Christopher Lee

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.

November 2, 2012

Double-ovember: The Man With The Golden Gun

STYLISH

The first Bond film I’m reviewing this month was the first Bond movie I ever saw.  So, it might explain my love for Roger Moore.  Yes, Sean Connery is the best Bond.  Yes, Moore was more punchline than punch.  But as a kid, he was my introduction into the world of Bond.  And the world of The Man With The Golden Gun was a world that shattered any preconceived notions I had for a good guy versus bad guy film.

James Bond isn’t some “golly-gee” farm-boy from Smallville who does whats right no matter what.  James Bond isn’t some selfless trust fund baby who strikes fear in the hearts of criminals when night falls.  James Bond isn’t some nerdy photographer with superpowers who is entirely hung up on responsibility.  James Bond is actually…well…an asshole.  Hell!  He’s somewhat of a misogynistic asshole.  Double Hell!  He’s somewhat of a cold blooded murdering misogynistic asshole.   James Bond doesn’t wear a mask to protect the people he cares about.  He doesn’t use an alias to protect the government he works for.  He doesn’t fight fair.  He doesn’t follow orders.  He might technically be the worst spy on paper ever.  And we love him for it.   He’s the longest running antihero in cinema history.  Bond does things that we want to do, but our better natures won’t allow us to.  And he does them with STYLE

The Man With The Golden Gun, or Bond IX, is about 007 tracking down and killing the world’s  deadliest assassin before he returns the favor in kind.  An assassin that uses a golden gun.  Um…that’s it.  Sure, there is a solar energy subplot tossed in there, but its more sub than plot.   The film can be summed up in caveman terms.  Bond hunt bad guy.  Bond find bad guy.  Bond kill bad guy.  It is such a simple and badass premise, its a wonder why Hollywood action films nowadays, other than Dredd 3D & The Raid, overcomplicate themselves.  The Man With The Golden Gun sets up a fight between two pitbulls and lets them duke it out in the final act.    
A Bond film is usually measured by three primary factors.  The Bond girls, the Bond gadgets, and the Bond villains.  Let me start with the girls.  Unlike our misogynistic hero, I like it when Bond’s femme fatales have equal footing with him.  Sadly, in The Man With The Golden Gun, the Bond girls are lacking in any type of equality.  They fall into archetypes used many times before and after this film.  The reluctant mistress of the villain and the admiring rookie agent.  However, they serve as little else than a subservient pawn piece for Bond to move around.  Maud Adams’s character of Andrea Anders pales in comparison to the character of Octopussy, who she played years later.   Mary Goodnight is literally described as the “astoundingly dumb blonde British agent”.  So you know what you’re getting there.  You can attribute the minimized Bond girl personality to either the era or the fact they wanted to focus more on the villain.   However, it becomes a glaring weakness of the film.  
As far as the gadgets go,  they are few and far between in this film.  The only one of any real importance is the infamous golden gun.  Again, when I was a kid, nothing was cooler than Christopher Lee assembling his golden gun and blowing someone away.  Being older now, I can see how people can see it as goofy.  However, you have to respect the elegance and simplicity of the idea.
    
The Man With The Golden Gun has arguably the greatest Bond villain of all time in Francisco Scaramanga.  He is played superbly by the always devious Christopher Lee.  A cousin of Bond scribe Ian Fleming.  Allow me to put his awesomeness in the proper perspective.  For recreation…RECREATION MIND YOU…Scaramanga practices killing people by…KILLING PEOPLE!  He makes arrangements for their arrival to his home, disarms himself, pays them…TO TRY AND KILL HIM…then beats them to the punch.  He’s so cool, the cold open of the film is entirely dedicated to him.  He has skill.  He has STYLE.  He has a third nipple.  Uh…yeah…he has a third nipple…but who cares?!  He more than holds his own with Bond.  To this day, I measure all Bond villains to him.  And Nick Nack.  Ohhhhhh Nick Nack.  It takes balls to have a henchman in a Bond film be a dwarf.  Herve Villechaize’s great performance propelled Nick Nack into becoming one of the most iconic Bond characters of all time.  There wouldn’t be a Mini-Me without a Nick Nack.   
In the lexicon of Bond, The Man With The Golden Gun always stands out near the top.  Not because it is the best film.  Its not.  It stands out because it possesses so many of the STYLISH elements of the James Bond franchise.  Put on a tux…order a martini(You know how)…sing along with Lulu…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.  
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