Opening this week, George Lucas takes another stab at killing off his Star Wars universe for good with the animated film The Clone Wars. Ben Stiller stars in and directs the Hollywood action parody Tropic Thunder. Plus, Woody Allen debuts his latest sexy drama, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, as Kiefer Sutherland stars in the Asian-inspired horror film, Mirrors.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Six movies were probably enough, so a television series is definitely pushing it to the extreme, but George Lucas seems to have no problem milking Star Wars for all it’s worth. The result of his latest venture is a film that won’t offend die hard fans, but it does strain every attempt at relevancy without offering a shred of new or engaging action or storytelling.
Set between the second and third prequel films, Star Wars: The Clone Wars follows Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in the midst of the epic battle against the forces of the Sith, led by Darth Sidious, Count Dooku and General Grievous. Joining Anakin in the battle is his new padawan learner, Ahsoka, a feisty youth with a lot to prove as she tries to convince her master to train her. The battle turns more complicated for the Jedi Knights when Jabba the Hutt’s child is abducted, and the good guys have to rush in to help him, or face the loss of important space routes.
And right there, you can imagine already why this film flounders through its plot. Trade routes? Who really cares about shipping issues in the middle of an animated movie about super-duper action heroes who have plasma-like swords that can cut through pretty much anything? And after four films in the last few years, how can Lucas and crew still write such lame stories?
With a mostly new cast filling in for the original live action stars, Clone Wars also sticks surprisingly close to the spirit of the original characters. Matt Lanter provides a slightly more youthful, energetic Anakin, while James Arnold Taylor mimics Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi almost perfectly. Ashley Eckstein gives a lively performance as Ahsoka Tano, adding a fun range to her character that goes above and beyond the otherwise simple script.
Meanwhile, two familiar voices do provide some helpful backup, although it’s not clear why they would return while others did not. Samuel L. Jackson is back once more as Mace Windu, and Christopher Lee provides his usual baritone for the role of Count Dooku.
My biggest disappointment with the film was simply that it didn’t capitalize on the new format, or the potential new audience, to do something new and different. While the film may look a little different from the films, at least in texture, the story is identical to what we have become used to over the past thirty years. There is a feeling that we’re just witnessing the tip of the iceberg, and that the TV series will explore a lot more, but by my standards that is more aggravating than fulfilling.
Also out in theatres this week is the action parody Tropic Thunder, which stars Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey Jr. as a trio of pompous actors filming a war movie in Asia. The filming turns into a real war however, and things turn really ridiculous, as the production gets carried away by drug smugglers.
Featuring a who’s-who of celebrity cameos, including Matthew McConaughey, Tobey Maguire, Tom Cruise, and Steve Coogan, Tropic Thunder is practically one big Hollywood in-joke. The film even begins with fake trailers with the film’s “stars.”
Perhaps surprisingly, considering how these types of movies usually bomb, Tropic Thunder is getting above average reviews from most critics. Peter Howell of the Toronto Star suggests that is largely thanks to two of the film’s stars.
“What keeps everything from imploding,” Howell wrote, “are Downey and Cruise, who are willing to push every audience button and damn the politically correct torpedoes.”
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Writer and director Woody Allen paints another vivid, smoldering picture with a story of two women, played by Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson, who engage in an ongoing affair while they’re on vacation in Spain. What they don’t know is that their artist friend has an ex-wife who still doesn’t want to let go of her man.
Javier Bardem stars as the womanizing artist, with Penelope Cruz playing his crazy, fiendish ex-lover.
David Edelstein from New York Magazine was one of many critics who enjoyed the film. “Given its particulars, Vicky Cristina Barcelona ought to have been an eye-roller. What a surprise that it’s so seductive.”
And again this week, movie fans are treated to yet another Asian-horror remake with Kiefer Sutherland starring as a security guard who discovers evil spirits lurking in mirrors at the new site he is supposed to be protecting. But when the spirits come after his family he will have to find a way to save themselves from the lurking evil.
Considering the number of failed Asian-inspired remakes, it’s hard to imagine this could turn out well, even with Sutherland charming his way through the film. There were no early reviews however, so right now this is purely speculation based on the sheer number of failed Asian remakes.
Clone Wars image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures