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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Thor: The Dark World (2013)

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Faced with cleaning up Asgard after Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) treachery in the first Thor film and in The Avengers, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has a huge task ahead before he can be with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) on Earth. Between Thor and his flame on Midgard (Earth) stands Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and the remnants of the Dark Elves, who want to return the universe to darkness. With Odin (Anthony Hopkins) wanting to step down from the throne and his brother Loki imprisoned, Thor must find the strength to stop the Dark Elf threat and return order to Asgard once and for all.

The tricky thing about making a Thor film is to not make it like a Superman film. Unfortunately, while this wasn’t the worst film I’ve seen….it’s just not unique enough to truly set it apart from other superhero films in the genre and it’s definitely not different enough from Man of Steel to set it apart from DC Comics’ much more popular, titular character.

The comic book version of Thor really is interesting. He’s noble and follows a code of honor but can also be a real misogynistic asshole. I mean, he’s a viking. He’s a demigod. He’s a womanizing tough guy with a heart of gold, somehow. So what we have in the movie version is a lame, good-looking, soft, warrior-archetype Superman clone with a hammer and an accent.

While I love Natalie Portman, her character in this film (and in the first) is mostly superfluous and unnecessary. It’s a way to tie him to Midgard, but the chemistry and connection between Thor and Jane doesn’t really exist on-screen and so when Thor wants to return to Earth to be with her, it’s just not believable. They should have focused more on his relationship with Sif (who is much more interesting than Jane, and a much stronger woman character). Whatever time Sif and Thor share onscreen is more dramatic and poignant than time spent between Jane and Thor. (I also want to note that people think Jane’s character is a sexist trope, but Thor is a demigod. She’s meant to be smitten by him. Guys would be equally as smitten by Sif if she showed up, as long as she didn’t disembowel them.)

Thor: The Dark World had the promise of being a more rich and intensive film experience than the first film, but really….it sort of fell short. Loki was the one saving grace of the film, not only because Hiddleston is a fantastic actor but because Loki’s character is allowed to roam free in the realm of human morality. Thor has that ability, too. He’s not just a jock with a hammer. He’s not just an alien demigod with a penchant for eating mutton and bedding babes. He’s Thor. He’s badass. Too bad he really wasn’t in this film.

It’s worth seeing at least once to complete the Avengers tie-ins (and it IS Thor), and there’s kind of a weird/creepy/unexpected cameo bit after the credits with someone you wouldn’t expect to see in a Marvel film. It just should’ve been better.

JOE Rating: ★★★

V For Vendetta (2005)

V For Vendetta (2005)

Original Theatrical Release: March 17, 2006
Director: James McTeigue

A shadowy and theatrical freedom fighter, only known as V (Hugo Weaving), wages a war with terrorist tactics against a corrupt and totalitarian government. When he rescues a girl named Evey (Natalie Portman) from some also-corrupt secret police, she becomes entangled in his endeavors and may be the best ally he’s known.

The first half of this film opens up with a lot of panache. I was caught up right off the bat with the atmosphere and the established setting. This carried me through all the way to the middle of the film where I felt that the movie was bogged down a lot and lost its frenetic pacing.

The source material, of course, was Alan Moore’s graphic novel of the same name and the film managed to evoke most of what Moore was trying to accomplish, but in the end, I think, the source material always does things that a movie cannot. Also, the graphic novel focused more on V’s attempts to enlist Evey to carry out his legacy, whereas the movie, I felt, showed that he cared about Evey’s involvement but ultimately wanted to inspire a revolution rather than solely rely on her.

The two works are completely different in my mind, which is something I always try to do when looking at one work which is based on another work. I think overall, the film managed to capture some qualities of the graphic novel but it was ultimately the Wachowski’s own message that came across.

The action scenes were all well-done and there wasn’t a terrible amount of CGI. Hugo Weaving was the best thing about this movie because I never envisioned V’s dialogue being able to be correctly brought onto the screen but he did it with great skill. Natalie Portman was lovely and talented, as usual and it was great she was willing to shave her head for the role. Kudos.

This is a great film, and could have been exceptional but for the mid-movie backstory dump that slogged the film down. Still, go watch it, it’s a lot of fun.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For V For Vendetta