The Minimum Effort Podcast Ep.2: Ghost in the Shell and Obi-Wan?

Standard

Ben and Lewis finally get around to recording the second exciting episode of the new-canon podcast, and boy is it packed with content!

Join them as they talk about movie news, The Walking Dead, Ghost in the Shell, Star Wars Rebels, and the strong rumours about an Obi-Wan movie that have dredged up just a little bitterness…

Advertisements

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith- It’s Really not that Bad

Standard

imageRight, Revenge of the Sith, the film that marked the end of the prequels and the beginning of Luke Skywalker’s story, finally bringing George Lucas’ “vision” to a close.

It’s pretty ok. It wasn’t that bad, it wasn’t that good; it’s just pretty ok.

 

EPIII_RotS_poster

Trust me, even if Revenge of the Sith is just pretty ok, that’s a hell of an improvement on the previous two entries in the prequel trilogy. It’s a slightly disappointing finale to this amazing franchise, but it’s probably the best we could have hoped for with George Lucas writing and directing again. Then again, with the new films arriving shortly, this is no longer the finale. So is it disappointing? Hmmmm…

Let’s move onto the compliment cracker part of this ramble.

The bad-

  • To kick off, let’s talk about the script again. Now listen, I know that I just said that this is an improvement compared to The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones, but that doesn’t mean it’s suddenly a return to form. All it means is that it’s a little less shitty compared to two really shitty films. One thing I will say, is that the overall pacing and storyline is actually pretty damn good. Sure, it drags in the middle slightly, and I think the calamity of Order 66 should’ve happened earlier, just so that the story could explore it in more depth than it did, but overall it’s a pretty solid structure. However, the dialogue is still awkward and unrealistic. I honestly can’t understand how George Lucas can write like that. Does he actually speak to people? Does he know how people have conversations?
    “Anakin, Chancellor Palpatine is evil!”
    “From my point of view the Jedi are evil”
    Wow, hold the fucking applause. I’m glad you were there to hold my hand through that complex character development, George… I mean COME ON!
  • Next, the poor usage of Christopher Lee, and the unnecessary addition of General Grevious. What a waste of such an incredible talent, and what a pointless addition. I would be completely happy if the character of Count Dooku was the main adversary all the way through the prequels, and I think if he had been the one to kill Qui-Gon, his old apprentice, there would’ve have been a superb Obi-Wan revenge sub-plot running through these films. He was wasted. As for Grevious, I have no issue with him as a character, but he should’ve just been a General of the Droid Army, not some Jedi wannabe. Hey, you could even let him keep those lightsabers as trophies, that was a kinda cool idea, just don’t let him use them.
  • The development of Anakin and his turn is another thing that bugs me quite a lot about this film. In Attack of the Clones, we were treated to a whiny, teenaged character with no real substance, and then in Revenge of the Sith, we’re given a fairly level-headed but arrogant version of Anakin who very quickly becomes a child-murdering psychopath. Again, this is just bad writing. I know that the slaughter of the Jedi is supposed to mirror his slaughter of the sand-people, but that incident is quickly cast-aside until right at the start of the film. Palpatine is like “Hey, do you remember when you killed all those sand-people? That was pretty fucked up right? You can lose your temper pretty easily, ey? Wink, wink, nudge, bloody-nudge”
    It’s just clumsy.
    Anyway, I just think that his turn to the dark-side was very poorly handled, and all it came down to was a case of severe immaturity and teenage angst.
  • The banter is not strong with this one. I know that Lucas actually put in some effort to try and characterise the relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin this time, and yes some parts do feel like we’re back to the old wit of the original trilogy, but most of the time the jokes back-and-forth fall very flat. I feel like this might be due to the charisma vacuum that is Hayden Christiansen, but honestly, the writing isn’t great. That guy is not the kind of actor who can joke around, he’s just too dull to do it (Sorry Hayden).
  • Finally, we have another goddamn Yoda fight, which is even cheesier than the last one! The CGI is slightly better, and the whole throwing seating-sections at each other is a little better than boulders, but still, it’s a god-awful sequence. Yoda isn’t the kind of character to stand around throwing tough-guy bravado up in Palpatine’s face; that’s Palpatine’s job. Yoda should be above that kind of crap. No matter what Palpatine says, no matter what kind of insults he sends Yoda’s way, Yoda should not be rising to them; he’s above it. And also, don’t you think he’s a little too flippant about this whole affair considering thousands of his friends have just been slaughtered? I know he’s a Jedi and they’re very stoic and all, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to just shrug it off and then call Arnie for some tips about one-liners. It’s just bad.

sw4

Riiiiiggghhhhhht. Onto the good stuff! I know you probably wouldn’t think that I like this film after what I’ve just written in the bad section; but honestly, there are some really good bits.

The Good-

  • The overall tone of this film is pretty dark. Amidst the questionable banter and dinosaur riding, we see a lot of death, and a lot of war, which definitely makes for some interesting viewing. From the moment we see Anakin Skywalker slice off Christopher Lee’s hands, before decapitating him with only a little encouragement from Palpatine, we know that this is going to be a very different Star Wars indeed. Despite this difference, I love the tone of this film. Considering the subject matter, and the events that we know have to happen in order to link the two trilogies, I think this shift towards the dark-side of things (you get it? I made a reference) was a very wise decision on Lucas’ part. Bloody hell, I don’t think I’ve ever said that about the prequels before… It just works in the context of the storyline, and makes for a fairly compelling and occasionally emotional watch.
  • Leading on from talking about the darker tone, the portrayal of the Clone Wars in this film is a vast improvement on the few minutes of crap they give us in Attack of the Clones. We actually get to see fairly grim, realistic battles between the droid army and the clones, instead of watching them slowly walk towards each other over open ground in perhaps the most ridiculous battle sequence I’ve ever laid eyes on. Maybe you did that when you had to literally stand two feet away from someone and stab them through the chest, but with guns? Give me a break. I also like the slight characterisation of the clones, even if it does only apply to the commanders. I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more of that, but hey-ho, you can’t win ‘em all.
  • Possibly one of the saddest scenes in Star Wars is definitely at home in this film. To see the Jedi’s comrades-in-arms turn upon them and execute an order over which they have no free will is pretty damn tragic. I like the fact that, even though the clones have fought with these people for years and often owe their lives to the Jedi’s skills, they are willing to accept this order with no hesitation. It really emphasises that they are no more than an army for hire, and their latest order has to be obeyed no matter what. I know that in the Clone Wars TV show they explain that all clones have chips inside them that ensure obedience, but honestly, I’ve never really liked that explanation, and it’s not in the film. It was obviously just a way to make the clones’ betrayal not really their fault; especially when kids start asking their parents why the clones repeatedly shot their friends in the back. I can imagine that would be awkward.
  • Again, John Williams never lets a film down. Out of all the prequels, his score for Revenge of the Sith is possibly the most affecting, and definitely the most memorable (except for “Duel of the Fates” of course, which makes a brief appearance in the track “Obi-wan vs Anakin”). The reason for this, in my mind, is that this film has more emotional weight, and I can imagine that as a composer this really helps you to write a good piece of stirring music. I honestly can’t really say much more about it; it’s one of the highlights of the film for me.
  • And now, my final point is probably a very obvious choice, but for many people this is one of the most iconic moments in the entire Star Wars franchise. Obi-Wan vs Anakin was the lightsaber duel we’d been waiting for ever since The Phantom Menace set these two characters off on their journey together. We finally get to see a lightsaber duel with some goddamn emotional content. Sure, it still falls victim to the over-choreography that plagues these films, but throughout the entire sequence you really get a sense that Anakin is trying to murder Obi-Wan, and that Obi-Wan is doing all he can not to get any of his limbs sliced off. It really is a ferocious fight, and it’s the highlight of the film… right up until they go paddling down the molten-rock river. That fight should’ve finished about 5 minutes before it actually did, and I think a pretty sweet place to end it would have been when they’re battling it out on that antenna before it falls into the lava. The fight up until that point had been brutal and fast paced, but it then turns into something that resembles a goddamn dream sequence. Eventually though, we do get a really, really great finish. This scene is easily the most powerfully emotional part of any of these prequel films. This whole sequence is saved by the incredible performances of McGregor and Christiansen (who seems to be only able to act well when he’s writhing in pain).

movies_star_wars_iii_revenge_of_the_sith_2

Well there you go, the good and the bad of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. I actually really enjoy this film, and even if it does fall into some of the pitfalls of the prequels trilogy, it’s definitely a unique part of the Star Wars franchise and a great film to bridge the gap between the two stories of the trilogies.

Thanks, Lewis

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones- It Really is that Bad

Standard

Benportrait1Oh God, where do I start?

 

 

 

Attack of the Clones…

Star_Wars_-_Episode_II_Attack_of_the_Clones_(movie_poster)

I have been given the delightful job of re-watching Attack of the Clones and finding 5 good points… thanks, Lewis.

I don’t hide the fact that this is my least favourite Star Wars film, and I honestly hate it; but, for the sake of fairness, I cleared my head of all negativity I hold towards this monstrosity and sat down to watch it… all 135 minutes of it.

The Bad

  • The whole “clear my head of all negativity” thing lasted about ten minutes before I realised just how dull and unevenly paced this film is. This is going to be a long point, sorry. Nothing happens in the first hour of the film. I can almost hear people shouting that there are two attempts on Padme’s life, and there’s a chase scene, but were they actually any good? No. “No” is the answer you are looking for. The attempts to kill Padme are infuriatingly futile. While blowing up the Senator’s transport is a strong attempt, and sends a message at the same time, it doesn’t work. That’s fair enough, everyone has an off day, but what does Jango Fett try next? He gives his assassin-counterpart a droid that transports poisonous worms. What!? The worms are clearly a plot device to build tension, and as Obi-Wan and Anakin debate politics we see the worms get closer and closer to their target. Unfortunately, it doesn’t build tension because the idea is so bloody stupid. There are a million ways to kill someone in this universe, and they choose poisonous worms. So, after the worms get cut in half we follow a chase sequence through the city. This sequence is fine, it is a bit too long for my liking (and essentially a crappy version of Blade Runner- Lewis), and why the assassin doesn’t just shoot Obi-Wan rather than her returning droid is beyond me… the dialogue is another matter (I will come back to this). It is a further 45 minutes before we see any more action, and by that time we still haven’t seen the villain of the film.
  • Throughout the film we are force-fed more of the crap that made The Phantom Menace so dull; committee meetings, council meetings, people walking and talking, sitting and talking, one person sitting while another person talks. It is like George Lucas forgot how to show the viewer what is happening, without endless exposition. This is partially due to the overcomplicated plot, but he seems to need characters to talk to each other constantly in order to fill the viewer in. This all accumulates to make the most dull Star Wars film ever.
  • The script and direction is just God-awful. Lucas has become very good at writing dialogue that no normal person would actually say. I know Hayden Christiansen has a bit of a tough time off the back of these films, but I can’t blame him entirely. At the end of the day the buck has to stop with the director and writer, both of which happen to be George Lucas. The infamous ‘sand sequence’ on Naboo is just… I think the best actors in the world would have had issue with those lines, but what was Lucas thinking when he okayed Christiansen’s creepy demeanour in this film? I suppose this is linked to the yes-men mentioned yesterday. While I am here we may as well make mention of the Anakin/Padme relationship. It is creepy, poorly written, poorly acted and it makes such uncomfortable watching; if you have seen the film you know what I mean, and I can’t bear to think about it anymore so I will leave it there.
  • The CGI. Yeah, I am going to open this can of worms. I have recently read that the sets were only real up to eye-level, and beyond that the CG sets take over, and you can really tell. While the large set pieces such as the chase scene look solid, when you look at the detail of the smaller sets such as Palpatine’s office, the doors look like they were painted by a five year old in 5 minutes… poor CGI can be seen everywhere throughout the film; Dex’s Diner, the Jedi temple, out of place animals on Naboo. This may seem like I am being picky, and to a certain degree I am, but why is CGI used for an office set? What happened to making a practical set that the actors can actually see and act against?
  • Yoda with a lightsaber. Yoda shouldn’t have a lightsaber; he is supposed to be able to connect to the force with such strength that he could kill you by just raising his hand. He doesn’t do this though because he is a Jedi. Giving him a lightsaber nullifies that, and makes him a generic, boring Jedi. Coupled with the wrongness of giving Yoda a lightsaber is the awfully clunky dialogue that precedes the fight with Dooku, and the horrible jumpy-CGI choreography. What makes lightsaber duels brilliant is the emotional weight behind them, not twirling them about like glowsticks.

star_wars_attack_of_the_clones

Because there is so much wrong with this film, I am going to do a dishonourable mentions list. I had to watch it so I am going to get this all off my chest:

• The front door Hayden Christiansen acting (because he is so wooden… get it?).
• The return of Jar Jar and his ‘dellow felegates’ speech.
• The production line action-scene.
• The disposable Clone and Droid Armies that you are meant to care about but can’t because they are all just throw-away characters.
• The underdevelopment of so many characters, like Dooku and Jango.

There are plenty more, but I need to get onto the good things. I will be honest and say I found it difficult to find many good things about this film, and the good things I did recognise often have downsides, but here we go:

  • The “deathsticks” scene. This is literally a 30 second scene, mixed in with the tracking down of Padme’s would be assassin, but it is a nice bit of foreshadowing as Obi-Wan uses his trade mark Jedi mind trick in order to dissuade a local “deathstick” dealer from selling the Jedi his merchandise… I told you I was struggling to find good things.
  • Following on from an Obi-Wan scene, the second good point from Attack of the Clones is Ewan McGregor. The Scotsman is one of the few shining lights from the prequel trilogy; he is able to bring some much needed emotion to the wooden dialogue. McGregor puts in a solid performance against clunky CGI and Hayden Christiansen.
  • I think Ian Mcdiarmid has some real fun with these films. In the original trilogy, the Emperor is painted as an evil character and that is it, no background, he is just a bad guy. In the prequels, Palpatine is a much more developed character, showing that he isn’t just evil; he is manipulative and cunning and intelligent. This is mostly lost within the overly-complex plot of the prequel films, but it is there, and now I have mentioned it hopefully you will see it too.
  • Jango Fett is pretty cool, and is much more of a badass than Boba. Please wait, before you kill me, if we look at Boba Fett in the original films (the films not the non-cannon expanded universe) he doesn’t really do much. He follows The Millennium Falcon to cloud city, he ties Luke up with some rope, and then he falls into the Sarlac Pit… brilliant. Jango, on the other hand, fights Obi-Wan and fairs pretty well, kills another Jedi, kills the weird Space Rhino and then fights Mace Windu, where he does finally die. The only issue is, again, that Jango is underdeveloped and dies way too easily. I wanted to see a bit more of a fight between Jango and Windu, that would be far more interesting than unnamed Jedi destroying endless waves of disposable droids.
  • Right the last one, and you can tell I am scraping the bottom of the barrel right now… George Lucas reduced the amount of Jar Jar in the film, yeah I am really struggling. Following the backlash of The Phantom Menace, Lucas heard the criticism and cut down the Jar Jar scenes. Yeah he is still in it, and is still pretty pivotal to the overall story, but rather than being a constant irritant Jar Jar is reduced to a minor role only on screen for about 10 minutes.

attackoftheclones-xlarge

Right, that is it. Hopefully I wasn’t too biased, and if I have brought up something new which has made you see this film in a slightly more positive light, I guess I can only apologise.

Thanks- Ben

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace- Is it Really That Bad?

Standard

image

Ahhhh, The Phantom Menace… almost everyone you know will be aware of the public despair that was the result of this film. Even if they’ve never seen Star Wars, they’ve probably been the victim of a fan’s rant about the sad state of affairs that were the prequels.

Star_Wars_Phantom_Menace_poster

But, is it really THAT bad?

One of my earliest memories is of my cousin and I going to see The Phantom Menace at the age of four, and we bloody loved it. Granted, the only thing I clearly remember from that viewing is the final duel between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Maul (which is definitely the best bit), but I didn’t come to realise that it wasn’t a good film until a good while after that. Which makes sense, because kids are a hell of a lot more forgiving about that sort of thing than adults tend to be.

And you know what? There are actually some parts of The Phantom Menace that I can watch without throwing up in my mouth… even if there are a lot of times when I end up doing just that.

Nah I’m kidding, I don’t really throw up in my mouth, more like die a little inside.

And it’s all George-Bloody-Lucas’ fault.

Anyway, let’s cut the rambling and crack this list out. I’m going to structure this more like what I like to call a compliment cracker than a compliment sandwich; 5 bad things, and then 5 good things to top it off and turn the dry, bitter taste of the cracker into something we can stomach.

The Bad…

  • First off, the script. Seriously, who read this fucking thing, and gave it the ok? “Well it seems a bit shit to me, but he made three fan-bloody-tastic movies last time, so he must know what he’s doing”. No, he doesn’t, he clearly doesn’t. One of the main reasons why Star Wars finally became this fairly stripped down, fast-paced (for the time), fun adventure movie is because George allowed people to give criticism, cut bits out, question his ideas. This time, he was surrounded by yes-men who were either too focussed on the merchandise-machine that is Star Wars to care, or were paid to essentially just help Lucas bring this movie to life rather than offer ideas or criticism. The dialogue is awful, the plot is way too complicated, and the characters are so underdeveloped that Jar-Jar Binks is the only guy who actually grows as a Jamaican-Stereotyped-Frog-Bunny *cough* I mean… grows as a Gungan.
  • The racial stereotypes in this film are incredibly uncomfortable to watch. Seriously, how did these characters get past the people who check films for these sorts of things? From Nute Gunray and his fishy friends to Watto the “Toydarian” (or is that spelt “Jewish-stereotype-so-horrific-it-could-be-from-a-nazi-propaganda-film”? I can’t remember…). I just can’t believe they let this happen, and in a kids film no less. I mean, yes, even in the original films there were some character designs that toed that fine line, but they were never as blatantly offensive as these.
  • As well as these two fairly major flaws, this movie also suffers from several cases of great character concepts that are badly wasted. You’ll always hear people say “Darth Maul was such a cool character”, well no. He wasn’t. He was a cool IDEA, because he wasn’t really a character at all. He definitely could’ve been something worth talking about had he been written in even a semi-effective way. The same goes for Qui-Gon Jinn, and even Obi-Wan (a character who is arguably the best thing about the prequels) seriously lacks a good character treatment. It’s just incredibly frustrating to watch a film where such good ideas are left undeveloped in order to throw in some more Goddamn poop jokes.
  • The Gungans- cut them out. You don’t need them, they’re just filler. The amount of filler is too damn high!
  • Aaaaannnd speaking of Gungans… Mr Jar-Jar Binks himself. He’s a pretty bad part of this film, but, to be fair, the poor, brain-dead guy gets a bit of a bad-rap compared to the other flaws in this movie. I think that people can’t be bothered to really think about why this film isn’t very good, and it’s far simpler to just shout “JAR-JAR BINKS” whenever someone tries to defend The Phantom Menace, rather than trying to construct a logical argument. The only reason why Jar-Jar is the scapegoat in this situation is due to the poor writing of Lucas and the army of yes-men telling him that Jar-Jar is the funniest thing they’ve ever seen, and that kids will love him. Even when I was four I didn’t like that stupid idiot, and I’m damn glad he was the one who essentially allowed Palpatine to gain power. I hope he had to live with that guilt for a long time. I know I’m being a bit harsh here, but this is the bad section and I can’t help you Jar-Jar; I just can’t.

image_d499abf8

Alright, now that’s out of the way, let’s move onto the “good” stuff. Oh boy…

  • In terms of the aesthetics, the look and feel, of this film, it’s definitely my favourite of the prequels. It feels the most like Star Wars out of the three, while the other two become more of an extravagant, almost anime-like version of the story. That kind of style does work (in the case of Revenge of the Sith), but it’s not really the style of the original films. The Phantom Menace, overall, just feels more grounded (as grounded as Star Wars can be, anyway).
  • It has a hell of a lot more practical effects than people give it credit for, and all the sets and props are pretty tangible, something that is lost in the next two films of the trilogy. Many people make generalisations about the prequels (me included), and one thing that is picked upon is the over-abundance of CGI. However, honestly, this only becomes an issue in Attack of the Clones. Most of the CGI here looks pretty good, which I think comes down to the fact that it was used to enhance practical sets and characters, not to create them. The Gungans and Droid army only look bad because they were purely made from CGI. Another aspect of this that I think is due praise is the motion capture of Jar-Jar Binks. This was very new technology, and the ways they used it in this film paved the way for many films since. A lot of this film’s technological aspects were new and bold, and I respect the people who were behind these innovative ideas.
  • The cast is very solid and, apart from some iffy-acting from Jake Lloyd (which in my opinion can be easily forgiven since he’s a kid), they all do a bloody good job despite the poor script. As Harrison Ford said “You can write this shit, George, but you sure as hell can’t say it”. The obvious stand-out is Ewan McGregor, who does pretty well, as does Liam Neeson.
  • John Williams is just too damn talented. Why don’t you share some of the love, John? I mean, how do you even write music like this? It’s almost on a par with your work on the original trilogy’s soundtrack, and that really is saying something. If I ever end up watching the prequel trilogy, John Williams’ incredible score is 50% of the reason for it. Duel of the Fates? Amazing. I’ve never heard a better track for an epic battle, which is probably why it crops up every now and then throughout this trilogy, and every time it does it sounds as good as it ever did.
  • Lastly, because it really is the highlight, I suppose I’ll top off this list with the final duel. After trudging through the molasses that is this film, we are rewarded by possibly the best duel of the prequel trilogy. Forget that glowstick, twirly shit of the next two movies, this is how a lightsaber duel should be done. It isn’t as good as any of the original fights because of the severe lack of emotional weight, but it’s pretty damn fun to watch. Like I said at the beginning, this is the only part of the film I can remember from going to see it, and it’s almost worth sitting through the rest in order to watch this bit. Sure it’s over-choreographed, but it sits somewhere halfway between the Luke v Vader fights and the other duels in this trilogy, so it’s pretty damn good.

The-Phantom-Menace-star-wars-the-phantom-menace-29417037-1280-960

Well, there you have it, my Phantom Menace “compliment cracker”. I hope I’ve been fairly reasonable about all this, because, you know, I do still kind of like it despite all its faults. It might just be a case of nostalgia blinding me, and I’m sure that it is in part, but there’s something about it that just feels like my childhood.

I can’t, however, say the same about Attack of the Clones… so let’s look forward to that tomorrow, shall we?

-Lewis