[Star Wars Day] Revenge of the Sixth…Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness

Screenplay: George Lucas

121 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi violence and brief mild language.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Score
  • Special Achievement Academy Award: Ben Burtt [For sound effects (For the creation of the alien, creature and robot voices)]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Supporting Role [Alec Guinness]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

iMDB Top 250: #20 (as of 1/18/2016)

As we close Star Wars Days 2015, we end on the original film in the Saga, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, from director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138).

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In A New Hope, it has been 19 years since Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Scooby-Doo!: Moon Monster Madness) was dropped off with his uncle and aunt on Tattooine. When the two droids C-3PO and R2-D2 come into his family’s possession, Luke gets swept up in R2’s mission to deliver a message from the captive Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, When Harry Met Sally…, Maps to the Stars) to the crazy hermit Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness, Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai). When Luke discovers that his father knew Kenobi long ago and is gifted his father’s lightsaber, he is set on a quest to save the princess and defeat the Empire.

The original film is still a perfect fantasy/sci-fi masterpiece with great performances, terrific direction, and a nice smooth flow. The special effects still look great (I’m referring to the original special effects, not the Special Edition effects).

Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Age of Adaline) absolutely steals the show as Han Solo, who, alongside his trusty co-captain Wookiee Chewbacca, are hired to assist Luke and Kenobi in rescuing the princess. They are aided by a believable group of performances from a talented cast of newcomers like Hamill and Fisher as well as veterans Guinness and Peter Cushing (Horror of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein) as the villainous Grand Moff Tarkin.

This is the pinnacle of Lucas’ abilities as a filmmaker. His terrific screenplay and his inability to give up when faced with countless problems directing the picture proved him to be a truly captivating artist with a unique vision.

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Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope remains a perfect film, one of the best ever put to the screen. It has become a pop cultural rock, unable to be moved from the public eye in the 38 years since its release, and I doubt it will ever truly disappear. Perfection.

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

[Oscar Madness] The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

178 mins. Rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences and some scary images.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Makeup
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Score
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Ian McKellan)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Direction
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Song (“May It Be” by Enya, Nicky Ryan, Roma Ryan)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound

 

Some projects are doomed from the very start. Imagine filming three movies at the same time, on one budget, and having creating a trilogy between them of at least 11 hours in length. Yeah, Peter Jackson did that.

Sir Ian McKellan in a scene from THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, 2001.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring follows Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Cooties), a hobbit from Hobbiton. He lives with his uncle Bilbo (Ian Holm, Ratatouille, Renaissance) who is celebrating his eleventy-first birthday (that’s 111 to you non-hobbit folks) and has just left Frodo with his magical ring of power which he found sixty years earlier. What Frodo and wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Prisoner) are about to discover is that this ring is the powerful One Ring of Sauron, a dark lord who used the ring to take over the land long ago. Sauron had been destroyed, but the ring of power had passed along looking for its master to reunite and bring back an age of darkness and despair. Now it is up to Frodo, his gardener Samwise (Sean Astin, TV’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis), and their fellowship of seven others, including elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Three Musketeers), dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Anacondas: Trail of Blood), and the mysterious ranger known as Strider (Viggo Mortensen, A History of Violence, On the Road) to get the ring of power to the one place where it can be destroyed: the fiery Mount Doom in the land of Mordor. There’s just one problem: Mordor is where the Eye of Sauron is still looking for his ring with armies of orcs at his disposal.

This film is staggering in scale. It is almost too realistic for a fantasy film, it just sucks you in. The plot here is immensely entertaining due to director Jackson’s attention to detail and knowledge of J.R.R. Tolkien’s source material. The screenplay, by Jackson and fellow writing team members Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens (with whom he also penned The Lovely Bones and King Kong), is incredibly engaging and equal parts exhilarating and fun.

This is Elijah Wood at his career best. His portrayal of Frodo, a hobbit who is only used to the good parts of life and used to only happiness, solitude, and relaxation, now thrust unto this great quest, is deeply personal. I saw in Wood’s performance a hobbit who looks up to his uncle for all the adventures he has been on, but also doesn’t really want to live them.

Viggo Mortensen here is another strength (of which the entire cast is). Strider is a character with deep levels of history and emotion, a true well of sadness. Mortensen plays it to perfection.

I also truly loved Sean Bean (GoldenEye, Mirror Mirror) as Boromir, a man entrusted to Frodo’s fellowship who has a weakness for power and believes that the ring holds the key to saving his homeland.

Peter Jackson isn’t afraid here to get down and dirty and display epic-sized battles for his audience. This movie chooses to show, not tell, and it is totally worth it.

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In fact, just about every aspect of this film could be classified as stellar. It happens to be my favorite of the six Middle-Earth films Peter Jackson has poured his soul into. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is incredible on just about every level. Take a trip to Middle-Earth with me, and enjoy yourself along the way.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

[Oscar Madness] Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)

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Director: Tony Scott

Cast: Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, Jurgen Prochnow

Screenplay: Larry Ferguson, Warren Skaaren

100 mins. Rated R.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Song (“Shakedown” by Harold Faltermeyer, Keith Forsey, Bob Seger)

 

When Beverly Hills Cop became a downright hit in 1984, a follow-up became inevitable. At first, the idea of a TV series surfaced, but that was quickly shut down and a film sequel began production. 1987: Beverly Hills Cop II.

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Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy, Trading Spaces, A Thousand Words) is deep undercover back in Detroit to stop illegal credit card scammers when he hears that Lieutenant Bogomil of Beverly Hills has been gunned down by a group of thieves for getting too close. Now it’s off to Beverly Hills to stop them, with the help of Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold, The Santa Clause, Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutts) and John Taggert in this sequel from action director Tony Scott (Top Gun, Man on Fire).

First of all, how does this sequel compare to Beverly Hills Cop? It isn’t technically better, but it is bigger and a little crazier. The level of believability is pushed pretty hard a few times in this film, particularly during a high-speed chase involving a cement mixer. Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, and John Ashton are a great action-comedy trio, providing laughs that come from the story rather than just jumping out of thin air. Jurgen Prochnow (Das Boot, Beerfest) and Brigitte Neilsen make some great villains as well.

I happen to love the Academy-Award Nominated song “Shakedown” and I think it adds to the musical score without completely redefining it. The great qualities of this film come from the fact that the great parts of the original film are kept intact while getting a fuel-injection of energy.

Tony Scott knows how to direct action, and he knows how to let the actors do the work.

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Now, is Axel Foley the next James Bond? Perhaps not. Axel Foley is a fantastic character and Beverly Hills Cop is a fantastic series…also “Shakedown.” “Shakedown” is awesome. That too.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Martin Brest’s Beverly Hills Cop, click here.

[Oscar Madness] Poltergeist (1982)

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Director: Tobe Hooper

Cast: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Beatrice Straight, Heather O’Rourke

Screenplay: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, Mark Victor

114 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

Poltergeist is an interesting film. It is equal parts comedic and utterly chilling, and not without an ounce of controversy.

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From director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Mortuary) comes Poltergeist, a tale of the Freelings: Diane (JoBeth Williams, Kramer vs. Kramer, The Big Year) and Steve (Craig T. Nelson, TV’s Parenthood, The Incredibles). Their new home has been having some issues…issues like a living tree and clown doll trying to kidnap their son,  a closet that warps daughter Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) into some purgatorial dimension, and chairs that slide across the floor. You know, normal new house problems. When Carol Anne is lost somewhere in the house, the Freelings must join together with paranormal researchers to save the young girl.

JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson command their roles with precision and chemistry as the chief parental units. In fact, the relationships of the entire Freeling clan are what holds this family and the entire film together. If you don’t feel for the family, you don’t feel for the film, and thankfully, this family works. Director Hooper commands a completely different tone for this film than previous efforts like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Eaten Alive, the tone being more alike Spielberg’s other 1982 work with E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, but more on that later…

What makes this film a classic is the practical effects. Some of them are still realistically well put together over 30 years later. A few of them are still horrifying, like the mirror dream sequence and the actual skeletons in the pool (seriously, they were real skeletons). All in all, the film is still really shocking, especially for a PG film (the PG-13 didn’t really exist at the time).

So, there was some controversy about who the real director was: Hooper or writer Steven Spielberg (A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Close Encounters of the Third Kind)? Tonally, it looks to be Spielberg, but reports have surfaced that could go either way. Spielberg does seem like a backseat director to me, but I’m thinking Hooper myself.

Finally, let’s discuss the Curse. This film has often been considered to contain a curse much like the one that the Freelings are attached to (perhaps because of the real skeletons used during filming). Actress Dominique Dunne, who played Dana Freeling, was killed by a former boyfriend in 1982 after filming completed. Then, Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Anne, died in 1988 after surgery to repair a bowel obstruction at the age of 12. She was filming Poltergeist III at the time.

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Poltergeist, a movie with history, permanently engrained in history. While the film does run on a bit longer than it needs, and featuring one too many paranormal investigators, but still a strong horror classic. Check it out, if you haven’t already. There is a reboot/remake on the way.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[12 Days of Christmas] On the Eighth Day… Home Alone (1990)

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Director: Chris Columbus

Cast: Macauley Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard, Catherine O’Hara

Screenplay: John Hughes

103 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Song “Somewhere in My Memory”
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

Growing up, I was not a major fan of Home Alone. I can’t really say why, but perhaps I feel like the film was oversaturated and existed in such a wide capacity that it was just too much. Every year with this film, and I often confused the events of the first film with those of the second which was very jarring.

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At the behest of my mother, who adores the film, I took a look back on it a few years back. My feelings were very different that time around.

Kevin McAllister (Macauley Culkin, Richie Rich, Sex and Breakfast) doesn’t connect with his family. In fact, he wishes he never had a family. When he awakens one morning to discover that his family is gone, he is overjoyed that his wish came true. Kevin’s family has gone to France without him, but now he is home alone while two criminals named Harry (Joe Pesci, GoodFellas, The Good Shepherd) and Marv (Daniel Stern, TV’s Manhattan, City Slickers), known as the Wet Bandits, try to break into his home. It is up to Kevin to protect his home and himself while his mother (Catherine O’Hara, The Nightmare Before Christmas, A.C.O.D.) attempts to get back home to spend Christmas with her son.

I like this movie much more as an adult. There is something about returning to the imagination like a situation like this actually happening. I didn’t have the growing up experience where I wanted to get rid of my family. I enjoyed Macauley Culkin’s ability to carry this movie and the great supporting work from Pesci and Stern certainly help. John Hughes (Vacation, The Breakfast Club) knows how to write a screenplay, and this is one drastically different from his 1980’s teen comedy work. Then there’s Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), who isn’t so much a good director as he is a capable one. He does fine work here assisted by a powerful and unsettling score from John Williams.

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Looking back, Home Alone was a fun time to watch a movie. It has the insane premise which amazingly works quite well, it isn’t derailed by a less-than-amazing Chris Columbus or the bumbling thieves or even the quite rude family members. Still a fun time; still a Christmas miracle.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 35th Birthday!] Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

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Director: Robert Wise

Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Persis Khambatta, Stephen Collins

Screenplay: Harold Livingston

132 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi action and mild language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Direction
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects – Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

When Firefly was cancelled prematurely, fans fought hard to have their show brought back in any way, shape, or form. Eventually, the powers that be granted us Serenity. People tend to forget that the same thing happened on an even grander scale over twenty years prior when Star Trek, about a five-year mission into space, ended abruptly after only three seasons. When, many years later, the idea came about to resurrect the Enterprise for a feature film, fans were ecstatic. If only they knew. If only they knew…

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Star Trek: The Motion Picture picks up with the completion of the Enterprise’s five-year mission. Several members of the crew have gone on to other work. That is, until a mysterious presence in deep space in a massive cloud of energy destroys several Klingon ships and has its sights set for Earth. Recently promoted Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner, TV’s $#*! My Dad Says, Escape from Planet Earth) takes over command of the Enterprise from its new Captain Decker (Stephen Collins, TV’s 7th Heaven, The Three Stooges) and joins up with Spock (Leonard Nimoy, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Land of the Lost) and the rest of the crew to discover its origins and, if need be, destroy it.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture was put together with one big mistake. It tries to be two things. It tries to stretch out its television show length without adding enough in, and it tries to be 2001: A Space Odyssey. It tries and fails. This movie is a mess. I feel as though screenwriter Harold Livingston didn’t know enough about the series to craft a meaningful new chapter. I feel as though Gene Roddenberry was unwittingly burying his work under layers of convolution. I feel as though Robert Wise (The Sound of Music, West Side Story) didn’t understand what he was doing.

The cast performs admirably, and there isn’t a whole lot of issue to be had with the cinematography. What really kills this film is the editing and pacing of it all. My God, it just doesn’t end! I think they finished this film 35 years ago and that’s how long I’ve been watching it! There are sequences, like Spock’s infamous spacewalk, that are meant to build tension but just end up pooping out on trying to be spectacular.

The score here is pretty sweet, and serves to invigorate the series for future installments, but it does little to invigorate this tale.

And what’s the deal with those costumes? My girlfriend said it best. It looks like these characters are heading to a Star Trek-themed sleepover and are wearing their pajamas. Terrible look, which was thankfully rectified for the sequels.

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All in all, Star Trek: The Motion Picture gave us Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and in that way, I am grateful. Unfortunately, it also gave us Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and in that way, I am angry. This is an entry which does nothing to enhance the series it is in. Best to just skip to Khan.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 20th Birthday!] Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994)

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Director: Neil Jordan

Cast: Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas, Stephen Rea, Christian Slater, Kirsten Dunst

Screenplay: Anne Rice

123 mins. Rated R for vampire violence and gore, and for sexuality.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

I always find it intriguing when a non-genre director of merit gets involved in a horror film or something with supernatural elements, as if Martin Scorsese got up one day and decided to direct the next Star Wars. When Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Byzantium) decided to direct the adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, I’m sure it shocked some people. After all, this doesn’t happen often, but I think he proved that when it does happen, it can be a magical thing.

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Interview with the Vampire follows Louis (Brad Pitt, Inglourious Basterds, Fury) a man of means and a wonderful family back in the 1700s. When Louis is bitten and turned by a vampire named Lestat (Tom Cruise, Top Gun, Edge of Tomorrow), he learns the details of his life from his new sire and, through his recollection of the past to patient listener Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater, True Romance, Nymphomaniac Vol. 1) in present day 1994, he recounts the tragic details of his 200 years of death.

Damn, such a great movie, and twenty years haven’t hurt it. It still looks stunning, in part due to its tremendous set design, for which it was nominated for an Oscar. Tom Cruise is at his top form here as the infamous Lestat. This is the kind of role that Cruise should go for more often. I find that much of his work harkens back to Mission: Impossible style action-thrillers (which work sometimes) but I feel like taking chances offers up some pretty amazing work. Brad Pitt as Louie is another performance where you actually forget who is playing the role, but I think the big winner here is Kirsten Dunst (Spider-Man, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues) as Louis’ new sire Claudia, forced to live forever in the body of child. She just steals those scenes where her mind has developed but not her body. She is forced to watch as her partners Lestat and Louis practically salivate at the sight of a nude woman in all her sensual glory.

That’s the reason someone like Neil Jordan would take on a project like this. It has depth. Its characters are not presented as one-dimensional flat cardboard cutouts. These are really people, or undead beings, portrayed by those who have learned the craft, and Jordan takes these talents and puts them to good work, showcasing a veritable Forrest Gump of the undead. This is a film with wit, charm, blood, and sex. It has a lot of things going for it, including a great script from the novel’s author Anne Rice, who “adapts” her novel instead of just putting the same story on the screen. Rice understood where changes need to be made, and she did.

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Watch this movie if you love horror movies. Watch this movie if you don’t. In case I need to be clearer, watch this movie. Please.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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