Liam Neeson

Review: Battleship

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The Pitch Pie Chart Showing What Battleship Has Been “Inspired” By: 

The Review Hits / Misses Lists:

Why see it at the cinema: IF YOU LIKE TO WATCH GENERALLY INDETERMINATE GREY BLOBS AND STUFF BLOWING UP REALLY, *REALLY* LOUDLY WHILE IN REALLY TIGHT FOCUS AND WITH NO LOGIC OR REASON THEN DON’T MISS BATTLESHIP! (Put that on the poster, Universal, I dare you.)

The Score: 4/10

10 Reasons Why The Phantom Menace Isn’t Irredeemably Awful

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I never saw Star Wars in the cinema. I was three when it first came out, and despite seeing The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi frequently and repeatedly on the big screen, I never managed to make it to a showing of Star Wars. Sure, when Episode IV: A New Hope: Special edition made it into cinemas in 1997 I went not once but twice; but it wasn’t my Star Wars, the film I’d grown up on. It had Greedo shooting first and much of the final dogfight had been changed and a whole host of other changes that, every time they came up took me out of my enjoyment of the film. Those parts that were unchanged, it was fantastic to see on the big screen. But for me it wasn’t the experience I’d craved.

I am now reconciled to the fact that I’ll never see Star Wars in its original, unedited format in a cinema; at least, not while George Lucas is alive. While some of the changes in the later films, especially Empire, were undoubtedly for the better, others weren’t, and the most comfort I have from my DVD collection is the poor quality versions of the original film that Lucas saw fit to allow us to have, almost like naughty children being scolded and not allowing us to have anamorphic transfers. Never forget that Star Wars are Lucasfilm productions, and the customer isn’t always right – not when the director knows better.

I was twenty-five when Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out. I queued for an hour to get the best seat in the first showing the evening it came out, and I went  back to see it three times. It’s easy, nearly thirteen years on, to be stuck in a particular mindset about the film: this is how many, if not most people, would react to the mere mention of The Phantom Menace these days.

But that’s not how I remember it, Star Wars fanboy that I am (and I bought a toy lightsaber and played with it for the first time after The Phantom Menace; my flatmate and I went at it like Obi-Wan and Darth Maul until they were just misshapen lumps of plastic). Even if I wasn’t a ridiculous optimist, I would still want to believe that a film I saw four times in the cinema had some redeeming features, but there’s a risk that the backlash has gone on for so long that any merit of the first prequel might have been lost a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

There must have been some good features to the film; let’s not forget that the backlash only started when people saw the film itself. When the teaser trailer hit, the majority of people felt more excitement than anything, that their childhood could be revisited and the magic recaptured. Watching the teaser trailer again, it does have a slight “sow’s purse from pig’s ear” feel about it, but many summer blockbusters these days struggle to stitch together even two minutes of entertaining highlights from their two or more hours. Here’s what started the excitement all those years ago:

So now The Phantom Menace is back in cinemas. Except it’s now in 3D, and Yoda’s been replaced with a digital puppet, more in keeping with the look of the final two prequels. So now I’ll never even see the original Phantom Menace on the big screen again. Think that’s a bad thing? Here I present ten reasons why you might want to part with a small amount of your hard earned cash to see this on the silver screen once again.

1. John Williams’ best in series music

The one constant throughout the six Star Wars films has been the music of John Williams. The finest composer of film scores of his generation has been consistently outstanding throughout the twenty-eight years of Star Wars films, but The Phantom Menace actually saw him at the peak of his powers. Duel Of The Fates takes the huge orchestral sound of the original trilogy, adds in a choir (singing a Welsh poem in Sanskrit, fact fans) and embodies everything that’s been so outstanding about his scores: it has the drama of themes such as Luke and Leia, the bombast of the original Star Wars theme and the ominous threat of the Imperial March, all rolled into one. It’s also one of the few tunes that you can do air timpani to. It’s so good I actually put it on my imaginary Desert Island list.

2. The three way, four blade lightsaber fight

It wasn't just the Empire that was a health and safety nightmare. Handrails, people!

It made Mark Hamill jealous, it made an action star out of Liam Neeson for the next ten years and it set a standard that the rest of the prequels could never quite live up to. The Phantom Menace contains the best lightsaber fight of the whole Star Wars sextology, and frankly one of the best swordfights ever committed to celluloid, the only shame being that there was so much going on elsewhere that this was intercut with three other plot lines, slightly diminishing the effect. (The less said about the incredibly daft ending, where Darth Maul stands and watches while he gets chopped in half, the better.)

3. Liam Neeson

I'm so manly I can even pull off this hairstyle. I rock.

Liam Neeson is appearing in a sequel to Taken this year. Liam Neeson will be sixty years old this year. Take in those two facts for a moment – it has to be the latter fact that’s harder to swallow. Neeson dominates the film whenever he’s on screen, even the soft Irish brogue carrying an authority (and a particular disdain reserved for Jar-Jar) that instantly marks him out as top quality Jedi material. You can’t help but feel if Qui-Gonn hadn’t taken one in the gut from the end of Darth Maul’s lightsaber that he wouldn’t have stood for stroppy teenage Anakin’s nonsense, or would have just pushed him off the nearest high rise in Coruscant if he got too out of control.

4. R2-D2

Anyone got 50p for the droid wash? Anyone? Tch.

So often in double acts, one of the pair commands so much more respect than the other. Think of Wallace and Gromit, or Mike Myers and Dana Carvey. So it’s the case with R2-D2, who’s always in the right place at the right time and might actually do more than any other single individual in terms of heroic deeds and derring-do across the trilogy, starting here with saving the ship while all other droids are getting blasted into space dust.. His no-nonsense approach might rub C-3PO up the wrong way sometimes, but if there’s one robot you’d want by your side in a crisis, it’s this one. How on earth Uncle Owen didn’t pick him out of the line up is anyone’s guess. Useless.

5. At home with the Darths

Even after all these years, the Sith still weren't allowed to meet up at Bluewater.

There are always two, apparently, which might explain why it’s taken them 1,000 years to be able to rule the galaxy. But in this case, the two are an excellent team, both with strong qualities. Darth Maul is the muscle of the operation, handy in a fight but also with a head ideal for scaring small children and opening bottles. Undoubtedly the best thing about Return Of The Jedi was Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor, so it’s also gratifying to see that George Lucas knows how to get some things right, giving McDiarmid an increasingly central role in the prequels. He’s satisfyingly smarmy when advising Padmé but also has the air of, well, menace required for his brief appearances as Darth Sidious, and his presence is one of the highlights of the prequels in general.

6. Samuel L. Motherf***** Jackson

Most successful movie star ever you might be, but selling mobile phones you are not.

Oh to be as famous and popular as Samuel L. Jackson. Having expressed an interest in being in a Star Wars film, he was approached by casting director Robin Gurland, and by the second film was even getting to pick his own lightsaber colour. Between him and Liam Neeson, the Jedi were actually believable as a force to be reckoned with.

7. The wonderful wizard that’s Oz

It was also an ideal opportunity to bring back everyone’s favourite short-assed, frog-faced Jedi master. The only slight disappointment was that Phantom Menace Yoda was intended to look younger, but instead he just looked as if he’d spent most of the last eight hundred years getting high. (Now that’s a film I’d pay to see.)

8. I’M BRIAN BLESSED!

Youssa say Gordon's aliva?

Yes, everyone’s favourite shouty man gets to turn up infrequently and spout random bollocks. Somehow it sounds so much more believable when he says it than when Jar-Jar does.

9. The scenery’s lovely

Well yes, obviously it does look better without the spaceships and the robots...

Coruscant looks a bit The Fifth Element-y at times, but Naboo’s cities are beautiful and you can’t fault any aspect of the production design. What me, grasping at straws? Absolutely not. Which leads me to:

10. Look, Jawas!

Fruitini! Or something.

With all that said and done, if you believe these reasons are enough to overlook midichlorians, comedy fighting robots, the incessant casual racism, Natalie Portman being turned into a bad actress in the space of 135 minutes, Jake Lloyd repeatedly shouting comments that would have been anachronistic in an Enid Blyton book and, not forgetting, Jar-Jar Binks and all of the other reasons that The Phantom Menace is so universally loathed these days, then by all means part with your cash, and I would argue that no-one could fault you for doing so. I think, though, four times was enough for me and the promise of an added dimension is still one or two short of the storytelling dimensions that we were all hoping for pre-1999. Until Mr Lucas finds some magic way of sorting out those dimensions, I think I’ll be staying at home.

Coming in 2013: Absolutely No Reasons Whatsoever Why Attack Of The Clones Isn’t Irredeemably Awful

Review: The A Team

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The Pitch: A shadowy flank into the dangerous world of… oh, sorry, that’s the other one.

The Review: I grew up in the Eighties, mainly on a diet of cheesy American TV series. They were two a penny for a while, and I watched them all: Manimal, Street Hawk, Automan and Airwolf, most of them with cheerfully interchangeable plots and a tenuous grip on reality, ideal for a ten year old looking for excitement. The one I replayed most myself was my out and out favourite, Knight Rider (the other one of the pitch above, in case you missed the Eighties for any reas0n); the one played out most on the playgrounds with my friends and I, and probably on most other playgrounds, was The A Team, with every kid fighting over which one they wanted to be. I often got to be Face, partly as he was my favourite at the time (Dirk Benedict was also in Battlestar Galactica, making him extra cool, and they then referred to this in the opening titles! How exciting!), and partly because my friends and I had a well developed sense of irony at an early age, so making Face the ugly one was a no-brainer.

What I was really hoping for was that this modern reboot of the franchise would capture, above all, that sense of playground fun that made you want to be these guys, running around shooting but never fatally wounding. Crucial to that would be the casting of the central foursome and their ability to inhabit the same characters, and this is only a partial success. The most successful is Sharlto Copley, who has huge amounts of fun with Murdock, throwing in random accents and never standing still. Bradley Cooper is a pretty, and pretty reasonable, Face, pulling off the swagger but never quite having the smooth charm of the original. Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson is easy enough to watch, but doesn’t have the gruff charisma of Mr T. Most disappointing is Liam Neeson, who never manages the American accent that well and doesn’t have the cocky authority of George Peppard.

However, the group as a whole do have fun, and come across as a unit you’d like to spend time with. The movie’s at its winning best when the four are planning their latest crazy stunt and the interplay is firing; there’s maybe not quite enough of this and maybe a little too much introspection at times, especially in B.A.’s ill advised non-violence sub-plot. The original series was a pure pleasure on its own terms, and at times almost slide-rule linear in terms of its plotting; every good episode consisted of the “team enter a situation, team get in trouble, team use unconventional means to win the day” through-line, and you were never required to engage the brain cells. The movie tries to be a little more involved, but only a little – any twists are all well telegraphed, so you get the same effect as the original, but it doesn’t feel quite as well constructed.

What stops this from being a great film, rather than a just above average one, are the action sequences. The concepts are by and large good, it’s the execution, and Joe Carnahan’s direction, that renders them often unclear and just as often unenjoyable. Apart from the team camaraderie, this should have been the core of the movie, and that’s where the biggest let down comes – if it was an attempt to disguise the shoddy CGI, then it was a mistake and the action shouldn’t have been sacrificed as a result. I love it when a plan comes together, but this one sadly never quite does. If someone’s willing to stump up for a sequel, though, then there’s enough here to think that Plan B might be the one.

Why see it at the cinema: The unclear action sequences do fill the whole frame, so seeing them on the big screen does at least give you the best possible chance of working out what’s going on. There are also just about enough laughs to want to share them.

The Score: 6/10

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