Documentary Review: Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy (2004)

Also known as: Empire of Dreams (shortened title)
Release Date: September 12th, 2004
Directed by: Kevin Burns, Edith Becker
Written by: Ed Singer
Music by: John Williams
Cast: George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, Warwick Davis, Frank Oz, Lawrence Kasdan, John Williams, Joe Johnston, Ralph McQuarrie, Alan Ladd Jr., Irvin Kershner, Steven Spielberg, Walter Cronkite

Prometheus Entertainment, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox, A&E, 151 Minutes, 120 Minutes (TV Edit)

Review:

“I think George likes people, I think George is a warm-hearted person, but… he’s a little impatient with the process of acting, of finding something. He thinks that something’s there. “It’s right there, I wrote it down. Do that”. You know, sometimes you can’t just “do that” and make it work.” – Harrison Ford

I can’t believe that it’s been fifteen years since this documentary came out. It was the selling point of getting me to buy the original Star Wars trilogy on DVD though, as I had already owned the movies several times over, in all their incarnations, but wanted to have this documentary to keep and rewatch over the years.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen it but it’s available on Prime Video, as well as Disney+ now.

Seeing this again sparked something in me that I hadn’t felt since Revenge of the Sith came out in 2005. It was that feeling of wonder, excitement and childlike awe. Disney is incapable of generating that sensation in me since they took over the Star Wars franchise and honestly, it’s mostly dead to me.

Empire of Dreams brought me back to where I was though from my childhood and into my twenties when I had a deep love for everything Star Wars. But most importantly, this showed me how much better the original movies were compared to Disney’s schlock and the shoddy prequels.

If Disney tried to make an Empire of Dreams followup about their new trilogy, would anyone care? Well, anyone with actual taste that was alive when the original Star Wars phenomenon was still alive and strong? I mean, how interesting would that documentary even be? And do you really even care about seeing any of the modern Star Wars actors and filmmakers talking about these new movies?

Empire of Dreams does a stupendous job of delving deep into the creation of one of the greatest film franchises of all-time. But seeing it with 2019 eyes, it more importantly shows you just how magical the Star Wars brand once was before Disney retrofitted it for an audience of wine moms and broke social justice warriors who can’t afford to buy the merch in the first place.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the original Star Wars trilogy and other Star Wars documentaries.

Vids I Dig 090: Razörfist: Film Noirchives: ‘Blade Runner’

From The Rageaholic/Razörfist’s YouTube description: To celebrate a Decade of Rage, Razör’s favorite film of all time finally gets the Noirchives treatment: Film Noir and Sci-Fi collide, creating an example of the best of both.

But is it truly Noir? And how did on-set struggles and behind-the-scenes conflict inform this apocalyptic masterpiece?

We need the old Blade Runner. We need the magic.

Documentary Review: Spielberg (2017)

Release Date: October 5th, 2017 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Susan Lacy
Cast: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Richard Dreyfuss, John Williams, J.J. Abrams, James Brolin, Bob Balaban, Tom Hanks, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford, Oprah Winfrey, Frank Marshall, Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Robert Zemeckis, Cate Blanchett, Holly Hunter, Dustin Hoffman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tom Cruise, Eric Bana, Daniel Craig

HBO Documentary Films, Pentimento Productions, 147 Minutes

Review:

This was a pretty stellar documentary for fans of not just Steven Spielberg but filmmaking and film history in general.

It reminded me a lot of the 2001 documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures, in that this spent a lot of time breaking down most of the key movies in Spielberg’s oeuvre.

Every segment here was rich, detailed and featured interviews with some major directors, actors and producers. But the film also gets into Spielberg’s personal life and how real life experiences influenced his movies.

This was a lengthy documentary, just as the Kubrick one was and rightfully so. In fact, this could have been the length of a ten part, two hour apiece Ken Burns documentary and I still would have been fully engaged.

Spielberg’s career has been long and full of at least a dozen classic films that will be remembered forever. Each segment could’ve been it’s own documentary film and it actually kind of sucks that a few films were mentioned but not given as much detail, most notably A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, the Jurassic Park sequels and some of his production work like Back to the Future.

Still, this is pretty thorough and there is so much to unpack and take away from this. It is one of the best documentaries on a filmmaker’s life and career.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on specific directors but this reminded me a lot of Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures.

Film Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Also known as: Indiana Jones 4, Fourth Installment of the Indiana Jones Adventures, Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods, Raiders of the Lost Ark Sequel, The Untitled Genre Project (working titles)
Release Date: May 18th, 2008 (Cannes Film Festival)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: George Lucas, Jeff Nathanson, David Koepp
Based on: characters by George Lucas, Philip Kaufman
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Shia LaBeouf

Lucasfilm Ltd., Paramount Pictures, 122 Minutes

Review:

“Leave it to Ox to write a riddle in a dead language.” – Indiana Jones

After this film came out, people seemingly hated it. Well, I hate those people because the hate for this film is pretty silly.

Okay, I get it, there are some really goofy things in this picture and you could argue about the stupidity of a few bits but ultimately, this was still a great adventure and a lot of fun. Yes, this is the worst of the Indiana Jones movies but that’s like saying sirloin is the worst cut of steak. It’s still friggin’ steak, man.

I like the fact that the film’s setting was in line with Harrison Ford’s increased age since last being seen as Indiana Jones in 1989’s The Last Crusade. Sure, you want to see Indy punch Nazis in the face but the Soviets were a good replacement as were the Cold War fears of the time.

I enjoyed Cate Blanchett’s Colonel Dr. Irina Spalko as the villain. She wasn’t as good as René Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark or Mola Ram from Temple of Doom but I thought she definitely had the edge over Walter Donovan from The Last CrusadeIndiana Jones movies have always had great villains though and Blanchett lived up to that task, being one of the absolute high points of this movie.

I also loved that the older Indy wasn’t focused so much on chasing tail and that he, for the first time on the big screen, was reunited with a love from the past. Marion Ravenwood was nearly everyone’s favorite “Indy Girl” of them all and it was really cool seeing them reunited and there being a romantic happy ending for both characters. I’ve always loved Karen Allen and her return makes almost all of the bad shit in this movie worth it, especially since we got to see her and Indy ride off into the sunset.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the Shia LeBeouf addition to the cast and the whole bit about him being Indy’s kid but he did okay with the material and really, I don’t think another actor could have salvaged some of his poor dialogue anyway. But I am glad that he wasn’t given the reins of the franchise.

I guess the hardest pill for me to swallow as a fan is that Sean Connery, Denholm Elliot and John Rhys-Davies aren’t in the picture. I get that Connery didn’t want to do it and that Elliot had passed away since The Last Crusade but even a cameo by Rhys-Davies would have been awesome. Especially, for the wedding of Indy and Marion, as he was good friends with them both.

Most people didn’t like the alien twist and I get that. However, looking at what Indiana Jones is supposed to be, which is a modernization of the old school cheesy movie serials of the 1940s, it sort of fits the style. Sure, I would have rather gotten those long rumored Bermuda Triangle or Atlantis plots but I didn’t hate the premise of this film. It did feel strange and somewhat out of place at first glance but hey, there was a vampire story in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and that show is canon.

I, like almost everyone I’ve talked to about this movie, rolled my eyes at the refrigerator scene, the Tarzan homage and the giant ants. But looking beyond those weird bits, this film still has a lot more good stuff than bad or cringe inducing stuff. And none of it was as bad as dancing Emo Spidey from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3.

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was the best summer blockbuster of 2008 after The Dark Knight and Iron Man. There weren’t many films that were more fun than this one was that year.

Harrison Ford was still great and his chemistry with Karen Allen was perfect. I also thought that John Williams did a fine job with the score and the tone of the film was just right.

The first three Indiana Jones films were all given a perfect score here at Cinespiria. Obviously, this isn’t a perfect ten but all things considered, I’d say it’s a solid eight. But I also really love Indiana Jones.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other Indiana Jones films.

Film Review: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Release Date: May 24th, 1989
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Jeffrey Boam, George Lucas, Menno Meykes
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Denholm Elliot, Alison Doody, John Rhys-Davies, Julian Glover, Sean Connery, River Phoenix, Alexei Sayle, Alex Hyde-White

Lucasfilm Ltd., Paramount Pictures, 128 Minutes

Review:

“You lost today, kid. But that doesn’t mean you have to like it.” – Fedora

I remember the day that I saw this film in the theater upon its release. It kicked off the summer of ’89, which was a massive time for movies and still, hands down, one of the best summer blockbuster years of all-time between this, BatmanGhostbusters IILethal Weapon 2Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Licence to KillThe Karate Kid, Part IIIFriday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, The Abyss, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. That summer also gave us great non-blockbusters like Weekend at Bernie’sUncle BuckWhen Harry Met Sally…Sex, Lies & VideotapeDead Poets SocietyDo the Right ThingUHFTurner & Hooch and Parenthood. 1989 could actually be my favorite movie year ever but I’d say it’s tied with 1984.

With all that competition and with a lot to live up to following two previous Indiana Jones movies, The Last Crusade had a lot on its shoulders. Not to worry though, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were still on their A-game and this one had a real familiarity to it, after Temple of Doom was a stylistic and narrative change from the original movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Not only does Indy return but we get to see some familiar faces from Raiders. Denholm Elliot’s Marcus Brody returns and actually goes on the adventure this time. We also get to see John Rhys-Davies’ Sallah again and he is also more directly involved than he was in Raiders. The big cherry on top is the inclusion of the original James Bond, Sean Connery, who played Indy’s father. It is also worth mentioning that this started with a great sequence featuring a teenage Indiana, played by River Phoenix. The sequence was so good that it inspired a long-running television series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.

The film’s cast is rounded out by Julian Glover, who played an Imperial general in Empire Strikes Back, as well as a Bond villain opposite of Roger Moore in For Your Eyes Only. We also get a cameo by British comedian Alexei Sayle, who was one of the creative forces behind one of my favorite shows of the ’80s, The Young Ones. The female lead is played by Irish model Alison Doody, who probably had the least impact of any Indy girl but still held her own in a cast that boasted immense talent.

The other aspect of familiarity with this picture, other than the cast, is that Indy is pitted against the Nazis once again, in a race to find a Holy treasure that also features a big desert action sequence. However, the tank Indy faces off against, as well as the Nazi colonel, are much bigger threats than the Nazi convoy from that famous Raiders chase sequence.

With the first three Indiana Jones movies, it is hard to dislike anything. All three of them are perfection. While Temple of Doom is my favorite, The Last Crusade and Raiders of the Lost Ark are both amazing.

In fact, this is the best cinematic trilogy ever made and yes, I still consider these three films a trilogy even though a fourth one, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released after a nineteen year hiatus. That one was a step down in quality but it certainly wasn’t as big of a step down as Star Wars when it came back with the prequel films.

Indiana Jones is an incredible franchise and really, I love Indy more than I love Star Wars because the series had three consecutive pictures that were as good as a movies could ever be. Sure, you might want to argue that Citizen Kane or The Godfather or The Shawshank Redemption are better films. But were they this fun while being this damn good? Hell f’n no!

Rating: 10/10