Film Review: Corvette Summer (dir by Matthew Robbins)


The 1978 film, Corvette Summer, tells the story of Kenny Dantley (Mark Hamill).

Kenny is a student at a high school in Southern California.  He lives in a trailer park and he’s kind of dumb.  He’s the type who rarely shows up to class and, when he does, it’s just to discover that he managed to score a D-minus on his last test.  Kenny doesn’t think school’s important, though.  All Kenny cares about is cars.  He doesn’t date.  He doesn’t have friends.  But he can rebuild a corvette and spend hours talking about why it’s the greatest car in the world.

Yes, Kenny’s an idiot.

Kenny’s auto shop teacher, Mr. McGrath (Eugne Roche), warns Kenny that he’s spending too much obsessing on cars.  Don’t fall in love with a car, Mr. McGrath says.  A car is just a machine and a machine will always let you down.  A machine is something that you build so you can sell it and move on to something else.  To me, Mr. McGrath makes sense but Kenny’s like, “No, that’s totally squaresville.  Real melvin, man.”

(Well, okay, Kenny doesn’t use those exact words but you can tell that he’s thinking them…..)

Anyway, Kenny and the shop class have just rebuilt a red corvette and Kenny’s convinced that it’s the greatest car ever.  However, on the same night that the car makes its debut by cruising down the streets of Kenny’s hometown, it’s stolen!  Maybe Kenny shouldn’t have given the keys to Danny Bonaduce.  Kenny gets so angry that he smashes a cup of coke and attempts to beat up Bonaduce.

Mr. McGrath tells Kenny that these things happen and he suggests that Kenny instead look into enrolling at a community college after high school.  Kenny, however, is too obsessed with finding his car to listen to Mr. McGrath.  He even prints up flyers with a picture of the corvette.  “Have you seen this car?” the flyers ask.  Amazingly, it turns out that someone has.  He tells Kenny that he saw the corvette in Las Vegas.

That’s all it takes for Kenny to head to Nevada.  Of course, since Kenny doesn’t have a car, he has to hitchhiker.  Despite the fact that Kenny looks like a killer hippie and tends to spend a lot of time yelling in a somewhat shrill manner, he’s picked up by Vanessa (Annie Potts).  Vanessa is an “aspiring prostitute” who lives in a van.  “Vanessa” is written on the side of the van, which means that it will be useless if anyone ever needs to use it as a getaway vehicle for a bank robbery.  Way to go, Vanessa.

Once they arrives in Las Vegas, Kenny and Vanessa work a series of different jobs while looking for that corvette.  Along the way, Kenny falls in love, discovers that there’s more to life than just cars, and also suffers a bit of disillusionment when one of his mentors turns out to be not as perfect as Kenny originally believed.

Corvette Summer is best known for being Mark Hamill’s first post-Star Wars role.  He’s in almost every scene of the film and, to be honest, his performance kind of got on my nerves.  Some of that is because, as written, Kenny is almost unbelievably stupid.  But Hamill doesn’t help things by giving a rather shrill performance in the lead role.  Though the film may be a coming-of-age comedy, Hamill is so intense in the role that he comes across as being less like a naive teenager and more like a mentally unbalanced time bomb.  You find yourself hoping that he’ll get the car back before he’s forced to take hostages.  Annie Potts is a bit more likable as Vanessa but her character is dreadfully inconsistent.  One gets the feeling that she’s mostly just there so that Kenny can finally lose his virginity and be a little bit less of a loser by the end of the movie.

I will say that I did really like the performance of Kim Milford, who plays a superslick car thief named Wayne Lowry.  As I watched the film, it took me a few minutes to realize where I recognized Milford from.  He was the star of Laserblast, a film that featured Milford finding a laser gun and using it to blow up a sign advertising Star Wars.  Milford only has a small role in Corvette Summer and we’re not supposed to like him but he’s so handsome and sure-of-himself that it’s hard not to prefer him to the rather histrionic character played by Mark Hamill.

Corvette Summer is such a film of the 70s that watching it is like stepping into a time machine.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course.  Indeed, in 2020, the main appeal of a film like this is a chance to see how people lived in 1978.  (It’s always a bit odd to watch a movie where no one carries a phone or has a twitter account.)  Watching this film in 2020, it’s hard not cringe a little at the sight of not only Kenny hitchhiking but also people stopping to pick him up.  Seriously, are they just trying to get killed?

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Final Trailer


Well, it all comes down to this.

During tonight’s Monday Night Football game between the New England Patriots and New York Jets, ESPN is hosting the final trailer for J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The last film of the new trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker seems to have Rey (Daisy Ridley) coming into her own as a Jedi. It also looks like her friends are due to face a new threat, could it really be The Emperor? While Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi may have left some audiences divided, Disney is hoping this will bring everyone in line and in the theatre. It seems to be working as theatres around the country are already selling out in pre-sales for the film.

It looks like we have Rey and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) fighting against and alongside each other again. Could this also mean some sort of redemption for Kylo? We’ll find out come December 19th, when the film is released.

Enjoy!

Celebrate Life Day With The Star Wars Holiday Special!


Happy Life Day!

The Star Wars Holiday Special was first aired in 1978 and, over the years, it has achieved a certain amount of infamy.  Some people say that it’s the worst thing to ever be made for TV.  To those people, I say that 1) that’s not a good attitude to have on Life Day and 2) have you seen Disco Beaver From Outer Space?

Anyway, this is a musical Star Wars extravaganza.  One thing that makes it interesting is that Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher were all ordered to appear in it.  Seeing as how Harrison Ford tends to come across as being grumpy on a good day, I can only imagine how he reacted to filming The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Also, a few years ago, Val reviewed the Hell out of this thing.  Be sure to check out her review.

And now, for those of you looking to experience a dubious piece of pop culture history on this Christmas, we present to you …. The Star Wars Holiday Special!

Horror Film Review: Village of the Damned (dir by John Carpenter)


At the risk of getting in trouble with at least a few people around the TSL offices, I am going to say something right now.  It may be controversial.  It may be shocking.  It may even make you question your belief in whatever it is that you believe in.

Ready?

Here we go:

I do not think that the 1995 version of Village of the Damned is that bad.

Now, please notice that I didn’t say that I thought it was that great, either.  However, when you listen to some people talk about this movie (which, admittedly, doesn’t seem to happen a lot), they make it sound as if Village of the Damned is one of the worst films ever made.  It is usually cited as being a waste of director John Carpenter’s abilities and Carpenter himself has said that he’s indifferent to the film.  Carpenter has gone as far as to call the film a “contractual assignment.”

Of course, one reason why people dislike the 1995 Village of the Damned is because it’s a remake of an acknowledged classic.  Even worse, it’s an unnecessary remake.  I would not disagree with that opinion.  The 1960 Village of the Damned holds up remarkably well, featuring George Sanders at his best and a lot of creepy little children.  (If anything, the fact that the original is in black-and-white makes the children look even creepier in the original.)  Having recently watched both versions of Village of the Damned, I can say that the remake doesn’t really improve on the original.

And yet, I would still argue that John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned is an underrated and crudely effective little movie.

The film tells the story of the town of Midwich, California.  (The original film took place in the UK and Midwich doesn’t really sound like the name of a town you’d find in California.  Incidentally, my favorite town in California is a place named Drytown, specifically because the town bar advertises itself as being “the only wet place in Drytown.”)  Midwich is a nice, little town.  Everyone is friendly.  Everyone knows everyone else.  Carpenter spends a while establishing Midwich as being the idealized coastal town.  But then, one day, the skies turn dark and everyone in Midwich loses consciousness.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t work out well for some people.  Frank McGowan (Michael Pare), for instance, is driving when the blackout occurs and he ends up dying when his truck goes off the road.  Another unfortunate fellow was manning the grill at the church picnic and, when he passed out, he ended up burning to death.

When everyone does wake up, it’s discovered that ten women are now pregnant.  One of them, Kate (Linda Kozlowski), is the widow of Frank.  Another, a teenage girl named Melanie (Meredith Salenger), is a virgin.  Nine months later, all of the babies are born on the same night, though Melanie’s is stillborn.  The 9 babies eventually become 9 very creepy children.  They have pale skin, white hair, glowing eyes, and no emotions.  Soon the government, led by Dr. Verner (Kristie Alley), invades the town so that they can investigate and experiment on the children.  You know that once the government shows up and takes over, everyone’s screwed.

And, while all of this is going on, the once friendly and vibrant town of Midwich becomes a far different place.  We watch as the citizens of the town die, one after another.  Melanie finds herself ostracized and abandoned.  The local reverend (Mark Hamill) goes insane and ends up perched on a hill with a rifle.  The town doctor (Christopher Reeve) loses his wife when she walks into the ocean.

And the children continue to coldly and unemotionally kill anyone who displeases them.  One man is forced to shoot himself.  In perhaps the film’s most disturbing scene, a scientist is forced to dissect herself.

Admittedly, some of the actors do a better than others.  Meredith Salenger gives the best performance while Mark Hamill definitely gives the worst.  At first, Kirstie Alley seems miscast but she actually gives one of the better performances in the film.  As the nominal hero, Christopher Reeve is boring but then again, many small town doctors are.  Of course, nearly everyone in the movie is dead by the time the end credits roll.

It’s a seriously dark movie and, when taken on its own terms, it’s definitely effective.  Carpenter does such a good job of establishing Midwich as a place where anyone would want to live that it does carry an impact to see the town suddenly isolate from the world and the once happy citizens resorting to suicide just to escape the town’s children.  In the end, John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned does capture the anguish of feeling as if there’s no escape from the present nor hope for the future.

Village of the Damned is crudely effective but effective nonetheless.

 

A Movie A Day #227: Silk Degrees (1994, directed by Armand Garabidian)


Actress Alex Ramsey (Deborah Shelton) may have become a star as a result of playing the lead role in a cop show but she still worries that her show is not realistic enough.  When a fight with her director (Gilbert Gottfried) leads to her walking off the set for the hundredth time, Alex stumbles across a real-life murder.  Now being chased by terrorists and gun smugglers, Alex is forced to go into hiding.  FBI agent Baker (Marc Singer) is assigned to protect her but how can he hide one of the most famous women in America, especially one who does not appreciate being told what to do? Making things even worse, there is a traitor in the bureau.  Shelton is going to have to use all of her tv crime-fighting skills to survive.

Though it featured enough Deborah Shelton nudity to win it a place in the regular Skinemax rotation, Silk Degrees is basically a standard 90s direct-to-video action film but it has a cast that will be appreciated by any B-move fan.  Along with Body Double‘s Shelton, Beastmaster’s Marc Singer, and everything’s Gilbert Gottfried, Silk Degrees also features Charles Napier as Singer’s boss, Mark Hamill as Singer’s partner, and Katherine Armstong as a duplicitous femme fatale.  The main villain is played by singer Michael Des Barres.  Even Adrienne Barbeau shows up in a tiny role!  Silk Degrees is not a great movie but with a cast like this, it does not have to be.

Here’s The First Trailer For An Obscure Art Film Called Star Wars: The Last Jedi!


Hi, everyone!

Well, here’s the teaser for an obscure little art film called Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  It’ll be interesting to see if anyone takes the time to discover this little film.  Hopefully, it’ll make its way to Alamo Drafthouse at some point because the trailer is actually pretty intriguing.  It looks like it might be kind of exciting and there’s a voice over that suggests that there’s actually more going on in this film than just pure spectacle for the sake of spectacle.

“I know only one truth.  It’s time for the Jedi to end.”

That doesn’t sound good.

(By the way, Mark Hamill actually speaks in this trailer.  So, all of you who thought the ending of Force Awakens indicated that Luke Skywalker had been rendered mute — well, you’re wrong!  Or, actually, it might be more correct to see that I’m wrong since I think I was the only one who thought that.)

The Last Jedi comes out on December 15th.  I get the feeling that Arleigh and most of the TSL staff have already bought their tickets.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (dir. by J.J. Abrams) Is the Sequel the Fandom Has Been Waiting For


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[some minor, very minor spoilers]

When I first began this site on Christmas Eve of 2009 I had to thank the excitement I had for event films after seeing and experiencing James Cameron’s Avatar. It was an experience I hadn’t felt since the days of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and, even earlier than that, the original Star Wars trilogy. These were films that fired up one’s imagination, appreciation and love for film as entertainment and art. Some of these films would linger on longer in one’s mind than others, but that first viewing in their initial release would always imprint their effect on each viewer.

When George Lucas announced that he would be returning to that galaxy, far, far away with a trilogy of prequels almost 15 years since the world last saw Return of the Jedi premiere first the first time, the Star Wars fandom were giddy, excited and hyped beyond belief. The Star Wars films and the many spin-offs (novels, comic books, video games, etc.) which came about because of it only whetted the appetites of long-time Star Wars fans for more films detailing the adventures in the scifi universe created by George Lucas.

Yet, the prequels’ effect on these long-time fans would be the direct opposite of the effect the original trilogy had on the fandom. These three prequels (all directed and written by George Lucas himself) would do more than disappoint the fandom. It would create a schism between those who saw the original trilogy as the gateway to their fandom and those younger generation who never saw the original trilogy and had the prequels become their gateway to the fandom. Even to this day there would be some of the younger generation who truly believe that the prequels trump the original three films which began the franchise.

When news came down that Disney had bought Lucasfilm and everything which George Lucas had built and cultivated there was no chance in hell that there wouldn’t be another series of Star Wars despite the disaster which were the prequels. Lo and behold, it didn’t take long for Disney to greenlight the sequel to Return of the Jedi and have it set decades after the events of that film.

So, it is with Star Wars: The Force Awakens that the Star Wars fandom get to see whether their continued faith in the franchise was worth it or if they have been Charlie Brown’d once again and had the ball taken away at the very last second. It’s easy to say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was great or it was awful. The true answer to whether this film succeeded in what it intended do was a bit more complicated.

Yet, if one was to look for an easy and simple answer then I’m happy to say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was great. It had it’s moments of logic gap and plot holes, but as an overall finished product the film succeeded in course-correcting the franchise from the nadir it was at with the culmination of the prequels. It wouldn’t have taken much to surpass the very low bar set by those prequels, but The Force Awakens leapfrogged that bar and went even higher.

The film does begin thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi and we find out with the now familiar episode intro crawl that Luke Skywalker has disappeared since those events and the galaxy has remained in turmoil with his absence. The Galactic Empire has been defeated, but in its place a new danger in the form of the genocidal First Order has arisen from the Empire’s remains. Opposing the First Order is a sort of galactic force supported in secret by the New Republic and led by General (not Princess) Leia Organa calling themselves the Resistance. It’s the conflict between these two factions and the search for Luke that forms the narrative base for The Force Awakens.

The film doesn’t linger too long in explaining the events which occurred in that 30-year gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. It doesn’t need it as we’re quickly introduced to the series’ new characters in the form of Poe Dameron, the best pilot in the galaxy, who has been sent on a secret mission by Leia to find the clues as to her brother’s whereabouts. Next in line was Kylo Ren who becomes this film’s analogue to the Darth Vader figure of the original trilogy. Yet, the bulk of the film was told through the eyes of Finn and Rey.  The former is First Order stormtrooper who has seen first-hand what the First Order truly stands for and not for the betterment of the galaxy. The latter is a young woman living life on the desert planet Jakku scavenging the graveyard of starship wreckage from a battle thirty year’s prior.

It’s through Rey and Finn that the audience learns through their adventures upon meeting up with each other on Jakku what has transpired since the Rebellion destroyed the second Death Star and killed Emperor Palpatine. To these two characters, the events from the original trilogy seem to have passed beyond the realm of history and become more like legends and myths to the younger generation. Through a combination of fear and awe, Ren and Finn get introduced to some of the original trilogies main characters (Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca and even Admiral Ackbar). These are the stories they’ve been told of growing up come to life right in front of their eyes and their reaction mirrors those of the audience who haven’t seen these characters in anything new and relevant since the end of Return of the Jedi. The reaction alone to seeing Han Solo and Chewbacca alone seemed like the fandom’s collective cheer for the good that has been missing with the franchise for over 30 years now.

The Force Awakens is not a perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Like mentioned earlier, the film does suffer from some gaps in story logic and plot holes. As with most J.J. Abrams directed films he had a hand in writing the script and one could see where he sacrificed coherent storytelling beats for something that just pushed the story along the path he wanted the film to take. For those who have been steeped in Star Wars lore and backstory, this would be easily explained as the Force nudging, guiding and, if all else fails, pushing the characters onto the right path, but for the casual viewers it would come off as story beats of convenience.

As a story to bring back the faithful and lure in those still uninitiated to the franchise The Force Awakens straddles the line between nostalgia and trying to bring in something new to the proceedings.

Let’s begin with the former and just say it now that The Force Awakens does follow some major story beats directly from A New Hope (to a smaller effect from Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi). One could almost say that this film was a sort of soft reboot of the original trilogy with how it lifted ideas from them and through some writing and directing recombination come up with something new, but still very familiar for hardcore and non-fans alike.

Does this decision to lean heavily on the original trilogy for ideas hurt the film? For some it might be a bit too distracting to recognize too many callbacks to those earlier films, but for most it’s a reminder of what the prequels lacked and that’s the sense of adventure and fun. There was never anything fun about the prequels. The Force Awakens brings it all back and for most viewers this is the course-correction the series has needed since the last images from Revenge of the Sith faded away from the silver-screen.

Even the new characters introduced in this latest film were an amalgamation of the main characters from the original trilogy. Where Abrams and Kasdan changed this up a bit was to go beyond just creating new analogues for the classic characters of Leia, Han, Luke, Chewie and R2D2. They opted to take all the qualities fans loved about those characters and mixed them all up to be used in the roles of Rey, Finn, Poe, Kylo Ren and BB8.

As the standout character in the film, Rey (played by find of the year Daisy Ridley) would bring back memories of not just the young and hopeful Luke from the original trilogy, but also some personal traits of Leia and Han. The same goes for Finn who at times reminded us of Han’s roguish charm to Luke’s naivete of his role in the larger world he has finally witnessed for the very first time. For the half-empty crowd this might look as lazy character development, but those who see the film with the half-full mindset would easily latch onto these new characters. Characters who now take on the responsibility of moving the franchise beyond the nostalgia of the original trilogy and erasure of the disappointment of the prequels to new adventures with the next two films.

So, is Star Wars: The Force Awakens worth returning back to the franchise after the prequels or is it too much of a rehash of the original three films? The answer to that is a definite yes despite some of it’s flaws. For some the very flaws some have pointed out (too many callbacks, sort of a reboot, etc.) was what made the film a fun time to be had. It’s a return to the comfort zone the fandom missed with the prequels.

Will the next two films in this new trilogy follow suit and just rely too much on nostalgia to continue trying to satisfy it’s massive audience? Or will Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow (director of Episode VIII and Episode IX, respectively) move into new territory with minimal callbacks to those earlier films? We as an audience will have to wait til 2017 and 2019 to find out. Until then enjoy what Abrams and Lucasfilm has accomplished with The Force Awakens. A film which has reinvigorated a film franchise that has seem some major lows, but one which also happens to be one hell of a fun ride from start to finish on it’s own merits.

P.S.: Some controversy has arisen since the film’s release concerning the character played by Daisy Ridley. Some have been very vocal about calling her Rey character as a sort of knee-jerk reaction to the accusation that the Star Wars films have lacked for a strong female lead. An argument that’s as misguided and misinformed as that of the films being whitewashed. The films in the franchise have always had strong female characters. The accusation that Rey as a character in The Force Awakens is such a “Mary Sue” (a female character written and created to be the best at everything, no flaws) ignore the details in the character’s development.

What’s sadder is that some of the very people (film critics and writers) who in the past have complained that major films (especially blockbusters) have been lacking in very strong female characters have been the very same who see Rey as a negative and a character too good. This despite the character following in the very same footsteps in how her predecessors have been written (Luke, Han, Anakin). It’s an argument that is sure to bring heated debate among fans and detractors, but one that takes away from the performance of Daisy Ridley who should be one of the many breakout stars to come out of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Sci-Fi Film Review: Return of the Jedi (dir by Richard Marquand)


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As you’ve probably noticed, we’ve devoted this month to science fiction here at the Shattered Lens.  Gary Loggins reviewed THX-1138.  Valerie took a look at everything from The Star Wars Holiday Special to Turkish Star Wars to Return of the Ewok.  Ryan the Trashfilm Guru reviewed such Italian classics as Cosmos: War of Planets and War of the Robots.  Patrick Smith reviewed a terrifying Christmas movie about Santa. Myself, I’ve taken a look at such films as Contamination and 2019: After the Fall of New York.  

We’ve reviewed a lot of science fiction and we’ve got a lot more left to go.  (Keep an eye out for my reviews of Starcrash and The Humanoid over the upcoming few days.)  However, from the beginning, this month has always been centered around Star Wars.  You may have heard that there’s a little movie called Star Wars: The Force Awakens and it’s opening this week.  Apparently, a few people are excited about it.  Since we love reviewing little known art films here at the Shattered Lens, we decided why not review all of the previous Star Wars films during the week leading up to the release of The Force Awakens?  Jeff (a.k.a. the blogger known as Jedadiah Leland) started us off by reviewing The Phantom Menace.  Then Alexandre Rothier took a look at Attack of the Clones, followed by Jeff’s look at Revenge of the Sith.  Leonard Wilson was the next to step up to the plate, reviewing both A New Hope and The Empire Strike Back.

And now, it’s my turn to add my thoughts to this project.  It’s time to review the 1983 film, Return of the Jedi.  And I have to admit that, when I first thought about what I wanted to say in this review, I was totally intimidated.  Unlike my fellow writers here at the Shattered Lens, I’m hardly an expert when it comes to Star Wars.  Don’t get me wrong — I know the basics.  I know that Darth Vader is Luke’s father.  I know that Han Solo flies the Millennium Falcon and that Princess Leia is in love with him.  I know there’s an evil Empire and I know that there are rebels.  I’m not a virgin when it comes to Star Wars but, at the same time, I’m definitely not as experienced (with Star Wars) as most of my friends and fellow movie bloggers.

"Dang, Lisa, get over it!"

“Dang, Lisa, get over it!”

So, late this afternoon, when I sat down to watch Return of the Jedi, it was with more than a little trepidation.  My obvious panic and welling tears convinced Jeff to watch the movie with me and I was happy for that.  He loves Star Wars so I knew he could explain to me what was going on.

Finally, we watched Return of the Jedi and I discovered that I was panicking over nothing.  Return of the Jedi may be the third part of trilogy and I may not be an expert on the films that came before it.  But, even with all that in mind, Return of the Jedi is not a difficult film to figure out.  As opposed to the finales of Harry Potter, The Hobbit, and The Hunger Games, Return of the Jedi keeps things simple.  A good guy has been kidnapped by a bad guy.  The other good guys come to the rescue and then go to another planet so that they can fight an even bigger bad guy.  It’s not complicated.

As I watched Return of the Jedi and realized that I was having absolutely no problem following the film’s plot, I also realized that the Star Wars films are such a huge part of our culture that, regardless of how many of them we’ve actually sat through, everyone has absorbed them by osmosis.  Bits and pieces of it are everywhere, showing up in everything from TV sitcoms to political commentary.  (Remember how everyone used to compare Dick Cheney to Darth Vader?)  The Star Wars franchise is almost biblical in that respect.  At the same time, the fact that everyone knows about these movies makes them a little difficult to review.  You don’t so much watch a Star Wars film as you join in a universal experience.  As a reviewer, you definitely find yourself wondering what you can add to a conversation that everyone else has already had.

As a stand alone movie, Return of the Jedi is actually three separate films mixed together.  The first film deals with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) showing up at Jabba the Hutt’s palace and rescuing Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and two robots from being tossed into a creature called the Sarlacc, which is basically a giant vagina out in the middle of the desert.  The second film deals with the rebels teaming up with a bunch of teddy bears and fighting the Empire on a jungle planet.  And the third film features Luke and Darth Vader (body of David Prowse, voice of James Earl Jones, face of either Sebastian Shaw and Hayden Christensen, depending on which version of the film you’re watching) dealing with their family issues while the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) cackles in the background.  Some parts of the film work better than others.  The end result is entertaining but definitely uneven.

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Jedi‘s heart belongs to that third film, the one dealing with Luke and Darth Vader.  I’ve read some pretty negative online comments about Mark Hamill’s performance in New Hope and Empire Strikes Back but, in Return of the Jedi, he brings an almost haunted intensity to the role of Luke.  In theory, it’s easy to be snarky about all the talk about the “Dark Side of the Force,” but, when you look in Hamill’s eyes, you totally understand what everyone’s going on about.  You see the fire and the anger but, even more importantly, you see the struggle between good and evil.  There’s a very poignant sadness to the scenes where he and his father prepare to meet the Emperor.

And speaking of the Emperor, he is pure nightmare fuel!  AGCK!

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As for the other two films to found within Return of the Jedi, the jungles of Endor didn’t do much for me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I thought the action scenes were handled well and, unlike apparently everyone else in the world, I was not annoyed by the inclusion of the Ewoks, the killer teddy bears who helped to the Rebels to take down the Empire.  I thought the Ewoks were cute and I actually got pretty upset when one of them was killed in battle.  If I had been alive when Return of the Jedi had been released, I probably would have wanted a stuffed Ewok and, I imagine, that was the main reason they were included in the film.  (I also imagine that’s the main reason why a lot of people can’t stand them.)

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So, no, the Ewoks did not bother me.  What did bother me was that under-construction Death Star floating out in the middle of space.  It bothered me because I really couldn’t imagine any reason why — after the first Death Star was apparently such a colossal failure — the Empire would insist on trying to do the exact same thing all over again.  This, along with the fact that they were rather easily defeated by a bunch of teddy bears, leads me to wonder whether the effectiveness of the Empire was just a little overrated.  I mean, the Emperor was scary but otherwise, everyone involved with the Empire was pretty incompetent.

Far more impressive, as far as villains go, was Jabba the Hut.  In fact, Jabba and his decadent entourage were so memorable and colorful and evil and icky that they pretty much overshadowed almost everything else in the film.  I mean, Jabba even had a blue elephant playing music for him!  And I know that I’m supposed to be critical of the film for putting Leia in that gold bikini but you know what?  Leia may have been forced to wear a gold bikini but she never gave up her dignity or her defiance.  And when it came time to take out Jabba, Leia used the tools of her oppression to do so, strangling him with his own chains.  In that one scene, Leia proved herself to be a true rebel.

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There’s a lot that’s good about Return of the Jedi but, as I said earlier, it’s definitely an uneven film.  Richard Marquand’s direction is perhaps the epitome of workmanlike.  It’s efficient and it’s dependable and there’s absolutely nothing surprising or particularly challenging about it.

It’s interesting to note that, before Richard Marquand was selected as director, the job was offered to both David Lynch and David Cronenberg, two directors who are all about surprising and challenging the audience.  What would David Lynch’s Return of the Jedi been like?  Well, here’s one possibility:

As for David Cronenberg’s Return of the Jedi, it might have looked something like this:

For better or worse, the world got Richard Marquand’s Return of the Jedi, which I imagine was pretty close to what George Lucas wanted the film to be.

As I sit here finishing up this review and wondering just why exactly I was so intimidated earlier (seriously, this turned out to be one the easiest reviews that I’ve ever written), I estimate that 75% of the people that I know are currently sitting in a theater and watching The Force Awakens.  Keep an eye out for Arleigh’s review in the next few days!

And in closing, here’s that blue elephant that I mentioned earlier.  Dance!

Maxrebo

Sci-Fi Review: Return Of The Ewok (1982, dir. David Tomblin)


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Apparently, David Tomblin, who worked as an assistant director on Return Of The Jedi, thought it would be fun to shoot a little behind the scenes movie back when they were making the film. This short ~25 minute movie was first seen at conventions in 1999 according to IMDb. Now it’s still a little obscure, but I was able to find a copy. This is what the holiday special should have been like in my opinion.

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The movie opens up and we meet young Warwick Davis, barely a teenager, deciding it’s time for him to make a name for himself. This first takes him to see if he can be a training partner for Dave Prowse, the “Undefeated Weightlifting Champ”.

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As you can see, that doesn’t work out for him. Insert your own joke here about Warwick Davis, Dave Prowse, and this scene from A Clockwork Orange (1971).

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Next Davis spots a sign from the Chelsea Football Club for a “First Team Goalkeeper”. This is when Take The Long Way Home by Supertramp kicks in as we see Davis trying to play goalie.

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But Davis was destined for other things. Such as intersecting with stock footage from the Star Wars movies. I love that we have Luke fighting Vader.

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Then Luke gets pushed back by Vader into the street.

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Davis gives him some words of encouragement,

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then Luke goes back in the door…

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and flips right back into the stock footage to finish the fight.

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Now Davis is off to be an actor! But first he has to deal with those pesky elevators with their buttons that are too high to press. Davis is clever though. He calls someone on the floor he needs to go to and fakes a voice to get them to come down so he can go up. He makes it to an agent.

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The agent tells him the movie he’s currently working on is Revenge Of The Jedi. Says he’s got a box of costumes, so go try something on and let’s take a look.

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Warwick decides Boba Fett isn’t for him cause he wants to play a good guy. The agent suggests an Ewok. Neither knows what that is, but it pays, and the costume fits! So off he goes to try and find the studio.

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The cab driver asks for his fare, but Davis tells him Ewoks don’t have money. Next let’s prank Harrison Ford.

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Ford doesn’t know where he’s supposed to go so it’s time check in with Hamill.

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When Hamill doesn’t know, then it’s time for Carrie.

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Nice to know that Carrie just hung around in the bikini whenever she felt like it. She tells him to go Jabba’s palace so off he goes!

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Davis runs into C-3PO, R2-D2, and Chewbacca. He asks for directions, but they get scared and run away. He finally makes it to the palace.

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This is a great little scene where Davis interacts with the puppets, dances, and talks to the choreographer. Now Davis finds himself on the Death Star and narrowly escapes Boba Fett.

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Davis thinks he’s found Frank Oz’s office, but whoops!

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Now we see C-3PO being an annoying jackass. Luckily, Davis is here to show how to handle him. Just turn him off.

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And with C-3PO turned off, let’s turn him into a lamp.

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But Davis still doesn’t know where to go. That means it’s time to turn to Yoda.

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Yoda tells him he needs to go to Endor which is in a galaxy far far away. Davis asks him how to get there. Yoda says on the table is his passport and ticket. So Davis is off to the airport. He first tries to get aboard the plane as an Ewok, but it’s a no go, so he goes undercover as Warwick Davis instead.

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Finally Davis makes it to Endor. This part makes up the last 6 minutes or so of the movie. Davis basically wanders around Endor with a little interaction from the characters. The best part is when he runs inside the little fortress with a bomb and blows it up.

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His job done, Davis leaves to go into the forest of Endor to meet back up with his parents.

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They have a humorous little discussion about him wandering off, that sure he was just in a movie, and about how much it costs to take a rocket ship.

I was born the year The Return Of The Jedi came out so obviously I wasn’t there to see the holiday special when it aired, but I’d bet people were expecting something more like this movie. This was fun, it had it’s own original storyline that still interacted with the films, featured the actual actors, and more than anything, the actors actually look like they had fun making this. To my knowledge this still isn’t something that is out there widely available. That’s sad. If you can find it, watch it!

Sci-Fi Review: The Empire Strikes Back (dir. by Irvin Kershner)


empire_strikes_back_style_aThe Year was 1980.

Though three years had passed since A New Hope’s release, it was never truly gone. In the time between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, there was a huge jump in Science Fiction. Films like Alien, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and  The Black Hole jumped on the sci-fi wave and kept audiences busy. If you didn’t want to go to the movies, you could always watch the original Battlestar Galactica.

My father was always a stickler for presentation when it came to movies. It had to be the biggest screen and the best sound available, if possible. My parents took my brother and I on what felt like one of the longest road trips to see the movie. Like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, some films were presented in a 70MM format. In the early 80’s, saying “Panavision” was like saying “IMAX” today. The only problem with this was that Dad decided we should sit like 3 rows from the screen. It remains one of my favorite Star Wars related experiences.

There was a bit of a scare before the film was made. Sometime before production, Mark Hamill was involved in a car accident that broke his nose and part of his cheek. The reconstructive surgery required part of his ear to fix his nose, and anyone watching the film could tell that he looked pretty different from A New Hope. It was like watching Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge and then following that with The Stepford Wives. Still, the accident didn’t get in the way of production and it’s believed that Hamill’s damaged look may have actually helped add some authenticity to the Wampa scene, where he’s attacked by a Yeti-looking creature.

If A New Hope was the feel good movie of the year, with heroes winning the day, then The Empire Strikes Back was a downer of a film. Everyone you rooted for in the first film is made to face a challenge that completely knocks them down a peg. It’s almost a perfect middle part to any trilogy. There’s an improvement in nearly every part of the process in the movie, despite the fact that George Lucas didn’t have the directorial duties. It’s as if most of the money earned from A New Hope was moved to ILM’s R&D department. The sound and visual effects have improved, thanks to better blue screen work and recording equipment and the rotoscoping for the lightsabers is sharper. John Williams was brought back to score the film, which features a new theme both for the Empire, Yoda and Han & Leia’s love story.

From a writing standpoint, The Empire Strikes Back serves as the best example of Lucas getting out of the way. Though the story is his, the screenplay was written by both Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. Between the two of them and director Irwin Kershner’s input, Empire has the tightest characterization of all the films (in my opinion). We’re given a love story that’s both subtle and believable, a villain worth hating without being overly campy, and a hero who discovers that as good as he believes himself to be, he still has much to learn. There’s also an element of comedy peppered throughout, with James Earl Jones and Harrison Ford getting some of the best lines and/or moments. New characters are introduced in the form of Jedi Master Yoda (Frank Oz), Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and Boba Fett (Played by Jeremy Bulloch and voiced by Jason Wingreen. On a trivia side note, Frank Oz and George Lucas would reunite some years later in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, produced by Lucas.

The film opens with the Empire sending out probes to locate the rebel forces. There a focus on the Rebellion, stationed on the icy planet of Hoth. The audience is allowed to catch up on our heroes. Luke Skywalker is slowly learning the ways of the Force and is coming into his own. Han Solo and Chewbacca remain his friends and have stayed behind, rather than choosing to leave. Both gentlemen have an awkward approach towards Princess Leia, who continues to lead the Alliance. When Han and Chewie stumble on one of the Empire’s droids, it’s clear they’re going to have to be ready for battle.

The audience is brought back to the Empire’s viewpoint with a grand introduction to former henchman turned major villian, Lord Darth Vader. Seeing as he survived the attack on the first death star (and no one challenged him) he saw fit to give himself a promotion. With the promotion came some perks, including a super Star Destroyer complete with his own little pod chamber. Vader begins a relentless assault on the rebel troops in his search for Luke, who he’s recognized as having some Force abilities. This turns out to be Vader’s one big mistake. While his attentions are focused on the Millenium Falcon, Luke travels to the planet Dagobah to see out Master Yoda. As this was some time before CGI, the original Yoda was more or less a Muppet. Mind you, this was probably a shock to a many viewers. Obi-Wan was good, but this little green fellow was a Jedi? How did that even happen? Still, he was awesome. Through Yoda, Luke gains more skill with the force, but he leaves before he can finish.

The battle itself is an air to ground one, with giant walking tanks (AT-AT’s) on the Empire’s side and Snowspeeders for the rebels. While it’s a great fight, the Rebels are forced to escape their home, looking more like the Quarian Migrant Fleet in Mass Effect by the end of the film. The scene is a great example of how the technology in the Star Wars universe has grown. New ships such as the Tie Bomber also made an appearance. For each film in the series, you’re introduced to some new vehicle and/or weapon. One can only hope that with The Force Awakens, we’ll see more than just Tie Fighters and X-Wings.

Vader eventually catches up with Solo and the Princess by way of Boba Fett, a Mandalorian Bounty Hunter working for Jabba the Hutt. Cinema audiences still wouldn’t see Jabba until 1983’s Return of the Jedi, but it was a good foreshadowing. Under the impression they’ve escaped the Empire, Han & Leia head over to the Cloud City at Bespin, where Han is reunited with his old friend Lando Calrissian. Here we gain a bit of backstory on how Solo acquired the Falcon. It all seems a little too perfect and safe until we all discover that the bad guys (yet again) have the drop on our heroes.

Solo is tortured, along with the rest of the friends in an effort to lure Luke to Bespin. The Empire uses the Cloud City’s carbonite system on Solo as a test (considering that the process could kill him) for when Skywalker arrives. This results in one of the best one liners in the original trilogy, as well as one of the saddest scenes. Five year old me cried so much, this film was just depressing at every turn.

With the stage set for the showdown between Luke and Vader, the Lightsaber battle was cut between the escape of Leia, Chewie and Lando, who takes the place of Han as the Millenium Falcon’s pilot. The fight is slow compared to the prequels, but Vader is his best here, easily besting Luke with one hand at the start while trying to seduce him to the Dark Side of the Force. It’s a beautifully lit sequence by cinematographer Peter Suschitzky that would end with a revelation that would leave audiences questioning the film for the 3 years leading up to Return of the Jedi. Luke is able to escape Vader, but given the knowledge that he could be his father, everything changes for him from a character standpoint. Why did Obi-Wan lie to him about it? Can he, knowing Vader is his father, kill him? Should he, even?  Granted, as anyone who’s seen Pitch Perfect knows (or anyone who’s studied basic German), Vader means Father in German. How he didn’t see that coming is beyond me. Then again, when I first saw the film it was news to me, too.

So, there you have The Empire Strikes Back, easily the best film in the entire Star Wars saga. It’s proof that a Star Wars film can be made without Lucas controlling every aspect of it – though it should be noted that as Executive Producer, he was on hand in just about every other scene. We’ll around out our Star Wars coverage on the Eve of The Force Awakens’ release with Return of the Jedi.