Picofarad #15 Movie reviews

Previous: Denvention 3 | Picofarad #15 contents | Next: Echoes

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)

Directed by Dave Filoni
Running Time: 98 minutes

It's time for a peek into those legendary years of the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire, when Anakin Skywalker (voiced by Matt Lanter), the great hope of the Force, and all the heroes of the Jedi fought against the implacable forces of evil with all their skill!

Unfortunately, the demographic realities of a pilot for a kids' TV show require him to get a sidekick and become incompetent so that she can show her stuff. Her name's Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), she's around 13 years old, she wears almost nothing in battle to show that she is a strong and independent woman, and she likes to fight backhand. This appears to be highly effective in taking down the enemy, but it's darned lucky no good guys are ever standing behind her when she turns her lightsaber on.

On the other side, we have should-be-familiar-but-are-barely-recognizable-due-to-being-over-stylized faces of Chancellor Palpatine (Ian Abercrombie) and his henchman Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, see, they at least managed to talk someone into coming back for this). Demographics again, plus not being able to kill anyone who needs to be around for Episode III, so Dooku has acquired his own henchman, Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman), a snaky, bald crone who wears almost nothing in battle to show that she is a skank.

Oh, yeah, the plot. A world near somewhere has fallen out of communication with the Jedi, but this might not be a big problem, it might just be a solar storm or a massive computer failure, as someone explains as though this happens all the time. (Apparently the Jedi use GMail.) The Jedi go there and kick butt in every way imaginable.

Spliced into the middle of this is an almost entirely separate movie in which Jabba the Hutt's heir, Rotta, hereinafter known to most characters as The Huttlet, has been kidnapped, and Jabba is threatening to sulk in is corner and not ally with anyone until his son is returned. This necessitates investigating a web of deceit and intrigue that stretches across several picturesque planets and all the way to Coruscant, allowing the movie to drag in Palpatine, Padmé Amidala (Catherine Taber), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), R2-D2, and Jabba's flamboyantly gay Southern uncle (Corey Burton), who is one of two things that provide an outside chance that some of you may actually want to see this.

The other is some business with a spice freighter, which would be a lovely little touch in a better movie, but here, you're looking at this barely disguised re-enactment of the car whose engine won't turn over until the last moment (Anakin even has to stomp on the pedals to flood the engine with, uh, space fuel) and thinking of George Lucas's muse turning in its grave. The inspiration that motivated the original trilogy is long gone. You don't learn anything new about the overall story; the plot developments are paint-by-numbers; the animation style makes everyone look ugly; and even with no live actors in the mix, ILM still hasn't gotten the hang of getting people to look directly at each other. There is just no reason for anyone but an absolute Star Wars completist to see this movie, and even then, wait 'til it's on basic cable.

Death Race (2008)

Review by Chris French

Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson
Running Time: 105 minutes

Death Race's director stated his movie was "a sort-of prequel" to Roger Corman's Death Race 2000. Note to movie-goers: When even the film's maker has no idea what the movie is supposed to be, this is a Bad Sign.

This film is set approximately ten years in the future, with all the trademark "society's gone in the dumper, and it's all the fault of those nasty Businessmen" tropes-- the USA's economy has collapsed (it does that every 8-10 years anyway); prison overcrowding is ridiculous (so I guess the police are actually doing their jobs); the penal system has been taken over by Big Business (how Victorian); and as inevitably as sunrise, Big Business has decided the best way to solve all of the above problems is to have prisoners battle to the death in armed-and-armored automobiles, while showing the combat on Pay-Per-View for $300 (umm, guys-- if the economy's collapsed, where the hell are the viewers supposed to get $300 from?).

The opening of the movie shows us a sample of the on-track festivities, including the flaming A-Team-esque barrel-roll departure from this plane of existence by one Frankenstein (in a nod to Corman's 0.44-Magnum Opus, voiced by David Carradine). We are then presented with our hero, one Jensen Ames, a "former race driver" (not, as so many critics have stated, a NASCAR driver-- and with Jason Statham's accent prominently displayed, probably not even Indy Racing League) who works in a steel mill just long enough for the place to be closed down, and him to be thrown out of work. The subtlety of this sequence ranks with the worst Communist propaganda for showing the dark side of a free-market economy; the sequence-ending riot is gravy.

Ames's day gets worse -- no sooner does he arrive home, so we can see his poor-but-happy family life, than he is knocked out, his wife is murdered, he is sent up for the crime, and his daughter is handed over to some generic Old Rich White Couple, where she will be raised without ever knowing her true biological father. Friends of Jessica Fletcher have better luck than this clown.

It is not spoiling anything to say that all of this is a Huge Conspiracy by Warden Hennessey (Joan Allen), the lady running the prison where Jensen is sent -- and which happens to be the prison where the Death Races occur. Hennessey wants Jensen to play the role of Frankenstein; she claims since Frankie has four wins, all he has to do is win once, and he'll be given the prize for winning five races -- his freedom. Do I even need to mention at this point that later on, Hennessey points out that no one has ever actually won five races? Even the least-learned movie-goer knows what that means.

Subsequently, we are introduced to Jensen's "team", which has the obligatory Yoda-figure (Ian McShane, showing that Lovejoy was a long time ago), the obligatory Computer-Nerd Type, and the Obligatory Techie-Type. Worth noting is that Jensen's team is the only heterogeneous group -- every other team is racially segregated. There's the All-Black team of Machine Gun Joe Mason (Tyrese Gibson), the All-White team of Pachenko (and how in hell does a guy whose name is so obviously either Eastern European, or that of a Japanese pinball machine -- depending on who's pronouncing it at the time -- wind up being part of the Aryan Brotherhood?), the all-Asian team of 14K (what, they couldn't come up with a proper Chinese name which sounded like an auto accident?), and so on. There are police departments who engage in less-subtle racial profiling.

Speaking of obvious behavior: Apparently, Joe and Frankie are bitter rivals (how this is possible when it's shown that anyone who doesn't actually finish the race dies is beyond me); do I need to tell you they go through the obligatory round of "we're enemies-- we respect each other-- we're teaming up against the Man"? Apparently, Hennessey has a problem with foul language-- do I need to tell you that near the movie's end, she delivers a line which by itself would have justified this flick's R rating? (For god's sake, the opening-titles music did that!) The Chinese driver only speaks Chinese; do I need to tell you he switches to English when it's necessary for him to utter an obscenity? The warden tries to plant a bomb on Jensen's car; do I need to tell you that bomb makes its reappearance near the end of the film? The female lead's role in this is quite literally as ballast.

The Technobabble demonstrates once again that no one in Hollywood knows a damned thing about guns or armor. The stupidity crops up in the preview-- "30-millimeter machine guns"? So y'all know, one inch is 25.4 millimeters across; the 30mm Gatling cannon on the A-10 attack plane meant the plane had to be quite literally built around the gun. I had the SO calculate the mass of "The Tombstone", the 6"-thick steel rear armor of Frankenstein's car-- it would weigh around three-and-one-half tons; this is great for a wheelstander dragster, but for a racing car intended to turn, it sucks. Oh, and in a shout-out to the video-game crowd, the track surface has "power-ups" on it, which can activate offensive weapons, defensive weapons, or a steel-spiked wall (notice I make a distinction between offensive and defensive weapons-- apparently these idiots have not thought to mount a couple of their guns facing backwards; but then we don't get the hero driving his car as fast backwards as forwards-- insert "Polish Transmission" joke here).

The crowning glory of stupidity comes in the form of "The Dreadnought", an 18-wheeler carrying as much firepower as, well, HMS Dreadnought. It takes all of about five seconds to realize the utter pointlessness of having this-- in an event where it's "every man for himself", why introduce something which can only be defeated through combined effort and trickery?

In fact, this movie does this throughout-- in racing terms, it's called "hitting your marks". Brake at a certain point, turn a certain amount at a certain point, accelerate at a certain point, and repeat as necessary until the checkered flag waves. This is fine, but it has one salient flaw-- it allows one to hold one's position, nothing more; and if one is in the back of the pack, one is not going to lead by doing this.

And this is where Death Race truly fails. When Corman made his flick, he knew he had a bad movie on his hands. What did he do? He made it a farce-- over-the-top characters, over-the-top acting, over-the-top plot, and so on. At no point did Death Race 2000 ever take itself seriously (three words: "French Air Force"). Anderson tried to make his version serious and edgy; what he created was a vulgar, violent, stupid mess. I like cars, I like auto racing, and I've been playing Car Wars since Haring was a corporal; and yet, I must rate this flick a dead-solid Avoid.

Previous: Denvention 3 | Picofarad #15 contents | Next: Echoes

Picofarad home