The Lucas Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars: The Clone Wars keeps the fading franchise alive In the Star Wars universe, the Clone Wars were a three-year skirmish involving the Republic and the burgeoning Empire that filled the gap between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. For George Lucas, the Clone Wars have been a lucrative extension of his own galaxy-stomping empire, yielding books, videogames and a new animated movie, Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
This isn't the first time the Clone Wars have been made into a cartoon. Back in 2003, Dexter's Laboratory mastermind Genndy Tartakovsky created 25 short episodes that ran on Cartoon Network up until Sith's 2005 release. The series (which was eventually compiled on two DVD sets running about an hour each) became a cult hit and remains a more satisfying experience than any of the later Star Wars movies. It's that good.
The new Clone Wars isn't quite that stellar. Tartakovsky's anime-style drawings are replaced by sleek CGI videogame-like images. Characters are rail thin, with heads too big for their bodies, but the terrific battle scenes - and there are plenty of them - benefit from the angular design. The story (penned by three guys, none of them George Lucas) centers on the epic Clone Wars but sidetracks to smaller adventures featuring Anakin Skywalker, his protégé and a dual-lightsaber-wielding female baddie named Asajj Ventress.
Many old faves - including Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Palpatine, even Jabba the Hutt - appear throughout the movie. (Anthony Daniels [C-3PO], Christopher Lee [Count Dooku] and Samuel L. Jackson [Mace Windu] voice their original Star Wars roles.) Like the live-action films, The Clone Wars doesn't really offer a tidy ending. Some of that has to do with the lack of narrative (did we mention how cool the battle scenes are?); some of that has to do with the fact that a new TV series based on the movie will be launching in the fall (the film appears to be four episodes edited to play like a feature). Still, fans will have fun spotting all the new droids, ships and characters that buzz through the action. A major subplot involving Jabba's kidnapped son (a cute, gurgling blob nicknamed Stinky) propels The Clone Wars, but the real story here is George Lucas' knack for finding ways to milk a series that peaked a long, long time ago. - Michael Gallucci
This movie has some of the qualities of the California wine whose emergence it celebrates: well-crafted, uncomplicated and bathed in Napa Valley sunlight. Directed by Randall Miller, Bottle Shock tells the story of the event that put California wines on the map: the 1976 Judgment of Paris, a blind tasting in which California wines unexpectedly prevailed over some of France's finest vintages. The film focuses on Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman), a struggling vintner who gave up his law practice to run a vineyard, cultivating grapes and meticulously bottling Chardonnay with the help of his long-haired, easygoing son Bo (Chris Pine), his young Mexican American assistant Gustavo (Freddy Rodr’guez) and a pretty intern, Sam (Rachael Taylor). Barrett can scarcely keep the winery afloat until his Chardonnay is chosen to compete in the contest by Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman), a supercilious British wine expert and merchant in Paris, who has devised the contest as a means of confirming the superiority of French wines. On a visit to the Napa Valley, Spurrier is surprised by the quality of the American product.
The movie recreates a mid-'70s vibe with an authenticity seldom seen onscreen, from the cars (an AMC Hornet!) to the jeans to the haircuts and music (Doobie Brothers, Foghat, Bad Company). The story folds in a minor romantic rivalry as Bo and Gustavo compete for the affections of Sam; a father-son conflict between Jim and Bo, who work out their differences with boxing gloves; and some amusing cross-cultural humor between the California growers and "the Brit" Spurrier ("Why don't I like you?" asks Jim, to which Spurrier responds, "Because I'm British and you're not."). The beautifully photographed Northern California landscapes and the script's detailed appreciation of the winemaking craft create a palpably sensual experience. An added benefit is that someone has finally made a wine movie that cleanses the palate of the insipid, overpraised Sideways. - Pamela Zoslov
Fly Me to the Moon
Yet another animated space-adventure movie released this summer, Fly Me to the Moon takes you aboard Apollo 11 for an engaging journey. Made exclusively in 3-D, this feature film tells the tale of three ordinary tween-aged flies - Nat, I.Q. and Scooter - who courageously decide to hitch a ride to the moon after being inspired by heroic stories told by Nat's well-respected grandfather. After gearing up in miniature-size astronaut suits and successfully stowing away in the helmets of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, the flies are in for more than they bargained for when they realize "contaminants" are aboard the mission. Some sleazy Soviet flies with counteractive plans also add to the mess when a race to the moon commences.
Movies in 3-D have certainly come a long way since theaters passed out those flimsy paper glasses. Prepare to be slapped in the face with startling graphics that will have you wanting to swat those lovable insects buzzing above your head. From the haze on the spacecraft's window to the dust that drifts when man first sets foot on the moon, no detail is lost. There's no doubt that 3-D makes this movie, although you may have to adjust your vision in between scenes. A catchy title and fantastic music also add to the film's charm. However, the movie's filled with stereotypical characters, questionable obesity remarks, repetitive life-or-death situations and half-assed jokes that will bypass kids and lead to pauses of silence during its 85-minute run-time. Oh, and there's nothing like having a live action/animation cameo by Buzz Aldrin to inform audiences, at the end of the film, that basically, the whole plot of the movie is scientifically impossible - something that will surely burst any 6-year-old's bubble. Although it may have its faults, Fly Me to the Moon is still a successful, whimsical tale that does encourage kiddies to keep reaching for the stars. - Lauren Yusko
I Don't Hear the Guitar Anymore
While the 1960s French New Wave continues to exert its stylistic influence on filmmakers from North Korea to Denmark to Hong Kong and, yes, even America, French directors tend to look elsewhere for their cues. John Cassavetes, one of the pioneers of America's independent cinema movement, is a particular favorite of Gallic auteurs. Maurice Pialat, Jacques Doillon and Philippe Garrel have all borrowed extensively from Cassavetes' bag of quasi-improvisatory, actor-centric tricks. Released in France in 1991, but just now receiving a belated U.S. release, Garrel's I Don't Hear the Guitar Anymore feels particularly indebted to the Cassavetes modus operandi. A vaguely plotless, loosely connected series of scenes in which characters riff, often stream-of-consciousness style, on friendship, love and family, the film can be a major drag to sit through if you're not on Garrel's wavelength. I had to watch it twice before finally figuring out all the onscreen relationships. (Murky, badly lit interiors where you can barely make out what, or who, is onscreen didn't help.)
The movie's protagonist - and Garrel alter ego - is Gerard (Beno”t Régent), a thirtysomething bohemian type, whose tempestuous relationship with German expatriate Marianne (Johanna Ter Steege) causes him no end of troubles. Marianne (loosely based on German singer-songwriter Nico, with whom Garrel had a long-standing affair) is a real mess and seemingly determined to drag Gerard down with her. (Among other things, she introduces him to heroin.) After the couple finally breaks up, Gerard finds temporary solace in too-good-to-be-true earth mother Aline (Brigitte Sy). But not even their newborn infant can prevent Gerard from resisting the siren-like pull of Marianne when she re-enters the picture, threatening to destroy his and Aline's precarious domestic bliss.
Everything ends badly, of course, and male chauvinist oinker Gerard pretty much gets what he deserves. Like a scab you can't resist picking at, the film exerts a kind of gnarly fascination in its unwillingness to get to the point - or even make a point. Vis-a-vis Cassavetes, I Don't Hear the Guitar Anymore can be self-indulgent and occasionally maddening, yet so alive with what seem like genuine not-scripted emotions that it draws you in anyway. - Milan Paurich Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque At 9 p.m. Friday, August 15 and at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, August 16.