4 Shots From 4 Films: Akira Kurosawa


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

With the latest entry to the Star Wars franchise set to be released in just a few days I thought it was appropriate to share four particular scenes from one filmmaker who has been a huge influence on George Lucas’ vision for Star Wars. This filmmaker also became a huge influence on other master filmmakers such as John Ford, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Sidney Lumet just to name a few.

Many consider this filmmaker to be one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived and in this humble individual’s opinion he was the greatest filmmaker who stood above all and whose storytelling and visual techniques would become part of the modern filmmaker’s toll bag.

The man I speak of is Akira Kurosawa.

4 SHOTS FROM 4 FILMS

The Hidden Fortress (dir. by Akira Kurosawa)

The Hidden Fortress (dir. by Akira Kurosawa)

Dersu Uzala (dir. by Akira Kurosawa)

Dersu Uzala (dir. by Akira Kurosawa)

Yojimbo (dir. by Akira Kurosawa)

Yojimbo (dir. by Akira Kurosawa)

Kagemusha (dir. by Akira Kurosawa)

Kagemusha (dir. by Akira Kurosawa)

Sci-Fi Review – Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (dir. by George Lucas)


 

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Before I start, a quick apology. This isn’t a great review by any means. One, I rushed it. Two, In writing about a film that everyone knows, I found I had problem figuring out exactly what to say. What you’re getting here is a stream of consciousness. The Empire Strikes Back review will be better.

In anticipation of The Force Awakens, the Shattered Lens are taking on the other films in the Star Wars Saga. It’s next to impossible for anyone to avoid seeing anything related to the new film as the fever grows and we reach the December 18th release date.

There are a few movies where I wish I could’ve been there during their theatrical release. How great would it be to see audiences squirm during Ridley Scott’s Alien, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws or William Friedkin’s The Exorcist? I was a little too young to see the original Star Wars when it premiered in May of 1977, but I can’t imagine it wasn’t amazing. I wouldn’t be familiar with the films until 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. That was the film I saw first. Then Star Wars on VHS and finally Return of the Jedi in the cinema when I was 9.

Still, I grew up knowing what Star Wars was before I could really read. Thanks to an older brother who was enthralled with the film at 7, there were Star Wars curtains in our room and Star Wars bedsheets/blankets. We had action figures and models to play with. Since LED’s in toys weren’t the norm, our lightsabers consisted of whiffle-bat plastic rods with cuts in them. Swing the sword a bit and you’d hear the “hum” of the blade. It was an awesome time.

Years later, when my little brother was born in the mid-1980’s, we kept him occupied with movies. Once he learned what Star Wars was, it was almost always the film he’d pick out to watch. I took him with me to catch all three of the Prequels during late night runs. We’d spend the wait with our own lightsabers, re-enacting Episode I fights or just talking about what we hoped we’d see. Earlier this year, during my last visit to my friends in Oregon, I was able to introduce a new generation to the magic of it all.

All of that is me, gushing over one of my favorite set of films. You have my sympathies.

So, how did a little sci-fi film in the late 70s manage to become such a pop culture beacon today? Was it the special effects, so ground breaking that we still use its techniques (such as the Green Screen)? Was it the sound design? The cast, perhaps, made up of a mix of relative unknowns and seasoned film veterans?

I’d argue that the film’s biggest success is the overall impact in the Motion Picture industry. Lucas and the production team were forced to make some innovations to get the vision they wanted. To that end, Industrial Light & Magic was created, and the effects studio pioneered special effects for years to come. Pixar wouldn’t have happened without Star Wars and ILM, since they were just a branch of the company that Lucas couldn’t quite find a use for, supposedly. The best comparison I can make for anyone unfamiliar with ILM is Weta Digital and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. You know when you watched those three films, you were seeing effects that everyone would want to use down the road. That’s just my view. The ties to classic myths were also strong, as Lucas was heavily influenced by Joseph Campbell. Campbell’s Hero Journey is basically the template used for A New Hope (and for The Matrix by the Wachowski’s, if you watch them side by side). Ben Burtt would go on to win a special award for Sound Effects in the film. His work would eventually end up being the backbone of Skywalker Sound.

From a casting standpoint, most of the principals were relative unknowns at the time. Lucas worked with Harrison Ford on American Graffiti some years before. Mark Hamill was brought on board after auditioning at the behest of his friend, Robert Englund (which I found out during writing this). Carrie Fisher loved the script and was also cast as Princess Leia. For some added weight, Lucas managed to cast both Sir Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing. I’m still not entirely certain of how he pulled that off.

Star Wars (or A New Hope as I’ll refer to it) takes place 30 years after the events of Revenge of the Sith. The Galactic Empire is in control over everything, the Jedi are no more. It’s a near complete victory, save for the fact that the plans for the Empire’s greatest weapon were stolen. When a Star Destroyer intercepts a Rebel Cruiser with Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) on board, she’s captured for interrogation. This is, of course, after she sneaks the plans for the Death Star in her trust R2 Unit, R2-D2 (Kenny Baker). R2, along with his companion C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) manage to escape the Star Destroyer and land on the desert planet of Tatooine.

The Droids are discovered by Jawas and are then sold to Owen Lars, his wife Beru and their nephew, Luke Skywalker. Luke wants to join up with the Alliance and become a starfighter, but the family needs him on the farm. After stumbling on to the message the Princess hid in R2-D2, he looks for his old friend, Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness), who turns out to be more than what he seems.

In order to get to the Princess, they need someone to get them there. This is where the coolest character in the entire series appears. For a price, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his buddy Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) take Ben and Luke in their spaceship, the Millenium Falcon to search for her. They get captured by the Empire, practically stumble upon the princess and she rescues them by way of a garbage chute. They get the plans, escape the Death Star and collaborate on a rebel assault to destroy it before it can do more harm. That’s the bulk of it, though admittedly, I’m leaving a lot out. It’s a simple tale, but an effective one as well.

Overall, A New Hope is still the template for a lot of Sci-Fi films. Battles in space, a little bit of swashbuckling, and some humor here and there are all elements borrowed by many films and games since it was released. Some handle Sci-Fi better (Mass Effect, Dune) and others fail in comparison (Jupiter Ascending, anyone?), but most modern works pay some homage to Star Wars in a way.

Tomorrow, we take a look at The Empire Strikes Back, arguably the best story in the Star Wars saga.

 

Boobs, Music, and Sci-Fi: Heavy Metal (1981, directed by Gerald Potterton)


Heavy MetalI think I was twelve when I first saw Heavy Metal.  It came on HBO one night and I loved it.  So did all of my friends.  Can you blame us?  It had everything that a twelve year-old boy (especially a 12 year-old boy who was more than a little on the nerdy side) could want out of a movie: boobs, loud music, and sci-fi violence.  It was a tour of our secret fantasies.  The fact that it was animated made it all the better.  Animated films were not supposed to feature stuff like this.  When my friends and I watched Heavy Metal, we felt like we were getting away with something.

Based on stories from the adults-only Heavy Metal Magazine, Heavy Metal was divided into 8 separate segments:

Soft Landing (directed by Jimmy T. Murakami and John Bruno, written by Dan O’Bannon)

Heavy Metal opens brilliantly with a Corvette being released from a space shuttle and then flying down to Earth, surviving reentry without a scratch.  Who, after watching this, has not wanted a Space Corvette of his very own?

Grimaldi (directed by Harold Whitaker)

On Earth, a terrified young girl listens a glowing green meteorite called the Loc-Nar tells her that it is the source of all evil in the universe.  This sets up the rest of the film, which is made up of stories that the Loc-Nar tells about its influence.  The Loc-Nar is the film’s MacGuffin and, seen today, one of Heavy Metal’s biggest problems is that it has to find a way to force the Loc-Nar into every story, even if it meant sacrificing any sort of consistency about what the Loc-Nar was capable of doing.  Even when I was twelve, I realized that the Loc-Nar was not really that important.

Harry Canyon (directed by Pino Van Lamsweerde, written by Daniel Goldberg)

In this neo-noir tale, futuristic cabby Harry Canyon (voiced by Richard Romanus) is enlisted to help an unnamed girl (voiced by Susan Roman) to find the Loc-Nar.  Slow and predictable, Harry Canyon does feature the voice of John Candy as a police sergeant who attempts to charge Harry for police work.

den_1268427864Den (directed by Jack Stokes, written by Richard Corben)

Nerdy teenager David (voiced by John Candy) finds a piece of the Loc-Nar and is transported to the world of Neverwhere, where he is transformed into Den, a muscular, bald warrior.  As Den, David gets to live out the fantasies of Heavy Metal‘s target audience.  On his new planet, Den rescues an Earth woman from being sacrificed, overthrows an evil queen and a sorcerer, and gets laid.  A lot.  Den is the best segment in Heavy Metal, largely because of the endearing contrast between the action onscreen and John Candy’s enthusiastic narration.

Captain Sternn (directed by Paul Sebella and Julian Harris, written by Bernie Wrightson)

heavy-metal_captain-sternOn a space station orbiting the Earth, Captain Lincoln F. Sternn is on trail for a countless number of offenses.  Though guilty, Captain Sternn expects to be acquitted because he has bribed the prosecution’s star witness, Hanover Fiste.  However, Hanover is holding the Loc-Nar in his hand and it causes him to tell the truth about Captain Sternn and eventually turn into a bloodthirsty giant. Captain Sternn saves the day by tricking Hanover into getting sucked out of an air lock.

Captain Sternn was a reoccurring character in Heavy Metal Magazine and his segment is one of the best.  Eugene Levy voices Captain Sternn while Joe Flaherty voices his lawyer and Dean Wormer himself, John Vernon, is the prosecutor.  Even National Lampoon co-founder Douglas Kenney provided a voice.

 B-17 (directed by Barrie Nelson, written by Dan O’Bannon)

After the Loc-Nar enters Earth’s atmosphere, it crashes into a bullet-riddled World War II bomber, causing the dead crewmen within to reanimate as zombies.  Scored to Don Felder’s Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride), B-17 is one of the shorter segments and its dark and moody animation holds up extremely well.

So Beautiful and So Dangerous (directed by John Halas, written by Angus McKie)

Nubile Pentagon secretary Gloria is beamed aboard a spaceship that looks like a giant smiley face.  While she has sex with the ship’s robot captain, the two crew members (voiced by Harold Ramis and Eugene Levy) pour out a long line of cocaine and shout “Nosedive!” before snorting up every flake.  So Beautiful and So Dangerous is so juvenile and so ridiculous that it is actually all kinds of awesome.

Taarna

SacrificedIn the film’s final and most famous segment, Taarna, the blond warrior was featured on Heavy Metal‘s poster, rides a pterodactyl across a volcanic planet, killing barbarians, and finally confronting the Loc-Nar.  She sacrifices herself to defeat the Loc-Nar but no worries!  We return to Earth where, for some reason, the Loc-Nar explodes and the girl from the beginning of the film is revealed to be Taarna reborn.  She even gets to fly away on her pterodactyl.  Taarna was really great when I was twelve but today, it is impossible to watch it without flashing back to the Major Boobage episode of South Park.

Much like Taarna, Heavy Metal seems pretty silly when I watch it today.  But when I was twelve, it was the greatest thing ever.

Taarna_Heavy_Metal

 

Here Are The 7 Semi-Finalists for The Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar!


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Today, the Academy announced the 7 semi-finalists for the Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar!  Three of these semi-finalists will be nominated in January.  And then, one of them will win.  Unless, of course, something strange happens and wouldn’t it be neat if it did?

But anyway, here are the seven semifinalists!

“Black Mass”
“Concussion”
“Legend”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
“Mr. Holmes”
“The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared”
“The Revenant”

I’ve never heard of The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared but I hope it wins, just to upset all of the smug “I’ve seen every movie ever nominated!” folks.

Sci-Fi Review: The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978, dir. Steve Binder & David Acomba)


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Here I am, glass of soda in hand and Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) by The Darkness playing while I write about The Star Wars Holiday Special. Didn’t I go to college or something? I have a paper on my wall signed by Schwarzenegger that says I did. Oh, well. Let’s talk about this thing. The special begins and it’s already showing me something sad.

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Instead of airing an episode of The Incredible Hulk or Wonder Woman, they aired The Star Wars Holiday Special. Now we cut to Han Solo and Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon. They are being chased by the Empire while they are trying to reach Chewie’s home planet so he can celebrate Life Day. I’ve watched the whole special and I still don’t know what that means. At first Han is a little hesitant, but they jump to lightspeed anyways. Now we get weird iris shots of people who are in the special including Julia Child if she were a man who was turned into a female plastic doll then given a spray tan.

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Then we cut to this shot of the Swiss Family Robinson house.

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Inside is the main set filled with the main characters such as:

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Papa Wookiee who is here to give all the viewers nightmares.

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Mama Wookiee who we know is a woman because she’s working in the kitchen.

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And Baby Wookiee who we can all thank for introducing the worst animation I’ve seen since that Chinese computer animated movie Agent F.O.X. (2014).

After pointless and meaningless noises from the Wookiees, the special reveals it’s true colors. By that I mean that it’s really a variety show of bad comedy and musical numbers. It’s not everyday you get to see Anton Lavey in a musical number though.

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And this shot makes watching the whole special worth it.

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Now the Wookiees put in a call to Luke Skywalker.

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It’s been awhile since I watched the original Star Wars movies, but I don’t remember Mark Hamill looking like this. He reminds me of Pierre Kirby’s girlfriend in Dressed To Fire (1988).

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After Hamill embarrasses himself, we now go back to the Wookiee household. They place a call to “Trading Post Wookiee Planet C”. I call it we roped Art Carney into this horrible thing to do really unfunny comedy bits.

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Next we cut to a shot of Zuco from Brazilian Star Wars

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before cutting back to the Wookiees. Just in case the kids weren’t already traumatized for life…

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there’s this scene where they thought it would be funny to dress up Harvey Korman like this. I’d be offended since I’m transgender, but all I can feel is sympathy for poor Korman. Not only is he in this, but this is one of his appearances in the special. That thing is cruel and unusual punishment. Mama Wookiee is watching this on TV.

Now the special cuts back to Han and Chewie to remind us they are still in the special before cutting back to more pointless crap. The only difference is that now Art Carney shows up to deliver some stuff to the family. Carney says the name Han as if he is saying the word “hand”. That would have made for a great name, wouldn’t it? Hand Solo. Goes right along with the single weirdest thing in the special that happens next.

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Papa Wookiee looks at VR porn. Diahann Carroll says things like “Now we can have a good time” and “I’ll tell you a secret. I find you adorable”. Oh, and Papa Wookiee makes drooling noises while pressing a button to have her repeat “I find you adorable” over and over. Then she goes on to sing a reject Bond song. I guess this part could be worse. I’m pretty sure Wookiee’s don’t have genitals and he could have been watching Water Power (1977).

Now the special cuts to Leia and C-3PO to remind us they are in this too before cutting to Chewie and Han. Then Imperials show up at the treehouse to look for Chewbacca and to remind us that people in Dayton, Ohio suffered greatly one night.

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This part goes on forever, and Art Carney gets a brilliant idea. I’ll distract this guy by making him watch Jefferson Starship.

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We built this special on Schlock ‘N Schtick.

Then Baby Wookiee goes to some sort of device while the Imperials are searching the very small set. He calls up the infamous cartoon. This thing is supposed to introduce us to Boba Fett. I could actually talk about this cartoon, but I think this shot sums it up.

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Already missing Harvey Korman doing bad comedy? He now makes a return. Earlier Baby Wookiee opened a present which had the Brain Computer from Brazilian Star Wars in it and now he needs to watch an instructional video on how to use it.

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This part can best be described as Harvey Korman auditioning for Max Headroom about a decade before that show came on the air. Also, it shows us what anyone looking at this special was doing in 1978.

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I don’t know what that was all about, but now we go to the bar scene. This is the only bright point in this special thanks to Bea Arthur.

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Harvey Korman comes into the bar run by Arthur and attempts to hit on her. Korman has a hole in the top of his head that she pours drinks into.

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Didn’t think this character through, did they? If he takes in drink through the top of his head, then what exactly comes in or out of his mouth? Arthur turns him down. Then an announcement is made over the TV that the bar is to be closed by order of the Empire. This is when the scene basically turns into that part from Casablanca where they sing the French National Anthem. Honestly, this scene is not that bad. Granted it’s surrounded by fecal matter, but still. Arthur does a decent job singing and is kind of funny.

Now we cut back to the treehouse where we get a cameo appearance by the Wilhelm scream as Han Solo throws a Stormtrooper off the patio. It’s funny that even during this tiny little scene with Harrison Ford, we can still see why he’s a good actor.

Now the time has finally come to celebrate Life Day where it appears a bunch of people are walking into a star to commit suicide.

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It’s kind of like that overly edited version of the Star Wars commercial with Anna Kendrick that was on YouTube where they cut out enough of her lines that it appears she picks up a knife then kills herself.

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Then we get to see the whole gang together. You know, like I’m sure everyone thought they were going to see when they tuned in to this “Star Wars” special. Carrie Fisher sings here because who cares.

After stock footage from the movie to remind us this thing actually had something to do with Star Wars, we cut to the Wookiees at the dinner table together.

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I’m just going to assume they are conducting a seance to try and contact Obi-Wan. Now the credits roll and according to them we have Bob Mackie to blame for that thing poor Harvey Korman had to wear during the cooking scene. I love that the ending credits don’t include any of the actors names from the Star Wars movie. Apparently, Miki Herman was their “‘Star Wars’ Consultant”. It’s hard to believe that position existed. Oh, and of course David Winters did the choreography. That reminds me, I do need to see Dancin’ It’s On (2015). Heard it’s terrible. Then the 20th Century Fox logo comes up which is nice considering I’ve been watching Godfrey Ho movies that start with a girl standing like the Columbia Pictures lady while the Star Wars theme plays.

And the special goes out like it came in, by reminding us we could have been watching an episode of The Incredible Hulk or Wonder Woman.

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I’m sure there’s a fascinating backstory to this, but I don’t care. This is one of the most ill-conceived and poorly executed things I have sat through this year. And I watched a parody of Rocky where he gets hit in the face with the Star Of David as well as a children’s Hallmark movie where a little girl refers to beauty squirting out of her body onto the floor.

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And finally, here’s what won with the Detroit Film Critics!


Spotlight

You can check out the Detroit nominations here.  Remember how stunned everyone was when Liev Schrieber was nominated for best supporting actor?  Well, he went on to win!

You can check out all the winners below!

Best Picture: Spotlight

Best Director: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Actor: Michael Caine, Youth

Best Actress: Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Best Supporting Actor: Liev Schrieber, Spotlight

Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Best Ensemble: Spotlight

Breakthrough: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl and Ex Machina

Best Screenplay: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy for Spotlight

Best Documentary: Amy

The Indiana Film Journalists Have Spoken And They Love A Film About Boston!


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The Indiana Film Journalist Association have announced their picks for the best of 2015 and they went with … Ted 2!

No, just kidding, they went with Spotlight.

Best Film

Winner: “Spotlight”
Runner-up: “Room”

Other Finalists (listed alphabetically):

“Anomalisa”
“The Big Short”
“Carol”
“The End of the Tour”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
“The Martian”
“Steve Jobs”
“Straight Outta Compton”

Best Animated Feature

Winner: “Anomalisa”
Runner-Up: “Inside Out ”

Best Foreign Language Film

Winner: “Son of Saul”
Runner-Up: “Goodnight Mommy”

Best Documentary

Winner: “Amy”
Runner-Up: “Meru”

Best Original Screenplay

Winner: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, “Spotlight”
Runner-up: Matt Charman, Joel & Ethan Coen, “Bridge of Spies”

Best Adapted Screenplay

Winner: Emma Donoghue, “Room”
Runner-up: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, “The Big Short”

Best Director

Winner: George Miller, “Mad Max: Fury Road
Runner-up: Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight”

Best Actress

Winner: Brie Larson, “Room”
Runner-up: Charlotte Rampling, “45 Years”

Best Supporting Actress

Winner: Greta Gerwig, “Mistress America”
Runner-up: Elizabeth Banks, “Love & Mercy”

Best Actor

Winner: Jacob Tremblay, “Room”
Runner-up: Jason Segel, “The End of the Tour”

Best Supporting Actor

Winner: Mark Ruffalo, “Spotlight”
Runner-up: Idris Elba, “Beasts of No Nation”

Best Vocal/Motion Capture Performance

Winner: Phyllis Smith, “Inside Out”
Runner-up: Tom Noonan, “Anomalisa”

Best Musical Score

Winner: Junkie XL, “Mad Max: Fury Road
Runner-up: Disasterpeace, “It Follows

Original Vision Award

Winner: “Anomalisa”
Runner-up: “Chi-Raq”

The Hoosier Award

Winner: Angelo Pizzo, writer/director/producer