The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

starwarsholiday_2Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, James Earl Jones, Harvey Korman, Art Carney, Bea Arthur, Diahann Carroll, Mickey Morton, Paul Gale, Patty Maloney, Jack Rader, Michael Potter, Claude Woolman, Don Francks

Directed by Steve Binder

Expectations: Super low.

twohalfstar


The Star Wars Holiday Special was once the holy grail of nerd-dom, but the Internet has diminished its luster a bit by making the special readily available for anyone who wants to see it. Shall I let this modern age of access and information sully the legend of The Star Wars Holiday Special? No! For me, this special is still quite special, regardless of the fact that I didn’t have to buy a 5th-gen VHS from a shady guy in the corner of a convention hall. Y’see, despite being a supreme nerd and lover of Star Wars for my entire life, this was the first time I saw The Star Wars Holiday Special. And boy, let me tell you, it was an experience.

For those that don’t know, The Star Wars Holiday Special was a variety show produced by CBS because… well, I don’t know why! But I do know that George Lucas approved it because he thought it would be a good idea to stave fans off waiting for him to desperately think up a story for a sequel that he never planned for hone the Empire Strikes Back script gathering dust on his shelf. Anyway, I don’t know if it really worked to tide people over like he thought it would, but people did go see Empire Strikes Back and perhaps they might not have without the good ol’ Star Wars Holiday Special! Everything happens for a reason, doncha know.

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Conan the Barbarian (1982)

conan_1Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman, Ben Davidson, Cassandra Gava, Gerry Lopez, Mako, Valérie Quennessen, William Smith, Luis Barboo, Franco Columbu, Leslie Foldvary

Directed by John Milius

Expectations: Extremely high.

fourstar


Conan the Barbarian opens with a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” A far better actor than many give him credit for, Conan the Barbarian provided Arnold Schwarzenegger a chance at destiny. The films leading him to the role of Conan were of varying quality, but the fires of Pumping Iron or The Jayne Mansfield Story tested, trained and forged the steel of his resolve like the steel of the sword that is forged during Conan‘s opening credits. These experiences shaped Arnold into the hulking beast of a man awaiting his rightful place in the spotlight of Hollywood’s explosive action films. He seized this opportunity like a champion, delivering a muscular, vengeful performance that continues to resonate over 30 years later. Conan the Barbarian is a stunning achievement, and one of my favorite films.

Conan the Barbarian tells a very simple tale, but like all great fantasy stories, there is a focus on grand adventure that sets Conan apart from other films of its vintage. Watching it this time, it reminded me a lot of Richard Donner’s Superman, in that it takes a story that many would have made into a trashy genre film and treats it with respect and verisimilitude. Conan is not a B-Movie with swords, it’s an epic journey of revenge across the wide plains of Hyboria.

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Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Starring Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, James Earl Jones

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Expectations: High. I adore Kubrick and I’d only seen this once before.


Stanley Kubrick is one of my favorite directors, but this film has always been something of an enigma to me. I only saw it once, about 10 years ago or so, and at the time I enjoyed it but I just didn’t think it was as amazing as everyone else seemed to think it was. It had been built up as one of the great screen comedies, but for me it didn’t deliver at that level. I got the satire, but it’s more of a slight smile throughout kind of movie, instead of a raucous laughter kind of movie. I was really into Billy Wilder comedies at the time so I guess subconsciously I went in expecting something in that vein. This time around, obviously, I knew what I was getting myself into. That helped quite a bit and my second viewing of Dr. Strangelove was a much more pleasant experience.

The plot follows three separate but connected stories. There’s the story of Gen. Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) who orders his planes to commence “Wing Attack Plan R.” There’s also the story of the B-52 Bomber crew on their run towards their target inside Communist Russia. Finally, we have the War Room, where the President and many top advisors, including Gen. Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) argue the fate of the world. The plots are skillfully intertwined and perfectly play off of one another. Sterling Hayden is fantastic and reminds me a lot of Clint Eastwood in this cigar-chompin’ role. I’ve always felt that he is one of the great actors that doesn’t get enough credit these days and his performance in Dr. Strangelove is one of his best.

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