Day 343: Once Upon a Time in the West/Star Wars: Episode IV/V/Fight Club

#362/ 365 – ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ (1968) – 175 mins
IMDb Challenge #234 / 250 – Ranked #20 – DVD Collection

A mysterious stranger (Charles Bronson) with a harmonica joins forces with a notorious desperado (Jason Robards) to protect a beautiful widow (Claudia Cardinale) from a ruthless assassin (Henry Fonda) working for the railroad in this long frontier epic. Mysterious pasts and the strength of loyalties are explored amid lightning fast gun battles…

Once Upon a Time really isn’t a film about plot, it is a film that firmly revolves around character. Sergio Leone, the Italian filmmaker, arguably with his roughened style defined the spaghetti western genre and this style is abundantly on show in Once Upon a Time in the West, never more than during the what is probably the longest credit sequence in movie history. It unfolds with a soundtrack that is entirely full of atmospheric noise; the camera follows three gunfighters so intensely that by the time the train arrives you feel as if you have lived and breathed with them for days, only to….well, if you’ve seen the film you know what happens.

It may not be the best Western I’ve viewed but it is a brilliantly choreographed piece of action film, a fantastic character study, beautifully photographed with a distinctive score by Ennio Morricone. It is a sombre and thoughtful piece that you simply want to enjoy more than once.

#363/ 365 – ‘Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope’ (1977) – 121 mins
IMDb Challenge #235 / 250 – Ranked #14 – DVD Collection

Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is held hostage by the evil Imperial forces in their effort to take over the Galactic Empire. Venturesome Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and dashing Captain Han Solo (Harrison Ford) team together with the lovable robotic duo, R2-D2 and C-3PO, to rescue the beautiful princess and restore justice in the Empire

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

What can I possibly say about the first installment of the ultimate space saga that hasn’t already been said a thousand times before? George Lucas’s Star Wars must be one of the most discussed and most examined films of the century, which everyone on the planet as seen at least once, correct? Hands up who hasn’t?

This is an old-fashioned fairy story of good vs. powerful evil, a damsel princess in distress with a brave yet young hero facing impossible odds but whose faith carries him to victory, told in such a straightforward manner. Even though the characters have no real depth to them they bring life to the story with their unique traits.

For a sci-fi film released in 1977, the special effects from Industrial Light and Magic are absolutely phenomenal, even by today’s standards. From a stunning opening shot, where the Empire chases Rebellion forces in their mighty warships to laser blasts to alien creatures everything is breathtaking to look at.

Then there is John Williams epic and iconic score. From the opening theme to the ceremonial piece in the final scene, the music excites and without it, Star Wars would not be as grand of a film as it still is today.

I will never tire of Star Wars. It is a touchstone of my childhood and my fascination in it will never end.

#364/ 365 – ‘Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980) – 124 mins
IMDb Challenge #236 / 250 – Ranked #11 – DVD Collection

After receiving a vision from Obi-Wan Kenobi and fleeing the ice world of Hoth with his friends after an Imperial attack, Luke Skywalker travels to the marsh planet of Dagobah, where he is instructed in the ways of the Force by the legendary Jedi Master Yoda. Meanwhile, Han Solo and Princess Leia make their way to planet Bespin, where they are greeted by Han’s old friend, a shifty gambler named Lando Calrissian. Ambushed by the Empire shortly after their arrival, Han and his friends are imprisoned by Darth Vader

Taking over directing duties from George Lucas, the late Irvin Kershner did the imporbable on where so many sequels simply fail. He and Lucas followed up a bona-fide classic in ‘Star Wars’ with a sequel that is finest and most mature of the trilogy. Disposing of the more lighthearted adventure tone outlined by Lucas in the first film, they created a more dark and sophisticated central theme with a lot more depth in character, and and with that, the performances also matured, notably those of Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill.

The visual effects deployed in The Empire Strikes Back are far more superlative than those of Star Wars. From the approach of the Imperial Walkers, the asteroid field to the rescue from the Cloud City, all are strikingly vivid and exciting sequences

The defining moment of The Empire Strikes Back occurs in the final twenty minutes. The scene that begins with the Luke and Vader’s lightsaber duel and ends with our young hero’s despairing decision to allow himself to plummet out of Vader’s reach represents a truly compelling moment – “No. I am your father.”

#365/ 365 – ‘Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi’ (1983) – 134 mins
IMDb Challenge #237 / 250 – Ranked #108 – DVD Collection

Darth Vader and the Empire are building a new, indestructible Death Star. Meanwhile, Han Solo has been imprisoned, and Luke Skywalker has sent R2-D2 and C-3PO to try and free him. Princess Leia – disguised as a bounty hunter – and Chewbacca go along as well. The final battle takes place on the moon of Endor, with its natural inhabitants, the Ewoks, lending a hand to the Rebels. Will Darth Vader and the Dark Side overcome the Rebels and take over the universe?

There’s an old saying out there about leaving the best for last. Sadly George Lucas certainly didn’t follow that adage when bringing the original Star Wars trilogy to its conclusion. Return of the Jedi, is undoubtedly the weakest of the trilogy.

The dark, eerie atmosphere that oozed from every scene of The Empire Strikes Back has disappeared and been replaced by cuteness, mainly in the unbearable race of those teddy bears, the Ewoks. That said Return of the Jedi does have some interesting elements. The Luke, Vader and Emperor battle scenes are tense and well-acted. There’s some terrific chemistry shared between Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher who have all now wholesomely matured into their roles.

Unfortunately I felt this was one film too many in the saga and it was the only the beginning of the demise of an unforgettable journey.

#366/ 365 – ‘Fight Club’ (1999) – 139 mins
IMDb Challenge #238 / 250 – Ranked #15 – DVD Collection

A ticking-time-bomb Narrator (Edward Norton) and soap salesman (Brad Pitt) channel primal male aggression into a shocking new form of therapy. Together they create a new “fight club” where young men come to relieve their frustrations by beating each other to a pulp. Their concept catches on, with underground “fight clubs” forming in every town, until a sensuous eccentric (Helena Bonham Carter) gets in the way and ignites an out-of control spiral toward oblivion.

The first rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is, you DO NOT talk about Fight Club – ok, well that was an easy review.

If you follow these simple rules, the chances are like me you’ll be blown away by Fight Club and will want to keep going back in for more and more. With its unique style, it is a violent explosion of brave ideas that meet the subconscious fantasy from David Fincher whose one of the boldest and most innovative filmmakers working in Hollywood today.

Our isolated insomniac protagonist The Narrator and devious soap salesman Tyler Durden suck you into the wacky and the weird, bare-knuckle fights and urban terrorism whilst spewing compelling dialogue – “We’re consumers. We are by-products of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty, these things don’t concern me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels, some guy’s name on my underwear.”

Don’t even try to place Fight Club in a genre or even try to work it out at times. Just take in the ride. It is a film that explodes at you with invention, energy and excitement.

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