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Two very different assaults on the senses

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A noticeable improvement over The Phantom Menace, but paling in comparison to the original Star Wars trilogy, Attack of the Clones is a fun film that does little but show off state-of-the-art special effects while filling in the somewhat predictable holes in the story (wait...you mean Anakin is going to be lured to the dark side?). There are a handful of big action sequences (the best coming in the last reel), but the rest is bogged down by the romance and the intricate politics that nobody enjoyed in Episode I.

            Clones is set about 10 years after Menace, and deals with the possible secession of several thousand solar systems from the Federation. The overwhelmed Jedi Knights can't keep up with keeping the peace, spurring talk about the need for a massive galactic army. As now-Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) flies to the capital for an important vote, her ship is blown to bits on the landing pad. Obviously the target of an assassination attempt, Amidala is assigned two Jedi protectors: Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen).

            Neither of the Jedis has seen Amidala since the events depicted in Menace, but that doesn't stop her and Anakin from getting all snuggly (they literally roll around in the grass in one scene). They take a while to warm up to each other, but we all know where this relationship is headed. More interesting is the rapport between Anakin and mentor Obi-Wan: in addition to following the student-becoming-the-master arc, it also shows the developing chinks in Anakin's good-guy armor. Because he's the chosen one and potentially the greatest Jedi ever, Anakin's powers have made him an arrogant, spoiled brat, who constantly needs to be reeled in by Obi-Wan.

            Anakin and Obi-Wan don't spend a lot of time together in Clones. Instead, the two are separated, with Obi-Wan investigating Amidala's attackers and accidentally stumbling upon the creation of a clone army (which involves a young Boba Fett and his dad, Jango), while Anakin escorts Amidala to Naboo and eventually Tatooine in an attempt to protect her until the important vote takes place. The few scenes the two Jedis share at the beginning of the film fall flat; Obi-Wan saying "I hate it when he does that" and "You'll be the death of me" isn't much better than Murtaugh grunting about being "too old for this shit" in the Lethal Weapon films.

            On the plus side, just about everything gets better as Clones progresses (save the wooden acting), but I'd give away too many plot details if I described specifically how it improves. The ending is an all-out action spectacular; aside from being the highlight of the film (other than the strange Gladiator scene, and a passage that would be better served in the new Mario game), it's the only part that even begins to capture the magic of the original Star Wars pictures. The character development is a little better here than in Menace, and there isn't much of Jar Jar Binks or other cutesy stuff (but still more than in, say, Lord of the Rings).

            There are plenty of things to whine about, as well. Clones begins slowly, and it's not nearly as dark as the pre-release buzz seemed to indicate. The dialogue is weak, and when there isn't anything exploding, the story really drags. Then again, how much can you expect from a script co-written (with director George Lucas) by The Scorpion King's Jonathan Hales? There are a few unintentionally funny moments; for example, near the end, Amidala falls off a speeding ship, hits the ground, writhes around in pain like she's about to die, then hops to her feet as if nothing ever happened.

 

Being both hopelessly single and a film critic, there are a couple of things I wish the heavens would grant me. One is a screeching halt to the career of Martin Lawrence, and the other is an attractive woman who will show up on my doorstep and let me have my way with her once a week (or even every other week --- I'm not too picky). In Patrice Chéreau's Intimacy (Saturday, May 18, at the Dryden Theatre) that's just the far-fetched situation in which the male lead finds himself (the girl part, not the Martin Lawrence part). In true cinematic fashion, he blows it by looking the gift horse square in the mouth.

            The guy is Jay (Mark Rylance), the overbearing manager of a trendy London pub, who has recently separated from his wife and two young sons. When Intimacy begins, Jay opens the door of his filthy, barren flat, looking for Claire (Kerry Fox). Two minutes and about six words later, you're looking at Jay's engorged love rocket. Two minutes after that, if you watch really closely, you'll see Claire reveal that disappointed look I'm so used to seeing, before she scrambles to put her clothes back on. And before you can unslack your jaw, she's gone.

            When the same thing happens a few minutes later (although a week of screen time has passed), the pair again don’t exchange any words before going at each other like angry wolves. It isn't until then that Intimacy really launches into its proper story. Jay follows Claire back home, to find out what she's all about (he doesn't even know her name). When he tracks her down at a tiny theatre in a pub basement (the helpful sign on the door reads "Toilets and theatre"), Jay learns Claire has the female lead in a Tennessee Williams play, and, more surprisingly, that she's married and has a young son. Jay has trouble wrapping his mind around this discovery, as he assumed Claire was miserably single like himself. He strikes up a friendship with her husband (Topsy-Turvy's Timothy Spall), and you just know things are going to end badly.

            Reminiscent of Last Tango in Paris --- Bernardo Bertolucci's English language debut, as Intimacy is Chéreau's --- the film is based on stories by Hanif Kureishi, the Oscar-nominated writer of My Beautiful Laundrette. There's not much of a plot here, and like the similarly titled Romance (which showed about as much romance as Intimacy features intimacy), it's all about the graphically portrayed sex. The one scene everyone will talk about shows Fox performing fellatio on Rylance. As in for real. Having never been done before in a legitimate film, this is a pretty big deal, and no doubt helped Fox win the Silver Bear for best actress at last year's Berlin Fest (the film itself took home the top award). But an authentic blow job doth not a good film necessarily make.

            The sex scenes are quite well done, especially contrasted with the silky-smooth softcore porn of Unfaithful. There's no romantic music, artistic lighting, or makeup to camouflage either actor’s unsightly imperfections. It's a frighteningly realistic look at completely passionless sex, and Fox and Rylance do a good job of making us uncomfortable as we watch.

For more of Jon’s movie ramblings, visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER’s Friday Morning Show.

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