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Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

tn_lastcrusadelucasminusstarwarsINDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE is the third one, and it’s the one that deals with that Holy Grail of elusive treasures, the Holy Grail. We find Indy’s father Henry Sr. was after it his whole life and getting real close and has a notebook full of clues he’s found and now he’s kidnapped. So Indy has to find his pops and hide that book from the Nazis and also there’s some guys sworn to protect the Grail who try to stop him.

Sr. is of course played by Sean Connery, and maybe that’s an in-joke because Spielberg did RAIDERS when he wanted a Bond type movie to do, but Connery doesn’t play him like 007. He plays him as a dork. He kinda acts like a little boy and wears a bow tie and tweed vest and is often in comical positions like riding in the sidecar of Indy’s motorcycle. Whenever Indy has to fight somebody, his dad has a look of admiration. He had no idea his kid could t. c. of b. like that.

The lady this time, Elsa (Alison Doody, A VIEW TO A KILL), is much, much, much more tolerable than TEMPLE OF DOOM‘s Willie Scott, which turns out to be a bummer when (spoiler) we find out that she’s a Nazi. Not only that but she managed to bone both generations of Joneses (a plot point requested by Connery). Which is her right, but kinda gross, right? I personally don’t think she’s right for Indy.

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The Land Before Time

tn_landbeforetimelucasminusstarwarsTHE LAND BEFORE TIME is a good example of a movie legacy destroyed by a “franchise.” Throughout the ’90s the name was synonymous with candy-colored sing-along babysitters in clamshells thanks to thirteen straight to video sequels (THE LAND BEFORE TIME XIV: JOURNEY OF THE BRAVE starring Damon Wayans Jr. and Reba McEntire drops February 2nd – not a joke), and 26 episodes of a TV series. So I was surprised to watch the original – executive produced by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and directed by Don Bluth (THE SECRET OF NIMH, AN AMERICAN TAIL), none of whom had anything to do with the sequels – and find out it’s a pretty solid animated feature in the mold of early Disney.

Apparently Spielberg conceived it as BAMBI with dinosaurs, and that’s pretty much what they made. It’s an admiring depiction of the world of dinosaurs, with children being born into a scary world, making friends, experiencing danger and death. It is not a musical, the comic relief is minor, any cuteness is juxtaposed with an overall tone of melancholy. I mean, it’s about plant-eating dinosaurs in a world with almost no plants left. (read the rest of this shit…)

Tucker: The Man and His Dream

tn_tuckerlucasminusstarwarsTUCKER, directed by Francis Ford Coppola (CAPTAIN EO), glorifies two of executive producer George Lucas’s favorite things: cars and artistic independence. It’s a starry-eyed, big-band-jazz-scored paean to Preston Tucker (Jeff Bridges), an innovator who failed to conquer the post-WWII car business, but at least made a cool car.

The titleistical dream is the idea of the Tucker, “the car of the future today,” a sleek, futuristic sedan with the engine in the back and three headlights that he says will move with the front wheels for safety. He’s just a dude with a scrappy company working out of a barn who invented some turrets for the army and a tank that they rejected because it moved too fast. He still owns one and uses it to drive the family into town to get ice cream. Nobody will invest in his dream until he gets it into a magazine and just acts like it’s something that’s happening. Next thing you know Martin Landau is able to get him meetings and investors. The Secret!

In one sense Tucker is full of shit. He thinks he can make this car, but he lets people believe he already has. He pushes his sons and trusted collaborators into overdrive to figure out how to build a good-enough prototype in time for the big unveiling. Like a movie trying to make a summer release date. The dream runs into the reality of unforeseen problems and limited time and resources, but he’s happy to just build a thing that looks like the concept art. (read the rest of this shit…)

Balance of Power

tn_balanceofpowerIn BALANCE OF POWER, Billy Blanks plays Niko, one of those martial arts instructors who teaches disadvantaged kids, in one of those neighborhoods where gangs go door-to-door demanding protection money. He makes the kids pick up litter in the neighborhood and lectures them if they think “the most important thing about karate” is “kicking some butt, man.” Niko is sensitive and truly cares about the kids, but he maintains a tough love exterior, hoping it will keep them in line. He’s especially worried about Billy (Adam Bonneau) because he told him not to ever go to the playground (inhabited by scary gang members) and then the dumbass went there for a girl.

Meanwhile Niko’s in trouble because the mob guys just noticed that they have mistakenly forgotten to ever shake him down for money. Embarrassing blunder there. So some thugs, including long-haired Shinji Takamura (James Lew, MISSION OF JUSTICE), come in, he refuses, they break some glass and give him an ultimatum. When he still doesn’t pay up the main enforcer guy drives a car by the playground and one of his ski masked guys does a drive-by on Billy. (read the rest of this shit…)

Powaqqatsi

tn_powaqqatsilucasminusstarwarsGeorge Lucas and his big homey Francis Ford Coppola (CAPTAIN EO) are executive producers of Godfrey Reggio’s POWAQQATSI (Life in transformation), the EMPIRE STRIKES BACK of the Qatsi trilogy that began with KOYAANISQATSI (Life out of balance) in 1982 and ended with NAQOYQATSI (Life as war) in 2002. If you’ve seen either of those, or the ones by Reggio’s cinematographer Ron Fricke (I reviewed his SAMSARA in 2011) then you got a pretty good idea what this is like. Which is good, because my words might not cut it.

We could classify these as “experimental documentaries,” but they don’t have much of what anybody thinks of when they think of documentaries. No interviews, no narration, no onscreen text, no people talking at all. No storyline or argument made. No easily encapsulated subject or premise. Just themes.

They’re like cinematic paintings, or photo essays, or poems. They rhyme by having similar shots and images over and over again, all set to very repetitive (in a good way) scores by Philip Glass.

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Willow

tn_willowlucasminusstarwars

“Elora, you don’t want me. Tell her. I’m short. Even for a Nelwyn.”

Like John McClane’ll tell ya, sometimes some shit happens and you just have to step up. For Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis, RETURN OF THE JEDI, THE EWOK ADVENTURE) it’s when his kids find one of those abandoned river babies (we all know how that goes) and then it turns out to be the Chosen One prophesied to kill the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh), so mean knights with packs of dog-like beasts are gonna keep attacking the village until they find her. Willow admits to the town that he has the baby they’re looking for, and he doesn’t argue when the wise wizard The High Aldwin (Billy Barty) appoints him to lead a party on a journey to give the baby back to the Daikini, the bigger people.

I say bigger because Willow’s village is all people under four feet tall. There are fighters among them, like Vohnkar (Phil Fondacaro, RETURN OF THE JEDI) or “Vohnkar Warrior” (Tony Cox, RETURN OF THE JEDI, CAPTAIN EO), but Willow isn’t one of them. A small man looked down upon even among the people of his size, he’s the underest of dogs. As a fledgling magician he screws up even his corny magic trick illusions, and now he finds himself going head to head with a real sorceress.

The first Daikini they find is Mad Martigan (Val Kilmer, BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS), a warrior imprisoned in a small cage who seems at first like a Jack Sparrowish rogue. When an army is headed their way and most of Willow’s party turns tail he has little choice but to free the man and convince him to help, like an action comedy set up. (read the rest of this shit…)

Captain EO

tn_captaineolucasminusstarwarsI mentioned in my LABYRINTH review that I thought Michael Jackson would’ve been a cool Goblin King. Sorry about that. I take it back. Mr. Bowie was uniquely suited for the character and I’m glad he got to hang out with all those puppets and implant himself in the creepy childhood memories of millions around the world.

And besides, Michael got his chance to get a little muppety, because the next Lucasfilm release was this 17 minute 3D film starring Jackson as “the infamous Captain EO,” leader of “a rag-tag band” of aliens and robots and crap sent on a dangerous space mission to deliver a gift to the Supreme Leader (Angelica Huston). EO gives his crew a speech about how everybody thinks they’re a bunch of fucking losers and if they don’t pull this mission off they’re gonna be “drummed out of the corps.” Which really makes you wonder how they got into the corps in the first place. What kind of boot camp can these weirdos make it through?

They seem to be kind of the Bad News Bears of space troopers. They’re bickering, cartoon-voiced goofballs who screw everything up and get yelled at by the Captain (except when they throw an egg at the hologram of Commander Bog [Dick Shawn, The Year Without a Santa Claus]), which makes him laugh).

The crew consists of a robot named Major Domo (voice of Gary DePew, producer of ANGEL 4: UNDERCOVER), another one named Minor Domo that attaches into the Major’s back, a furry two-headed monster named Idey (Debbie Lee Carrington, RETURN OF THE JEDI, HOWARD THE DUCK) and Odey (Cindy Sorenson, THE DARK BACKWARD), a green elephant-man named Hooter (Tony Cox, RETURN OF THE JEDI, SPACEBALLS, BAD SANTA) and a small furry guy with butterfly wings named Fuzzball (effects by Rick Baker, makeup man for the cantina scene in STAR WARS as well as Jackson’s Thriller video). All are small in stature, most are inept and cowardly. But EO leads them through a space battle, a crash-landing and a dark tunnel to the Supreme Leader, who turns out to be a grey and black Giger-esque biomechanical witch hanging from a web of cables and corrugated tubes. She is not happy to see them. (read the rest of this shit…)

Moment of silence

I feel like I should hold off on posting my next Lucas Minus Star Wars review, because the world is mourning David Bowie and doesn’t want to read about Michael Jackson in space. So consider today a moment of silence. Sincerest condolences to Mr. Bowie’s family, friends and fans.

The Visit

tn_visitM. Night Shyamalan has had one of the harshest popularity drop-offs of any name brand movie director. THE SIXTH SENSE got him a couple films worth of “could he be a new Spielberg?” goodwill before the love affair ended non-amicably. He rubbed many of us the wrong way by becoming increasingly self-aggrandizing as his movies got more and more misguided, arguably culminating in the ridiculous LADY IN THE WATER, where the villain is a pompous film critic and Shyamalan himself plays a writer whose work is destined to inspire the next Martin Luther King. Of course, most people limit their critique to making fun of the twist endings he used to do and xenophobically refusing to expend a regular amount of effort to learn his last name. (SHAW-MUH-LAWN, guys. Fewer syllables than Tarantino or Kurosawa. You can learn it.)

These days he doesn’t even get a fair shot. AFTER EARTH, for example, did not deserve the disdain it got. But I think we’re fair in assuming he’s not gonna turn out to be a great director for the ages.

THE VISIT is not a rebirth of the once promising writer-director, but it’s a positive step. It shows an awareness I didn’t know he had. Instead of floundering with ambitions far beyond his abilities he’s decided to slum it in the middling subgenre of the Jason Blum produced found footage/fake documentary horror movie (see also: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 1, 2, 3, 4 and GHOST DIMENSION, THE BAY, AREA 51, THE GALLOWS, UNFRIENDED 1 and 2). While the format is usually used as a workaround for filmmaking competence and professional actors, Shyamalan treats it as a creative challenge. It never seems like laziness, it seems like a puzzle. Can he use this “kid with handheld camera” bullshit and still get in some of his favorite things: great performances by young actors, some beautiful shots, some sadness and sentiment? (read the rest of this shit…)

Ricki and the Flash

tn_rickiBefore we get back into the Lucas-Minus-Star-Wars series I wanted to play a little catch up. Here’s one of my favorite movies of last year, and I bet most of you haven’t considered seeing it.

In RICKI AND THE FLASH Meryl Streep (BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY) plays the broke-ass leader of a California bar band who’s on an unlikely mission to Indianapolis to cheer up her daughter Julie (Streep’s real daughter Mamie Gummer), because her husband left her. One thing is, Ricki abandoned the family years ago to follow her rock and/or roll dream, and they never forgave her for it and rarely talk to her. But Julie’s gotten so bad that her dad Pete (Kevin Kline) gets desperate enough to break that emergency glass. It’s a fish-out-of-water story where the fish has no money and has to stay in your guest room and you don’t want her there but you try to be polite and also you have to pay for her cab.

Ricki is a rare and precious thing, a lead role for an actress – an older actress, even – that gets to be complex and flawed and also funny (not to mention sing and play guitar!). She’s a strong personality and also a mess and possibly racist and hates Obama and also it turns out she knows how to be a good mother and friend. I mean, now she does, but where the hell was she before? With this cause healing, or only increase resentment? Streep, not surprisingly, goes to town with the role and seems to be having a great time. (read the rest of this shit…)