Oscar Opinions? Anybody Got ‘Em?

24 01 2009

All right. The 2009 Academy Award nominees have been announced and you can find them all here. I know I’m slow to get to the discussion, but I’m a work-horse. I have things to do, folks. Get off my back!!!

But what do you guys think? Do you think Revolutionary Road was robbed? Are you glad The Dark Knight is walking away with mostly technical awards? Do you think Mickey Rourke should get the award for Best Hideous Actor? Let me know? Let others know. Lots of surprises this year, so leave a comment for intellectual purposes. Thanks!

PSA: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), or Dinner And A Movie With Jar-Jar

24 01 2009
Lucass triumphant 1999 return!!!

Lucas's "triumphant" 1999 return!!!

All right everyone! Now, as you know, it’s 90’s Week here on the old Cinematronica, but what you probably do not know is that today I am not doing a movie I neither hate nor love. This is a special PSA about cinematic integrity. Sometimes you have to stand your ground on issues like this. And this might start a wildfire, a maelstrom of rage, but a man has to stand up for what he believes in. And here is a universal truth that I know to be true: Star Wars Episode I was a good movie. It was not a great movie, or one that the fans really wanted, but it was a good movie.

Now why am I standing up for George Lucas, you may ask. Mark my words, I am no Lucas Apologist or some stark-raving fanboy. Hell, I am only about a 7 on the Star Wars Love-O-Meter. The fact is though that this movie was dumped on, big time, by 16 years worth of unrealistic expectations. Ever since 1983, when the original trilogy Star Wars films began their march toward home video, people gazed longingly upon the ivory spire that was Skywalker Ranch, hoping to hear word from George that something else would be done with the mythology. Lucas slowly recoiled from the art of making movies and especially after the end of the Indiana Jones trilogy, it seemed as if there would be no way to raise him off of his lazy ass. But in the early to mid 90’s, mutterings of a prequel trilogy surfaced again after long being buried. People were even more excited about the idea after the 1997 re-release of the original trilogy in theaters (excited about the prequel trilogy; nobody like the ’97 re-release). And eventually, 22 years after he had been in the director’s chair, Lucas himself rode in on a white chariot to save the day, albeit 16 years late. Everyone was ecstatic about the movies. Opening night was electric on May 19, 1999. Children, women, and full-grown men were giddy with anticipation. It was a wild night. I was there. We all rushed for the theater the second the velvet ropes were lifted from theĀ  door, with no more patience left to us. It was so much fun, but we all know what happened next…

“My forgotten, da Bosses will do terrible tings to me TERRRRRIIIIBBBLE is me going back der!”

– The Honorable Jar-Jar Binks

All right, there are many plot points here involving intergalactic secession, the Jedi Knights, and a queen in distress, but the prequel saga revolves around the rise and fall of a man named Anakin Skywalker (I am not explaining the original trilogy of films. Neither of us want that, do we?) It’s the one plot worth mentioning because it is the only really compelling one. In Episode I, we meet him as a child on the desert planet of Tatooine. He and his mother are slaves, indentured by a greedy flying creature named Wotto. He is a pilot whiz-kid, he is amazing with machines, and he is an all-around good kid. One day, he meets a group of strange people from off-planet who say they need to get off Tatooine ASAP. Their ship was damaged in a battle and they need repairs badly. Two of them are Jedi Knights, the peacekeepers of the Galactic Republic. One, Qui-Gon Jinn, is a master and the other, Obi-Wan Kenobi, is an apprentice. They are escorting the Queen of a planet called Naboo to the Galactic Senate in Coruscant, and they need to arrive there immediately before they are captured by their pursuers, a Trade Federation that wants the Queen dead and a mysterious dark Jedi. Anakin is curious about the world outside of Tatooine, and especially the Jedi Knights who wield a power called the Force that allows them to do amazing things. The relationship he forms with the two Jedi start him on a path far from Tatooine, far from anything he ever imagined. Oh, and there’s a really annoying alien character named Jar-Jar Binks who-a-talka-like-dees. He is loud and really quite awful.

(I know there’s a lot more to cover, but the problem is that I do not want to spend the whole time explaining the entire mythology. Let’s just leave it at that.)

Okay, you say. Sounds good. I’m interested. But, oh wait. What about all this, and this, and this, and this? Jesus Christ, man! If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that people didn’t like this movie! Well, friend, that is a very educated guess. People hated this movie with a passion. Hate it with every fiber of their being. As I despise Nicolas ‘Douchebag’ Cage, so some people despise Phantom ‘Jar-Jar’ Menace. This is where, if you look online enough, the phrase “George Lucas raped my childhood!” came from. Seriously.

But let’s be adults here (even you, David). Was the movie so bad? I found a lot of interesting things watching it again. The music, obviously, was Williams-tastic. The special effects were great for the time, and they hold up surprisingly well for 1999. Obi-Wan Kenobi, played by Ewan McGregor, does a great job as an apprentice who only wishes to please his master. And Jake Lloyd as young Anakin Skywalker is the real gem for me. His story is always a slightly tragic one. He was a slave, damnit! Even when he’s happy, he still has that tinge of ennui that doesn’t necessarily come from the actor but from the strong writing of a character. Yes, strong writing. I said it. At least for Anakin.

The movie’s real downfall is how safe it plays. It is a totally kid-friendly movie, and I guess that’s okay (go watch Hannah Montana, kids. Get the fuck out of Star Wars!) , but I can’t stand how goofy some of the action sequences go. It turns from a serious galactic battle to the breakfast machine from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. It never feels like there’s anything at stake, either. A Trade Federation dispute? Really? That’s like writing a fourth Lord of The Rings movie about Samwise Gamgee fighting with his neighbors over the municipality’s water supply! No on cares! If you’re going to make a movie for kids, at least have the chutzpah to think big within your own mythology.

So come on. The movie isn’t that bad. It’s not as bad as you think. I just watched it. When was the last time you watched it? When you were incensed with disappointment from your own over-wrought anticipation? Well, we were all upset, but how could we not be? We waited 16 years for an installment that had almost nothing to do with most of the characters we had grown attached to. It was destiny, if you believe in all that. I recommend watching it again, wiping those kid-smudges off your lenses. You might enjoy it, and it might get you watching the other two prequel installments. It’s not a great movie, it’s just okay. And maybe that’s why you were so disappointed because the first trilogy was so great. But the only one “raping your childhood” is you, my friend. I give Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 6 1/2 meesa-yousa-talka-like-a-deesa out of 10.

See you tomorrow for a surprise flick! Don’t anticipate too much while I’m gone!