Tag Archives: The Phantom Menace

Playing with G.I. Joes: The Next Level by Kent Hill

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George Miller long ago professed his love of pure cinema, or cinema as visual music. His celluloid illustrations of this stance have not only influenced their genre, but the entire cinematic experience itself. So when watching Rene Perez’s foray in this arena, Dr. George’s words again filtered to my ear.

Perez having a natural aptitude and mastery of music applies Miller’s methodology with his Snake Eyes tribute; the essence of the real power of the movies, functioning entirely without dialogue. Of course, to the casual viewer, I can appreciate this experience may be jarring. But for those with a wider appreciation and deep passion for the motion picture know, all too well, that before the advent of sound…this is what movies where like. The skill of the filmmaker on center stage, showing the audience everything they need; forcing participation on some level.

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Miller’s Fury Road is an absolute masterclass in action movie making, and here, Rene Perez, the Robert Rodriguez of Redding, showcases (in a similar fashion) not only his action storytelling chops, but what is possible today on a small scale; a petite though triumphant piece of film-making, boxing above its weight class in terms of the size of the production to what one experiences as the picture unfolds.

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Perez shines consistently with his fluid camera work and editing style, set against the backdrop of the glorious vistas at his disposal. The mixture of these elements with the age old story of a man on a mission makes this a work of depth, not short-changing the viewer in terms of suspense and intrigue, considering the genre. Patterned after his beloved G.I. Joe (America’s highly trained special mission force), Perez winks back across the years at Joe-lovin’ youngster he used to be: “G.I. Joe were my favorite action figures and comic books when I was a kid. I always had Snake Eyes version 1 or 2, in my pocket when I was little,” Perez remarked.

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Rene makes films about characters driven by strong ideals. They overcome imposing odds to secure, not merely internal peace or the slaying of an old demon, but to also make amends for an old hurt; leaving nothing left unsaid, leaving no deed undone. “In these fight scenes in particular, I wanted to show that Snake Eyes has a code of honour when fighting hand to hand, that he is also a tactical thinker when it comes to using firearms.”

Teaming up once again with producer Joseph Camillari, Perez’s collaborator on The Insurrection and the (currently in production) western Righteous Blood, together with a cast that includes Beauty Queen Miss Nevada 2020, Victoria Olona (as Snake Eyes’ wife), and seventh-degree black belt Juan Manuel Olmedo as the title character.

We all enjoyed (at least I did) grabbing a handful of G.I. Joes and going all Stephen Sommers (long before that sort of thing was popular) in Mum’s garden beds. Anything went, as the cinema of our mind’s eye focused as we led brave soldiers in their never-ending fight against Cobra, the ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world.

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After the dust settles on the great conjunction of unfortunate events that is 2020, we shall slowly witness the emergence of the work that those with the ability to harness their creativity and the tools afforded them have made. Rene Perez made a blinding, kick-ass action valentine to his favorite of the Joes – code name: Snake Eyes.

WATCH IT NOW!!!

STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

It’s no secret that many high brow cinephiles have their knives out when it comes to STAR WARS, but in particular the prequels.  To be fair, my film snobbery overflows onto big blockbuster franchises, but STAR WARS, all aspects of it; the films, the novels, the video games, collectibles are so ingrained in my life since childhood that it’s fair to say I will never have as much passion for anything as I do for STAR WARS.

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THE PHANTOM MENACE is a stark contrast from the original trilogy, and that’s exactly what it is supposed to be.  Yes, there are many missteps, including the casting of some actors, and the dialogue at times is lackluster and unintentionally laughable but there is so much more at stake when you look at the big picture.

Set decades before A NEW HOPE, Episode I shows us the beginning.  We see a vibrant and fertile galaxy before the desolate dilapidation that the Empire brings to not only the aesthetics but also thematically in the original trilogy.  This is a time of prosperity, a time when the Jedi oversaw peace in the galaxy.

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But.  This is also the beginning of the galaxy being divided in a full-out war.  Planets pitted against each other by fear and economics.  All the workings of seminal STAR WARS villain, Emperor Palpatine, who in Episode I is nothing more than the affable senator from the peaceful planet of Naboo.  His Sith alter ego, Darth Sidious, does all the dirty work.

I know.  Jar Jar Binks is the go to hangup.  Yes, Jar Jar is annoying until you get over it and embrace him.  Liam Neeson as the Jedi Master who is the hierarchy of the Skywalker lineage more than makes up for Jar Jar.  As does John Williams’ AMAZING score, particularly DUEL OF THE FATES which loudly surrounds the greatest lightsaber battle in the STAR WARS saga: Qui Gon Ginn AND Obi Wan Kenobi versus fan favorite, Darth Maul.

Yes, THE PHANTOM MENACE is the weakest of the STAR WARS saga, but it is also a solid foundation of what’s to come after.  The chaos that engulfs the galaxy.  The tangible rise of Palpatine’s dark powers.  For all of Lucas’ faults, he does an excellent job guiding the camera through the birth of galactic turmoil.  His casting of Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson, and Terence Stamp are wonderfully perfect additions to the series, and his vibrant aesthetic is a pleasant contrast from the darkness of the original trilogy.

PTS Presents ARTISAN WORKBENCH with ED KRAMER

ED KRAMER POWERCAST

16935753-11da-4961-8f84-99b927f247b0Podcasting Them Softly is honored to be joined by visual effects master, ED KRAMER.  Ed spent twelve years working for INDUSTRIAL LIGHT AND MAGIC, and is now currently an instructor at THE ART INSTITUTE OF COLORADO.   Ed was the Senior Technical Director and Sequence Supervisor on TWISTER, THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK, THE MUMMY, THE MUMMY RETURNS, THE PERFECT STORM, GALAXY QUEST, THE ISLAND, HARRY POTTER: THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, and was a part of the Academy Award winning team on PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST.  Ed was apart of the team that created the Columbia Pictures “Lady with a Torch” logo.  Ed worked with the groundbreaking visual effects team that changed cinema forever with the use of digital effects and filming digitally with the three STAR WARS prequels, EPISODE 1 THE PHANTOM MENACE, EPISODE II ATTACK OF THE CLONES and EPISODE III REVENGE OF THE SITH.

Check out Ed’s AMAZING highlight reel here!

In Defense of the STAR WARS Prequels

Dear Simon Pegg, The Hollywood Reporter and everyone else who goes out of their way to degrade and dismiss the STAR WARS prequels.

You’re not a real STAR WARS fan.

If you can’t accept the STAR WARS prequels for what they are, flaws and all, STAR WARS does not mean nearly as much to you as you pretend it does.

If you love the original trilogy, that’s great. But don’t act like STAR WARS is important to you. And if that’s you, please do us all a favor and own it. The constant shaming of George Lucas, and the STAR WARS prequels has become this relentless and bandwagon circle jerk that those of us who love, embrace, and accept all of the STAR WARS cinematic universe have to endure and hits us in a very deep and personal place.

I, as anyone who loves the prequels can fully admit, they have flaws, some of the films have deeper flaws than others, and they are not as good as the original trilogy, but the bottom line is, they are STAR WARS films and they are fantastic. There are a couple of fallback arguments any prequel shamer will telegraphically always pivot to. Jar Jar Binks, the “overuse” of CGI, Hayden Christensen, Jake Lloyd, and poor dialogue.

All of those pivot points have their merits, I can fully admit it. Look, I used to be somewhat dismissive of the prequels too, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that my appreciation and love of the prequels grew from the Cartoon Network/Netflix show STAR WARS THE CLONE WARS, and from different video games, novels, comic books and merchandising that flushed out more of the rich story that lies within the prequels.

The “overuse” of CGI in the prequels is the one pivot point that drives me absolutely crazy.

First of all, the CGI in the prequels is absolutely pristine and looks better, to this day, than most CGI induced films that have come out since. The use of CGI and moving to the digital format completely changed the film industry, for better or worse. The “overuse” of CGI is a poor pivot point for prequel bashers, due to the fact of not nearly as much CGI was used as they think. George Lucas used a lot of practical effects and built a lot of sets for the prequels. You know how I know that? Because I educated myself by watching the supplements on the STAR WARS blu ray suite, read articles with Lucas, Rick McCallum (the producer of the prequels), and others from Industrial Light and Magic.

Look, the prequels needed CGI. General Grievous, Yoda, the Senate Chamber, all the Clones needed Temuera Morrison’s face, the MagnaGuards, the epic space battle above Coruscant in EPISODE III, an 80 year old Christopher Lee fighting, and the plethora of exotic planets HAD to use CGI.

What, are all of those going to be miniatures? Or puppets? Puppet Yoda in the original trilogy is amazing. Love it. I don’t even think he’s a puppet. Remember puppet Yoda in EPISODE 1? It was AWFUL. Because in the prequels, Yoda servers a far different and bigger purpose, he’s a warrior, a general in the Clone army. He has to actually fight, and we get to see why Yoda is the most powerful Jedi.

General Grievous, the general of the Separatist army, the cyborg Jedi killer who fights with four lightsabers. Would it have been better if there was a man in a ridiculous suit with arms controlled by puppeteers?

Should there have been a massive scouting effort for people who looked identical and have the same physique of Temuera Morrison? Or prosthetic face molds?

If you’re so hung up on the “overuse” of CGI, you surely must RAGE when you watch a Zack Snyder, Christopher Nolan, Michael Bay, or a Steven Spielberg film, and surely you must HATE any and all of the Marvel/DC films, right?  Oh, and those LORD OF THE RINGS films, Peter Jackson is an idiot, he should have made those films without CGI.  Same goes for GAME OF THRONES.  Man, WATCHMEN should have used nothing but practical effects. INTERSTELLAR?  Don’t even get me started.

Yeah, do ANY of that without an abundance of CGI.

Hayden Christensen. Yes he’s miscast, but stop acting like he’s the first actor to miscast in a film ever.

Poor dialogue? Valid point. Lawrence Kasdan must have been busy.

Jake Lloyd? Anakin Skywalker wasn’t born as Darth Vader. He wasn’t born evil. He’s a kid playing a kid.

Jar Jar Binks? Jesus Christ. Get over it. The best part about Jar Jar is that Lucas owns the hatred of that character, and uses Jar Jar to make the move in the Republic Senate to give Supreme Chancellor Palpatine complete and total control at the height of the Galactic Civil War.

There are so many shining moments in the prequels.

We get to see the beautiful and vibrant universe pre Empire, before the dilapidation and worn universe we’re used to seeing in the original trilogy.

Liam Neeson.

Liam Neeson.

Liam Neeson.

Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine/Sidious. Easily one of the best acted roles in the entire saga.

Ewan McGregor is absolutely terrific as the younger Obi-Wan.

The Duel of the Fates battle between Qui Gon, Obi and Maul is one of the best lightsaber battles in the entire saga, if not the best. And it is accompanied by a magnificent John Williams track.

The Republic Senate scenes are masterfully created and designed, and perfectly sets up a principle understanding of how and why Palpatine becomes the Emperor of the Empire.

Christopher Lee is incredible. One of my favorite characters in the entire universe.  The dissention of Yoda training Dooku, Dooku training Qui Gon, Qui Gon training Obi and Obi training Anakin makes so much sense, how and why Anakin is who he is.

The full-out Jedi and Clones vs Geonosians and Battle Droids in the climax of EPISODE 2 is terrific. That’s a moment a lot of us have been waiting for, a full out Jedi battle.

We get to see the Jedi Council in action, see the plethora of Jedi, as opposed to the three we see in the original trilogy.

EPIC saber battles, as I mentioned before with the Duel of the Fates, but we also watch Yoda battle his former student, Dooku – watch him go toe to toe with Palpatine himself, watch Palpatine take down four Jedi, and see the brutal and heartbreaking final battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan.

I could continue, but I won’t. I’m sure a lot of the points I’ve made will go over a lot of the prequel basher’s heads because they don’t catch the references. Because they’re not STAR WARS fans. Bottom line, get off your high horse and shut the fuck up about “George Lucas ruined my childhood” or that the “prequels don’t matter”. The worst part about all of this, is that George Lucas has admittedly been shamed for making any more films. This guy is bigger than STAR WARS, he’s responsible for AMERICAN GRAFFITI and THX 1138 which is one of the best science fiction films ever made.

To quote William Friedken, “STAR WARS is a religious experience.” STAR WARS means so much, to millions and millions of people globally. There are very few things that can match that kind of passion. Without George Lucas, you’d have absolutely nothing to bitch about in the first place.