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#651 - Star Wars
George Lucas, 1977



In a distant galaxy, a young farmhand finds himself caught up in the conflict between a totalitarian regime and a group of rebels.

Is it possible for me to get seriously objective about Star Wars? I ranked this as my third favourite film ever about ten years ago and even now, despite the many flaws that are evident (especially when watching the revised Special Edition that grafts on all sorts of computer-generated effects to make the film quite the eyesore), I still like it. It helps that it's a fairly uncomplicated film that doesn't get too bogged down in things, although there's a sluggishness to the first act as the film starts setting up all the conflicts and players. The opening sequence with Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and her small diplomatic vessel being overrun by a massive spaceship full of Imperial stormtroopers is still a good way to start the film. However, from there the film hits something of a dull patch as it follows the misadventures of a pair of droids - neurotic chatterbox C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and his inscrutable counterpart R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) - as they are marooned on the desert planet of Tatooine as part of a secret mission. The one-sided banter that forms as a result of R2 only being able to communicate in beeps and whistles whose meaning can only be inferred from 3PO's responses is amusing, but it definitely needs to be in order to carry a series of fairly slow scenes that are interspersed with the occasional cutaways to the bad guys' side of things as the deep-voiced cyborg Darth Vader (played by David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones) readily demonstrates why he's one of the most iconic villains in cinema history (if not the most). Fortunately, this doesn't last too long after the introduction of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the plucky young hero who dreams of leaving behind his dull farming lifestyle in the hopes of becoming a fighter pilot for the Rebel Alliance.

From that point on, Star Wars becomes a good example of high adventure at its purest as Luke is soon caught up in a perilous situation that sees him go from encountering savage raiders to fighting high-speed space battles against professional fighter pilots. After getting its somewhat clunky first act out of the way, it speeds through the rest of the plot thanks to the careful dedication displayed in every factor of the film. Major credit has to go to the actors; though they may vary in terms of ability, they all manage to make characters that have become memorable for all the right reasons. Hamill gets the thankless job of being the film's naive farmboy hero, but he sells it well and doesn't get annoying. Harrison Ford naturally steals the show as freewheeling mercenary Han Solo, deftly balancing a world-weary outlook with steely-eyed charm and cavalier bravado. Though Fisher spends a good chunk of the film being a damsel in distress, she gets credit for being one very acerbic damsel who is still able to demonstrate a sensitive side without it coming across as fake. Alec Guinness's turn as the wise old Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi can be marred by an awareness of the man's later disdain for the series, but it's hard to tell her due to his sheer professionalism bringing some serious gravitas to the proceedings. Prowse's imposing physical stature and Jones' metallic delivery combine to make Vader a great villain, while Peter Cushing delivers an appropriately ruthless performance as the callously bureaucratic Moff Tarkin. There's also Peter Mayhew as Solo's hirsute partner-in-crime Chewbacca (who is like R2 in that his unintelligible lines have to be translated via his partner's reactions), and Daniels and Baker's great odd-couple act still holds up very well even though they also had the potential to turn out badly.

The world-building is still impressive (though now that I'm trying to read Dune I'm wondering if Lucas took influence from that book when it came to creating Tatooine) as it peppers its high-fantasy tale with distinctive-looking aliens and flashy pieces of technology. Lucas definitely wears his influences on his sleeve as he takes inspiration from various different genres and sub-genres and combines them together into a surprisingly consistent whole. Though it's a bit difficult to judge while watching the Special Edition (I do wonder if I've ever seen the un-altered version - if I have, it's been long enough that I don't remember for sure), the effects used to render the world and its action are also amazing in their detail and the work needed to bring every facet to life, which is ironically obscured a bit by Lucas's attempts to create a "special" edition that isn't very special when all is said and done. Even now, I still think of this film as a special-effects touchstone where the entirety of cinema can be divided into films that came before this and films that came after this, and it is very easy to see why as it comes up with all sorts of set-pieces to generate thrills and excitement even when said set-pieces don't make the most sense. This was the viewing where I finally realised the lack of logic behind a monster being able to live and thrive in a trash compactor room - if it swims away when the compacting starts, where does it even swim to? (I'm sure there's an explanation, though.)

Star Wars still proves to be a very watchable film underneath its occasional questionable moments or extremely unnecessary digital touch-ups. The writing is obviously far from perfect but the diction is still charming even in the unlikeliest of instances and it provides the foundations for an elaborate mythology that manages to avoid getting too muddled here. A variety of performers infuse everyone from bickering robots to sallow-faced bureaucrats with a vital energy that adequately compensates for any written shortcomings. The film is still a technical marvel to the point where the attempts to upgrade the film with newer technologies manage to feel very unimpressive in comparison. John Williams' iconic score covers a variety of moods ranging from triumph to melancholy and sounds good all the time even when it shouldn't (case in point - those ridiculously jaunty tunes from the cantina scenes). Star Wars is a classic that has weathered many problems since its release and, though I'd be hard-pressed to call myself a huge fan of the series these days, I think I'll always have a place in my heart for it.

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#652 - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
Irvin Kershner, 1980



When the members of a rebel group are scattered during a battle with the forces of a totalitarian regime, one of them must learn an ancient warrior code while his friends go on the run.

If you were to ask the average movie-goer to name a sequel that was superior to its predecessor, then The Empire Strikes Back is liable to be one of the most common answers you would receive. Re-watching Empire for the first time in I don't know how long shows that, in a lot of ways, it's prone to the same flaws that would threaten to sink any other sequels. For starters, there's the fact that it's pretty clearly intended to be the middle part of a trilogy; though this isn't exactly an obstacle to it being a great film (you could make the same case for Evil Dead II, which is one of my all-time favourite sequels), it perhaps feels a bit too fundamentally transitional to truly stand out on its own merits. This much is definitely true of each of the three heroes' arcs that develop in the aftermath of their victory against (but not over) the Galactic Empire at the end of the previous film. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is still intent on learning the ways of the Jedi and must separate from his friends to do so, traveling to the swamp planet of Dagobah to learn under the guidance of wizened master Yoda (Frank Oz). Meanwhile, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) are forced to make a hasty escape following an Imperial attack on the Rebels' latest home base on the ice planet Hoth. Between their belligerent romantic tension and the various risky maneuvers they have to take in order to survive, they arguably provide more of a straightforward plot to follow than Luke's extended training montage. All the while, Darth Vader (David Prowse being dubbed over by James Earl Jones) remains in constant pursuit...

One of the reasons why The Empire Strikes Back is so heavily lauded is due to the depth of the characterisation on display, adding complexity to certain superficially simple journeys. Luke's earnest desire to become a Jedi ends up being more challenging than he expected as he must not only contend with the physical rigours of his training but also the psychic toll it takes as he must confront his inner demons in the process. In doing so, the film definitely develops Luke far away from the wide-eyed farmboy he was in the last film. Han may not be the same self-serving mercenary that he was in the last film, but that doesn't mean that he is totally free of his checkered past, which comes back to haunt him in a truly devastating manner. Leia arguably draws the short straw as her arc is intertwined with Han's instead of standing on its own; having been established in the first film as a fairly capable freedom fighter in her own right, this time around she isn't relegated to merely being rescued but instead gets to serve as the idealistic foil to the cynical Han. To this end, Ford and Fisher provide good chemistry whether they're snapping back and forth at each other or steadily accepting their feelings for one another even in the most unforgiving of circumstances.

While familiar side-characters like Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) don't have similarly significant arcs, they still bring the same level of charm that was present in the last film. Vader also gets his motivations and background fleshed out further, helping to make him more complex than his obviously villainous appearance and actions would imply. The film is lean on new characters, but what few new ones it does introduce are good. Though Yoda's initial appearance and mannerisms threaten to cement him as comic-relief (and, to be fair, his first scene is still pretty funny), Oz naturally steps up and embraces the mentor archetype, providing a sensible mixture of stubbornly strict training methods, oddly encouraging words beneath his distinctive syntax, and of course plenty of signs of emotional depth beyond his outside appearance as a tiny, half-crazed hermit. The other main addition is Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), the charismatic former associate of Han who has managed to leave behind the criminal lifestyle and build a legitimate business for himself. Though he starts off as a smooth-talking charmer, certain story progressions also give him a strong character despite his relatively limited appearances. Even minor characters become noteworthy - while Boba Fett became iconic despite his brief screen-time and relative lack of action, I think credit has to go to Captain (later Admiral) Piett (Kenneth Colley), who puts a very human face on the people working for the Empire as he must bear witness to Vader choking his colleagues to death on a regular basis while trying to avoid the same fate himself.

In attempting to juggle two separate narratives for the bulk of the film, The Empire Strikes Back can't help but lapse into some rather episodic plot structures. The first act takes a while to get going as it begins with Luke being attacked by a yeti-like creature and getting rescued by Han, though it does provide a memorable action set-piece as the Rebels must evacuate Hoth while fighting off Imperial invaders. From there, Luke's adventures on the swamp planet of Dagobah have a clear progression, though they are a bit oddly-paced and also seem to move slowly even when it's for reasons that do make sense within the narrative. Meanwhile, the plot following Han and Leia as they try to evade the Imperials in the face of technical difficulties and serious desperation does come across as a little padded. The entire sequence where they hide from the Imperials by flying the Millennium Falcon inside a cave-riddled asteroid is arguably the biggest offender in this regard, though it is at least redeemed by the fact that it provides a quiet breather and room for character development. Things do pick up once they arrive in Cloud City and the film begins to build towards its conclusion, but that's to be expected. Even then, inter-cutting both the climatic duel and the climatic escape can't help but feel imbalanced as one is definitely more interesting to watch than the other. At least nothing here feels as unnecessary as the Jabba the Hutt scene that was included in the original film's special edition.

Another favourable quality about The Empire Strikes Back is that its special edition has the least obtrusive alterations of the trilogy. Though you can pick some flashy additions to certain establishing shots or action scenes, it's handled with nuance and discretion so as not to stick out like a sore thumb as it does in the other films. The art direction and set design are impressive as always; while ice planets and swamp planets may not provide anything too distinctive, the detail put into their construction is still apparent even before the film reaches the sleek white corridors and gloomy orange-and-black factories of Cloud City. The action is definitely upgraded as well - the climax delivers a very promising lightsaber duel that overshadows almost everything else in the film, though the aforementioned Hoth sequence is also very impressive and I think I might honestly prefer it to the climatic dog-fight that served as the climax to the original film. John Williams also ups the ante as he not only provides new reiterations on the original film's score but also comes up with some solid new additions, especially the iconic "Imperial March" that serves primarily as Darth Vader's leitmotif.

Though I will concede that The Empire Strikes Back is still a film that can't quite stand apart from its predecessor, that hardly seems relevant as it amply builds upon the established world and characters to provide a film that at the very least measures up to one considerably high standard. It goes into darker territory without getting bogged down in vacuous nihilism, while the somewhat haphazard plotting is more than compensated for by the strength of many individual scenes. Characters that once filled broad archetypes are given greater definition and even new ones are granted surprising levels of nuance. Meanwhile, the space fantasy setting and its mythology that was only teased at earlier is expanded in ways that admittedly threaten to collapse in on themselves but fortunately work to sustain a film that goes above and beyond the high adventure promised by the original.




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#653 - Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
Richard Marquand, 1983



A farmhand-turned-warrior must rescue his friends from a terrible fate and help them to take down a totalitarian regime once and for all.

Setting out to make the type of trilogy that tells a complete story across its three parts is a risky proposition, especially when the latter two parts are supposed to be a single continuation of what could originally function as a stand-alone film. Assuming you can avoid sophomore slump with the second installment, that just puts greater pressure on the final part to deliver a satisfactory conclusion. Even if it does succeed in that regard, that success doesn't automatically guarantee that the film is a solid film in its own right; as a result, the final film in a trilogy stands a very good chance of being considering the weakest. Return of the Jedi has unfortunately earned such a reputation as it is generally considered the weakest of the original three Star Wars films, but it's not exactly a colossal failure considering the eminent reputation of its predecessors. The best one could hope for was a satisfactory conclusion and, in many regards, Return of the Jedi does provide that.

After dedicating a considerable chunk of its opening time to resolving the cliff-hanger ending of The Empire Strikes Back, which saw roguish anti-hero Han Solo (Harrison Ford) being captured and delivered to the repulsive underworld figure Jabba the Hutt, the story picks up once again as the war between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance heads towards its final stages. The Empire has started working on a new Death Star to replace the one that blew up two films previously, but the Rebels have once again managed to get their hands on the plans necessary to expose and exploit a structural weakness. Meanwhile, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has managed to recover from his devastating battle with Darth Vader (David Prowse/James Earl Jones) and is ready to realise his full potential as a Jedi knight. Unfortunately, this means that he must confront Vader once again for reasons that go beyond merely defeating the skull-faced figurehead of the evil Empire. Of course, Vader not only knows this but is also working on behalf of his immediate superior Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) to not only defeat the Rebel Alliance but also turn Luke from a formidable enemy into a powerful ally by any means necessary...

The Star Wars films have always felt like their first acts tend to run for a bit too long for their own good even if it is the name of exposition and spectacular action; Return of the Jedi arguably avoids this by dropping audiences into the middle of a new adventure as our heroes mount their own somewhat complicated plan to rescue Han from Jabba's clutches, though it does get a little repetitive as it shows failure after failure before the inevitable success. I can understand how the heroes would try more subtle plans before resorting to more drastic measures, but watching them play out isn't all that exciting for the most part (even when understood as part of a slow-building adventure, it still drags). The film then slows down a bit for the sake of some fairly stolid exposition...and then comes the forest moon of Endor. A lot of the ire directed at Jedi can be credited to how the powers that be decided that the heroes' allies in their final battle with the Empire should be...Ewoks, the small bear-like tribal race that are initially willing to eat their human captives and revere the incredibly shiny C-3PO as a living god. The attempt to create family-friendly shenanigans using the fuzzy little monsters does come across as over-compensating for the moody cynicism that defined The Empire Strikes Back, especially when their primitive methods end up overcoming the Empire's advanced technology in ways that don't exactly seem that plausible. Still, at least they're not quite as annoying as the equally pandering tribe of feral kids from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.

I noted in my review for The Empire Strikes Back that one of its greatest strengths was the strong characterisation that was afforded to characters great and small, especially in the case of the three heroes. In Return of the Jedi, the only character arcs of any apparent importance or depth become those belonging to Luke and Vader. To this end, Han, Leia, and Lando are effectively talking props who exist here less as fully-formed characters than as interchangeable pawns in the film's various action sequences. They do get the odd piece of character development (the main example being Leia's reaction to a certain revelation that leads to some tension with Han), but otherwise they basically have to exude the same level of personality displayed in the last two films and little else beyond that. Of course, just like the Emperor's complex web of evil plans, this is a flaw that's arguably by design as the Star Wars trilogy has always really been Luke's story. He's the one who made the journey from ordinary moisture farmer to battle-scarred Jedi in the space of three films, just as Vader has gone from being a faceless agent of pure evil to an emotionally conflicted subordinate to a power-hungry overlord. Bringing the two of them together doesn't just mean that we get to see cool-looking lightsaber duels, it's also the whole point of the trilogy and to watch it finally play out before the malevolent, manipulative Emperor easily ends up being the best thing about this film (even if the Emperor himself does come across as a bit too transparently evil in ways that not even his villainous croak and shadowy appearance can adequately balance out).

I'm not sure which Star Wars film suffers more from the very unnecessary tweaks provided by the Special Editions; the original film or this. I think I might be inclined to give it to this film because, damn, that number with the computer-generated singer from early in the film really gets on my nerves in a way that not even the addition of extra scenes and Hayden Christensen to the celebratory denouement can reach (though it's not for a lack of trying). I think it does kind of work when it comes to depicting Lando's own attack on the Death Star, but that's about it. The climatic lightsaber duel naturally works, though it is a bit too broken up by the Endor scenes. While said scenes are intermittently entertaining and arguably necessary, their deployment within the narrative did make me realise that the climaxes of Star Wars films really do tend to involve multiple simultaneous conflicts regardless of whether or not they mesh together all that well. The same ambivalence extends to the non-action scenes, especially when the film tries to milk some humour out of the Ewoks (even if that one scene with the dead Ewok is genuinely a little sad) or get a little bogged down in exposition. That doesn't stop the film from having the odd good moment - the scene where Luke and Leia reconnect after being set free by the Ewoks proves a surprisingly touching and well-acted moment in the midst of that aggressively cartoonish sequence of events.

While Return of the Jedi definitely deserves some recognition for how well it handles the conclusion to the trilogy's arc involving Luke and Vader, it does so at the expense of the rest of the film. There are plenty of nice touches that mean that the film doesn't become unwatchable; John Williams' score once again involves orchestras at their most bombastic and I really do like the simple yet supremely sinister leitmotif that is used during scenes featuring the Emperor (though any attempt to veer outside that purview ends up being rather questionable). The characters may be flatter for the most part, but everyone does their job just fine anyway; Hamill is particular is quite a stand-out as he aptly lends dramatic weight to the final steps in Luke's journey. The more irritating parts of the Special Edition do admittedly drag it down a lot, and the Ewoks' antics bounce between charming and annoying a bit too often, but those flaws can ultimately be overlooked as Return of the Jedi provides a fairly satisfactory (if not overly amazing) conclusion to one of the most beloved film trilogies in existence.




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#654 - Riddick
David Twohy, 2013



A wanted criminal and one-time overlord of a death cult awakens on a deserted planet and must do his best to survive the various dangers that he encounters.

I have to wonder if the decision to release a new Riddick movie was inspired by the extremely successful revival of Vin Diesel's other major franchise, the Fast and the Furious film series. It started with 2000's Pitch Black, where Diesel's Riddick was one of a ragtag group of survivors stranded on an alien planet that was not only populated by vicious nocturnal creatures but also happened to be undergoing a prolonged eclipse at the same time. Pitch Black made for a half-decent little B-movie that proved popular enough to warrant a sequel. That sequel ended up being 2004's The Chronicles of Riddick, which tried to expand upon the character and his universe by swapping out the original film's horror premise for a more straightforward action film. Unfortunately, that resulted in an extremely dry slice of gaudy and ridiculous space-opera where the brutality that had defined both Riddick and his first film was either absent or neutered thanks to a PG-13 rating. This brings us to 2013's Riddick, the first live-action film about the goggle-wearing badass in almost a decade (he had appeared in a couple of videogames and animated shorts in the meantime), and it at least promises to be different to its rather shoddy predecessor.

Riddick goes back to basics by starting the film with Riddick being stranded on a deserted planet, this time all by himself. After a flashback that explains his presence on the planet by acknowledging the events of the previous film, he proceeds to learn how to survive on the planet on his own, which amounts to befriending a space wolf and attempting to fight off the poisonous reptilian creatures that live just under the planet's dusty surface. When he discovers a deserted ship, he hits the emergency button in the hopes of being rescued. Unfortunately, the ship's sensors identify him as having an extremely lucrative bounty on his head and it's not long before not one but two ships arrive in search of his bounty. While one ship carries a bunch of bloodthirsty mercenaries, the other carries some slightly more civilised soldiers whose leader (Matt Nable) has his own reasons for seeking out Riddick. From there, the film starts to fall apart as it starts to rehash Pitch Black, first by having Riddick become the film's de facto monster as he proceeds to launch a campaign of guerrilla warfare against his enemies (but with much more violent results) before having the various survivors team up against not just an approaching environmental threat but also the onslaught of the aforementioned reptilian creatures.

Though the technical side of things has improved in the decade-plus since Pitch Black first came out, the improvements do little to compensate for the film's more obviously derivative or nonsensical moments. While Diesel doesn't do anything too different with his growling anti-hero and is at least okay enough to carry the film's first third on his lonesome, the same doesn't really go for the rest of the characters. Given how a good chunk of the film amounts to following the mercenaries as their numbers dwindle in the face of Riddick's stealthy attacks, you'd think they'd be afforded a bit more personality, but no, they are all flat or fill out some well-worn soldier/villain stereotypes. The only real exceptions are Nable as the self-righteous "good" mercenary who at least has a good reason for hunting Riddick, while Katee Sackhoff almost works as the token female character but is let down by writer-director Twohy's very poor handling of her character's sexual orientation. While Riddick may have moments that promise to put it on par with Pitch Black, for the most part it's a pretty dull exercise in diminishing returns that only barely comes across as preferable to the garish fantasy of The Chronicles of Riddick. Only recommended to people who really liked Pitch Black, otherwise there's not really much of worth here.




28 days...6 hours...42 minutes...12 seconds
I think the third was the weakest one as it tried to go back to basics, but that was mostly due to budget restraints. I don't dislike the second as much as you do. It tried to expand the universe a bit, but did get a bit too bloated with things.
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So glad I have held off seeing this
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#655 - Highlander: The Source
Brett Leonard, 2007



An immortal swordsman is reluctantly brought into the fray when an ancient prophecy threatens to come true.

"There can be only one" are the arc words that serve as both catch-phrase and plot summary for the cult '80s fantasy film Highlander, yet they also prove telling when taking into account the many attempts to expand upon the film's understandably limited mythology. Initial sequel Highlander 2: The Quickening took the franchise into infamously absurd sci-fi territory; it was reviled so much that third film Highlander: The Final Dimension disregarded its events entirely and ended up being little more than an empty rehash of the original film. Most surprisingly, the film spawned a spin-off television series about Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul), an immortal relative of original film protagonist Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert). After running for several seasons, the show got its own movie with Highlander: Endgame, which saw both MacLeods team up to face a powerful enemy. Though its television-level production values ultimately prevented it from being a good film in its own right, it is arguably the least objectionable of any of the Highlander sequels.

Highlander: The Source, on the other hand, is probably the most objectionable of all the sequels. It is the first film to not feature Connor in some manner - instead, it focuses on Duncan as he reunites with a few other immortal friends in order to search for the titular "Source", a magic MacGuffin that is guarded by the imaginatively-monikered "Guardian". Said Guardian is an immortal who has been cursed to protect the Source but in being cursed is probably the most dangerous immortal yet, so of course Duncan and his comrades must try to figure out how to deal with him. There's also something to do with the planets aligning and also another lost love of Duncan's, but really, the MacGuffin plot is all you need. Unfortunately, even a plot as simple as that one gets muddled under all the characters that are jam-packed into this incredibly short film before being summarily murdered in vicious and apparently dramatic ways. While I remember Endgame being easy enough to follow without needing to be familiar with the Highlander TV series, I feel like The Source is perhaps a bit too dependent on such a familiarity. I guess that has something to do with the expectation that if you're actually willing to watch this then you have to be enough of a Highlander fanatic to have actually seen the show and already met the characters. That's still not much of an excuse, though.

Other Highlander films have been taken to task for their perceived ineptitude in regards to every facet of filmmaking, but The Source truly is on another level when it comes to being bad. I may have talked up the hidden potential in straight-to-video action films when I reviewed the Universal Soldier sequels, and to be fair, at least Highlander: The Source has a rather striking visual palette that stands out despite the film's meagre production values. However, soaking entire scenes in the same shade of red or blue can also prove an obfuscating eyesore, and that's without getting into the ramshackle effects work that tries to bring the immortals' various powers to life. Digital blur is everywhere as the characters move and fight at various speeds, while the camerawork and editing tend to be of very poor quality as well. This is a shame because it obscures the fights, which is the main thing that the movie had going for it. What else is there? The answer is the needlessly convoluted plot about an ancient prophecy featuring a bunch of flat and badly-acted characters; the only memorable one is the Guardian himself, and that's because Highlander villains need to be able to chew the scenery with gusto whether it works or not.

On its own terms, Highlander: The Source is an aggressively awful excuse for fantasy action that references its existing mythology in the most obnoxious ways possible; as if having a terrible metal cover of Queen's "Princes of the Universe" playing on the soundtrack wasn't insulting enough, there's also a scene where the Guardian taunts a prospective victim by hoarsely singing the chorus of "Who Wants To Live Forever?". The rare instance of visual flair is crushed under the weight of shoddy effects and poor action sequences while the bland storyline is not aided in any way by these very unremarkable players. The ultimate testament to the inherent badness of The Source is that, as of writing, it has more or less managed to kill the supposedly unkillable Highlander franchise once and for all. The franchise has weathered some notoriously terrible installments, yet this one managed to outdo them and make it so that the next actual film is liable to be a straight-up reboot. There have been a few Highlander sequels and they've all been awful in their own ways, but if you had to decide which one was the worst, well, it can be only this one.




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#656 - Back to the Future
Robert Zemeckis, 1985



When a teenager is accidentally sent thirty years into the past, he must work with an eccentric scientist in order to set right what once went wrong.

Cinema as entertainment doesn't get much more pure than Back to the Future. It has one of the most simple yet ingenious high concepts from a decade that was seemingly dedicated to refining the high concept, with just enough creativity to make it unique without alienating a mass audience. For starters, it centres on the extremely unlikely pairing of high-school senior Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and elderly scientist Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd). There's nothing too extraordinary about Marty - he's just a regular 1985 teenager who dreams of being a rock star while also having to bear witness to his extremely dysfunctional family and their dead-end lives. When he meets up with Doc Brown one night, he learns that the Doc has managed to build a working time machine out of a DeLorean. However, since Doc's scheme involves scamming a Libyan terrorist cell, they soon come searching for revenge; in all the excitement, Marty is transported back in time to 1955. He teams up with the younger version of Doc Brown in order to find a way for him to return to his own time, but things are complicated when he not only runs into the teenage versions of his mother Lorraine (Lea Thompson) and father George (Crispin Glover), but has to also guarantee that they fall in love or else he'll never be born.

There are plenty of reasons why it might be easy to dismiss Back to the Future. There's the ostensibly questionable friendship between an old man and a high-school senior that never gets addressed, the science in this film that is as soft as it gets without becoming true fantasy, and then there's the various unfortunate implications that come about over the course of the film. The most obvious one regards what happens to high-school bully Biff Tannen (Thomas J. Wilson) in the ending, especially in light of his more reprehensible actions during the film. It's a credit to the cleverness of Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale that these flaws are pretty minor in the scheme of things and acknowledging them is usually done in a fashion that allows them to more or less be shrugged off. The writing is a major selling point as it crafts an extremely tight and reasonably consistent narrative that pulls off all manner of clever set-ups; even if you were to be uncharitable and refer to them as coincidences, they're pulled off so well that it doesn't matter. Rather, it serves to complement the tight plotting that creates a variety of conflicts promised not just by the issue of Marty being trapped thirty years in the past and but also interpersonal complications such as not only having to deal with the short-tempered Biff but also the fact that Lorraine finds him much more attractive than the gawky George. Stretching this many plot strands across a single film is always a challenge but it's handled deftly and the tension only builds as the strands intertwine and the countdown towards Marty's only shot at going home keeps ticking away.

Of course, the soft science-fiction and adventure elements involved probably wouldn't fly as well if not for the fact that the bulk of the film is framed as a rather straightforward high-school comedy. The oddness of the friendship between Doc and Marty has been noted, but between the former's manic eccentricity and the latter's easygoing charisma they make for a sufficiently interesting odd-couple dynamic, especially when embodied by capable performers like Lloyd and Fox. Lloyd in particular steals the show with his wild-eyed scenery-chewing and ability to deliver the most nonsensical jargon with both strong conviction and marvellous comic timing. Other characters fill out some easily-identifiable roles with solid performances; Thompson and Glover embody the surprisingly lusty '50s everygirl and socially awkward nerd respectively. Wilson also has great screen presence as the square-headed tough-guy who mercilessly goes after those who either upset or attract him; not even the squeaky-clean PG comedy can properly hide his scummy nature. Other characters pepper the scenery and feature memorable performances even in the smallest of parts. The humour that eventuates from Marty's temporal culture-shock is also generally decent, especially as he uses his futuristic smarts to outwit his enemies and make for memorable moments such as escaping from Biff and his cronies or the (admittedly questionable) moment where he invents rock-'n'-roll.

Though Back to the Future tends to invoke science-fiction as a means to a comedic end more so than a fascinating concept in its own right, that doesn't mean that it skimps on inventive creations. Having the time machine here be a DeLorean is an inspired choice, especially when the need to have it reach a high speed and use a significant power source serve as major factors in some incredibly tense and well-timed sequences. Images such as flaming tire-tracks and fading photographs are simple but serve to give the film its own undeniable sense of personality. That also goes for Alan Silvestri's masterful background score, which doesn't exactly go for anything wildly experimental but that's because it doesn't need to. It is the ideal exemplification of everything that makes Back to the Future great - it's straightforward, sure, but it's just done so darned well that it doesn't matter. The more triumphant strains of the film's iconic main theme, whether played with full-orchestra bombast or goosebump-inducing solo strings, definitely make for the most delicious icing on an extremely sumptuous cake. As one of the most beloved films of the 1980s, the temptation to develop a contrarian hatred of it is an especially strong one, but fortunately the film is strong enough to overcome that in just about every regard. While I guess the comedy tends to be more clever than laugh-out-loud, that's a minor problem for a film that holds up very well considering how I haven't seen it since I was Marty's age.




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#657 - Back to the Future Part II
Robert Zemeckis, 1989



A teenage boy and an old scientist travel to the future to solve a problem only for a bitter old man to steal their time machine in order to manipulate history to his benefit.

The original Back to the Future was such a well-crafted example of blockbuster escapism that crafting any kind of follow-up would prove quite the challenge. Back to the Future Part II, which was shot simultaneously with concluding episode Back to the Future Part III, at least gives it quite the try by building a continuation that involves a familiar time-travel trope; that of a person using their knowledge of the future to change their past for the better. The film picks up where the first one left off, with Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) traveling to the distant future of 2015 in the hopes of resolving a problem with Marty's future family. Along the way, Marty acquires an almanac full of sports statistics that he intends to bring back to 1985 and use for financial gain. Unfortunately, Marty's plan results in embittered former bully Biff Tannen (Thomas J. Wilson) catching on to his time-travel shenanigans; to this end, Biff decides to steal the DeLorean and give the sports almanac to his teenage self, thus guaranteeing himself financial success. From there, the plot becomes about Doc and Marty not only putting together the pieces but also trying to figure out how to stop Biff from succeeding in his ruthless scheme.

I've written before about how there are sequels that threaten to contradict the logic established in the source film, yet I've also noted how doing so does not automatically result in a film being bad. Back to the Future Part II is arguably another example of this, with its initial plot about Doc and Marty (and Marty's girlfriend Jennifer, though her near-total lack of relevance to the plot shows a lack of foresight on the part of writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale) coming across as extremely unnecessary and ill-advised, especially considering Doc's professed interest in not misusing time-travel for personal benefits. Of course, the flimsy reasoning behind the plot (and the continuous examples of how it invalidates the original film's internal logic) are barely felt as the film progresses through a recognisable series of time-travel vignettes ranging from the film's colourful concept of 2015 to the Biff-altered dystopia of 1985 before returning to the original film's 1955 setting. If anything, the problem is that the film has trouble maintaining the same level of narrative momentum that made the original so great, especially when it spends a bit too much time on Marty very slowly realising that 1985 looks just a little bit different than he remembered it. One could also pick apart the decision to start the film off with the unforgettable 2015 sequence before being made to rehash the finale of the original film by, well, setting it during the finale of the original film (even if the lax time-travel rules established in the series do guarantee some degree of unpredictability as to how events will unfold).

Just as the original Back to the Future made its improbable premise work thanks to a blend of impressive art direction and a comedic angle driven mainly by solid characterisation, so too does Back to the Future Part II compensate for its various narrative shortcomings. The scenes depicted in the 2015 section of the film have understandably become the stuff of legend because of how vividly they depict a cartoonish yet vaguely plausible future, filling the frames with outlandish predictions for what will constitute food, entertainment, and history in the decades following the film's release. Fox and Lloyd once again manage to bring back the same blend of straight-faced anguish and conflicted enthusiasm respectively, even if the former's role here is ultimately defined by one very informed insecurity about being called "chicken" while the latter's eccentricity is tempered by one very sudden sense of responsibility towards the usage of his admittedly dangerous technology. Other performances are understandably limited; Lea Thompson doesn't get too much more to do as either Marty's heavily-aged mother in 2015 or his heavily-enhanced mother in alternate-1985. Wilson, on the other hand, once again gets the opportunity to chew some serious scenery as he plays several different versions of Biff ranging from his familiar teenage bully self to his cranky old man self and (most notably) his megalomaniac alternate-1985 self.

While Back to the Future Part II is most definitely an example of diminishing returns, it's not like it had much chance against its iconic predecessor. At the very least, its imaginative depiction of a not-too-distant future has carried its reputation as a superior piece of work to the Western-themed Part III. There's also something to be said in the ways that it attempts to graft a new storyline onto the original film in a way that does not feel obtrusive and does admittedly result in the odd impressive moment (such as one instance where two different Doc Browns carry on a conversation regardless of the plausibility of such a situation). The same capacity for science-fiction that is not so much ingenious as clever shines through enough so that the resulting film at least makes for pleasant entertainment regardless of how little sense it makes. If anything, the thing that makes Back to the Future Part II work is that it makes just enough sense so as to not drag an audience out of the picture, and even if it does, it's still got quite the captivating visuals to help us forget (and, of course, Alan Silvestri's iconic score). Only recommended to people who've seen the original, of course.




I'm actually in the minority who enjoys BTTF 2 more that the original
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I remember not caring too much for Back to the Future II, but I don't remember the movie itself. Another watch is definitely required.

Saw Johnny Guitar recently and felt the same way you did.



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#658 - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Andrew Dominik, 2007



Based on the true story of notorious American outlaw Jesse James as he attempts to settle down following a major train robbery.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford follows legendary outlaw Jesse James (Brad Pitt) as he plans on giving up his infamous career in order to settle down with his family after one last job. Of course, that plan is complicated by the fact that his one last job has to be pulled with a varied group of inexperienced would-be outlaws, the most notable of which ends up being a gormless young hayseed named Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), who insinuates himself into the gang along with his brother Charlie (Sam Rockwell). After the train job goes off, the naive yet friendly Robert does his best to stay close to Jesse even when various factors serve to complicate matters, whether it's the possibility of former comrades ratting out Jesse to the authorities or the conflict that brews between Jesse's cousin (Jeremy Renner) and an erstwhile associate (Paul Schneider). All the while, his growing connection to the Ford brothers proves a source of support even as things threaten to fall apart around him, especially when the title portends to Robert's inevitable betrayal of the man that he grew up idolising obsessively.

If Dominik's break-through feature Chopper was a short and brutish exercise in depicting pulpy crime tales that were embellished by their author/protagonist, then The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford proves to be quite the antithesis as it provides a slow and somewhat meditative portrait of one of the Wild West's most notorious outlaws whose attitude towards his crimes is one of resignation rather than pride. To this end, it introduces Robert Ford as a deuteragonist who is far more complicated than his initial appearance as a wide-eyed devotee of Jesse might suggest; this much is especially true when Robert is contrasted against his brother Charlie, whose desire to seek a happy medium between all parties is constantly thwarted. Though Pitt is easily the most famous face in the film, this doesn't stop Jesse from being remains a somewhat enigmatic presence no matter how much the mellifluous Barry Lyndon-like narration may describe his physical flaws or idiosyncratic ways of thinking. As a result, Affleck ends up proving the closest thing there is to a protagonist; as Robert, he must undergo a journey from eager wannabe to heavily-conflicted assassin. Even with both characters' fates spelled out by the title, it's easy to find one's self drawn into Affleck's resentful journey as he sees through the myth surrounding his hero and finds himself disappointed, even as Rockwell proves a much more flexible foil to the legendary Jesse.

Walter Hill's The Long Riders had already milked Jesse James' story for some fairly straightforward revisionist thrills, so there really was nowhere else for this film to go but pure deconstruction. Any moments of tension or excitement are flatly undercut in one way or another, whether it's the actual train robbery or a shoot-out that takes place in a cramped bedroom. This can work against the film as it gets a bit too caught up in seemingly ancillary sub-plots, especially the one involving Renner and Schneider. Some may find certain sequences a bit too drawn-out for their own good, such as a tense dinner-table conversation between Jesse and the Ford brothers. The film is lent considerable visual flair by veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins, who not only provides his usual techniques (such as a distinctive use of high-contrast lighting balances) but also works outside his professional comfort zone in providing scenes that are custom-designed to evoke antiquated photographs. The score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis once again involves the same haunting use of atonal strings and twanging guitars that the duo put to good use in John Hillcoat's The Proposition. While The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford isn't quite on the level of Hillcoat's film, it's still a dependable example of a revisionist Western. Though it may tread familiar ground and feel longer than it really needs to be, it is fortunately buoyed by a solid ensemble cast, some artfully prosaic writing, and some appropriately striking visual and aural contributions.




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#659 - A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Steven Spielberg, 2001



In a distant future where artificial beings are commonplace, an experimental android designed to look and behave like an ordinary human boy is given to a family whose own son is seriously ill.

Started by Stanley Kubrick and finished by Steven Spielberg, much has been made of how A.I. Artificial Intelligence comes across as a film torn between the vastly different sensibilities of two legendary directors. The basic premise could certainly have gone either way, taking place in a future of debatable quality - global warming and other disasters have drastically altered the planet (with New York City being almost completely submerged), but other technologies have still progressed considerably. As you can probably tell from the title, the film is primarily concerned with the concept of artificial beings, with many of them being commonplace within the world of the film. Of course, one robot-designing visionary (William Hurt) is interested in improving the design and decides that he wants to create a robot that is capable of feeling love for a human. To this end, he creates a robot (Haley Joel Osment) named David, who he decides to give to an employee (Sam Robards) whose own wife (Frances O'Connor) is distraught over their son being in a coma. Though the parents try to accept David and his earnest desire to give and receive unconditional love, things are complicated when their actual son recovers and only get worse from there, eventually leading to David going on a quixotic quest into the outside world to find the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio so as to become a real boy and therefore earn his human mother's love.

One can easily write off A.I. Artificial Intelligence as another reiteration of Spielberg at his most emotionally banal thanks to its earnest tale of a wide-eyed young boy working against the odds to earn the love of a distant family figure. Such a subject doesn't exactly seem like the ideal fit for the dispassionate perfectionism associated with Kubrick either. The film is arguably compromised as a result, but it's a testament to the material that the the film still ends up being rather solid. It does take a while for the story to kick in as the robots are set up through Hurt speechifying to a rapt audience before watching an extended series of scenes where an unflinchingly cheery David tries to acclimatise to his host family, whose reactions to his presence vary wildly but never quite lapse into unconditional acceptance. There are some predictable moments here and there, such as David having some severe malfunctions that eventually lead to his mother choosing to abandon him in the wilderness (instead of taking him to be flat-out destroyed), but they are still sold fairly well as Osment can move between being sweetly oblivious to his innocent but unsettling behaviours and naturally childlike distress when he is subjected to traumas such as being bullied by human children or being abandoned by an extremely reluctant and sorrowful parent for reasons that he is programmed to be incapable of understanding. While the first act is a bit of a slog, it's paid off by the second act, which sees David enter a world that is far different from his host family's expensive mansion.

If the first act is Spielberg playing to his stereotypes, then the second act definitely feels like the man is channeling Kubrick. Spielberg creates a number of set-pieces that use the late master's visual trademarks to bring the film's vivid dystopia to life. Whether it's neon-drenched red light districts or fiery carnivals, the scenery serves as an appropriately nightmarish backdrop against which David's adventures with his robotic teddy-bear buddy take place. They are populated with a variety of characters that mainly consist of sympathetic robots (the most prominent of which is Jude Law as "Gigolo Joe", a handsome pleasure-model who ends up crossing paths with David and joining him on his quest) and far less sympathetic humans (such as Brendan Gleeson as the man who runs a robot-destroying carnival for fun and profit). Though there is no denying the Kubrickian nature of several scenes (especially the scenes where Joe "works"), there are the odd moments where Spielberg bleeds through, such as one sequence involving an information machine embodied by an Einstein-like cartoon (voiced by Robin Williams, no less). The retro-futurism strikes a tricky balance between science-fiction and fairytale, with the eye-catching art direction is matched by the various effects used to bring the robots and their mechanical innards to life.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence may not be a classic, but it's certainly a lot better than I expected it to be. The first act is pretty dry and the film as a whole does feel like it goes on for a bit too long; it reached a point where it seemed like it was wrapping up but I checked the timer and it still had about twenty or thirty minutes to go. For those of you who've seen it, you should know that I actually kind of liked the ending despite its very left-field development and somewhat awkward sentimentality (though the latter being undercut by the implications at least seems to be by design, I suppose). Though one can't help but wonder how this film might have turned out under Kubrick's sole supervision, Spielberg goes all-out in order to pay homage to his peer and weave together their disparate film-making idiosyncrasies. It doesn't quite work, as the attempts to mesh the styles only serve to magnify the flaws in Spielberg's approach, especially when he deliberately tries to evoke amusement at the robots and their world. Given how inventive the visuals on display tend to be, it's a shame that John Williams provides a very standard-sounding score to go along with them. Time will tell whether it really holds up, but there's certainly enough strength to the writing and technical side of things to earn at least some goodwill.




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#660 - At the Circus
Edward Buzzell, 1939



When a circus owner is put under pressure by debtors, two of his more reckless subordinates seek out an attorney to help save the circus.

I'm willing to entertain the possibility that making Duck Soup the first Marx Brothers film that I ever watched was all but guaranteed to make it so that every film of theirs I watched after that would guarantee diminishing returns, even with their other big-name films like A Night at the Opera or Horse Feathers. As such, it's probably no surprise that getting into their later films from the late-'30s and early-'40s would quite possibly yield the most diminished returns of all. The Marx Brothers may be comedic legends, but that doesn't mean that their films weren't prone to following a rather rigid formula where the only real variations between films ended up being the setting and character names. Groucho's the shifty wise-cracker full of one-liners, Harpo's the mute clown pulling off all sorts of sight gags, and Chico functions as an intermediary who plays off the both of them in whatever way is necessary. The plots were also formulaic as they tended to involve a variety of familiar factors such as a greedy villain, a photogenic young romantic couple who served as the good guys and who were helped in their goals by the brothers, musical numbers, a bombastic set-piece for the finale, and so forth. At the Circus invokes just about every single one of these factors in telling a tale that involves a failing circus and a plan being hatched by the brothers to have it be unwittingly financed by a wealthy dowager (Marx regular Margarent Dumont) in order to save it from being liquidated.

Considering the era in which the Marx Brothers were releasing their films, it's perhaps not too surprising that they don't really aim for anything more than just some straight laughs, but At the Circus is pretty bereft of them. There is the occasional clever moment, such as Groucho making an aside to the audience as to how he's going to get out of a tricky situation without violating the Hays Code, but it feels so dry for the most part that the film is often left floundering between clever quips. While Groucho's quick-witted nature definitely provides the bulk of the amusement, I find that Harpo's antics tend to grate on me more and more with each new film of theirs that I watch to the point where even his decision to just play lilting melodies on a harp for several straight minutes lacks any charm. Even the promise of an appropriately all-out finale that involves setting up a three-ring circus within the grounds of Dumont's palatial mansion (complete with an orchestra getting cut adrift and a loose gorilla) does little to stop this from being an extremely dull effort from a comedy trio whose reputation is clearly built on films other than this one.




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#661 - Seven Samurai
Akira Kurosawa, 1954



A village of impoverished farmers hires a group of wandering samurai to protect them from a ruthless clan of bandits.

The plot of Seven Samurai follows some poor farmers trying to figure out how to deal with a bandit clan threatening to commit their yearly raid on the farmers' village. After consulting with the village elder, a small group of farmers heads to the nearest town in order to hire a group of samurai to fight against the bandits. Though their meager reward (no money, just food and board until the job is done) initially draws nothing but derision from the local mercenaries, they have a stroke of luck when they encounter an ageing ronin (Takashi Shimura) who volunteers his services despite the lack of payment because, well, it's the right thing to do. He proves an intriguing enough figure that he is able to attract even more samurai to the cause, all of whom cover a variety of recognisable archetypes - the eager novice (isao Kimura), the dispassionate master (Seiji Miyaguchi), the affable sidekicks (Daisuke Katô and Yoshio Inaba), the cheerful comic relief (Minoru Chiaki), and most memorably the disrespectful wannabe (Toshiro Mifune). Their motives vary as well, whether it's the promise of adventure, the chance to refine one's skill, or simply looking for a place to belong. Of course, things end up being complicated well before the bandits show up as the naturally fearful villagers treat their newfound protectors with suspicion and distrust...

I think when it comes to reviewing films that have earned such immense reputations as this one has, I feel like I have to at least try to think of them in negative terms so as to prove something at least somewhat new and interesting to say. Seven Samurai is over sixty years old, three-and-a-half hours in length, black-and-white, subtitled, not nearly as action-packed as its simple plot might suggest, and the deliberately theatrical style of acting from every player is bound to alienate anyone who might expect a certain degree of realistic nuance. This marks the third time I've watched it in a decade - the last time was two years ago, the time before that was way back in 2007 - so it's a classic that I don't exactly feel like I can bust out every so often. The main motivation for this viewing was that I had the chance to see it in a theatrical context, and while it is a generally good film I would not consider it totally essential to watch the film in a theatre. Be that as it may, Seven Samurai holds up very well between these rather infrequent viewings. Yeah, the acting does come across as a bit stilted or overdone, especially when it comes to watching Mifune's manic fool devour the scenery in many different ways, but honestly it's too damned charming to watch him work. If anything, Mifune is the stand-out here as the wild man who could very easily have been annoying due to his clownish antics and vitriolic monologues, but he gets more than enough depth to justify his superficial immaturity (such as his angry monologue about the farmers' true nature or a certain scene taking place in front of an old mill). Each characters does get enough character traits to sufficiently define them through moments great and small, while the actors playing them do commendable jobs in bringing them to life.

Though Seven Samurai is probably a bit too drawn-out to properly qualify as an action movie, what action it does feature is handled with considerable skill. It may spend a lot of time on set-ups (most notably all the scenes where the samurai plot out their defence, whether it's by training the locals to wield bamboo spears or surveying the surrounding locations), but that only means that it results in good pay-offs. One can definitely identify how much it serves as a blueprint for many a recognisable action film for reasons that go beyond its utilitarian plot and colourful cast of characters playing off one another. Slow-motion deaths are probably the most immediately obvious innovation one can identify, though it's also pretty impressive how Kurosawa can pace any scenes of violence (when he opts to show violence, that is). Scenes range from one-on-one duels to stealthy ambushes to all-out battles, most of which are captured without the use of background music (not like the music's necessarily bad but many scenes really do feel more effective when there isn't any music) and vary in terms of how elegantly or realistically they unfold.

Despite its reputation as the grandfather of modern action movies (to the point where I could pick apart ways in which other movies openly or subtly paid homage to it - Mifune's sticking several swords into a mound of dirt in preparation for the final battle definitely felt like a precursor to Chow Yun-fat hiding spare pistols in potted plants during John Woo's A Better Tomorrow), it manages to attach a considerable amount of tragedy to many scenes of violence. This is even after the fight scenes start off as awesome (case in point - Miyaguchi's introductory scene where a non-lethal duel with an arrogant warrior soon proves to be the latter's undoing) but as time wears on and the numbers of the good guys start to dwindle, the true cost of what's going on bubbles to the surface. That's enough to make up for certain plot holes that start to pop up after a few viewings, such as one samurai's usage of a longbow that you'd think would figure more prominently into their strategy, especially when the bandits themselves are established as having not only bows but rifles.

Attempting to actually find serious fault with Seven Samurai beyond matters of an extremely subjective perspective are a bit difficult. Even though it indulges that hoariest of action-movie clichés by having the young and handsome Kimura begin a secret romantic tryst with the daughter of one very overprotective farmer, there are enough particulars at play so that it manages to come across as a platonic ideal for the trope rather than vacuous cliché. With a film of this length, one can always question whether it really needs to be as long as it is (especially when Western-themed remake The Magnificent Seven is almost half the length of Kurosawa's film) but I'd say that it more than earns its right to be epic. Even elements that threaten to date the film such as the melodramatic performances or the jaunty background score don't prove to be significant distractions. It works as a solid combination of character study, action thriller, and post-war allegory (which is understood most prominently through the bandits' usage of rifles against their sword-wielding opponents). The film's reputation should say volumes, but I'll reiterate anyway - this film is the very definition of essential viewing. Anyone with even a passing interest in cinema, whether as high art or escapist entertainment, definitely owes it to themselves to at least try watching this. Love it or hate it, it's definitely a rewarding experience.