November at The Movie Maestro

Now that Halloween is long behind us, it’s time for me to refresh myself with some of my favorite films and film franchises! Until the end of November, I’ll be reviewing a wide array of entries from the Star Trek series to Indiana Jones to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, all just in time to read while you stuff your face with Thanksgiving turkey! Also on the plate will be a complete review of the Star Wars saga to prepare for the December 15 release of The Last Jedi.

Stay true, believers!

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REVIEW: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

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Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Melissa Matheson
Starring Dee Wallace, Henry Thomas, Peter Coyote, Robert McNaughton, Drew Barrymore

There are a few perfect films out there, not just for me, but for most of cinema-goers. Taxi Driver. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Star Wars. It’s a Wonderful Life. Blade Runner. These films are cherished and revered, often imitated but never fully copied. Steven Spielberg, probably the most recognized filmmaker in history, has had the fortune of making not one, but several perfect films in his career, with E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial probably being the best of the best.

After a gentle alien becomes stranded on Earth, the being is discovered and befriended by a young boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas). Bringing the extraterrestrial into his suburban California house, Elliott introduces E.T., as the alien is dubbed, to his brother (Robert McNaughton) and his little sister, Gertie (Drew Barrymore), and the children decide to keep its existence a secret. Soon, however, E.T. falls ill, resulting in government intervention and a dire situation for both Elliott and the alien.

Right away, from the strangely ominous drones over the black-screen credits, you know you’re in for something memorable. As the opening titles give way to the familiar sight of a shooting star against a calm night sky, we are treated the arrival of an alien spaceship in the woods. But unlike the at-times frightening appearance of the visitors in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, these creatures are decidedly more benevolent; they waddle under the handicap of their comically-undersized legs, their hearts glow brightly to signal startlement, and their childlike curiosity of the new world before them is charming. And then the humans show up. Dark, silhouetted figures of meddling humanity who give chase to one of the visitors in particular, who misses his ride home and begins a trek down the wooded hill to find shelter on an unfamiliar planet.

So begins Spielberg’s E.T., a film that I discovered I am still absolutely in love with to this day. Like his immediately previous efforts in Jaws, Close Encounters, and Raiders, E.T. is a technical and storytelling marvel, with little-to-no faults to be had. Everything about this movie is just perfect. Tired of that word yet? Perfect, perfect, PERFECT!!!

Spielberg has longed dismissed the film’s ostensible genre as science fiction, and prefers to think of it as a family drama, with Elliott’s family straining under the still-fresh injury of their father leaving. It’s a theme that Spielberg often comes back to, a real part of his life that he finds therapeutic release in portraying on screen, either as part of the background or as the main focus, such as right here in E.T. Together with Close Encounters, this film is his most personal, presenting the children, Elliott, Mike, and Gertie, as struggling with the hurt of divorce and finding comfort in this diminutive creature from the stars who needs their help.

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In any film involving child actors, there’s the risk of the whole endeavor falling apart because of their inability to understand the work. That simply doesn’t happen here. Henry Thomas as Elliott is one of the greatest child performances around, as he exudes incredible chemistry with his on-screen siblings and mother as well as convincingly acting alongside the E.T. puppets. While McNaughton isn’t as large a factor, his role as the older brother Mike is still a source of much of the film’s comic relief and is such a valued member of the trio. Rounding them out is young Drew Barrymore, who doesn’t so much as act as she does truly converse with E.T. as a real being. Reportedly, at several points in production, she became convinced of E.T.’s reality, which isn’t too hard to believe considering how young she was and how good the on-set effects were.

Portrayed with a combination of various suits and animatronic puppets, E.T. is a fine example of the life a piece of latex can take on with the right design, execution, and tender love and care. From the design, evoking the old, wisened eyes of Albert Einstein, to the performance of the various instruments belaying a younger sense of wonder, E.T. is one of the best non-human characters ever realized. Such is his authenticity that, like the Yoda puppet from The Empire Strikes Back, never once do I look upon the old botanist’s face and see a high-tech gadget, but a living alien deserving of friendship.

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But E.T. isn’t the only technical marvel of the film. In what I assume was an attempt to create an ethereal, dreamlike atmosphere to the idealized suburbia of Elliott’s neighborhood, many scenes are filled with whisps of vapor, allowing the light in the nighttime scenes to really pop as well as shrouding E.T. with an air of mystique, as any alien being should have. This mist of the unknown also percolates around the adult characters, who in Spielberg fashion, are concealed in silhouette until the final act, further slamming home that this story is of children, told from their point of view. (This also places a lot of the slack onto Dee Wallace, who as the children’s mother is the only adult consistently portrayed in full.)

And let’s not forget another rousing score from the master, John Williams. Alternating between quietly beautiful themes for E.T. and Elliot, and grandiose, adventurous pieces that elevate the small town setting into a mythical quest, Williams’ has delivered another score for the ages. This is how film scores are meant to be.

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In 2002, for the film’s 20th Anniversary, Steven Spielberg decided to re-release the film in cinemas for a limited exhibition. Unfortunately, a little golem named George Lucas must have been sitting on his shoulder, because Spielberg decided to emulate the Star Wars Special Editions and significantly alter E.T., replacing almost all of the on-set puppetry with CGI, adding two unnecessary deleted scenes back into the film, and in the most asinine change, digitally alter the guns of the government agents chasing the children into walkie-talkies. This version was also released onto a special DVD set along with the original version.

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Luckily, Spielberg has changed his tune over the years. He admits that these alterations were a mistake, and in each subsequent re-release onto home video, he has left the Special Edition in the dust and focused solely on the original cut. If you still wish to view it however, track down the 2-disc DVD from 2002. I trust that’ll be the only viewing you have of it before you come to the same conclusion as Spielberg did.

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This review only came about because I finally had the pleasure of reintroducing E.T. to my video collection after it being absent for a decade. I’d almost forgotten how good of a film it is, how touching, how funny, how relatable. Even the “evil” government agent played by Peter Coyote seems to revel in the magic of E.T.’s presence on Earth during his talk with Elliott in the emergency tent. He displays a kind of childlike wonder and gratefulness to having this experience, even though he has tainted it with his government alignment. Needless to say, I was filled with that same wonder, even fistpumping the air as the kids made their escape on bicycles, with John Williams’ excellent track blaring in my living room. So many wonderful memories, so many happy tears. Thank you Steven Spielberg. It’s always nice to live that again.

REVIEW: The Lion King (1994)

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Directed by Roger Allers and Bob Minkoff
Written by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton
Starring the Voices of Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Jeremy Irons, Rowan Atkinson, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Robert Guillaume, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, Jim Cummings, Madge Sinclair

Made in the heydey of the ’90s Disney renaissance, The Lion King represents one of the finer moments of the studio’s creative vision and occupies a high stature in the eyes of the fans, who consistently keep coming back to it, whether in the form of this original film and its sequels, the Lion Guard television series, or the acclaimed Broadway musical.

A young lion prince is born in Africa, thus making his uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) the second in line to the throne. Envious and devious, Scar plots with the hyenas of the shadowy outlands to kill King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Prince Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), thus making himself King. Soon enough, Mufasa is killed and Simba is led to believe by Scar that it was his fault, and so flees the kingdom in shame. After years of exile with a carefree pair (Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella), the now-grown Simba (Matthew Broderick) is persuaded to return home to overthrow the usurper and claim the kingdom as his own, thus completing the “Circle of Life”.

Despite being mired in the controversy of whether it lifted its storyline and main character from the Kimba the White Lion anime, The Lion King is much more indebted to the classic play of William Shakespeare, Hamlet. The major beats are all there: the King is murdered by his jealous brother, who usurps the throne; the King’s son is forced to choose between avenging his father or allowing that crime to go unpunished, thereby sparing his own life of the responsibility. Simba’s arc through the second half of the film is a precise mirror of Prince Hamlet’s, insomuch that The Lion King becomes, in my mind, the only adaptation of a Shakespeare tragedy to successfully end happily.

But before that arc can begin, The Lion King first treats us to two similar perspectives on the mighty throne of Mufasa: young Simba, and Scar. The youthful cub is anxious to be King, believing that simply because he was born into the line, he will get a free pass to use the power any way he wants. Just like every kid out there who wants to rule the world. As Simba endures his growing pains under the fair and loving guidance of his father, his uncle Scar broods. Played in cunning manner by Jeremy Irons, Scar’s desires aren’t too far from Simba’s–his are just hidden under the lies of adulthood, as he believes his rule will automatically bring about a golden age. Like every dictator that has ever come to power, Scar’s delusions bring about misery and sorrow, like every good villain’s plan should.

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Throughout the first half, we get some wild song sequences, like the tribal-influenced “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and Scar’s dark “Be Prepared,” and of course, the ever popular and beautiful “Circle of Life.” Each song, some with input from the great Elton John, is bolstered by terrific visual sights of the plains and jungles of Africa, as is the story by each amazing voice actor, led by such talents as James Earl Jones as Mufasa, Jonathan Taylor Thomas as young Simba, and Robert Guillaume as my personal favorite, the wise and wacky witch doctor of a baboon, Rafiki. There is also the incredible attention to detail displayed by the animators, who slip in subtleties of performance into the characters that correspond to their actual animal inspirations.

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The pivotal moment separating both halves is the death of Mufasa, a moment which I’m sure traumatized a lot of kids back in the day (and probably still does). By showing this moment which was only referred to in Hamlet, The Lion King eschews intrigue for sheer pathos, and propels Simba into a life of hedonism with the film’s best comic relief, Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumba (Ernie Sabella). Out in the jungle, the now-grown Simba (Matthew Broderick) gets to live out most of our most wonderful and illogical fantasies away from the responsibility of life, before reality comes crashing back.

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I could go on and on about the thematic and narrative depth of The Lion King, but since this is a review, I’ll just end on my most basic, unfiltered thoughts on it: I still love it. Far and away, the only film that comes close to it from the Disney renaissance is Aladdin, and that’s mainly due to Robin Williams. This film, while still boasting big names, doesn’t really have one major player that carries the film effortlessly; instead, the strength of the plot and the visual majesty of its setting is what makes The Lion King stand apart from its colleagues.

REVIEW: The Dark Tower (2017)

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Directed by Nikolaj Arcel
Written by Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, and Nikolaj Arcel, Based on the Novels by Stephen King
Starring Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Dennis Haybert, Claudia Kim, Jackie Earl Haley, Fran Kranz

Here we go, The Dark Tower. Stephen King’s magnum opus, the binding agent of his disparate and intricate literary multiverse, and umpteenth iteration of his own view of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga. It has taken a decade to get it to the big screen, which is for sure a contributing factor to the confusion and dissatisfaction surrounding audience opinion to this film, but far from the only one.

Young Jake (Tom Taylor) is troubled by visions of another world. Deciding to investigate these strange dreams, he stumbles upon a portal into another dimension, where the last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim (Matthew McConaughey), also known as the Man in Black, determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. With the fate of the worlds at stake, good and evil will collide in the ultimate battle as only Roland can defend the Tower from the Man in Black.

Quick, how many movies can you get out of an epic, 8-book literary series? Most viewers would guess 8, maybe 7. An ambitious screenwriter could probably narrow it down to 3. For whatever reason, Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, and director Nikolaj Arcel decided that not only could they do it in one, but they could make that film just over 90 minutes. This seems to be heart of the backlash against The Dark Tower; why, oh why, would anybody think to take a chainsaw to one of the most beloved book series of recent memory?

The Dark Tower starts simply enough, albeit with a massive shift from King’s original work: focusing on Jake Chambers, the ordinary kid with extraordinary visions of the worlds beyond ours. By treating Jake as the main character of the story, The Dark Tower begins to take shape as an homage to some of the darker fantasy films of the 1980s, like Krull, The Gate, and The Dark Crystal–films that took young characters into threatening and often-times frightening situations during epic quests. Jake indeed follows this tradition, walking through a portal into the multiversal wasteland of Roland’s world.

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Idris Elba is a believable Roland Deschain, rugged and battle-ready. While he shows that many iconic roles are not and should not be bound to a certain race of actor, Elba never really makes the role his own, acting contently within the typical framework of the silent western hero. Like much of the droll supporting cast, Elba misses a great opportunity to combine Clint Eastwood cool with the knight-like mysticism of King’s original conception.

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Speaking of missed opportunities, back to that one-film thing. I’m beginning to think that, due to the many aborted attempts to make the series in the past, the studio sought to save as much money as possible by shaving it all down to a standard-length film, leaving an open end for possible sequels but tying up the main storyline in case of box office failure. This theory explains the other really big change to the storyline, the extended setting of Keystone Earth, or our world for King virgins. With the altered focus on Jake, he, Roland, and the Man in Black all make extended stops on our world, with the main plotline slowing to a crawl halfway through for Jake to return home to check on his parents. By bypassing the epic cycle of the journey through King’s other books that the Gunslinger takes originally, the film tragically castrates itself.

But there is good news. Despite all the bitching I just did, I actually enjoyed watching it. As mentioned before, the film evokes a dark fantasy quest from the decade of my birth, and the introduction of more technological elements into the richly magical world provided an interesting visual and thematic dichotomy. Arcel is adept at blocking action scenes, with Roland’s final showdown in the Dixie being a highlight. And finally, Matthew McConaughey. Playing the role of Walter, the Man in Black, a role he seems tailor-made to take on, McConaughey gives us a charming and vicious sorceror, a dark figure who has artificially made himself into a god for the ultimate purpose of destroying reality. Hopefully whoever ends up making the remake of The Stand or Eyes of the Dragon decides to bring him back.

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Is The Dark Tower worth watching? If one can put aside its massive departures from the books and abstain from comparing it to obviously superior adaptations like It, then I feel at least a weekday matinee or a DVD rental is warranted. King fans can still delight in the near-endless references to his other works, and may even come to eventually embrace it as an alternate version of the epic series set on yet another world in the multiverse. Time will tell, but for now, I’m content to say, “it’s okay entertainment.”

REVIEW: The Goonies (1985)

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Directed by Richard Donner
Written by Chris Columbus, Story by Steven Spielberg
Starring Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, Jonathan Ke Quan, John Matsuszak, Robert Davi, Joe Pantoliano, Anne Ramsey, Lupe Ontiveros

Following in the mighty wake of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial were a string of similarly-toned adventure films, usually starring a scrappy group of preteen children embarking an adult-free quest. The Goonies happens to be probably the best of the ’80s examples of this specific sub-genre, due in no small part to the formidable trio of filmmakers in charge of the picture.

Mikey Walsh (Sean Astin) and Brandon Walsh (Josh Brolin) are brothers whose family is preparing to move because developers want to build a golf course in the place of their neighborhood — unless enough money is raised to stop the construction of said course, and that’s quite doubtful. But when Mikey stumbles upon a treasure map of the famed “One-Eyed” Willy’s hidden fortune, Mikey, Brandon, and their friends Lawrence “Chunk” Cohen (Jeff Cohen), Clark “Mouth” Devereaux (Corey Feldman), Andrea “Andy” Carmichael (Kerri Green), Stefanie “Stef” Steinbrenner (Martha Plimpton), and Richard “Data” Wang (Jonathan Ke Quan), calling themselves “the Goonies,” set out on a quest to find the treasure in hopes of saving their neighborhood.

That trio turned out to be Steven Spielberg himself and future Home Alone and Harry Potter director Chris Columbus crafting the film’s script, and Superman’s Richard Donner behind the camera as director. Together, you could say these three were the unofficial “grown-up Goonies,” with Spielberg especially palling around with the young cast on set. And why wouldn’t he? The Goonies is marked with expansive set pieces, charming performances, and an adventure that takes the audience into the highest realms of fancy.

The cast, studded with some of the biggest names in ’80s child stars, still impresses today. The younger members form both the heart and most of the humor of the film, evidenced in the Richie Tozier-prototype of Corey Feldman’s Mouth, and Jeff Cohen’s Chuck, as lovable a fat kid as there ever will be. Far from a sad reminder of at least some viewers’ hard childhoods, Chuck is riotous fun, always ready with the right comedic line–and a spoon for stolen ice cream. Ke Huy Quan, hot off Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, portrays Data, the tech-wiz of the Goonies, and provides another facet of the film’s unique funny bone: slapstick. With each gadget failing miserably or saving the day by the skin of its teeth–literally–Data injects some good old Looney Tunes laughs into the mix that strangely works.

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While the girls of the film are much more stereotypical (which may turn off some modern viewers, but at least they aren’t to the point of being offensive), the true heart of the Goonies lies within the main brothers, Mikey and Brand. Young Sean Astin portrays Mikey in an interesting melding of sickliness, thrill-seeking, and altruism that is very endearing. Brand, whom eagle-eyed viewers will notice is played by a youthful Josh Brolin, is first depicted as a wannabe meathead, definitely a caring brother but not very charismatic. Over the course of the film he evolves, taking the pleasure of joining his brother and their friends on an epic quest that will see him earn the girl of his dreams in Andy (Kerri Green).

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But as any of these films can attest to, you need a good villain to round out an adventure, and The Goonies gives us three: the Fratelli’s. Led by the oderous Mama Fratelli, played scowlingly by Anne Ramsey, this family of crime finds its muscle, but certainly not brains, in the interesting combo of the menacing Robert Davi and the bumbling Joe Pantoliano. They’re after the pirate treasure of One-Eyed Willie, a treasure that the Goonies seek to pay off their families’ debts to the local land developer and save their homes. Vintage ’80s, amiright?

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As the Goonies travel deep below the town, encountering trap after trap set by the long-gone Willie, the film takes on a wonderful mix of old-school pulp adventure and family-centric times. It helps that the production value is more than solid: it’s fantastic, with intricate Indiana Jones contraptions working against the little heroes and a massive pirate ship for the film’s exciting climax. Special props to the makeup department for the creation of the fan-favorite Sloth.

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When it comes down to it, The Goonies is solid entertainment. The performances are wonderful, the production is epic, the story is thrilling, what more can I say? Nothing, that’s what. And I’m certainly not gonna say die–a true Goonie just won’t.

FAN EDIT REVIEW: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – Revisited

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Original Film Directed by Irvin Kershner, Written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan
Fan Edit by Adywan
Category: FanFix

The home video history of Star Wars and of the art of fan editing itself are heavily intertwined. Beginning in 2000 with Mike J. Nichols’ The Phantom Edit, the resultant “remix culture” that has surrounded George Lucas’ more controversial 21st Century fingerprints on his magnum opus has now ballooned into a complete community as extensive as cosplay culture. Needless to say, there are now tons of Star Wars fan edits out there, and are as varied as the selection at a Baskin-Robbins; you have Harmy’s Despecialized Edition restorations of the original unaltered trilogy, grindhouse mixes like The Man Behind the Mask”s War of the Stars, Christopher Nolan-style time-benders like Star Wars: Renascent, and you have your basic fanfixes, like The Phantom Edit.

Emerging in the late 2000s with several restorations, editor Adrian Sayce–better known as Adywan–soon established his own indelible mark upon the Star Wars fan editing nation with Star Wars Revisited, a massive reimagining of the modern state of the original trilogy. While seeing the merit in the concept of a Special Edition, Adywan set out to heavily alter Lucas’ re-edited versions, in an attempt to produce “what the Special Editions should have been.”

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Adywan’s Revisited version of Episode IV – A New Hope was released in 2009, and quickly became a popular edit with its intricately-crafted new visual effects, massive color regrading, and subtle fixes to stupid mistakes that Lucasfilm should have repaired long ago (Obi-Wan’s lightsaber changing to a dimly-lit pole comes to mind). After 7 years of hard work, his long-awaited followup, The Empire Strikes Back Revisited, is finally here, and it was so worth the wait.

As of this writing, it is only available as a 720p x264 file at a size of around seven gigabites, but even on this relatively shrimpy format the edit is simply stunning. Even a cursory scroll-through of the screenshots from the x264 version reveals a picture far superior to even the official Blu-rays. While liberties are taken with many elements in order to bring the film in line with Adywan’s vision of a functional director’s cut, ESB-R is second only to Harmy’s Despecialized Edition in fidelity to the original theatrical image.

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Even the majority of his changes seem to minimize the shock inherent to seeing an altered version of a movie so many remember so well. For example, Obi-Wan’s Force ghost on Hoth is no longer lacking the characteristic edge sparkle it and all the others possess, but Adywan keeps the brightness on it down low enough to not break the mirage-like effect that particular ghost was always meant to have. Many other changes, while substantially more noticeable, always make sense: the Battle of Hoth now contains more AT-STs to offset the out-of-place original occurrence of the vehicle; the swamps of Dagobah are a little more crawling with exotic creatures; the asteroid field is even more intense with an expansion of the field on the z axis. Every change is not forced or full of nonsense.

Like with A New Hope Revisited, the film has been through a complete color re-grading, although this time it seems less noticeable, no doubt due to how screwed up the previous film’s color palette was by Lucasfilm. In addition, various technical gaffes and limitations have been fixed, including all new starfields and smoothed out jump cuts. Lightsaber and blaster effects have all been completely rotoscoped by Adywan.

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Not every change is perfection, however; in what I believe will be his most controversial, Adywan has used CG to further animate the Yoda puppet’s mouth. In some scenes it works, in others it’s just distracting. Hey, at least it’s not a full CG Yoda, right?

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With ESB-R, Adywan has reclaimed his place at the top of the fan edit mountain. With picture and sound even better than the official blu-rays, and additions and fixes that, for the most part, greatly improve upon Lucas’ own hair-brained ideas, The Empire Strikes Back Revisited should be in everyone’s fan edit collection.

HOW TO GET IT:
Visit Adywan’s how-to-download page for details on getting the 8gb .mkv. DVD-5, DVD-9 and Blu-ray versions will be available sometime in the future.

 

REVIEW: The Lego Movie (2014)

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Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, Story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord, and Christopher Miller
Starring the Voices of Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman

Hey guys, did you know that everything is awesome? That everything is cool when you’re part of a team? Everything is awesome, when you’re living the dream! Indeed it is, especially when that dream is turning the bastard child video series of a multi-million selling construction toy into one of the greatest movies to be released in recent memory.

Emmett (Chris Pratt), a completely ordinary LEGO mini-figure who lives his life like everyone else–according to the instructions–is identified as the most “extraordinary person” and the key to saving the Lego universe. Emmett and his friends go on an epic journey to stop the evil tyrant, Lord Business (Will Ferrell), whose evil plans to ensure order in his world with a powerful weapon threatens to freeze the entire LEGO realm in place–forever! As a prophecy about ‘Special’ comes true with the discovery of ‘Piece of Resistance,’ Emmett must tangle with the likes of Bad Cop (Liam Neeson), Micro managers and ‘Man from upstairs’ during his journey to save the world.

I both love and hate the reactions I get when I list The Lego Movie as one of my favorites. I love feeling like Emmett by the end of the film, with my mind opened to a knowledge and understanding that some people haven’t reached by embracing it as more than a fun time for kids, and I hate it as well, because people just need to recognize. The Lego Movie has everything any moviegoer would ever want: hella good performances by established and seasoned actors, beautiful animation, tons of laughs, and well-plotted story that sinks its teeth into the biggest philosophical questions there are.

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The secret to the film’s incredible fortitude is the creative talent behind the “camera,” namely producer Dan Lin, who originally conceived the project, directors Christopher Miller and Phil Loyd, and animation supervisor Chris McKay. Together, these four men were able to push a corporate-driven production into realms of storytelling bliss that is becoming harder and harder to find among tentpole cinema.

Taking place in a Lego world that is as complete as it is imaginative, the animation appears incredibly lifelike–to the point where most viewers don’t realize they are watching something that is totally computer animated. Everything on screen is composed of virtual Lego blocks, from the buildings and vehicles to even the water, fire, and clouds. Every character is an authentic Lego figure, only able to move in ways the actual toys can, a stark contrast to the cheaply-produced straight-to-video entries from the decade prior, where everything moves in bizarre, rubberized ways. This is all thanks to the creative team, who sought to harken back to most well-known Lego fan films of the 20th Century, like Journey to the Moon or The Magic Portal.

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It is in this homage to the most small-scale, independent filmmaking possible that The Lego Movie shows its true heart, by turning what has always been a business model, or in the sad case of The Magic Portal a corporate shutdown of the little guy, into a deep tale of the relationship between freedom and order. As McKay explains,

“We wanted to make the film feel like the way you play, the way I remember playing. We wanted to make it feel as epic and ambitious and self-serious as a kid feels when they play with LEGO. We took something you could claim is the most cynical cash grab in cinematic history, basically a 90 minute LEGO commercial, and turned it into a celebration of creativity, fun and invention, in the spirit of just having a good time and how ridiculous it can look when you make things up. And we had fun doing it.'”

Emmett’s journey through the narrative only heightens this, weaving threads of Joseph Campbell’s analysis of heroic myths into a film that projects the age-old conflict of the freedom of chaos versus the social contract, represented in bombastic, childlike form by the likes of Morgan Freeman’s Vitruvius (literally the Renaissance Vitruvius), and Will Ferrell’s Lord Business (subtle). In addition, Emmett’s vision of the outside world and the “Man Upstairs” is highly evocative of Plato’s cave allegory, and when Emmett finally reaches the outside, the meta-textual nature of the film really takes off.

Of course, the philosophizing is sandwiched into a film who’s first priority is entertainment, and watching the filmmakers play in several sandboxes worth of sets, haphazardly yet intelligently weaving together everything that makes the Lego toyline so unique and fun is quite the treat. The actors take their cues from the filmmakers, injecting whimsical spontaneity into their performances that always has me grinning from ear-to-ear. Who wouldn’t be giddy at the prospect of Will Ferrell playing the ultimate universal evil, or Morgan Freeman as blind wizard who’s sensitive about being called old?

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When it comes down to it, The Lego Movie is one of the best films of the 2010s already, by far. It’s sheer entertainment value props it up above the usual summer drivel, and its themes of cosmic purpose and the value of personal liberty manage to stick it to the man while he simultaneously makes money off of the message. If you still can’t make it through a whole viewing, maybe it’s time to leave adulthood in the trash can and give it another go, because if Lord Business can be stopped by the wonder of a child(man), than you can too!