Thursday, June 11, 2015

Farewell, Christopher Lee

I've been working on a top secret project about which I'm indecently gleeful (surprise: it involves bad movies), but was all set to get back to blogging today when I woke to the news that Christopher Lee has died, and it's rather thrown me off my stride. I don't know why it should exactly; it's not like he was James Dean, nobody's going to say, "Oh, he died so young! He had so much left to give!"  But I'm not sure that's precisely true. Yes, he was the better part of a century old, but he was working right up until the end, so it actually feels like he did have more to give, and the Reaper has cheated us out of several additional movie roles, and who knows how many heavy metal albums.

Anyway, I feel like a tribute is in order, but I'm socially awkward, and the only way I know how to praise Caesar is to point out a crappy movie he was in. So here's a piece Sheri and I wrote for Better Living Through Bad Movies.

Attack of the Clones (2002)
Directed by George Lucas
Written by George Lucas (story and screenplay) and Jonathan Hales (screenplay)

Tagline: A Jedi shall not know anger. Nor hatred. Nor love.

Nor how to act.

In Episode II, visionary filmmaker George Lucas continues his six volume pensées on good and evil. In this installment, he examines Man’s age-old struggle against the forces of petulance.

The Galactic Republic is on the verge of war. Hundreds of star systems are being urged to secede by the mysterious Count Dooku. A former Jedi Knight, Dooku turned to the Dark Side after his fellow Jedi repeatedly pointed out that his name sounds like the stuff you find in an overloaded pair of Pampers.

Meanwhile, Padme Amidala, who was the teen queen of Naboo in the previous film, is now a member of the Galactic Senate. She arrives for quorum call in a stainless steel B-52 that promptly blows up and she dies. Well. That wasn’t as bad as I thought. Let me just grab my coat and we’ll—

Oh. Wait. Damn. It was just a day player dressed in a goofy costume—apparently Lucas is still playing 3-Card Padme with the audience. However, the assassination attempt gives the Chancellor (future Emperor Palpatine) the chance to assign Padme two bodyguards: Obi-Wan Kenobi (even more wan than usual), and unstable Tiger Beat coverboy Anakin Skywalker. We sense this is going to work out badly because Yoda is squinting at the Chancellor, and because Jimmy Smits is hovering in the background dressed like Sir Walter Raleigh.

When they get to Padme’s hotel suite, Anakin flashes his thong at the Senator, and he and Obi Wan immediately get into one of those tense, loudly muttered public arguments that makes all the other guests stare into their drinks and wonder why this has to happen every New Years Eve. (“I’ve never been so embarrassed. I don’t care if they are your friends, we’re not inviting the Jedis next year.”)

Oh, and besides the news that our hero is a sullen, creepy stalker, guess what? Jar-Jar is back. Which is like being told by your doctor, “We’re going to have to amputate your legs. But we thought we’d let the gangrene run its course for awhile just to see what happens. Bill and I have a bet.”

Padme’s relative acting talent misleads the audience into thinking she’s the smart one of the group. This illusion is quickly shattered when she is ordered home, and decides to appoint Jar-Jar as her successor. Yes, the giraffe-necked, fish-faced, crab-eyed scarecrow who sounds like Ziggy Marley sucking the helium from a mylar Happy Birthday balloon is now a Senator. Which is obviously bad news for us, although it does make Texas feel better about its selection of Ted Cruz.

They return to Padme’s home, Planet Pedophilia, where an even younger pre-pubescent girl has won the election for queen. Frankly, I still want to know what kind of a world has “elected queens.” I guess this means that Leia was only an “elected” princess, and the whole thing is basically as meaningful as prom royalty.

Meanwhile, Obi-Wan goes to a Fifties theme dinner, where he is greeted like the Fonz. He chats with the short-order cook, who has apparently escaped from an X-Box game, and heads off for a distant planet where a race of albino basketball players are cloning an army for the Republic, much to the Republic’s surprise.

Time out for a Harlequin Romance interlude, where Anakin again tries to seduce the Senator, claiming that a Jedi’s life is harsh, which is why he likes her, because she’s soft and moist. Or something like that. She finally gives in and kisses him, but Anakin can’t handle it and starts feeling cheap when Padme doesn’t call him the next day. He feels even worse when he hears that she later showed up in gym class and started passing his thong around with her friends.

At this point we get the full force of Lucas’s screenwriting prowess, and to call the dialogue purple is to damn it with understatement. It’s like a vivid, three-day old bruise: purple, sure, but already starting to turn that greenish yellow around the edges. Anakin looks deep into her eyes and says, “I’m haunted by the kiss you should never have given me,” in the same way he might inform a Home Depot salesclerk, “I’m having second thoughts about that Weed Eater you should never have sold me.”

And it doesn’t end there. “My heart is beating,” he informs her. “You are in my very soul.” Then he blurts something that sounds like “Hormel!” But given his mush-mouthed delivery, it’s possible he was recommending an entirely different brand of canned pork products.

Our own hearts begin beating when he says, “I will do anything you ask,” hoping she’ll ask him to shut up. Alas, there is only more pouting, and Anakin storms off to bed, where he has a nightmare about his mother being savaged by Sand People (paging Dr. Freud...). Afraid that his dreams are real, Anakin and Padme fly home to Tattoine, for one of those awkward meet-the-parents things.

They arrive at the subterranean Little House on the Wasteland where we first met (or will later meet?) Luke in Star Wars. Apparently, Pa Ingalls bought Anakin’s mom as a slave, but later married her, giving their story a sort of Marla Maples/Donald Trump quality. Threepio is still there, doing chores and chirping away in his twee accent, cementing his place as the Galaxy’s most effeminate farm implement. Yes, Lucas is still trying to insist that Anakin really did build C3PO, which begs the question why his mother the slave and her husband the poor dirt farmer didn’t dismantle the protocol droid and use it for tractor parts years ago.

Anakin has an uncomfortable meeting with his new stepfather and step-brother. Finding your place in these blended families is always challenging, especially for a sensitive adolescent, and the whole scene has the feeling of a Brady Bunch episode. (“It’s the story/Of a slave named Shmi...”) But a first season episode, when the tone was a trifle bittersweet, and the children still had some difficulty adapting—especially in that episode where Carol was sexually abused by Tuskan Raiders.

Meanwhile, Obi-Wan finds Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) meeting with the Viceroy of the Trade Federation in a secret matte painting. Seems Chris is behind the assassination attempts, and is building a new droid army so Lucas can repeat the climax of the last movie and try to get it right this time.
Oh, sorry for the shock. I just walked over the carpet in my socks.

Anakin tracks the Sand People who kidnapped his mother to their camp, where he finds Mom in bondage. She’s bleeding, badly injured, and for some reason has begun talking in the voice of “Mrs. Olsen,” from those old Folgers Coffee commercials. Shmi takes one look at her long lost son and promptly croaks. It’s sad (well, it’s supposed to be, anyway), but she was already in pain, so it seems cruel to subject her to the rest of the movie. Unfortunately, her death sends Anakin into a grand mal freakout of Holden Caulfield-style angst; he swings his light saber around wildly, decapitating Sand People right and left and yelling, “You guys are so phony!”

Later, Anakin brings Mom’s body back to the farm wrapped in some Sand Person’s drapes, then goes to throw a tantrum in the garage. He screams that he slaughtered them all, men women and children, then crumples to the floor and sobs. Padme’s response is to bring him snacks.

The Saving Private Shmi thing didn’t work out too well, so Ani and Padme decide to pick up the spare and go save Obi-Wan. They blunder into the droid factory, where they get caught in a gigantic assembly line, in a scene that powerfully evokes of the climax of Chicken Run. Eventually, they are captured, chained to stone pillars in a massive coliseum, and set upon by wild computer generated beasts, etc., etc. But first, we have another Harlequin Romance for Teens scene between Ani and Padme. She whispers, “I you,” in a way that sounds chillingly like a song cue. You half expect her to break into the 1974 Olivia Newton John smash, “I Love You, I Honestly Love You.” Hey, when are those Clones going to Attack? I don’t mean to be petty, but even the title of Waiting for Godot is technically correct. Come on!

Instead, the Jedi attack; and do a fairly piss-poor job of it. Still, we get to see the different Jedi head hoses. Most of the Knights appear to be standard humanoids, but they do have an astonishing variety of crap dangling off their skulls. Alas, this isn’t enough to help them overcome the New and Improved Droid Army, and they’re about to be wiped out, when...THE CLONES ATTACK!

It doesn’t really help much. But it does inspire Count Dooku to flee with the plans for the Death Star. And it also leads to the single funniest shot in the film: Christopher Lee flying through the air on a speeder. Considering that he’s over 80, it looks like Count Dooku is doing a commercial for one of those battery-operated scooters that elderly folk routinely use to spread terror in the grocery store (“I’m a little rascal in my Little Rascal.”)
I expected to see a couple of bumper stickers on the back of his speeder: “Try Electric Mobility!” and “Ask Me About My Grandchildren.” 

Our heroes try to stop him, but Dooku opens a can of mystical whoop-ass on Obi-Wan, and cuts off Anakin’s arm. Fortunately, Yoda arrives, but the resulting light saber duel between the 6'5"-tall Lee, and the two-foot-tall muppet looks less like a titanic battle between good and evil, and more like a slightly panicky Yao Ming trying to club a rabid groundhog. 
I'm gonna carve you a sarlaac where your arsehole used to be.

Dooku (whose Hip-Hop name is Darth Tyrannus) manages to escape with the blueprints for the Death Star, which destiny foretells us will be constructed in the next movie by Darth Halliburton after he receives a no-bid contract.

So, it looks like our heroes screwed the computer-generated pooch. And just to add deceit to incompetence, Anakin and Padme break Jedi law by marrying in secret. Their doomed love is foreshadowed by the final image of Anakin holding Padme’s hand with the cold, fleshless, skeletal fingers of his new prosthesis. Although really, what’s the point of that? Granted, the skinless robot hand is lower in fat and calories, but it looks kind of grisly.

The End.


Doc Logan said...

I think it speaks volumes about my mental processes that one of my first thoughts upon hearing of Mr. Lee's passing, after "Oh, damn" and "What a life well lived" was "Yao Ming trying to club a rabid groundhog".

Also his line in "Gremlins 2", "All they have to do is to eat three or four children and there'd be the most appalling publicity."

In addition to his impressive film career, Lee and Ian Fleming were a part of Winston Churchill's "Special Operations Executive", more colorfully known as "The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare". You will never hear a more quintessentially British name for an agency ever.

kelly said...

Today I've seen a few montages of his "best moments" & those included Count Dooku. I've been cringing so - this is perfect.

He seemed like a man who loved his work. And he seemed like a gentleman. I also liked him in Horror Express where he plays this total dickweed who I think is a "good guy"? (I can't remember... been a while since I've seen that film). Anyway no one makes dickweed as compelling, somehow.

Thanks, Scott.

grouchomarxist said...

... like a slightly panicky Yao Ming trying to club a rabid groundhog.

Yes! I've been trying for years to figure out exactly what that scene reminded me of. If he hadn't given such abundant evidence he's dead serious with this stuff, I'd be more than half-convinced Lucas was trying for a little comic relief there. So ridiculous, on so many levels, the way that was choreographed.

Oh well, nobody lives forever. From all indications, Chris Lee had a pretty good run.

Unknown said...

During his stint as a "Saturday Night Live" guest host in 1978 .... during his monologue he said, "Listen ... not ALL of my movies are shown at 3:00 AM".

Scott said...

That's a great line, and I'd completely forgotten it. Thanks, Ed.

Meanie-meanie, tickle a person said...

If he hadn't given such abundant evidence he's dead serious with this stuff, I'd be more than half-convinced Lucas was trying for a little comic relief there.

I'll never be convinced otherwise, after Clones. I mean, in Ep 1, Jar Jar's over-the-top comic relief was the best thing about a movie that completely sucked donkey balls, and he comes back in the next installment as...a Galactic Senator? Combine that with The Big Race (I started searching the crowd for Elvis...) and I was,like, OK, now George is just fucking with us.
And, FSM help me, when the new one comes out this Fall, I'll probably go see it, if I can find it at a 'plex with a Cinemascope/Panavision/whatever-they're-calling-it-these-days screen. Still the only way to watch any of these things, especially at these prices.

preznit said...

if only they'd run this as the soundtrack for that final scene ;}

Li'l Innocent said...

I know this is belated, but here are some quite amazing bits about Sir Christopher. You'll enjoy this if you haven't seen it yet, Scott.

Some life!

Scott said...

Thanks, Li'l!

heydave said...

Good night, sweet evil prince.