Total Performance (2015, Sean Meehan)

Total Performance is exceptionally smart, confident, and self-aware. It’s a distressing, actually, because I hate the idea of Total Performance. A short film capable of aping comedy-dramas without bringing anything to the table. Writer-director Sean Meehan, along with lead Tory Berner, produce an entirely digestible short film here.

But I don’t know how I feel about recommending it. I sort of have to recommend it because it’s so creatively inoffensive, I’d be doing it a disservice by not. Thanks to the Internet, short film has a chance at growing artistically as well as commercially. Performance fakes the former to get to the latter, which is entirely acceptable. It could have done the exact same thing, I have no doubt, without appearing ambitious.

The acting is solid, even if often manipulative. Berner is a fine enough lead, though she eventually suffers the most. Meehan goes for the film’s accessibility over her character arc. Steven Conroy’s inoffensively weak in the male lead. But Meehan wants the blandness to irritate (not offend) enough to cover writing deficiencies.

Caitlin Berger’s really good in a small part.

Predictably strong (but still enthusiastic) production values–Meehan’s editing, Chris Loughran’s solid photography, Cesar Suarez’s likable “don’t call it musak”–round out Total Performance.



Written, edited and directed by Sean Meehan; director of photography, Chris Loughran; music by Cesar Suarez; produced by Alessandra Brown, Korey McIsaac and Meehan.

Starring Tory Berner (Cori), Steven Conroy (Tim), Caitlin Berger (Annie), Timothy J. Cox (Walter), Paul Locke (Bruce) and Anthony Rainville (Rafi).


Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002, George Lucas)

Attack of the Clones is bad. The beginning almost seems all right, with Ewan McGregor and new addition (and astoundingly terrible actor) Hayden Christensen on a mission. It plays like a thirty minute TV pilot slapped on the front of an otherwise tedious Star Wars entry. This time around, director Lucas is so lazy, he doesn’t even bother clearing out the discarded red herrings. They all just hang around, daring the viewer to stare into one and plunge into the abyss.

Lucas’s vision for the film is cheap and manipulative. Not just playing on viewer expectation, but on feigned sympathy. Lucas manipulates the viewer into accepting the cheapest, most exploitative narrative twists. Even though the film’s awful–the acting’s awful, the writing’s awful, David Tattersall’s photography’s awful, John Williams’s music is awful–Lucas’s vision for Clones is a success. He’s pandering. Lucas is acknowledging he’s no longer a defining vision in blockbuster movie-making (regardless of ILM’s involvement) and he’s showing he can do the same thing as all the other guys are doing.

Right down to Natalie Portman having her midriff exposed after a vicious attack from a giant bug. Strangely, Portman’s medical condition is never questioned. There’s no plot points about the giant bug talons injuring Portman or an infection. It’s just a ploy to get her suggestively clad.

It’s desperate. But it’s acceptable. It’s the new norm, the one Lucas didn’t do anything to create. But he can mimic it, he can mimic other styles–Lucas’s ability to adapt established film narrative approaches to new, entirely different material has always been one of his more uncanny skills. But there’s not a thing he cares about in the film. If it isn’t some new effects shot, it’s a direct response to some critical dig at the previous film in the series.

It’s petty. Lucas isn’t insane. He can tell Christensen is bad and has absolutely no chemistry with Portman, partially because he’s a stalker and a jerk. Lucas doesn’t like Christensen’s character and gives him nothing likable in return. Still, even though the script fails Christensen, he’s still an awful actor. Portman gets a lot of sympathy, just for what Lucas puts her through with Clones.

McGregor does better than his costars, but he still isn’t any good. Lucas is so particularly bad at directing his actors against the digital cast. Especially Sam Jackson, whose scenes with Yoda make one wonder if Lucas even told him where to look.

Temuera Morrison is bad too. Ditto Christopher Lee.

No one’s good in Clones. Lucas and co-screenwriter Jonathan Hales don’t even give Anthony Daniels anything to do it. Lucas has no enthusiasm for anything in the film. It’d be funny if the film weren’t so long.



Directed by George Lucas; screenplay by Lucas and Jonathan Hales, based on a story by Lucas; director of photography, David Tattersall; edited by Ben Burtt; music by John Williams; production designer, Gavin Bocquet; produced by Rick McCallum; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Natalie Portman (Padmé), Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), Frank Oz (Yoda), Ian McDiarmid (Supreme Chancellor Palpatine), Pernilla August (Shmi Skywalker), Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks), Oliver Ford Davies (Sio Bibble), Temuera Morrison (Jango Fett), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Silas Carson (Viceroy Nute Gunray), Kenny Baker (R2-D2) with Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu) and Christopher Lee (Count Dooku).


Creed (2015, Ryan Coogler)

Creed is something special. It’s an entirely sincere, entirely reverential sequel to the Rocky movies, but one trying to do something different with the “franchise.” Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky, while extremely important in the film, isn’t the protagonist. He’s not even lead Michael B. Jordan’s sidekick. He’s a cute old man who doesn’t understand cloud computing. Director Coogler, along with co-screenwriter Aaron Covington, occasionally stumble fitting Stallone into the movie. For a while, it seems like his presence is a condition of the franchise license, as Coogler carefully transitions the viewer away from the idea of Stallone as the hero. Jordan doesn’t start the film–the film starts in flashback–so when the handover is complete isn’t just when Creed stops playing at being a Rocky movie, but also when Jordan fully takes on the picture.

Coogler and Covington’s script is deliberate and careful in how it brings the viewer into the world of film (the approach owes a lot to how Stallone’s own Rocky Balboa handled viewer familiarity with the characters). Even though it’s a boxing movie, with some fantastic fight sequences thanks to Coogler and his cinematographer, Maryse Alberti–though without much input from the editors, as Coogler likes to show off how close he and Alberti can get to the bout without cutting, Creed more often relies on Jordan as an intentionally tragic character, juxtaposing him against Stallone’s own intentional tragedies. That concept, the personal, conscious responsibility for misery, isn’t Creed’s point. It’s just an observation from Coogler and his actors. (One has to imagine both Stallone and Jordan loved getting to essay these roles).

Because Creed is, deep down, a rootin‘, tootin’ crowd pleaser. It’s just an exceptionally well-made one and an exceptionally thoughtful one. Coogler’s ambitions for the film are to tell its entirely absurd story well. And Coogler’s not afraid to take shortcuts. He casts Phylicia Rashad as Jordan’s foster mother (he’s her husband’s illegitimate son) and there’s no one possibly better for the role. Rashad brings a gravitas to her (too few) scenes and is always present in the film, even when she’s off-screen (too much of the time). Because Coogler knows how his audience is going to respond to her general presence, not just her performance.

Also very important is Tessa Thompson as Jordan’s love interest. She doesn’t get enough to do, though Coogler and Covington give her a lot of ground situation, but the romance gives she and Jordan some great scenes. Thompson does really well.

And Jordan’s great. He’s got a great role, even if the film isn’t about chronicling the character’s internal struggles. Or even representing them on an epical external scale.

Because Creed isn’t meant to be high art. It’s meant to be high entertainment, just from someone better suited for high art. Coogler, Jordan and Stallone do something really cool. They figure out how to make soullessly commercial nostalgia entertainment entirely, undeniably sincere.



Directed by Ryan Coogler; screenplay by Coogler and Aaron Covington, based on a story by Coogler and characters created by Sylvester Stallone; director of photography, Maryse Alberti; edited by Claudia Castello and Michael P. Shawver; music by Ludwig Göransson; production designer, Hannah Beachler; produced by Robert Chartoff, William Chartoff, David Winkler, Irwin Winkler, Kevin King Templeton and Stallone; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Michael B. Jordan (Adonis Johnson), Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa), Tessa Thompson (Bianca), Phylicia Rashad (Mary Anne Creed), Tony Bellew (‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan), Ritchie Coster (Pete Sporino), Graham McTavish (Tommy Holiday) and Wood Harris (Tony ‘Little Duke’ Burton).


Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999, George Lucas)

Hi. My name is Andrew. And, from 1999 to sometime in 2000, I was a Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace apologist. When writing out the title, I forced myself to type it Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Because having two colons in a title is too lame.

It was a dark time. But, every day, as the ramifications of Phantom Menace (and its critical and cultural reaction) played out and destined mainstream American cinema into a bottomless pit of cynical opportunism masked as fan service, things got brighter. For my film appreciation, anyway. All the rest of the world got was a couple more Star Wars prequels, which I avoided like the plague at the time.

I refused to return to Phantom Menace, after it had become clear there was no way to justify any of it. Jar Jar Binks, the moron who saves a planet, becomes the scapegoat for a film with a gentle, kindly, oftentimes humorous look at slavery. In his screenplay, director Lucas talks about adorable little Jake Lloyd, who’s so Aryan and sweet, we can’t imagine him growing up into Sebastian Shaw, much less James Earl Jones, being a slave almost as much as he talks about those stupid midi-chlorian. He thinks they’re really cool. Just like slavery. And Jar Jar Binks.

Lucas loves Jar Jar Binks. He doesn’t love a lot in Phantom Menace. He could care less about almost all of it, until he gets to the end and thinks he’s directing a sixties MGM war movie. Because there’s nothing original in Phantom Menace. Lucas is just cribbing from other movies–so much Spielberg, so much Cameron–and trying to put something together. It’s like a demo reel, which–if I was being nice–could be used as a rationalization for Lucas, Ben Burtt and Paul Martin Smith’s godawful editing, which goes out of its way to distance the viewer from the characters. Because if the viewer has to get close to the character, to the actor, it’d all be over. Lucas can’t be taken seriously, because he’s so disinterested. He’s copping out.

It’s easy to tell the effects sequences Lucas cares about–with the exception of the visuals of the city planet (yeah, I know what it’s called, but can we just pretend for a second I don’t–I’d have to look up the spelling and I don’t want to)–has flying birds in the shots. Just like Spielberg would have. Because Lucas is jealous. He’s seen ILM do amazing work, both practically and then digitally, and none of it really had anything to do with him. But Lucas hadn’t been making movies, he hadn’t been doing anything, with the Star Wars brand for a decade until the twentieth anniversary edition. And what did all those new special effects, which gave Lucas a chance to have ILM aggrandize him instead of someone else, do? They got a reaction. That reaction emboldened Lucas. It probably emboldened him from the first tests they would have had to do. I’d love to know how that project happened.

All of the effects shots in Phantom Menace attempt to top one another. None of them inform the story. Not even the good ones. Those shots just happen not to be some of the awful ones, which usually involve compositions or first person point of view. But for the effects shots to build in expectation, well, you need a plot to back that approach up. Because Ray Park’s idiotically terse villain doesn’t pay off with that build-up. Neither does Lloyd’s space adventure, which is just a bad Top Gun knock-off for kids. Lucas either doesn’t know what to rip off from somewhere else or he does know what to rip off, but can’t rip it off successfully. The direction is awful.

So what’s good about Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace?

Not Liam Neeson. He’s terrible. Not Ewan McGregor. He’s even more terrible. Not Natalie Portman. She’s better than those two guys. Pernilla August is comically bad. Jake Lloyd’s crappy but it’s hard to blame the kid, Lucas didn’t know how to do this movie. He paces the thing like a bad Saturday morning cartoon.

It’s hard to dislike Ian McDiarmid. He’s almost fun. If Lucas had any ambition for the film, he would have made so much questionable at the end of it. He was bluffing. Phantom Menace is a conceptual bluff, which most entertainment ends up being. Only Lucas got called on it because he’s so bad. It’s so bad.

Though it’s hard to dislike Anthony Daniels. His idiotic cameo at least has sincere acting, which isn’t present anywhere else. Not even from McDiarmid. He’s just too bemused.

Then there’s Terence Stamp looking like he’s working for quaaludes. Or Hugh Quarshie, who’s desperate to make an impression even though Lucas refuses to let anyone make an impression except maybe Sam Jackson just because Lucas is a political animal.

Low mediocre score from John Williams. Awful photography from David Tattersall. He’s overconfident, trying to cover for his inability with the effects work.

Is there anything good about it?

No, don’t be silly. It’s awful. Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace or even if you were crazy and really thought The Phantom Menace was more important than the Episode I part… it’s awful.

And, just like the original, it’s changed Hollywood. Lucas disrupted the system once again. Only this time, he did it too well. He figured out a way to make movies for everyone, whether they knew it or not. I mean, there’s not a single real conversation in this film. There’s not a single time the viewer has to ask a question or have a thought. Lucas pats your hand and takes your money, one stupid scene after another.

I used to defend this movie. I used to say it was okay. I got people to see it.

You know what, I like Andy Secombe’s Watto. I’m just going to say it. I always have. Even now, when it’s obvious Lucas is painting him as a benevolent slave owner. He’s an endearing rip-off of Quark. I wonder who came up with that characterization for the film. It wasn’t Lucas.

I’ve rationalized this film to people. I shouldn’t have. It was wrong. It’s so lame it’s awful, but it’s so lame it can’t actually be awful, because it can’t be taken seriously. Not as a film. Not as a toy commercial. Not even as an expression of Lucas’s ego. Phantom Menace can’t even be that.

Because The Phantom Menace is in vain.

And to those people out there who tried to tell me I was wrong back in 1999 and 2000 during those dark, apologist days and I didn’t listen to you… well, I was a dirty bird. You weren’t grungy, you were bitchin’.



Written and directed by George Lucas; director of photography, David Tattersall; edited by Ben Burtt and Paul Martin Smith; music by John Williams; production designer, Gavin Bocquet; produced by Rick McCallum; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon Jinn), Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Natalie Portman (Padmé Amidala), Jake Lloyd (Anakin Skywalker), Pernilla August (Shmi Skywalker), Ian McDiarmid (Senator Palpatine), Oliver Ford Davies (Sio Bibble), Hugh Quarshie (Captain Panaka), Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Kenny Baker (R2-D2) with Terence Stamp (Chancellor Valorum) and Frank Oz (Yoda).


a superior film blog


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 955 other followers