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

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Legend (1985)

Legend (1985)

Original Theatrical Release: April 18, 1986
Director: Ridley Scott

Jack (Tom Cruise) is a boy at one with the forest, embraced by the Elves and other faerie creatures. He is pure of heart and has fallen in love with a girl, Lili (Mia Sara), and has decided to let her see a Unicorn up close and personal. Lili, overcome by wonder, touches one of the horned creatures of myth and unwittingly lures it into a trap set by the forces of Darkness (Tim Curry). One unicorn is felled and its horn chopped off, plunging the world into an ice age from which it may never recover and Lili is abducted by Darkness and his minions, leaving Jack to save the world, the woman he loves and the remaining unicorn from a terrible fate.

This is one of those films that sort of just slipped through the cracks. Against films such as Willow, Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and others, this movie was swallowed up and lost in the shuffle. Because of its sometimes-meandering story, it doesn’t hold up against those other films all the time. However, the visuals and the mood captured by Ridley Scott still hold up after all these years. I recently re-watched this film, since I hadn’t seen it in more than a decade, and I was extremely impressed with how almost none of it looks cheesy – even by 1980’s standards.

The acting style used by all of the actors is very Shakespearian and fits the tone of the piece well. Everyone is very dramatic and classical. Evil creatures wave their hands and belly-laugh as they take delight in that evil. Darkness, played by the very-talented Tim Curry, looks like something that stepped out of Hell. Jack, played by a very young Tom Cruise, crouches in his forest rags and does somersaults and climbs on trees. The landscape is surreal and fantastical and embodies everything fantasy – which makes sense because Ridley Scott reviewed many classical fairy tales in order to get the right feel for the film. He definitely succeeded on that front.

If anything, give this film a shot just to look at it. The story is a bit more complex than people think, so take your time to analyze all that Legend has to offer before dismissing it. Is it the most perfect fantasy film? No, not by any means – but its voice is one that should be heard.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For Legend

The Sword of Shannara (1977)

The Sword of Shannara (1977)

The Sword of Shannara is the flagship novel of author Terry Brooks’ Shannara series. (First King of Shannara actually takes place before The Sword of Shannara, but he didn’t publish that until later on).

Shea and Flick Ohmsford live in Shady Vale, a quiet community of hard-working folk living in peace. When evil from the North comes looking for the last living descendant of Jerle Shannara, aka Shea Ohmsford, a mysterious Druid by the name of Allanon arrives to help the two escape and embark on an epic quest to find the fabled Sword of Shannara, which has the power to destroy the evil Warlock Lord.

Many critics (and a few of my friends) have universally panned this novel because some say that it’s a blatant rip-off of Tolkien. Admittedly, there are heavy imprints of Tolkien’s influence at work here, but it’s only at the beginning. Towards the end, you begin to truly get a sense of what Brooks is trying to do with his characters, and especially in later novels when he expands to areas that Tolkien never touched and you get to see other elements besides Tolkien’s writing which he drew on, like mythology and history.

I would liken this series to the lovechild of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, actually.

If you look past the initial similarities (and assuming you like Brooks’ writing style) what you’ll find is an enjoyable romp through the Four Lands and the beginnings of an epic fantasy adventure that seems to be more and more rare these days.

The characters are memorable, the settings are great, the monsters are scary. What more can you ask for?

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Hulk Vs. (2009)

Hulk Vs. (2009)

Original Theatrical Release: January 27, 2009
Director: Sam Liu, Frank Paur

The Incredible Hulk (Fred Tatasciore) is one of Marvel Comics’ most powerful and dangerous characters. In this animated double feature, the Hulk goes up against The Mighty Thor (Matt Wolf) and Wolverine (Steve Blum) in two separate vignettes.

In the first, Hulk is transported to Asgard by the mischievous Loki (Graham McTavish), Thor’s jealous brother, and placed under a spell with the help of Enchantress/Amora (Kari Wahlgren). With Bruce Banner (Bryce Johnson) separated from his monstrous other half, the Hulk, he can only watch as Loki uses Hulk to smash his way through Asgard with only Thor and his Asgardian friends to stand in the way.

In the second, the Canadian military is after the Hulk when he is suspected of making attacks on defenseless wilderness homesteads. They call in Wolverine, who uses his superior senses to track Hulk down. However, as the two rage away at each other in the forest they are both attacked by members of the Weapon X program which created Wolverine’s adamantium-laced bones and claws and Wolverine is left to fight Sabretooth (Mark Acheson), Lady Deathstrike (Janyse Jaud), Omega Red (Colin Murdock) and Deadpool (Nolan North) all at the same time, with Hulk as the wild card.

It was an interesting choice to package this as a double feature. The whole thing, with both movies, runs to about an hour and a half.

I found the first story with Thor to be a little underwhelming. It’s always cool to see Thor go up against Hulk, but this one wasn’t as exciting as I thought it was going to be. There were a few instances in which Thor really went to town on Hulk, but overall, to create more drama, the writers sort of overpowered Hulk a little bit. I felt like with these two titans beating on each other, there should’ve been more destruction, more action.

Luckily, the second story redeemed the entire movie.

Wolverine versus Hulk, to me, is always really great…and this one tried to re-create, at least a little bit, the fight they had in Incredible Hulk #180, which was Wolverine’s first appearance in 1974. Notable differences being the involvement of Omega Red, Lady Deathstrike, Sabretooth and Deadpool. For the movie version, it worked however because a fight between Hulk and Wolverine would be pretty brutal but also pretty short, so having the villains show up enabled the pacing to be the way it was.

Overall, it was a fun watch. I just wish they had tweaked the Thor section a little bit more.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Also, just a side note: If you’re interested in all-things-Hulk….check out The Collectionary, which features tons of Hulk-related merchandise to peruse and consider purchasing for gifts or for yourself.

Trailer For Hulk Vs.

The Village (2004)

The Village (2004)

Original Theatrical Release: July 30, 2004
Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Covington, Pennsylvania. Population: Sixty Souls. An evil force lurks just beyond the borders of the sleepy town and a treaty is in place as long as Covington’s citizens never stray into the forest. When a young man from the village, Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) decides to test out the reality of the treaty – he is injured, prompting the town to send one of their own, Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard), to get medicine from a town beyond the forest. She must survive if Lucius is to live, in a race against time. However, she is blind…and the creatures of the woods hold dominion there.

I had been excited for this movie when it came out. I ended up seeing it in a little theater in Canada with some of my friends.

One thing I DID like about the film was that it was appropriately creepy for the most part. The most menacing and scary movie villain is the one you don’t get to see. The fear of the unknown pervades the opening of this movie but ultimately doesn’t stick with it.

True to form, M. Night Shyamalan throws in his “twist” ending and some might like it, others might hate it. I, personally, thought it was a neat ending but the logistics of it made my head spin if I thought about it too much.

The script seemed a little weak with stilted dialogue, but it’s hard to get period-dialogue right.

This is a movie that could have been really neat. Almost all of the elements were there. It’s not the worst Shyamalan film I’ve ever seen, but it’s certainly not the best.

JOE Rating: ★★

Movie Trailer For The Village

Evil Dead (2013)

Evil Dead (2013)

Original Theatrical Release: April 5, 2013
Director: Fede Alvarez

Five friends travel to a remote cabin in the woods to help one among them, Mia (Jane Levy) overcome her addiction to drugs, figuring that being away from the city will enable her to purge her system. With the help of her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) she thinks that she’ll pull through this time. However, one of the friends, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), discovers a book and unwittingly unleashes a supernatural horror upon them all. Will any of them survive?

When I first heard that there was going to be an Evil Dead reboot, I was pretty angry. You don’t just go and mess around with the Evil Dead. C’mon, now.

However, when I heard that Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell were not only endorsing the film, but also producing, I was a little more accepting. THEN, when I saw the trailer…I was excited.

First off, don’t make the mistake of going to a movie theater that lets you order food while you watch the movie, because that’s what I did and let me tell you right now…it was really hard to use the ketchup and eat my rare hamburger with all the blood flying around on screen.

Blood. Sharp stabby things. Skin tears. Broken bones. Puke. Pus. Power tools. Blood. Broken Glass. Nails. Blood. Blood. Blood. Blood.

At times, it looked like Mr. Kool-Aid burst through the wall, yelling “OOHHHHH YEAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH” but he was full of blood instead of Kool-Aid and exploded everywhere.

A little bit of the movie is far-fetched, but as with all horror movies, this happens. If it were “realistic” there would be no supernatural horror, according to logic. There has to be a suspension of disbelief when folks are cutting their own limbs off.

As far as the casting goes, I think most of the actors did their jobs well. Some parts seemed TOO superfluous, and in my opinion, I would have cut out about five minutes of the movie at the beginning (though it opens with a great camera angle very reminiscent of Kubrick’s The Shining).

Overall, I think this was a good update to the original, although I will prefer to think of it as a separate entity from the original Evil Dead film. Go see it if you’re a horror fan or even if you think you might hate it. It could surprise you.

About the only thing the film lacked was likable characters. I didn’t mind most of them, but some I didn’t care about and even the main characters weren’t really as exciting as Ash was in the original Evil Dead series. We’ll have to see if they work on that with a sequel (if they make one) but as it stood, I felt that most of them were annoying and frustrating.

JOE Rating:

Movie Trailer For Evil Dead