Posts Tagged ‘Liam Neeson’

Enter Jar Jar, Anakin and stereotypes: Revisiting ‘Star Wars: The Phantom Menace’

September 27, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Sept. 26, 2016

In January, I excoriated the The Star Wars Holiday Special, the worst feature-length production in that fantastically popular science-fiction franchise. Today, I come to examine what is widely agreed to be the property’s second-worst movie. I write, of course, about the much-loathed 1999 release that kicked off the prequel trilogy: Star Wars: The Phantom Menance. (Disclaimer: Completists ought to stick “Episode I” in the middle of that title; feel free to punctuate it to your pleasure.)

Until this past weekend, I’d seen The Phantom Menace once and once only: Shortly after its initial theatrical release, some 16 years after the debut of Return of the Jedi, which had capped the original Star Wars trilogy. At the time, anticipation for the film ran high, thanks not only to the years-long interregnum but to a marketing blitz that included oodles and oodles of — well, stuff. (Mel Brooks, it would seem, got it exactly right in this clip from his 1987 film Spaceballs.)

In case you don’t remember the merchandising onslaught, I direct you to this passage that Libby Brooks wrote for The Guardian in June 1999, a month before The Phantom Menace opened in British movie theaters:

Devotees can choose from over 375 different products. The range offers talking figures of the key characters, including Jedi knight Obi Wan-Kenobi and his foe Darth Maul, double-handed light sabres, computer accessories and costumes, as well as the new Lego Star Wars collection.

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Nobody knows his face, but everybody knows his name (and story): Revisiting Christopher Nolan’s ‘Batman Begins’

December 6, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 6, 2014

Everyone knows the basic setup of the world of Batman, one of the great comic-book heroes. Heck, millions of people could recite it in their sleep. It goes like this:

Bruce Wayne, the only son of billionaires, was orphaned by a gunman at an early age and raised by Alfred Pennyworth, the Wayne family’s loyal butler. Determined to fight the endemic crime of his native Gotham, the so-called Dark Knight dons a cape and cowl and equips himself with a cornucopia of fantastic gadgets in order to help Jim Gordon, the city’s trustworthy police commissioner, apprehend bizarre and menacing villains.

In 1989, the quirky director Tim Burton launched a Batman film franchise, featuring an unlikely choice — mild-mannered comedic actor Michael Keaton, a.k.a. Mr. Mom — in the lead role. Burton’s quirky, sometimes over-the-top gothic realization of this noir-ish comic-book universe proved to be immensely popular. Batman garnered $40.5 million in its first weekend, dwarfing the previous best opening of a superhero movie (Superman II, which took in $14.1 million in 1982).

Burton’s quite excellent Batman went on to total earnings of more than $250 million and helped spawn a legion of superhero movies. They included Batman Returns, which saw Burton and Keaton reuniting for a decent 1992 feature, and two extremely cheesy, greatly inferior further sequels: Batman Forever (1995), directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Val Kilmer in the title role; and Batman & Robin (1997), again directed by Schumacher but this time starring George Clooney.

When, in 2005, Christopher Nolan came out with the insipidly named Batman Begins, a cinematic reboot of the Caped Crusader, I wondered why, exactly, the movie was necessary. What novelty could be mined from the genesis of Batman, whose origin story even the highest-browed of potential moviegoers knows by heart?

I never did see Batman Begins in the movie theater. But I did watch it, on a fiasco of a date, at a free outdoor screening in Raleigh’s Moore Square Park in the summer of 2005 or 2006 (if memory serves).

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A flashy but deeply flawed hero saves lives with ‘Schindler’s List’

August 28, 2012

At the start of World War II, a flashy businessman named Oskar Schindler detected the scent of something precious: opportunity.

In the fall of 1939, Schindler, a German living in occupied Krakow, Poland, was wining and dining Nazi officials and looking for a way to make money. After learning of a recently bankrupted factory, he tracked down its former accountant and quizzed him on the business’ fundaments. The suspicious accountant, Itzhak Stern, throws in with Schindler’s decidedly unorthodox business plan. Thus was born an unlikely, and nearly miraculous, partnership that wound up saving some 1,100 Jews from the Nazi death machine.

The story of that alliance is at the heart of Schindler’s List, American director Steven Spielberg’s 1993 outing. (Actually, it was his second picture that year, released after Jurassic Park.) Spielberg is perhaps the most successful director of all time. His credits include influential blockbusters such as JawsClose Encounters of the Third KindE.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and the Indiana Jones movies; other adventure movies such as A.I. Artificial IntelligenceSaving Private RyanMinority Report, Catch Me If You CanWar of the Worlds and The Adventures of Tintin; and more serious dramas such as The Color PurpleEmpire of the SunAmistad and Munich.

Having said all that, and without having viewed many of Spielberg’s acclaimed pictures, I’m prepared to argue that Schindler’s List is one of Spielberg’s most powerful features. Spielberg presents this story of the Holocaust in straightforward fashion, showing atrocious deeds with minimal moralizing or mawkishness. The film also brings forth some fascinating characters — Schindler himself, who has more substance than his outer flash would suggest, as well as the mostly stoic Stern and Schindler’s other crucial business partner, a vicious Nazi officer named Amon Goeth. Read the rest of this entry »

In which I try to write something original and insightful about ‘Husbands and Wives’ 20 years after its release

August 17, 2012

The 1992 comic drama Husbands and Wives opens in the Manhattan apartment of Gabe and Judy Roth (writer-director Woody Allen and Mia Farrow) shortly before they have dinner with another married couple, longtime friends Jack and Sally (Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis).

Things go off the rails almost immediately when Jack and Sally make an announcement. They are splitting, they say calmly. Gabe and Judy are astonished. How can this be after they have spent so much time together? What does this mean for the Roths’ own marriage?

Jack and Sally try to reassure them, saying that the decision is mutual and amicable, but the Roths have trouble accepting the change.

So do Jack and Sally once they start trying to deal with the practical realities of their divergent lives. With different degrees of enthusiasm, they take younger lovers. Read the rest of this entry »

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