The name Peter Mayhew for the most part only rings bells for the most ardent Star Wars enthusiasts. The 7-foot-2 actor, who donned the costume of Chewbacca in the original trilogy, was lumped in with Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels and David Prowse, the faceless group behind R2-D2, C3PO and Darth Vader, respectively –recognizable only if you're a regular Comic-Con attendee.
Mayhew, however, has suddenly found himself with a legion of new followers on Twitter (@TheWookieeRoars) after he recently began tweeting photos that he has from the sets of the Star Wars films. There have been hundreds of pages devoted to George Lucas' brainchild, yet the photos that Mayhew has put out there for public consumption highlight a personal aspect that is frequently missing. It took a Wookiee to remind us that the people behind Star Wars, including Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, are just human beings, after all.
In particular, Mayhew's obvious affection for Fisher is on display. In one photo, Fisher plants a playful kiss on Chewbacca and the actress is never without a smile in the snapshots. In a picture that sent older fan-boys into near cardiac arrest, Fisher is seen sunning herself in the famous Princess Leia slave outfit, along with her identically dressed stunt double. The picture stands in stark contrast to Fisher's long-standing complaints about having to wear the costume.
Equally arresting are the pictures featuring a younger, jovial Ford. It's been a long, long time since the erstwhile Han Solo was willing to let his guard down, but Mayhew's shots of Ford flashing the lopsided grin that made him famous help remind us why he became a superstar apart from Star Wars.
There are also shots of the other hidden players in and out of costume, including Daniels in his C3PO costume trying to stay out of the hot Tunisian sun.
It's like looking at someone's family photo album, only populated with famous people and iconic characters. Seeing Mayhew's picture of Ford and Hamill just sitting on a couch in sweaters looks like it could've come from anybody's stash of pictures from 1979, which is the beauty of it. Unlike publicity photos or even ones taken by a set photographer, Mayhew's shots are really just his pictures of himself with some friends. The fact that it's all taking place on some of the most famous sets in the history of cinema is completely secondary.
Mayhew's original tweet before uploading the treasure trove of pictures said that he was "feeling nostalgic." The man behind Chewbacca was kind enough to share the trip down memory lane with Star Wars fans everywhere and in the process put a human face back on the sci-fi epic. Hopefully, writer-director J.J. Abrams remembers to do the same with the forthcoming Episode VII.
The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
The creator of one of the most beloved of all Star Wars characters has died at the age of 98. But when Stuart Freeborn sculpted the original puppet that served as Yoda in 1979, among the many other characters he built for the saga, he already had a decades-long body of work that would have marked him as a pioneer of movie makeup and creature models. It's a career that serves as a reminder of the tactility and realism that comes from physical, non-CGI, special effects. That puppets and prosthetics can have a greater power to move and inspire and believe in than computer-powered, pixel-based wizardry.
Born in London in 1914, Freeborn cut his teeth working for producer-director Alexander Korda in the 1940s and was an uncredited contributor to the makeup work in the 1940 production of The Thief of Bagdad that's often held up as the most dazzling achievement in pre-CGI effects. He also supplied prosthetics for David Lean's uniquely atmospheric and sinister production of Oliver Twist. And when Stanley Kubrick needed a makeup artist to help distinguish between the three characters played by Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove, he knew whom to turn. In fact, Kubrick was so impressed with Freeborn's work on his anti-war satire that he commissioned him to design the ape-like costumes for the proto-humans that appear during "The Dawn of Man" prologue to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not to mention that anyone who's seen The Omen will ever forget the beheading effect he created for that film.
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But it's Freeborn's work on the original Star Wars trilogy that will be, for millions of fans of George Lucas' saga the world over, the most cherished part of his legacy. He designed the yak-hair costume that transformed the 7'3" Peter Mayhew into walking carpet Chewbacca, and sculpted the models and prosthetics that would become the Mos Eisley Cantina's uniquely bizarre alien clientele. The walrus-tusked Aqualish who menaces Luke Skywalker? That's Freeborn's handiwork. Snout-nosed, bulbous-eyed Greedo, whom Han Solo shot under his cantina table? Freeborn again. On The Empire Strikes Back, he expanded the Star Wars menagerie with his models for Luke and Han's lizard-like mounts, the Tauntauns, and also Hoth's answer to the abominable snowman, the Wampa. He even one-upped the patrons of the Mos Eisley Cantina with his designs for Jabba the Hutt, a puppet that required multiple performers to maneuver, and the crime lord's gnarly underlings and toadies. Freeborn made interstellar scum and villainy feel like flesh and blood.
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Possibly one Star Wars creation stands above the rest: the puppet he created for which Frank Oz would give movement and voice. Yoda. And for this singular design, Freeborn looked to a source with which he was very familiar: himself. Take a look at Freeborn, and then look at Yoda. There's more than a ballpark resemblance, isn't there? Adding wrinkles, folds, and tangled strands of willowy hair, Freeborn created a Jedi Master who really looked 900 years old. And while Yoda himself may have described his physical shell as "crude matter," the original puppet will forever be the truest depiction of the character. True, he couldn't do flips and twirls like the acrobatic CGI Yoda of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, but his power didn't come from dervish-like displays. It came from within. You didn't need to see Yoda wield a lightsaber, because his power was so great, he didn't even need to use a lightsaber. The limitations of movement that came from Freeborn's original puppet design only enhanced the Jedi Master's mystery, the idea that his internal life was more important than his external projection of power. He was a spiritual being made manifest, and never just an effect, which, in his CGI form, he arguably became.
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How ironic then Freeborn would die just two days after that rumor broke of a standalone Yoda movie possibly being in the works. Here's hoping that if that film ever happens, or Yoda has more cinematic life ahead of him in any Star Wars movie, that Disney and Lucasfilm recognize the peculiar power of Freeborn's artistry and the emotional resonance of a green, two-foot puppet.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
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Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
At the moment there are few greater clichés in the media than the freaking out single woman on the cusp of 30. Of course clichés are clichés for a reason worth exploring even through the lens of just one or two women as in Lola Versus. Unfortunately while the intention behind Lola Versus isn't that we should all be happily married by the age of 30 it still fits into the same rubric of all those "Why You're Not Married" books.
Lola (Greta Gerwig) has a gorgeous fiancé Luke (Joel Kinnaman) and they live in a giant loft together the kind of dreamy NYC real estate that seems to exist primarily in the movies. Just as they're planning their gluten-free wedding cake with a non-GMO rice milk-based frosting Luke dumps her. It's cruelly sudden — although Luke isn't a cruel man. Lola finds little comfort in the acerbic wit of her best friend the eternally single Alice (Zoe Lister-Jones) who is probably delighted to see her perfectly blonde best friend taken down a peg and into the murky world of New York coupling. Lola and Luke share a best friend Henry (Hamish Linklater) a messy-haired rumpled sweetheart who is kind and safe and the inevitable shelter for Lola's fallout. Her parents well-meaning and well-to-do hippie types feed her kombucha and try to figure out their iPads and give her irrelevant advice.
Lola Versus is slippery. Its tone careens between broad TV comedy and earnest dramedy almost as if Alice is in charge of the dirty zingers and Lola's job is to make supposedly introspective statements. Alice's vulgar non-sequiturs are tossed off without much relish and Lola's dialogue comes off too often as expository and plaintive. We don't need Lola to tell Henry "I'm vulnerable I'm not myself I'm easily persuaded" or "I'm slutty but I'm a good person!" (Which is by the way an asinine statement to make. One might even say she's not even that "slutty " she's just making dumb decisions that hurt those around her just as much as she's hurting herself.)
We know that she's a mess — that's the point of the story! It's not so much that a particularly acerbic woman wouldn't say to her best friend "Find your spirit animal and ride it until its d**k falls off " but that she wouldn't say it in the context of this movie. It's from some other movie over there one where everyone is as snarky and bitter as Alice. You can't have your black-hearted comedy and your introspective yoga classes. Is it really a stride forward for feminism that the clueless single woman has taken the place of the stoner man-child in media today? When Lola tells Luke "I'm taken by myself. I've gotta just do me for a while " it's true. But it doesn't sound true and it doesn't feel true.
In one scene Lola stumbles on the sidewalk and falls to the ground. No one asks her if she's okay or needs help; she simply gets up on her own and goes on her way. It's a moment that has happened to so many people. It's humiliating and so very public but of course you just gotta pick yourself up and get where you're going. In this movie it's a head-smackingly obvious metaphor. In one of the biggest missteps of the movie Jay Pharoah plays a bartender that makes the occasional joke while Lola is waiting tables at her mom's restaurant. His big line at the end is "And I'm your friend who's black!" It would have been better to leave his entire character on the cutting room floor than attempt such a half-hearted wink at the audience.
Lister-Jones and director Daryl Wein co-wrote the screenplay for Lola Versus as they did with 2009's Breaking Upwards. Both films deal with the ins and outs of their own romantic relationship in one way or another. Breaking Upwards a micro-budget indie about a rough patch in their relationship was much more successful in tone and direction. Lola Versus has its seeds in Lister-Jones' experience as a single woman in New York and is a little bit farther removed from their experiences. Lola Versus feels like a wasted opportunity. Relatively speaking there are so few movies getting made with a female writer or co-writer that it almost feels like a betrayal to see such a tone-deaf portrayal of women onscreen. What makes it even more disappointing is how smart and likable everyone involved is and knowing that they could have made a better movie.