About shufflecritic

I am Folk Music Degree graduate based in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne with a passion for a wide variety of musics.

It could be Wurst: how Eurovision gave Putin the finger

Aside

Eurovision has always been two things: adorably terrible and intensely political, and this year was no different. The dirndl clad entry from Poland erotically churning butter; the multicoloured quartet from Iceland pleading for us all the “just get along” with a jumpy little pop number; the incomprehensible dubstep chorus from Armenia: all were singularly unique in their own paint-by-numbers sort of way. Eurovision, as ever, did not disappoint.

But the stand out story of the night, and deserved winner, was Conchita Wurst, an Austrian drag queen, with her Bond theme-esque ballad ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’. Now, certainly it wasn’t the best song of the night but when has that ever been the deciding factor of who wins Eurovision? As ever it was politics that had the deciding vote, but for once not as we know it.

If you haven’t heard the song, here it is:

Russian involvement in Crimea and Ukraine was something of a “ghost at the feast” for the entire night, with loud jeers and boos any time Russia’s entry received any votes. The audience even heckled and hissed the Russian performers, the 17 year old Tolmachevy twins (very unfairly, it must be added). Throughout the hour and a half cringe-fest of point dishing in which stationary women, rapping Fins, and Scott Mills stand in front national symbols and grimace their way through platitudes, any points that went towards Russia were booed and many countries that would normally give twelve points to Russia were instead giving twelves upon twelves to Austria’s Conchita.

Russia’s recent warmongering in Ukraine has been the biggest political shakeup in Europe since the Kosovan conflict and, coupled with Putin’s new homophobic laws, the continent’s feeling towards the nation is the sourest it has been for decades. In light of those, as well as the Russian politician Vitaly Milonov’s description of Conchita Wurst as a ‘pervert’, one cannot help but think that the Austrian vote was a protest, a way of Europe to say collectively “Fuck you, Russia. You are not what we represent”. It was especially heartening to see the public vote from traditionally conservative countries such as Armenia, Belarus, and even Russia go to Austria. A ground swell a public tolerance from such a wide variety of nations is something that should be truly celebrated.

It might be easy to dismiss Conchita’s success as a sympathy vote or as misguided positive discrimination, but throughout the continent that Eurovision aims to unite LGBTQ+ men and women still face persecution, discrimination, and living a life in fear. To have an openly gay man win a competition so widely viewed across the planet shows not only other continents but our own downtrodden people that we will not stand for hatred of difference, that we will celebrate it. Eurovision is camp, sillly, and the music is awful, certainly, but it also a moment political force and I for one am truly proud of the millions of Europeans who voted to show those who promote hate that they will not win.

Indiana Jones (1981-1989)

Like Star Wars, and again the brainchild of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, the Indiana Jones trilogy is a classic and highly-regarded set of films harking back to old-fashioned pulp magazines and serials, and referencing the likes of King Solomon’s Mines and adventuring hero Doc Savage. It wears its influences on its sleeve and a self-aware nostalgia runs throughout the series (sometimes to its detriment).

King Solomon's Mines (1950)

King Solomon’s Mines (1950)

But unlike Star Wars, the story is not one continuous line with constantly evolving recurring characters. Rather, it’s more like a trio of episodes, not even presented in chronological order. This makes it easy to pick up without having watched previous films, but perhaps denies the characters their full potential and feels like less of a complete journey. Continuity is presented with self-referential jokes, and occasional recurring bit characters, such as Marcus Brody and Sallah. It is our title character, and his ideals, alone that link all the films.

Modestly titled Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first Indiana Jones film was released in 1981 and went on to win five oscars and spawned two further films. AND ONLY TWO.

Raiders of the Lost Ark – “It’s not the years; it’s the mileage.”Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark-indiana-jones-3678057-1280-720Any good Action-Adventure film relies on its tight set pieces to keep us on the edge of our seats and the Indy films are some of the finest examples in cinema. It’s fitting then, that the opening sequence of Raiders is one of the most iconic. The special effects, stunts and make-up lends all three films, but Indy’s tomb raiding in Peru especially, a viscerality (yeh, that’s a word) that still holds up today. There’s a surprising amount of gore  throughout, considering its PG, family-friendly reputation, whilst an emphasis is also placed on real creatures, real stunts and visibly real effects. Real tarantulas crawling over Alfred Molina’s back; real snakes in the Well of the Souls; real fire in Marion’s bar; real ghosts escaping from the ark; real peoples’ faces melting, etc. Perhaps it is in a modern context that these special effects seem so charming and old-school “authentic”, but even the revealing of the seams, as it were (such as the stone bouncing down from the pyramid), add to its modern appeal while tying it to its pulp influences.alfred molina spidersThe reveal of Dr. Jones is wonderfully camp, but very apt for the mood of the film. Having the faceless hero for the first five minutes is effective tension-building, whilst enhancing the character’s importance (although let’s be honest, everyone knew it was Han Solo with a bit of stubble beforehand anyway). It’s this straight-faced campness that provides the general feel of not only Raiders (other examples being Toht’s coathanger of doom and Indy’s infamous shooting of the Cairo swordsman), but the whole series. It feels as if it’s the negotiation of this that decides the quality of the films. Whilst we’ll talk about Temple of Doom later, it is here that this campness often descends into silliness.more like tohthangerDespite the tongue-in-cheek tone, the characters, and therefore their relationships, are highly plausible. This is most notable between Indy and Marion. Their initial frustration with each other and their eventual tryst upon Catanga’s boat feel appropriate and believable, despite the ridiculous nature of their surroundings. This is due in most part to good chemistry and good writing. Marion herself is a strong character independent of our archaeologist hero: she wins a drinking contest; hits people over the head with a frying pan; and single-handedly outwits Belloq to name but a few instances.marion-drinkingThe cinematography and use of lighting is often actually quite Noir, which reinforces the 1930/40s influences and general feel. The use of shadows, interesting angles and close-ups is most notable in the Cairo scene between Indy and Belloq, with the extreme out-of-focus close up of Indy’s side profile during their heated conversation. This intense filming style coupled with the spectacular set pieces (the car chase in particular comes to mind) gives Raiders its diverse and yet well-paced arcs.

Raiders of the Lost Arcs.

Belloq Indy CLOSE UPIn the face of all this action and romance and general “rompiness”, there is actually quite a strong cerebral theme running through not only Raiders, but the whole series: Reason vs. Faith. Indiana Jones at the beginning represents Enlightenment and Reason. By the end, thanks to his experiences, he has Faith and, ultimately, is God-fearing. Just before the Ark is locked away in the warehouse we hear him say: “They don’t know what they’ve got there.” He isn’t just referring to the Ark’s historical significance, but also its religious power. He, despite himself, believes.

To our minds, Raiders of the Lost Ark is definitely the best of the three films. It’s Indiana Jones in its purest form. It aims, simply, to entertain and succeeds with flying colours.

Plath:
1) Jock Lindsey, the pilot with pet snake Reggie.
JockLindsey2
2) Marion Ravenwood
Indiana-Jones-and-Marion-Ravenwood-indy-and-marion-3014709-360-285
3) Marcus Brody
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4) Indiana Jones
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5) Simon Katanga, for also being Kingsley Shacklebolt in Harry Potter.
shacklebot
6) Sallah
, for also being Gimli.
sallah

Neutral:
24) Alfred Molina, because he’s in it.
RaidersSatipo

Shit:
3) The Monkey and the Eyepatch Man
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7) Herman Dietrich, because he’s a Nazi.
dietrich

Rating: ★★★★★

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – “SHUT UP, WILLIE!”

Oh dear.

Temple of Doom is a prequel to Raiders and, as such, there’s no character continuity for Indy (and none of the supporting cast from Raiders). Although there are self-references in terms of visual jokes or tropes, such as reaching for the his gun when greeted by intimating swordsmen (referencing the Cairo gag in Raiders) and tipping his hat down while on a flight, these barely add up to much consistency with the previous film. And the consistency of quality is also lacking.

Temple opens with such promise – a snazzy Shanghai speakeasy (the Obi Wan Café), shady deals with criminals, a shoot-out, a car chase, and a great visual joke at the end of the set piece: this feels like classic Indy.

We’d also like to take a moment to talk about Wu Han, Indy’s Chinese adventuring partner who dies in the first few minutes. His appearance is short and, seemingly inconsequential were it not for his vital role in the 2003 video game Indiana Jones and The Emperor’s Tomb as well as the extended literature of the Indy franchise. He is one of Dr. Jones’s oldest friends (reputedly meeting him for the first time in 1914) and his death, and the epic quote that comes with it (see caption below), feels like a climax to a film we’ve not seen. It’s a shame that the film we do get to see doesn’t involve David Yip’s phenomenal portrayal of Wu Han.

wu han

I’ve followed you on many adventures… but into the great unknown mystery, I go first, Indy!

What we do get is the worst character ever: Willie. It’s rare that most of the faults of a film can be put down to one character and one performance, but Temple achieves this in spades. From the off, there’s no chemistry between Indy and Willie, she provides nothing to the story or the cause, rather gets in the way, embarrasses, and complains. This is such a shame after Karen Allen’s wonderful performance as Marion in Raiders. To have Indy’s female companion reduce to simple (unfunny) comic relief is lazy and dramatically lessens the quality and depth of the film. One can’t help but feel that Kate Capshaw’s relationship (and eventual marriage) with director Steven Spielberg went some way to her continued inclusion and extensive screen time.willie indyAs well as Willie, we also get Short Round. Rather unfairly maligned by most people, Short Round isn’t that bad. A bit like the Ewoks. The character itself is fine, but the writing around him is rather flimsy. His declaration of love for Indy is just a bit…. what?… why?… In fact, during the 10 minutes or so when Indy is under Mola Ram’s evil spell, we are basically watching Short Round and the Temple of Doom, which is slightly strange for the audience to have no real main character. And that fucking theme tune. You have three years to come up with some good new motifs Williams, and that’s what you have to show for it? The overarching mission in Temple places far less emphasis on “the journey”; there is less globe-trotting or a real sense of direction, more a “let’s travel this way and hope we come across these scared village stones and then perhaps free the children who are mining for some reason”.shortround gif

It is also in Temple where the old-school adventure serial homages verge on flat-out racism, with its colonial undertones with the British cavalry saving the day, evil turban-wearing people and funny, gross-out foreign food gags for the benefit of white people. In the other two films, the antagonists are Nazis (you know, those racist guys), which makes them unquestionably hatable.eyeballsoupThis is not to say that Temple is all bad. As said, the opening sequence is excellent; the sets and the general aesthetic are good; Harrison Ford’s performance continues to be strong, at times carrying the entire film; Wu Han is a genius for crying out loud; and with scenes such as the mine cart chase being a major influence for some of the external franchise (video games, graphic novels, lego, etc). Weirdly, Temple of Doom is arguably the most influential in this regard.

The main flaw of Temple is its aforementioned negotiation of tongue-in-cheek vs. serious. It deals too much the extremes, jarring between lighthearted Willie and Short Round moments and heart-ripping, child enslaving lava pits.

Plath:
1) Wu Han, because obviously.
Wu-Han-Temple-of-DoomA
2) Dinghies, because there is little to no Plath in Temple of Doom.
dinghy

Neutral:
4) Indiana Jones
indiana_jones_and_the_temple_of_doom_preview_3-e1348092112746
5) Short Round
short round
32) The Storyline
STORYLINE

Shit:
1) Willie
willie 2
2) Willie
willie 1
3) Willie
willie 5
4) Willie
willie 4

Rating: ★★½

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: “Does anybody here speak English?”Indiana-Jones-and-the-Last-CrusadeThe Last Crusade is the third and FINAL Indiana Jones film, and a return to form: Nazis, Christian mythology, starting in Barnett College, and an iconic soundtrack.

We start in a flashback, in Utah in 1912. This opener is just the sort of departure Temple of Doom strived to give us, but here Young Indy’s adventures have resonances with the previous films and the story to come in a way that feels consistent but not over-wrought. River Phoenix’s performance is solid as Young Indy. The chase along The Train of Destiny (where all of Indiana Jones’s tropes, from the whip to the fear of snakes, are established) is silly, as it all happens at once, but strangely suitable. The relationship between the tongue-in-cheek and the serious has been resolved. The nameless fedora-wearing hero after whom Indy models himself is representative of what Indiana Jones the franchise owes to retro western and adventure serials. The handing over of the hat could be seen as a symbolic handing over of the genre’s mantle.river garthThe whole film is more focused. The concept of the Holy Grail is presented early on, and the link with Indy’s father provides further solidification. Using an object like the Holy Grail, which already has an established mythology surrounding it, means less work has to be done to draw us in, unlike Temple where the main focus is on the Shankara Stones and we’re all like… yeah…. them….

Again, we return to globe-hopping and with it, the “red line on a map”. Travelling to familiar places such as Venice, Berlin, and Petra, gives the whole thing that aspirational adventure novel feel. The use of recurring characters from Raiders, namely Marcus Brody and Sallah, confirms the desire to hark back to the first film. It’s excellent to see more of these characters, having understood what they and Indy have already been through. That consistency of relationships is something the whole series has been lacking up to this point, and it’s great to finally get it. Also, they provide well-tempered comic relief. Indy’s speech (in the video below), followed by Marcus’s response remains the funniest moment in the trilogy.

Our antagonists are complex and well-written. Firstly, Elsa “blonde-but-definitely-not-a-Nazi” Schneider has great chemistry with Indy and her motives (and their arc) stretch across the whole film and feel believable and almost comparable with both Indy and Belloq from Raiders. Equally, The Brotherhood of Cruciform Sword are shady and effective providing not only people to have a boat chase with, but progression of the story and deepening of the Grail myth. Much like Elsa, Walter Donovan presents a hubristic alternative to Indy’s philosophy. In fact, it’s the similarities between our villains and our hero which make them interesting.alison-doody-as-dr-elsa-schneider-in-indianaThe casting choice of Sean Connery is inspired. This introduction to the father/son relationship establishes a history and fleshes out Indy’s character into more than simply a pastiche (you find out his actual name!). Last Crusade is definitely where the franchise becomes more self-defining. And as such, the characters become deeper, more interesting and more real. So, Indy’s Scottish? However, once again, Indy’s belief in holy power, despite the events of Raiders, seem to have been reset. And the ark only nodded to in a side joke within the Venetian catacombs. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and adds to episodic nature of the entire series.

As our heroes ride away into the sunset as the credits roll, one cannot help but think wouldn’t it be great if they made a fourth one?SUNSET

Plath:
1) Marcus Brody, for everything he’s given us.marcus last crusade
2) The Brotherhood of the Cruciform Swordbrotherhood
3) Garth “Fedora”, for being Indy’s role model and for dressing in clothes that will still be fashionable in twenty years.
Fedoras

Neutral:
1) Sallah’s Brother-in-Law, for owning the exploding car.brother in law
2) Donovan, for writing Catch the Wind.
donovan
3) The Knight
CrusadeKnight

Shit:
1) The Fat Bugle Scout, because look at him.
Herman

Rating: ★★★★

THE FINAL WINNERS

Plath No. 1: Indiana Jones
Indiana-Jones-The-Last-Crusade-Indy-Tanked
It’s something of a rarity that Number One Plath goes to the main character (or indeed anyone within the main supporting cast) but Indiana Jones is one of the most successful protagonists in a franchise. He is consistently entertaining, being both funny and heroic. His straight man act in Temple of Doom is the only thing to get the audience through the badly written and performed comic moments with Willie and even in his more ridiculous moments (being possessed by Mola Ram, and scuppering a whole ship in twenty seconds at the beginning of Last Crusade), Harrison Ford’s performance is so straight-faced and believable that he carries us through all the lunacy and extreme action. He is the heart and soul of these films and, really, the reason they’re so good.

Honourable Mention: Guy Changing Tyre.

Because we feel sorry for him.
wheel changer

Neutral No. 1: Short Roundshort round hatPretty much defines neutral. “You either love him or hate him?” Nope. We merely think he fine.

Well that was short. Round.

Shit No. 1: Willie Scott

Well, Temple of Doom is pretty much dominating these overall lists. Willie, as much as we love her… oh wait. If she was replaced with Marion, Temple would be a vastly better film. But it’s not. As Willie Scott is in it.

And we couldn’t be bothered to get another picture. She’s taken up enough space already.

Final Thoughts

The Indiana Jones trilogy is two thirds successful. Temple of Doom is a good idea in terms of a departure within the trilogy, but in practice, falls flat. In fact, if it weren’t for Last Crusade to redeem the trilogy, Temple (and the franchise as a whole), may have been regarded in an even more negative light.

But, thanks to the first and third films, Indiana Jones is a phenomenal set of movies and sets the standard for Action-Adventure to this day. Most notable are the stunts and special effects which, in today’s era of CGI and green screen, are a welcome slice of reality. Indy has gone on to inspire a whole generation of films and games, with the likes of Tomb Raider and the Uncharted games, as well as The Mummy and National Treasure films (for better or worse).

The good, most definitely, outweighs the bad and these films MOST CERTAINLY DON’T BELONG IN A MUSEUM. HAHAHAHAHAHA.

SEE YOU TOMORROW, INDIANA BLOG.

Trilogy Rating: ★★★★

Rubber (2010)

Plenty of films feature antagonists which are not human: the alien invasions of Mars Attacks! and Independence Day; the oversized monsters found in Jaws, King Kong and Jurassic Park to name a few obvious examples. Not many films, however, feature antagonists which are objects. And none present an antagonist as unlikely as in 2010’s horror/comedy, Rubber. It’s not even an object with obvious human or animalistic traits, such as the toys featured in the Toy Story and Child’s Play series. No, the source of terror that drives (no pun intended) the narrative of Rubber is… a tyre. Yes, a standard rubber tyre. A tyre that rolls about, using its supernatural powers to destroy things. One onlooker, part of a fake, fourth-wall-breaking audience that ‘view’ the events of the film at the setting itself, sums up the whole situation perfectly: “that’s odd”.

rubber2010720pblurayx26x

This bizarre revelation aside, Rubber is still a very strange film. Directed by French filmmaker (and electro house musician) Quentin Dupieux, there is little plot to speak of, whilst being highly self-aware and practically avant-garde in its execution. Yet it is also undeniably tongue-in-cheek: the film begins with police chief and main character, Lieutenant Chad, talking to the camera and to the two audiences (the one depicted in the film and the one externally viewing it) about the film’s philosophy of things happening for “no reason”. When he asks “in Spielberg’s E.T., why is the alien brown?”, you know that this is a film that doesn’t take itself particularly seriously. And if it did, you’d have to question the sanity of the filmmakers. However, the Lieutenant’s later statement, “all great films, without exception, contain an important element of no reason”, does have an air of smugness and self-satisfaction alongside the sheer silliness of the speech.

Rubber

Later on in the film, the following conversation occurs between two police officers: “You can’t do that. Well you can, but it’s against the rules.” “Well can I or can’t I?” They’re playing chess, but more to the point, it works perfectly as the film’s main maxim and represents its abstract nature in dealing with the satire of both the horror and comedy genres.

Rubber is a relatively short film (84 minutes), but it would have worked better if it had been shorter still… a LOT shorter, closer to 20 minutes or so (à la Werner Herzog’s personifcation of a shopping bag in 2009’s Plastic Bag), because whilst the film is certainly ambitious, full of ideas and entertaining to a certain extent, you cannot help but feel that the viewer ‘gets the message’ very early on. One thing’s for sure, for all its ‘meta’ pretensions, Rubber is not quite as clever as it thinks it is.

fhd-rubber.1080p.mkv_snapshot_00.59.09_[2011.10.29_00.28.26]

★★☆☆☆

Some words on the trilogy reviews, or ‘What the fuck is Plath?’

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Over the years, through our trilogy watching, we have coined some phrases to help us explain, categorise, and analyse the films and characters. Basically, there are some in-jokes to explain.

The most important of these terms is Plath. While clearly a reference to renowned literary figure Sylvia Plath, the term “plath” has nothing ostensibly to do with her. We came up with using the word “plath” while writing silly songs and going through Ed’s bookcase. The Bell Jar was picked out, a silly song written about it, and the term just stuck. We use it to describe something funny, but perhaps overlooked: a minor character, an important recurring theme, or inanimate object that the creators of the film probably didn’t intend to be vital to the story, but just is. It is also a strange continuation of the word “random”, but obviously not as annoying. And, of course, far better. Or far more “plath” as it were. Plath is an adjective that fills a hole, and while a little difficult to pin down, we’re sure you’ll pick it up. Or, indeed, plath it up.

Good, glad you’re still with us.

Next, Neutral. This one is actually a word. Obviously. We use this for characters who are often important but really leave us cold. Good examples: Luke Skywalker, Neo, Sarah Harding in The Lost World. They often have arbitrary numbers on this incomplete and incoherent list.

Finally – Shit. These are characters who annoy us – occasionally flawed, but often with grating personalities. For example: Jar Jar Binks, Paulie from Rocky, Daniel LaRusso (i.e. The Karate Kid) in The Karate Kid. Sometimes these characters redeem themselves through the trilogy, sometimes not. Most often not.

At the end of each film of the trilogy we will do the Plath/Neutral/Shit lists, and then have an overall list for the entire series.

Other than that, these will be pretty standard reviews.

Enjoy!

Star Wars, IV-VI (1977-1983)

Ask someone to name a trilogy, and the original Star Wars will probably be one of the first to come up. It’s hugely iconic, massively influential, and for many people, considered some of the greatest films ever made. So, we thought that would be a pretty good place to start.

It’s important to note that we watched not the untainted original releases, but the remastered 2004 edition. You know, the one with loads of CGI and weird changes. We’ll be touching on that later, but not too much (enough vitriol and rhetoric has been splurged all over the internet about them anyway). We thought we’d just get it out of the way that those are the versions we watched.

Star Wars, as the first film was originally called, was released in 1977. Little did independent film maker George Lucas know that he was about to create the greatest thing that the world had ever seen: the character Wedge Antilles.

But we’ll get on to him later.

A New Hope (1977): “Mos Eisley – a more wretched hive of horrible CGI everywhere you will never find.”binary sunset

Straight away, with A New Hope one can’t help but notice how iconic the entire look and feel and sound of the film is. The opening shot, which immediately establishes hierarchy between antagonist and protagonist, is still impressive 36 years later. It’s amazing to think that the initial shot of the Star Destroyer moving in to view is all model work. The attention to detail is astonishing. And it’s this home-made, “junkyard” aesthetic that gives the original Star Wars trilogy much of its charm, a fact lost in the later prequels.

The soundtrack still has a great deal of impact (particularly ‘Binary Sunset’). All that’s missing is ‘The Imperial March’. And this is something we found quite shocking. The Imperial March, the soundtrack of the “bad guys” in Star Wars is completely missing from A New Hope. And it’s when one starts to notice what’s not there, that the first Star Wars film starts to look a little flimsy in a couple of areas.

In fact, there are several moments in A New Hope that makes it seem like it was intended to be a stand-alone film, with no follow-up. Firstly, Emperor Palpatine (along with his aforementioned theme) makes no appearance, just a passing reference to ‘The Emperor’ when discussing the Imperial Senate. You would think a guy who turns out to be the main villain of both the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy would have a larger part to play (/any part) than that. Instead, Grand Moff Tarkin is meant to be our main antagonist in the ‘big bad boss’ sense. Furthermore, and further weirder (in hindsight) is the love triangle between Leia, Han, and Luke. The relationship between Leia and Han has not yet blossomed and throughout there’s very much a feeling of “Leia & Han/Leia & Luke: will they won’t they?” Obviously, this is undermined by the later realisation that Luke and Leia are brother and sister. One can’t help but feel, that had their familial ties been decided earlier, the initial romantic potential wouldn’t have been so explicit. And finally, the throne room scene: this is a bit of a let down as an ending. There’s no concern for repercussions, or at least none are displayed, R2D2 is fixed without consequence, and the threat from the Empire seems dispersed. Despite the unresolved fate of Darth Vader, it feels like a finite conclusion.

Indeed, Vader is one of the weirdest characters in the first film. The relationship between him and Obi-Wan feels underwritten, though much of this is to do with hindsight and lack of continuity in the prequels, something we will touch on later. During the lightsaber duel between the two aboard the Death Star, Obi-Wan calls his opponent “Darth”, his title, not his name, which seems peculiar (and is never done again by anyone in any of the other films). Obi-Wan also tells Luke on Tatooine that his father was “a good friend”, which seems slightly inconsistent with Obi-Wan’s brutal maiming and near-murder of Anakin in Revenge of the Sith.

All in all, A New Hope feels more like a homage to the Sci-Fi serials, Westerns, and B-movies Lucas was trying to emulate. It lacks the in-depth character development of the second two films, and is more a trope-hitting pastiche of the old-school: swinging across gaps, shoot outs, cheesy wipes, cantinas, odd aliens, Wedge Antilles, and beginning on the lonely ranch with aspirations of adventure. This is probably the main contributing factor to it feeling like a stand-alone project. And as a stand-alone film, it’s truly excellent. But as we have realised, one can never consider Star Wars in a vacuum: it’s so influential, and its universe now so expansive, that our first outing in to that universe feels, at times, a little sparse and under-considered. Really, Star Wars is hindered by its own myth, but not in a way that stops from being an excellent film: it’s aesthetic is hugely iconic, with awe-inspiring set pieces, the characters are likable and it paved the way for many of the successful franchises of modern cinema.

Plath:
1) Wedge Antilles
A8kYRdaCEAAaAew.jpg-large
2) Garindan “Long-Snoot”, the elephant spy guy from Mos Eisley.
Garindan_trooper
3) Han Solo
solo
4) Biggs Darklighter, for being a childhood friend of Luke’s.
Biggs_death

Neutral:
4) Grand Moff Tarkin, for being Peter Cushing.
peter-cushing-as-grand-moff-tarkin-in-star

Shit:
1) Cornelius Evazan, for being an angry Cantina guy.
cornelius-evazan-and-ponda-baba

Rating: ★★★★

The Empire Strikes Back (1980): “I thought they smelled bad……….ontheOUTsiiiyyde”ozzel_croaks

Well, this one’s the best.

Unlike A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi feel more cohesive and it’s almost as if it’s where the “real” story starts to be told. We learn a great deal more about the characters and the universe. That’s not to say A New Hope doesn’t have character development; it provides the major groundwork for the series. But it is in Empire that these characters and worlds really develop their depth. Most of this can be attributed to the writing: George Lucas didn’t direct or write the screenplay. Funny that.

Empire showcases a more varied aesthetic from A New Hope: the homemade/junkyard feel is gone, whilst the locations and terrains explored by our characters are more diverse – the snow planet Hoth, the swamps of Dagobah, and the idyllic cleanliness of Cloud City. Coupled with that, within those locations we see further detail: the Wampa’s cave, Yoda’s house, and the carbonite freezing room respectively. These are complex, well-thought out and intricately designed environments, without feeling cluttered or over-wrought.

John Williams’ soundtrack, such an important defining aesthetic for the series, really comes into its own here. The themes and motifs from A New Hope are expanded on and added to: ‘The Imperial March’ is debuted in all its glorious infamy; Han and Leia are provided with their own theme to accompany their burgeoning romance; Yoda gets one too.

The film contains far fewer tropes and homages to the old-school Sci-Fi and Westerns Lucas was originally trying to copy, and as a result Empire feels more genre-defining. It has begun to set its own new blueprint for future genre cinema. The most significant moment in this new style is Empire’s “twist”. Renowned, rehashed, and sometimes ridiculed, the “I am your father” moment remains Star Wars’ most iconic sequence. And, in a way, its fame has neutered it. The impact of this moment, surely, would be phenomenal at first viewing in ignorance.

While this moment is the climax and the crux of Luke’s story in Empire, it is Han and Leia’s story that dragged us in the most. It forms the central backbone of the narrative, shows clear development of the characters, and provides a human interest in what would otherwise be a film entirely focussed on one journey and one character. It is here, in the romantic relationship, that Empire achieves its true depth. Certainly, it’s a very “Space Opera” narrative to go to, but it’s simple, effective, and well-written enough to make it not seem melodramatic or tawdry. Leia’s declaration of love, and Han’s blasé reply, remains one of the greatest moments in the series.

Empire, fittingly, is the first appearance of The Emperor (and his theme). However, a distance is still maintained. We see him only as a hologram, not in the flesh. While it’s great to finally see who the “big bad guy” is, that really is all the Emperor remains. We never really understand his motivation, and his character can barely be called a character. In Jedi, he goes on to act as a “devil on the shoulder” for Vader, but in Empire, he simply appears, looks evil, and then disappears. It’s Vader that is the most complex, and therefore the most entertaining villain. It is in Vader that we are most invested. One can’t help but that think, perhaps Darth Sidious is a little unnecessary.

Equally characterless, but certainly not unnecessary, is Boba Fett. His mystery and aloofness adds an unease to the whole film, and Han’s final comeuppance at his hands feels simultaneously inevitable and surprising. Boba Fett is a great example of an early cult figure: one who fans picked up on despite his limited screen time, character development, and lack of lines. This probably contributed to the addition of Boba Fett to the Jabba scene in A New Hope in the remastered edition, as well as some backstory in the prequel trilogy. Neither of these things would’ve been included, surely, without the initial audience response to the character. And their additions really aren’t necessary. It’s Boba Fett’s mystique that makes him such a great and well-loved character. We don’t want to know about his family, we don’t want to see him as a child, and we don’t want to know that all the Imperial Soldiers are clones of his father. He should be, and always will be really, a monosyllabic guy with a jet pack. And that’s awesome.

BOUNTY_HUNTERS_by_mickmoart

Something we haven’t mentioned is the CGI additions in Empire, and honestly, that’s because they didn’t really annoy us that much. The most noticeable are the additions on Bespin: the vehicles, the town, etc. But here it adds depth. In Mos Eisley, weird monsters are placed right in the shot, and pointless droids are doing stupid things with machines. Here, the CGI isn’t invasive. It’s not necessary, either, but it’s not offensively bad. One thing to be thankful for especially, is that Yoda was not replaced by CGI à la the remastered E.T.

There is so much more to say about Empire, but sadly we don’t have enough space: the excellence of the Yoda puppet, Lando’s character, the asteroid belt scene, hiding in the garbage, Luke’s training, Luke’s vision of Vader. There’s so much depth to this film that you can see why it is still considered the best.

Plath:
0) Wedge Antilles
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1) Han Solo
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2) Admiral Piett, for survival instincts and facial expressions.
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3) Wampa Ice Creature, for only trying to get some dinner.
wampa
4) Yoda
yoda
5) Lobot, because he’s bald and has a weird robot bit on him.
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6) Ugnaughts, for being ugly as fuck.
Ugnaughts-TESB30
7) Lando Calrissian, because of this picture.
billy-dee-williams-lando-calrissian

Neutral:
1=) Obi-Wan
obi wan
1=) Cloud City Support Staff, you know, the electrics guys from Bespin (seen circled).
electrics guys in bespin

Shit:
1) C3PO, he’s terrible.
Chewie_threepio_tesb

Rating: ★★★★½

Return of the Jedi (1983): “It’s an older code, sir, but it checks out.”returnofthejedibdcap1_original

Return of the Jedi feels very much like The Empire Strikes Back, Part Two. Story lines from the previous film are resolved, such as the rescue of Han and the completion of Luke’s training. In the traditions of classic finales, the big baddy is destroyed, relationships are solidified and good triumphs in the end. However, it is not simply a continuation of Empire, but a completion of the whole trilogy, harking back to A New Hope by starting off on Tatooine and again having to destroy a Death Star.

Unfortunately, it is in Jedi that the CGI additions begin to truly annoy. The Max Rebo’s Band sequence is dire, the added beak on the Sarlacc is unnecessary, the celebration sequences at the end give the whole section a weird mismatched visual language, and worst offender of all, is the addition of Hayden Christensen appearing to Luke in the final shot, a decision that only a mother could love. One can only be thankful that they didn’t do a CGI version of the Rancor.JediGhosts-ROTJThis makes the middle section of the film, the Ewoks on Endor, a pleasant relief in this regard as it is still complete with the old-school Special Effects and costumes. The Ewoks have had a lot abuse over the years, with many people saying that they catered too much to the young audience, perhaps because of the costume design, and began the slippery slope in to The Phantom Menace and Jar Jar Binks. Whilst the Ewoks and some of the Endor scenes are among the weakest aspects of the film, at least the little furry things actually have a purpose, as opposed to merely providing (poorly-written) comic relief. Oh sorry, forgot that Jar Jar turns out to apparently be a well-respected politician. The ewoks represent the underdog and give the whole battle with The Imperials a very David & Goliath/Home Alone feel. Equally, the characters in Jedi, mainly Han, are bemused and annoyed by them meaning that that is a part of the authorial intent. Jar Jar Binks is never reacted to negatively, only with a roll-of-the-eyes and a sort of “Oh you!” look, never a “What are you doing here? Please stop it” look. Equally, with the Ewoks, it’s nice to see and learn about an alien species in detail, something we’ve not yet experienced. And they also give C3PO a purpose, whereas before he simply blundered around getting people in to trouble, with R2D2 picking up the pieces.

In this entire review we’ve barely talked about Luke. And honestly, that’s because we’re not really sure why his character develops in the way it does. He seems to learn how to be a Jedi extraordinarily quickly, later is deemed to be “chosen”, and Vader and, especially, The Emperor, seem to think he’s important. But we don’t really see him do anything. He manages to destroy the Death Star without using the homing system in A New Hope, but after that he trains, fights and loses against Darth Vader and then, despite his apparent skill when entering Jabba’s palace and fighting the Rancor, we don’t see anything particular that marks him out as significantly special. Even the death of the big bad guy is not at his hands, but rather at Darth Vader’s. Really, this is all tied in with The Emperor’s motivation: why does he want Luke to turn to the Dark Side? Why does he think Luke is special? Why is he an asset worth risking time, men and money over? It’s all a bit ephemeral and unexplained. It’s all a bit “he’s evil because he’s got a hood and wearing black”. Certainly, this rings true with the Space Opera feel of the thing, but really misses an opportunity to create a deep and interesting relationship between the main antagonist and the main protagonist.

We should mention the relationship between Lando & Han, really. To us this is one of the most interesting pairings in the films. They are “bad guys gone good”, turned towards a noble cause but not really knowing how it’s happened. Lando’s betrayal, subsequent guilt, and ensuing success as a Rebel Leader provide a genuinely believable and relatable character arc. Han’s development is more complex. While tied up with money, ultimately he fights for friendship and love and through this, surprising even himself, he becomes a better man. The man who shoots Greedo in the Mos Eisley Cantina is worlds away from the man hugging Ewoks on Endor. There is an excellent moment in Jedi where Lando and Han meet each others eyes, as if to say “neither of us know how we’re here, but we’re thankful we are”.endor_celebrationWhilst Return of the Jedi is the weakest film in the trilogy, it is arguably stronger than A New Hope as an episode of the trilogy, thematically and in terms of continuity. It has odd moments, but the action in it is great, the characters are written consistently, the environments are new but as equally iconic as the previous films. A fitting end to a classic trilogy.

Plath:
1) Wedge Antilles
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2) Admiral Piett, again.
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3) Twi’leks, for being feisty and occasionally green.
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4) Admiral Ackbar, for his clearly superior leadership skills and trap awareness.
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5) Malakili, for loving his rancor so much.
Malakili
6) Leia, for being someone who loves you.
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7) Boba Fett, for not saying much.
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8) AT-AT, for appearing briefly on Endor.
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Neutral:
1) Emperor Palpatine, what a boring shit.
Star-Wars-Emperor-Palpatine-from-Return-of-the-Jedi
2) AT-ST, for extensively appearing on Endor.
worst-jobs-in-the-star-wars-universe-20110914060814108

Shit:
1) Hayden Christensen’s Apparition, for being the worst.
AnakinSkywalkerghost
2) The Imperial Training Program, in general throughout.
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Rating: ★★★★

THE FINAL WINNERS

Plath No. 1: Wedge Antilleswedge_antilles_1

“So who’s this Wedge Antilles you’ve been talking about?” we hear you cry! Well, he’s only the best character in the whole trilogy. Here’s why.

It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to call him an invincible, omnipresent guardian angel that makes a habit of changing costumes in a phone booth. Each significant conflict (The Battle of Yavin in IV, The Battle of Hoth in V and The Battle of Endor in VI), Wedge is there, battling against The Empire and carrying the Rebel Alliance to victory almost single-handedly. He is the only rebel pilot to survive both Death Star attack runs. Not only does Wedge both feature in and survive all three battles – he plays a major role in each one, even though he is consistently portrayed as a “background character”. In The Battle of Yavin, he is the only X-Wing survivor aside from Luke, and even saves Luke’s life by shooting down a pursuing TIE Fighter; in The Battle of Hoth he is the first pilot to take down an AT-AT Walker; and in The Battle of Endor, Wedge in his X-Wing and Lando in the Millennium Falcon together destroy the second Death Star, and are the last ships to leave before its destruction. You’re not fooling anyone, Lucas – you might as well have called the franchise Star Wedge.

It is also interesting to note that the ‘Captain Antilles’ C3PO refers to in IV as the previous owner of the two droids, is not Wedge, but Raymus Antilles, another Rebel Alliance captain and strangely, no relation. On top of that, the actor who portrayed him, Dennis Lawson, is the uncle of Ewan McGregor. Wedge Antilles is the heart, soul and backbone of the entire Star Wars franchise, and therefore is undoubted winner of Plath Number One.

Honourable Mention: Chopped Off Arms

Seriously, loads of arms get chopped off.LukenohandsmaOneArm-ESBLukevaderrotj7CantinaArm

Neutral No. 1: The EmpireArrival-ROTJHD

The Empire is one of the loosest and most confusing group of baddies in any film series ever. Their troops are badly trained, missing most of their shots and fleeing in huge numbers when one man runs at them shouting. While the Imperial Guard, the guys in red, look awesome, they don’t do anything awesome. The Admirals are brilliant however, especially Admiral Piett who survives through the choking-fest that is Empire all the way to the end of Jedi. Honestly, The Empire would be much more organised and understandable if the Admirals ran it, or indeed Grand Moff Tarkin, rather than a man in a big black cloak on a rotating throne who’s motivation is mainly be evil, because that’s what’s expected.

Shit No. 1: George Lucas

george lucas

Now, admittedly, Lucas is only Number One Shit because we watched the remastered versions with CGI everywhere. Sure, his original idea with Star Wars was groundbreaking, hugely influential, and truly inspired. But it’s hard not to notice how significantly the standard of the films go up the less he is involved. People seem to forget that it was a huge host of people that made the original Star Wars what they were, and really Lucas was only the catalyst that started a feast of ideas to be thrown around by many talented individuals. But since the prequels, he has got his hands all over the Star Wars franchise, failing to realise what originally made it good. He feels like a teacher trying to join in on the classroom’s joke. Most notably is the addition of the head *donk* noise when the Stormtrooper knocks his head on the door in A New Hope. That was a little mistake that the fans noticed and loved and laughed at. George Lucas picked up on it, thought “That’s funny! People like that bit! Let’s make it MORE funny! Add a sound effect!” Like any good joke, as soon as the person in charge latches on, all vestiges of humour are lost.

Equally, many of his ideas even in the original trilogy feel like they were made without much thought for the constructed world. That means there’s retroactive construction everywhere, some of it flimsy and badly thought-through. Go on a wiki page for any Star Wars character and the amount of fan fiction trying to fill in bizarre gaps in characters is astonishing. The cult status of Star Wars is held up by the fans’ obsession with sorting out Lucas’s mistakes.

We love to hate him, and sometimes we hate him with good reason. But there’s no denying he has a great mind somewhere in there. Somewhere.

Final Thoughts

Throughout this review we’ve made loads of references back to the prequels, the original unaltered versions, the expanded universe and that’s almost entirely unavoidable when dealing with a franchise so monumentally expansive and revered as Star Wars. As we’ve said, these films can never exist in a vacuum. It’s impossible to think of them as just films on their own. The baggage that comes with them, the misanthropy towards Lucas and his changes, the famous lines, the iconic set pieces, and, most importantly, Wedge Antilles, are all part of the Star Wars experience.

Trilogy Rating: ★★★★½

Young, Gifted, and Black

Some of you may have become aware recently of the young three-piece Metal band Unlocking the Truth. To those of you who haven’t heard of these guys, check out this video.

Now, three things are apparent when watching this band: firstly, their age; secondly, their proficiency despite their age; and, thirdly (and perhaps most controversially) their race. It hadn’t really occurred to me prior to discovering this young trio, but Metal is a very very White genre, perhaps more so even than Country. Why is this? And why should our race determine the genres we listen to and play, even without our consent?

Our music tastes are, of course, influenced by our surroundings – our parents, our friends, our country, and, to an extent, our race. And yet, it is the last of these that, in the modern world, should be the least relevant. For well over a decade it has become apparent that White people can make decent Hip Hop (Eminem), that Brazilians can be metalheads (Sepultura), that Black people can be folk-influenced singer-songwriters (Michael Kiwanaku). These are all relatively recent examples, and of course there are plenty of examples in Popular Music history of pan-racial genres. But it does seem that Metal, and other Hard Rock influenced genres like Punk seem to lack any Black artists.
There is an expectation that “Black Music” should be soulful and beautiful. Even Michael Kiwanaku is genrified as ‘Soul’, when really his work owes more to the White singer-songwriters of the ‘60s. And, if it’s not soulful, but rather angry, it has to be aggressive Hip Hop, with references to gang violence and inner city life. There seems to be no space for Black anger directed through a Rock genre.

The band Death recently came out of the woodwork. A three piece Proto-Punk group from Michigan, their heyday was the early seventies, and a collection of previously unreleased recordings demonstrates how they were in the forefront of creating Punk. The songs are short, angry, and focussed on the energy, not the precision. What is really interesting about Death is that they’re all Black guys. It is probably safe to assume that the reason these guys didn’t have huge success at the time was to do with their race – at the time, people liked their music far more compartmentalised: there wasn’t much room for cross-pollination. Nevertheless, many famous Proto-Punk musicians such as The Ramones and The New York Dolls have come out to say that they were hugely influenced by the music of Death. How is it, then, that Punk became so predominantly White even, in some corners, coming to represent Fascist White Power movements?
There is a whole debate here to do with White appropriation of Black music that resonates throughout the history of Popular Music, all the way back to the earliest recordings (see ‘Tiger Rag’ by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band), so I shan’t go in to here in detail, but it does seem that Death were another casualty of the engrained racism within the music industry. Unlocking the Truth are, in my mind, the inheritors of Death’s progress.

In the video above, Jarad (the drummer) seems to suggest that the pressure not to play Metal comes from the group’s peers and contemporaries at school: they all listen to Hip Hop and Pop. Racialised genres are, it seems, embedded in to the psyche of even the youngest and it takes an anomaly such as Unlocking the Truth (an apt name, perhaps?) to make us reconsider this. But, really, it is this anomalous nature that draws so many to Unlocking the Truth.
Their appeal is two-tiered. Firstly, in playing Metal despite their situation they embody all that the genre represents: rebellion in the face of adversity, anger at being the outsider, celebration of your difference, and doing all this through loud, aggressive, heavy music. Secondly, and this is where truths may get ugly, without their racial difference they would simply be another school Metal band. It is their Otherness (to get all Critical Theory on yo’ asses) that has projected them to international recognition. I mean, that’s the reason I’m even writing this!
Now, the real question is: is this a bad thing? Shouldn’t we just appreciate their music without taking their race in to account? I say, no. Their race is part of their act, part of their music, and most importantly, part of them. It is part of their context, and without their context we can’t truly understand the significance of their music. The fact that Bob Dylan is from Minnesota, Snoop Dogg is from Long Beach, and First Aid Kit are from Sweden (to give some disparate examples), all give a further depth to their music. Musicians, and art, don’t exist in a vacuum. It is the constant battering off the outside world upon these artists that mould their shape and, thus their work.

I, for one, wish all the best to Unlocking the Truth and more than that, I hope that their example can lead other kids of similar situations to think outside the box of what musics they can and can’t listen to and play. Only through experimentation outside of the norm can we really find new musical worlds and experiences, and these three young guys from Brooklyn are taking the very first steps to making this happen.

The Second Guy: The Life and Death of Colonel Dan

Hi. You know Dan who was mentioned several times in Ed’s introductory post? Well, that’s me. Hi.

While my very good friend Ed is planning on doing the reviewing albums side of Shuffle Critic, I am undertaking the filmic (intentionally terrible use of a terrible word there) equivalent. That is not to say potential inter-collaborations and inter-er…thoughts can’t and won’t happen, of course. Which is precisely what we will be doing in the third “Trilogy” section of the blog (we do go on!), where we will review/provide analysis for specific film trilogies.

So, back to me. I love music (as you may already know), film (this is fairly obvious by now), tennis (not quite so obvious) and games of various types (who doesn’t? (apart from people who don’t like games)). And… yep. That’s me in a nutshell/a list of my four main interests. In all honesty, you’ll probably learn more about me in the reviews I write than anything I can specifically compose autobiographically – so there we have it.

BYE.

(I will leave you with this:)