Volume 1, Number 12
This Week's Reviews: Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace, The Love Letter, Trekkies, The Castle.
|Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace
(Dir: George Lucas, Starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Pernilla August, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Oliver Ford Davies, Hugh Quarshie, Ahmed Best, Samuel L. Jackson, Ray Park, Peter Serafinowicz, Ralph Brown, Terence Stamp, Brian Blessed, Sofia Coppola, Adrian Dunbar, and Kenny Baker)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Can we say overhype? The behemoth George Lucas called "his vision" has turned into kiddie fodder. I'm not against a film being open to the children as well as adults, but Star Wars? My favorite of the previous trilogy was actually (brace yourselves) Return of the Jedi. I thought it was fun and featured the best scenes the series had seen, plus it was dark and quite disturbing throughout (maybe with the exception of the Ewoks scenes). I mean I was not hoping for a science fiction take on Happiness, but I think I at least deserved a freedom from Jar Jar Binks. The computer animated Binks was the worst looking CGI I've seen since summer double header of Volcano and Dante's Peak. He serves as supposed comic relief while never being comical. I found the character to be annoying and off setting (a face Ewan McGregor makes at him at one point was the same face I used throughout). The only thing more annoying than Jar Jar this year has been those talking babies in Baby Geniuses (you know I'm serious when I bring out the big guns, aka Baby Geniuses).
The first part of the six episode Star Wars epic attempts to set up the characters that will either appear in the first three films (for the few unaware: Star Wars [A New Hope], Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi) or make a mark on the characters in those episodes. Returning (or is it appearing) characters include Obi Wan Kenobi (McGregor; playing a young Alec Guiness [fun anagram: genuine class]) is a young learning Jedi in this before taking on the role of mentor to future Jedi Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, Yoda (puppeted as always by Frank Oz) as a leader of a board over seeing the Jedi in this only to go into a sylvan exile by the new trilogy, and Anakin Skywalker (annoyingly played by Lloyd) who will grow up from this film to be Darth Vader after being tempted to the Dark Side. The only actor that actually makes a recurring appearance is the very good Ian McDiarmid. In Return of the Jedi he played the evil Emperor Palpatine that battled the father-son duel of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, here he is Senator Palpatine, a conniving senator that attempts to become chancellor by waging a battle in the senate after dressing up as Darth Sedious.
Then there are new characters abound beyond Jar Jar. Natalie Portman plays the Kabuki dressed Queen Amadala of the planet Naboo, a planet under duress from a conspiracy of the Trade Federation (some crap about an embargo). A new mentor comes in as the overseer to Obi-Wan in the form of Qui-Gon Jinn (Neeson). For the sake of a Citizen Kane rip-off, we are also given the mother of Anakin named Shmi (played by the exquisite Swedish actress August of Best Intentions and Fanny and Alexander fame). Of course, there also has to be a new bad guy. Here we have the far from verbose Darth Maul, face painted in the most fiendish way that Lucas could probably think of, as the apprentice to Palpatine/Sedious.
The story is the most uninteresting yet complicated PG film I've ever seen. The fact that there is a Trade Federation alone let's you know how over head this film gets. After Jinn and Kenobi find a young boy Anakin Skywalker, who they think is the chosen one, the three set out to make him a Jedi. If his "vibes" didn't prove it, the fact that he is the child of immaculate conception should be enough to convince the Jedi Council that he is the one. That doesn't exactly come true since the always "smarter than thou" Yoda senses that Anakin is not the chosen one, instead his son will be. After saving the Queen from the battle droid forces attacking Naboo, we are forced to sit through what seems like a thirty-minute long pod race, only to prove the worth of young Anakin (as well as for a stupid three time cameo for Leprechaun and Willow star Warwick Davis). All along, the senate is forced to vote in a new chancellor, due to the urges of Senator Palpatine on the Queen (also serving as a chance for a stupid ET cameo). War breaks out around the universe and we now have to sit through six battles intertwining each other.
That intertwining sequence is one of many problems
found in this film. The battle scenes include uninteresting stuff between the Queen and
battle droids, Jar Jar against battle droids, and Anakin and what seems to be the pre
dated Death Star. In the midst of these boring parts is the best part of the entire film:
a duel of light sabers pitting Jinn and Kenobi against Darth Maul. The scene is well done
(until a poor climax to the fighting) but hard to keep up with since Lucas also wants us
to keep up with all the other scenes he's throwing at us. Another problem is in the actual
ending to the film. It ends in what maybe the worst ending of all the episodes. This
wouldn't hurt half as much if it was not for the fact that the scene that comes before it
is arguably the best of the film. A cut off from that scene would have almost brought me
to a B rating (I find endings to be incredibly important), but Lucas could not help but
ruin the best scenes of the film. On the plus side, there are some good performances in
the film. Natalie Portman is quite nice (though a twist in the film is way too easy to
spot), but she is no match for the three guys from the United Kingdom: McDaniel, Neeson,
and McGregor. The film is also interesting when you put into mind some of the things it is
introducing that will be useful in the rest of the series. Still no matter what good
things I can think about the film, I have to be reminded of those ever so painful words:
(Dir: Roger Nygard, Appearances by Denise Crosby, Barbara Adams, Denis Bourguinon, Frank D'Amico, Anne Murphy, Grace Lee Whitney, LeVar Burton, James Doohan, Michael Dorn, Jonathan Frakes, Walter Koenig, Kate Mulgrew, Nichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy, Brent Spiner, George Takei, Wil Wheaton, and John de Lancie)
BY: DAVID PERRY
When I walked into this documentary on the lengths die hard Star Trek fans (Trekkies) will go, I thought I was bound to hate it due to the fact that I know little about the series and its fans beyond what I've seen in the movies, but I was pleasantly suprised. Trekkies does not simply settle with showing the fan base and the series on a pedestal, but also throws in enough to make the non-fan enjoy it for its scrutiny. I almost feel like the documentary does not succeed because it does conjure laughs about the over-eagerness of Trekkies when it is a film praising them and their escapades.
Hosted by Star Trek: The Next Generation cast member Crosby, Trekkies is the memories, stories, oddities, escapades, and accomplishments that many of these zealous fans give to her. Also interviewed are cast members of the first three Star Trek series. Stories range from Doohan (Scottie of the first series) remembering a suicidal fan letter, Wheaton (Wesley Crusher from The Next Generation) looking at his character as a great role model for family values, and Takei (Sulu from the original) telling about the first (or, as we learn, second) Star Trek fan convention.
I liked this film because I found enjoyment out of
it. No it is not perfect, the direction is shoddy, and the film can be very repetitive,
but all in all I found myself interested in the film and its subject. I find it also quite
funny considering that while I watched this there was some guy dressed like Ewan McGregor
as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars line. I'm sure the theatre owners are happy
that I'm not going to dress like Tom Cruise in the teaser trailer for Eyes Wide Shut
when seeing that film.
|The Love Letter
(Dir: Peter Ho-Sun Chan, Starring Kate Capshaw, Ellen DeGeneres, Tom Selleck, Tom Everett Scott, Julianne Nicholson, Blythe Danner, Gloria Stuart, Geraldine McEwan, Patrick Donnelly, Erik Jensen, Lucas Hall, Walter Covell, and Margaret Ann Brady)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Far from perfect is this little film that is getting attention for going wide against Star Wars. If I had my way, Star Wars would out gross this, but I'm sure that will not happen.
The Love Letter is about a small Massachusetts bay town where every neighbor is close and gossip runs abound. Enter a bookstore in this town run by three women and a man, connected by one thing: a love letter. When Helen (Capshaw) finds the letter in the coach, she comes to believe that it is for her from either store worker Johnny (Scott) or ex-beau fireman George (Selleck). Then attempting to entice him, she invites Johnny over to dinner and he runs upon the letter thinking that it is from Helen. This is fine if it was not for the fact that the youngest worker at the store, Jennifer (Nicholson), has a crush on Johnny. Then the owner of the store, Janet (DeGeneres), finds the letter on the floor and thinks that it must be for her from George. This tangle goes on for over an hour and fifteen minutes before the film falls for an idiotic climax.
The only thing really refreshing about The
Love Letter is that it is a little more adult oriented than I thought. At times it
looked like a comedic A Walk on the Moon, though with much less nudity (though,
did we really need to see Capshaw's derrière?). The performances range from good (Danner,
Selleck, Stuart) to mediocre (Capshaw, DeGeneres) to all out awful (Scott, Nicholson). The
script is really weak as I cannot remember cracking a grin at this comedy once and the
direction is simply by the book. But I will admit that this film is better than the only
film to go against The Lost World three years ago: a little Griffin Dunne film
called Addicted to Love.
(Dir: Rob Sitch, Starring Michael Caton, Anne Tenney, Stephen Curry, Anthony Simcoe, Sophie Lee, Wayne Hope, Tiriel Mora, Eric Bana, Charles 'Bud' Tingwell, Robyn Nevin, Costas Kilias, Bryan Dawe, Monty Maizels, and Lynda Gibson)
BY: DAVID PERRY
I guess that I was looking forward to this little film despite the fact that I was told that I would love it if I loved Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels. The fact of the matter is that I found Lock Stock to be only partially enjoyable. On the other hand I was full of pleasure watching The Castle, a little Australian film that I hope Miramax can push to a nice American gross (judging from the attendance at the theatre when I saw it, I'd say that Miramax has succeeded).
The Castle is a narrative about a working class Australian family. The father Daryl (Caton) is a highly eccentric tow truck driver who takes on many hobbies including gray hound racing and making additions to their house. The house is what really sparks the film off. It is nestled directly beside the airport and now the airport is taking all the land around it to build on (a nice little play on his own manifest destiny). Daryl takes this problem to his lawyer and, along with some neighbors, starts a court battle that leads all the way to the Australian Supreme Court system. All along, the film lets us get to know the man and his family including a great part visiting their Bonnie Dune property.
I really liked this film because it was much more
than the slight film making practice that Lock Stock seemed. When I got to know
Daryl, I felt kind of at home as I know many people that would have a song about Bonnie
Dune. The script is great, though lacking in some scenes visiting the incarcerated son. Of
all the cast I actually liked most Tiriel Mora as the bungling lawyer Dennis Denuto. The
Castle is, in my opinion, the best thing to come out of Australia since Cate