Tag Archives: Kenny Baker

The Set of 400: #9 – My Favorite Excessive Display of Notes

Today, because I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint –

 

Amadeus (1984)

Directed by Milos Forman (x2)

Starring F. Murray Abraham (x5), Tom Hulce (x3), Elizabeth Berridge, Jeffrey Jones (x6), Simon Callow, Roy Dotrice, Christine Ebersole (x2), Kenny Baker (x6), Cynthia Nixon, Vincent Schiavelli (x6), Charles Kay

We didn’t sit around the television watching a lot of 18th century Viennese epics as children, but perhaps because of when it was made and how often WPIX was willing to air this four hour (with commercials) biopic, a lifelong love affair sprung up with Amadeus. I mean, it’s basically a perfect movie – the leanest 160 minute film you’ll ever see – full of marvelous performances and dazzling set decoration, and even if you aren’t a particularly big fan of classical music, the combination of filmmaking expertise on display and riveting soundtrack make for an always engrossing audience experience. But for a kid? How and why did this movie catch?

I think having such a basic conflict is easy to understand at any age. Mozart – loads of raw talent, kind of an immature asshole. Salieri – marginally achieved skills through hard work, bitter at the very existence of Mozart, in a position to screw him up. Even years before you get into serious schooling and/or the workplace and you encounter people who basically fit either of these categories, the concept resonates – jealousy, yearning for acceptance/friendship, speaking backwards as a way of impressing potential romantic partners. A lot of basic human desire is evident out there! Plus, vibrant settings and fun costumery and terrific location shoots and the make-up! Again, it’s a perfect movie. I’ve used this description periodically on this list, but there’s always like one weird thing even in the best of movies to kind of rankle you, right?

Ahem

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The Set of 400: #25 – My Favorite Walking Carpet

Today! Because I was going into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!

Star Wars (1977)

Directed by George Lucas (x2)

Starring Mark Hamill (x4), Harrison Ford (x8), Carrie Fisher (x8), Alec Guinness (x4), Peter Cushing (x2), Peter Mayhew (x3), Anthony Daniels (x4), Kenny Baker (x5), James Earl Jones (x7), David Prowse (x3), Denis Lawson (x2), Garrick Hagon (x2), William Hootkins, Shane Rimmer (x2), Phil Brown, Shelagh Fraser

There is literally nothing I can write about Star Wars from a film perspective that hasn’t been written before. As I’ve stated a bunch of times, this is almost certainly the movie I’ve seen the most times in my life – I can’t even fathom a guess how many. 200 times? More? We had this recorded from television when I was a kid, and watched it so incessantly that I still remember the odd pre- and post-commercial bits that were included in that pirating. They interviewed random early ’80s celebrities about the film – or probably their favorite characters, as those are the quotes I remember. Magic Johnson saying “I dug R2” and Bruce Boxleitner’s “Han Solo had a wit -” and then we cut the commercial. I wonder if these are on YouTube anywhere.

We also definitely recorded the Mark Hamill bookending segments, later included on the DVDs

Also, to this day, I can’t hear the 20th Century Fox fanfare without expecting the Star Wars theme to follow it. So far as my brain is concerned, these are the only movies Fox put out in the last fifty years. And really, now that they are under the Disney fold, can they just throw the Fox music back in front of the new Jedi flicks? Just for my cerebral chemistry’s sake? Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #53 – My Favorite Dead Animal Sleeping Bag

Today! Because I thought they smelled bad on the outside – 

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Directed by Irvin Kershner

Starring Mark Hamill (x3), Harrison Ford (x7), Carrie Fisher (x7), Anthony Daniels (x3), James Earl Jones (x6), Kenny Baker (x4), Peter Mayhew (x2), Frank Oz (x8), Alec Guinness (x3), David Prowse (x2), Billy Dee Williams (x2), Julian Glover (x2), Jeremy Bulloch, Kenneth Colley (x3), Denis Lawson, John Ratzenberger (x7), Jason Wingreen

Look, there was bound to come a time on this list where the movies just get crazy great. While there are maybe a few unconventional choices going forward, maybe some preferences inside franchises that are atypical, we’re still largely going to be dealing with super popular or super acclaimed films, by and large. So, like, what is there to say about The Empire Strikes Back that hasn’t already been said? Is there anything in entertainment or pop culture that has been written about more over the last forty years than Star Wars?

For me, it’s basically just this movie and the St. Patrick’s Day parade, though

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The Set of 400: #86 – My Favorite Golden God

Today! Because I’m out of it for a little while, everyone gets delusions of grandeur –

Return of the Jedi (1983)

Directed by Richard Marquand

Starring Mark Hamill (x2), Harrison Ford (x4), Carrie Fisher (x6), Anthony Daniels (x2), Kenny Baker (x3), Peter Mayhew, James Earl Jones (x5), Billy Dee Williams, Ian McDiarmid (x2), Frank Oz (x7), David Prowse, Alec Guinness (x2), Sebastian Shaw, Kenneth Colley (x2), Warwick Davis (x2)

The first movie I distinctly remember seeing in theaters, Return of the Jedi was everything to me as a kid. I don’t wholly remember a time before it – figure, I was a sturdy three-and-a-half when Jedi came out – but as this was the newest film, it rapidly became the go-to in our rotation of Star Wars flicks. Even now, while (spoiler) it is my least favorite of the original trilogy, I contend it has the single best sequence of any of the films – the Tatooine/Jabba’s Palace first act, obviously. And sure, it just drowns in stuffed animals by the end – and a final action sequence that goes on forever – but as much as you might hate the Ewoks, if you grew up with them, do they really bother you that much? This was a franchise built on merchandising first and foremost! They needed their own line of Care Bears! Come on!

Adorbs!

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The Set of 400: #323 – My Favorite Wish to Just Lay Down

Today! Because people are frightened by what they don’t understand –

The Elephant Man (1980)

Directed by David Lynch

Starring John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins (x2), Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud (x2), Wendy Hiller (x2), Freddie Jones, Michael Elphick, Hannah Gordon, John Standing (x2), Helen Ryan, Kenny Baker (x2)

An absolutely riveting, heart-wrenching biopic of severely deformed 19th century Londoner Joseph Merrick, brought to life by the disparate talents of director David Lynch, actor John Hurt, and producer Mel Brooks. Lynch was hot off his very Lynchian glorified student film Eraserhead – as bonkers a movie as has ever been made – and Mel had recently wrapped his Hitchcock parody High Anxiety, so naturally these two Americans had to get together for a black-and-white period British freakshow drama. Really though, both have a strong streak of outsider characters populating their films and shows, and treating them sympathetically, so it may not be as far-fetched as I’m supposing.

Besides the tremendous performances – Hurt and Hopkins as Merrick’s doctor, primarily – and those gorgeous b&w visuals, the movie is a towering triumph of film make-up. Merrick’s deformities were so massive that it required near full-body coverage for Hurt – a process that allegedly took seven to eight hours a day. Burying your lead actor under massive prosthetics poses an obvious challenge – how does an effective performance emerge when you can barely see the actor – but Hurt is riveting throughout – even if completely unrecognizable. Another good actor example of physical immersion into roles, good and bad, is Gary Oldman – terrifically effective as the massively scarred Mason Verger in Hannibal, and (in my opinion) somewhat less so in his Oscar-winning pile of make-up work as Churchill in The Darkest Hour. Come on, is there one minute of that movie where you’re not just saying to yourself “Oh hey! Look at how much make-up Gary Oldman is wearing!” Maybe it’s just me.

These waxworks are so lifelike!

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The Set of 400: #332 – My Favorite Door Melting

Today! Because yud say boom de gasser, den crashin der bosses heyblibber, den banished –

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Directed by George Lucas

Starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Ahmed Best, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Brian Blessed, Terence Stamp, Ray Park, Warwick Davis, Pernella August, Samuel L. Jackson, Dominic West, Sofia Coppola, Keira Knightley, Greg Proops (x2), Oliver Ford Davies, Hugh Quarshie

Let me just start by saying SHUT UP. I know, I’m not exactly in the majority for my enjoyment of this film. And rest assured, I recognize the amount of ridiculous bullshit that’s in it. Why did I use a Jar Jar Binks quote at the top? Because I’m owning it, and I want you to know I’m not overlooking the crammed in nonsense that ruins this movie for people. And perhaps I’m projecting backward onto this film – because I largely haven’t enjoyed the Star Wars things that have come since 1999 – but I think this is a hugely underappreciated movie, with a lot to like. So just shut up.

Let focus on the big things – the lightsaber battle at the end is the best lightsaber fight in any Star Wars movie. Hell, it might be the best swordfight in the history of film. John Williams score for this movie is my favorite of the series. The pod racing scene stands up with any sequence in any Star Wars. Ewan McGregor was a terrific choice to carry the prequels, and is always excellent as Obi-Wan. Darth Maul is a terrifically cool villain. Mace Windu is pretty cool, too. Plus it cannot be overstated how eagerly anticipated this movie was in ’99, to the point that I can’t believe it could’ve been warmly accepted no matter how it turned out. Look at The Force Awakens – the only reason people fell all over themselves in love with that thing is because the prequels were so hated. The logic – let’s just straight remake A New Hope and pray no one notices – worked great, as things got so out of hand by Episode III that fans just wanted anything resembling the original movies, no matter how derivative.

Groan!

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