Liam Neeson

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.”

February 17, 2014

The Simplistic Reviews Podcast: February 2014 Edition

In a desperate attempt to gain some respectability, The Simplistic Reviews Podcast has on special guest from Insession Film, JD Duran.  But in only twenty minutes, the boys corrupt this once reputable man to the point where he is setting fire to the Academy Awards, partially stalking Jennifer Lawrence, and verbally berating Will Smith.  All in a days work for Matt, Justin, and DJ.  Enjoy this corrupting episode of The Simplistic Reviews Podcast….oh…and the boys conjure the ghosts of Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock…yeah…that happened.

 Show Notes:
Unicron
Winter’s Tale
Mission Impossible III
Almost Famous
True Detective Tracking Shot
Key & Peele Liam Neeson Commercial

Music Notes:
Birds & Brass By Sort Of Soul
The Great Escape Theme By Elmer Bernstein
Lawyers, Guns, And Money By Warren Zevon
The Best By Tina Turner


FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.
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December 16, 2012

Happy Holidays: Love Actually

WARM

Full disclosure.  I’m not the biggest fan of the holiday season.  I pretty much peter out after Thanksgiving and pray for New Years to start.  Pretty sure me and the Grinch are cousins.  Full disclosure.  I’m not the biggest fan of romantic films.  They are generally very color by numbers predictable or tragic for tragedy’s sake.  So, imagine my surprise when a film came along that combined both of my dislikes and still managed to knock my socks off.  Love Actually is that film.  For years I’ve held it up as my favorite, most watchable chic flick and my second favorite Christmas movie.  I’ll get to the first later.  No matter how many times I watch it, I’m left with a WARM feeling that actually gets me in the holiday spirit…if only for a little while.

Love Actually comes to us from writer and, then, first time director Richard Curtis of Bridget Jones’s Diary and Four Weddings and a Funeral fame.  The film is a collection of interwoven stories that explores the different aspects of love during the Christmas Season.  The stories range from slapstick comedy to heartfelt drama.  Some are hit and some are miss.  As a whole, however, they all compliment each other perfectly.

Love Actually set the ensamble films bar too high for puke inducing copycats like He’s Just Not That Into You, Valentine’s Day and New Years Eve to come close to reaching.  Ggack!  Just reading the titles of those films almost made me throw up a little.  You might think Love Actually out does those films because the quality of actors in it are amazing.  Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightly, Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney, Rowan Atkinson and many more.  However, I think its because Curtis just knows how to use his talent in the proper way.  Each actor is the right fit for their roles.  They aren’t haphazardly thrown in to parts that we’re forced to accept because they’re Zach Efron or Taylor Swift.  If each side story were a full length film, the actor in place would still be properly cast.  The film, as a result, thrives because of these performances.  Especially those by Neeson, Rickman and Thompson.

Neeson’s story about a suddenly widowed husband and his stepson is the most dramatic driving force in the film.  It is an almost frightening coincidence that this scenario would actually happen to Neeson later in life.  The story is extremely well done and has a rare great child actor performance in Thomas Sangster.  Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson’s tale about a waning marriage and infidelity always evokes a different feeling in me every time I watch it.  You should really hate Rickman for straying from his wife.   However, Curtis presents the circumstances in such understandable way that you’ll find yourself sympathizing.  Though, the tale that is sure to put a smile on your face has to be the one about Bill Nighy’s aging rock star Billy Mack.  Of all the stories that I wished had a full length film or sequel, it would be Mack’s.  Nighy’s obvious nods to Mick Jagger and his brazen attitude toward those around him are easily the comedy high points of the film.

Love Actually is a great film to see if you want to feel good about Christmas but avoid the overly cliched shlock we’re usually bombarded with.  I’ve made a habit of watching it every year.  I, then, immediately plop on Die Hard right after in order to keep my man card.  What?  Its my favorite Christmas film.  Don’t judge me.  Watch it…watch your heart grow three sizes that day…plop on Die Hard after just to be safe…then tell me I’m wrong.

September 24, 2012

Schindler’s List

Schindler’s List – Remember

With the Jewish High Holy Days under way, I felt it only appropriate to include a movie that I not only find amazing, but in a way, a birth rite of sorts for the Jewish religion.  Move over “Hebrew Hammer,” step aside “Fiddler on the Roof,” that film would be “Schindler’s List.”

Let me start with this; I’m in no way a religious person, you might even call be a very poor example of what a Jew should be. I eat cheeseburgers, I enjoy baby back ribs, and I do not actively attend temple on either Friday, Saturday, or any day for that matter. However, I respect a religion that doesn’t push it’s ideology all the way down your throat, maybe just the tip (as long as it’s circumcised).

Just in case you haven’t seen, or heard of “Schindler’s List” I’ll give you the rundown; Oskar Schindler (played by Liam Neeson, or the bad-ass in “Taken 1 and 2”) is a factory owner, and Nazi Party member, who hobnobs with the Reich in the evening to keep up good relations in the lead up to Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution.”  As the German war effort ramps up, and the Krakow ghetto is liquidated, Schindler begins to see his Jewish workers as more then just workers, but victims in a senseless crime committed by the party he is affiliated with, and he tries to save as many of his “workers” as he can with his “list.”

Along with Neeson, the cast is aces, with Ralph Fiennes starring as SS guard Amon Goeth and Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern, but it would be nothing without the direction of Steven Spielberg.  Spielberg captures Poland in the late 1930’s and 40’s perfectly, and shooting the film in black and white adds to the stark backdrop of the era.  The film only features two scenes with color as Schindler sees a young girl in a red coat being lead away from the ghetto, and later that same girl, in her red coat, seen by Schindler again as just another dead body.  The color usage is supposed to be the point where Schindler starts to see the Jewish people as not only his workers, and/or property, but as human beings, and we begin to see his transformation from factory owner to savior.

Some people might see “Schindler’s List” as exploitative, or narrow-minded in its view of World War II, but it’s a film that shows people the horrors of the Holocaust (sure, it’s a movie made in America, by the man behind “Indiana Jones” and “Jaws”) and you have to merit a film that just about anyone can relate to.  There are themes of redemption, perseverance, faith, sacrifice, and love, and seeing where Oskar Schindler started, a well-to-do Nazi Party member, to where he ends up, on his knees wondering why he couldn’t save more people, is as beautiful as it is tragic.

Fun Fact:  “Schindler’s List” was based on “Schindler’s Ark” the 1982 novel by Thomas Keneally.

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