Bro-Reviews: In Defense of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

The hype was too big to live up to.

The early buzz for the latest entry in the world famous space opera saga Star Wars: The Last Jedi has been very positive, with many saying it is one of the best the series has to offer. With Star Wars: The Last Jedi opening in theaters this week, many television networks are of course opting to show the previous entries in marathon fashion throughout the week. This of course always re-opens the conversation Star Wars junkies and casual fans almost universally agree upon: the prequels are awful.

After the 1983 release of Return of the Jedi, fans had to wait nearly 16 years for another Star Wars film. It came in the form of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menance, the first film in a planned trilogy that would act as a precursor to the original three films from the man who helmed the 1976 film that started a worldwide phenomenon, George Lucas. With the promise of state of the art special effects, a talented ensemble cast including the likes of Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson, and an ominous new threat, the film had sky-high expectations, especially considering the positive reception the first three films earned.

While the film earned over $431 million and was a smash hit at the box office, many left the theater disappointed. Most of the complaints centered around the terrible acting, over-complicated plot, lack of action, and Jar-Jar Binks. One might say the film is one of the biggest disappointments in the history of cinema, and the release of two more not well received prequel films only solidifies this status, as it was the one that started the disappointing cycle. I, however, invite you to reconsider, as while The Phantom Menace is far from a perfect film, it is a fine entry in the Star Wars saga.

Many criticize the acting in the film, placing much of the blame squarely on the shoulders of unrefined child actors Natalie Portman and Jake Lloyd as Padmé Amidala and Anakin Skywalker respectively. Here’s a newsflash: most child actors are terrible. I would never advise one to praise their acting prowess in the film, as they deliver mostly wooden performances, but they get the job done. Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor are great as Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Won Kenobi respectively, and are able to anchor the film. And lets be honest, the acting in the original three films is awful as well. There’s a reason why Mark Hamill and Carrie Fischer (*R.I.P.*) didn’t get much work once the original saga concluded, it was because they weren’t very good. Star Wars isn’t a movie franchise you go to see for the acting, you go for the visuals and the story.

However, many complain the story in Phantom Menace is poor as well. What they really mean is that the story is complicated. It isn’t as clear as the Cold-War like storyline represented in the original three films, which is the Rebels (*the good guys*) fighting the Empire (*the bad guys*) for space supremacy. In Phantom Menace, there’s many more parties involved, including the Republic, the Trade Federation, the Gugans, the Galactic Senate, the Jedi Council, and the Sith. Each of these parties have their own agendas, with some even acting as double agents, thus alluding to the political climate we have grown accustomed to. The film may not have the sharp dialogue required to pull off the story due to George Lucas’s shortcomings as a writer, but the film should be praised for containing such a complex story-line and using it as the set-up to the stories in the 70s and 80s films.

If there’s anything I can agree with most people about, it is Jar-Jar Binks. Actor Ahmed Best will have to live with this burden the rest of his life, as the borderline racist character will forever live in infamy as one of if not the worst character in the Star Wars universe. However, fans and critics are missing the point as to why the character exists: it’s a movie for children. Yes, Star Wars appeals to fans of many ages, but the films target children. Jar-Jar was the major selling point for kids to see the movie, as the fun loving, goofy character represented the lighthearted side of the film, and whose main function was to provide comic relief for the children. After seeing him in the film, children who more than likely loved the character would then bug their parents enough for them to buy them a Jar-Jar toy, thus allowing the Star Wars franchise to obtain even more funds from everyone. The same was and remains true for Chewbacca, the Ewoks, and also continues for new additions like BB-8 and Porg.

The podracing scene stands out to most as the best sequence in the entire movie. It’s undoubtedly inventive and suspenseful, and clearly took advantage of the advancements in special effects technology to deliver one of the most thrilling scenes in Star Wars canon. But let’s not forget the feeling of dread and awesomeness when one of the baddest Sith lords to ever grace a Star Wars film, Darth Maul, reveals his double sided lightsaber in the best lightsaber battle in all the Star Wars films. Sure, it’s interrupted by a somewhat annoying Anakin Skywalker in an auto piloted starfighter joining the federation in fighting the droid control ship and the Gugans battling the droids with a clumsy Jar-Jar somehow saving the day, but even those scenes are fun as well. The choreography for the lightsaber fight is unprecedented, filmed in such a way you can tell what’s occurring on screen and feel every clash of a lightsaber, and adds one of the biggest gut-punches that would forever shape the Star Wars universe.

It’s elements such as these that makes Phantom Menace much better than its reputation would have you believe. Yes, it’s far from perfect and maybe has its sights set too high in regards to its story for a Star Wars film, but Phantom Menace delivers blockbuster thrills and tremendous state of the art visuals on a grand scale. The hype machine set the expectations for the film so high there was no way it could live up to it. People had been craving another Star Wars movie for over a decade, and wanted it to be the way it was when they were a child. There’s no doubt “this wasn’t my childhood” sentiment also hindered the film, but it’s been long enough now that hopefully everyone has grown up and realized these movies, while they can be enjoyed by all ages, are targeted towards children, which they obviously no longer were by the time Phantom Menace landed in theaters nearly 20 years ago. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace should be given another viewing, and one should leave with a greater appreciation for the film than they did a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.

Rating: 2.5/ 4 Stars. Pay Matinée price.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace stars Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiamird, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Ahmed Best, Frank Oz, and Samuel L. Jackson.

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Bro-Reviews: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

A well-tailored, golden sequel.

One of the bigger surprises of the 2015 movie release slate was the stylish, hyper-kinetic spy-parody  Kingsman: The Secret Service. It elegantly balanced action with comedy, while retaining a sense of class, making it one of the best spy-action films the genre has to offer. Audiences agreed, and rewarded the film handsomely with their wallets, as Kingsman: The Secret Service went on to gross $414 million worldwide. When a film such as this over achieves at the box office, studio executives are quick to pull the trigger on green-lighting a sequel, and over 2 years later, that sequel has arrived in the form of Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle sees Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) and the rest of the Kingsman organization going about their typical daily duties until they come into contact with members of an underground organization called “The Golden Circle.” Led by criminal mastermind Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) , who plans to poison all of those who use narcotics while holding government agencies for ransom for an antidote, “The Golden Circle” destroys all known Kingsman associates with the exception of Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong). Seemingly on their own, they travel to America to enlist the help of “The Statesman”, an organization similar to theirs but with Southern charm, to take down Poppy while also reconnecting with the presumed to be dead Harry Hart/ Galahad (Colin Firth).

The issue plaguing most sequels in the 21st century is the dreaded symptom known as sequelitis. Symptoms of sequelitis include forgoing of a good story, bigger special effects, more lavish set-pieces, and an overlong runtime. Kingsman: The Golden Circle shows signs of these symptoms, but in the competent hands of writer/ director Matthew Vaughn, Kingsman: The Golden Circle displays these symptoms to not only parody spy film sequels, but also deliver a rowdy good time with the Kingsman.

Taron Egerton continues to showcase he’s a rising star in Hollywood as Eggsy, and his cockney British accent along with the finely tailored suits makes him a likeable hero. His interactions with the always splendid Mark Strong were some of the high points in the original film, and those high points continue here in the sequel. While it’s a shame the studio chose to spoil the return of Colin Firth in the trailers, Firth’s arch gives the film some much needed depth and insight we did not get from his character in the first film, and Firth is once again a calm, cool, and collected mentor in the film.

The selling point the studio is undoubtedly exploiting most is the inclusion of Statesman agents, most notably Channing Tatum as Agent Tequila, Jeff Bridges as Agent Champagne/ Champ, and Halle Berry as Agent Ginger Ale. Tatum delivers his movie star qualities as a southerner once again, but only briefly. Bridges is essentially playing himself and a similar role to Michael Caine’s in the first Kingsman, but Bridges’ Southern twain more than makes up for his lack of screen time. Berry is in the film the most out of the three, but is the American version of Mark Strong’s Merlin, not necessarily the most exciting role, but she does a fine job.

The real star of the film are the action scenes, which invoke memories of the first film while adding enough of a twist and being larger in scale to please those looking forward to the film. The film starts off with a bang in a car chase scene while Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” blasts in the background, providing for a fun and exciting start to the film. There’s a repeat of the first film’s bar fight scene, but it’s got enough new material to justify it’s inclusion in the film. Action set pieces including a snowy mountain lair in Italy and Poppy’s 1950s dreamland “Poppy Land” (*which blasts Elton John’s “Saturday Night”, who also plays a fictionalized version of himself*) are non-stop fun, and further highlight the absurdity of spy movie villains hideouts and home bases.

If there are any complaints to have regarding the film, it would be its length and having the unfortunate task of trying to top a tremendous villain in the first film. At 141 minutes, the film is a bit overlong, mainly due to Pedro Pascal’s obvious arch as Agent Whiskey. Julianne Moore is clearly having fun as criminal mastermind Poppy, and there’s no doubting an actress of her caliber brings her A-game. However, she’s nowhere near as memorable as Samuel L. Jackson’s over-the-top villain role in the first film, rendering her villain somewhat lackluster.

While common symptoms of sequelitis are present, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the rare sequel that doesn’t get bogged down by its desire to be bigger and zanier than the original. This should please fans of the original, action movie junkies, and spy film aficionados, but its overlong runtime may leave some exhausted by the end. Overall, Kingsman: The Golden Circle aims to please, and does so in the form of a well-tailored, golden sequel.

Rating: 3/4 Stars. Pay High Matinée Price.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle stars Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Elton John, Pedro Pascal, Hanna Alström, Edward Holcroft, Emily Watson, Bruce Greenwood, Sophie Cookson, Channing Tatum, and Jeff Bridges. It is in theaters September 22nd.

Bro-Reviews: 2017 Summer Box Office Winners and Losers

Whether you’re a winner or a loser, box office revenue is down significantly compared to last summer.

The Summer movie season is officially over, after 4 long months, it’s finally over. While this summer had it fair share of winners that won the box office, their were plenty of losers, and boy did they lose. It’s now time to asses the winners and losers of the 2017 Summer box office.

Winner: Wonder Woman

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The highest grossing film of the summer by a significant margin, Wonder Woman was a much needed win for the DC extended universe and showed girl power is alive and well in Hollywood. The film saw unprecedented holds from weekend to weekend over the summer, playing similarly to 2002’s Spider-Man en route to $406.8 million domestically, making it the 7th highest grossing super-hero film of all time and the highest grossing film ever directed by a woman.

Loser: Valerian and the City of A thousand Planets

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Valerian is a prime example of what happens when you let directors go into a CGI candy shop and allow them to lose their minds on screen. While visually striking, Valerian lacked star power and chose style over substance in this over-long, over-budgeted Star Wars wannabe. The film’s box office receipts didn’t help matters either, as it grossed a puny $39.8 million at the North American box office compared to its $172.2 million budget. A bomb indeed.

Winner: Marvel Studios

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At this point, Marvel Studios has perfected the blockbuster formula. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 grossed $389.4 million in May, showing that Star Lord and the gang won’t be going away anytime soon. Marvel Studios was also able to reap the rewards of re-booting the Spider-Man franchise with Spider-Man: Homecoming in July, grossing an impressive $321.2 million during its theatrical run.

Loser: Former Franchise Tent-Poles

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Alien: Covenant, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Cars 3, Transformers: The Last Night. What do they all have in common? They are all franchises that at one point were box-office giants who presided as the kings of the summer movie season but have now all but exhausted ideas to the point that audiences have grown tired of them. While the international box office receipts helped prevent them from flat-out bombing and in some cases made them profitable, it’s time for studios to re-think their strategies in regards to tent-pole franchises.

Winner: War for the Planet of the Apes

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A stunning achievement in motion capture and special effects, War for the Planet of the Apes is nothing short of technically brilliant. Add in the emotional component most summer box office films are missing along with enthralling action, and War For the Planet of the Apes proves you don’t have to be brainless to be a successful summer blockbuster.

Loser: Baywatch

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On paper, Baywatch seemed to be a no-brainer. A summer comedy filled with beaches, bikinis, and the Rock would surely breed box office success, right? Unfortunately, incompetent direction, lazy joke writing, and exploitation of female bodies made Baywatch unwatchable, making it one of the biggest duds of the summer movie season.

Winner: Rotten Tomatoes

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If there were ever a time where the influence of the review aggregate site flexed its muscles, it was this summer. Films that boasted overwhelmingly positive reviews such as Dunkirk ($175.5 million) and Baby Driver ($104.3 million) enjoyed box office success and long theatrical runs. Maligned films such as The Mummy ($80.1) and The Dark Tower ($46.1 million) on the other hand saw their hopes and dreams of launching franchises either stall or end due to dog piling bad reviews.

Loser: The Summer Box Office

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For every financially and critically successful film released this summer, there was an even more financially and critically disastrous film released. Add in an August with very few appealing films, and the summer box office is down nearly 16% compared to last year and movie going attendance is the worst it has been in 25 years. One can only hope the looming Fall movie season can pick up the slack, but the 2017 box office appears to be experiencing diminishing returns.

Bro-Reviews: The Top 5 Movies of 2017 (Thus Far)

It may not be Oscar season, but it’s never too early to discuss the best films of the year.

To this point, many would claim 2017 has been a bit of a bummer in regards to quality filmmaking, particularly pointing to a summer movie season that has seen box office receipts dwindle considerably. With the Summer movie season ending this weekend without a new wide release, it’s time to look back at the last eight months worth of movies and rank the top 5 films of 2017 thus far.

5. Baby Driver

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In a summer filled with numerous sequels no one asked for, Baby Driver was one of the lone original works to break-out and have success financially and receive critical acclaim. While it is essentially a hipster’s interpretation of a Transporter movie, Baby Driver features terrific performances from its ensemble cast and a hilarious script from writer/director Edgar Wright. Throw in a killer soundtrack and enthralling action, and Baby Driver proves you don’t have to be an established franchise tent-pole to have success during the summer.

4. Ingrid Goes West

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Every year, there’s at least one independent film that flies under the audience’s radar only to be discovered later on the home video market. Ingrid Goes West is destined to have this fate, which is a shame considering it’s one of the most topical films of the year. It’s biting commentary on our society’s current obsession with social media and its stardom and a committed performance from lead actress Aubrey Plaza makes it one of the most underrated films of the year thus far, and should definitely be on your to-stream list in the future.

3. Get Out

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If there were ever a film that was released at the perfect time, it would be writer/ director/ comedian Jordan Peele’s debut feature film. Released shortly after the election of Donald Trump (*still weird to say that*), Get Out is the greatest slave movie ever made. It’s thematic elements dealing with white America’s obsession of wanting all of the benefits of being black without the skin color is one of the most dynamic elements ever explored on film. Throw in some great imagery and horror thrills, and Get Out is proof that originality is alive and well in Hollywood.

2. Logan

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We’ve been waiting for a great solo Wolverine film for years, and Hugh Jackman and company finally delivered. A post-apocalyptic western action-drama masquerading as a comic-book movie, Logan is Hugh Jackman’s finest hour as the titular character, and also features Patrick Stewart’s best performance as Professor X. With high emotional stakes that have consequences, Logan is not only the most heart-wrenching comic-book films ever, but one of the most moving films released in quite sometime. Logan may be Jackman’s swan song as Wolverine, but he goes out on what could be the new gold standard of comic-book movies.

1.War For the Planet of the Apes

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War For the Planet of the Apes is a tremendous achievement in filmmaking. The motion-capture technology used makes for some of the best special effects ever captured on film, making the apes the most realistic as they’ve ever looked on screen. Andy Serkis of course leads the way with his touching performance as Caesar, and saves his best for last in the conclusion of what could be regarded as one of the best film trilogies ever. It’s emotional impact combined with outstanding action and performances makes War for the Planet of the Apes not only the best of the modern Planet of the Apes trilogy, but the best film of 2017 thus far.

 

Bro-Reviews: The Hitman’s Bodyguard

When Deadpool met Nick Fury.

It’s typically around the month of August we see the summer movie season slow down considerably. Although recent years have seen the release of blockbuster films such as Guardians of the Galaxy and Suicide Squad, August is the month many studios reserve for dumping films they have no confidence in in the hopes that audiences will go see them out of pure boredom. Many of these films are mindless, over-the-top action films catered to action junkies, and Summit Entertainment is hoping the presence of Mr. Deadpool Ryan Reynolds and Nick Fury Samuel L. Jackson will propel those junkies to go see the latest R-rated action buddy-comedy, The Hitman’s Bodyguard.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard stars Ryan Reynolds as Michael Bryce, a former special protection agent who laments on his career whilst still protecting lesser clientele after a job that went sideways. When an Interpol transport mission is intercepted by the enemy, Interpol agent and Michael’s ex-flame Amelia (Élodie Yung) calls upon him for help transporting a witness to the trial of a power-hungry Eastern European dictator, Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). That witness happens to be Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), a hitman and Michael’s rival. Despite their hatred for one another, the two must band together to make it to the International Court of Justice in England in time to put Dukhovich in jail once and for all.

Before going any further, one must note the first trailer for this film was cut expertly, with Samuel L. Jackson cursing up a storm, loads of explosions, and the late Whitney Houston belting out her famous rendition of “I will always love you.” It was marketed as an anti-The Bodyguard, the 1992 smash hit starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston. The trailer made me very excited to see the movie, but unfortunately, the trailer is better than the actual feature length film.

While Jackson and Reynolds do have chemistry, the two aren’t straining to portray characters, they’re playing themselves. Reynolds is in peak snarky but capable form, and continues to showcase he can rise above otherwise pedestrian material. Samuel L. Jackson is in peak “Samuel L. Jackson” form, yelling four letter swear words every other line of dialogue and clearly having a blast doing so. The two are well matched together, but the surrounding material just isn’t there for them to gain any momentum and carry the film by themselves.

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Salma Hayek, save for the typical cleavage shots, one butt-kicking action sequence, and one joke with another prisoner, is utterly wasted in the film. Her scenes consist of her swearing, swearing in Spanish, and exploitative cleavage shots. That’s it. Gary Oldman is sleepwalking through the film as the villain, and it’s time to hold him accountable for giving terrible performances in films such as this, The Unborn, Paranoia, and Red Riding Hood. There’s no doubt Oldman is a talented actor and can give a great performance when he feels like it, but he far too often chooses to take “for the money” roles such as this and goes through the motions.

The film also has jarring tonal shifts within the first 30 minutes or so. Scenes of Oldman’s Dukhovich slaughtering innocent people are meant to make us fear him, but then the film cuts to Reynolds and Jackson quipping one-liners in an attempt to make the audience laugh-off the otherwise horrendous events we’ve just witnessed. The film is also far too long at 118 minutes, as a tighter, quicker film could’ve improved it tremendously. It doesn’t help the film is also riddled with cheap-looking special effects and actors from other late-summer action films such as Sam Hazeldine (Riah Crane AKA the bad guy in Mechanic: Resurrection) to remind you you’re watching a late summer action film, and not a quality one.

Although the special effects are quite cheap-looking, the action sequences are brutal and do deliver. Director Patrick Hughes has shown he’s capable of staging action scenes very well in the underappreciated Expendables 3, and his direction of the action in the film livens it up. One must particularly note the final car chase, which displays Hughes’ talent for filming thrilling action. It’s these scenes that ultimately made me forgive the film for it’s otherwise cheap feel save for the leads they were able to sign onto the film.

Ultimately, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a disposable, substandard, harmless late summer action film that has the saving grace of two well matched leads and enough adrenaline pumping action. However, one cannot help but notice the film surrounding the two leads and action sequences isn’t up to par with them, ultimately leaving viewers an expandable and forgettable action buddy-comedy film.

Rating: 2/4 Stars. Rent it.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard stars Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Élodie Yung, Salma Hayek, Richard E. Grant, Sam Hazeldine, Kirsty Mitchell, and Joaquim de Almeida. It is in theaters Friday, August 18th.