Renegade (2004)
Vincent Cassel, Juliette Lewis, and Michael Madsen
Directed by Jan Kounen
Written by Comic Book: Jean-Michel Charlier and Jean Giraud Screenplay: Carlo De Boutiny, Jan Kounen, Matt Alexander, Gérard Brach, Cassidy Pope, and Louis Mellis
Rated R
124 minutes
Review Score: D

The movie based off the European Western Comic called “Blueberry” is in essence a terrible adaption and probably one of the worse Western movies I have ever seen.  This movie definitely has problems and if rewritten and refilmed in many parts could become an excellent non-cliché Western since Sergio Leone began the era of Italian Westerns.
The world and characters are very complex and to someone who does not read “Blueberry” (like me) it can be confusing to start out with.  The beginning is rushed and then slows down to a crawl before coming to the climax.  This film is about a young man named Mike Blueberry (Hugh O’Conner) who falls in love with a prostitute only to have her ripped away by the villainous madman Wallace Sebastian Blount (Michael Madsen).  Blueberry is severely wounded in a showdown with Blount and happens into Indian Territory where he is taken care of and shown the ways of the Indians by the mysterious and ancient Indian named Runi (Temuera Borgine).  When he returns to the white man world he becomes the Marshal (now the character of Blueberry is played by Vincent Cassel).
As we should probably guess, Blount returns and this time threatens the land by finding an ancient Indian treasure that could be used for both good and evil.  Blueberry must seek justice and revenge against Blount as well as protect the land from the demons Blount wishes to release.
There is much more to the story than that but that is the main focus.  There are a dozen different storylines following more secondary characters.  Perhaps if they would have cut these down a bit the story itself would be less confusing or at least balance the story out a bit more.  I can see the premise and the many characters working very well for a TV show such as worked with the current Deadwood and the Westerns in the ‘60s like Rawhide.
The other sore part for this movie is the special effects.  In order to describe the special effects it would give too much of the story away but they occur during dream sequences that go far too long and there is more than one of these.  While a lot of information was divulge during these dreams as to the plot of the story the special effects just tore the viewer away with how terrible and how unneeded they were.  Take these special effects out which would cut down the time but keep the dreams with their information in it.
A lot of the other bad parts of the movie seemed to be when the filmmakers took a breather from the story and tried to show their artistic side with the camera and editing.  I think these spots did little to advance the story and slowed it down to a crawl that made me yawn.
Another part of the movie I did like was the character of Blount which was played excellently by Michael Madsen (of Kill Bill and Reservoir Dogs fame).  Blount seemed to be a well rounded bad dude and not as cliché as many other evil characters in stories these days.  Many bad guys these days are either evil just to be evil or because we want to believe that something was done to them (child abuse) to make them evil.  Blount is evil because of greed and strive for power.  That is something we don’t see all that often in bad guys anymore.  Blount has a purpose and doesn’t need a reason for that purpose except that he wants what that purpose will lead too.  I like that in a bad guy.
All in all, the movie has room for improvement.  The story seems fine and complex but for a movie should be cut down a little bit.  The premise would work much better in a TV setting as a mini-series or TV show where many of the characters and much more of the world can be explored.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, and Frank Oz
Directed by George Lucas
Written by George Lucas
Rated PG-13
140 minutes
Review Score: B

       Yes, I was one of those fools who went and saw Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith on opening weekend.  I wasn’t one of them who dressed up like Luke or Leia (can you imagine me in a Leia’s slave girl outfit from Return of the Jedi; I don’t think you want to) but I have been a fan of the galaxy far, far away for a long time.
       Revenge of the Sith, for those that don’t know, completes the circle between the prequels and the original trilogy.  Sith opens up in a desperate time for the galaxy as a mysterious Sith Lord wreaks havoc by starting the Clone Wars and destroying the Republic.  More and more power is given to the Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) as he exerts his effort in destroying the Separatists led by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and a sickly droid named General Grievous (voiced by Matthew Wood).  The opening chapter of Sith is of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) undertaking a rescue operation.  It appears that between Episode II and III, the Separatists were able to kidnap Palpatine and hold him hostage.  We see a long sequence of a space battle between the Clone Army and the Droid Army as Obi-Wan and Anakin race towards Count Dooku’s ship.
        Now if you have seen Episodes I and II then you know that III will have amazing visual effects and it does.  It is the magic of movie making when you take a simple blue screen and make a whole world out of it.  That is one of the amazing and truly ground breaking things that George Lucas has done with the prequels.  But what the prequels, including Sith, lack is story and characters.  The dialogue throughout the entirety of Sith is wooden and seems like something a high school student’s romance book would contain.  “I love you,” says Padmé (Natalie Portman).  “No, I love you more,” says Anakin.  It doesn’t get much worse than that. 
         The acting is also quite horrible throughout the movie.  The only shining stars of redemption for this movie are Ewan McGregor, who plays Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Frank Oz, who voices Yoda.  Christensen still sounds like a whiny and horny teen that we saw in Episode II.  Even when he makes the change to the dark side, he still is whiny and horny but now a big, bad Sith lord.  He definitely isn’t the Darth Vader of the original trilogy.
         Then comes of the whole transition from the light side to the dark side and this is one of the most disappointing parts of the movie.  It is unbelievable how Anakin comes to join the Sith and turns on the Jedi.  I don’t want to give away what happens but I thought that was so stupid.  I can understand his rage and anger especially with what happened to his mother in Episode II and what might happen to Padmé in this movie but how it happens just doesn’t work.  There should have been more to it than that but perhaps they couldn’t fit this in between all the action and lightsaber duels.
          Another thing that doesn’t work is Chewbacca.  Who’s decision was it to have Chewbacca in Sith because that is as awful a decision as I have ever seen?  And if they were to have Chewbacca in Sith they should have had him as a some sort of soldier or something rather than one of the Wookie commanders.  I personally think Chewbacca was just something for the older fans of the original trilogy to link to but I think doesn’t work.  All I could think of when I first saw Chewbacca was ‘what the hell was the writer’s point in bringing in a character that shouldn’t show up until later in the story?’
           I did enjoy the nice touches at the end of the movie.  The interior of Senator Organa’s Corellian Corvette (yes, I use to be a huge Star Wars geek as a kid) looked like the one we saw in the original movie.  The interior of the Star Destroyer and seeing all of the Imperial officers and even Governor Tarkin (who I thought was CGI since the actor of the original Tarkin is dead but I am wrong; that was a real person; damn good look alike) was also what we remember of the original trilogy.  Even with that, there are still questions that are left unanswered.  Trivial but it would have been nice to find out like what happened to the Clone and Droids after the war?  I’m sure the Clones were used well pass the war but in the original trilogy it seems the Imperial Army is made up of regular people and not clones, so did the Clones die or did they simply get retired? And what happened to the Droid Army?  Did it get sent to the scrap pile or are there still Droid Ships floating out there waiting for someone to reactivate them?  Also, since Obi-Wan appears to be about 30 or maybe even 40 at the end of Sith, in the original trilogy he would either be 50 or 60 but to me he seems a lot older but then again Alec Guinness was around 70 at the time that the original Star Wars was filmed.
             All in all, Sith is a fun but flawed movie.  About the only Academy Award this movie should win is one for visual effects.  While this movie is disappointing when compared to the original trilogy, the action and lightsaber duels make up for what story and characterization it did not have.
            This movie gets a thumb up but it is not a good movie when compared to the likes of the originals or the upcoming movie Serenity.  Perhaps Kevin Smith can help bring back the magic of Star Wars with his upcoming live action TV show based off the galaxy.  Lucas should now hand over the galaxy to better writers and directors.  He had his fun for a little while.
Riverworld (2003)
Brad Johnson, Karen Holness, Emily Lloyd, Jeremy Birchall, Jonathan Cake, Cameron Daddo, and Kevin Smith
Directed by Kari Skogland
Written by Philip José Farmer (novels) and Stuart Hazeldine (screenplay)
Not Rated
90 minutes
Review Score: C+

     Having not read the books by Philip José Farmer I cannot say whether or not this TV movie (that was originally meant as a pilot for a TV series that was dropped) is a good reflection of the world he created.  I can say that I liked the premise of this story and the places it could have gone.  It is a refreshing twist on the Sci-Fi genre that is long due.
     Jeff Hale (Brad Johnson) is, or should I say was, an astronaut for the United States in 2009.  He dies when his space shuttle is hit by space debris as he was reentering Earth’s atmosphere.  Now he reawakens in a bubble found under a river, him and hundreds if not billions of other people that died on Earth throughout history.  They are somehow reincarnated in this world called Riverworld.
      The acting is all right for a TV movie and the dialogue is okay though it isn’t anywhere near great.  The story itself is all right considering it had to be rewritten when Kevin Smith (playing the character Valdemar; not the Kevin Smith of Clerks and Dogma fame but the one of TV series Hercules and Xena fame; I know you’re probably confused now) died while filming another movie in China.  Originally Valdemar (a Viking Warlord from Earth) was to menace the protagonists but this was rewritten when Smith died and another character (Emperor Nero played by Jonathan Cake) put in that place.  As you probably guess, Valdemar died early in the film using Smith’s stunt double.  It seems, considering they had to rewrite during filming and change some major plot points, the movie they made was well done.  The visual effects are probably the best on TV since the cancelled TV series Firefly.
        Well, back to the story.  It appears when the people are reincarnated on this new world they take the form of their middle age self.  When the people arrive to the shores of the river they find canisters with clothing inside as well as monoliths that give food.  The newly arrivals soon find that this world is ruled by a former Viking Warlord named Valdemar who leads an army called the Vandals.  Hale meets Alice Lidell Hargreaves (Emily Lloyd), a Holocaust victim named Lev Ruach (Jeremy Birchall), an African prophetess named Mali (Karen Holness), and Roman Emperor Nero.  Hale and his companions escape Valdemar's clutches and happen upon an alien and a little girl who takes them to a place where another group of people are building a Steamboat to get away from Valdemar and explore Riverworld.
          The only problem I have with this movie is that it doesn’t answer any questions about the world.  It definitely closes the plot up well but since this was originally meant as a pilot for a TV series that Sci-Fi decided to not pick up we are left with much unanswered questions.  The story is also left very open which makes someone go ‘huh, is there more’.  I would like to see the TV series or at least another TV movie that will close up the open story that was left.
         The one thing I did like from this movie was Brad Johnson of the Left Behind movie series fame.  The first time I saw him was in the TV movie Rough Riders based on the group of US cavalry unit led by Theodore Roosevelt during the Spanish-American War.  I think he is a very good actor and I would like to see him more in film and TV.  He is somewhat of a Bill Paxton look alike which confused me at first because that is who I thought he was but he has a different acting style that is something I would like to see more of in TV and in movies.
         Overall, it was a good TV movie that had many problems and left too many questions unanswered and unexplored.
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6/11/2005   All right, I have a new review up!  It is of a Western called "Renegade" based off the popular European comic strip called "Blueberry".
                  I watched Steven Spielberg's new Western "Into the West" last night.  So far so good.  The characters are compelling and the story is great.  I didn't catch the whole wheel and circle stuff until the end but it works well.  I can't wait to see what the next episode will bring next week.
                   I also saw "The Inside", Tim Minear's new show on FOX.  It is a cross between "The X-Files" and "CSI".  While the story seemed to have some problems and the main character wasn't all that great I will try to see what Minear can do with this TV show for at least half a season or until FOX cancels it.

6/7/2005    Welcome to my new (though it's old) website.  This time, rather than posting my incoherent ramblings, I've decided to dedicate this page to movie reviews written by me.  So I hope you enjoy my first three movie reviews of
"Star Wars Episode III", "Riverworld", and "Saints and Soldiers".

                 In other news, I will have my new e-mail address up soon.  I want to find a script first to protect it from spambots before posting it on the website.  So right now you will not be able to contact me but hopefully very soon.

-Richard Kenneth Lenseth
News
Name of Movie                                                Review Grade
Renegade (2004)                                               D
Riverworld (2003)                                             C+
Saints and Soldiers (2005)                                 A++
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith  (2005)              B
Saints and Soldiers (2005)
Corbin Allred, Alexander Niver, Kirby Heyborne, Lawrence Bagby, and Peter Holden
Directed by Ryan Little
Written by Geoffrey Panos and Matt Whitaker
Rated PG-13
90 minutes
Review Score: A++

      Now before I say anything else about this review I have to say this: This movie was made under a $1 million dollars.  Yes, you heard correctly.  This is a low, low budget Independent film but looks like a $50 million dollar budget from a big Hollywood studio.
      This movie is about four American soldiers and one British airman as they try to find their way back to the Allied front lines during the Battle of the Bulge.  The plot of the movie begins around the Massacre at Malmedy where four American soldiers (played by Corbin Allred, Alexander Niver, Lawrence Bagby, and Peter Holden) escape their fates.  As they dodge German soldiers they meet a downed British airman (Kirby Heyborne) who needs to get vital information through to the Allied command that could save the war for the Allies.
       This movie is about God, war, and redemption.  The soldiers must find faith in God and each other or risk losing everything that makes them good people.  This movie portrays war better than even the big budget Hollywood film of Saving Private Ryan and is able to put a human face on the war which Ryan in the end failed to do.  The fighting looks real and frantic unlike Ryan where the action stopped every little bit to see someone with their guts hanging out.  The German soldiers aren’t evil people.  They are just people wearing a different uniform.  And in the end each of the soldiers must come face to face with their past actions and find in them the power to do the greater good.
       This movie was shot beautifully.  It doesn’t look like something shot on less than a million dollars.  The director Ryan Little will be big someday.  If he can make a great movie like this on less than a million dollars then I can only imagine what he can do with a big budget and a Hollywood studio backing.  I expect to see more from him in the future.
        Overall this is the movie that deserves to win the Academy Award for Best Picture but alas it will never even be considered because it is only a small Independent film.  This is how movies should be and by the people that should make them.  They are there for the art and storytelling and not the money.  This is the movie I highly recommend you see this year if you see any movie at all.
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