Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: May 19, 1999
Director: George Lucas

Two Jedi Knights – Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) – are in the middle of a trade dispute and narrowly escape a hostile blockade by the Trade Federation army. Making their way to the desert planet of Tatooine, the two Jedi warriors find a young boy named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) who may be the one prophesied to bring balance to the Force. Qui-Gon takes an interest in freeing the boy from a savvy gambler named Watto (Andy Secombe), but meanwhile the threat of the Sith is rising – with a vicious Sith lord, Darth Maul (Ray Park), hot on the heels of the two Jedi.

I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I used to have hand-me-down action figures from my uncle. They came in a carrying case shaped like Darth Vader’s helmet and I would play with them for hours. So, naturally – when this movie came out during my high school years – back in 1999….I was more than excited. I’d seen previews where Darth Maul was speeding across the desert surface of Tatooine, only to leap from his speeder and attack some Jedi and it gave me goosebumps. Darth Maul truly looked like a badass.

The real experience in the theater wasn’t as amazing as I’d hoped. There was a certain quality to it that I didn’t like. Everything was too clean – even in the dirty, rundown slums of Tatooine. The CGI looked out of place for the Jim Henson style Star Wars experience I remembered as a kid. Everything was bright. The ships were polished and sounded like high-end vibrators. (Not that I’d know about that or anything)

In short, it didn’t feel real. Despite the excitement of the initial ambush sequence and the eventual podrace – I fell asleep in the theater. This is, to date, the only movie I’ve ever fallen asleep to during the time it was showing on the big screen. This hasn’t changed fifteen years later. The film boasts one of the best fight scenes in Star Wars history between Darth Maul, Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon – but other than that it’s a lot of politics and talk of trade embargoes and underhanded dealings. Jar-Jar Binks is MUY ANNOYING and seeing Darth Vader as a youngster is sort of a letdown. And don’t get me started on Midichlorians.

Recently, I’ve reverted to watching the Star Wars films in the “Machete Order“. I recommend you do the same, which enables you to skip out on Episode I entirely. As snarky as some hardcore Star Wars fans are about the prequel films – there is actually some decent stuff in them. When combined into a single narrative with every film aside from Episode I – it actually makes a lot more sense and is more enjoyable to watch.

In any case, after all the hype – Episode I just has way too many problems as a film – let alone as an installment of a beloved franchise. So, while I may watch it once in a while (mostly for the fight scenes), I will usually avoid this Lucas offering altogether.

PS – In case you didn’t know – I cosplay as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Exhibit A

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I was recently at Super Megafest 2013 in Framingham, Mass last November and I ran into Ray Park (the actor who played Darth Maul in Episode I) at his booth. He was only doing one photo per person, but after finishing with mine (I let him use my lightsaber) he told me to pretend I was being impaled so he could get his “revenge” on me. Exhibit B

Me with Ray Park (Darth Maul from Star Wars: Episode One) at Super Megafest

Me with Ray Park (Darth Maul from Star Wars: Episode One) at Super Megafest

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JOE Rating: ★★

Movie Trailer For Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Starship Troopers (1997)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: November 7, 1997
Director: Paul Verhoeven

In the distant future, the world is a fascist and militaristic society where a person can only become a citizen by joining the military and its never ending fight against an insectoid alien race looking to destroy humanity. Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) is the son of two wealthy non-citizens who is looking to join his girlfriend Carmen (Denise Richards) in the armed forces in order to be with her and to gain his citizenship. Soon, though, the realities of military life and the hardships of the war separate Johnny, Carmen, and their friends from one another and they must overcome the chitinous tide of the Bugs if they are ever to reunite.

This film is based on the (much better) science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein – adapted to the screen by Edward Neumeier.

It’s been a while since the last time I watched this movie, but my brother gave me the DVD for my birthday this year. I was kind of interested to see how all the special effects and everything held up over the last 17 years. I was not disappointed to find out that most of it still looked pretty decent after all that time. The only thing that seemed dated at times was the retro-futuristic 1950’s-as-interpreted-by-the-late-1990’s hairdos and clothing styles for the characters. Other than that, though, I was transported through the film’s fun tongue-in-cheek narrative style.

I still have no idea where Casper Van Dien went to after the late 1990’s – but as Johnny Rico he was decent (if somewhat unbelievable) as the screaming, gun-firing, tough-guy lead. Denise Richards co-stars with her full and pouty lips as the always-effervescent (but still wooden) pilot Carmen Ibanez. Also, I was shocked to see Neil Patrick Harris in his role as Carl Jenkins – a role I forgot he’d done. (The last thing I remember him in was Harold And Kumar)

The bugs were creepy and not cheesy. The “internet” – style videos interspersed throughout the film add a nice touch, though the internet of the “future” looks pretty dated compared to our own, now. There is a creepy and unbelievable love triangle in the movie, but the real draw is the action sequences – which are peppered liberally throughout the movie. Still, the movie is a bit too long for an action flick.

All in all, not a perfect movie – but a nice flick to come back to every now and then if you want some sci-fi action.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Starship Troopers

The Tall Man (2012)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: August 1, 2012
Director: Pascal Laugier

In the town of Cold Rock, the children are going missing and locals are blaming it on an entity from an urban legend, known as The Tall Man. A local nurse named Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) has a child of her own, which is taken in the night. As Julia searches for her child, the truth about the disappearances begins to surface and the townsfolk have a lot to say about it.

I’d never even heard of this film but my girlfriend and I picked it up at a local video store called Bull Moose here in Maine. Jessica Biel has never been on my short list of favorite actresses, but it seemed like it could be good so we bought it.

During the opening of the movie and probably through about half of it, it had me hooked. It had great atmosphere, an intriguing villain in the form of The Tall Man – and a cool-sounding, creepy town. I mean, Cold Rock – how much cooler can you get than that? However, the director and/or story aims to trick the viewer and basically lie to them in order to achieve its hidden message/twist ending. This could have been a decent horror flick but instead it turns out to be a benign sort of social commentary about bad parents.

Jessica Biel was just okay as Julia Denning, and unfortunately she was basically the only character we should’ve cared much about but she even failed to make me do that. If I were you, I’d avoid this confusing and misleading film but maybe it’s worth a single watch on a night when you have nothing else on your plate.

JOE Rating: ★★

Movie Trailer For The Tall Man

Gone Girl (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: October 3, 2014
Director: David Fincher

Author Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) arrives home on the eve of his 5th wedding anniversary to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing under mysterious circumstances. After calling the police, Nick finds himself in the middle of an intense media circus as the search for Amy goes underway. Soon, the clues begin to pile up and fingers begin to point Nick’s way.

I went to see this film with a couple of friends last night as I’d been hearing good things about it. I’ve never read the novel it’s based on by Gillian Flynn (who also penned the screenplay) but according to online sources, the movie differs only slightly in some ways from the book version. Movies always differ from their book counterparts, though, so this shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone.

It’s rare for me to want to watch a hyper-realistic crime movie – they aren’t my thing. Still, all the good things I heard about the various performances given by the actors made me want to check it out, so that’s what I did. Every single one of the actors in this movie, even Ben Affleck, really turned it up a notch. Affleck kept his cool just enough during the film to make me waffle on whether or not he had anything to do with Amy’s disappearance. Rosamund Pike, however, carried this movie with her role (in my opinion). She is not only accessible and sexy – but also terrifying. Another surprise was Neil Patrick Harris in his short role which added a lot of subtext to the film, regardless of how small a part his character played in the overall story.

The direction was great – Fincher hardly ever fails at that (except maybe with Mulholland Drive). The music was low-key enough to not interfere but still added just enough mood for a thriller. The length was a bit too long, however, clocking in at a whopping 149 minutes. The only real reason I’m giving this film four stars instead of five is the ending – which I felt was maybe a little rushed. I dunno if it was due to time, or due to something else – but the entire movie built up the characters to be solid and absolutely believable within the context of the story, except for the last half hour or so, which was unbelievable and completely took me out of the movie. I’d love to see a director’s cut in the future to see if maybe the motivations of the characters were a little more clear before some of the film hit the cutting room floor.

All in all this is one worth watching at least a couple times so you can catch all the little “easter eggs” (like the Scott Peterson novel one of the characters are reading at one point) and nuances in background scenes and in the subtleties of the characters and their actions. Good job again, Fincher – you do great work.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Gone Girl

Big Trouble In Little China (1985)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: July 2, 1986
Director: John Carpenter

Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is an all-American truck driver with a penchant for gambling. When his friend in Chinatown, Wang Chi (Dennis Dun), loses a bet to Jack – he has to pay up. But first, he needs to pick up his girlfriend from the airport. However, all does not go as planned and instead ol’ Jack finds himself in the middle of a mystical battle between an evil Chinese sorcerer named Lo Pan (James Hong) and the forces of good, led by the cantankerous old Egg Shen (Victor Wong).

This film is a classic now, though it flopped when it was first released. If you haven’t seen it yet, I envy you because that means you can see it for the first time. Granted, some of the special effects in the movie are a bit dated (it was 1986, after all) but overall – the film has held up over time. Kurt Russell gives a great performance as Jack Burton – a sort of bumbling badass who manages to “accidentally” achieve his goals, though most of the time he just talks tough and likes to spout one-liners that don’t quite hit the mark. Kim Cattrall is great as the sexy-yet-annoying love interest, Gracie Law, and Dennis Dun is decent as the ass-kicking “sidekick” to Burton.

John Carpenter, for me, either is right on the money or far off base with his films. (John Carpenter’s Vampires was terrible, for instance) With Big Trouble In Little China – he did right by everyone. It’s got the right mix of adventure, style, horror and camp to make it an enduring franchise. Also – there is currently a comic book adaptation being published that relays events which take place after the film ends. You can check that out HERE. If you loved Army Of Darkness, then you’ll love this movie too.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Big Trouble In Little China

Red State (2011)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: September 01, 2011
Director: Kevin Smith

In middle-America, all is not as sleepy and peaceful as it would seem. A fundamentalist church called The Five Points Church, led by pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), preaches anti-gay and almost anti-everything hate gospel. Unfortunately, their bite is worse than their bark and when three teenage boys; Travis (Michael Angarano), Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun), and Jarod (Kyle Gallner) – find an older woman soliciting sex on an internet site similar to Craigslist – they agree to meeting up with her for a foursome, which lands them squarely in the hungry religious jaws of the Cooper clan.

This movie blew me away. If you’re a Kevin Smith/View Askew fan like myself, you’ve come to expect a certain quality and tone of movie from the man and the studio behind him which produced films such as Clerks, Dogma and Chasing Amy. Red State is NOTHING like those other films. This is intense, this is gritty. As Smith himself points out – the Jay and Silent Bob films are like a smooth milkshake while Red State is like drinking straight whiskey. This is a film that none other than Quentin Tarantino strongly endorses, if that gives you any sort of idea as to what the tone is.

First of all, the film is especially poignant and is almost like a satire of the Westboro Baptist Church. We see it in the news every day, but in reality – the crazy religious zeal of some of these people is one incident away from an actual, real-life horror film. Red State is part horror film, part thriller and absolutely riveting.

With Michael Parks as Abin Cooper – the charismatic and terrifying patriarch of the Five Points Church – Smith hit gold. Everyone cast in this film not only does their jobs, but does them well. This movie is often overlooked because it goes beyond the fandoms of the Jay And Silent Bob/View Askew universe, which is understandable in some ways because Red State is so different from those others that it’s almost like another director is at the helm – though Smith can definitely be felt within the context of the film by the acerbic dialogue.

This film is amazing. Absolutely amazing. Do yourself a favor and go watch it. You’ll be uneasy for a long while and it’s perfect for a Halloween horror movie night.

JOE Rating:  ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Red State

This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: September 19, 2014
Director: Shawn Levy

The Altman family siblings; Judd (Jason Bateman), Wendy (Tina Fey), Phillip (Adam Driver), and Paul (Corey Stoll) – are summoned by their mother, Hillary (Jane Fonda), to sit in mourning together for a week in a traditional Jewish practice called Shiva (which literally means ‘Seven’ in Hebrew) at their father’s dying request. This, despite their father being an atheist, brings them all together under one roof and into contact with people from their collective pasts. What ensues is loads of family antics.

I saw this film in the theater with my own siblings. It wasn’t really on my list of movies to see, but it turned out to be an okay film and I’m glad I went with my own brother and sister to see it because it really gave some nods to the sibling dynamics that we’ve all experienced.

Most of the movie has some decent moments but overall, there wasn’t much substance to grasp onto or to really sink your teeth into. It felt almost more like an episode of a long-running television show than it did a feature film. I think what really saved this was the comedian actors and actresses who headlined this movie – especially Tina Fey and Jason Bateman.

Is this a bad film? Not by any means. It just didn’t pack much punch. It wasn’t especially funny, nor especially deep or poignant. There are definitely enough laughs to merit at least one watch-through and I’m sure there are some people out there who will genuinely connect with the film more than I did. For me, it just didn’t go anywhere new. We’ve seen this movie before in multiple incarnations.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For This Is Where I Leave You