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Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Trailer


A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. A trade dispute on the planet Naboo has led to a full-scale invasion of the planet. Two members of the of the honourable Jedi Order, Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) travel to the Trade Federation flagship to  negotiate an end to the blockade. While they are there, however, they uncover a secret invasion of the entire planet which threatens to endanger millions of lives. Their quest to save the planet and keep the peace will lead them to a young boy with incredible potential. And the fate of the entire galaxy will be thrown into danger.

Continue: Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Trailer

Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones Trailer


Discontent is spreading across the galaxy. A separatist movement, led by the fallen Jedi Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) is challenging the Galactic Republic for power. Now the Jedi Order are forced to do all they can to keep the peace in the galaxy, all the while knowing that war is brewing on the horizon. When former Queen of Naboo, Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), now a senator for the planet, is caught up in a failed assassination attempt, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his Padawan Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) must seek out the source of the attack, and do all they can to prevent the war that is coming to the galaxy.

Continue: Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones Trailer

Call Girl Review


Excellent

A confident drama about a real-life 1976 political scandal, this Swedish film is expertly tells the story from three fascinating angles. The government officials are slippery and the cops are tenacious, but it's the intensely personal story of a young girl caught up in a prostitution ring that catches our emotions.

Iris (Karemyr) is only 14, but her life is already off the rails. Sent to a group home, she escapes with her pal Sonja (Asplund) looking for fun. Along the way, they're recruited by charismatic brothel madam Dagmar (August) to entertain her clients, which include high-powered politicians. Meanwhile, the government is preparing for a general election and trying to keep all of this illicit sex out of the newspapers. But a politician (Dencik) and an undercover cop (Berger) are collecting the evidence they need to crack the case. And if it hits the press, there might not be a point in holding an election at all.

The filmmakers layer the story with irony, as the Swedish government is working to build the most open and fair society on earth, drafting laws that will give women fully equal rights. But in their spare time, these same men are frequenting under-age prostitutes who aren't there by choice. Baumgarten's script digs deep to set up complex characters whose motivations and reactions might not always be clear but are vivid and recognisably real. And the cast members play the roles with such natural honesty that we can't help but sympathise with them. Watching the more intimate scenes makes us squirm in our seats.

Continue reading: Call Girl Review

Lumiere And Company Review


OK
A documentary-ish experiment: Give 40 movie directors the world's first movie camera (the Lumiere cinematograph, 1895) and 52 seconds in which to shoot their own mini-film. Some of the directors go all out (David Lynch and some French people I've never heard of)... and some are pathetic, self-ego-massaging wastes of time (particularly Spike Lee, who uses his 52 seconds trying to get his baby to say "Dada"). Also curious is how many directors made movies about making movies (methinks that's all they know any more). But how often can you see 40 films, the making-of story, and an interview with the director, all in an hour and a half? Once in a lifetime is just about enough.

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack Of The Clones Review


OK

Spider-Man's hype and box office may have stolen some of Episode II's thunder, but Attack of the Clones finally arrives, three years after its predecessor, The Phantom Menace, and picking up the story 10 years after that installment let off.

The story is considerably more convoluted this time out. Former Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) is now a senator in the Republic, and nefarious parties are repeatedly attempting to have her assassinated. Assigned to protect her are Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and a growing-up Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), now Obi-Wan's apprentice. Soon, Jedi bosses Yoda and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) split the two up: Obi-Wan is tasked with tracking down the bounty hunter who tried to kill Amidala (which turns out to be Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), father/clone of young Boba Fett). Anakin is tasked with serving as Amidala's bodyguard.

Obi-Wan scours a "secret" watery planet (there discovering a massing clone army allegedly purchased for the Republic ten years ago), and then tracks Jango to another planet, where he finds the opposition led by (try not to snicker) Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), who is amassing a droid army for war against the Republic.

Meanwhile, Amidala and Anakin fall in love (awwwwwwwwwwwww), but since she's a politician and he's a Jedi (bound to supress emotion -- which just ain't takin'), they have to keep their romance a secret (just like in The Bodyguard!).

Side stories galore take characters all over the galaxy far, far away... including the inevitable stop on Tatooine to help Anakin's mother and long spells on Coruscant, the 100%-urban capital planet.

On to the nagging questions: Foremost, Jar-Jar is back, and his part is not insubstantial; the character is as grating as ever. But all eyes are on Christensen, and he fills the shoes of Skywalker admirably, though he has apparently been given the sole direction to act like a really bratty teenager.

The use of CGI is on overload, and while many of the sets (real or digital) are quite successful, many of the backdrops are not -- notably the cheesy oceans on the clone planet and an especially flat cathedral-like hallway Yoda scoots through. When the CGI interacts with real-world elements (like when Anakin rides a fat sheep-like creature), the effect is about as believable as Barney being a real dinosaur.

Also out of place is the movie's silly patriotism, with frequent pontification about loving democracy (and this from a former queen -- albeit an "elected" queen... uh, okay) and the Republic. One speech actually includes the earnestly corny line, "The day we stop believing in democracy is the day we lose it!" I say the day Star Wars becomes nothing more than a political platform is the day we lose it.

At 2 1/2 hours in length, this installment is a bit long-winded and bladder-challenging (compared to 2:13 for Episode I and a little over 2 hours for A New Hope), but the decision to go "epic" at least makes room for lots of action when Amidala and Anakin aren't busy smooching. The action starts right at the beginning, with an impressive skycar chase through Coruscant, and ends with an equally smashing "big battle scene" that easily outdoes the one in Menace. Best of all, though, is the already famous Yoda light-saber battle, which is as funny as it is thrilling. That said, the pod race in Phantom is still probably the best action sequence in the series so far.

Less impressive are the talky parts, which haltingly attempt to create a romance between Amidala and Anakin. The love story just doesn't work and it's very awkward, maybe because George Lucas is simply out of touch with the realities of youthful romance, or maybe because the leads didn't have chemistry. I don't know for sure. I do know, however, that if Anakin Skywalker is going to play the cool outcast he shouldn't act like a baby around his would-be girlfriend. And Amidala's 11th hour confession of love comes completely out of left field, a necessary plot point because we know she has to eventually bear two kids by the guy.

In fact, much of Episode II feels like it's ticking off items to make sure we get to the appropriate state of the galaxy by the end of 2005's Episode III. There's still a long way to go -- Anakin has to turn evil and disfigured; Amidala has to have two kids, split them up, and have one become the princess of a planet still not introduced in the series; Yoda and Obi-Wan have to become hermits; and then there's the matter of the Death Star, which has to be built. Episode III is either going to be a complete disaster or a work of genius.

Altogether, the movie is enjoyable despite its nagging script inadequacies and crummy "down" scenes. The action is fun, the acting is good enough, and the direction is capable, if not inspired. If you're a die-hard Star Wars fan, you will like this better than Episode I (though I grade them roughly equal), but it still won't hold a candle to the earlier films.

But chances are when it's said and done, you aren't going to be talking about Episode II for its good things. An impromptu conversation with another filmcritic.com staffer set us off on a number of incongruities and simply baffling moments that might be pointing to Lucas's senility. For example: When did R2-D2 become able to fly? When did Obi-Wan become afraid of flying (or afraid of anything for that matter)? What's with Jimmy Smits and his Elizabethan collar? Since when does a Jedi Knight have to go to a library to figure out where a planet is? And why didn't Lucas get the hint about Jar-Jar Binks the first time around?

Mysteries of the universe, I tell ya.

The DVD answers few of these mysteries, with eight deleted scenes (see Natalie Portman lose her accent!) and various effects-oriented documentaries. There's even a trailer for a mockumentary about R2-D2. Amusing.

Teddy bears' picnic.

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack Of The Clones Review


OK

The climactic lightsaber duel in "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones" has to be seen to be believed. It puts the awesome Darth Maul/Obi-Wan fight in "The Phantom Menace" to shame, and it's one of the big pluses in a mixed blessing of a movie that is a vast improvement over its immediate predecessor, but sometimes in fits and starts.

Any fan will have the same reaction to this showdown: As it's about to begin, you'll laugh, because with the characters involved the idea seems almost absurd. Then you'll cheer, because George Lucas knows you're laughing, and plays into it beautifully. Then your mouth will drop open in amazement. How did he pull this off? This is so cool!

Suffice it to say, this scene -- and the huge battle that surrounds it as the fabled Clone War begins -- is worth the price of admission all by itself.

Continue reading: Star Wars: Episode II - Attack Of The Clones Review

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace Review


Weak
With all the spirit of its predecessors but none of the magic, "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" can ultimately be summed up with two expressions: "cool!" and "feh."

What's cool?

Continue reading: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace Review

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