Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Musketeer

Western Wednesdays have been a staple of the summer for about four or five weeks now, but Terrible Tuesdays have been more of a loose suggestion: last week, we watched Dead & Breakfast on Terrible Tuesday, and that was entertaining to the utmost degree. This week we turned to 2001's The Musketeer on this so-Terrible-of-Tuesdays to entertain us, expecting extravagant action scenes and some quality swashbuckling. What we got was something that was quite simply...terrible.

In retrospect, I should have known that this version could never compare to the fantastic 1993 adaptation starring Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen, Oliver Platt, Chris O'Donnell, and Tim Curry. If you haven't seen that film yet, then stop reading this now and go buy it. It's excellent. That one was a Disney flick, and we all know that live action Disney movies aren't necessarily the greatest films to ever hit the big screen. (Yes, Tom and Huck. I'm talking to you.) But the 1993 version succeeded where the newer one failed: character development, comedy, fun, and (surprisingly) even action.

Character Development
The introduction and development of characters in the '93 version was so far above what the 2001 movie achieved that it's not even in the same stratosphere. We had a complete look into the backstories of Athos (a count betrayed by his wife and torn apart by his own bitterness and betrayal), Porthos (a loyal pirate whose legend lived up to his actual persona), Aramis (a snide priest who takes religion seriously, but is willing to kill if it means protecting the king), and d'Artagnan (a fresh-faced adult trying to prove his worth to the world and follow in his slain father's footsteps). We even had a better portrayal of Cardinal Richelieu (the conniving villain who embodied evil in disguise) and his greed motivating him to take power. The young King and Queen's relationship was a key plot point, and in the new one they are both old and hardly ever spoken about. The treaty with the Duke of Buckingham drives the plot of about half of the older film, while it is barely mentioned in this version. Rochefort, the "man in black" ex-Musketeer, murderer of d'Artagnan's father, and current captain of the Cardinal's guards, is played wonderfully by a Val Kilmer look alike in the older one - and even HIS character is more fleshed out than the crappy 2001 version. They didn't even call him Rochefort in the new one. Whoever was in charge of casting did such a horrible job that it was difficult to tell sometimes who the main musketeers were: the only means of identification was the classic "blue versus red" color scheme worn by the musketeers and the Cardinal's guards, respectively.

There's no question that the 2001 film was not intended to be a comedy. Director Peter Hyams (the Van Damme classic Sudden Death) was supposed to give the movie "eastern-influences" and present a new take on the classic story. There were some times when it attempted to be funny but, aside from a notable scene where a baker was locked away and then asked for cooking help by a disguised musketeer, the one-liners were weak and the comedy just wasn't there. In the '93 version, the comedy was plentiful, thanks mostly to the work of Oliver Platt's Porthos. I won't dwell on this too much, but suffice it to say that it's a kid's movie but the jokes are still funny now. Fun kind of goes hand-in-hand with this category. The 2001 film seems like it's straining just to reach the next action scene (of which there really aren't that many). I personally thought the best part of this version was Mena Suvari's character. Her relationship with d'Artagnan provided most of the bearable moments of the movie as the film plowed forward through a screenwriter's nightmare of a script. This relationship rekindles thoughts of a Robin Hood/Maid Marian vibe and the classic damsel in distress story, especially toward the end of the thankfully-not-too-long film. D'Artagnan's character, according to one of my fellow film viewers, seemed to "do whatever he wanted without anyone stopping him." Even Superman has a flaw, folks: our hero needed a little more opposition for his fight to be considered fun. He was barely even trying.

Man, this is where I was most disappointed. I really thought that the action in the 2001 version would be something worth remembering. Sadly, this is not the case. It tried to be new and original, oh it tried. But it just didn't do it for me. You may call me biased toward the first one: and you're right. But that doesn't make me wrong when it comes to the action scenes not being that great in the 2001 movie. It's a known fact that I'm a fan of ridiculous action scenes, and some of the action scenes in here were pretty out there, but they either didn't go far enough or they went too far - I haven't decided yet. That ladder scene, for one, where the ladders didn't seem to follow any laws of physics, sticks out as disappointing and pretty generic when it comes to sword fighting scenes. (Mask of Zorro definitely had better all-around sword fighting, plus it had the added bonus of Catherine Zeta-Jones.) Right before that, d'Artagnan decided to scale a tower with a grappling hook (which I'm fairly certain hadn't been invented yet) and fight about six guys dangling from ropes halfway up, spinning wildly and kicking indiscriminately at his questionably-minded attackers. The one cool fight they had was in the very beginning of the film at the bar, and even this one was a stretch: d'Artagnan fights off four or five men while he's rolling atop wine barrels in a bar and not only wins, but doesn't break a sweat. (Shrugs shoulders and shakes head.) The action scenes in the '93 movie were so much cooler: cannonballs being launched as the Three Musketeers race through the woods, the ship battle at Calais, and my personal favorite: the epic showdown between the Musketeers and the Cardinal's guards after the assassination attempt on the King's life in the courtyard. It didn't use any wires, but it got the job done.

The tagline for the 2001 flick says "As You've Never Seen It Before." I wish I could say the same about my actual encounter with this DVD. Seriously - go see the old one. It's infinitely better, about 1,000 times more quotable, and it's got that catchy theme song by Bryan Adams, Sting, and Rod Stewart. Until next time...

Monday, June 4, 2007

STAR WARS: Episode II: Attack of the Clones

By Guest Reviewer Alan Trehern [And Updated by Alan Trehern! © 2013]

Greetings again. Penning this review is none other than your friendly neighborhood science-fiction guru, Trehern. And what Star Wars saga would be complete without the Clone Wars? Episode II of the six-part Star Wars story is the breakout of the Clone Wars (first made mention of in A New Hope) and, in my opinion, the first of the new trilogy (1999-2005) to actually tie in events that would affect the Star Wars galaxy for decades to come.

The movie opens with the arrival of a Nubian ship carrying Padmé Amidala, now Republic senator for the planet of Naboo, onto the city planet of Coruscant. After an assassination attempt, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker are assigned to protect her by Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, who grows ever more powerful in the Senate and in the Republic. The protection of the Senator leads to a full out investigation, which separates Anakin and Kenobi onto two different missions. Obi-Wan is on the search for an assassin from a planet that doesn’t even exist and Anakin must protect the senator on her home planet of Naboo. I think there is a love story that begins at this point, and if Hayden Christianson (Anakin Skywalker) had any type of acting abilities, Lucas may have been able to pull the love story off. Unfortunately, the Skywalker/Amidala romance is near absent.

However, do not consider this a sub-standard film. There are some points where the movie gets really good. First, Obi-Wan’s side mission gives us a glimpse of how Kenobi of the old trilogy (1977-1983) would have thought and what adventures he had when he was young. Ewan McGregor, somewhat lacking in Episode I, finally finds his place and portrays the Jedi Knight as wise, calm and adventurous, just like the Obi-Wan Kenobi of earlier decades. Second, the politics of the universe get evermore turbulent as the Senate of the Republic hits critical mass. As I mentioned above, the Supreme Chancellor has gained more and more persuasion in the Senate; and with growing trouble with the Separatists (defined later in this review), the Senate votes him emergency powers that Palpatine claims he will lay down when the danger has been subdued. With these powers, Palpatine orders the creation of a Grand Army of the Republic, using clones from the planet of Kamino (investigated by Obi-Wan while these events occur on Coruscant). The Separatists have a huge druid army supplied by none other than the Trade Federation (one of the few minor characters to be featured in all three of the new trilogy movies was Nute Gunray, Viceroy of the Trade Federation. How does he get in and Darth Maul not?).
A third positive of this movie was the complete readjustment of Yoda. Even though he is CG, he looks almost exactly like TESB (The Empire Strikes Back) Yoda from 1979, and his character is the most perfectly portrayed of all the characters in this movie. Not only is he the best-portrayed character, but he also closes the movie with a spectacular duel with Count Dooku, Sidious’ new Sith apprentice, which leads me into another point of topic... 

Characters and Events That Should Have Been Portrayed Deeper in Episode I 
So One Can Understand Them In Episode II 
1. Darth Sidious: After Episode I was released, Lucas tried to fool the public by saying Darth Sidious and Senator Palpatine had no connection whatsoever. In actuality, as a young thirteen-year-old, I saw through his lies and easily realized that Palpatine and Sidious are one and the same, and the plan to begin a war within the Republic would leave it weak enough for him to take power. Does it work? YES. Should we have known his plan from the beginning? YES. Would it have made a darker and more in-depth film? ABSOLUTELY. 

2. Mace Windu: One of the coolest Jedi Masters, Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) is the tough guy of the Jedi Council. People claim he was the toughest with a lightsaber and the most “in your face” Jedi of the saga; I agree. Although, why wasn’t he featured more than just a talking head in Episode I? What makes him so firm of mind and greatly feared? Thank goodness he got some action in the Clone Wars. Who’s to thank for the purple lightsaber? Me, brother…me. 

3. Clones: No mention at all in Episode I. No mention of technology or Kaminoans (?) or side effects or even plans. In Episode II, the Kaminoans claim the order for the clones was made by a Jedi Master by the name of Sifo-Dyas, but Kenobi explains that he was murdered almost ten years ago, the exact time as the events in Episode I. Did we know of this Sifo-Dyas and his clone orders? NO. Should we have? YES. My speculation can only determine that Sifo-Dyas’ death occurred after the Battle of Naboo and Palpatine/Sidious himself, under the dead Jedi’s name, ordered the clones. Since Kamino is outside the Outer Rim, who are they to know of these events? 
4. Boba Fett: I want to make this point clear. I DO NOT want to know about Boba Fett’s father, nor do I want to know about Boba Fett's life as a little boy (somewhat of an obsession with Lucas). All I need to know is Boba Fett is a ruthless bounty hunter and should be portrayed as such in the Star Wars movies. If I want to know about his childhood, I’ll pick up the Fett trilogy, chronicling his adventures from troubled youth to callous hunter. Fett could have easily been portrayed as a twenty-year old in Episode II, just as Jango Fett was, and in the old trilogy he would have been about forty, so it works out. Another thing not mentioned? Where does he get the Mandolorian armor? In the mythos, the Mandolorian armor was used during the Clone Wars, however there is only one suit and no origin story. Mandoloria isn't even mentioned. Hmmm… (It's come to my attention that the planet is known as Mandolor; but I didn't know about that until The Clone Wars (2009 TV series) came out.  So sue me! - Trehern, 2013

5. Count Dooku (Darth Tyranus): Played by the monotone and lackluster Christopher Lee (Saruman, Scaramanger), Dooku is the new apprentice of Darth Sidious, carries a limp lightsaber (take that as you will) and heads the Separatist movement. They call him a political idealist, as was Qui-Gon Jinn, and he was one of the twenty to leave the Jedi Order. Now he’s evil. How did we miss all this information? He should have been featured in Episode I, at least briefly, perhaps arguing against the Council in some scene. But then again, his character could have been eliminated altogether and replaced with a certain someone named Darth “The Enforcer” Maul. Donning ancient Sith robes and finally gaining high power in his master’s favor, Maul could have easily led the Separatist army against the Republic. That way, Anakin and Obi-Wan could have faced him as a team in honor of Qui-Gon. Wait, wait…I think that may have been too deep for Lucas. 

6. The Padmé-Anakin Love Story: Quick fix: Make Anakin 14-something instead of 10 in Episode I. A 10-year old hooking up with a 14-year old? Eww? (Actually?  Fist bump. - Trehern, 2013) This way, the two lovers would be the same age and we would see young love bloom and eventually suffer throughout the trilogy. (Refer to the Episode I review to read my thoughts on an older Annie). Other than that, the film was very good (Eh, it was only "okay"... - Trehern, 2013). The Clone Wars turned out pretty awesome, although when I first saw A New Hope, I thought it was the Jedi vs. the Clones, but I guess this works. You also start to see the birth of the Galactic Empire (i.e. Clone-Stormtrooper armor, Star Destroyers, plans for the Death Star).
So if you enjoy romance, action and a sweet lightsaber battle between Yoda and Dooku, then check out Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Want to see what happens after Padmé and Anakin get married, and when Dooku gets away, and how does Anakin feel towards Obi-Wan, then check out Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and my review for it in the next couple weeks…or days…heck I could watch and write it tonight. No one knows. Bye.