MOVIE REVIEW #37 / 250 : ‘STAR WARS : THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK’

Aaaand we’re back!

Not just in the land of moviereviewage (for tis a plentiful and prosperous land), either.  We’re back to the saga that’s been the bastion of science fiction for the past three decades, and the reason why autograph conventions exist.  It’s Star Wars!  And this one, word of mouth tells me, is the best of the original three.  In fact, it’s also touted as the best of the entire six.  Because, you know, no Jar Jar Binks.  God.  I can’t believe I made a Jar Jar Binks reference in 2012.  I’m firing these cultural phenomenon out of the barrel quicker than greased dysentry.

But, let’s set aside our revolting similes and dive right into Empire.  ‘Episode V’, as it’s subtitled, sees the returning cast (of whom I was about to name, but really don’t need to – seriously, you can name the six main protagonists off of the bat without seeing any of these movies) leading Darth Vader’s evil Empire on a merry goose chase across the galaxy, as said majesty of almighty doom is obsessively keen to track down young Luke Skywalker following the destruction of his Death Star hub in the last flick.  There’s alterior motives for Darthy heading after Luke though – and I wonder what they might be – and while the protagonists (and indeed some of the baddies) are thickly unclear on what the husky-voiced menace is truly plotting, much of Empire is a shaggy-dog story as Han Solo et al play an epic game of space chess with renegade fleets in a bid to secure the rebel alliance’s liberation.

The story follows two strands shortly after the off, with Luke following a message from beyond the grave to go into further Jedi training guided by a diminuitive green sage with the voice of Frank Oz, and Solo’s rag-tag crew playing cat-and-mouse with hapless Empire redshirts, eventually ending up at the home city of one of Han’s old compadres – however, the game, of course, doesn’t end there.  As I’ve rattled out previously, it’s rare anyone reading this won’t know Star Wars already – but, rules are rules, and if there is anyone yet to see Empire, fear not.  The plot exposition stops here, folks.  What follows is one of the most iconic film twists of all time, and a classic cliffhanger.

In fact, that’s what strikes me most about EmpireA New Hope was a stand-alone film, and it’s obviously framed as such – there’s a clear start, middle, and conclusion – no hanging threads, although the potential universe enveloping the story could allow for a bumload of additional adventures.  Naturally, this is why Empire strides into its story and picks up momentum so well.  Sure, the obligatory gratuituous panning text at the very beginning seals the gap between this movie and its prequel, but the first movie did such a good job of painting the colourful universe these characters inhabit that we barely need to concentrate to get into this one.  And, despite how short my plot description actually is, this one is crammed full of stuff.  I’m pretty sure I could sit through Empire five times at least before I’d be comfortable with having taken it all in.  It’s a basic story of good versus evil, with an unbelievably rich context.  I believe I said similar things in my review of A New Hope.  But, it needs repeating.  Doesn’t it?  Tough.

So, yeah.  Very little I can pick apart here.  Again.  The designs and effects for the late 70s/early 80s when this was produced and released are beyond fantastic.  There’s not a single string out of place.  Sure, the whole thing is cheesy as sin nowadays, but the whole thing is just so unavoidably epic.  Forget your notions of Harry Potter being ‘epic’.  Because I know you have such notions.  Don’t you?  Well, anyway.  As I watch more of the Star Wars saga, I appreciate more and more why it’s so insanely revered and obsessed over.  Again, I’m not likely to hot-foot it to a cosplay event in a Boba Fett costume (though I am to be guilty of attending this in June), but… you know what, it’s been said. Empirebuilds on the first movie as it no longer has a backstory to build up, and despite heavy reliance on long, drawn-out action sequences, it’s one of the most visually and aesthetically interesting films I’ve ever watched.

So, yeah.  That’s another one down.  I can’t tell if this is a shorter review than my last SW recap, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it is.  I think my Jedi review is probably just going to be OMG SPACE I LIKED IT, PRETTY VISUALS, EWOKS ANNOYING.  I’ll be checking into the final chapter of the big three later in the year.

PROS:Great visually, superb story world, well paced.  Well acted, even.  Frank Oz.

CONS: Ehhh… I’m gonna say I think some of the action is gratuitous.  I mean, it’s a sci-fi action thriller, so I’m missing the point here, but… well, if not, C3PO.  He did my head in.  Again.  If that’s the point of his character, well played.  I have half a mind to wager it probably is.

9/10.  An improvement on the original stand-alone, which leads in nicely to further never-ending prancing across the black void.  A great film to come back on.  Bring on some truly awful stuff, I’m ready for it!!

Still Alive!

Wow. Two weeks, really? New record. I guess real life just sailed into the way there for a bit. I’m sorry my regularity dans le blog has slipped dramatically – but rest assured, expect some of the good old GTC again from tomorrow onwards.

The movie project is getting tough. Keeping my interest piqued by sticking to a pre-ordained schedule was a war I was losing. So, the rules have changed slightly – no more scheduling! Each review will come at you without preview, and you’ll never know what it’ll be (obviously within the scope of the 210+ films I have left), meaning you could get Empire Strikes Back one day, and Meet Dave the next. You might not. Some folk have also pointed out that getting to 250 in a year now is an uphill climb. That, my friends, may well be. But I’m gonna see how many I actually manage. If I get 150 at least, I’ll be happy. But, the goal is still there.

So, in short, sit tight – normal service resumes tomorrow!

G

Movie Review #36 / 250 : ‘ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST’

Fun Fact! The main orderly in this is played by Scatman Crothers, aka the voice of Hong Kong Phooey. Didn’t that just blow your mind?

Cuckoo’s Nest is frequently cited as the greatest film of all time. Frequently. Short of upping Shawshank Redemption, Godfathers I and II, Casablanca, The Wild Thornberries Movie and Star Wars, if anything else. Upon watching it, it was initially kind of hard for me to get why. But I’ll come to my thoughts after the obligatory synopsis-sans-spoilers (to which you’re accustomed – if not, welcome!)…

Jack Nicholson is R.P. MacMurphy (aka Mac), a lazy but rebellious convict who’s been moved over from a prison farm to a mental institute after he showed symptoms of psychological disorder. From the start, we know he’s pulling a fast one. As Mac settles into what he assumes will be a cushier life amongst a host of colourful characters (a very young cast of Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito and Brad Dourif amongst them), he comes across the fearsome Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who rules the roost with an understated, but oppressive, fist.

Mac’s urge to cause mayhem for Ratched and to inspire similar rebellion in his fellow inmates takes up the focus of the story, as his methods of pushing Ratched to the brink fail to take off as brilliantly as he’d hoped. The road to revolution is a hard one, and there’s some truly brilliant moments in the last twenty-thirty minutes.

As plots go, it’s fairly standard. A newcomer to an old and battered-around regime comes along and is inspired to make changes, only to find it an uphill struggle. With a likeable and charismatic leading man in Nicholson, we’re behind him every step of the way. This is even taking into account that he is doing labour as punishment for the rape of a fifteen-year-old. This is established early on, though it really doesn’t impede on his protagonist status. We know he’s a bad’un, and we accept it. This is far more a story about the existing roll call of characters at the institute, and what will become if them.

Which is where I’ll come back to that thread I left dangling at the start of this entry. I really found it hard to pigeonhole Cuckoo’s Nest. Is it a thriller? Is it a black comedy? Is it a satire? And that’s when it dawned on me – it can’t be labelled. This film transcends so many themes, emotions and techniques that it simply refuses to be pigeonholed. Without being massively gushing, I think that’s bloody brilliant. There are moments of suspense, humour, despair and glory in equal measure. And I think it’s rare to get such a balance. Of the films I’ve watched so far this year, I’ve not seen anything that fires squarely on all cylinders.

Tying it up, it’s a great cast – basic characters, but even the background film have clear personalities – and Fletcher is quietly and modestly menacing enough to get you on side. There’s some great twists thrown about that mess with Mac’s grand scheme, and the ending marches right up out of nowhere. I’m not sure I totally enjoyed the last scene, but I guess it was necessary. It’s bittersweet, like much of the film.

PRO: Great characters, great performances, and as mentioned, a real genre-hopper.

CON: As the plot is nowhere complex enough to fill every second of running time (see The Prestige), it feels as if it’s stretched a bit thinly over the latter half.

OVERALL: 9/10. It’s clear to see why Cuckoo is so revered as it is once you’ve mulled it over. It’s very unique, and the performances are absolutely brilliant. It didn’t quite tick every box for me, somehow – while the climax, as I’ve said, is probably necessary – it does cultivate a massive downer. I can’t really downgrade a film because the ending wasn’t to my taste (and it’s based on a book, so they’re adapting after all).. but I think Mac is missing one last oomph at the end of his character arc. Plus, I do still prefer watching John Candy burning out a car, and Jeff Goldblum going ape-poopy.