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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Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

After Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is fired by his boss – Mack Tannen (Harrison Ford) and Ron’s wife, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) is given a promotion, Ron is unexpectedly asked by Freddie Shapp (Dylan Baker) to head one of the news teams on the new 24-hour Global News Network. To do so, he gathers his old team – Champ Kind (David Koechner), Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) and Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) – but finds that maybe he’s bitten off more than he can chew.

I went with a bunch of my friends to see this. I figured it was going to be one of those kind of movies, and I was right. So, let me start things off with the obvious: It was a funny movie. However, it wasn’t quite as consistently funny (in my opinion) as the first film.

Most of the jokes we see in this second installment of the legend of Ron Burgundy are recycled from the first flick and beefed up a little more. It’s not a terrible thing, but I would have liked to have seen more original material as well as more play on the fact that this takes place in the 1980’s. In the first film, the sense of 1970’s style was pervasive, but you barely notice the time period in this film and at times, could even be interchangeable. Also, Anchorman 2 is a little bit longer so it’s pretty noticeable.

Still, there are enough genuinely funny parts involved, and there was an effort made to up the ante so that counts for something. If you didn’t like the first film – don’t bother….because it basically is the first film in new trappings. If you loved the first film, try to be content with how great the first one was and look at this second film as a separate entity. Don’t have crazy expectations and you’ll have a good time.

Also, one other thing – the amount of cameos in this film was impressive and worth watching for that alone.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Batman Begins (2005)

Batman Begins (2005)

Original Theatrical Release: June 15, 2005
Director: Christopher Nolan

Billionaire playboy, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), was made an orphan when his parents were brutally murdered in the streets by a common thug. Vowing revenge, as an adult he began training himself to fight before ending up as a student of Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) and Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) – both in a shadowy group dedicated to eradicating evil called the League of Shadows. When Bruce disagrees with their methods, he takes what he’s learned and finances himself as a vigilante superhero called Batman. With enemies from his past and present arrayed against him, Batman has a lot of work to do to clean up Gotham.

This isn’t your 1989 Batman, that’s for sure.

This movie starts and ends with a bang. There isn’t much time to think about anything except for the awesomeness up on the screen, but there are just a couple of scenes that are a little too slow or bog down the action.

The acting is all top-notch (aside from how anyone looks at Christian Bale’s Batman voice) and the characters from Batman’s canon were all brought to life, more vibrant than any incarnation that came before it. We had the amazing Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Michael Caine as Alfred. Not as great was the wooden Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, but hey, she’s still easy on the eyes.

Nolan’s vision ties everything together and by the end of the film, we see a story that has been artfully pieced together that leaves us nodding our heads in appreciation as the credits roll. I still think the second film, The Dark Knight is the best in the trilogy, but this is a close second.

All in all, this is a wonderful start to the Batman Trilogy by Christopher Nolan, and I’m glad that we’ve gone away from the campy nature of the Batman films of the 1990’s.

Batman is pretty damned serious.

JOE Rating:

Movie Trailer For Batman Begins