February 20th, 2012

STAR WARS: EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE 3-D (1999/2011/2012) ****

Since around the dawning of the new millennium, bashing The Phantom Menace has become something of a national pastime among internet trolls. I’ll never understand why it’s become fashionable to hate this movie. I mean what is there to hate exactly? Why would people get upset just because a few of Jar Jar’s antics fall flat? Who knows? All I know is that the haters can suck it. This movie’s awesome. Here’s why:

The way the lightsabers beam in the dioxin fog.

The badass way Qui-Gon holsters his lightsaber.

Obi-Wan’s smug delivery of lines like, “You were right about one thing… the negotiations were short” and “Why do I have the feeling we’ve picked up another pathetic life form”.

The part where Lord Sidious says, “Not for the Sith!” and Darth Maul appears over his shoulder.

The part where R2-D2 saves Queen Amidala’s ship.

The scene where we learn Anakin built C-3PO.

The initial meeting of C-3PO and R2-D2.

The little pep talk Qui-Gon gives Anakin before the race.

THE FUCKING PODRACE.

The scene where some Sand People try to fuck with the pod racers.

The initial meeting of Anakin and Obi-Wan.

The weaseling way Palpatine tricks Amidala into trusting him.

The scene where an endless amount of Battle Droids come out of the carrier.

The scene where the doors open and Darth Maul is standing there.

The lightsaber duel between Darth Maul, Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan.

The little head fake Obi-Wan gives Maul before Qui-Gon lunges at him.

The way Maul pulls his lightsaber out of Qui-Gon.

The non-stop lightsaber action once Obi-Wan comes out of the hallway.

The way Maul fucks with Obi-Wan while he’s hanging off the ledge.

The way Maul is cut in half.

The way one of Qui-Gon’s feet burns faster than the other on his funeral pyre.

Seeing all these moments again on the big screen made the Star Wars fan in me geek out all over again. If I had to pick a favorite moment though, I’d have to say it was R2-D2’s first scene where he saves the ship. The way he looks at the camera and beeps, well… it just gets me.

Look, I’m not here to debate the merits of this movie. I’m just here to tell you why I love it and that’s that. I’m too old (read: mature) to start a flame war over The Phantom Menace. For one thing, that’s SOOOOOO 1999. For another, if I can respect your unbridled hatred towards this movie; then you should be able to respect my love for it. Let’s agree to disagree.

As for the 3-D conversion… it’s OK. There are some good 3-D moments early on, and the pod race looks stunning, but after that they kind of forget about the 3-D in the last 45 minutes or so. Some of the vistas look cool, especially during the Battle of Naboo, however the eye-popping gimmicks are relatively low key.

We do get:

• 3-D Battle Droids.

• 3-D Jar Jar.

• 3-D Watto.

• 3-D Flying Jar Jar tongue.

• 3-D Probe droids.

• 3-D Magnet thingie Anakin uses the fix his pod racer.

• 3-D Ric Olie. (Just kidding.)

• 3-D Obi-Wan finger pointing.

If you hate The Phantom Menace, by all means stay home and watch Empire again. If you’re like me and you dig the prequels, then you shouldn’t miss your chance to see it on the big screen again. You’ll be glad you did.

Special Note: I have been slowly (emphasis on slowly) going through the Star Wars Blu-Rays and I eventually hope to do a big long write-up on them sometime in the near future.

ACCIDENTAL STRIPPER (2003) **

Myla Leigh is this hot chick that inherits a strip club from her uncle. The uncle’s former girlfriend (some skanky German chick with a manly voice) thinks he owed her a living and she tries to steal the club out from under her. Not only that, but it seems the Mob wants their cut of the place too. Naturally, the only solution to Myla’s problems is to get up on stage and shake what her mama gave her.

Accidental Stripper is another one of those Hot Chick Inherits a _________ Skinamax deals. They’ve been using this template for 30 years now and for good reason. It offers JUST enough plot to hang a bunch of sex scenes on.

Speaking of which, the sex scenes run the gamut from passable, to too short, to so-so, to pretty good. That’s just a roundabout way of saying they’re all over the place. While they’re not necessarily bad, they don’t exactly get your blood pumping either. Another debit is that the film relies a bit too heavily on stripping scenes. Then again with a title like “Accidental Stripper”, I guess that’s to be expected. Overall there are five Guy on Girl scenes, two Girl on Girl scenes, and four Striptease sequences. That means we get 11 sex scenes in the span of 87 minutes, which isn’t bad for this sort of thing.

Something else that holds the film back is the performance of Myla Leigh. Sure, she looks plenty hot, but she’s kind of a cold fish when it comes to getting down and dirty. Her Asian friend on the other hand isn’t all that, yet she seems enthusiastic during her sex scenes. Sometimes enthusiasm makes all the difference.

AKA: Lost Innocence.

TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE (2012) **

For thirty years I have waited. Patiently have I waited for the day that director Albert Pyun would finally get around to making Tales of an Ancient Empire. For the uninitiated, Tales of an Ancient Empire is the sequel long ago promised at the close of Sword and the Sorcerer, one of the greatest Conan rip-offs ever made. Now the wait is over. The only question is… was it worth the wait. The answer? Yes… and no… but mostly… no.

The plot has none other than Kevin Sorbo and his long lost siblings gathering together to go on an adventure. Together, they must find their father and slay an evil vampire queen. This undead debutante is none other than the daughter of the evil sorcerer from the original film.

There is a lot to dislike about Tales of an Ancient Empire. For starters, the prologue runs on way too long and is hampered with an awful lot of narration and cheap green screened effects. I will say the sight of Michael Pare dressed as a samurai pretending to kill invisible monsters against a fake backdrop is good for a laugh however. At one point Pare says: “Do you realize how silly this looks?” I hope that was an in-joke on Pyun’s part.

Another thing that stinks about the prologue is that we hear all this great talk about ripping vampire babies out of their mother’s wombs, but we never see it. Instead, we get some crummy illustrations that look like a bargain bin version of a Marvel motion comic. Sadly, this will not be the last time we get gypped out of seeing something cool in this movie.

As the prologue gives way to the actual film, the flick starts to improve by leaps and bounds. There’s a cool scene where some poor saps unearth the evil vampire queen that harkens back to the original film. It’s a testament to just how amazing something as simple as actual SETS can improve a movie.

Things only get better from there. We also get a great bar fight with Kevin Sorbo and some buff dude. Kevin totally kills it in this scene. Nobody; and I mean nobody plays a knavish rogue like Kevin Sorbo. Is this performance up to snuff with his hilarious turn as the big game hunter in Never Cry Werewolf? Not quite, but he certainly comes close.

While some scenes suffer from some choppy editing and too many flashbacks, there are others that show us brief glimpses of what could’ve been had Pyun had more time and a bigger budget. Sure, Tales is maddeningly uneven, but there are some moments here that nicely evoke the original in terms of atmosphere and lighting. In addition to the aforementioned vampire chick awakening scene, there’s a cool bit where she attacks a bunch of people in the catacombs.

But just as the movie starts ramping up towards its climax, the whole thing just shits the bed in record time. Not only are we cheated out of a finale of any kind (we get a bunch of cardboard cutouts and production sketches substituting as a “climax”), but the film ends with a long non-ending of a chick wandering around a desert. It’s pathetic.

One thing that sorta puzzled me too about the whole deal was all the stuff involving the vampires. I mean the first flick didn’t have vampires in it, so why should this one? Why move away from the sorcery angle that made the first one so popular to focus on vampires? All I can think of is that it must’ve been the Twilight influence. Still, it gives us an excuse to see some topless vampire girls putting the bite on people.

Tales of an Ancient Empire has a lot in common with another sequel to a 1982 masterpiece; Tron: Legacy. While it’s not the mammoth disappointment that film was, it does suffer from a lot of the same flaws. The biggest among them is that the story is awfully thin and feels like it’s bridging to a bigger (and better) movie. Then of course, there’s the fact that the film’s beloved character from the original gets an appalling lack of screen time. I mean what is the deal with the conspicuous lack of Talon in this movie? Instead of being front and center like he should be, Lee Horsely is given only the briefest of cameos. How the Hell can they do that to Talon? And adding insult to injury, they don’t even call him Talon! They call him “The Stranger”! Double You Tee Eff?!?

As a sequel to Sword and the Sorcerer, Tales of an Ancient Empire leaves something to be desired. As a 21st century Albert Pyun film, it’s not so bad. It’s easily the best one of his I’ve seen in a while. For one, it offers up a veritable Who’s Who of Pyun mainstays. There’s Kickboxer 2’s Sasha Mitchell, Nemesis’ Olivier Gruner, Ticker’s Norbert Weisser, and Captain America’s Scott Paulin just to name a few. So if you’re a fan of Pyun’s work, you should have fun seeing all these guys together in one place.

As bad as much of the movie is, I did cheer out loud when the mythic triple-bladed sword was finally (albeit briefly) utilized. Yeah, Tales of an Ancient Empire ain’t great, but I can’t remember the last time I cheered in a movie, so make of that what you will. Still, I wish this was a big budget theatrically released sequel from 1985 instead of a low budget three decades too late DTV sequel.

Sorbo naturally gets the best line of the movie when he sister urges him to tag along with her on her quest and he says, “Your tale holds a certain fancy, but I’m in need of coin!”