This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr dresses up in his Jedi robes and grabs his lightsaber, heading to the theater to see the 3D re-release of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. While there, he faces a sea of estrogen as ladies of all type swarm into the multiplex to see Channing Tatum’s abs multiflex. After using his lightsaber to break through the wall of pre-Valentine’s Day ladies, he faces more obstacles with twentysomething dudes heading out to see Safe House and obnoxious families to see Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. Fortunately for Kevin, he is able to dispatch everyone with his Rock-inspired “pec pop of love.” It was an early Valentine’s Day massacre.
Want to hear what Kevin has to say on the Fat Guys at the Movies podcast? Click here to listen as Kevin is joined by Drive-In Horrorshowdirector Michael Neel to chat about this week’s big releases.
STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE 3D
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Rated: PG for sci-fi action/violence
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd and Ian McDiarmid
Directed by: George Lucas
What it’s about: Whether you consider him “man” or “devil” (to paraphrase Edgar Allan Poe), George Lucas retrofits his first Star Wars prequel with a 3D treatment. Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi are dispatched to settle a trade dispute and end up rescuing the Queen of Naboo and picking up the Force prodigy Anakin Skywalker along the way.
What makes the grade: Let me preface this by confessing that I am an unabashed Star Wars fan, to the point that I even like all three sequels. I know there’s tons of foibles in this movie in particular, but for someone who grew up with the movies and appreciated as both a child and adult, I am quite forgiving.
Still, looking past its flaws, there are some awesome moments in The Phantom Menace, particularly the action sequences, including the dive through Naboo’s core, the pod race and the final climactic battle sequence that remains one of the greatest three-ways ever committed to film or video.
The 3D conversion looks great here, pulling depth out of even relatively flat shots. Considering Lucas couldn’t go back and shoot the movie in 3D, this is one hell of a treatment, matching the expertise put into Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II. And damn, if that pod race doesn’t look even better in 3D.
What fails: Let’s face it, people. This is 99% the same movie that came out thirteen years ago. So aside from replacing the weird-looking 1999 Yoda puppet, everything else is there, for better or for worse. Jar Jar Binks is still annoying (though my kids loved him), Jake Lloyd still can’t act in three dimensions, the dialogue is cringe-worthy and the plot never quite finds a good momentum. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying the hell out of the film again.
Who is gonna like this movie: Anyone who wants to see The Phantom Menace again, which contrary to what you might believe from the rants on the blogosphere, is quite a few people.
Studio: Screen Gems
Rated: PG-13 for an accident scene, sexual content, partial nudity and some language
Starring: Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum, Sam Neill, Scott Speedman and Jessica Lange
Directed by: Michael Sucsy
What it’s about: Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum play a Paige and Leo, a young, married couple who are in a terrible car crash. Paige suffers brain damage, and when she wakes up, she cannot remember her husband at all. He spends the next months helping her fall back in love with him and to remember why she made significant changes in her life before.
What makes the grade: Rachel McAdams is about the only decent thing in this movie. She’s beautiful and charismatic. Her charm helps guys like me stomach movies like The Notebook. Too bad she’s paired up with Channing Tatum in this film.
On a side note, the film’s background is quite interesting as it is inspired by a true story. All the dramatic nonsense we see isn’t part of the inspiration, but there was indeed a couple who suffered a similar injury with similar amnesia issues. Look up the story, which is more inspirational than this film even attempts to be.
What fails: The Vow demonstrates how vain Hollywood is, in the sense that it presents an inspiring story but has to slather on cliches because the industry thinks that will make it better. Here, it just gets in the way.
As if not remembering your husband isn’t enough, The Vow shoe-horns in the fact that Paige had a falling out with her family, was basically a different person (a more shallow and dreadful person, I might add) and still was carrying a torch for her asshole boyfriend. This all-too-convenient storyline is nearly impossible to swallow.
Add to this the fact that Channing Tatum may be a good-looking man, but he’s a blithering idiot of an actor on-screen. Anything meatier than G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra leaves him with this embarrassing deer-in-the-headlights look. Even with a script, he’s unable to articulate himself and remind his co-star’s character that she changed for a reason. I really couldn’t care less whether this couple got back together or not.
Who is gonna like this movie: Ladies, and guys who are dragged to the movie (who will probably hate it but lie about it just to get laid).
Rated: R for strong violence throughout and some language
Starring: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson and Sam Shephard
Directed by: Daniel Espinosa
What it’s about: Denzel Washington plays Tobin Frost, an ex-CIA agent who is an expert at psychological manipulation. Since leaving the CIA, he’s gone rogue and sold many American secrets. After a botched job in South Africa, he lands in a CIA safe house where Ryan Reynold’s character must try to keep him under control and bring him in for questioning.
What makes the grade: Yeah, Denzel Washington is a badass even at his age. He plays the stoic gray character well, and he manages his own in the action sequences. Even Ryan Reynolds is able to look competent as a CIA agent. If you’re a fan of one or both of these guys and don’t mind the many problems with the film (see below), you can enjoy yourself with a Saturday viewing.
What fails: The most noticeable problem with this film is the overdone, grainy and palsied camerawork, even during otherwise steady scenes. This makes the movie a nauseating view on the big screen, but probably preserving its longevity on cable and home video.
But in the end, the plot is convoluted yet entirely predictable. With the action impossible to focus on, that leaves us with the characters. Unfortunately, there’s no real depth to them, and when we finally break through the hard-ass exterior of each, the revelations we get are confusing and boring. It’s a film of all flash and no substance.
Who is gonna like this movie: Fans of Denzel and people who want to see a flashy, gritty action movie that is on the par with last month’s Contraband.
JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
Studio: New Line Cinema
Rated: PG for some mild adventure action, and brief mild language
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine, Josh Hutcherson, Vanessa Hudgens and Kristin Davis
Directed by: Brad Peyton
What it’s about: Josh Hutcherson returns as Sean, a “Vernian,” which is someone who believes that the subjects of Jules Verne’s books were real places. Along with his step-father (Dwayne Johnson), he embarks on a journey to find the Mysterious Island where his grandfather has been living.
What makes the grade: I’ll be honest with you… this movie is dumb, stupid and ridiculous. The characters are barely two-dimensional, the dialogue is worse than what we have in The Phantom Menace and the story makes very little sense. However, the film moves fast enough through the set-up that we get to the island before you really have a chance to question all this.
When we finally get to the island, this becomes a wacky family adventure with wild, oversized animals and references to fun elements like an erupting volcano of gold and a search for Captain Nemo’s submarine. There’s not a shred of science in this movie, but the film doesn’t make the pretense that it’s trying to do that.
Instead, this movie brought back feelings of what it was like to watch old Saturday morning shows like The Land of the Lost and Danger Island, only with much better special effects. Once I got to that place, mentally and emotionally, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. And it helped that I brought my kids with me to enjoy it.
What fails: While for the most part the visual effects work, there’s still a few moments that rip off other movies (including several Avatar-esque moments and even a line stolen from High School Musical that is dropped by none other than Vanessa Hudgens). It’s full of plot and character holes, often making giant leaps of logic and continuity.
Still, I enjoyed the Saturday morning adventure feel of it.
Who is gonna like this movie: Kids – particularly boys – and their families.