All posts tagged: Movies

Creator and creation

The Great Summer Movies: It’s Not The Years, Honey, It’s The Mileage

George Lucas has been written off as an emotionless technophile who built a billion-dollar empire on the backs of Ewoks and clones. To be fair, he probably is exactly that. But let us not forget from whence he came—an artsy auteur who transformed into one of the great blockbuster showmen of the late seventies and early eighties. After that, an endless trudge through awfulness (Howard the Duck), more awfulness (Radioland Murders), and yet more awfulness (Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace). Today, he’s a semi-retired entertainment magnate who keeps threatening to become an artsy auteur again. Through it all, he’s remained strangely disconnected from his own creations, as though he doesn’t really want to be the overlord of a sci-fi uberfranchise, but feels obligated—as though it’s all somehow out of his control. Maybe it is. The release of Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 arrived in the thick of Lucas’ most fertile period, both in box office receipts and creative success. It’s the centerpiece of an early eighties trifecta that remains unequaled, …

Those were the days.

The Great Summer Movies: Don’t Get Cocky!

18 Observations On Star Wars As It Turns 36, Just As I Did Last July 1. This was one of the first VHS tapes we owned; we had a guy across the street who somehow got us a dub of it, even before it was out on tape, I think. It must have been around 1982? 1983? Is that even possible? 2. I would watch it over and over till Darth Vader showed up, and then I distinctly remember being too scared to continue. 3. Even at that age—like 7, or 8—I wanted to count how many times I watched it. I got up to eleven before I stopped keeping track. It’s all been downhill from there. 4. Lucas swiped liberally from everywhere. This is pop goulash of the highest order. 5. The structure he swiped from Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, but it’s still a fascinating flow for a Hollywood film—characters meeting each other, building the plot person by person until the plot reaches its own critical mass. 6. He swiped the opening crawl and …

He feels...young

The Great Summer Movies: KHAAAAAAAAN

There’s an old man on a spaceship. He’s cheated death, tricked his way out of death, and patted himself on the back for his ingenuity. He never loses. He’s facing down a madman with a vendetta against him, and he’s literally racing against time. He wins, of course, and just as he settles into his default air of smug self-satisfaction, he looks to his right. An empty chair. A missing friend. “Jim, you’d better get down here.” At first glance, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan doesn’t feel much like a Trek movie. It feels more like one of the original series’ “bottle shows” where all the action had to take place on standing sets so that they could afford to build Vulcan in a sound stage for next week. There’s not much exploration of strange new worlds, and no new life forms or civilizations. The proceedings feel epic anyway, because like all great Trek, Wrath isn’t really about sci-fi mumbo jumbo at all; it’s about theme and character. Beyond William Shatner’s nascent paunch …

Great idea

The Great Summer Movies: You Have My Sympathies

In space, no one can hear you scream. On the Nostromo, you can hear almost everything. Alien is a masterpiece of sound design. Every second is dominated by a dense, carefully constructed soundscape, where the natural noises in the spaceship are a critical component of managing the audience experience. The first six minutes of the film are dialogue free, but full of ambient noise—flapping pages in a book, dormant lights igniting with a buzz. Jerry Goldsmith’s score ratchets up the tension, only to dissipate it in a wash of strings. There’s the tinkling of metal chains and smacks of water dripping, as Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) searches for Jonesy the cat; the hissing coolant and a ticking timer while the self-destruct sequence proceeds and Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) prepares to abandon ship. Maybe I noticed the sound because I recently rewatched the movie while working. I’ve seen the movie before; I was surrounded by my fellow cube-dwellers; I was using tinny headphones and a seven-inch screen. At moments, I was still terrified, totally bound up in …

They've done just what they set out to do

The Great Summer Movies: Keep Believing, Keep Pretending

Summer movies usually demand a great suspension of disbelief. They’re heavy on special effects and deal with outlandish situations, whether superheroes and sci-fi or wacky gross-out extreme comedy. There is, perhaps, no greater suspension of disbelief than a green felt frog somehow convincing you of its dreams. The Muppets have been around since 1955 and have survived through several TV series and films, web shorts, record albums, books, DVDs, comic books, action figures, plush toys, and a theme park attraction. In 1979’s The Muppet Movie, the Muppets realized their full potential. The Muppet Movie allowed Jim Henson’s unique blend of emotional punch, endearing characters, and ludicrous humor to find its greatest expression. It’s nothing if not ambitious. We open with the Muppets in a movie theater, preparing to watch the flick they’ve just completed about their own origins. In other words, a classic film-within-a-film. Right off the bat, we know we’re not dealing with your typical kids movie. Kermit T. Frog (Henson) is an amphibian with a simple dream: To entertain. He heads off to …

The Director Directs

The Great Summer Movies: A Perfect Engine

Drunk naked lady ventures into water after dark. Shark eats drunk naked lady. Resort town goes nuts. Police chief, oceanographer, and batshit crazy fisherman go after shark. They’re gonna need a bigger boat. Batshit crazy fisherman tells batshit crazy story about 700 sailors being eaten alive. Shark attacks. Shark explodes. Roll credits. The bare bones read like something Roger Corman might have made in six days. Exploitation trash. But Jaws is a masterpiece of suspense, and not exploitative at all. Okay, maybe the dude’s head floating into the hole in the bottom of the boat is a little trashy. And the floating severed leg is pretty bad. But other than that, it’s not. There’s a tension in Jaws between the primal fear of its central concept—there’s sharks in the water and they are waiting unseen to devour you—and the skill and polish with which its story is told. Steven Spielberg is in his infancy here as a director, but he’s already mastered storytelling tricks that will keep him at the top of his game for …

human-highway

10 Movies…Directed By Rock and Pop Stars (To Prepare You for Rob Zombie’s ‘The Lords of Salem’)

Lots of musicians decide they are famous and attractive enough to act, but it takes a special kind of hubris to take a break from making music to direct a movie. Sometimes it works out, as with the fruitful horror filmmaking career of Rob Zombie, whose The Lords of Salem comes out this week. Here are some others who gave it a shot. The Education of Charlie Banks The guy who got an Oscar nomination for The Social Network was once directed by Fred Durst, the guy who wrote the line “gimme somethin’ to break / how ‘bout your fuckin’ face.” But he does know what it’s like to be a violent thug, so there’s that. Yentl Streisand has one of the greatest voices ever, and she’s a good actress, too. And then there’s this literal vanity project, in which the 41-year-old Streisand directs her own performance as a teenager, who disguises herself as a boy to attend a yeshiva. Falling From Grace Ol’ John Cougar made himself up a movie-film real good like, with …