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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Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Original Theatrical Release: July 22, 2011
Director: Joe Johnston

It’s 1942 and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) wants desperately to join in the fight for his country during World War II. The problem is, he’s too scrawny and sickly. However, Doctor Erskine (Stanley Tucci) sees within Rogers something special and offers to change his sickly demeanor. Eagerly, Rogers accepts and changes his life forever as he is injected with the Super Soldier Syrum which enhances his strength, speed, stamina and agility. Steve then becomes Captain America, and must go up against the evil Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) with the fate of America and the world hanging in the balance.

Overall, I think they did a good job with Cap in this rendition of his character. Joe Johnston directs something that feels appropriately pulpy and 1940’s-retro-nostalgic.

The supporting cast is amazing, with talents such as Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci and others. Sometimes, I felt their individual talents were put to waste on such minor roles, but hey…it’s great that they’re even in the film to begin with.

I’m still not really sold on Chris Evans as Captain America, even after Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers. I guess I’ll have to see what I think once Captain America: The Winter Soldier comes out. I still really think of Evans as The Human Torch/Johnny Storm from The Fantastic Four. He was perfect for that character, but Steve Rogers had a lot of good-guy charisma, where Evans has cocky-guy charisma.

The action was all pretty decent and the special effects were neat for the most part. Most notable was how they managed to work their CGI magic and camera tricks on Evans to turn him into the 90 lb asthmatic he portrays at the beginning of the film. It looked really convincing for a good portion of when they showed him onscreen, even while he was shirtless.

If you love Marvel movies, you obviously have probably seen this…but you can also get behind this if you like action flicks or war movies or are just curious. I don’t think it’s really as good as Iron Man was, but it can hold its own (and sadly, might be better than Thor in some ways).

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Captain America: The First Avenger

Django Unchained (2012)

Django Unchained (2012)

Original Theatrical Release: December 25, 2012
Director: Quentin Tarantino

Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave. When a German man named Dr. King Shultz (Christopher Waltz) shows up and sets him free, he does it on one condition: Django must become his deputy in the bounty-hunting biz. Django just wants to find his wife, the lovely Broomhilda Von Schaft (Kerry Washington) but she is being held as a house slave on a plantation owned by the ruthless cotton king, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Django must match wits and guns with Candie in order to come out alive, much less rescue his wife.

I’d been waiting for this movie for a long time. I kept seeing trailer after trailer and then it was finally in theaters. Right now, It’s my current favorite movie that Quentin Tarantino has ever done. (Replacing Death Proof)

There was a lot of controversy over this film. Spike Lee and Kat Williams and others said it was racist, but the problem is that 1.) They never watched the film and 2.) It was NOT racist, aside from the fact that the 1800’s were racist. Tarantino is not a history scholar, he is a filmmaker, and what he did was create a very badass historical revenge fantasy.

Django is far from being helpless and stereotypical. All the white characters in the film are evil and/or stupid and/or dirty, and they all eventually get what’s coming to them. The only white character who helps Django is Schultz, but he is European and not American. (A very good choice for the purposes of this film…brilliant). The use of the “N-Word” IS gratuitous, but is probably used less than in real life in the 1800’s. I don’t think Tarantino uses it casually, or for humor, but needed to give a sense of how low people thought you were if you were African American.

The performances were all top-notch. Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Waltz and Kerry Washington went all out. I particularly enjoyed Christopher Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio’s performances, and I sometimes don’t even like Leo. I think he’s getting better with age. The music is great also (I want the soundtrack) and the story is very intriguing.

The violence is so exaggerated that during one of the gunfight scenes, I was clapping loudly and laughing as buckets worth of blood was splashed against the walls and floors, small pistols firing with the force of mini cannons and just destroying man and construct in great shows of gunplay.

It was great. Go see it.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Django Unchained