It wasn’t my idea! Today is the birthday of a friend of mine, and I asked him what his favourite movie is. Pure coincidence that I’m also a massive nerd for Star Wars.Promise!So… here it is, the first entry in Upside/Downside, where I try and look at what makes great films great, but also where they don’t quite work.Also, Upside/Downside is kind of a crappy name I think… any suggestions are welcome! :)UPSIDE/DOWNSIDE: STAR WARSEven if you haven’t seen it you still know “Use the Force!” and “Boring conversation anyway!” and probably even “Stay on target!”. It’s fucking Star Wars already! With Jaws, Steven Spielberg invented the summer blockbuster… with Star Wars, George Lucas created a blockbuster that became a load-bearing pillar of Western culture.Does it bear the load?UPSIDE: STORYFuck yeah! It’s a virtuosic recombination of tried and true story elements filtered through an amazingly imaginative science-fiction world. Vader is a silent film villain with a helmet in place of a bushy moustache. Obi Wan is a wise hermit with a lightsaber in place of excalibur. Luke Skywalker is a naive farmboy who works on moisture vaporators instead of combine harvesters.Is “vaporator” even a word? Probably not. But Lucas convinces us it is, ’cause he makes the case for the Star Wars universe so earnestly.UPSIDE: SOLOI mean, it’s a goofy 70’s science fiction movie. It’s got cute robots and mystical Force bullshit and a space pirate called Solo. Who has a dog called Chewbacca that’s apparently qualified to fly spaceships. Still, via Harrison Ford’s casual charm, Han Solo is the coolest fucking guy ever.Ever.If you say you wouldn’t switch teams for 70’s Ford, you’re a great big liar.UPSIDE: DAMBUSTERSSo the end of the film is completely ripped off The Dambusters… down to:”How many guns do you think, Gold 5?””Say about twenty guns. Some on the surface, some on the towers.”That’s practically word for word. Lucas took the best and most exciting bits of other films to make this one. All of the spacey actioney bits are based on WW2 films and WW2 gun-cam footage. Genius.UPSIDE: FUCKING GORGEOUSThe design work on this film is beyond beautiful. Special effects too. Dykstra! McQuarrie! Burtt! If you know the names, you know what I mean. If you don’t, no big deal — their work is so good you didn’t even notice. Look ’em up.UPSIDE: WILLIAMSJohn Williams was the master. He created the soundtrack of the 70’s and 80’s. Sure, there was some Alan Silvestri, Brad Fidel and a lot of Jerry Goldsmith… all great. But Williams set the bar with Jaws and Close Encounters and, most importantly, Star Wars.UPSIDE: EVERYTHINGIt really comes together. The characters, the story, the execution, the effects, the music. It’s kinda everything that cinema can be. Fuck you, Michael Bay — this is how it’s done.DOWNSIDE: EVERYTHINGOkay, let’s be honest — it’s pretty clunky. It gets by on its charm and originality, but damn some of that dialogue is bad!DOWNSIDE: LUKESeriously… he’s so earnest it hurts. And why is it that he’s so upset when Obi Wan dies? He knew Obi Wan for, what — a fucking day?When his foster parents died, all he did was turn his head to the side in a dramatic fashion. When his new old man friend died, he screamed loud enough that the boys in white started shooting at him.DOWNSIDE: GIRLSWhere are the girls? Sure, there’s Princess Leia but, in spite of her defiant attitude, she’s awful passive in the story. This flick sure could use a coupla Ripleys.DOWNSIDE: LUCASHe went back and, with computers, fucked with it. Why deface your own mural? I don’t get it. Nobody gets it.The original was a product of its time, a product of you at that time, a chunk of zeitgeist, an artistic treasure. But you only owned it legally, George! In spirit, everybody owned it. You created an indispensable cultural object, something we all shared, and then,,,UPSIDE/DOWNSIDESomehow, it just fucking works. I don’t really know why and, judging by George’s more recent efforts, he doesn’t either.Star Wars — the original — wins.
I know, I know! It’s been talked about, ad nauseam, by everybody. The prequels were shit. Or, to put it another way: when The Phantom Menace first dropped it was like a million nerds suddenly cried out, and there was suddenly silence… something terrible had happened.And then it happened again, two more times. Nobody involved learned their fucking lesson, did they? George kept on makin’ ’em, we kept on seein’ ’em.We’re pathetic.But — and this may come as a shock to you dear reader, certainly it was a shock to me — not everyone had a dog in that race. Not everyone wept at What George Did, because not everyone treated Star Wars like some sort of holy text.I know, right?Just recently, a friend of mine expressed puzzlement as to what the big deal was with the new trilogy. Being as how she’s all young and groovy and has a life and whatnot, Star Wars wasn’t a big thing for her when she was a kid, so she didn’t quite understand why nerds of my vintage have such a problem with the prequels.Here is my response to her, and to all young and groovy people who have real lives to lead and don’t understand why the prequels hurt……wait, one thing before you go on. There’s a bit of ad hominem in here… it’s there for a reason, but I’d like to say something very quickly: making films is hard. I mean, really, really hard. So hard in fact that Lucas, at the very top of his game, hired other people to direct Empire and Jedi. Anyone who actually bothers to put in the eighteen hour days — long days being only the most trivial stress endured on set — has my deep respect. Including, paradoxically enough, George Lucas.However, I still have a problem with What George Did. Here’s why:***The original trilogy was famous at the time for its special effects, inventive production design, and giddy sense of originality… but the reason it actually worked is that it had a great story, with humour and tragedy and heroism; and a set of loveable characters to care about. And, most of all, it had a heart.*The new trilogy has special effects and inventive producton design… but the sense of invention isn’t giddy, it’s nauseating. Where the original trilogy seemed to be a tour through the prodigious and fascinating imagination of a genius, the new seems more like an art show put on by billionaire parents to showcase the scribblings of their unusually slow child. The story is boring and illogical, the characters are impossible to care about, and the acting is universally bad… it is just impossible to give a shit. And it’s not the actors’ fault, not even Haydenson Hayden Christiansen’s — the script is execrable.I mean, how bad does dialogue have to be to sap the cool out of Samuel L. Jackson and the fatherly gravitas out of Liam Neeson? And the charm out of Ewan fucking McGregor!?On top of it all, it’s obvious at every turn that these poor actors are labouring in a giant empty greenscreen room, trying desperately to imagine where they are and who they’re talking to even though Lucas probably hasn’t decided yet and is just planning to get it in post.The original trilogy got away with its conceits because it was fundamentally an engaging story with well-realised characters we cared about. The new films are the opposite — without characters and story to distract us, all we see is Lucas’ conceit and, as it turns out, he either has total contempt for his audience or he’s a clown of the highest order.To add insult to insult — we loved Star Wars when we were kids. I mean, I watched it on video every Saturday to the point where I could practically quote the whole film in one long go — this is when I was in primary school. It was magical, and full of wonder, and exciting, and Leia was pretty and Han was cool and it was so much fun it was better than the real world… when Lucas made this new stuff, it actually seemed to make the films we loved look like shit. It was like he murdered our favourite uncle and then came to the funeral just to piss in the punchbowl.In short — he betrayed us.We award him no points, and may God have mercy on his soul.*I saw Empire at the drive-in, I was in the back seat. My mum turned around to check if I was okay when Darth said he was Luke’s dad. I was crying.***Sorry George… you really, really fucked it mate. You can laugh like Salacious Crumb while rubbing benjamins all over your body on a double bed made of cocaine if you want, and I’m just a podgy broke-down geek writing on a blog… you have no obligation to me or anyone else. But there’s just no getting around it big fella. Han rocked ’cause he shot first, and you went back and defaced your own Sistine fucking Chapel… then you made three new ones where Han, were he present, would be a saint instead of a scoundrel. You really, really fucked this up.For the rest of us.This is Justin Gibson, last surviving nerd of the USS New Hope, signing off.
Sucker Punch has some great ideas for action set-pieces and some fantastic visuals, often beautifully married to a soundtrack of well-chosen remixes. Unfortunately, the parameters of the set-pieces are so arbitrary they’re meaningless, and the action itself is generally let down by the muddled laziness of excessive CG, shaky-cam, and fast editing — surprising considering the unusual spatial and temporal clarity that characterised the action in Snyder’s previous films 300 and Watchmen. This could be forgivable except that there’s practically no character development or story in between the action, so it’s also impossible to care if anyone lives or dies.The principles do a convincing job as action heroines, but their thinly written characters leave them nothing to do except read bad lines and look good. Between that and the fact that they’re essentially defined by their distinct semi-lingerie getup and fetishistic names, they present not as real human beings but as fantasy objects, whether they’re vulnerable and abused in one scene or elite warriors in another. It’s “feminism” of the bankrupt Spice Girls variety — power is restricted to those who accept sexuality as the only important feminine characteristic, and there’s an implicit but unmistakable No Fat Chicks sign at the door.Maybe Zack Snyder’s right and this is a film with female empowerment at its heart, but to me it reads as a lame excuse to get pretty girls into garters and bandoliers and have them shoot their way through a series of boy’s-own-adventure vignettes… as it turns out, this is only a fun idea on paper.Emily Browning holds the screen admirably considering the circumstances, and Oscar Isaac would’ve been a good sleazy villain with a better script. Scott Glenn and Carla Gugino seem tired in their hackneyed roles, but are effortlessly charismatic as usual. The rest of the cast do their jobs and look their parts — which is all they’re really allowed to do.Zack Snyder is still an interesting and talented director and I’ll see whatever he comes up with next… which is a Superman flick, I hear. I can’t recommend Sucker Punch, though, unless you have a particular interest in production design, CG work, or the schlockiest and most empty of films.As an aside, I can only conjure one spoilery reason why it’s even called “Sucker Punch”, and it doesn’t quite make sense.
Hey, have you heard about this great site, fulltimecasual? No? That’s probably because nobody posts there. Ever.Well, not ever, but it wouldn’t be the interwebs without hyperbole. Point is it’s been too long. Far too long!So…Sorry everyone for the recent absence of The Goods on this fine site and its podcast. There’ve been a long series of circumstances preventing us from podcasting just recently, what with Pete and I both moving house, Christmas being a time of grueling family duty, and now Pete flying to the US doing all the cool things that Pete does in his glamourous Petely life.I can’t really think of a workable excuse for the lack of posting, though. I mean, Pete has always been a child of two worlds, what with the Mactalk podcast and all… but me? My only excuse is laziness. Well, that and the fact that the only currency in which I’m paid for my herculean efforts is an occasional reprieve from the beatings that are commonplace here at Fulltimecasual HQ. Or, as it’s colloquially known, Snake Mountain. Petey is harsh but fair… all hail Petey…But my problems aren’t your problems!It’s hard to write stuff. ‘Cause I want it to be good, and you, dear reader, are always sharper than me. Nonetheless, I feel that it’s time to make things right. From now on I promise to do my best to post enough to match Pete’s efforts in putting this whole thing together. And to make your RSS feed worthwhile. That subscription is free in monetary terms, but it’s an investment in time and engagement, which is a precious commodity itself. You’re a busy person. You don’t have time for just any old nonsense!In that spirit, here are the future goods: very soon, a hyperbolic review of Zack Snyder’s latest, Sucker Punch. Hyperbolic, but also accurate.Following this, I’m going to take a new idea out for a spin — I’m provisionally calling it upside/downside (I’m hoping for a better title) where I’ll discuss what makes great films great, but also where they don’t quite cut it. ‘Cause no film is perfect, not even one with Bruce Campbell.Then more reviews. And other stuff. Loads of stuff. Good stuff!