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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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

How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release: June 13, 2014
Director: Jean DeBlois

Five years have gone by on the Viking island of Berk since the heroic deeds of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless resulted in the once-feared beasts becoming allies and pets. During a training flight to help train Toothless to maneuver better, Hiccup discovers a sect of dragon hunters who are led by the insane Drago (Djimon Hounsou), who has a desire to subjugate dragons at any cost, including all-out war.  Add that to pressures from his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) to take on the throne and the appearance of a mysterious dragon rider who steals dragons in the night and young Hiccup certainly has his hands full.

This is obviously a sequel and I loved How To Train Your Dragon so much that it was out of the question for me to miss this movie. I haven’t read the books by Cressida Cowell, but I hope to check them out soon.

The animation, as always, was fantastic. Toothless has never been cuter and there were some new things to look at in the form of new armor, new weapons and new dragons. All the old cast has returned including the aforementioned Hiccup and Stoick, and aside from the sinister Drago there are a handful of new characters as well.

The best part of this film is that it has more complexity to it than the original. In the last one, both Hiccup and Toothless were younger. Though it’s only five years that have gone by, the characters have grown. As a result, the mood of this sequel is a bit darker than the previous entry. There are darker themes and concepts and I think it provides a richer film experience. The relationships between characters have also grown, with Stoick becoming warmer toward Hiccup as well as Astrid and Hiccup being more mature in their romantic relationship – which is not overdone and sappy but you can still tell how much they care for one another. Hiccup’s mother is introduced, as well – which provides for a new dynamic between Hiccup and his parents. (Not giving anything away…it’s in the trailer.)

There were a couple of things I felt could have been improved, but they are sort of trifling. It was a bit too long for my tastes, and the pacing felt chunky at times but mostly because of all the interwoven narratives happening simultaneously. I took my young nephew and he sort of needed to get up and move around before the movie had ended, so watch out if you bring the kiddos. It may be too long for them to sit still. However, with all the cool dragons flying around on screen it’s hard for anyone to not be captivated.

Overall it was a great film and a sequel that I believe is mostly superior to the original, which is rare in many cases. It’s fun, it’s rich, it’s exciting. It’s definitely an adventure.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For How To Train Your Dragon 2

 

Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) lives a charmed life, despite being born with a lower I.Q. than most – as well as a physical deformity of the spine which forces him to wear corrective leg braces. Gump’s mother (Sally Field) pushes and encourages him enough that he eventually sets out on his own and ends up witnessing lots of events in recent history that have shaped the world. On his journey of self, he chases love – in the form of Jenny Curran (Robin Wright), his childhood friend and crush – and also experiences war, happiness, loss and the gamut of the human experience, proving that despite his setbacks, Gump is wiser than most of us can say we are.

I remember seeing this back around the time it first came out, and I remember being blown away. So, I figured I’d revisit it, since it’s on Netflix, and to tell you the truth – Forrest Gump holds up pretty well over time.

Forrest Gump, the character, is one of Tom Hanks’ better roles. I’m no Hanks hater by any means, but he has a particular style that doesn’t lend to camouflaging his own personality. When I see him in films, I have a hard time separating film Hanks from real-life Hanks that I’ve seen. In Forrest Gump, this isn’t a problem.

Much like Billy Bob Thornton’s role in Slingblade, this is one of those times where you wonder if they’d have been able to make a film like this nowadays. There are some questionable messages in the film that critics would pounce on in present times, but for the time it was made it was a nice reflection on the Baby Boomer generation.

The movie is based, of course, on the novel of the same name by Winston Groom from 1986, although in the book, Forrest Gump is a pretty different character. Also, there are a few different events in the book that never made it to the movie version – like when Forrest went to space (would’ve been strange to see Hanks in space in Forrest Gump as well as in Apollo 13, amirite?!)

The only thing that didn’t really hold up too well was when it showed footage of Forrest in the old newsreels and footage from things and events that Forrest was privy to witnessing as history in the film progressed. You could really notice it. Other than that, though, the cinematography was great and the pacing of the film was really well done.

If you haven’t seen this one yet – do. It’s a classic.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Archer: Season 1 (2009)

Archer: Season 1 (2009)

Original Air Date: January 14, 2010
Stations Airing: FX, Comedy Central
Number Of Episodes In Season: 10

Archer follows several characters, mostly Sterling Archer (H. John Benjamin) – a great spy who is terrible at everything else. ISIS (not to be confused with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) is a spy agency he works at where everyone tries to indulge in their own greedy schemes or pleasures which often ends with disastrous, yet hilarious results.

Season 1 is an introduction to the characters and their world of espionage-gone-awry. We follow Archer and his somewhat-Oedipal interactions with his mother, Malory (Jessica Walters) and his fellow spy and ex-girlfriend Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler). Archer manages to piss off everyone he meets at some point with his extreme chauvinism and ego and I dare you not to laugh at the exchanges between the characters. Also, if you’re a fan of SNL – Chris Parnell voices the role of the cowardly Cyril Figgis.

The animation has a nice style that is reminiscent of other shows like Sealab 2021, which was also created by Adam Reed, and it seems to fit the espionage and retro-60’s feel the show gives off.

Each episode is pretty much stand alone aside from a couple, so you don’t necessarily have to watch them all in order as each one packs its own comedic punch. However, there are many in-jokes and nods to previous episodes as you move on, so as always – it’s best to watch with at least some semblance of continuity – especially in later seasons.

This is one of the funniest shows out there right now, hands down. You should check it out.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Trailer For Season One Of Archer