Lego Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Out

Darths Maul and Vader face off in Lego Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Out

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

28 January

 

 

Lego patents its brick design, 1958

On this day in 1958 the Lego company patented the brick design it had been working on for five years. Originally a company created by a carpenter in 1932 to produce wooden toys (called Lego from the Danish phrase Leg Godt – play well) Lego had been into the production of plastic bricks since 1947. By the early 1950s more than half of the company’s output was plastic. In 1954 Godtfred, son of founder Ole Kirk Christiansen, acting on a conversation he’d had with an overseas buyer, began working on the idea of a toy system, and set about re-engineering bricks that Lego already produced so that they would lock together better and be more durable. Using acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, a different plastic than the one the company had been using before, and experimenting with locking systems, Lego came up with the brick still in production today. A brick made in 1958 will interlock with a 21st century brick. Because of this, the high quality of the product, the fact that it is as versatile as the mind of the person using it, its indestructibility (a 2×2 brick can withstand a force of 4,240 newtons), Lego has escaped the stigma usually loaded on to plastic toys. More than 38 billion bricks are sold each year.

 

 

 

Lego Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Out (2012, dir: Guy Vasilovich)

One of a series of Star Wars homages made by the Lego people, The Empire Strikes Out stands up well when compared to similar spoofs by Robot Chicken and Family Guy. But don’t expect a full-sized brick-built temple to George Lucas. Lego Star Wars is only 22 minutes long but it does pack a lot in. Certainly it’s for the sort of person who knows that Darth Maul didn’t appear in The Empire Strikes Back but it isn’t acutely necessary to be a nerd to get enjoyment from it. The plot is loosely about the emperor calling in both Darths (Vader and Maul) to smash the rebel alliance once and for all. But it’s really just an excuse to get a few of the potentially most comic characters of the Lucas-verse in the same place at the same time. Camp is the overriding tone, somewhere between old-school vaudeville and the fast-churn humour of the Airplane films. And the humour isn’t just directed at Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker and the team but at Lego too – when the Dark Star is blown up, everyone just shrugs “we can rebuild it”. Big pluses are John Williams’s score being cleared for use (Lucas has clearly given the nod) and even the voicework of some fairly familiar actors – Anthony Daniels (aka C-3PO), Julian Glover, Brian Blessed, Ahmed Best (yes, Jar Jar Binks turns up). Perhaps the best joke comes in the standoff between Darth Maul and Darth Vader, when they both try the death grip on each other (I won’t ruin it). What’s actually remarkable, if you come to Lego Star Wars cold, is how far a few stuck-together bricky characters with stuck-on Lego hair can get along the road to true Star Wars respectability. Or is that just the final proof of how bad George Lucas’s direction of human beings was in the original films themselves?

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • It’s funny
  • A taster for the full length Lego Movie
  • There are some bona fide Star Wars names in there
  • Walks the line between mockery and salute

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Lego Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Out – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

18 March 2013-03-18

Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva

Out in the UK this week

 

 

 

 

Amour (Artificial Eye, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)

Whatever you say about the director of Hidden or Funny Games,  no one does “pitiless gaze” quite as well as Michael Haneke. In Amour he takes one of  his standing obsessions, the life bourgeois, and yokes to it a subject rarely covered in film – the loss of dignity and disappearance of the self that happens to most of us as death comes close. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva are the film’s focus, playing a pair of sprightly retired piano teachers whose quietly tasteful, cultured lifestyle is interrupted when one of them has a stroke. What follows is harrowing but almost inevitable, the full meaning of the film’s title only becoming obvious towards the end. Amour won an Oscar for Best Foreign film this year and deservedly so. Watch it and weep.

End of Watch (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña are the two patrolmen who aren’t quite the badass motherfuckers they would like to be in a drama that won’t admit it’s made a stupid stylistic mistake – the decision to shoot the whole thing in a “found-footage” handheld pov style (picked up and dropped throughout). The compensations are many though – wonderful performances by the two main men and support cast, tough, witty writing, and, above all, the astute portrait it paints of the psychological cost of being a policeman. There’s more to this than the trailer’s suggestion it’s Training Day II.

247°F (Anchor Bay, cert 14, Blu-ray/DVD)

The apparently true story of some kids in Georgia getting stuck in a very hot sauna, run through Hollywood’s genre machine so it resembles “two jocks, two babes out in the woods” product. Nothing wrong with that. Your eyes might be drawn to Christina Ulloa, she’s the one in the pink bikini (Ulloa indeed), when you’re not trying to work out just what you’d do to save yourself as the temperature soars towards its titular peak. For Celsius types, that’s 119.444°C, apparently, which does seem hellishly warm.

My Brother The Devil (Verve, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

At first looking like another Kidulthood “djagettme” drama, Sally El Hosaini’s film about inner city youth going to the bad actually veers into something different – a story about a young man dabbling in gangsterism who wants to get out, just as his younger, enthralled brother is trying to get in. There is amazing stuff in here – watch Saïd Taghmaoui’s performance and see the film spark into life, as it also does every time Letitia Wright is on the screen. As for the rest of it, this nicely shot, well cast film spends too long up avenues that have been explored repeatedly since the teenager was first invented in the 1950s. Djagettme?

Comedown (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Talking of Kidulthood, “how do” to Adam Deacon, in a hoodie horror about an inner city gang of mates, lightly criminal, highly attitudinal, going into the abandoned tower block they all grew up in, to plant a pirate radio aerial on the roof. Whereupon a resident psycho starts picking them off one by one. For aficionados here’s a chance to tickbox away as Freddie Kruger, the Texas Chainsaw, the corridors of Alien, the ingenious gruesomeness of Saw are all referenced. For non-horror fans this is a tasty, bantering and atmospheric film that’s tense rather than too frightening.

Comedown – at Amazon

 

Lego Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Out (Fox, cert U, DVD)

For anyone who hasn’t seen any of them, these Lego versions of Star Wars are a bit of quality. They’re funny, for starters, telling jokes at the expense of George Lucas’s hallowed franchise – for example Darth Maul and Darth Vader doing the mind-control choke thing on each other while childishly chanting “Why are you choking yourself, why are you choking yourself”. Made me chortle. As did the arrival of a Lego “build your own Death Star” kit after the first one had been destroyed. There’s also the bonus of some of the original voice talent taking part (Julian Glover doing General Veers, Brian Blessed as Boss Nass, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO). And they’re only 25 minutes long. George?

Dracula (Lionsgate, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

The 2007 BFI restoration of Hammer’s 1958 Dracula starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, plus a couple of extra scenes deemed too saucy or shocking back then (you can clearly spot them – the image goes to pot). It’s a good film rather than the great one the five-star rating of many a parochial UK critic suggests, though Jimmy Sangster’s screenplay is a marvel of compression, Cushing’s screencraft and Fairbanksian athleticism are something to watch and Lee does make a wonderfully urbane Count D. It’s the wooden support acting, am-dram outdoor sets (you can’t hide from Blu-ray) and even creakier stage direction that holds it back – the on-screen talent moving so precisely and carefully to their pre-ordained marks that it’s almost like watching a ballet. 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013