Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Escape from New York-Presented By Robert Rodriguez


Apparently, I should have chosen 1981 for my Summer Movie Season debate claim from the Lambcast a couple of weeks ago. After all, 1981 had "An American Werewolf in London", "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "Superman II" and this film, the one that turned Kurt Russell from a Disney kid into an action star. I saw "Escape From New York" in the Summer of 1981 at the El Rey Theater on Main Street in my hometown of Alhambra California. I'd been married for a year and I had summer off between semesters, while my poor wife had to work, so I saw this at a matinee by myself. I had to take her to see it the next week, because I knew she would love it, and sure enough, she fell completely for Kurt Russell.

This was a low budget film that made the most of every dollar they had to spend. John Carpenter was a viable director after his success with "Halloween" and he had made a TV biopic about Elvis with Kurt Russell, so it feels a little inevitable that they would work together in a completely original project. The premise is a simple one, Manhattan has been turned into a maximum security prison, where the convicts are dumped to make out the best they can. In the middle of an international crisis, the President's plane goes down in the area, and someone has to go in and recover him and the McGuffin he in possession of. Former military hero, now convict Snake Plissken, is given the job as a way of gaining his freedom.

Russell does his best Clint Eastwood impression throughout the film, and that makes sense because when Carpenter originally wrote the screenplay years earlier, he had envisioned Eastwood in the part. Snake is an anti-authoritarian, like John Carpenter himself, so the movie is full of middle fingers extended toward the government, convention, and anything else that was pissing off the director at the time. Russell plays Snake as a sullen outsider, who wisely trusts no one and is a lot more of a strategic thinker than he is given credit for.  He snarls and growls his way through the plot, remaining cool in the face of every obstacle he ends up against. 

The action scenes are not complicated but they are fun. As Snake tries to get away from a swarm of crazies at one point, he uses his weapon to improvise a door through a wall. It's a terrific looking action piece and emblematic of the kinds of creative moments Carpenter brings to the film. I combat sequence in a boxing ring is brutal without getting as gory as it would be if this film were made today. The nihilism evinced by Snake is downright compelling, even if it runs contrary to the world's best interest. He is so indifferent that he even puts off a moment of personal revenge because he is tired. His final FU to the whole affair is completely fitting with the character and the semi-dystopian world that all of the characters are operating in. 

Four years ago, we got to see the movie at the TCM Film Festival, with both Carpenter and Russel in attendance. 

I'd been a fan of the TV critics Siskel and Ebert since I'd discovered their show on PBS a couple of years before this film came out. While putting this post together I came across their reviews for this film, and if you have a few minutes you can watch it here:

As much as I respected Roger Ebert, I usually found myself on the same side of the equation as Gene Siskel. This may have been the tipping point for me way back in 1981, and lasting until Siskel's death in 1999. 

Last night's screening was presented by Austin based film maker Robert Rodriguez. Before the movie screened he did a brief introduction and he surveyed the house on the number of people seeing the movie for the first time, for the first time on the big screen, and who had seen it in theaters in 1981. A couple people up front were given some nice gifts, one of which were some personal sketches done for the film and signed to Rodriguez by production designer Joe Alves (the production designer of Jaws also). He shared a bit about his personal relationship to the movie, and how he came to be acquainted with Carpenter and worked with Kurt Russell on "Grindhouse". He promised a few stories after the film as well. 

The most amusing one involved Kurt Russell. Rodriguez was showing off his love of "Escape From New York" to Russell when they were together one time by showing that the wallpaper on his phone was an image of Snake Plissken. Russell responded by getting out his own i-phone, fumbling with it for a minute and then asking Suri "Who am I" , to which Suri replied, "You are Snake Plissken". Kurt laughed and said, I'm the only one in the world who can do that. 

Monday, May 29, 2023

Jaws (2023 Entry #1)


I've posted the trailer for Jaws a dozen times before, so I am changing it up a little for this post. Chief Brody is the character in the film with the most important story arc, and the sequence above explains that his instincts are really headed in the right direction. The fact that Mayor Vaughn talks him out of closing the beaches does not make him the bad guy. Martin Brody has a huge about of guilt poured on him when Alex Kitner is killed by the shark, but remember, his kids were on the beach, and he was trying to be cautious in pursuing his responsibilities as Chief of Police for this community. The fact that he gets bull rushed by the Mayor and Selectmen about closing the beaches a second time, shows that he is not the one ultimately responsible, but he shoulders that burden anyway. 

His wife Ellen, tells Hooper about Martin's fear of the water and dislike of being on the ocean. It takes an act of courage, fueled by his own guilt, to get Brody onto the Orca and to join the fight to end the shark. Once on the boat, Brody is made a figure of ridicule by both Hooper and Quint. Their jabs are subtle, sometimes condescending, but all of them are attempts to assert dominance in the triumvirate that is on this odyssey. Martin is the realist, who believes they are outmatched when he sees the shark and utters the famous line from the film. Some might see it as cowardice, Quint certainly does, but it turns out he was entirely correct. The good man, who is not blinded by his fear from thirty years earlier, or by the intellectual superiority that Hooper assumes, is the one who had the best advice, and he was ignored because of the other two men's assumptions. 

I have seen this film well over a hundred times, and every experience bring satisfaction. Sometimes it is for the inventiveness of the director, sometimes I am awed by an actor's performance, occasionally I marvel at a technical achievement. This time, it is the spine of the script that I was noticing the most. Chief Brody is the glue that holds the film together. He is an average family man faced with extraordinary circumstances. We watch him get out of bed, struggle with mundane issues like feeding the dogs and chastising his kids, before he gets slapped in the face with the remains of Chrissie Watkins. He finds the fortitude to try to do what is right. he defers to authority when it is necessary, and defies authority when it is clear that someone else has to act. 

Roy Scheider's Chief is the odd man out on the Orca. Both Quint and Hooper are experienced sailors. Maybe their experiences are different, but they are comfortable on the water. We know Brody is not. Quint is Ahab, chasing the White Whale. Hooper is an academic, determined to prove his superiority to the old fashioned ways of the senior fisherman. Brody just wants to kill the shark, however it can be done. It is his responsibility to take care of the extended family of the Amity Community. He is not trying to prove himself or impress anyone, he just wants to get her done. 

I have written about Scheider's performance before. He is excellent in this film, but Dreyfuss gets the funny lines and Shaw has the mic drop moment in the film. Brody is the everyday hero that a family and a town need. 


Sunday, May 28, 2023

Fast X (AKA Fast Ten Your Seatbelts)


I don't know what to say about these movies that has not already been said by me and a thousand others. "The Fast and Furious" series has gotten bigger and more preposterous with each entry, and the connection to reality disappeared around the fifth one in the series. They are extremely well made, over the top action films, that you can enjoy the heck out of, as long as you are willing to give up any sense of reality. The physics are silly, the characters are cartoons, the stunts are Rube Goldberg sequences that will make you want to go back to your childhood and play "Mousetrap". Every movie has the same tropes in it somewhere, there is a racing scene, shots of girls wiggling their hind ends to hip hop songs at the race scene, and then there are the character beats. Vin Diesel's Dom gets serious and says he has to go it alone, the team mocks that idea, Letty defies the notion, and they all end up working together. There will be new characters introduced, usually with some family connections. A Secondary character will return to be sacrificed at some point in the story, and a dead character will be resurrected. There is also usually a double cross somewhere ion the story, and/or enemies come together for a common purpose. 

"Fast X" or "Fast Ten Your Seatbelts" as my friend Mark Hofmeyer would call it) has all of those moments. Like a Roger Moore 007 film, it checks off the essentials, tosses them together and then gets by on it's stars. Michelle Rodriguez continues to glower at everyone who might be an opponent, and if there is a woman to be taken down, she will get the sequence that requires that ass whopping. Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris will do their Abbot and Costello routine, fall out for 30 seconds and then bond again. They are the comic relief most of the time, although there are other characters that do get to put some comedic spin on what they are doing. The characters of Han and Ramsey are along for the ride on this one, but they have almost nothing to do for most of the story. Charlize Theron likewise, is in the story, but the segment with her and Letty is mostly shoehorned in to give them something to do while the rest of the action is taking place. 

The best thing that the makers of this franchise have done, is introduce new characters on a regular basis. Those characters can come back and be part of the action in the next films. Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham and Jon Cena all started out as antagonists to Dom's team, and end up working with them in later films. Helen Mirren is not given a lot to do, but when she shows up, she classes up the film a bit. I try to avoid spoilers in my essays so be careful with this next bit, although anyone who has followed the series knows that it is true. Characters die in the films, but they all seem to come back somehow. We get a couple of those moments and the film itself is a bit of a tipoff because of how it ends.

Fresh faces keep things lively in the eleven films so far (which includes the Hobbs and Shaw spinoff). Jon Cena was the anti-Dom in the last film, and now he is back as a semi-autonomous surrogate father for several scenes. He seems to be having a great time and I enjoyed his sequences more than most of the others. However, it is clearly Jason Momoa who is having the most fun with this movie. His character is flamboyantly evil, and Momoa plays him with gusto and panache. The character is written as a stylized villain, and the actor embraces the character the same way that John Lithgow took on Lord John Whorfin in the Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension. His costumes, hair, eyebrows and voice all scream "I'm the Bad Guy!! Pay Attention to Me!". It is exactly right, even the use of the extended arms in a crucified like position as a visual exclamation point that the character has a habit of posing in, feel like a comic book bad guy should be. The retcon sequence that brings Dante into the story is not as elaborate as the one that got Cena's Jacob in the last film, but it was managed well and it works. 

The one new wrinkle this film gives us is that it ends on a cliffhanger moment. All of our heroes appear to be doomed and the bad guy has won. There are several strings that you can pull at to come up with more story. For example Brie Larson could find her Dad Kurt Russell and start a new hunt on the villain. Jason Statham is on his way to protect his Mama from the bad guy, so that can be a path to follow. And Letty's new alliance with Theron's Cipher has been set up with a twist that I saw coming three movies ago. Regardless of all that potential, I am confident that the dead will rise, the strings will be tied up, and if Dante, Momoa's character is not sent to hell, he will become an anti-hero ally in entry number 12. I heard they were going to stop after the next one, but I also thought Han was dead. 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975: Return of the Pink Panther

Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don't see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 

Return of the Pink Panther

One of the reasons I am pursuing this Throwback Thursday exercise, is that it allows me to wallow in the nostalgia of my own nostalgia sometimes. Today's film is one of those occasions.  I covered "The Return of the Pink Panther" on my original project in 2010. You can read that post here. My original memories of the film are catalogued there.

One thing that has changed in the past thirteen years is that there is now a trailer for the film available on YouTube, which like on most of my posts, you will find at the top of this essay. Back in 2010, the only thing I could find was the title sequence, and that link is now gone. If you watch the titles, you will get a delightful Pink Panther cartoon, one where the silent feline does impressions of movie characters, including Bogart, Groucho Marx and Charlie Chaplin. I don't know what the inspiration for this theme was, but it feels completely fitting for a Blake Edwards film. 

At this point in the series, the movies became a vehicle for Peter Sellars to do physical comedy and verbal humor. The plot is not really important, which is why Christopher Plummer feels almost invisible in the movie, he is second billed but completely detached from most of the things that happen in the story. In fact, it is actress Catherine Schell who is most involved in the plot as Sellar's Inspector Clouseau, searches for her character's husband, played by Plummer, and also tries to find evidence of his involvement in the theft once again of the legendary titular diamond.  One of my favorite comedic beats comes from her as Lady Litton, running back into the bathroom where Clouseau and a bellboy are hiding in a sauna. The steam from the sauna has made the floor wet, and Sellars and the bellboy have already gotten some laughs with their feet slipping out from under them. When Schell comes back in, she slips as well, but grabs on to a column in the large bathroom, and does a perfect spin on it. The fact that she is in a bathrobe, almost makes it look like she is doing some pole dancing.

When I read my original article after watching the movie this morning, I noticed I had made mention of a joke about a telephone in the foyer of the Litton Family estate. Clouseau, masquerading ineffectively as a telephone repair person, is trying to get into the office to do some digging, and he has to come up with a reason why the phone right there in the foyer will not work for his repairs. It is a throw away minute that I was not paying attention to this morning. After I read my earlier comments, I went back and looked at the moment again, yep, there it was. A visual joke that Sellar's pantomines through and gave me a huge laugh. Again I will not spoil it for you, but be alert if you get to that moment, don't look away. 

"Return of the Pink Panther" was one of the films my fellow Lamb Dave Anderson used this last week on the Lambcast, when arguing that 1975 was the greatest movie summer. I might well have chosen it myself if I had been defending 1975, which as you can tell from this year long project, is pretty special to me. 

This is the iteration of the films where Clouseau's boss, played by Herbert Lom, goes mad and becomes the antagonist for the next few entries of the series. Lom is very amusing as the frustrated Chief Inspector Dreyfus. His twitching eyebrows and maniacal looks let us know he is on the brink of losing it. In the opening section in his office, he is so flummoxed  by the ridiculous Clouseau, that he almost kills himself and his assistant by accident. So between the bellboy, Lom, Schell, and the continuingly reliable Burt Kwouk, it is clear that the slap stick was not just limited to Sellars, but that Blake Edwards had a lot to do with it as well.

Just as a side note, I saw the actor playing the Hotel Concierge, and kept asking myself where I'd seen him before. Victor Spinetti was not a familiar name, but it suddenly broke through to me that he was the frustrated T.V. director in the Beatles Film, "A Hard Days Night". So if you are looking for a stream of consciousness recommendation for a film to put on today, you can't do better than that. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Phantom of the Paradise (1974) Revisit


I have loved this film since I saw it in December of 1974 at the UA Theater in Pasadena, with my friend Art Franz. We were both movie buffs and the rock score and theatrical aspects of the trailer and the poster, lured us in with ease. I have since watched it a dozen times at minimum, including a screening in Los Angeles at the Silent Movie Theater in 2012.  Paul Williams, the star and songwriter of the film, made an appearance at that show. I found a notice of that show on the website of "The Swan Archives". 

You can read my own notes on this event here. It was a wonderful evening that reminded me of how much I love this film. So it is a pleasure to report that I had another great experience with Phantom, this time as a result of the Alamo Drafthouse here in Austin. 

The event on Monday night was billed as a special screening, but it was not clear what was going to be special about it. As far as I'm concerned, anytime you can see a movie you love in a theater, it is a special event, so I was just happy to get a ticket and attend. It turned out to be special for two great reasons. The screening was proceeded by a lecture from the Principal Archivist of the "Swan Archives". The discussion focused on the need for a re-mastered version of the film to be released on home media. The Archivist, Ari Kahan, has devoted much personal time and energy to keeping Swan's name alive., in particular by nurturing this film.

During the presentation, there were extensive demonstrations of changes that had to be made to the original release, due to an agreement by 20th Century Fox, and the representatives of Led Zeppelin. The band used the name "Swan Song" for their publishing rights, and to avoid a legal battle, some compromises were made to the film at the time of it's release.  Those included extensive use of floating matts in the film, to cover up references to "Swan Song" that could be construed as copyright infringement.  Of course that was a ridiculous mistake, and the shaky matts were very noticeable in the power point presentation. Additional flaws have to do with color correction and saturation that undermine many of the scenes in the film.

Finally, there is the issue of the title, which at one point would have been simply "Phantom", but someone was concerned with confusing the film with the comic book character (this was well before the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical). "of the Paradise" was an addition that referred to the theater that Swan had constructed to be his ultimate concert venue, much like the Fillmore East or West of the day. The original elements had to be recreated since the negative has the matts on it, and the editing had to be cleaned up as well. A remastered version has been created with the help of the original editor, Paul Hirsh, one of the crew who turned the original "Star Wars" into a success.  The films writer and director Brian DePalma, has been supportive of this restoration effort, and the current owners of the film rights would be willing to follow through, if the now defunct Led Zeppelin, would release the studio from their agreement. Even after a lengthy appeal, supported by a variety of film and music notables, the answer was no. So a remastered version of the film will not be coming to you anytime soon.

However, that doesn't mean that remastered version will never be seen by anyone. It appears that the screening on Monday night had all of the corrections that had been discussed in the lecture. The copy screened for us was the version that Kahan, DePalma, Edgar Wright, Paul Williams and a variety of others would like us to have. It was well worth the effort. I did not get a chance to speak with the Archivist as we left, he was chatting with some others, but I did shout out a thank you and give him a thumbs up.  

The Film  

If you have never seen "The Phantom of the Paradise" let's just say it is a version of Faust and Phantom of the Opera, set in the rock world of the early 1970s. Ambitious composer Winslow Leach, has his music stolen from him and in a series of complications, is disfigured and now hunts down his tormentors in the Rock and Roll Concert Palace called "The Paradise". Winslow is played with heart breaking sincerity by  the late William Finley, probably most recognizable from DePalma's film "Sisters".  His antagonist is simply known as "Swan", a musical producer who seems to have become a minion of evil, trading success for souls.

Swan is played by Paul Williams, who will be instantly recognizable to anyone over the age of fifty, but might be a new face to those millennials and Gen Z audience members, discovering the film for the first time. While Williams is terrific in the role, sufficiently  charming and repellant simultaneously,  it is his musical talent that makes the greatest impact on the film. He composed the score and the songs used in the film and they are well crafted, satirical, and very entertaining. The fictitious band "The Juicy Fruits" do "Goodbye Eddie" and "Upholstery" in do wop and surf styles, mining the then current nostalgia wave. Fans of the Broadway Musical that came later, will probably appreciate "Special to Me" and "Old Souls" performed by ingenue Phoenix, played and sung by Jessica Harper. Those moments foreshadow "Think of Me" and "I Remember" from the Broadway show. 

"The Juicy Fruits" and "The Undead" are two bands that are background characters in the story, the same actors portray both bands and they get to do some funny satire in the opening song, and a great deal of stage theatrics in the debut of "Faust" on the Paradise stage. One of whom, Peter Ebling billed as Harold Oblong, also did the choreography. The stage sequence and makeup for the song "Somebody Super Like You" is a blast, reminiscent of Alice Cooper and Kiss.  All of that gets shuttled aside when Beef makes his appearance. The Glam/Metal rocker is played by Gerrit Graham, and he practically steals the movie. He is supremely confident at times, and manically insecure and fearful at other moments. He has some of the best comic moments of the film and he gets maximum milege out of them.

I smiled with delight as the movie opened, and I nodded my approval at the altered titles which indicated that we were getting the remastered version of the films. I had to stop myself from singing along and humming the melodies, so as not to disturb the other members of the audience, but it was an emotionally satisfying 90 minutes and I am pleased to share what I can of it with you. 

Thursday, May 18, 2023

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975: Three Days of the Condor

 Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don't see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 

Three Days of the Condor

This week's Throwback Thursday is a real treat, one of the great paranoia films from the 1970s Starring Robert Redford and Fay Dunaway. "Three Days of the Condor" is a spy film about a guy who is not really a spy, he just works with them. As an analyst , Redford as Joe Turner, codename Condor, trips over a secret plot by a covert group operating inside of the CIA. 

"Listen. I work for the CIA. I am not a spy. I just read books! We read everything that's published in the world. And we... we feed the plots - dirty tricks, codes - into a computer, and the computer checks against actual CIA plans and operations. I look for leaks, I look for new ideas... We read adventures and novels and journals. I... I... Who'd invent a job like that?"

I like to think there is a job like that, it is something I might have liked doing. I may not quite have been ambitious enough about espionage to become James Bond, but I could probably do this. The opening few minutes of the film establish the mundane existence of most of the employees of the CIA. They file reports, process data, gather statistics and read a lot of things they may have no interest in. Condor is a bit of an iconoclast in his working group. He mocks the security measures that gatekeep the front door of his office, he rises a bicycle with a motor on it to work (and he is consistently late to the exasperation of his superior), and he by-passes the back door security when it rains. His diffident nature is what allows him to accidentally escape the fate that befalls his co-workers. The event that sets up the rest of the story is shown as a brutal, passionless, exercise by professionals to take out a leak, by murdering seven innocent worker bees. 

While Turner is not a field operative, he is still pretty smart and capable. Condor may be a little panicked about what has happened, but he is also now highly suspicious of everyone. That sense of paranoia infuses the film with the suspenseful atmosphere that director Sydney Pollack was certainly shooting for. It takes a while for we the audience to figure out what is going on, Turner is trying to do so while being hunted, and it is a complex plot. The elements of a procedural are there, as Condor ties to fit pieces of information together to understand what has happened. There is also a 007 trope of involving an outsider, as both a ally and a romantic partner, and that is where Dunaway comes in. She does not show up in the first half hour of the film, and the tense and fearful relationship she has with Condor is believable. That period of antagonism and disbelief makes it easier for us to swallow a romance between the two that might otherwise have seemed an illogical contrivance.

Operating on his own, Turner seeks more information about the command structure that might have taken something he wrote in a report as a threat. Once Dunaway is on board, he has a collaborator who allows him to try various means to identify who in the CIA is after him and why. For my money, the best part of the story is the contract agent Joubert, a tall taciturn European, who leads the hunt to wipe out the leaks, especially Condor. Joubert is played by the great Max Von Sydow, who seems to have done a similar role as an unreliable spy in a half dozen other films. There is a terrific shot right at the stary of the attack on Condor's work group, where Von Sydow is crossing the street and we see his reflection in the uneven waters on the street and in the gutter, right after it had been raining. Along with the execution sequence, this is one of those moments when a professional like Pollack was the right choice to put the script on the screen. 

Joubert has two other strong moments in the film. In one, he is riding in an elevator with Condor and a group of unaffiliated people. He knows who Condor is, but Turner doesn't know him, he only suspects the man who is polite in the elevator. It is a scene of tension and a little bit of humor as they play cat and mouse while the elevator descend to the lobby. At the end of the film, in an odd twist, Joubert becomes a different figure and he now does a little bit of talking and mentoring. Von Sydow played Blofeld in the 1983 James Bond offshoot, "Never Say Never Again" and it would have been fun to see him in that role in a series of Bond films. 

Also in the cast is John Houseman, who appeared in "Rollerball" a TBT film I wrote about earlier this year, shows up in another of those roles that would define his later career. After winning the award for Best Supporting Actor in 1973 as the imperious Harvard Law Professor Kingsfield, he was the go to choice for dry, humorless corporate mandarins. The CIA in this film is filled with unreliable types who act ruthlessly in order to achieve their objectives. Houseman is a senior to Cliff Robertson's character, who at first is trying to help Condor, and then suspects Turner, and finally seems to turn into the same kind of man as the rest of the CIA has become. 

Along with "The Parallax View", "The Conversation" and Redford's next film "All the President's Men", "Three Days of the Condor" would lead you to believe that there is always a conspiracy, everyone is watching and listening, and the good guys don't always win. That is definitely 1975 for you.  

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

The Last Starfighter (1984) Revisit


I love seeing older films on a real theater screen. As much as I might enjoy re-watching a favorite movie at home, seeing it on the big screen reminds me that it is not a video product but a theatrical experience that I can see on video when the optimum viewing experience is not available. "The Last Starfighter" is a movie from 1984, one of my favorite movie years. In fact, if you look on this page, you will see a link to a whole series I did almost a decade ago on a film year that was thirty years old at the time. Starfighter is an example of the 80s style Science Fiction that was so popular at the time. This year had a Star Trek Film, the first big screen adaptation of Dune, and "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension". "The Last Starfighter" was also an early adopter of computer imagery to create environments for the story to take place in. 

Alex Rogan is a teen, dreaming of a different world , rather than the modest surroundings of the trailer park he lives in with his Mom and little brother Louis. He is a lot like Steve Rogers from the MCU, devoted to doing the right thing and willing to sacrifice for others. His Mom works as a waitress and they manage the park, which means Alex is the handyman. He has to be available to reboot an electrical panel, fix a leak, put up a TV antenna, you name it. It often means that he sacrifices time with his girlfriend Maggie, who lives in the park with her grandmother. "Starlight, StarBright" is the name of the trailer park, and there is a community that appreciates Alex and his friendship, but they are all a little quirky. Otis, who runs the little grocery store at the location, is an older, friendly mentor to Alex, who sees his potential and tries to keep Alex from despair of ever getting out. One night, Alex gets started playing the lone arcade game in the facility, "Starfighter", which he has mastered and seems to be a natural at. As he gets close to breaking the record, Otis calls all the residents out to cheer him on, and the sleepy little community gets a collective chance to celebrate Alex and his achievement. It might seem a corny and improbable moment, except it is set up by seeing how Alex has interacted with everyone and how all the residents are in each other's business to some degree.  His victory seems short lived as his Mom delivers the news that his application for student loans has been turned down and he will be doomed to the local community college and staying at the trailer park.

This is when the story takes off. It turns out that the video game is actually a recruiting tool for pilots who might be able to fight with the Star League. The nostalgic home front has been established nicely, now it is time for Alex to show what he is made of. The recruiter is Centauri, played with ebullient enthusiasm by Music Man Robert Preston. He turns on the flim flam man charm and his character punches the energy level of the story into the next gear. As usual, the hero has doubts, hesitates to step forward and seemingly withdraws from consideration. It is only when he is confronted by the threat to himself and the planet he is from, including his little community, that he fully commits. 

The hero needs a mentor and a connection to the new culture that is asking him to save. Grig, a lizard like alien with a wife and 6000 little griglings, is played by another old pro, Dan O'Herlihy. Even under a prodigious amount of makeup, O'Herlihy gives a lively performance conveying warmth and humor. The byplay between Alex and Grig is full of those moments that are in every hero movie, but they are underscored with a lot of laughter, and the two warriors seem destined to achieve "Victory or Death" as the other now dead starfighters chanted. 

The effects in the film are primitive by today's standards. The planets, asteroids exterior structures look like early video games. The Starships on the other hand are solid. Centauri's vehicle looks like a DeLorean on steroids, the Xur fighters are distinctly designed to distinguish them from the Kodan ships. The Kodan ships look like early renderings of the fighters in the Star Wars Prequels. Alex's Gun-Star is the most interesting ship design, and the secret new weapon system is deployed at a key moment and it is fun to watch. 

The battles are important, but the heart of the story is back on Earth in the Starlight, Starbright trailer park. At the close of the film, we see Maggie and Alex resolve their conflicts, reach for the dream they both have, and they inspire his little brother to start dreaming himself. Some in the audience at last night's screening laughed a bit at the corny moments of the community, but I saw that this is where the real battles were being fought by Alex. All of the intended humor still works, and even the derisive laughs coming from some audience members did not seem to bother the nearly sold out house for this terrific 1984 film. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Furious 7 (2015) Revisit


So this is the one with the parachuting cars and the cars that fly from one building to another. Abu Dhabi, Tokyo and Colorado serving as a stand in for the Caucasus Mountains are the setting, until the conclusion where Los Angeles gets the treatment that London got in the previous film. This is one that I actually saw when it was released in 2015

In addition to the convoluted spy plot, the pyrotechnics and the physics defying car stunts, we get evil Jason Statham, as a mass killing machine who is as implacable as the Terminator, and slippery Kurt Russell, as a government agent so secretive, we don't even know his name. The team of Torretto and company have gone full blown spycraft now, and the macguffin technology and secondary villain are almost forgotten in light of all the crazy stunts, chases, and unfortunately, the cinematic illusion of making Paul Walker look like he was there for the whole time. This is the one they were filming when he died in a mysterious high speed crash in Santa Clarita. 

The main difference in this film is that there is only one car race that is planned as a race rather than a chase. Usually, the team would have to strap up their cars to go out and obtain cars for the heist they are planning. Here the joke is that they have enough money of their own, and the resources of the U.S. government, to get all the tech they need without having to steal it or win it. There is a time glitch in the story also, this film seems to take place right after "Tokyo Drift", so that film chronologically must come after Fast 5 and Furious 6. 

There is an early showdown with Statham's Deckard Shaw, which end up taking Dwayne Johnson's Hobbs out of the plot for 80 % of the movie. That first fight is all hand to hand combat and the two have an amazing choregraphed fight scene, that if it were real, would leave any of us mere mortals dead. Of course these two are not mere mortals, and they are in a movie, and there will be another showdown. The second massive fight sequence gives Statham a chance to rough up Vin Diesel before having a concrete garage dumped on him. Of course he will survive for the next film, and the sp[in-off that is coming. Michelle Rodriguez gets to face another woman MMA champion, Rhonda Rousey, in a cool fight in a luxury building in Abu Dhabi. That one is also full of punishing hits that would wipe most human out of furter action, at least for the duration of the film.

Djimon Hounsou  is a secondary bad guy named Mose Jakande: A Nigerian-born mercenary and terrorist who leads a private military company that allies with Shaw, He does not get much to do except scream from a helicopter and shout orders. Maybe it's in his contact that he doesn't have to go fisticuffs with a behemoth twice his size. 

The parachuting cars come early in the movie, and once that scene happens, nothing else can be taken seriously. People complain about the 007 film "Die Another Day", but they can accept this silly element. That's probably because the "Fast and Furious" films have never felt particularly real, and we began accepting the more outlandish elements way too soon in the story line. Just pass the popcorn, and let's not ptretend these are great movies, they are just great entertainment.  

Furious Six [AKA Fast and Furious 6] 2013


While the movie can't quite decide what it's title is, that fits because it also can't decide on what sort of film it is. Is it a heist film, a spy film a racing film, who knows? Maybe since it has all of those elements we should not be too worried about classifying it, and more worried about the whiplash we get as we move from one action sequence to another. Maybe the transitions are supposed to be made easier by the brutal fight scenes that break out around them. 

Logic aside, Furious 6 has some great things going for it. The return of Dwayne Johnson gives the extended plotline a little more coherence. Johnson drips charisma and he gives Vin Diesel someone to act against who disappears into the scenery. This time he is accompanied by another DSS agent, in the form of Gina Carano, another actor with charisma to match the counterparts on Dom's team. Carano's character, Agent Riley,  engages in an extended fight with Michelle Rodriguez's Letty in the London Underground. These characters are as brutal as any man would be in a similar fight, and I suppose the justification for this is so Letty can have some combat scenes and not have to be pounded on by one of her male co-stars. The resolution of Riley's storyline is disappointing because she could have been a compelling recurring character. I guess they have enough of those already, so adding to the reoccurring cast was undesirable. 

Location shooting in London looks great, and as a Bond fan, I always appreciate when Great Britan is featured at the center of a spy story. The villain of this episode is Owen Shaw, played by Luke Evans, and his character is basically Bond gone bad. As if Dr. No persuaded double o seven to join SPECTRE and commit international terrorism on a scale only dwarfed by the events of 9/11. Most of London gets bruised in the early section of the film, and then Spain gets the destruction of hundreds of cars with passengers in them for a chase scene involving a tank. I've read that the tank crushing of the cars was real and not just a CGI animation. I can believe it because the weight and mass of a tank in comparison to some European sedan would be massive. There was an incident several years ago where a deranged Army Vet stole a tank and decimated a neighborhood in San Diego. You can see in the news footage that a tank can in fact run over a car with impunity. Where the scene gets it wring is in the use of a couple of cars to try and anchor the tank so it will flip. It is also a big stretch to see Dom, flying through the air to catch Letty and then landing safely on the road. 

A good suspenseful climax that gets drawn out by a series of complications is always welcome, but it needs to be somewhat grounded. The plane/car chase here is just not acceptable for suspense purposes, but it is fine for spectacular action. Cars getting on and off a plane, a harpoon gun taking down the whale of a cargo jet, and an extended fight sequence in the belly of the plane are all fun but at no point do you think this is going to come out wrong for our heroes. Even the apparent death of one of the female crew is nearly dreamlike, we never see the outcome, just a moment of vanishing, but into the dark and we are not sure how far of a fall is there. Characters in this series get revived from the dead all the time, so i would not "Wonder" if a certain actress were to return in a future film. 

The best payoff in this movie is the thirty seconds of Jason Statham, glaring at the camera and scowling as he makes a threatening phone call that will set up the action in the next film. I think the best way for me to keep track of these movies which are all fun but forgettable, is to check the location and stunt moments. Furious 6: London Car Flipping, Spanish Tank Chase, NATO base with the longest runway in the world and a car plane chase. There, that should help you remember more than Letty does for most of this film. 

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Fast Five (2011)


Next week brings us the Tenth film in the "Fast and Furious" saga, a series that I never could have imagined when it opened twenty years ago, that would still be going strong. This premise has been used to give us race centered movies, gangster films, spy films and heist films. Scratch Vin Diesel and under the surface you may find another genre struggling to get out. There is always the "Family" drama going on, but this is never going to be "Ordinary People" or "Terms of Endearment". 

In getting ready to see the newest film, I thought it would be fun to go back and finally see all of the other movies. After the first film, I did not return to the series until the sixth movie. Six, Seven, Eight and Nine all have posts on this site already. We burned through the first four at home on video so they did not really demand a commentary from me since the majority of the posts here are based on a theatrical experience [Special Projects Excepted] .  I was looking up times for next week when I noticed the local Cinemark, was playing all of the films in succeeding nights. This timed out well for me so the next three days will have "Fast Five",  "Fast and Furious 6" and "Furious 7" filling this spot. [The 8th and 9th films conflict with some other activities].

This is the entry where Brian has finally shed any connection to law enforcement, and having engineered Dom's escape from prison, finds him and Mia on the lam in South America. So the action for most of this film is centered in Rio de Janeiro. There is substantially less street racing than in the previous films as the movies transition to more heist related story lines. In this case, a car theft from a moving train starts the action, but it is the briefest part of the heist chronology, serving only to introduce us to more complicated thefts down the script. 

The other element that makes this film noteworthy is that this is the movie where Dwayne Johnson becomes part of the universe. The former "Rock" is set to be a fixture for five more of these films but this is the one where it started. Johnson's character Luke Hobbs is a U.S. Agent sent to catch the team, not realizing that they are in the midst of a heist to bring down a bigger fish that the DOJ and State Department would love to bag. In this series, enemies become allies, the dead return to the world of the living, and there is always a double cross or plot twist down the road. Let's just say that when Dawyne Johnson bursts into the movie, the whole film comes to life with a voltage high charge of charisma. 

Eventually there will be a mano a mano showdown, and the two behemoth actors of Johnson and Diesel, will pound on one another for several minutes, but don't expect them to stay permanently at odds for the whole film. Brian's character has already abandoned the LAPD and the DEA and FBI, so it is problematic to have Johnson fully commit to a life of crime as well. The truce that gets made will also set up Johnson's return in the following films. The other agents that Hobbs supervises are basically red shirts that do not go on to have bigger roles in the next caper. 

The car stunts are thrilling but they do get progressively more outlandish with each film after this one. While some of the chases and heist moments are over the top, it does not reach the level of incredulous disbelief until the final sequence when Brian and Dom essentially take a giant safe and turn it into a wrecking ball for the streets of Rio. We are lucky they could not scale  Corcovado , otherwise Christ the Redeemer might have been brought down. 

The term "popcorn movie" perfectly describes these films, which don't have serious content, weighty themes or intellectual depth. They do have great entertainment value and the technical crews and logistics of making a film like this are nothing to sneeze at, unlike the plots. 

Thursday, May 11, 2023

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975: Return to Macon County

Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don't see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 

Return to Macon County

On my original project, I did a post on "Macon County Line", an semi-exploitation film that I remembered pretty well and it was surprisingly good. This is a second film with a similar premise, but it is not a sequel and no one from the first film appears in this film. The main connection between the films is that it was written and directed by the same man who co wrote and directed the first film, Richard Compton. Compton was primarily a tv director who did shows like "The Equalizer", "Miami Vice, and "Babylon 5". He was also Married to actress Veronica Cartwright for over 25 years, she of "Alien" and "The Right Stuff" fame. 

The original " Macon County Line"was a big success and it lead to a lot of drive-in material about the dangers of traveling while young in the South. It probably is a descendant of a movie like "Easy Rider", but with a simpler story that is more nostalgic than anything else. Instead of two anti-heros giving the bird to the man, both "Macon County Line and Return to Macon County feature attractive young me, traveling in by car, who acquire an attractive girl for their road trip, and then complications ensue. 

"Return to Macon County" features the debut film appearance of actor Nick Nolte and a second 1975 film from Don Johnson ["A Boy and His Dog" will be featured later this year on KAMAD TBT]. Both of these guys would go on to substantial fame and fortune and they continue to work today. Robin Mattson, the waitress they take with them on the road is played by Robin Mattson, who did a lot of television in the following years and has been feature on numerous soap operas. 

Mattson's character Junel, is a wild card girl, who impulsively joins them on the road and turns out to be a love interest for Nolte, but also the source of the plot complications. She comes equipped with a gun, and she feels compelled to recklessly brandish and  discharge it in a number of situations, that make everything worse for the characters. Let's just say it becomes a chase film, with a few car crashes and clever escapes along the way.

The three of them are pursued by a local gang of toughs who lost a race, welched on a bet and beat up Johnson's character. There is a local sheriff, from Macon County of course, who also gets bested by the hod rod driving fugitives, and disobeys orders to give up the chase and he pursues them across state lines. The movie meanders from incident to incident, with some romantic clutches along the way, including a rendezvous that Johnson has with a woman at a motel. There is a brief moment of nudity in that scene, and it only gets a PG rating in 1975. 

It would be expected that the resolution of the story would be tragic ala "Easy Rider" and "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry". In fact there is a confrontation and a death, and lives ruined at the end, but it goes in a direction that is unexpected and lets us have a happy ending to some degree. It is not nearly as good as "Macon County Line" was, but it is an innocuous way to spend ninety minutes. In 1975, getting out of the house, going to a drive in with a romantic partner, and watching an undemanding movie, was everyone's idea of a good night out. 

The movie is on You Tube, I don't know if it is pirated or not, but below is a link if you want to tale a look. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3


Writer/Director James Gunn has had an off the wall sensibility throughout his career. He originally made films for Troma, so that makes sense. When he took on the task of making "Guardians of the Galaxy" into an entity that would fit into the MCU, that was going to be a stretch, but he managed it very well. He is now taking over the DC Universe, and with any luck, he will get that portfolio of characters into shape. The thing that I find a little surprising is that despite his off kilter sense of humor and story telling, his films in this series have largely succeeded because they have an emotional heart at the center, not just some twisted sense of humor. In the original Guardians Volume, the disparate characters come together to form a team. The sacrifice of one of the team members to save the others, and then the follow-up of standing together to hold an Infinity Stone, was heart warming. In Volume 2, Quill finally reaches Gamora, and even more importantly, discovers that your Daddy may not be your father. Once again, the loss of a character drives the emotional conclusion of the film. Yondu may not be practically perfect, but we want to remember him as Mary Poppins anyway.

Why then should anyone be surprised that Volume 3 would be the biggest emotional touchstone in the series? This is the climax of the storyline of the original Guardians, and there were clearly going to be some tears somewhere. Well, they start early and keep on coming. The biggest sobs will be had over the backstory of the most hardened of the Guardians, Rocket. The opening of the film features a sad and morose Rocket, singing along with the sad and morose song from Radiohead, Creep. WE then go to a flashback to see when Rocket became transformed from what we know as a raccoon, to something more. This becomes the structure for most of the film. Every few scenes we come back to Rocket's origin story and it becomes sadder as we go along. Years ago, it was suggested that Andy Serkis deserved some Oscar attention for his motion capture performance as Gollum in the "Lord of the Rings" films. I know that Rocket is not a motion capture of actor Bradley Cooper, but is instead a digital animation, but Cooper gives an equally great non-screen performance as the tortured hero. His anger issues and insecurity are as much conveyed by the vocal work her as any of the visual cues. These are the kinds of moments that elevate these movies past the realm of being mere cartoons, to being something we can care deeply about and become a character we can embrace.

As central to the story as Rocket's history is, we also get a post mortem tale of a love lost. Peter Quill and Gamora both still exist, but because Gamora is a character from a different time line, the love that existed between the two no longer exists. Peter is in love with the memory of Gamora, and the current version is a ghost that haunts him with loss and feeds him with false hope. The story does not resolve itself in the way that one might hope, in spite of the potential. This is another step in the closure of the original Guardians story. All of the Guardians get some kind of closure to their current story arc, which is exactly the kind of thing you want in a capstone film like this. Drax, Nebula and Mantis have new paths to follow, and they make sense, although the time devoted to those stories is not as great as the two main points. The script also sets up some future storylines with some of the characters, and some of the tangential characters that are suddenly a part of the team.

The traditional plot points involve two villains, Adam Warlock and the High Evolutionary. Adam is the creation of "The Sovereign", the elitist culture the Guardians crossed paths with in Volume 2. If you were not paying attention at the end of the previous film, you may have missed the rise of this potential threat. The High Evolutionary is the main villain however, and he is gleefully played by Shakespearean actor Chukwudi Iwuji. By the end of the film, his character has become one of the most reprehensible foes in the whole MCU. Iwuji plays him with a light touch at first, but as circumstances become more complicated, the character becomes even more insufferable, prompting cheers when in a penultimate moment, Rocket gets to face him, or maybe I should say, deface him. If you think that Michael Vick got off lightly for his abuse of dogs, you will be happy to know that this character, the Joseph Stalin of animal genocide, gets treated exactly as he should be.

Some of the things that work well in this chapter include the amusing insertion of Nathan Fillion as a security officer in a strange uniform, but with the same problems that every supervisor has. The sections of the film featuring Rocket are frequently shot from what would be his eye level, so we are even more immersed in his story. The sequence where the Guardians penetrate the headquarters of the corporation that the High Evolutionary controls, and it's living tissue structure, is filled with amusing moments as well as tension. Star-Lord plants the seeds of his always lucky exit strategies and we cheer them on. The most spectacular sequence is a hallway fight (which seems to be almost a cliché these days) where the Guardians take on a throng of opponents in a low gravity environment. It is shot for 3D, and I saw it in both 2D and 3D formats. It looks spectacular in each, and even if you see the traditional two dimensional version, it still looks like a 3D experience.

There are a couple of reservations that I have about the movie. The needle drop songs that were so perfect is the first two films, are just not as engaging in this one. Many of the song choices are from the 90s rather than the earlier decades that Peter knew from his time on earth. I don't think we feel much attachment to them, and frankly, as an older fan, I don't have the same appreciation for those tunes as I did for the choices in Volume 1 and 2. There is no "Brandy", "Come and Get Your Love" or "The Chain" moment that stands out. The closest I came to feeling those vibes was when the Beasty Boys "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" gets deployed. Maybe the song choices will grow on me as I extend my relationship with the film. The other reservation I have is the utilization of a herd of children at the climax of the story. In some ways it feels like Drax is being dropped into "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome". In the end it turns out okay, but if there is emotional manipulation that is not earned in the movie, this is where it is located.

Of all the Marvel films focused on specific characters, the Guardians films have been the most consistent in tone. Volume 3 delivers the humor we want with spectacular space based action. There are weird creatures and amazing technology that is visualized in a production design that should not only appeal to the audience, but should get some artistic recognition as well. The Orgoscope headquarters is imaginative as heck, and the idea of Knowhere operating as a vehicle and not just a destination is fun, and it allows us to see more of the design of a giant Celestial skull as a city in space. I love the character of Kraglin, as a fledgling Guardian and the interactions with Cosmos, the Soviet Space dog are frankly just up my alley. This movie certainly satisfied me. It brought a tear or two to my eye, and I felt emotionally fulfilled as opposed to emotionally manipulated. There is lots to see here, so I have no doubt I will be seeing it a lot. 

Thursday, May 4, 2023

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays Special Edition 1983: Return of the Jedi

 Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don't see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies. This week only, we are taking a break from 1975 and jumping ahead almost a decade. This is the fourth day of May, and as many Star Wars fans refer to it, "May the 4th be with You". I happened to have seen a Star wars film in the theater this week, and so in honor of May the 4th falling on a Thursday this year, I decided to post about it today.

Return of the Jedi

Since this is a #TBT post, there will be a lot of nostalgic story telling as well as an assessment of the film as it stands in 2023. I first saw "Return of the Jedi" in it's opening engagement at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood California. 

It opened on May 25th, 1983 and there was a midnight show for everyone who wanted to get the jump on seeing it. My best friend Art Franz and I got in line at two in the afternoon the day before. The line went around the block and we sat on the sidewalk behind the theater for the day. Sometime after five pm, we were joined by our spouses who were equally excited to see the movie. Tickets did not go on sale until an hour before the show was supposed to start. Sometime around 11 pm, the rest of a local fraternity showed up and met with the one pledge they had sent to stand in line. Needless to say, there were a lot of people who were unhappy, and folks who had been there for ten hours already were being bumped from the first show. That included us. However, for the first weekend, the Egyptian was running the film on a 24 hour cycle. So we missed getting into the Midnight show, but there was a 3am screening and we all made it in for that. You would think we would all be fighting to stay awake from three to five in the morning, but the adrenaline was high for us, we had waited three years to see what was coming.  We were all quite stoked when the film was over, and we made arrangements to see Art and his wife Kathy, later that day to see the film again, out where they lived. Dolores and I walked out of the Egyptian, just after five thirty, and saw that the line for the six am show had already gone in, and the box office was open, so we bought tickets, walked in and saw a back to back screening of the film. When we got home at around 10 am, we collapsed for a few hours, and then headed to West Covina, to meet up with our friends for what was out third screening of the film in the first 24 hours. 

Six months earlier, I had gone Christmas shopping for a traditional gift at our house, movie posters. At the shop in Hollywood that I usually went to [Hollywood Book and Poster] I scored a copy of the poster for the upcoming third Star Wars film, "Revenge of the Jedi". I paid a nominal price and went home happy with my purchase. Days later it was announced that the title had changed to "Return of the Jedi" and I now had a collectors item that people were paying a premium for. In 2014, I was able to have my item signed by artist Drew Struzan, the man who painted the famous image. 
Drew signing my poster while I chat.

Enough now with the history, let's talk about the movie. This last week, "Return of the Jedi" has been playing on 475 screens in honor of the 40th anniversary of the film. It ranked number four at the box office as a forty year old film. I think I can tell you why. My screening was a four pm show on a Tuesday, there were maybe twenty people there. Three families with kids, a handful of thirty year old geeks, and three or four of us oldsters. This is a chance for the next generation to see the movies from a franchise they love, in their natural habitat. 

Unfortunately, the version of the film that is playing is the 1997 "Special Edition" which is where George Lucas tinkered with a few elements to tweak the film. I don't think all of the changes are terrible, but I prefer the original version of a film like this, everytime. The two scenes that are most irritating in their revisionism include a music/vocal performance in Jabba's palace, and a beaklike mouth extruding from the sarlacc pit. There is also one final change at the end of the film that makes no sense except for marketing the prequel films. In the 2004 video release, the actor playing Anakin Skywalker was replaced in his "spirit" form by Hayden Christenson, who played Vader at a younger age. It's counter intuitive even if it is ridiculous in the first place.

"Return of the Jedi" is sometimes ranked as the least of the Star Wars films, at least by people who have never seen any of the prequel films. It is criticized for some clunky dialogue and performances that are not always as strong as they could be. Most people object to the Ewoks, as if they were a marketing tool for toys, rather than a twist in the story line. I can't say that the dialogue issues are not there, they are. Han and Lando stumble through some exchanges that just sound awkward. Luke has to skip over exposition to keep the plot driving forward. Carrie Fisher does the best she can with some of the moments that she is given, but her character arc is a little light in exposition during the film.  On the other hand, I will defend the Ewoks, the idea of a primitive culture, fighting against a technologically advanced culture is intriguing.   The reason it is distracting is because the Ewoks themselves are just so darn cute, they look like teddy bears in most of the sequences. That appearance is part of the deception, and it also allows us to invest in characters that are not speaking a language we understand. When some of them go down in battle in the final act, we have to feel that loss and the way they look is a shortcut to those emotional points.

Regardless of the dialogue or the Ewoks, the film is technically amazing. The battle around the second Death star is complex with some spectacular moments. The three tiered battle conflict was managed very well, although the timing on the attack run on the reactor has to be forgiven for taking as long as it does. Meanwhile, there is a fun and effective ground battle sequence that has some clever moments, some comedy moments and a couple of moments to tug on our heartstrings. The best of all however, is the fight between Vader and Luke with the Emperor in the Death Star Throne room. Mark Hamill gets to do his best work in the series in this sequence, tipping between the light and the dark side of the force and finally finding the will to choose and sealing his destiny and creating a redemption moment for Darth Vader. John Williams score here is fantastic, with an ominous undercurrent and a chorus like refrain.   The moment that Vader takes to choose between Luke and the Emperor is played out with great patience and a couple of cuts that magnify the choice, even in the climax of the film. 

The opening sequence of the movie, with the rescue of Han from the clutches of Jabba the Hut is iconic. Han as wall art, Leia passing herself off as a bounty hunter was great, but of course later as a slave in a gold bikini, it is priceless. All of our favorite characters get a moment to shine in this section. The aliens from a thousand worlds are good background and make nice fodder for Luke and his Light saber. Although I watched the Boba Fett  streaming series, I'm just going to believe that he is still being digested inside the sarlacc. The sail barge was so much fun and it has the swashbuckling elements that make these films catnip for me.

I can see the seams and imperfections more clearly now, after forty years of reflection, but the story arc is not a problem, and the characters followed the paths that seem most satisfying. The film looks great, and it does not need those "improvements" that have been added over time. I continue to hope that someday, Disney will find a way to restore the original films and release them on home media, but until then, I still have my Laserdiscs which contain the films in their original form.