is compared as a Mummy movie to the rest in the series, it doesn’t hold up. The sense of fun feels left behind and there is a lack of chemistry between the actors. This is one franchise where the studio should have left well enough alone.

Also read my reviews for The Mummy and The Mummy Returns.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Rob Cohen – Director
Alfred Gough – Writer
Miles Miller – Writer
Randy Edelman – Composer

Brendan Frasier – Rick O’Connell
Maria Bello – Evelyn O’Connell
John Hannah – Jonathan Carnahan
Luke Ford – Alex O’Connell
Isabella Leong – Lin
Michelle Yeoh – Zi Yuan
Jet Li – Emperor
Anthony Chau-Sang Wong – General Yang
Jessey Meng – Choi
Liam Cunningham – β€œMad Dog” Maguire
David Calder – Roger Wilson

Lightning Review: The Mummy (2017)

The Mummy (2017) movie posterSynopsis
Nick Morrison (Tom Cruise) and his friend Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) accidentally uncover the tomb of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an ancient Egyptian princess who had been buried for fear of her supernatural powers. When Ahmanet’s powers begin to return, Nick is chosen to finish the ritual Ahmanet started before she was entombed and he is thrust into an unknown world of monsters and dark creatures.

Review
As a cinefile, it is usually very easy to say whether or not I liked a movie but sometimes it can be hard to determine the why. This is the case for me with The Mummy. On the surface, it has many elements that I like in a film. Tom Cruise brings excitement to the action scenes. Jake Johnson, one of my favorite actors from New Girl, is a good comedic relief character, even if he does seem slightly out of place. The gorgeous Sofia Boutella as the titular mummy has an air of terror around her and gives a horror factor to the movie. So there are all these film elements that I enjoy, so why didn’t I enjoy this one? Maybe the issue is that I didn’t know what kind of movie I was watching. There were action pieces, humorous moments, and horror situations. There were all of these components that I couldn’t figure out what this movie was trying to do. Was it trying to be exciting? Scary? Funny? Individually, these parts are good and enjoyable here but when put together, they lose their strength and make for an inconsistent experience.

I thought The Mummy was OK 😐 When I hear β€œThe Mummy,” I always think of the 1999 Brendan Frasier version. What keeps bringing me back to that version is it is adventurous and fun and cheesy and it knows it and embraces it. This movie tries to incorporate some of that but also tries to go back to its horror roots of the 1930s original. The final product is a movie that doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be and it hurts the overall experience.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Alex Kurtzman – Director / Story
David Koepp – Screenplay
Christopher McQuarrie – Screenplay
Dylan Kussman – Screenplay
Jon Spaihts – Story
Jenny Lumet – Story
Brian Tyler – Composer

Tom Cruise – Nick Morton
Annabelle Wallis – Jenny Halsey
Sofia Boutella – Ahmanet
Jake Johnson – Chris Vail
Russell Crowe – Dr. Henry Jekyll
Courtney B. Vance – Colonel Greenway
Marwan Kenzari – Malik