REVIEW: STAR WARS – EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE

CAST

Ewan McGregor (Cassandra’s Dream)
Liam Neeson (Batman Begins)
Natalie Portman (Thor)
Jake Lloyd (Jingle All The Way)
Ian McDiarmid (Margaret)
Pernilla August (Search)
Samuel J. Jakcson (Jackie Brown)
Oliver Ford Davies (Johnny English)
Hugh Quarshie (Highlander)
Ahmed Best (Poolboy)
Anthony Daniels (The Lego Movie)
Kenny Baker (Labyrinth)
Frank Oz (Sesame Street)
Terence Stamp (Superman 1 & 2)
Brian Blessed (Flash Gordon)
Ray Park (Heroes)
Warwick Davis (Willow)
Celia Imrie (Our Zoo)
Dominic West (300)
Keira Knightley (King Arthur)
Peter Seafinowicz (Spy)
Richard Armitage (The Hobbit)

Supreme Chancellor Valorum, leader of the Galactic Republic, dispatches Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi to negotiate with the Trade Federation leadership to end a blockade of battleships around the planet Naboo. Darth Sidious, a Sith Lord and the Trade Federation’s secret adviser, orders Federation Viceroy Nute Gunray to kill the Jedi and invade Naboo with an army of battle droids. The Jedi flee to Naboo, where Qui-Gon saves Gungan outcast Jar Jar Binks from being killed during the invasion. Indebted to the Jedi, Jar Jar leads them to an underwater Gungan city. The Jedi try but fail to persuade the Gungan leader, Boss Nass, into helping the people of Naboo, though they are able to obtain transportation to Theed, the capital city on the surface. They rescue Queen Amidala, the ruler of the Naboo people, and escape the planet on her royal starship, which is damaged as they pass the Federation blockade.

Amidala’s ship is unable to sustain its hyperdrive and lands for repairs on the desert planet Tatooine. Qui-Gon, Jar Jar, astromech droid R2-D2, and Amidala (in disguise as a handmaiden) visit the settlement of Mos Espa to buy new parts at a junk shop. There they meet the shop’s owner Watto and his nine-year-old slave Anakin Skywalker, who is a gifted pilot and engineer, and has created a protocol droid called C-3PO. Qui-Gon senses a strong presence of the Force within Anakin and is convinced that he is the “chosen one” of Jedi prophecy who will bring balance to the Force. Qui-Gon wagers Anakin’s freedom with Watto in a Podrace, which Anakin wins. Anakin joins the group to be trained as a Jedi, leaving his mother Shmi behind. En route to their repaired starship, Qui-Gon enters a brief lightsaber duel with Darth Maul, Darth Sidious’ Sith apprentice who was sent to capture Amidala.

The Jedi escort Amidala to the Republic capital planet Coruscant so she can plead her people’s case to Chancellor Valorum in the Galactic Senate. Qui-Gon asks the Jedi Council to train Anakin as a Jedi, but the Council are concerned that Anakin is vulnerable to the dark side of the Force and decline. Undaunted, Qui-Gon vows to train Anakin himself. Meanwhile, Naboo senator Palpatine persuades Amidala to make a vote of no confidence in Valorum to elect a more capable chancellor to resolve the crisis on Naboo. Though she pushes for the vote, Amidala grows frustrated with the corruption in the Senate and decides to return to Naboo with the Jedi.

On Naboo, Padmé reveals herself to the Gungans as Queen Amidala and persuades them into an alliance against the Trade Federation. Jar Jar leads his people in a battle against the droid army while Padmé leads the hunt for Gunray in Theed. In a starship hangar, Anakin enters a vacant starfighter and inadvertently triggers its autopilot, joining the battle against the Federation droid control ship in space. Anakin ventures into the ship and destroys it from within, deactivating the droid army. Meanwhile, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan battle Darth Maul, who mortally wounds Qui-Gon before being bisected by Obi-Wan. As he dies, Qui-Gon asks Obi-Wan to train Anakin. Subsequently, Palpatine is elected as the new Supreme Chancellor and Gunray is arrested. The Jedi Council promotes Obi-Wan to Jedi knighthood and reluctantly accepts Anakin as Obi-Wan’s apprentice. At a festive ceremony, Padmé presents a gift of appreciation and friendship to the Gungans.I always felt it grossly unfair that many Star Wars fans are quick to denounce The Phantom Menace as the worst Star Wars film in the entire saga. I suppose in a certain aspect they are right: in every set of slightly different things, there statistically always has to be a best and a worst one. However “worst” doesn’t necessarily mean terrible. Each Star Wars film is still above and beyond in terms of budget, quality and entertainment, most other sci-fi films out there.  I can summarize that The Phantom Menace serves as a solid opener to one of the greatest sci-fi film series ever made, and does a good job setting the scene and introducing the characters who we’ll be spending a lot of time with and watching them develop over the coming films, while at the same time also serving as a workable and enjoyable film in its own right.

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12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW: JINGLE ALL THE WAY 1 & 2

CAST
Arnold Schwarezenegger (Predator)
Sinbad (American Dad)
Phil Hartman (Small Soldiers)
Rita Wilson (The Bonfire of The Vanities)
Jake Lloyd (Star Wars – Episode I)
Martin Mull (Killers)
James Belushi (Red Heat)
Richard Moll (Scary Movie 2)
Danny Woodburn (Watchmen)
Alan Blumenfeld (Heroes)
Phil Morris (Smallville)
Curtis Armstrong (American Dad)
Yeardley Smith (The Simpsons)
Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a workaholic mattress salesman, who does not find time for his wife, Liz (Rita Wilson), and his 9-year-old son, Jamie (Jake Lloyd) — especially when compared to next door “superdad” divorcee, Ted Maltin (Phil Hartman), who continually puts Howard in a bad light. After missing Jamie’s karate class graduation, Howard resolves to redeem himself by fulfilling Jamie’s ultimate Christmas wish: getting an action figure of Turbo-Man, a popular children’s TV superhero toy that everyone is looking for. Along the way, Howard meets Myron Larabee (Sinbad), a postal worker dad with a rival ambition, and the two soon become bitter competitors in their race for the action figure. During his search, Howard repeatedly runs into Officer Alexander Hummell (Robert Conrad), a police officer who had earlier pulled him over for a traffic violation. After several failed attempts to find the toy in a store, Howard attempts to buy a Turbo-Man from a Mall of America Santa (James Belushi) who is actually the leader of a band of counterfeit toy makers. When he accuses the Santa of undermining the values of Christmas, Howard ends up in a brawl with the gang. He narrowly escapes when the police raid their warehouse and gets out by posing as an undercover detective.
Later, Howard and Myron cross paths again, and while they are drinking coffee at Mickey’s Diner, Myron tells Howard about the time when his father was unable to get him a Johnny Seven OMA toy on Christmas. They hear on the KQRS radio station that the D.J. (Martin Mull) is running a Turbo-Man competition. When they get to the studio they find out they can only win a gift certificate. They are nearly arrested but Myron bluffs the police into backing off by threatening them with a package (which he claims is a mail bomb, unaware that it really is one). Officer Hummell tries to open it and it blows up in his face. After his car is stripped by thieves, Howard is ultimately forced to return home empty-handed. Upon seeing Ted in his house placing the star on his tree, Howard gets angry and attempts to steal the Turbo-Man doll from Ted’s house that he had bought for his son Johnny (E.J. De La Pena), but changes his mind at the last moment. He is attacked by Ted’s reindeer and the commotion leads him to be caught by Ted and a distraught Liz. Liz and Jamie leave for the local Wintertainment Parade with Ted; Howard follows, aiming to make amends. At the parade, Ted makes a pass at Liz, but after seeing what he really is, she turns him down by hitting him with a thermos of eggnog.
Howard runs into Officer Hummell and accidentally drenches him with hot coffee. In the ensuing chase, Howard runs into a preparations room for the parade and is mistaken for the actor who will play Turbo-Man on a parade float. As the “real” Turbo-Man, he presents the coveted limited-edition Turbo-Man doll to his watching son. Before he recognizes his father, Jamie is chased by Myron, who is dressed as Turbo-Man’s arch enemy Dementor (having caught and tied up the real actor — Richard Moll). As the crowd assume this is all part of the show, Howard attempts to rescue his child by utilizing the Turbo-Man suit’s equipment. Howard catches Jamie as he falls from a roof and reveals himself to his son. Myron is arrested while ranting about having to explain the situation, and his failure to get the Turbo-Man toy, to his son. However, touched by Myron’s words, Jamie gives the doll to him and tells Howard that he does not need it since his father is “the real Turbo-Man”. Also, Howard and Myron reconcile as they finally become friends.
In a post-credits scene, Howard puts the star on the top of his tree and shares a great Christmas spirit with Jamie and Liz until he realizes he forgot to get a present for Liz. Howard stares in shock at the camera before the fadeout.
A really great Christmas family movie, one to watch every year. Great family fun.
CAST
Larry The Cable Guy (Tooth Fairy 2)
Brian Stepanek (The Island)
Kennedi Clements (Poltergeist 2005)
Kristen robek (Pursued)
Rachel Hayward (Hellraiser: Hellseeker)
Eric Breker (Walking Tall)
Larry is a fifty-something blue collar worker, a truck driver and single father with an 8 year old daughter named Noel. Noel lives with her mum Trish, Larry’s ex-wife, who’s remarried into significant money.

Larry lives in a rundown camper van in a forest and goes ice fishing to take his mind off things. Victor is the millionaire step-father who lives in a mansion and wants to play happy families with Noel and Larry’s ex-wife. The new husband disapproves of Larry’s down to earth lifestyle and regards the ex-husband as an inconvenience. Victor immediately wants to prove that he’s a better father than Larry and sets out to become number one in Noel’s affections.

Larry’s parlous finances mean that he can’t even afford $160 for a small Christmas tree, whilst Victor demonstrates his financial superiority by paying $10,000 for a giant sized tree imported from Norway.
It’s the lead up to the Christmas period and the hottest toy of the year is a talking furry bear, the Harrison Bear, a very cutesy fluffy toy which suddenly becomes the “must have” present for children. Larry resolves that his daughter will have a Harrison Bear when she makes it clear in a letter to Santa that this is what she really really wants for Christmas. Larry certainly can’t afford a $10,000 tree, but he determines to give his expectant daughter the next best thing…
When Victor discovers Larry’s ambitious plans for the looming festive period, he hatches a mean-spirited and nasty scheme to make sure that Larry will look like the bad guy on Christmas Day, when there’s no Harrison Bear under Noel’s tree…
This movie is a sequel of sorts to Arnold Scwharzenegger’s Jingle All The Way, but this flick pales a little bit by comparison. The film’s fundamental weakness is that the whole story is predicated on the artificial conceit that a highly successful, multi-millionaire step-father, with a very sweet natured and glamorous wife, and an impeccably behaved step-daughter, would feel compelled to go to war with a perfectly affable and decent ordinary guy, who poses absolutely no threat to the new family unit.

This awkward plot device is crowbarred into a generally feel-good festive tale and the chief protagonists don’t really make it work – Victor just isn’t convincingly Machiavellian or nasty enough, whilst Larry doesn’t come across as objectionable in any way, and he’s certainly not the type who might incur the ire of any sane guy. Where the film is more successful is that the cast give generally likeable performances, especially Larry and Noel, which compensates to a certain extent for the implausibility and staginess of the central conflict between the two men. Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t deign to make a cameo appearance in this sequel, which is a pity, it might have helped the film to end on a high note if Arnie had somehow been involved in the denouement.
Suffice it to say, this is overall a fair family flick for the festive period