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New Escapist Column! On How “Return of the Jedi” Reduced “Star Wars” to Formula…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special releasing tomorrow, I thought it was worth taking a look back at Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.

In particular, the way in which Return of the Jedi sets an outer limit on what Star Wars can be. After the previous film in the series pushed the franchise outwards, the third film in the original trilogy folds the series back in on itself and sets a clear boundary on what Star Wars is and what Star Wars will forever be. It is a creative choice that has arguably hindered the franchise in the years since, restricting its capacity to push beyond that template and embrace new ideas and new concepts.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

160. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (#15)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Luke Dunne, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT.

So this week, Irvin Kershner’s The Empire Strikes Back.

It is a time of galactic strife. Following the Empire’s defeat at the Battle of Yavin, the Rebel Alliance finds itself on the run. A surprise attack on the ice planet of Hoth scatters the rebel fighters to the wind, with Luke embarking on training with a mysterious figure named Yoda while Han Solo attempts to ferry Princess Leia to safety. However, things are not as they appear.

At time of recording, it was ranked 15th on the list of the best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: The Hunger Games – Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire suffers from a problem comic to the second story in planned trilogies. It lacks its own clear arc or structure, instead serving as a little more (or perhaps a little less) than half a film. There’s no conclusion or resolution here, just a lot dangling plot threads and insinuations – the suggestion of a larger and grander conflict looming on the horizon that might offer some measure of closure.

While it improves on quite a few flaws from the first film, it ultimately feels rather hollow; like an extended trailer for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay.

Hungry for more?

Hungry for more?

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Non-Review Review: The Mortal Instruments – City of Bones

The Mortal Instruments: The City of Bones is just about wry enough and smart enough to launch itself snugly into the gap in the “young adult” movie market left by the end of franchises like Twilight or Harry Potter. This franchise-launcher, based on Cassandra Clare’s 2007 novel, is at its best when it’s self-aware, with young starlet Lilly Collins reacting with quiet bemusement to the surreal urban fantasy or Irish supporting actor Robert Sheehan picking holes in the plot.

It’s over-the-top and deliciously campy, but indulgently so. Refusing to merely bask in the clichés of urban fantasy, The Mortal Instruments practically revels in them. Subtext becomes supra-text, twists are shrewdly signposted in a way welcoming to genre aficionados and there’s an endearing sense of pulp to the whole thing. The movie only really suffers when it tries to take things entirely seriously, slowing down for an almost interminable second act and casting the so-wooden-he-should-probably-be-varnished Jamie Campbell Bower as the obligatory “mysterious hunky teenager.”

A cut above?

A cut above?

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My 12 for ’12: The Muppets & Everything You Need, Right In Front Of You

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #3

I can’t help but feel that The Muppets probably aren’t quite as popular over here as they really should be. After all, we had to wait about three months for the eventual release of the film in Irish cinemas. Even later this year, following all the publicity around the recent revival, I was only able to find one cinema in Dublin doing three screening of The Muppets’ Christmas Carol, despite the highly-publicised re-release. However, perhaps I shouldn’t take their international publicity for granted either. After all, Jason Segal spent six or seven years trying to guide everybody’s favourite felt performers to the big screen again.

Still, The Muppets demonstrated that the gang had lost absolutely nothing in transitioning out of retirement and back to the screen, demonstrating that all these sorts of characters need is a bit of sincere love and affection.

muppets6

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Non-Review Review: Critters 3

I have a confession to make. I have never seen a Critters film before. They were always sitting there on the lower shelves of the horror section in the shop where I used to rent DVDs, but I just never picked one up. I can’t quite explain why – that sort of trashy horror-comedy would probably have seemed right up my street, but I guess I was probably more fascinated with the more iconic horror monsters and menaces. Anyway, my better half has always had a bit of affection for Leonardo DiCaprio, and when we discovered that his first big screen role was as a kid in Critters 3, I suggested that we could watch both watch it. And, I’m surprised to admit, it was nowhere near as bad as I thought it was going to be.

Laugh it up, fuzzball…

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Minor Miracles: Supporting Characters & The Lesson of Hannibal Lecter

“Less is more.” Or so we’re often told at least. It generally seems to be used in a polite way to limit our exposure to things we don’t like. However, I can’t help but wonder if it is true of supporting characters. After all, those interesting side characters in movies that happen to capture our imaginations with a relatively minor roles. Indeed, I reckon that I could probably name more supporting characters I took a shine to, rather than iconic lead characters. While we undoubtedly relish every moment they appear on-screen, and perhaps lament that we only get so limited an exposure to them, I can’t help but wonder of that somewhat restricted presence might be precisely what makes them so appealing in the first place.

Bloody brilliant…

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Non-Review Review: Titanic (3D)

James Cameron’s Titanic is still a breath-taking production, even sixteen years after the fact. Sure, its huge budget and even bigger box office returns, coupled with its enormous pop culture impact, have all combined to make it a bit of a target for movie critics in the years following its initial release. To be honest, while I wouldn’t rank it as anywhere near Cameron’s finest accomplishment, I’ve always admired it for what it was: a romantic historical epic, perhaps the most recent film like that which Hollywood has produced. Even a decade and a half later, Titanic remains one hell of spectacle and a well-constructed piece of cinema, with Cameron displaying a mastery of form and an innate skill for story-telling. Couple with the best post-conversion 3D that I have ever seen, there’s no reason for anybody with a genuine interest in the film to stay away from the big re-release.

Her heart will... go on, finish it...

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Non-Review Review: John Carter

I really enjoyed John Carter for what it was. In a way, the movie feels quite a bit like its lead character, a Confederate soldier yanked off Earth and dumped in another very strange setting. This movie feels like a seventies or eighties science-fiction epic, mercilessly plucked from the era of pulpy high-tech fantasy and transposed to a more cynical modern time. Whether or not you will enjoy John Carter will depend entirely on your taste for big-budget science-fiction epics. Those who favour a wry and self-aware approach to their wild interplanetary adventures will likely go home unsatisfied. However, those who can embrace an earnest and straight-faced adaptation of a science-fiction classic will find much to enjoy. You can guess which camp I fell into, even if I could acknowledge the movie’s significant shortcomings.

Warlord of Mars...

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That One Scene…

You know the one I’m talking about. It’s the one scene in a bad movie that really got you, that managed to suggest that maybe there was a bit more to the film than met the eye. If it came towards the start of the film, it probably built up expectations that the finished product couldn’t meet. If it appeared in the middle, it made sure that you didn’t quite nod off towards the end. If it closed out the movie, you probably left feeling more satisfied with the movie-going experience than you really should. Often, however, these sequences are just frustrating because they just end up teasing what could have been.

Mauled by critics...

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