Young men make wars, and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men. Courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace. And the vices of peace are the vices of old men. Mistrust and caution. It must be so.
Back in 2006, when Blu-ray players and discs first appeared in stores, Sony distributed a demo reel for stores to play showing how fan-damn-tacular movies looked in the new format. This included scenes from Lawrence of Arabia, a Sony property via Columbia Pictures, implying the film would be among the first released. For the next six years, film buffs waited with increasing impatience for Sony to make good on that promise.
I, for one, am tickled that they waited so long. The Blu-ray edition released in November, based on a meticulous 4K restoration, is simply amazing. The last time the movie looked this good to my eyes was back in 1989, and I was watching it projected in 70mm at the old Cinedome theaters in Orange, CA.
Why, you stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerf herder.
While the 1977 original may have launched the Star Wars phenomenon, I would make the case that this film was responsible for creating the enduring franchise. Had The Empire Strikes Back fallen flat on its face, had it not been, in many eyes, a superior film to the original (or equal in quality at the very worst), there would have been no special editions, no prequels, no Disney sale, and no one would be talking about whether J. J. Abrams wants to direct a seventh film.
I think the strength of this film lies in one simple fact. This is Darth Vader’s movie, more than any other in the franchise. Continue reading →
Luke's just not a farmer, Owen. He has too much of his father in him.
Looking back on it from more than 30 years, it’s hard to imagine a time when Star Wars did not permeate our culture. It informs both our popular arts as well as high-level policy debate during the Cold War. It rewrote the rules of summer movies only two years after Jaws wrote them in the first place. This one movie took merchandising from a tidy little sideline to a stratospheric cash cow for Hollywood.
In short, a little movie made for less than $10 million, of which the studio thought so little that they willingly parted with all the ancillary rights that studios normally hang on to until hell freezes over, ended up being the greatest single act of creative destruction in the history of the business since The Jazz Singer. After Star Wars, the artistically ambitious films that were a hallmark of the early-to-mid-seventies were shuffled off to the independent filmmakers, while Hollywood became a factory for blockbusters.
At this juncture, it’s pointless to review this movie like I would a “normal” film, other than to offer my conjecture on why this little movie worked like no other movie before it and few since. And yes, I’m calling it Star Wars, not Episode IV or A New Hope. The movie that hit theaters in 1977 was called Star Wars, so that is the name of the movie.
Remember, you're fighting for this woman's honour, which is probably more than she ever did.
I would offer up Duck Soup as the spiritual great-grandfather of movies like Blazing Saddles and Airplane!. Its plot seems to exist as an afterthought, unnecessary baggage that gets in the way of the movie’s true purpose: “four Jews trying to get a laugh,” as Groucho Marx would later confess.
It’s possible to view Duck Soup as a brilliant political farce, lacerating the bloated self-importance of world leaders, or you can just look to it for 68 minutes of pure post-Vaudevillian anarchy. It works both ways. This may not be the Marx Brothers at their most coherent, but it’s easily them at their funniest.
While John Ford would go on to direct several more pictures after this one, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance represents a sort of exclamation point of one of most celebrated directorial careers in American film. His previous high-water mark, The Searchers, was a film torn between the conventions of a previous era and emerging modern sensibilities. Liberty Valance is thoroughly modern by 1962 standards and virtually timeless by any other.
In some ways this movie is the cinematic equivalent of artificial insemination using a dead man’s swimmers. A.I. had been on Stanley Kubrick’s back, front, and middle burners at various times since the early seventies. For a while, it looked like it wouldn’t see the light of day until development hell froze over and, when Kubrick kicked it after completing Eyes Wide Shut, it seemed inevitable that A.I. would forever remain as Kubrick’s great “lost” project.
Even before its classic final scene, the subject of madness runs under this particular bridge, as all three of the main characters have their sanity questioned at some point and the chief questioner, played by William Holden, jokingly questions his own mental state. For all its vast scale, The Bridge on the River Kwai remains an indelible and intimate portrait of fanaticism fatally clashing with fanaticism.
John Ford’sThe Searchers is a movie in desperate search for an identity. For every aspect that is excellent, two more make you want to cringe. The film seems to have feet in two eras. Its ambivalent attitude toward the stereotypical treatment of Native Americans seems slightly ahead of its time, although Hollywood would do much better later. Balancing against this are characters and storylines that would have seemed dated when Ford and John Wayne were first working together back in the thirties.
Legendary French director François Truffaut famously said that it was impossible to make a truly anti-war film, because film inherently glamorizes everything it depicts. That quote is hard to reconcile, however, with the evidence of Stanley Kubrick’s first truly great movie. Continue reading →
Guillermo del Toro’s dark tale of Franco’s Spain is either a fantastical allegory for the struggle against oppression or a lyrical testimony to the power of a child’s imagination as an antidote to the horrors of the adult world. The strength of the film is that it works both ways.
I'm not going to waste my time arguing with a man who’s lining up to be a hot lunch.
Many of you might not be old enough to recall but Jaws effectively invented the concept of the summer movie as we know it today. Two years before Star Wars, it was the first film to really demonstrate the power of all those teenagers, recently freed from school, to generate an ass-load of money at the box office.
Of course, this was also before the modern marketing machine was fully geared up, so in order for a movie to become a mega-blockbuster, it depended on a lot of word-of-mouth to get people’s butts into the seats. In those days, it still required that the film not suck. Mission accomplished, I’d say.