Friday, August 1, 2014

STAR WARS (1977)


The first time you see a movie as famous as Casablanca, Citizen Kane, or Gone With the Wind, it comes with the additional baggage of being called “the greatest movie of all time” or at least one of them. There is so much pressure on the viewer to see what others see in it, the viewing experience is often not what it should be. The viewer may lean toward nodding their head in agreement not to appear obtuse or take an opposite tack and say, “What’s so great about that?”

Star Wars (subtitled A New Hope IV) has similar problems. So iconic in stature, so many sequels, so many have seen it and so many toys have been sold, I’m sure a bias will kick in as I watch and will be tempted to say, “What’s so great about that?”

What’s the solution to achieving objectivity? Well, the only solution has to be a mind meld (intentional Star Trek reference) to make me forget and my use of the newly released Apple iwayback machine that can take me back to 1977…1977…1977…

...I feel a bit woozy and disoriented but I’m still excited about seeing this new film called Star Wars from the director of one of my favorite films, American Graffiti. Wow, the screen seems so big! But aren’t all movie screens this size? Huh. Wait, it’s about to start:


The theme song during the opening credits. Lush, orchestral makes me think of dramatic events. A good start... IV A New Hope? Did I somehow miss the first three in this series? Or is it like I. V. as in needing a transfusion? Roman numerals can be confusing. These rolling credits are fun. Reminds me of those old Flash Gordon serials they show on late night TV. It seems Mr. Lucas is a filmmaker that respects the past.


The plot: There seems to be trouble within the galactic empire and the rebel force. I think the empire is represented by the ones in white body armor, but it’s a little hard to tell who is who. There is a princess. I remember reading about her. She’s played by Debbie Reynolds’s daughter. Great, now I just had a flashback to Singin’ in the Rain. I don’t know why my concentration is so off.
Wow, look at this guy. A hard breathing, black cloaked and helmeted authority figure. Wonder if he’s bad guy? Wink, wink. I thought there was suppose to be more gray area in films today. Not that it might not be Travis Bickle underneath that cloak. The figure has the distinctive voice of James Earl Jones of The Great White Hope. For some reason the phrase “This is CNN” keeps running through my suddenly pounding head. What the heck is a CNN?

There are a couple of androids that are beginning to remind me of the supporting characters in Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress. In fact the swipes between scene breaks is also reminiscent of Kurosawa and other older films. Like I said, a filmmaker that respects the past. The gay android is CPO3 (reminiscent of the gay robot in Woody Allen’s Sleeper) and the other is D2R2. (I might not have their names right, I was jotting this down quickly). CPO3 reminds me of a metallic Dr. Smith from Lost in Space. D2R2 reminds me of the cute little robots from Silent Running. Like I said, a filmmaker who respects the past, but let’s not go overboard shall we George?

The robots come to a planet, battle some little Sand People (can’t decide if they are supposed to be cute or menacing) and deliver a message that gets to Luke Skywalker, who I presume is the hero of this piece by the softer version of the movie's theme that plays every time he appears on camera. Earlier, we learn that Luke wants to go away from home, but his Uncle wants him to till the crops or something like that until next year. Now what film does this remind me of? I got it! It’s a Wonderful Life! George Bailey has to work at the building and loan as Harry gets to go off and be a football hero at Fill-in-the-blank state. Damn you Harry.


Anyway, when Luke says anything, even something innocent like “I was going to Toole Station to pick up some power converters!” He sounds like a teenage girl complaining about not getting invited to the prom by the right guy.

Luke runs into the android’s old master played by (Hip Hooray a familiar actor!) none other that Sir Alec Guinness. Obi-Wan Kenobi. Got to admit that’s a pretty cool name.


Well, the Empire’s men, called storm troopers (As in Nazi storm troopers?) kill Luke’s remaining family. After Luke’s discovery of his murdered family, I can definitely feel a bildungsroman story coming on!

Oh, sorry. I must be getting a migraine. I kept picturing an obnoxious and strange creature that looked like an anteater named, Jar Jar I think? Where did that come from? Well, it was scary in an annoying way. I’ve taken a couple of aspirin. I must say after my daydream about this Jar Jar creature, CPO3 now seems much more palatable to me. Back to the movie.

Luke and Obi-Wan (still a cool name) try to get a pilot and a ship to take them to the Alderon system to rescue the prince or fight the empire or something. Sorry, I lost some of the plot thanks to this dream about this stupid anteater.

Anyway, they come to a kind of intergalactic biker bar and come across this hotshot pilot named Solo and his furry co-pilot he calls Chewy. They are hired. Solo kills a bounty hunter and tells an alien named Jabba that he’ll get his money. What happens to Jabba? We never see him again!

Throughout, Obi Wan is teaching Luke to use a mind/religion/yoga technique called the force. I almost called it the Schwartz, though I’m not sure why. Solo thinks the force is a waste of time. Luke is a willing disciple of the force. Is this a metaphor for the battle between religion and science? I could be reading too much into it. Of course, Obi-Wan’s (still a cool name) mind probes remind me of Mr. Spock’s in Star Trek. I’m growing a bit weary of Mr. Lucas’s “tributes.” to other sources.


Alderon is destroyed by the empire and Governor Tarkin (played by horror star Peter Cushing). Too bad we don’t get to see a one on one confrontation between Cushing and Guinness, though we do get to see a battle with fancy laser swords between Obi-Wan and Tarkin’s subordinate black cloaked figure. And what happens to Obi-Wan? He just kind of disappears in the middle of battle.


I’m feeling kind of faint now. I’ve got to keep moving through this. Alderon’s destruction reminds me of Star Trek when a Vulcan ship is destroyed and Spock feels it on the Enterprise (Obi-Wan feels a disruption in the force), the tractor beam reminds me of Lost in Space. The weapons called blasters remind me of Forbidden Planet. OK! George likes to copy other films and TV shows. Looks like it’s something I’ve got to accept.

Moving on. Solo and Luke try to rescue Debbie Reynolds’s daughter from the giant Star of Death. Debbie Reynolds’s daughter is a lot less whiny that Luke, in fact her voice is quite manly. They battle the storm troopers, fall into a garbage chute (a good scene, but the troopers aren’t very observant to not find them in there sooner)and escape the star of death. They regroup and Luke joins the rebels to attack the star of death. Most of the rebels are killed. Luke uses his mind trick to get to the Star of Death, aided at the last second by Solo.

The Star of Death is destroyed. Debbie Reynolds’s daughter gives Luke and Han a Nobel Peace Prize or something. I assume Luke and Debbie Reynolds’s daughter get married. And fittingly, Chewy gets the last growl of the movie.

Sure, Mark Hamill as Luke is whiny. But I think that’s the point. I think he’ll go on to do bigger and better things. I just read he’s doing a movie for next year called Corvette Summer. Now, that sounds like a hit. I’m not sure about his co-star Harrison Ford. His cynical character Solo is a good contrast to Luke’s exuberance, but can this actor play anything else? I noticed Ford’s not going to be in Corvette Summer. (Prediction: Corvette Summer will make three times as much money as Star Wars. I didn’t say life was fair!)

This film was quite a departure for George Lucas after the more personal American Graffiti. I don’t see Star Wars as being a big hit, but it has the opportunity to gain cult status as the years go by. I predict this movie was just a diversion for Lucas. I think he’ll go back to directing smaller, more personal films after this.

I’m also not sure about calling this episode IV. I really don’t see any room for future films here. Good already conquered evil and owww…Damn, why can I not get this picture of the Muppets out of my head now?

You know, I did enjoy this movie, but I would have liked it more without these damn headaches! That’s all for now, I’ve got to rest, only a couple months to go before the premiere of Close Encounters of the Third Kind!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

THE BICYCLE THIEF (1948, ITALY), PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE (1985)


A Comparison of Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thief
and Tim Burton's Pee Wee's Big Adventure

Basic Plot:
The Bicycle Thief: Man’s life spirals out of control after theft of his bike
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Man’s life spirals out of control after theft of his bike

Title in Italian:
The Bicycle Thief: Ladri di biciclette
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Grande esperienza uoma di piccola statura

Importance of bicycle:
The Bicycle Thief: Means of livelihood
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Life itself

Film style:
The Bicycle Thief: Neo-realistic
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Fairy tale/Fable

Protagonist biggest bike fantasy:
The Bicycle Thief: No fantasies, just wants to earn a living
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Wins the Tour de France

Antagonist:
The Bicycle Thief: Poor, epileptic peasant named Alfredo who wears a German cap
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Rich, spoiled man/boy named Francis who wears an ascot

Signature line:
The Bicycle Thief: “Give me my bicycle back!”
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: “I know you are, but what am I?”

Forgotten female lead:
The Bicycle Thief: Antonio’s wife, ignored after the first twenty minutes of the film
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Dottie, ignored by Pee Wee the entire film

Lack of help from the police:
The Bicycle Thief: “You’ve filed a complaint. There’s nothing more I can say!”
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: “Let me be honest with you. Hundreds of bikes are stolen every month. Very few are ever recovered. We just don’t have the resources.”

Musical interlude:
The Bicycle Thief: Three-man band at a restaurant featuring ukulele, guitar and violin.
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Twisted Sister

Is there a scene of the protagonist mourning over lost bike in the rain to show despondency?
The Bicycle Thief: Yes
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Yes

Loyal sidekick:
The Bicycle Thief: Antonio’s little son Bruno
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Pee Wee’s little dog Speck

Favorite scene that made me laugh but I can’t explain why it’s funny:
The Bicycle Thief: Antonio’s son Bruno slips in the rain. Antonio asks, “What happened?” Bruno points at the spot and yells, “I fell down!”
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Mario the magic shop proprietor tries to sell Pee Wee various items culminating with a giant plastic head and Pee Wee screams, “NO!”

Coincidence alert:
The Bicycle Thief: Antonio spots an old man talking to the boy who stole his bike
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Truck carrying the stolen bike goes by Pee Wee while he’s driving down the road

Most surrealistic moment:
The Bicycle Thief: None
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Pee Wee’s movie within a movie is brought to the screen with James Brolin as P. W. and Morgan Fairchild as Dottie. The bicycle has become the ‘X1’ motorcycle.

Most neo-realistic moment:
The Bicycle Thief: Antonio has not only lost his bike, but his dignity, only to comforted by the touch of his son’s hand
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: None

Heroic moment:
The Bicycle Thief: Antonio’s friend Baiocco tries to help find the bike.
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Pee Wee saves some snakes from a burning pet store

Tragic lines said to the protagonist:
The Bicycle Thief: “Criminal! Scoundrel! Fine example you set for your son!”
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: “There’s no basement at the Alamo!”

Director’s use of non-actors:
The Bicycle Thief: Casting of many non-actors in pivotal roles
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Casting of non-actor Morgan Fairchild

Director’s later change of pace:
The Bicycle Thief: Vittorio De Sica later made his own fairy tale/fable in Miracle in Milan
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Tim Burton later went neo-realistic (to a degree) in Batman

Is this film in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die?
The Bicycle Thief: Often regarded as one of the top ten films of all time. Of course it’s in the book!
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: No, but it probably ought to be.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

REPORT (1967)


Experimental/Avant Garde Cinema Week Day 7

There are several experimental or avant garde films on the 1001 movie list. In trying to figure out how to deal with them, I have tried to handle these often tough nuts to crack by just watching them and trying to answer ten basic questions about them on my personally devised standardized test. So let us conclude with..

Report

1. What happens?
A news narrative of the day of the Kennedy assassination is reported with images relating to the assassination, but not in the order or in the way we have normally viewed it.

2. Was it heavy? Did it achieve total heaviosity?
It was pretty heavy. Yes, I'm giving this one the official heaviosity label.

3. What was your favorite part?
I liked that the scenes never quite seem to match what is being narrated, and challenges your perception of what you are seeing.

4. What was your least favorite part?
The part with the bullfighting was a bit off-putting at first.

5. Did you get it?
I believe I got this one.

6. Might the viewing experience have been enhanced from either prescription or non-prescription medication of some kind?
No, you need to take this one straight.

7. What about the sex?
You may see some sex appeal from the ladies in the advertisements for refrigerators and such, but these are overwhelmed by the scenes of violence.

8. What about the violence?
There are plenty of violent images during the last few minutes of Report, though the scenes of violence from the actual assassination are missing.

9. Describe this film in one sentence starting with "This is the film..."
This is the film where you may perceive an event you've looked at many times in a new way.

10. Would you watch it again?
Yes. And it would only take me 14 minutes!


                              

Saturday, June 28, 2014

VINYL (1965)


Experimental/Avant Garde Cinema Week Day 6

There are several experimental or avant garde films on the 1001 movie list. In trying to figure out how to deal with them, I have tried to handle these often tough nuts to crack by just watching them and trying to answer ten basic questions about them on my personally devised standardized test. So let us continue with..

Vinyl

1. What happens?
Blonde male in leather lifts some weights to the indifference of those behind him. This blonde guy appears to hold contempt for newspapers and ties up a guy to a pole and tortures him. He says he does bad things because he "digs it." He dances to Martha and the Vandellas. He gets into an altercation with someone he refers to as "scum baby." At this point, he is suddenly on the wrong end of an interrogation. He is strapped to a chair as a doctor examines him and someones reads the cast credits even though the movie isn't over. He is subjected to images that change his way of thinking. He is forced to wear a mask. He is released from his bondage and listens to some Kinks and some Stones and dances.

2. Was it heavy? Did it achieve total heaviosity?
I dug it enough to say it was a little heavy, but I've certainly had heavier.

3. What was your favorite part?
When I recognized the parts that were recognizable as being from Clockwork Orange, I kind of dug that.

4. What was your least favorite part?
I think this story could have been told in half the time. I didn't dig the moments of nothing happening.

5. Did you get it?
It's a bare bones adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange before Kubrick made an actual movie out of it. I can dig it.

6. Might the viewing experience have been enhanced from either prescription or non-prescription medication of some kind?
Too much of a high may cause the plot of Vinyl to slow down to an intolerable pace. I couldn't dig that. 

7. What about the sex?
I can't say I dug the bumping and grinding sex, though it was more figurative than anything.

8. What about the violence?
I don't dig violence, and tying someone up and putting a mask on them? I really can't dig that.

9. Describe this film in one sentence starting with "This is the film..."
This is the film that Andy Warhol made loosely following the plot of Clockwork Orange, and you're probably not going to dig it. 

10. Would you watch it again?

Probably wouldn't dig watching Vinyl again. Could possibly dig watching Andy Warhol's Bad or Andy Warhol's Dracula again. Or maybe I should just try to dig staring at some pictures of soup cans.