It’s because of this that we at HeyUGuys (and in this case we is myself and Gary) have decided to set ourselves a project. To watch and review all 250 movies on the list. We’ve frozen the list as of January 1st of this year. It’s not as simple as it sounds, we are watching them all in one year, 125 each.
This is our 31st update, my next five films watched for the project. You can find last week’s update here.
So far, i’ve summarised the films i’ve written about for the project, but i’m not going to for the Star Wars trilogy. I appreciate there are those that haven’t seen them, but i imagine they’re in the minority. To be honest, so much has been written about the Star Wars movies i’d rather not cover them at all, but they’re on the list, so here are my thoughts on rewatching each film.
Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) – 8.8 No. 12
The idea of Star Wars, and the mythology contained within, are undoubtedly awesome. Say what you want about George Lucas, but the concept of the force, what it is and how it works is a brilliant idea. It instantly adds a feeling of depth and spirituality to what otherwise would be a fairly straight forward space film. Luke, the young farm boy destined for greatness is not on its own an original idea, but transplanted to the star Wars galaxy, where he truly can effectively save the world adds a whole new level to the cliche. The introduction of Han Solo allows humour, as well as presenting a wild card story-wise. Solo is often likened to a cowboy type character, but is far more selfish and self-serving than those from tales of the old west, and you are kept guessing until the very end just what his motivations really are.
The death halfway through of Obi Wan, up to this point an integral character in the movie, is a shock and an unusually brave movie for a fantasy movie aimed at kids. It is pretty dark, and though i don’t remember the first time around, it must have been a blow to the system. Darth Vader and the Death Star are also fantastic works of George Lucas’ imagination, and are the real reasons Star Wars was so iconic. The pace is brilliant, with no wasted motion throughout. The race to destroy the Death Star is brilliantly constructed, and timed to perfection. There is a lot great about the first Star Wars, and to this day i can still understand why it has built up such a following.
OK, the dialogue can be pretty bad at times, but it is difficult to build exposition and background into such a fast paced story. Remember, it is a whole different world we are introduced to, and on that basis i think Lucas did a decent job. The droids ARE annoying. I can see why we loved them as kids, and i understand their function. I can see why Lucas became so enamoured by the idea of seeing such epic story from the point of view of the lowest class of beings, but i can’t help but be irritated when they go about their misadventures. It is the only time the movie slows down, and though i can’t imagine how the overall plot would work without them, i’d like to see a cut that diminishes their role as much as possible to see if the film actually loses anything.
Top 250? Of course. Special Edition? Not actually too distracting in this case, but ultimately pointless.
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – 8.8 No.10
The ice planet of Hoth looks phenomenal, and the idea of the rebels hiding on an uninhabited, and almost uninhabitable, planet is really cool. The attack by the Imperials, and the AT-AT’s in particular, is probably the best sequence of the Star Wars trilogy, and to be honest, for me the movie suffers considerably from the subsequent slowdown of the pace. The cat and mouse game between the Millennium Falcon and Imperial forces is not particularly thrilling, though the development of the Han-Leia relationship adds a bit of emotional depth to the story. Luke’s visit to Dagobah, though amusing at times, is actually pretty tedious.
Events pick up with the visit to Cloud City. Billy Dee Williams adds some much needed flair to proceedings, and is probably the most charismatic character of the series. Over the course of the movie he shows depth,and presence, and his ambiguity adds some real interest. The big story is obviously the face off between Luke and Vader, with some awesome revelations that you really don’t see coming. The second lightsaber battle of the trilogy is exciting when it gets going, but does not involve quite enough action to provide a climatic finale to the movie.
The dialogue is, once again, pretty poor, and actually more obvious because the pace of the movie is so much slower than the previous one. People call Empire dark, but no major characters die, with Solo effecctively only being kidnapped. The open-ended climax, whilst providing some surprises, doesn’t really feel like a proper ending because it is so heavily aimed towards leading into the final part.
Best of the trilogy? Difficult to choose between A New Hope and Empire. Empire is probably the most well made, with the more in depth story, but as a stand-alone film it has no beginning or end, leading off of the first film and setting up the last. A New Hope is the only film set out as a beginning to end movie that can be watched in isolation, so on that basis it probably works better as a film.
Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983) – 8.3 No. 104
The problem child that nobody loves. The liberation of Han Solo is a bizarre set-piece really. Because of the time that has clearly elapsed but we haven’t seen, we’re met with a Luke that has powers we didn’t see him develop. The battle over Sarlacc’s Pit is exciting, with again some interesting new creatures and the cool sail barge, but feels a little rushed, and dare i say it easy? Jabba is a great character, but is killed off pretty quickly in the film,then we are immediately rushed off to the continuing battle with the Empire, leaving the whole exercise as a really odd feeling segue.
The second Death Star is a lazy idea. The presence of the Emperor at the vital time even more so. The whole battle to destroy it, and the impossible odds beaten in the process wrap up a well imagined story far too easily. The Rebels should have been annihilated, and the idea that such a small fleet of ships could survive dozens of Star Destroyers and an operational Death Star is ridiculous based on what we’ve seen over the course of the trilogy.
That a gang of teddy bears are the ones that facilitate it makes it all the more unforgivable. I don’t have the hatred for the Ewoks that some have, in principal at least. The idea that these primitive creatures can overcome the technology of the Imperial troops on Endor, and the almost slapstick way they go about it, is what really burns. James Cameron clearly bought that idea though…
It’s easy to deride Jedi,and some would say lazy. But it is two distinct stories glued together with more Dagobah tedium in the middle. The culmination of the Han-Leia lovestory is satisfying, and the revelation of Luke and Leia’s relationship is actually pretty cool, but on balance, Jedi is a complete misstep. A real shame, but i think the Star Wars series started going downhill a long time before The Phantom Menace hit our screens.
Saving Private Ryan (1998) – 8.5 No. 47
When it is discovered that a certain Mrs Ryan has lost three of her sons to World War II, the decision is made to send a team to try and bring her fourth and last remaining son back home from the front. Having survived the overwhelming odds of the Normandy beach landings, school teacher Captain John H Miller (Tom Hanks) is charged with leading that team through war-torn France.
Losing several team members along the way, Miller’s men search for the proverbial needle, experiencing the many horrors of war in the process. When they finally find the lost paratrooper, the soldiers are forced into a backs to the wall stand-off with a German patrol in a bid to keep Private Ryan alive long enough to escape to safety.
Steven Spielberg is accused of making movies that are too saccharine, often with a soppy happy ending. There is nothing sickly sweet about Saving Private Ryan. War is laid bare, with the effect it has both physically and emotionally fully explored, with very little respite. From the opening attack on Omaha beach, it is clear this is no fun romp. Spielberg leaves you in no doubt that the attack on the beaches of France was a suicide mission, with the Allied forces breaking through by sheer strength of numbers and blind commitment to the cause. There is no attempt to disguise the horrific casualties sustained, and the massacre is shot in a shockingly visceral style.
We’re given the chance to get to know Miller and his team as they journey across country, making the losses they enduring all the more affecting, and the savage behaviour they exhibit to their German captives all the more shocking.
I have seen Private Ryan before, and remembered the unflinching style of the opening scenes very clearly. I had somehow forgot how bleak and realistic the rest of the story had been. It was a brave movie for Spielberg to make, and a brave part for Hanks to take, as both are famous for sweet family movies with happy endings, and kudos to them both for using their profiles and drawing power bring the casual multiplex audience in and show them the true horrors of war. There are many war movies equally as effective as Saving Private Ryan at giving a flavour of what was endured by the brave soldiers that fought for our freedom, but Saving Private Ryan has probably reached the most diverse audience. For me, a pretty flawless film, and a must watch.
Strangers on a Train (1951) – 8.2 No. 121
Whilst on a train journey, tennis star Guy Haines meets a strange man by the name of Bruno Anthony. Anthony is both overfriendly and a little too interested in Haines’ personal life. He is aware that Haines wants to divorce his wife in order to build a life with his girlfriend, Senator’s daughter Anne Morton. Anthony reveals a plan he has concocted whereby he will kill Haines estranged wife, and Haines will murder Anthony’s father. Haines makes his excuses and leaves, somewhat bemused by the conversation, but Anthony mistakenly believes a deal has been struck.
Anthony carries through on his end of the bargain, but Haines is understandably shocked and scared when he is confronted with what has happened. Haines tries desperately to distance himself from Anthony, but the stranger begins to infiltrate Haines’ life, throwing threats and blackmail at Haines. Will Haines go to prison, or can he put together a plan to expose the deluded murderer and clear his own name?
The idea behind Strangers on a Train is pretty intense. It combines stalking as an art form, not such a common occurrence at the time, with a cold-blooded murder story. Anthony is deliciously unhinged, living in a complete fantasy land. You can’t help but feel for Haines. What would you do? It’s a hopeless situation to be thrust into, and you can genuinely feel his helplessness.
The reason the story is so disconcerting is the performance of Robert Walker as Anthony. His madness is portrayed perfectly, with a wonderful mix of mania and innocence. You can’t help but almost feel sorry for him for alot of the film. He is clearly unhinged,and that is conveyed brilliantly by Walker. This performance makes that of Farley Granger as Haines look pretty bland in contrast. His desperation is palpable, but Granger just isn’t the most charismatic of leads.
For me, Strangers on a Train has a very different feel to the other Hitchcock movies i’ve watched for the project. Whereas his other works have worked by either letting the tension build to boiling point, or using intelligently constructed plots to confound the viewer, Strangers on a Train affects you in a much different way. The situation is off-putting because it is both completely off-kilter, and theoretically plausible. Any one of us could meet the titular stranger on any train one night, and find our lives falling apart around us. A very compelling story to watch unfold.
Come back next Monday for update 32. You can follow our progress at www.twitter.com/baz_mann and www.twitter.com/gary_phillips_