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1978 films

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Films: Piranha (1978) - Pretty Baby (1978) -

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  • Up in Smoke (1978) - Lou Adler, Tommy Chong[1 DVD, Amazon US]
    Cheech & Chong's first cannabis comedy is also their best, a souvenir from the more carefree days before "Just Say No," when people did not feel so defensive about inhaling. In 1978, the prevailing spirit was more like "Just Say Blow." Even New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael liked it (the movie, that is), adding that it was "an exploitation slapstick comedy, rather than a family picture, such as Blazing Saddles or High Anxiety--which means that it's dirtier, wilder, and sillier." The story has to do with bumbling potheads Cheech & Chong searching for primo bud, while being tailed by a team of inept law-enforcement officers, led by Sgt. Stedenko (Stacy Keach). Sample dialogue: When a cop pulls them over to ask if they are any illegal substances in his vehicle, Cheech replies: "Not any more, man." Up in Smoke is an irresistibly silly and charming movie that--despite, or perhaps because of, the national furor over drug use--plays today like a relic from a bygone era, a sweeter, more open, more innocent period in our history. --Jim Emerson for amazon.com [...]

  • Martin (1978) - George A. Romero [Amazon US]
    Martin (John Amplas) is a modern sort of vampire--he gains his victims' cooperation with the use of a hypodermic needle instead of hypnotism, and uses razors in the place of fangs. "There's no real magic," he says. "There's no real magic, ever." He says this to his elderly Romanian cousin, Tati Cuda (Lincoln Maazel), a true believer in the old religion, and self-appointed keeper of Martin, who threatens to do away with the boy if the vampirism doesn't stop. According to Cuda, the boy is actually 85 years old--young for a vampire. Truly, the supernatural element of the film is always at odds with psychological explanations that make Martin out to be a sexually disturbed teen, not an ancient bloodsucker. Martin's vampiric episodes are intercut with sepia footage of similar exploits from some gothic era, which may either be Martin's memories or his imagination; take your pick. Garlic, sunlight, mirrors--these are devices of Hollywood, and have no effect on a hypo-toting vampire like Martin, as he explains the rules in his role of frequent call-in guest on a radio talk show where he's known as "The Count." These ambiguities are left teasingly unresolved by the film, which is more interested in establishing the relationship between the traditional vampire and the modern-day psycho. Along with the film's narrative economy, these ambiguities make Martin Romero's midnight-movie masterpiece.

    At the very end Romero borrows an image from Carl Theodore Dreyer's classic silent film Ordet, ratifying a moment of religious ritual. Knowing this as you watch the film only deepens the chill. --Jim Gay for Amazon.com

  • La Cage Aux Folles (1978) - Edouard Molinaro [Amazon US]
    A likable 1978 French farce (and the basis for the 1996 American remake, The Birdcage), this popular comedy was one of the most successful international films of all time, and even spawned a Broadway musical and two sequels. It tells the story of a gay couple who--when one man's son from a previous liaison brings home his fiancÚe--masquerade as husband and wife for their prospective in-laws. The film is saved from becoming an exercise in silliness by the heartfelt characterizations of the gay nightclub owners. La Cage aux Folles is one of the funniest imports from Europe and a great comedy in any venue. --Robert Lane for Amazon.com

  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) - Philip Kaufman [Amazon.com]
    Jack Finney's classic science fiction novel has been the basis of three big-screen adaptations, beginning with the 1956 chiller Invasion of the Body Snatchers and most recently as 1994's underrated Body Snatchers. This acclaimed 1978 version from director Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff) is every bit as creepy as the '56 original, and it fits perfectly into the cycle of paranoid thrillers that thrived in American movies of the 1970s. Kaufman stylishly directs from an intelligent screenplay by W.D. Richter, while Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams lead a distinguished cast (including Jeff Goldblum, Leonard Nimoy, and Veronica Cartwright) and must fight for survival as the population of San Francisco is systematically cloned by alien "pods" from a distant, dying planet. The atmosphere of dread and paranoia grows increasingly intense as the complexity of the alien invasion is gradually revealed, until nobody can be trusted to be who they appear. Finely tuned performances enhance the film's eerie atmosphere, highlighted by moments that will lurk in your memory long after the movie's over. MGM's DVD release includes a full-length audio commentary by Kaufman, a "pod culture" retrospective, Body Snatchers trivia, production notes, and the original theatrical trailer. --Jeff Shannon for Amazon.com

  • Interiors (1978) - Woody Allen [Amazon.com]
    Although indisputably a film by Woody Allen, Interiors is about as far from "a Woody Allen film" as you can get--and maybe more people could have seen what a fine film it is if they hadn't been expecting what Allen himself called "one of his earlier, funnier movies." An entirely serious, rather too self-consciously Bergmanesque drama about a divorcing elderly couple and their grown daughters, it is slow, meditative, and constructed with a brilliant, painterly eye. There is no music--a simple effect that Allen uses with extraordinary power. In fact, half the film is filled with silent faces staring out of windows, yet the mood is so engaging, hypnotic even, that you never feel the director is poking you in the ribs and saying, "somber atmosphere." Diane Keaton, released for once from the goofy ditz stereotype, shines as the "successful" daughter. Some of the dialogue is stilted, and it's hard to tell whether this is a deliberate effect or simply the way repressed upscale New Yorkers talk after too many years having their self-absorption sharpened on the therapist's couch. Fanatical, almost childish self-regard is the chief subject of Allen's comedy--it's remarkable that in this film he was able to remove the comedy but leave room for us to pity and care about these rather irritating people. --Richard Farr [...]

  • High Anxiety (1978) - Mel Brooks [Amazon US]
    An affectionate homage more than a spoof of Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, Mel Brooks's hilarious movie is one of the funniest modern comedies around. Brooks plays a psychiatrist with a severe fear of heights who moves to the Bay Area to take over a psychiatric hospital after its former head mysteriously disappears. He must contend with the resident psychiatrist (Harvey Korman) and the twisted resident nurse (Cloris Leachman) as they plot against him, eventually framing him for murder. While on the run, Brooks teams up with the alluring daughter (Madeline Kahn) of the missing doctor to solve the mystery and confront his own fears. Containing some classic sequences and cowritten by Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Wag the Dog), who appears briefly as a too-touchy bellhop in a Psycho-shower-scene takeoff, High Anxiety is a thoroughly enjoyable romp from one of the masters of comedy today. --Robert Lane, Amazon.com

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