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Monday, November 30, 2015

Countdown to the Force Awakens (Episode III) - Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Exiting "Attack of the Clones" you might feel a little woozy and maybe even feel a little lost, and think to yourself, "is there any hope?" Well, as much as people might disagree with me, this entry in the "Star Wars" film universe if not only one of my favorites, but also one of the better shot, directed, and acting in the series as well. Let's not stand on ceremony, let's commence with 2005's "Revenge of the Sith."

"Sith" begins in the middle of a giant space battle with both Anakin Skywalker, now a full Jedi Knight, and his master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, hunting down General Grevious, the leader of the Droid Army who has kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine. After a daring rescue, Kenobi and Skywalker are met with a heroes welcome back on Coruscant.

The plot thickens as Anakin and Padme reunite and she reveals to him that she is pregnant, however visions of Padme dying during childbirth haunt Anakin who first seeks counsel with Jedi Master Yoda, and later with Palpatine who regales Skywalker with stories of the Dark Side of The Force and and Sith Lord named Darth Plagueis.

There is also worry within the Jedi ranks as Chancellor Palpatine looks to expand his power within the Senate. Many are worried they will need to remove the Chancellor after the Clone Wars has come to an end. Master Jedi Mace Windu and the Council decide that Anakin should keep tabs on Palpatine, who agrees with their plan, but remains conflicted on his loyalty to the Jedi, his friendship to Palpatine, and his worry for Padme.

As Kenobi dispatches of General Grievous on the planet Utapau, meanwhile on Coruscant, Palpatine reveals his true identity to Anakin as the Sith Lord, Dark Sidious, who promises that he can help Anakin save Padme.

After reporting his findings to Windu, a task force of Jedi, led by Windu, look to take Palpatine into custody and re-establish order. Arriving just in time, Skywalker tries to talk Windu into sparing the life of Palpatine, but before Windu can land the killing blow, Anakin cuts off Windu's hand and allows Palpatine to land his own killing blow. Having saved the life of Palpatine, Skywalker pledges himself to the Chancellor and becomes his newest apprentice; Darth Vader.

It's all downhill from here, as Jedi are wiped out with "Order 66," Anakin kills what remains of the Trade Federation, and Obi-Wan and Anakin duel on the fiery planet of Mustafar. The 3rd act moves quick and ties up all loose ends and leads right into what we all know as "The Original Trilogy."

THE BIG.....NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!
As much as people give shit to the prequels, this is by far the strongest of the three, and for me at least, my 2nd favorite film in the series. I love the way the tension builds and seeing the descent into darkness for Anakin Skywalker as he finally turns to the Dark Side and becomes Darth Vader is a highlight of just not these films, but the franchise as a whole.

There certainly seem to be things that George Lucas learned from his previous mistakes in Episode I and II, including;

1. Keeping the love story almost completely out. While we still know that Anakin and Padme love each other and they are about to have kids, that story is told with less dialogue, which helps moves the action along.

2. He let's the actors act this time. While Natalie Portman was pretty much a disaster in this film, a select few actually improved the material they were given, namely Ewan McGregor and albeit some silly faces, Ian McDiarmid, gives a creepy performance as the manipulator of all the events in the prequels. And let me not forget Christopher Lee, who is, well, Christopher Lee.

3. I buy Hayden Christensen this time. Hey, I mean he's acting isn't the best, but it's head and shoulders much better than his performance in "Attack of the Clones" and his scowling is in full effect as the Dark Lord of the Sith.
SILLY FACE.....ACTIVATE

All in all, there isn't much I can tear apart in this film aside from some atrocious acting and of course the SFX porn that became a staple in the prequels, but honestly, "Revenge of the Sith" is entirely watchable and all together enjoyable. As someone who's favorite in the franchise is "The Empire Strikes Back" this film does a great job of painting scenes that are full of darkness and impending doom, which for me, is when the series is at it's best; dark and gloomy, with just enough light where you think there is hope; and that hope in the darkness for these prequels has to be "Revenge."

Coming up next in Part IV will we go back in time, but fast-forwarding ahead about 20 years in "Star Wars" time with "A New Hope," May the Force Be With You.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Countdown to the Force Awakens (Episode II) - Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Well, here it is, the one that you've all been waiting for. If you thought "The Phantom Menace" had issues, well, we might be here for a while. It's the one, the only, "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones," just the name alone conjures chuckles, a reminder that even Ed Wood used to be called a director. And as much as it pains me to say, while this film isn't very good, it does lay some good foundation for spin-off material such as the animated "Clone Wars" TV show and even includes some actual lightsaber fighting that is longer than a minute.

Saber up Anakin...
So, "Attack of the Clones." Our story begins with an attempted assassination on now Senator Padme Amidala of Naboo. The plot thickens as now Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi and his Padawan learner, Anakin Skywalker, are brought in to investigate the botched assassination and to try and uncover a deeper conspiracy that involves planets erased from the Jedi archive, clones, poison darts, bounty hunters, and as much stuff as you can pack into the longest "Star Wars" films on record (142 minutes).

Once again, George Lucas, who actually stuck around this time and directed all three of the prequel films, packs it all in in this one; from laughable dialogue, convoluted political intrigue that now involves the universally loathed Jar Jar Binks, and one of the most cringe-worthy love stories in recent history. However, there is more polish on the visuals this time around, and on a Blu-Ray copy, the CG doesn't look as dated as some of the CG in "Phantom Menace."

While I sort of remember my experience in going to see "Phantom Menace" in the theater, I have little too no memory of seeing "Clones" in the cineplex. I was just about 19, so I remember that, but could a film be so bad or lackluster that maybe you erase all memory of the film itself. I think the only thing that I might remember, and perhaps this spoiled me, is that I read the novelization before seeing the film and I was looking forward to scenes popping up on screen. Some did, and some didn't, and some even popped up as deleted scenes on the DVD version. Reading the novelization is properly the route I would go at this time. You know the old saying "the book was better" well, this is indeed the case for "Clones."
Another take George?


Now before you all think I'm just going to poo poo all over "Clones" (and I'll get to that) like I've been, and people might argue me on this; there is some good that came out of this film. Namely, both the animated and CG "Clone Wars" series on Cartoon Network and you could even say the success of those shows lead to 2014's "Star Wars" Rebels." You also had the introduction to another decent Sith villain, Count Dooku, played by none other than Count Dracula himself, the late Christopher Lee. Maybe it's just the horror fan in me, but casting an ageless actor like Lee was something very cool and took just a little bit of the sting away from this film. While "Phantom" was so bad, there are some nice takeaways from "Clones" albeit the bad outweighs the good most of the time.

So, transitioning to the bad. Well, at least you can say that "Phantom" tried to incorporate some practical sets and costumes, very little can be said for this film. Much of the film is set on green or blue screens, including some of the acting as well, but more on that soon. There has always been a certain magic to the "Star Wars" films that blurred the line between practical and CG, those days all but died in "Clones." It's like overcooking a Filet Mignon; you can do it if you want, but I wouldn't advise it (why a food saying that doesn't exist? Maybe I'm just hungry).

With that out of the way, can be talk about acting, or "this is what happens when you decide not to re-take a shot and use your first take." It's been harped on how bad the acting is in these prequels, but to be honest I haven't always been the biggest fan of the acting in the original trilogy either. Acting should be secondary to good storytelling, and that is what saves the original trilogy for me. With that being said, "Clones" is lacking in the acting department, but it's even more frustrating when you think about the people that are doing the acting. Natalie Portman won an Oscar later on down the line. Samuel L Jackson, Oscar nominated. Ewan McGregor, gives it a shot, but you can't paint a Monet when all you have is the color brown. I can keep going, but I think you get the point.

You're covered in sand....I don't like you anymore...
Of course this brings me to Hayden Christensen, and I saved an entire paragraph for him. Full disclosure, I liked his performance in "Life as a House" I think him and Kevin Klein but turned in great performances. But outside of scowling, Christensen sullied the likeness of Darth Vader and turned him into a whiny emo brat and turned his Padawan braid into the modern Jedi man bun. But just wait until you see him and Natalie Portman on screen together, that's when things get real hot. Conversations about sand, not being able to be together, eating digitized fruit, and "I call this aggressive negotiation," wow, this could go on all day. My point, I understand why people hate his performance, and yes, maybe he wasn't the best pick for the future Darth Vader, but you need to have a good screenwriter and a director that actual directs to get the best out of your actors. You don't have either.

"Clones" is neck and neck with "Phantom" as being the low-point in the "Star Wars" film franchise. The saving grace is that we at least got something positive out of it with some kick-ass animated series' and the fact that it couldn't get any worse.....or could it? More on that in the next installment.

Spectre

Spectre: Pacing
...Mr. Bond...Pacing
2015Thriller/Action2h 30m

Pick up Spectre! The Greatest Hits of Bond only for the low price of $9.99

A cryptic message from the past leads James Bond (Daniel Craig) to Mexico City and Rome, where he meets the beautiful widow (Monica Bellucci) of an infamous criminal. After infiltrating a secret meeting, 007 uncovers the existence of the sinister organization SPECTRE. Needing the help of the daughter of an old nemesis, he embarks on a mission to find her. As Bond ventures toward the heart of SPECTRE, he discovers a chilling connection between himself and the enemy (Christoph Waltz) he seeks.

Spectre is the Bond film of Bond films. Spectre, its meaning should be the process of breaking down 23 films and taking the DNA of those and injecting it into 1 film. Or look at it like this, Spectre is The Greatest Hits of Bond for $9.99

Is that a bad thing? Nope but you must break it down like this

007 Fans | Movie Fans

For us who spend that money every time a new medium is released with a Bond film we buy it. Doesn't matter if it is the same copy that was released 2 years ago, we will throw money down to buy it. Seriously I have like 4 different DVD Sets of the same films. Sure you will get a feature here and there but sometimes they will release the same copy just in a new case. I own the 50th collection, then it was release in the white box, so you know I had to get that one. And yes its the same thing just a different box. Yes I'm a idiot but Bond makes me... me. So I do and that's that. 

So as a Bond fan going in to Spectre I didn't care if it sucked or was the greatest, it was Bond and that is all that matters. Spectre is the Bond film for the fans. Call backs everywhere gave me a smile. And the fact I could see Bond have a fight in a train, Bond in the snow, Bond having a 007 like car chase with gadgets, Bond wearing a white tux gave the kid in me a tear of happiness. This film is 2 hrs and a half, hey I would of like 4 hrs in a half because Bond is a drug that I must have again and again. It's odd because I think all Bond fans would say we wanted more even thought we were already given a lot... And that is the problem with this film.

Spectre is the big hit of a powerful drug, when it should of been just a taste.

When we cross over to the Movie Fans we're given a slew of problems and the answer to why we as Bond fans need more!

Why? Because its 10 pounds of shit in a 5 pound bag. Movie writing 101 you have what is called, "Dramatic Structure". Dramatic Structure dates back to Aristotle, so yeah this isn't a new thing.
With Dramatic Structure you have

Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action and Denouement.

Spectre takes these five parts and throws them out the window. Why? Okay lets make it simple then.

Beginning, Middle and End (Climax)

Nope. Spectre threw it out again...shit...

When your watching a film and the climax comes, the climax shouldn't lead to another climax. What happens then is you begin to pit the two together, which in Spectre's case made the first climax (the best one) follow the films final climax (the weak one) a nasty taste in the viewers mouth. End the film on the one and only climax! Do not end the film on a weak note. It leaves the audience wanting more and with a 2 hr and a half film, you should already have plenty.

But for movie fans, there was too much in this film. Skyfall had a lot less and that makes the film more enjoyable. Again Spectre isn't bad, its really good. But you can't take the process of writing and throw it out the window. Skyfall is 7 mins shorter, yet Spectre feels more like a whole extra half an hour, this is because of its horrible pacing. Pacing is key in movie making, here it looks to be just a afterthought.

Again the Bond fan in me wants to make it clear, it is a fun and enjoyable movie. Craig gives his best Bond yet and that was the big thing that stood out for me, Craig perfected his Bond with Spectre and I need to see him do it one more time in a good paced film. It was great to see Craig bring back the dark comedy that has been missing recently. Léa Seydoux was a great Bond Girl (I know we aren't allowed to say that anymore but hey I'm a ass, that I already knew). The one thing that did it for me was how she didn't want to be apart of this killing world. She wanted to leave and does, even though that becomes a setup anyone could see a million miles away. Her character could of been used better, but a recurring theme with Spectre is her character is not flushed out completely. Christoph Waltz is amazing on screen with every project he does. He is a great villain and my only two issue would be 

1) Not used enough 2) They should of hidden him more when it came to the photos and trailers, especially those TV spots I kept seeing, and I don't even watch TV. The surprise wasn't there and it should of been. 

Again the writers did not flush out the characters.

The film looked great. It had a dark look that I just loved. The opening is Craig's best and yes the barrel was put back in the beginning, I wanted to jump when I saw it there, was so happy.
The opening is stunning. That opening shot is beautiful with a few phantom cuts the flow of the opening is spectacular.

The song is okay. Its a good song but it needs more power, its too soft and it has no kick. For a big action opening that leads to a soft song falls kinda flat. The octopus wrapping around women was awesome. Loved the titles and enjoyed seeing past Bond characters popping up.

There is this nice use of Q and M coming out in the field that I really liked. I think Fiennes' M is shaping up nicely.

Monica Bellucci ooh la la!

The plot with surveillance I didn't care for nor did I with Mr. Hinx's weapon I guess I can say, the thing on the fingers, yeah... I didn't like that nor did I care for his exit.

Spectre is a good Bond film. With so much in there, with such a long run time it seems to be missing things that it shouldn't. And it does this thing with the villain I feel comes off kinda pointless. Trying not to spoiled anything but somethings are best unknown and left in the dark. With the ending things are left kinda opened. The viewer has no conclusion because so much is left over for a sequel it feels like. Then at the same time the whole film feels like 2 films in 1. It's a odd taste that is left in your mouth after the film. On one hand its good on the other the question of why? hangs over some choices the writers made. 

The film should of been broken up into 2

I guess all said and done this film had too many cooks in the kitchen. Spectre is a bloated film with extremely under used characters. But hey Im happy I got to live another day to see another Bond and that's all that really matters to me. But we are at a professional level of movie making. Sam Medes and crew are on a $300 million dollar film here and should be a bit more professional especially 23 films in already.

Robert Wade, Neal Purvis Please Leave Bond.

Wanted
What I wanted when I saw the trailer was a bigger threat towards Bond. I wanted Bond scared. The Double 0 program is hanging on a thread. I thought Bond would connect with other 00's and work on this threat. That's my big issue with what was missing, no real threat. They tried but it came off weak, Bond doing it alone, again, come on people. We have a villain that should be the biggest threat and yet Dominic Greene came off more of a threat. A lot of misses with this one which will make Spectre the most controversial movie of 2015.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Simplistic Reviews Podcast (Ep. 58) November 2015

FOR MATURE AUDIENCE


Fall has fallen and the boys at Simplistic Reviews have taken it upon themselves to kick off the Thanksgiving Month right.  There's Ronda Rousey Roadhouse talk, an uncensored Julie, Kelly LeBrock reminiscing and a good old fashioned game of Kill, F%*k, Marry.

All this in more in a turkey filled episode of The Simplistic Reviews Podcast

NOTES
The Usual Suspects
Ronda Rousey Loss
Woman In Red
Roadhouse
Fargo's Mike Milligan

MUSIC
My Flows Is Tight By Lord Digga
Action In Memphis By John Pearson
The Ususal Suspects Theme By John Ottman
Cast Your Fate To The Wind By Vince Guaraldi

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Countdown to The Force Awakens (Episode I) - Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

As we inch closer to the release of this year's most anticipated release, "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip" I thought it only appropriate to bring up another film that might garner some attention in the next month or so; "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." I know much hasn't been made of this film and it's flying under the radar, but to get everyone in the mood and to be completely original, it seemed time to take a look back and discuss the previous six entries in the "Star Wars" franchise and do a little retrospective.

While many people don't like to admit that they exist, the "Star Wars" prequels do in fact, and they are canon to the entire "Star Wars" universe. Sorry people, but they do. With that being said, let's start ripping the band-aid off right away and jump right into 1999's "The Phantom Menace" released 16 years after "Return of the Jedi."

"Phantom" takes place 32 years before "A New Hope" and regales the audience with the story of trade agreements, treaty signings, bartering for parts of a ship, diplomacy, Jedi Council meetings, oh, and some lightsaber action. If you're a big fan of intergalactic politics, you might find some fun in "Phantom," but for most of us, even the biggest "Star Wars" fans will find the fun and will mostly be yearning for what came before in the later "sequels," and by sequels I mean the original three films.

During "Phantom" we meet some old faces, just younger; including Jedi in training Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Padawan learner of Jedi Knight, Qui-Gon Jinn, Senator Palpatine who will eventually become Emperor Palpatine in the later films, and of course Anakin Skywalker, the one who was thought to bring balance to The Force, but instead turned his back on the Jedi order and would become Darth Vader.

Why'sa peoples hate'sa me so much....
The main issue with "Phantom" and there are plenty, is the gall of it's creator, George Lucas, to expect old fans of the series to like what he likes no matter what. Sure, I get it, the original trilogy was written at a different time and place. The 70s and 80s were interesting time, and while studios had priorities like selling toys, lunchboxes, collectible cups at McDonald's and Burger King, the 90s brought about a time where not only were the kids that grew up with "A New Hope" and "The Empire Strikes Back" now adults, but many of them were wealthy adults, or at least man-children, that would eat up collectibles like candy. Not to mention, most of these adults now had children that only had to point at something they saw at K-B Toys (yes, K-B Toys used to be a thing) and it was rung up at the cash register. While I blame Lucas for 90% of what you end up seeing on screen, there is plenty of blame to go around with yes-men/women and plenty of people that would not say no to the all-mighty Lucas who created something so beloved and everlasting that nothing we could do would be wrong. Well, hindsight is 20/20 and with the rise of the Internet, "Phantom" has gone down as not only one of the worst films in the "Star Wars" Universe, but some might say one of the worst films ever made.
I'm just here for the purple lightsaber

Okay, with that out of the way, let the "Star Wars" fan come out and actually say some good things about this film, this should be short of course;

The relationship between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan is the heartbeat of the film, albeit a weak one that isn't fully explored or fleshed out. It's clear that both Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson are trying their best with what they've been given and knowing the lore of "Star Wars" the relationship between a Jedi and his Padawan learner is a powerful thing, I just wish there was more to it. The seeds are planted early that Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon often are at odds, especially about taking Anakin to Coruscant to showcase him in front of the other Master Jedi, but there is that mutual love and respect between the two, as well as the student and teacher motif, that while it may seem lame, makes a more profound effect later on in "Revenge of the Sith."

I could have been a contender...
Darth Maul also makes a decent showing, even though it's far too short of one. In the original trilogy the only bad guy you worried about was Darth Vader. Sure, Boba Fett was cool, and I would almost call Maul the Boba Fett of the prequel series. While we get to see so little of him, he was turned into somewhat of a cult figure in the series, much like Fett himself. There is no denying that the final lightsaber fight between Maul, Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon is the highlight of this film, it was so much a highlight that later we would get prequel books about the origin of Maul and the inevitable return of Maul as a half Sith, half robot with spider-legs, that was the appeal of Maul.

Of course I could beat a dead horse, but outside of those few lone bright spots, "Phantom" is plagued by issues that turn a once proud franchise into a near "MST3K" quality film. From the pratfalls of Jar Jar Binks, to the neverending Pod Racer sequence, to the cringe-worthy dialogue spewed by Jake Lloyd as the future Dark Lord of the Sith, and of course the lifeless performance by Natalie Portman, this film lacks fun, goodness, and the goofy innocence of "Star Wars" films past and replaces it with goofy out of place humor and lifeless exposition that will leave many fans, like myself, hollow and yearning for nostalgia, or at least "The Star Wars Christmas Special."

So, has another 16 years made this film any better? Not really. The CG looks dated, the characters are just as insufferable, and outside of this film being canon, there really isn't much you'll get out of it. Many of the best things about "Phantom" aren't even brought up again in the proceeding films, original trilogy included, so it begs the questions? What was the purpose of the prequels, namely this film? Oh yeah.....midi-chlorians....that's it.....midi-chlorians......

Stay tuned in the next few days for more "Star Wars" goodness as we move on to another winner; "Star Wars Episode II Attack of the Clones."

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