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.

Advertenties

5 Reasons ‘Scarface’ Rarely Makes it to Critics’ Favorite Lists

Me, I want what's coming to me.

‘Me, I want what’s coming to me.’

Although Brian De Palma’s 1983 gangster movie ‘Scarface’ is legendary within the popular culture domain, it is hardly considered a masterpiece, such as ‘The Godfather’, ‘The Godfather Part II’ and ‘GoodFellas’. Should it?

Yes, I definitely think so. There is no other movie that shows the rise and fall of a gangster more effectively than Scarface. Okay, the high is pretty brief – and consists mostly of a musical number (‘Push it to the limit’), during which Tony Montana (Al Pacino) is buying tigers and snorting lot’s of cocaine. But I guess that is what a gangster’s high would ultimately feel like; empty, shallow and unsatisfying. Even the kick of having the desirable Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer) doesn’t last more than five minutes screentime.

The late film critic Roger Ebert – who awarded ‘Scarface’ a maximum of four stars – said it very poignantly. ‘The movie has been borrowed from so often that it’s difficult to understand how original it seemed in 1983, when Latino heroes were rare, when cocaine was not a cliché, when sequences at the pitch of the final gun battle were not commonplace. Just as a generation raised on ‘The Sopranos’ may never understand how original ‘The Godfather’ was, so ‘Scarface’ has been absorbed into its imitators.’

‘Scarface’ is listed in IMDb’s Top 250 (position 117), but that list is put together by users’ votes. On critic lists, such as the AFI 100 Best American Films, the All Time 100 (by Time) or Rotten Tomatoes’ 100 highest ranked films, it doesn’t appear. So what is it about ‘Scarface’ that obstructs it from being seen as a masterpiece, like the before mentioned gangster classics? Here are the five most probable reasons:

1.  The chainsaw scene
Scarface 1 - The chainsaw scene
Gangster films are violent, that is accepted. But Coppola and Scorsese have a way of turning even the most off-putting bit of violence into something really stylish and cinematic. The way De Palma handles the chainsaw scene, 24 minutes within the movie, is just plain ugly. ‘Now the leg huh’, remarks the sadistic Hector as he puts the saw in Tony Montana’s friend. This scene alone puts ‘Scarface’ in the extreme cinema league. And films that are extreme in this sense are rarely considered as Academy Award contenders.

2. The general ugliness
Scarface 2 - Ugly Car
Most of it is done deliberately, but the look and feel of ‘Scarface’ is just ugly dugly. That shirt that Montana is wearing, holy Christ! Also look at the sets. Miami in the eighties is just terrible. From the refugee camp where Montana and his partners murder the communist Rebenga, to the Miami Beach area where they start their careers as drug runners, these locations are just god awful. The language doesn’t help either: ‘Why don’t you try sticking your head up your ass, see if it fits’, Montana tells Hector. Can you hear Vito Corleone utter such a line? Or how about this one: ‘This town is like a great big pussy just waiting to get fucked.’ That doesn’t sound like ‘Casablanca’ does it? Last but not least: the music. From the cringe worthy synthesizer sounds to eighties hits like ‘She’s on Fire’. It is so wrong, it’s right.

3. The general foulness
Scarface 3 - The Clown
‘Scarface’ is in the end a very cynical movie in which the American Dream can only be achieved through extreme violence and corruption. Tony’s quest for power leads to ton’s of dead bodies: even a clown is whacked for god’s sake! A world in which a vile assassin like Tony Montana is the ultimate hero, is just very hard to accept. And the film gets uglier and uglier as it progresses. Tony’s drunken diner speech is the ultimate example of the repellent worldview on display. ‘Is this it? That’s what it’s all about, Manny? Eating, drinking, fucking, sucking? Snorting? Then what? You’re 50. You got a bag for a belly. You got tits, you need a bra. They got hair on them. You got a liver, they got spots on it, and you’re eating this fucking shit, looking like these rich fucking mummies in here… Look at that. A junkie. I got a fucking junkie for a wife. She don’t eat nothing. Sleeps all day with them black shades on. Wakes up with a Quaalude, and who won’t fuck me ‘cause she’s in a coma. I can’t even have a kid with her, Manny. Her womb is so polluted; I can’t even have a fucking little baby with her!’ It is kind of depressing when he puts it like that.

4. The sister storyline
Scarface 4 - Sister Shooting at Tony
Incest is never a pleasant topic, and even though nothing actually happens sexually between Tony and his sister Gina, it still raises some controversy. It also adds further to the already unpleasant vibe that the movie creates. Tony’s sickening jealousy at every man that even looks at his sister, let alone touches her, leads to aggression and eventually the murder on his best friend Manny. One of the most difficult to watch parts of the movie, involves Gina walking into Tony’s study, undressed, asking him to fuck her while shooting at him.

5. The over-the-top climax
Scarface 5 - Climax
The climax of ‘Scarface’ is so over the top that it is hard to comprehend during the first viewing. Many gangster films end with a massacre, but this is Rambo on cocaine. Fitting how this ending may be, it is so much of everything, that it may affect the judgment of its more critical audience.

None of this really matters though. ‘Scarface’ is a true classic. And though it may not always be appreciated as it should, ‘every dog has his day.’ ‘Scarface’ could go right to the top.