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

sw1i

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

10464368_253761558148430_8934216931598601412_n

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

SuperMegafest2013 037

JOE Rating: ★★

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

Advertisements

Epic Rap Battles Of History: Season One (2010)

Epic Rap Battles Of History: Season One (2010)

Epic Rap Battles of History is a web series in which pop culture icons and celebrities and politicians are pitted against one another in a universe where everyone is fair game and everyone raps against one another – live or dead.

Season One (You can watch the entire season HERE) is the beginning effort of Nice Peter and Epic Lloyd, who portray most of the characters (including themselves in the season finale). The battles portrayed in Season One are as follows:

– John Lennon VS Bill O’Reilly
– Darth Vader VS Hitler
– Abe Lincoln VS Chuck Norris
– Sarah Palin VS Lady Gaga
– Hulk Hogan VS Kim Jong Il
– Justin Bieber VS Beethoven
– Einstein VS Stephen Hawking
– Genghis Khan VS The Easter Bunny
– Napoleon Dynamite VS Napoleon Bonaparte
– Billy Mays VS Ben Franklin
– Gandalf VS Dumbledore
– Dr Seuss VS Shakespeare
– Mr T VS Mr Rogers
– Christopher Columbus VS Captain Kirk
– Nice Peter VS EpicLLOYD

Most of the battles in Season One are sort of silly, without many guest stars. My favorite from the season was definitely Albert Einstein (MC Mr Napkins (aka Zach Sherwin) VS Stephen Hawking (Nice Peter) while some of them like Captain Kirk VS Christopher Columbus were good conceptually but didn’t hold water once performed.

Musically, the Epic Rap Battles have come a long way since this first batch, but there are some noteworthy beats and rhymes, for sure. Check it out. These guys and gals are sure to entertain.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Butter (2011)

Butter (2011)

Butter is a way of life in Iowa, and the king of butter carving, Bob (Ty Burrell), is retiring. Angry that Bob isn’t trying to use his butter-carving talents to get into politics, his too-ambitious Sarah-Palin-clone of a wife Laura (Jennifer Garner) steps up despite never butter-carving before to try and fill his shoes. However, there is a little girl named Destiny (Yara Shahidi) who discovers her own butter-carving talents who just may undo everything Laura has tried to achieve.

I had no idea what to expect with this film. I had never seen it advertised and the premise seemed hokey, but interesting, so I gave it a shot. It was okay, but it wasn’t the best film ever.

The thing that intrigued me was the butter carving aspect. The whole “Midwest” thing has been done to death with these kinds of movies, but the butter aspect played itself out really early on in the movie. Some of the sculptures were neat, but the whole thing went way over my head because some of the sculptures were unbelievable just in terms of character achievement.

The acting was pretty good, overall. Most of the big-name talent was wasted, though. (There was even a bit part played by Hugh Jackman).

The story was pretty weak. I felt like it wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be an allegory, a comedy/farce or a drama. There wasn’t enough heart for it to be an allegory or a drama, and there weren’t enough funny parts for it to be a great comedy. By themselves, the main characters were boring. Bob is a cuckolded husband character while Laura is, as I wrote above, an over-achieving Sarah-Palin clone. Destiny is an okay character, but her development arc gets confused with that of Laura’s. The stripper character, Brooke (Olivia Wilde), was funny but she was tossed into the mix as well in an unbelievable way (the same old boring stripper clone who is uneducated and poor and would shit on someone’s lawn). The way everyone was introduced and interacted was just chaotic.

Overall, this movie wasn’t groundbreaking in any way. There are a couple of scenes that made me chuckle. Olivia Wilde is nice to look at. Seeing Hugh Jackman as a car salesman is kind of funny. So, you may be entertained for one viewing.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel (2013)

Original Theatrical Release Date: June 14, 2013
Director: Zack Snyder

Kal-El was sent from his dying planet, Krypton,  as an infant by his father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his mother Faora-Ul (Ayelet Zurer). With him, they sent the hopes and wishes of their entire Kryptonian race. Raised by human parents after crash-landing on Earth, Kal-El was renamed Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) and eventually had to come to terms with his extraordinary and god-like abilities, using those abilities to help others though they didn’t always realize it. However, when another survivor from Krypton – Zod (Michael Shannon) shows up and demands that Earth give up this “Superman” or face dire consequences, Clark/Kal must choose a side. The Kryptonians or the Earthlings.

Now, before I get down to brass tacks, I need to say something: I am not the biggest Superman fan in the world. Don’t get me wrong. I love the basic idea of his character, and his abilities are cool for the most part…but the dude is just too invulnerable. Sure, he’s got his weaknesses but they sort of change over time depending on the needs of the story line (in the comics, anyway). Plus, they’re really specific weaknesses – like Kryptonite, a rare green rock from space – really?! Also, Superman is an alien and it’s hard to identify with him already on account of his insane god-like abilities – but when you also throw in the fact that he’s not even human, then there is definitely a disconnect.

With that said, I don’t think this was the worst Superman movie I’ve ever seen.

I came into this film with no real expectations other than to be entertained for a while. I was entertained for the most part, for sure. Zack Snyder’s direction was the usual fare of fight sequences and thoughtful, introspective scenes. The writing by David Goyer was decent, but some of the elements were too clearly designed to be almost like a parable. The acting was decent by Henry Cavill and the rest of the cast, and it was nice to see Russell Crowe back in shape a little bit. He’d been looking a little chubby the past few years. However, some of the special effects were wonky and some of the story elements had me going “really?”, and that’s all on top of the movie being way too long. Two and a half hours with not much really to show for it.

Now, I had been entertaining the idea that this would be sort of a darker version of Superman, sort of how Christopher Nolan brought Batman back to his gothic roots. I was right in a way, but wow…I was not expecting the level of wanton destruction Superman caused during the fighting with Zod. In other incarnations of Superman, Supes would have tried to direct the fight to the countryside or somewhere uninhabited….but in the film, Superman uppercuts his opponents through skyscrapers, toppling the buildings, and he doesn’t have time to save anyone. Crazy. My other gripe was the way in which Jonathan Kent’s (Kevin Costner) character was handled. The writers wanted him to be “Uncle Ben” to Clark but it didn’t translate nearly in the same way as the poignant character of Uncle Ben did to Marvel’s Spider-Man.

All in all, it was decent as an action flick. I wouldn’t go in thinking much more than that, even if you’re a Superman fan. I am interested to see if they change anything up during the sequel. Guess we’ll find out! (EDIT: I’m feeling like the upcoming sequel will be a shit show, but I hope they prove me wrong. They are CRAMMING IN so many characters. It’s crazy.)

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For Man Of Steel

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