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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Wonder Woman, Volume 1: Blood (2012)

Wonder Woman, Volume 1: Blood (2012)

Wonder Woman: Blood collects issues #1-6 of the DC Comics New 52 Wonder Woman series with writing by Brian Azzarello and art by Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins.

Wonder Woman, the Amazon born of clay and a prayer, has known who she is all her life. However, when Hermes (yes, the god Hermes) attempts to help a young woman who has been impregnated by Zeus (yes, the god Zeus) – Zeus’ wife, Hera (yes, the goddess Hera) is none too happy about it and sends her followers to go pay Zeus’ new concubine a visit. Under the protection of Wonder Woman, the Amazons and even some gods and demi-gods – the mortal woman still may not survive the fury of Hera, and in the meantime – Wonder Woman learns that maybe she’s not who she’s thought she was all this time.

To me, Wonder Woman has always been one of DC Comics’ most interesting characters. As far as mythology goes, she is DC’s version of Marvel’s Thor (Yeah, I know Wonder Woman came first, obviously). With all the controversy of Gal Gadot being cast as Wonder Woman I figured it’d be a good time to re-examine the character for myself and ended up giving the first six issues of the New 52 version of Wonder Woman a try in order to do so.

First off, the writing was pretty decent. Azarello, you can tell, wants to keep a lot of the mythology in tact and he does so pretty well. At least for a comic book, anyway. One thing I didn’t really like, though, was there seemed to be an awful lot of puns. I’m not sure exactly how many there were, but I felt like that’s all I was doing at points was reading puns to myself that the characters were saying. That hindered the enjoyment in places, but overall it was pretty entertaining aside from what I felt were jarring transitions between issues and even within individual issues.

The art was okay, but I feel like it was maybe a tad too cartoony. It reminded me of Bruce Timm a bit, which is good, but in the context of an Amazonian woman who spends her time hacking the arms off centaurs, I feel like it should be more gritty and realistic. It would really bring home the reality of our world and put it in tune with the fantastical aspects of the mythological one that Diana inhabits.

Overall, I enjoyed it and I look forward to seeing where it goes in the next volume. Seeing all the different gods represented in the artist/author’s interpretations was kind of cool, too. (Although Hermes is pretty creepy looking, I’ll admit).

JOE Rating: ★★★

Justice League: Doom (2012)

Justice League: Doom (2012)

Original Theatrical Release: February 28, 2012
Director: Lauren Montgomery

The Justice League is a team of powerful superheroes dedicated to protecting Earth from all manner of supervillains and other dangers. Batman (Kevin Conroy), the most human of the Justice League, has created contingency plans to defeat each individual member of the famed superhero team. Vandal Savage (Phil Morris) has plans of world domination and decides to send Mirror Master (Alexis Denisof) to sneak into the Batcave and steal all of Batman’s files, including the weaknesses of the Justice League. This results in Batman, Superman (Tim Daly), Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg), Green Lantern (Nathan Fillion), Martian Manhunter (Carl Lumbly), The Flash (Michael Rosenbaum) and Cyborg (Bumper Robinson) all having to fight for their very lives as Batman’s contingency plans prove all too effective.

Taken from the Tower of Babel story line, the events in this film mostly mirror those found in DC Comics, with some differences. However, with only 77 minutes to tell this story, I think they managed to do a good job, overall. Still, some fans of the original material might feel like this doesn’t adequately translate Mark Waid’s original writing. Movies will almost always lack the depth of their source material, so it’s best to treat them as separate entities if you can.

The animation was very slick and stylized. The voice acting was consistently very good, and it was nice to see the Legion Of Doom go up against the Justice League. You could get a sense of the classic rivalries between the characters even without knowing all of the years of back story behind them.

DC seems to really have a handle on all of their animated features – I will give them that. DC characters are sort of larger than life and tend to lend themselves more to animated adventures, where Marvel characters tend to be more gritty and aside from characters like Spider-Man, are more suited to the big screen.

With that said, in this (too) short animated feature, you will find copious amounts of action, danger and adventure…and you will feel that the League really is close to being defeated, because they are…and it’s because of one of their own members. (Thanks a lot, Batman…)

JOE Rating:  ★★★★

Trailer for Justice League: Doom