Ewan McGregor

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.”

January 11, 2014

August: Osage County

FAMILY
Of all the films being discussed during award season, August: Osage County seems to be the one being forgotten.  It has the award recognition somewhat, but it is hard to hear anything about it over the publicity noise of films like Wolf Of Wall Street, American Hustle, and Gravity.  And this is a film with Meryl Streep and Julia f@%king Roberts!  Two of the most iconic female actresses I’ve watched in my lifetime.  What was it about this film that keeps it flying under the radar?  Then I thought about the subject matter.  It isn’t as captivating as a sexy scheme set up by quirky con artists in the 70s.  It isn’t as outrageous as a cocaine fueled crook living to excess in the 80s and 90s.  It definitely isn’t as thrilling as watching a woman struggling to survive in an endless abyss in the present.  It is merely about FAMILY.  All the love and hate and insane dysfunction of FAMILY.  It isn’t a two hour long dose of good ol’ escapism.  It shines a light on an all too familiar life that most would try and have tried to escape from.  
Don’t get me wrong.  This is not a fun for the whole FAMILY film.  August: Osage County is the film adaptation of writer Tracy Letts’ play of the same name.  It centers around a small town FAMILY reuniting after the sudden disappearance of the FAMILY‘s patriarch.  And the fact that this film was a play will not come as a shock once you watch it.  At the end of several scenes, you’ll catch yourself waiting for the curtain the drop and the applause to start before you realize you’re still sitting in a cineplex.  I made a critique of the aforementioned Wolf Of Wall Street in my review a few weeks back.  That critique was that the film seemed more like a collection of amazing scenes instead of a well structured story.  Yet, I wasn’t sure if that was entirely a bad thing for me.  August: Osage County made me start to feel the same way.  But that way of storytelling works fine for a novel or a play.  That is what’s tricky to me about adaptations.  Do you want them to stick with the same format the novel or play or television show had at the expense of structure?  Or do you want to mold it into something more film friendly?  I personally don’t know.  It changes for me on a case to case basis.  I do know I loved both Wolf Of Wall Street and August: Osage County because of the TREMENDOUS scenes and TREMENDOUS performances in them.  I just feel that their previous roots show a little too much for me to call them perfect “film” adaptations.

I’ve been watching John Wells work for a majority of my life.   Shows like ER and Southland and now Shameless really show how the man can make real people just feel real on screen.  How he can create dramatic tension through stillness and subtlety instead of jarringly acrobatic camera moves or set ups.  One might assume that his visual technique for this film was just a “point the camera and walk away” style because of the actors he had it his disposal.  However, there is a slick sense of simplicity and sneakiness in how he shoots these scenes, puts you in that house, and puts you in those moments.  For a film like this, it is all about creating an environment where actors can flourish and bring their characters to life.

Who are the actors at his disposal?  Holy crap!  Well, I’ve already mentioned the two cinema Godzillas of Meryl Streep and Julie Roberts.  And trust me, it is their film to own.  But the top notch performances here are ubiquitous.  Yeah…I said ubiquitous.  It means “everywhere”.  I looked it up because I wanted to find a word that could properly illustrate how great everyone is in this film.  I haven’t seen Roberts this strong and fearless since Closer.  And Streep literally roars reminders at you that she is the best actress walking the planet.  But then you have Chris Cooper chewing scenery throughout the film, with Margo Martindale chewing it up right alongside him.  Benedict Cumberbatch and Juliette Lewis show up out of nowhere and devour every line they have.  Abigail Breslin knocks one out of the park for kicks.  Ewan McGegor and Dermot Mulroney slides in great showings too.  Hell, Sam Shepard gets one scene and delivers some of the film’s best lines in that time.  It is practically a smorgasbord of acting on display.  Though, I wanted to single out Julianne Nicholson’s performance because it may be the one overlooked the most.  She isn’t the biggest name in the cast but she holds her own with everyone.  Before you know it, Nicholson will be the one you feel for the most and the one who will pull your heartstrings the hardest.

August: Osage County is not only deserving of its praise, but deserving of more attention.  It might be better suited as a play than a film.  However, there is no doubt that the writing, directing, and acting are still good enough for you to enjoy the hell out of it.  Sit down with your FAMILY…if you dare…watch it…hope to God that your FAMILY isn’t as crazy as theirs…then tell me I’m wrong.  

  

September 21, 2012

Beginners

Beginners: Beautiful
(2010)

Put simply, Beginners is one of the most beautiful films I have seen in years.
It has been a long time since I have seen a film that hit a 10 on every level.
Directing ✔

Acting ✔
Story ✔
are all absolutely Beautiful.
The story is a unique one, which is nice to say. It has been a long time since a unique story like this has popped up on my “To watch list”.  As well as a story that has character development!
So what is this story about? Well a son (Ewan McGregor) is told by his father that he is gay and has stage 4 cancer. A lot to take in for his son, who’s own look on relationships has been stain by his fathers treatment of his own mother. The scenes between his mother and him, when he was young are heartfelt. Ewan also meets a girl at a party and is taken by her. She herself also has some parental problems. She also reminds Ewan of his own mother, in many different ways. The story of his struggle with life and its relationships to me are just flat out fascinating. Christopher Plummers performance is a joy to watch, as well as that dog that steals every scene he shows up in.

I tip my hat to Mike Mills. His writing and directing is simply beautiful. I look forward to his future projects.

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