Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones Review

Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones movie posterSynopsis
Ten years after becoming Obi-Wan Kenobi’s (Ewan McGregor) apprentice, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is turning into a skilled Jedi Knight. They are assigned to protect Padme Amadala (Natalie Portman) after an assassination attempt on her life. Anakin returns to Naboo with Padme while Obi-Wan’s search leads him to the cloning planet of Kamino, where he meets the bounty hunter Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) and his clone army. Meanwhile, the Sepratists, lead by the mysterious Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), are amassing an army, putting the Republic on the brink of war.

Review
The Star Wars prequel trilogy seems to follow the same format as the original trilogy. The first movie, The Phantom Menace, introduced the main character and focused more on the action, like Star Wars: A New Hope. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones is much like Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back where it is more concerned with building the characters and setting them up for the final installment in the trilogy.

Other than for special effects, the Star Wars films have simply dabbled with CGI before but they never fully embraced it. With this film, there is a heavier use of CGI for characters, leading to the creation of some pretty good looking species. The animatronics and makeup may look better, but some of the creatures could not have been done that way. Also, Yoda is converted from puppet to digital for the first time. His transfer went pretty well. Some of the action sequences he does towards the end could not have done with a puppet.

I really like Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi. I thought he did Well in The Phantom Menace as the Padawan but he does equally as well, if not better, as the mentor. I’m not sure if he was trying to do an imitation of Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan from the original trilogy) or not, but there were glimpses of Guinness’ Obi-Wan showing through. He is easily the highlight of this movie.

The last forty or so minutes is probably the largest and most epic battle of the entire Star Wars Saga. It is such a large scale fight, I can’t think of many that can compare. It is also unique in the Star Wars movies because it is one continuous scene, rather than showing part of it then cutting away to show part of something else. Even during the climactic lightsaber duel, it doesn’t cut away, allowing the focus to stay on those particular events. At the very end, the Imperial March plays while the camera pans over the Clone Army, giving some great foreshadowing about events to come later in the saga. I would have rated this movie a half-point lower if I didn’t enjoy this last act so much.

My biggest problems with Attack of the Clones is Anakin. He comes across as a love-sick puppy. Some of his lines, particularly those between him and Padme seem like they were pulled from an afternoon soap opera. The film shows hints of Anakin moving towards the Dark Side, showing he is full of emotion (mostly anger), but it makes him look even more like a child. I have a hard time believing this whiny kid would become one of the most badass villains in cinema.

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones is the low point in the Star Wars saga. This is mainly due to the central character of Anakin. He comes across as a whiny, love-sick brat who in no way resembles the awesome character he will become. Despite this, there are still some redeeming qualities. The visuals looks great, Ewan McGregor fully comes into the mentor role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the battle between the clone and droid armies is one of the most grandiose of any in all the Star Wars movies. If Anakin’s character growth had been handled differently, Attack of the Clones would have been an entirely different movie, and probably one more deserving of the character.

Rating
3/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
George Lucas – Director / Story / Screenplay
Jonathan Hales – Screenplay
John Williams – Composer

Ewan McGregor – Obi-Wan Kenobi
Hayden Christensen – Anakin Skywalker
Natalie Portman – Padme Amadala
Ian McDiarmid – Supreme Chancellor Palpatine
Samuel L. Jackson – Mace Windu
Frank Oz – Yoda (voice)
Temuera Morrison – Jango Fett
Daniel Logan – Boba Fett
Christopher Lee – Count Dooku
Leeanna Walman – Zam Wesell
Anthony Daniels – C-3PO
Kenny Baker – R2-D2
Jay Laga-aia – Captain Typho
Jack Thompson – Cliegg Lars
Silas Carson – Ki-Adi-Mundi / Viceroy Nute Gunray

Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace Review

Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace movie posterSynopsis
When the Trade Federation sets up a blockade around the planet Naboo, two Jedi Knights, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), are sent to find a peaceful settlement. When the negotiations fail, the Jedi flee with Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) to the Republic capital Coruscant. Their ship is damaged during the escape, forcing them to take shelter on the planet Tatooine. There, they meet Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), who Qui-Gon senses has a strong connection with the Force and accompanies them on their journey.

Review
After waiting 16 years since Star Wars: Return of the Jedi was released, George Lucas finally shows how the Star Wars Saga all begins. With the progress in special effects since Return of the Jedi comes a whole new visual style to the Star Wars universe. Although it has its bumps, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace tells the story it wants to, while throwing in some visual flare to really make it pop.

The Phantom Menace follows a similar formula to A New Hope. There is some exposition to learn about the characters, but for the most part it concentrates on the action. It hardly takes a break so it keeps moving along fairly quickly. However, there were times it felt like scenes were cut short to keep the movie moving forward, making transitions feel abrupt. This does not apply to action scenes, which receive their fair share of screen time.

Despite knowing several of the main characters and already aware of their fates (if you have already watched the original trilogy), there is still a sense of wonder and discovery throughout the film. One of the draws for me about the original Star Wars trilogy was the vast universe it built. This film takes that same feeling and builds on it. Sure, a good chunk of the movie is set on Tatooine, a planet seen several times before, but more time is spent amongst the city and ordinary folk and learning more about their way of life. There is a sense about how vast and strong the Jedi are. The Republic Senate, merely mentioned before, is shown, along with the galactic capital Coruscant. If this movie does one thing correctly, it’s expand the Star Wars mythos and universe.

Much like A New Hope, a lot of the core cast of this film were relatively unknown at its release. Liam Neeson and Ian McDiarmid were the only ones who had any major acting experience (again, referring to the main cast). Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman were just starting their acting careers and Jake Lloyd was just a young boy. It was easy to tell they were still somewhat new.  There didn’t feel like there was much emotions in their lines and it came of very flat most times.  But overall they all did well with their parts.

My biggest complaints about The Phantom Menace is the dialogue. Much of it was delivered as if the actors were on a stage play, making it come off as corny on screen. I know the actors can do better, I’ve seen most of them do better. Maybe it was because some of the actors were still fairly inexperienced, but they just seemed awkward in their deliveries.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace gives Star Wars fans what they have been waiting for almost two decades: a glimpse at how everything began. The film’s pace is quick, concentrating a lot on the action. Although I know the fates of the main characters, it is still entertaining to see their origins, as well as expanding the Star Wars universe. It is a very similar sense of wonder during Star Wars: A New Hope. Because of the movie quick pace, several transitions feel abrupt. Most of the cast were fairly inexperienced at the time and it was obvious but the parts were well cast. The Phantom Menace isn’t as good as its predecessors, but it does well to expand on fan-favorite characters from the original trilogy.

Rating
4/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
George Lucas – Director / Writer
John Williams – Composer

Liam Neeson – Qui-Gon Jinn
Ewan McGregor – Obi-Wan Kenobi
Natalie Portman – Queen Amidala / Padme
Jake Lloyd – Anakin Skywalker
Ahmed Best – Jar Jar Binks (voice)
Ian McDiarmid – Senator Palpatine
Pernilla August – Shmi Skywalker
Oliver Ford Davies – Sio Bibble
Hugh Quarshie – Captain Panaka
Anthony Daniels – C-3PO (voice)
Kenny Baker – R2-D2
Frank Oz – Yoda (voice)
Samuel L. Jackson – Mace Windu
Terence Stamp – Chancellor Valorum
Brian Blessed – Boss Nass (voice)
Andy Secombe – Watto (voice)
Ray Park – Darth Maul
Peter Serafinowicz – Darth Maul (voice)
Lewis Macleod – Sebulba (voice)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

Captain America: The Winter Soldier movie posterSynopsis
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is trying to integrate into the modern world after being frozen since World War II. To occupy his time, he takes on missions for SHIELD. When director of SHIELD Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is attacked by a mysterious assailant known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Steve must confront an enemy from his past, an enemy he thought was long forgotten.

Review
Oh Marvel, you clever people. Few studios can continuously churn out movies the way you do and maintain such a high quality. Captain America: The Winter Soldier continues Marvel’s excellent Phase 2 slate of movies by stepping on the accelerator and never slowing down. Add equal parts action, spy thriller, and character development, with a great reveal and an explosive ending that leaves the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a new status-quo, and you’ve got yourself a movie that not only excels as a superhero movie, but an action and spy thriller as well.

The movie starts with Cap going on a mission to free SHIELD agents kidnapped when their ship is hijacked by pirates (which introduced Batroc the Leaper, played by former UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre, into the Cinematic Universe). This scene shows much about how Cap thinks about the world, about how soldiers should trust each other, and sows seeds of his doubt about working for such a secretive organization such as SHIELD. It was the first look at his mindset and the rest of the movie does great to build off what is seen in this first scene (well technically second but the first was the opening scene so it doesn’t count).

The action only continues to grow from there. All the action set pieces are huge and look amazing. Every action sequence is filled to the brim with explosions and/or hand-to-hand combat, all of which are extremely well choreographed. The scenes with the Winter Soldier were especially exhilarating. Going back to the opening scene and the ship infiltration scene I mentioned, it is clearly obvious Cap has a significant strength advantage over, well, pretty much everyone else. What’s great about the Winter Soldier is he gives Cap an adversary that not only had a personal connection with him, but also could match Cap blow for blow.

Cap’s fighting style has evolved much since he donned his shield back in The First Avenger. In that film he wasn’t using it much since he was just starting. And in The Avengers, he was throwing his shield around and using his military combat training, but his fighting style still wasn’t yet that developed. But in this movie, we get to see what Cap is truly capable of as a man in peak physical condition. He is very acrobatic, leaping around his enemies and parkouring around his environment and utilizing his shield more offensively and effectively.

I was surprised how much screen time Agent Sitwell has. I always thought he was just a SHIELD agent that Marvel could throw in to give the audience a familiar face. That’s changed. He has a significant role this time around. I’ve always felt Maximiliano Hernandez did great with the part, so it was cool to see him in a more expanded role. On the flip side, I was hoping Agent 13, aka Sharon Carter aka Peggy Carter’s daughter (although that part wasn’t explained in the movie), played by Emily VanCamp, would have more screen time. I guess there were enough new characters introduced that someone had to go on the backseat. Hopefully she will have a larger role in Captain America 3.

Marvel has done well to develop strong villains in their movies, most of whom have some sort of personal relationship with the hero. The villain here, more than just the Winter Soldier, has a close relationship with Cap. I was taken aback when they showed their true colors and revealed themselves. Not only was the reveal executed effectively, but they had a deep motivation to their actions.

As I said before, the action in The Winter Soldier is huge and spectacular. However, there was one problem: it was hard to see it with the camera shaking so much! The shaky-cam can be used as an interesting effect, but when it is used all the time, it becomes jarring and irritating and is one of my movie pet peeves. I would have loved to see the fight between Cap and The Winter Soldier in all its glory, especially because it was clear a lot of effort went into making it exhilarating.

From the first explosive scene, you know right away you are in for a wild ride. Even during the non-action scenes, Captain America: The Winter Soldier keeps you interested in what is happening on screen. The action set pieces are huge and impressive, with some well choreographed hand-to-hand fights thrown in for good measure. Caps style has really grown since he first picked up his shield and he shows what a super soldier is capable of. Sitwell had a larger part than anticipated, which is welcome since I have always enjoyed the character. The reveal of the villain is well done and even took me somewhat by surprise. Even if you pick it up from the trailer, it isn’t exactly what you think. As cool as the action was, it was shot using the shaky-cam effect, making the awesome action sequences difficult to watch. Without a doubt, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has left the Marvel Cinematic Universe drastically changed and I can’t wait to see how the pieces are picked up in The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Rating
4/5

Also check out my reviews for the other films in Marvel’s Phase 2: Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Anthony Russo – Director
Joe Russo – Director
Christopher Markus – Screenplay
Stephen McFeely – Screenplay
Ed Brubaker – Story
Henry Jackman – Composer

Chris Evans – Steve Rogers/Captain America
Scarlett Johansson – Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow
Samuel L. Jackson – Nick Fury
Robert Redford – Alexander Pierce
Anthony Mackie – Sam Wilson/Falcon
Sebastian Stan – Winter Soldier
Frank Grillo – Brock Rumlow
Callan Mulvey – Jack Rollins
Cobie Smulders – Maria Hill
Maximiliano Hernandez – Jasper Sitwell
Emily VanCamp – Sharon Carter/Agent 13
Hayley Atwell – Peggy Carter
Jenny Agutter – Councilwoman Hawley
Bernard White – Councilman Singh
Dale Coffman – Councilman Rockwell
Chin Han – Councilman Yen
Georges St-Pierre – Batroc

RoboCop Review

RoboCop (2014) movie posterSynopsis
In 2028, OmniCorp, lead by CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), has revolutionized security around the world but has had difficulty bringing their products to the United States. When Detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is seriously injured by a car bomb, OmniCorp takes the opportunity to create a product the people can get behind and transform Murphy into the cyborg RoboCop. What OmniCorp didn’t plan for was the strength of the human element still left inside Murphy.

Review
Remakes/reboots can be difficult to tackle. They can be done in one of two main ways: simply telling the same story but with a new cast or tell a whole new story using old characters. RoboCop does the latter and does so surprisingly well. There have been many remakes of iconic 1980s movies over the last several years, most have which have been sub-par. So imagine my surprise when I actually enjoyed it! RoboCop manages to pay homage to the 1987 original, but still offers a fresh and updated take on the character.

One of the appeals of the original RoboCop was its exaggerated violence. Not just the violence itself but the fact there was so much that the film became a dark satire. This movie moves away from that and instead become more politically driven. The ethics of transplanting a human consciousness into a machine is a central theme here. It gets touched on a little in the original, more so in RoboCop 2, but it takes a backseat to the violence.

The pacing is drastically different, too. One of my biggest knocks against the 1987 RoboCop is we don’t get to spend much time with Murphy as a person since he transforms into RoboCop fairly quickly. However, this time we see Murphy interacting with his family and his partner, Jack Lewis (Michael K. Williams). I felt this was a stronger lead up to his transformation because allowed us to get to know Murphy before the whole “Am I Alex Murphy or am I RoboCop?” dilemma came into play.

Speaking of pacing, there was also much more time spent on his training than before. This RoboCop doesn’t start patrolling the streets until halfway through the movie. We get to see Alex adjust to his new status rather than just jumping head first into it. Again, this gives us more time to empathize with Murphy and what has happened to him.

RoboCop’s color scheme has been changed, and I actually like the new black color. His design is also much sleeker. Peter Weller’s RoboCop was very clunky, but Kinnaman’s can actually move and run. I think I am in the minority, but I like the new look better than the original. The original’s shiny gray metallic color scheme does make an appearance. There are also several other callbacks to the original RoboCop that I noticed, like the ED-209 looks identical to the one that stood outside OCP headquarters and the RoboCop theme could be heard (but I wish it was used more, the theme is pretty iconic). I was going to list all the references I picked out but there were so many I’m not even going to attempt it.

Micheal Keaton plays a good villain, but I’m not sure about how I feel about Raymond Sellars. For most of the film he seems like he is just a CEO who wants to make his company money, even if that means moving into morally gray areas. But in the final scenes he is all of a sudden supposed to be this bad guy who doesn’t have a conscious. It would have been better if we saw that side of him throughout the whole movie rather than just the end. Otherwise, his character at the end seems out of place compared to the rest of the film.

Honestly, I went into the theater fully expecting to be disappointed when I left. However, RoboCop is one of the better remakes/reboots I have seen in a long time. Part of its success stems from its ability to craft a new story while still paying tribute to the original. Rather than focus on over-the-top violence, this movie is concentrates more on ethics. The story gives us almost half of the movie to get to know Murphy and empathize with his situation. Sellars’ actions at the end of the film don’t fit well with his actions during the rest of the movie. I’m not much of a fan of remakes/reboots, but if more movies handles them the same way as RoboCop, maybe they would actually be something to look forward to.

Rating
3.5/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Jose Padilha – Director
Joshua Zetumer – Screenplay
Pedro Bromfman – Composer

Joel Kinnaman – Alex Murphy/RoboCop
Gary Oldman – Dr. Dennett Norton
Michael Keaton – Raymond Sellars
Abbie Cornish – Clara Murphy
Jackie Earle Haley – Rick Mattox
Michael K. Williams – Jack Lewis
Jennifer Ehle – Liz Kline
Jay Baruchel – Tom Pope
Marianne Jean-Baptiste – Chief Karen Dean
Samuel L. Jackson – Pat Novak
Aimee Garcia – Jae Kim
Douglas Urbanski – Mayor Durant
John Paul Ruttan – David Murphy
Patrick Garrow – Antoine Vallon
K.C. Collins – Andre Daniels
Daniel Kash – John Lake
Zach Grenier – Senator Hubert Dreyfuss

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Trailer #2

Official Synopsis: After the cataclysmic events in New York with The Avengers, Marvel’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” finds Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, living quietly in Washington, D.C. and trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue that threatens to put the world at risk. Joining forces with the Black Widow, Captain America struggles to expose the ever-widening conspiracy while fighting off professional assassins sent to silence him at every turn. When the full scope of the villainous plot is revealed, Captain America and the Black Widow enlist the help of a new ally, the Falcon. However, they soon find themselves up against an unexpected and formidable enemy—the Winter Soldier.

Once again we get a Captain America trailer filled to the brim with action.  I do like how they aren’t giving too much away, but one thing is obvious: SHIELD has security issues.  After Loki mind controlled several SHIELD agents then later used them to attack the Helicarrier in The Avengers, you would think they would have gotten their act together, but apparently not.  Although, I have a feeling that this time there will be an internal instigator.  The villain Crossbones, played by Frank Grillo, appears in the first trailer as a SHIELD agent and Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce, a senior SHIELD member, makes the comment “To build a better world sometimes means tearing the old one down, and that makes enemies.”  This line has been featured prominently in both trailers and I think he may be referring to SHIELD itself.  So my theory is that Pierce hires the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) to kill Nick Fury so he can take over SHIELD and bring the organization into a new administration of sorts.

There was one line that stood out to me from Fury, and that was “Looks like you’re giving the orders now, Captain.”  I can’t tell if this is simply Fury’s sarcasm or if they are setting up to have Rogers take over SHIELD by the end of the film.  It may just me nothing, but if Rogers does become the director of SHIELD, that would be a great place to leave SHIELD before The Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Rogers had a short stint as SHIELD director in the comics, so it wouldn’t be too far fetched.

Still no Emily VanCamp as Agent 13/Sharon Carter, or at least in the US trailer.  In the UK trailer down below, she appears for a moment.  Cobie Smulders doesn’t appear as Maria Hill at all in either trailer.  Crossbones, accept from the opening scene in the first trailer and the new UK trailer, doesn’t have much trailer time.  I was hoping the second trailer would show is more of the supporting cast.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, will be in theaters on April 4, 2014 and stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan, Robert Redford, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, and Cobie Smulders.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The Incredibles Review

The Incredibles movie posterSynopsis
Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) was once the superhero Mr. Incredible and is having trouble settling down into an ordinary life with his wife Helen (Holly Hunter) and children, Dash (Spencer Fox), Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Jack Jack (Eli Fucile, Maeve Andrews). When an opportunity comes along that allows Bob to put on the suit again, he takes it. But when a mistake from his past catches up to him, his entire family must suit up to help him.

Review
Without a doubt, Pixar tells some of the best stories about family and friendship out there. Pixar once again outdid themselves with The Incredibles. They crafted a narrative that can be appreciated by all age levels and has something for everyone. It’s not very often a studio known for movies geared towards a younger audience can successfully create a story centered around a midlife crisis, but Pixar managed to pull it off.

First thing I noticed was the fantastic music. It was very jazzy, a genre you don’t see very often in movies nowadays, and reminiscent of spy movies like James Bond or Mission Impossible. When done right, the music can add a whole other dynamic to a movie, and Michael Giacchino’s score is a perfect fit. It complements the feel of the film appropriately and raises the film to a whole new level.

Pixar did excellent job casting the voices of the characters. Craig T. Nelson fills the voice of Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible perfectly. The same goes for Holly Hunter as Helen/Elastigirl. Probably my favorite casting though is Samuel L. Jackson as Lucius Best/Frozone, one of the few superheroes Bob keeps in contact with after retiring his mask. A close second is director Brad Bird as Edna Mode, a superhero costume designer. He brings a certain energy to the character that the animation can’t portray. Sarah Vowell Violet Parr is the only one I don’t care for. Her voice is very gratey and sometime downright annoying.

As I mentioned before, the story is phenomenal. The Incredibles has a much more mature tone than previous Pixar films. It still has an appeal to the younger audience, but the focus of the story is on Bob and his relationship with his family, particularly his wife. There are many one-liners that younger viewers may not catch that are specifically focused towards the older audience. It’s easy to understand Bob’s desire to return to the “glory days” and relive his youth once more. And there is something amusing about watching a superhero go through a midlife crisis.

I wasn’t blown away by the animation, but that doesn’t mean this movie doesn’t look good. There are a wide range of environments, from the city to a jungle island and several places in between, and they are vibrant and each have a distinct feel. It looks great, but compared to Pixar’s other films, such as Toy Story or Finding Nemo, it just isn’t anything over spectacular. However, I was impressed with the effects on the superhero suits. They had a nice texture that looked like real fabric, almost like velvet. Also, the character models are very exaggerated. I like it because each character is unique, but and the same time I don’t because they seem overemphasized, drawing too much attention to their caricatured features.

No matter how old you are, there is something in The Incredibles for you. A superhero going through a midlife crisis makes for some wonderful story moments and the Parr family dynamic feels organic and real. Although the animation may be too exaggerated for my liking, the excellent voice cast and jazz score, along with the incredible story, propel The Incredibles to heights rarely seen in a more mature animated feature.

Rating
5/5