My 10 Favorite Movie Openings

10. Kill Bill Vol. I

09. Shogun Assassin

08. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

07. Magnolia

06. A Clockwork Orange

05. Trainspotting

04. The Big Lebowski

03. Reservoir Dogs

02. Once Upon a Time in the West

01. GoodFellas

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George Lucas, Not Guilty

Today, on the premiere of ‘The Last Jedi’ – the eighth official episode in the Star Wars saga, creator of Star Wars – Mr. George Lucas – stands trial. He is accused of being a hack.

The prosecution (The internet)
Of the many things that catch blame for ‘ruining’ the Star Wars prequels – Jar Jar Binks, midi-chlorians, almost every line of dialogue George Lucas wrote for Padme and Anakin – there is one moment that makes almost every fan cringe, no matter how dedicated. We’re talking about Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader, literally the jumping-off point of the entire Star Wars saga.

In this moment, Vader learns that he has lost his wife and unborn children…and has been transformed into, like, a Space Robocop. So, what does he do? He breaks free from his shackles and lets out the now infamous, “NOOOOOOO!” that felt like it had a Kanye-level of autotune to it. It felt ridiculous when it should have been the defining moment of the prequels. What the hell was Lucas thinking?

The defense (Johnny Cochran)

This defense will be short and easy. This is the man who gave us Star Wars after all. The original Star Wars films still form the best trilogy ever created hands down. Even the third part – which is never the best in any series – is in case of Star Wars nearly perfect: ‘Return of the Jedi’ contains some of the best stuff of the series. Legendary film critic Roger Ebert (1942 – 2013) gave each of the three original films the maximum rating of four stars (read his awesome reviews here, here, and here).

So why is Lucas so hated despite being the man who gave us Darth Vader, Yoda, Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker amongst many others? Because he also gave us Jar Jar Binks? Because he writes remarkably terrible love scenes? So what? Didn’t the other great filmmakers of his generation make similar mistakes? Francis Ford Coppola cast his daughter in ‘The Godfather: Part III’ and it nearly ruined the film. Yet, he is never criticized in the way Lucas is.

Statistically, after sunshine comes rain. Lucas gave us the best trilogy ever made, so the prequels were never going to top that. Still, that is no excuse for not making better movies. But are they really so terrible?

Episode I: The Phantom Menace is the worst, most will agree. But look at what it does have: the pod race, Darth Maul (IMDb-poll names him the second greatest SW villain after Vader), and the return of many great characters: Palpatine, Yoda and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor is perfect casting as a young Alec Guinness). There is also fun foreshadowing going on of all that is to come. Finally, the world building is spectacular and unforgettable.

Roger Ebert – who gave ‘The Phantom Menace’ 3,5 stars out of 4 – concluded: “Mostly I was happy to drink in the sights on the screen, in the same spirit that I might enjoy ‘Metropolis’, ‘Forbidden Planet’, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, ‘Dark City’ or ‘The Matrix’. The difference is that Lucas’ visuals are more fanciful and his film’s energy level is more cheerful; he doesn’t share the prevailing view that the future is a dark and lonely place.”

Episode II: Attack of the Clones – The greatest weakness is the love story, we can be clear about this. But it would be a shame to let that ruin the whole movie experience, because episode II has a lot going for it. First of all, it has a terrific Raymond Chandler-style mystery plot. Also, there is a great sense of urgency; the battle for the galaxy has now really begun. And the filmmaking in general – the editing, sound, production design, music, etc – are all A-grade. There are few filmmakers with such imagination, and with the ability to bring it to the screen, like Lucas.

As for villains, usually the best thing about a Star Wars-film, I don’t like Jango Fett so much, but Count Dooku – played the uncanny Christopher Lee – is terrific, and so is his lightsaber duel with Yoda. The dark side is really prevailing now and Lucas effectively uses the principles of Eastern Philosophy to craft the story development. People may not like Hayden Christensen, but what is actually accomplished by his performance is that we get an uneasy feeling about Anakin. The air gets thick in the confrontational scenes. Unlike Obi-Wan – who was the perfect Jedi-student in episode I – Anakin is the pupil you always have to worry about. And these foreshadowing shots with Palpatine are grand. His quest to the dark side is thus very well handled.

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith  Episode III is a return to the classic space opera style that launched the series, and many agree that Lucas really approaches old trilogy greatness here. In the saga’s darkest chapter, Anakin really journeys to the dark side under the influence of the demonic Palpatine. Aside from the infamous ‘Noooo’-moment, episode III is a thoroughly exciting and enjoyable film with some of the best action sequences in the series.

And so, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, if George Lucas is a hack, then Chewbacca lives on Endor, and therefore you must acquit! The defense rests.

So let us all shut the hell up and enjoy Lucas’ legacy.

King of the Zombies is Dead (Permanently)

George A. Romero, one of my favorite filmmakers, has died after a short battle with lung cancer, Indiewire reports. Almost singlehandedly responsible for the zombie genre in its current form, Romero directed ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and its many sequels, most notably the consumerism allegory ‘Dawn of the Dead’ – my favorite horror film of all time.

Romero (born 1940, New York), who resided in Pittsburgh, made his feature debut with ‘Night of the Living Dead’. It was a low budget zombie movie that was both groundbreaking and shocking in its time. Quickly, it became a major horror classic. He then directed some smaller, personal films in which he often combined horror and social commentary. In 1978 he topped the success of ‘Night’ with his brilliant follow-up ‘Dawn of the Dead’.

In the eighties his career stagnated a bit when he created the third part in his zombie series ‘Day of the Dead’. It was a failure both commercially and critically. In 2005 Romero made a small comeback with ‘Land of the Dead’. Other noticeable films he made are ‘Martin’ (a vampire flick) and ‘the Crazies’ (an outbreak film).

To honor the master, I hereby re-publish my review of ‘Day of the Dead’ which he considered his favorite film.

Dear George, may you – as opposed to your favorite characters – rest in peace.

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Day of the Dead (1985, USA)

08-05-2008 – by Jeppe Kleyngeld

Director: George A. Romero
Written by: George A. Romero
Cast: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joe Pilato, Jarlath Conroy

Running Time: 102 mins.

In George Andrew Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) the dead had been resurrected and started a crisis. In DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), the zombies were taking the upper hand. In 1985’s DAY OF THE DEAD, there are barely any humans left. A small group of survivors consisting of soldiers, scientists and civilians, are holed up in a military complex with hundreds of flesh-eaters roaming around on the outside.

There has been a time leap since DAWN, so the zombies are slowly decomposing and are looking greyer and greener than in the previous ‘Dead’ movies. The different groups living in the claustrophobic complex are each dealing with the situation in their own way. The scientists are searching for a way to ‘control’ the zombies, while the soldiers want to wipe them all out. The few civilians on the other hand, just want to enjoy the time they have left. Lack of any prospects starts to create tension in the group. Especially with the psychopathic Captain Rhodes (Joe Polito) who commands the small military force. Not before long, their infighting leads to a final clash with the zombies. Romero shows us once again that humans are a greater danger to themselves than any outside threat.

Romero called DAY his favourite entry in the series, even though it was derided by critics upon release. Today the film has got more of a cult status. And justly so. As a film basically showing total apocalypse, it succeeds brilliantly. Only problem is that it’s pretty depressing. From Dr. ‘Frankenstein’ Logan conducting gruesome experiments on zombies in his underground lab to the unpleasant characters: it all contributes in making this film pretty hard to sit through. In DAWN, the shopping mall location lend itself well for some inventive humor. The funniest thing about DAY is the ‘intelligent’ zombie Bub who even utters some dialogue in the film (A..llli….ciaaaa…).

In short, Romero’s golden touch, the fantastic special make-up effects by Tom Savini and the dark atmosphere make this a must-see for horror fans. The successful military satire is another good reason to see this. However, dejected types might be better off not watching this. Like the other ‘Dead’ films its concept may well be brilliant, but it is still a nasty and depressive movie. Twenty years later Romero would continue his series with LAND OF THE DEAD.