Tuesday, May 31, 2005

For the love of God.

Would someone explain to me (a) why that runaway bride from Georgia was a national news story in the first place, and (b) why the hell she continues to be a national news story? This whole thing really illustrates the degree to which the US media can be distracted by something bright and shiny.


The Buffalo News ran this editorial cartoon by Dick Wright the other day. I suppose Wright's point is perfectly true, if one holds to the notion that not one of the 208 judges nominated by President Bush, and confirmed by the Senate, are conservative.

So, when one wants a divorce from Reality, which judge does one see, anyway?

Ringly Motifs

Last week I linked a guide to the motifs in the Lord of the Rings scores, which has now also been linked by Scott Spiegelberg and Sarah Jane Elliott. Scott, specifically, wonders about one certain instance of the use of a motif: the motif most commonly identified with the One Ring is heard, in perhaps its boldest statement, in The Fellowship of the Ring as the Fellowship rows past the Gates of Argonath on the Great River.

Here's how I answered that question back when I wrote my GMR review of the scores:

Why not use the Fellowship theme there? Or the Gondor Theme, since Aragorn muses on returning home and claiming his lineage? It turns out that Howard Shore knows his story well: from that point, only the Ring and the Ringbearer (and his unfailing companion, Sam) will go on; everyone else either dies (Boromir) or turns west into Rohan.

I still like that answer, at least in part: the LOTR scores are full of sophisticated instances of musical foreshadowing, such as the Gondor theme being heard during Boromir's speech at the Council of Elrond, one-and-a-half films before we ever even get to Gondor. But Scott provides his own answer:

While the motif does represent the Ring, it also represents all the lost lore/wisdom/culture of the previous ages. Man can no longer build things like the Argonath. The end of the Ring means the end of the Elves power and culture. I think it overall represents the transition from the Elf-dominated world to a new one, which will be dominated by either Men or Orcs. It also captures the tone of Tolkein's books, with a nostalgic focus on the glories of the past, never to be repeated.

I tend to be a bit more literalistic when trying to pick apart leitmotif-based scores, so I'm going to revise and extend my original remarks a bit. Consider what the Gates of Argonath actually are: while the film does not make this clear, they are not just two giant megalithic statues of generic kings. They are two very specific figures, actually: Isildur and Anarion, the two heirs of Elendil, the King who was slain on the fields at the Battle of Dagorlad when Isildur then took up his father's sword and cut the Ring from Sauron's hand. And Aragorn is passing through those Gates, not just as the leader of the Fellowship but as the Heir of Isildur.

But why the Ring Theme, again, as opposed to the Gondor theme, or the "White Tree Theme"? Because one of the things that Shore's scores do so well is musically illustrate relationships that exist between the various elements of the story (example: the motifs associated with Saruman and with Gandalf the White both start with the exact same notes). In this case, remember the scene early in Fellowship when Gandalf travels to Minas Tirith to consult the account of Isildur, from which he reads the following:

"It has come to me -- the Ring of Power! It shall be an heirloom of my Kingdom...all those who follow in my bloodline shall be bound to its fate, for I will risk no hurt to the Ring...it is precious to me, though I buy it with great pain..." (emphasis added)

So when the Fellowship passes the Gates of Argonath, the Ring is passing the likeness of the King who took it for his own, and who used it to build his Kingdom, and who was betrayed by it to his ruin; and the Ring is accompanied by that King's heir. I'd say that makes the Ring motif directly relevant to the Gates of Argonath.

Of course, Scott is right that it's sometimes hazardous to assume a one-to-one relationship between leitmotifs and the things they represent; the proper use of leitmotif is, as I am always pointing out to people on various film music forums, more than just a simple matter of a composer saying, "Oh, Bob is on the screen now, so I must play Bob's Theme". But I constantly find solid, storytelling reasons for the gestures that Howard Shore makes in the course of these three filmscores.

(By the way, some of my very first thoughts on the LOTR music, based only on Fellowship because that was the only one in release at the time, can be read here, in a post that actually originated on Usenet but which I then re-posted to the blog for my own reference purposes.)

Roads Not Taken

Last week I watched Before Sunset, which is a sequel to one of my favorite films, Before Sunrise.

For those unfamiliar with these films, first of all, shame on you. Before Sunrise is one of the most effective filmed romances I've ever seen, and it has an incredibly simple conceit that is yet incredibly hard to pull off convincingly. A young American, Jesse (Ethan Hawke), is on a train to Vienna at the tail end of one of those "backpacking across Europe" things that all young people are supposed to do (but few actually do), when he happens to meet a beatiful young woman his age named Celine (Julie Delpy). As the train pulls into the Vienna station, Jesse talks Celine into getting off the train with him and just spending a day in Vienna until he catches his plane for home. The film does nothing but follow these two people around Vienna as they talk, and talk, and talk...and fall in love with each other. As the film ends, the two lovers promise to come back to Vienna in six months' time...but we don't know if they do. The implication, really, is that they pretty much don't, but we don't know.

Until, that is, director Richard Linklater made Before Sunset a year ago, finally letting us know whether Jesse and Celine met in Vienna again. Nine years later, Jesse has written a novelized account of that night in Vienna, and he's in Paris doing a book signing when he looks up and sees Celine standing there. And just like that, they are off again, wandering the streets of Paris and talking to pass the time between now and Jesse's plane. Again.

Now, here's something weird, at least for me. Even though I dearly loved Before Sunrise, which I saw in its original theatrical run, I have not seen it all the way through since then -- all I've managed to do is catch bits and pieces of it when it's turned up on afternoon or late-night movies on TV. And in turn, that means that just as Jesse and Celine are making up for nine years of their lives in Before Sunset, I'm doing the same thing with both of them in seeing the new film now.

What to say about the film in general? Well, two things strike me. First, the dialogue, obviously. It's not brilliant dialogue that will last in the annals of filmdom, but it is utterly convincing dialogue in that these two characters say things that I'd absolutely expect two intelligent people with a close connection to one another to say to each other at that point in their lives. It was genuine dialogue, and that's no small thing.

The other thing is in the performances of the leads. Now, Ethan Hawke has never been my favorite actor, but Jesse seems to be his perfect role; and of course, Delpy is wondrous, even as she's aged nine years since last time. (In fact, I'm generally finding older women more and more beautiful as time goes by, and I'm finding youthful beauty less interesting.) What's interesting about their performances here is the way they don't sound like they are exchanging scripted dialogue, but like they are having an actual conversation: they break into each other's uncompleted sentences, they interrupt each other, at times they are both talking at the same time. It's fascinating to listen to, and I wonder how much of the film was scripted and how much was adlibbed.

Before Sunset falters a bit in its final scene, when Jesse accompanies Celine to her apartment. Somehow this part of the film felt off to me, as if I was suddenly glimpsing more into her character than was wise for the film to reveal. I don't know; the feeling is hard to put into words, but it was real. Something about that part of the film feels just slightly wrong to me.

The second film no more ends with a "full-stop" than the first one did, although the ending of Before Sunset seems to leave things more open for an assumption of a happy ending than Before Sunrise did. If anything, this film seems to almost imply that perhaps in 2013 we'll have Before Midnight. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing these characters again.

Torn, am I.

I can't really tell if Fred Himebaugh actually liked Revenge of the Sith or not, but credit where due: his brief post on the subject sports one of the funniest post titles I've seen in quite some time.

Nevertheless, destroyed he must be.

Sunday, May 29, 2005


If the names "Stark", "Lannister", or "Targaryen" mean anything to you....read this.

(And make sure to click the link at the bottom. The news isn't all good....)


Know, all who see these lines,
That this man, by his appetite for honor,
By his steadfastness,
By his love for his country,
By his courage,
Was one of the miracles of the God.

-- Guy Gavriel Kay

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

The original Star Wars trilogy, in Legos. I might have linked this before, but it still struck me as odd.

(Oh, and here's a question: why on Earth is that "Bob the talking baby" back now? I just saw him on a Quiznos commercial. Didn't he go the way of the dodo a few years back when CBS decided that what the world needed was an entire sitcom spun around the concept, to which the world responded, "No, we really don't need that"?)

The List-o-Matic keeps on crankin'....

In the wake of the "100 Best Films" thing I posted about a few days ago, I find this "100 Worst Films" List, and I figure hey, why not bold the ones I've seen here, too. So, with occasional comment, here are some apparently really bad movies:

Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995)
An Alan Smithee Film-Burn Hollywood Burn (1998)
Anaconda (1997)
The Apple (1980)
Armageddon (1998) (This movie is a cinematic lava lamp. It's wretched crap, but every time I catch it on TV, damned if I don't end up watching a chunk of the thing. It's freaking hypnotic.)

Arthur 2: On The Rocks (1988)
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1980)
The Avengers (1998)
Baby Geniuses (1999)
The Bad News Bears Go To Japan (1978)
Barb Wire (1996)
Batman & Robin (1997) (I've never really hated this movie as much as everybody else, although I certainly admit that it's not very good. Maybe it was just seeing Alicia Silverstone in skintight rubber....)

Battlefield Earth (2000)
Best Defense (1984)
Best of the Best (1989)
The Beverly Hillbillies (1993)
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)
Boxing Helena (1993)
Caddyshack II (1988)
Caligula (1980)
Can I Do It ...Til I Need Glasses? (1977)
Can't Stop The Music (1980)
Car 54, Where Are You? (1994)
The Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation (1986)
The Cheech and Chong Films of the 1980's
Clambake (1967)
Cobra (1986)
The Concorde - Airport '79 (1979)
Cool As Ice (1991)
Crow: City of Angels (1996)
Drop Dead Fred (1991)
Dungeons & Dragons (2000)
The Exorcist Sequels (1977, 1990)
Far Out Man (1990)
The Forbidden Dance (1990)
The "Friday The 13th" Series (1980-1989) (Actually, I've only seen two of these, and I don't even know which ones they were. But both sucked, hard.)

The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (1987)
Glen or Glenda? (1953)
The Gods Must Be Crazy (1984US) and The Gods Must Be Crazy II (1989US)
Godzilla (1998) (Gack. Here's a movie that takes Jean Reno and says, "You're going to play a supporting character to the lead, who's played by Matthew Broderick!" And here's a movie that tells us that if you need to escape from a reptilian monster the size of Madison Square Garden, the vehicle you want is not an Apache attack helicopter but a New York City taxicab. Oy.)

Grease 2 (1982)
Gymkata (1985) (I caught this in the middle of the night once, and I was transfixed. I was also drunk, so for a time I wondered if I'd hallucinated the movie. Turns out I didn't.)

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Harlem Nights (1989)
Heartbeeps (1981)
Heaven's Gate (1981)
The "Highlander" Sequels (1991, 1994) (I only saw the first sequel, not the second. Strangely enough, I thought the first one was every bit as crappy as the sequel that I saw.)

Howard The Duck (1986) (Why George Lucas always gets the blame for this thing, a movie he neither wrote nor directed and only produced as a favor to some friends, is beyond me.)

Hudson Hawk (1991) (I kinda liked this thing. It was one of those "So stupid it's good" movies, I thought.)

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1963)
Independence Day (1996) (This film may have the worst writing, from the standpoint of the plot making sense, of all time.)

Ishtar (1987)
The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)
It's Pat: The Movie (1995)
Jaws 4: The Revenge (1987) (Oh holy shit, this was a bad movie. I'll never forget the shark standing on its tail, half its body sticking out of the water. Jee-bus.)

Judge Dredd (1995)
Lambada (1990)
Last Action Hero (1993)
Leonard Part 6 (1987)
The "Look Who's Talking" Sequels (1990, 1993)
Lost In Space (1998)
Manos - The Hands of Fate (1966)
Mars Attacks! (1996)
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)
Natural Born Killers (1994) (I liked this when I saw it. I'd probably hate it now.)

The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking (1988)
North (1994)
Nothing But Trouble (1991)
Penitentiary 2 (1982)
The Pirate Movie (1982)
Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
Pokémon: The First Movie (1999)
The "Police Academy" Series (1984- 1994)
Popeye (1980) (Oh, vomit.)

The Porky's Trilogy (1982, 1983, 1985)
The Postman (1997) (Another one I kind of liked, even if it was way too long and self-indulgent.)

Red Dawn (1984) (Total crap.)
Rhinestone (1984)
Rocky V (1990)
Sextette (1978)
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)
Shanghai Surprise (1986)
Showgirls (1995)
Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997)
Spice World (1998)
Star Trek-The Motion Picture (1979) and the "odd numbered" original cast Star Drek sequels (Ummmm...no. See the Star Trek Redux articles, linked in my sidebar, for more details.)

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (1999) (You're killing me, folks.)

Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot (1992)
Striptease (1996)
Superman IV (1987) (Here we learn that a strand of Superman's hair can (a) support a one-ton weight, and yet (b) be cut with a simple pair of wire-cutters from Home Depot.)

Tarzan, The Ape Man (1981)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its sequels (1974-1997)
Titanic (1997) (The continuing backlash against this movie still surprises me. It's really a good movie, folks.)

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1993)
Waterworld (1995) (Had this movie not cost something like five hundred billion dollars to make, its reputation would be higher, I suspect. It's not a bad film at all. Not a great one, sure, but one of the worst? Not by a longshot.)

Weekend at Bernie's and Weekend at Bernie's II (1989, 1993) (Saw the first. It sucked.)

Who's That Girl (1987)
Wicked Stepmother (1989)
Wild Orchids and Wild Orchids 2 (1990, 1992) (I don't remember which one of these I watched in college. It was supposed to be this incredibly erotic movie, though. I fell asleep.)

Wild Wild West (1999)
Xanadu (1980)

And there you have it. I'm glad I haven't seen all of those!

It's a fair cop.

According to this engine, my name directly proves that I am evil. I'm not sure I understand the translation, but using ASCII values, my name somehow translates to the number 12989. From there, we get this unblinking logic:

Subtract 69, the year of the destruction of Jerusalem. The result will be 12920.

Divide the number by 002 - this is the symbol of greed, backwards. It gives 6460.

Turn the number backwards, subtract 7 - the sacred number of Illuminati. The number is now 639.

Turn the number backwards, subtract 64 - the year of the Great Fire of Rome. The number is now 872.

Turn the number backwards, multiply by 3 - the symbol of fulfillment. The number is now 834.

This number, when read backwards, gives 438. This, written in octal, gives 666 - the number of the Beast.

Enough said - QED.

Well, I guess that says it all. I should probably go find some little child, that I might steal her candy; or perhaps seek out a dog to kick or a little old lady's purse to snatch. I've only just found out that I'm evil, so I have to start small, right? I mean, it's not like I can turn evil and then run right out and kill a bunch of younglings. No one does that when they've just turned evil.

Say, I wonder if, in addition to being evil, if I might also be a witch? If so, it follows that I must be made of wood, and would therefore weigh the same as a duck. I didn't realize ducks were so heavy these days....

UPDATE: Link fixed. Geez.

Would Bill O'Reilly be "Blowhard Boy"?

With no warning whatsoever, North Coast Craig posts something truly demented, something which should not be unleashed upon unsuspecting folks who go happily traipsing into his Web region: Ann Coulter as superhero. There's a link there to something called the "League of Conservatives". I am not clicking that link. My intestinal fortitude isn't that strong these days, and I'm fresh out of Maalox.

And besides, if Ann Coulter were really a superhero, I suspect that she would use her super-speed to flee, in the spirit of Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot, from a group of pastry-wielding attackers.

"Run away! The Liberal terrorists are after me! Run! Run! AIEEE!"

And then she'd use her superspeed to run to her trusty laptop (home to three cybertronic personalities, code-named "Hindrocket", "Deacon", and...er...something else), where she'd use her powers of super-mendacity to columnize about it. Why, that will teach 'em! Those silly Fantastic Four -- all those times they went into battle against Victor Von Doom, never once realizing that he would have crumpled up like last week's soggy newspaper if only they'd just been able to crank up the Conservative League's ultimate weapon, the Noise Machine!

But really, what a comic book that would make! Is John Byrne still around? He could draw it, and Chris Claremont could handle the writing duties, using his own powers of super-plot-expansion to make the foregoing into a subplot over the course of two hundred monthly issues of The Uncanny Bush-Men. Of course, so many of those issues would have the League of Conservatives sitting around congratulating each other while they fail to notice little things like, oh, the giant fireball streaking toward Earth that can be plainly seen through their front window....

Matrimonial Imaginings

I suspect that around eight years ago, on a warm summer night, an exchange rather like this took place somewhere in the Midwest:

HIM: So, did you like Samurai Wars XXVII: Vampire Mechas Against Gorgothon, The Radioactive Monster That Ate Osaka?

HER: Oh my God, it was the best movie ever! (wipes tear from eye on his sleeve) Did they make a Samurai Wars XXVIII?


HIM: (blurts out suddenly) Marry me!

Happy Anniversary, Darth and Mrs. Swank!

Sentential Links, #3

Here we go again, with another round-up of good sentences from better posts. Click the sentence to get the context. I've been gathering these all week. Enjoy!

:: Gosh... I so did not find zen on the back porch!

:: The right can’t lecture to the left about how political correctness stifles and chills speech and thought, while in the next breath exercizing its own brand of PC to stifle and chill speech and thought.

:: I am proud to introduce to the world, and in particular to the attentions of British copyright law, my three-act opera Tristan + Isolde, which bears certain superficial resemblances to the similarly titled Richard Wagner opera....

:: How do you get to that galaxy that's a long time ago and far away? Second star to the right, and straight on till morning.

:: We marched out the symphony hall into the cold rain, but our grins were warm.

:: Why cite The Critic -- an animated series that no one in particular actually watched and that is in any case ten years old -- as an example of the current low state of the critical field? (Ah, The Critic -- I liked that show, even if it got shafted mightily by its network, prompting Jon Lovitz -- who voiced the lead -- to go on Letterman and issue one of my favorite snarky one-liners ever, "FOX: they should spell it with a 'U'.")

:: During the decades when hard drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, were widely available, artists were some of their most eager advocates. (Stephen King, a recovering alcoholic, responds to this idea in his book On Writing by noting, "We all look pretty much the same when we're puking in the gutter.")

:: Hostility is so much easier to deal with than friendliness, for some reason.

:: Wouldn't you sleep more soundly at night knowing Ann Coulter was in the Army and not in a voting booth? (Not from a blog, but I couldn't resist it.)

:: As I read this crap (sorry), I started to wonder whether there just might be a reverse Mozart effect. Maybe classical music makes us dumber.

:: Yes, the pigeon porn couple is back. (Go look. Nice photo here.)

:: They're highly unselective when it comes to mating, gleefully grabbing females, other males, and different species in their quest to copulate. 18 seconds later, they're ready to go at it again. Instead of wooing the female, they simply grab, shag, and run. (You know you're curious as to what this refers to....)

More next week!

Friday, May 27, 2005

Gahhh! I've been tagged!

Yup, I've been picked to answer one of them blog-quiz things, by Mira of The Oubliette. And away we go:

1. Total number of films I own on DVD/video:

About 80 on DVD, and probably about 40 or so on video that aren't already replaced on DVD.

2. The last film I bought:

Before Sunset.

3. The last film I watched:

(By "last film watched", I'm assuming that we're talking about films I own, which rules out the obvious answer, Revenge of the Sith.)

Before Sunset. (I'll be posting about this film sometime soon.)

4. Five films that I watch a lot or that mean a lot to me:

OK, I'm going to omit the Star Wars films from this list, since they're the most obvious choice:

The Lord of the Rings (the whole thing)
My Fair Lady
Singin' in the Rain
The Shawshank Redemption
The Sea Hawk

5. Tag 5 people and have them put this in their journal/blog:

Goodness, five people this time? Oy...

Nefarious Neddie
Mr. Johnson
Sarah Jane Elliott

I was there in spirit!

Last night a bunch of Buffalo bloggers met at the venerable Anchor Bar. Sadly, I was unable to attend, since the logistics of getting me to an event like that are, shall we say, non-trivial (well, not the actual bit of me getting there, but the thing about what I do with the kids while I'm there). Hopefully when next an event like this transpires, I shall be able to attend.

Where are those motifs going?

I was Googling my own name a few minutes ago, and thus found this site devoted to the Lord of the Rings scores, which performs the enormously helpful task of cataloguing all of the Trilogy's leitmotifs, complete with MP3 examples. Great stuff. My name crops up because the author cites my GMR review of the LOTR scores, which marks the author as a person of uncommon insight and taste. Bravo!

(EDIT: I've just changed the date on this post so that it's not sitting by itself, taking up an entire day's slot of posts. That bugs me. I don't like having a single post on an entire day's roster of posts, unless it's a long one, like my Revenge of the Sith review.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Spoilers for American Idol's season finale here!

I've just finished watching the finale of American Idol for this year, and as in the past two years (I didn't watch the show in Year One), it was a fun ride. I occasionally disagreed with who got sent home, but I think that this year's final two (Bo Bice and Carrie Underwood) was one of two possible final two's that I would have expected (the other being Bo and Constantine Maroulis).

I was rooting for Bo Bice this year, having liked him as soon as I saw him way back in the Hollywood section of the show's run. I like the Southern Rock thing, and I thought that Carrie, while blessed with a tremendous voice, didn't always appear totally confident on stage. But Carrie won, and congratulations to her. I suspect that this year's dynamic might be a lot like that of two years ago, when Clay Aiken's losing to Ruben Studdard had no effect at all on his eventual career. I doubt very much if we've heard the last of Bo Bice. It's too bad that he came in second, but then, Americans seem to be generally suspicious of guys with long hair and beards. I honestly don't know why that should be, but there it is.

(BTW, we've now had eight Idol contestants reach the Final Two, and only one of those -- Justin Guarini -- has hailed from outside the South. What's up with that? Is there no one from the North, the West, or the Mountains who can break the South's stranglehold on Idol?)

And here's part of a post I wrote over two years ago, outlining just why I like American Idol so much. See you next year, Simon, Paula and Randy! (And Ryan too, I guess.)

I've also figured out why I like American Idol as much as I do. It's not because of the music, a lot of which is "take it or leave it". It's not because of Simon being mean, although I must honestly admit that this is why I started watching the current season -- I wanted to see if Simon is as mean as he'd been said to be. I've been wondering why I've kept watching this particular reality show, whereas just about all of the others send me racing for the DVD player. Then I happened to catch a few minutes of the syndicated version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, and I remembered why I liked that show so much when it was on prime-time while I absolutely hated Survivor, which was then new, and why I still hate Survivor.

It's because, alone of just about all the other "Reality" shows, Millionaire and American Idol aren't about narcissism. They don't celebrate devious people scheming against others. They don't invite me into voyeurism on people who have nothing going for them other than their carefully-cultivated looks. Survivor, with its "alliances" and its schemes and plots and backstabbing reminds me of office politics, and if I hated office politics when I was actually working in an office, why on Earth would I want to see it played out on TV? Why on Earth would I enjoy watching the "Big Prize" won by a person whom I would probably detest if I had to endure that person in any kind of real life capacity? I think back to that Richard guy who won the first Survivor, and I remember watching his smiling trickery and thinking of all the people I've worked with, in various settings, who were precisely like him. That's the kind of person that "Reality" TV seems to elevate, and I prefer to not spend my leisure time watching TV shows that remind me of what a bunch of shits humans can be. (This is also why I don't watch C-SPAN.)

But in the case of Millionaire, I wasn't watching schemers and plotters and would-be Machiavelli's. I was watching some guy or some woman who might work in some decent, if not particularly posh, job trying to win a lot of money merely by knowing some stuff. That I could like. And in the case of American Idol, I may not entirely like the music on display (although I did enjoy last night's episode, which focused on Billy Joel songs) and I may not care for the contestants' senses of style, but I have to love the cameraderie that exists among them. When one of them is eliminated from the competition, the runner-up invariably bursts into tears as they realize they've dodged the bullet that the person whose hand they're holding has just taken in the chest, and then everyone else gathers around the soon-to-be-gone person to wish them well. And it's not about plotting or forging alliances; Clay and Ruben don't get together to try to get Trenyce voted off, or some similar nonsense -- it's just a group of people, dwindling by one each week, each of whom is working hard to take advantage of a particular talent they've got and hopefully grab an opportunity that they otherwise might not have had. Yes, Simon can be very caustic, but the main draw for me is watching these people put their talent on the line, saying "This is what I got, America. I hope you like it." I appreciate that a lot more than watching a motley group of people who haven't showered in three weeks banding together to take down the other folks.

Another list-quiz thing....

Via Tosy and Cosh. I can't stop myself from filling these out.

1. My uncle once: shipped off for World War II.

2. Never in my life: danced the tango.

3. When I was five: I saw Star Wars for the very first time. (Bet you didn't think I could tie Star Wars into this!)

4. High School was: a period that seemed dreadfully real at the time, but seems incredibly hazy now, so much so that I'm sometimes not sure if it happened at all.

5. I will never forget: my friend's gasp of "Holy shit!" when Mace Windu met his maker.

6. I once met: Wynton Marsalis. And then I skipped his concert that night, for which I have strangely never felt much regret.

7. There's this girl I know: whose smile makes me absolutely melt.

8. Once, at a bar: I watched Doug Drabek almost throw a no-hitter for the Pirates, against the Phillies. The no-no was broken up with two out in the bottom of the ninth.

9. By noon I'm usually: already tired.

10. Last night: I watched the final two on American Idol

11. If I only had: a way to regenerate brain tissue.

12. Next time I go to church: it will be Sunday.

13. Terry Schiavo: is dead.

14. What worries me most: is that J.P. Losman won't be a good quarterback. (No, that's not really what worries me most. But still.)

15. When I turn my head left, I see: my desk, a map of the world, and the poster for The Phantom Menace

16. When I turn my head right, I see: the tee-vee.

17. You know I'm lying when: I sound as though I'm self-assured. I have self-doubt by the boatload.

18. What I miss most about the eighties: Knowing that George Lucas will someday make some more Star Wars movies.

19. If I was a character written by Shakespeare, I'd be: prone to really poetic speeches.

20. By this time next year: my hair will be visibly gray, I suspect.

21. A better name for me would be: hard to imagine, really.

22. I have a hard time understanding: why some people are just so damned freaked out by the idea of evolution.

23. If I ever go back to school I'll: study music. Or, should I say, finish studying music.

24. You know I like you if: I stop what I'm doing to talk to you.

25. If I won an award, the first person I'd thank would be: George Lucas.

26. Darwin, Mozart, Slim Pickens & Geraldine Ferraro: are four names plucked at random to make a cutesy, overly clever question for a blog-quiz.

27. Take my advice: Aeresol-can whipped cream sucks, and not just in flavor, either.

28. My ideal breakfast is: a bowl of shredded wheat with a ton of berries on top (fresh preferred, frozen acceptable).

29. A song I love, but do not have is: that cover of "Over the Rainbow" by that Hawaiian singer that was all the rage a few years back. (Not Don Ho, the other Hawaiian singer.)

30. If you visit my hometown, I suggest: walking the Elmwood strip, going to the Philharmonic, and eating wings at a bar.

31. Tulips, character flaws, microchips & track stars: are the non-proper name equivalent of the question from above.

32. Why won't people: realize that The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones don't suck.

33. If you spend the night at my house: I'll probably trip on you on my way out the door.

34. I'd stop my wedding for: about five minutes.

35. The world could do without: weak coffee.

36. I'd rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: willingly ingest broccoli.

37. My favorite blonde is: The Daughter. My favorite non-living-in-this-household blonde, though, is Julie Delpy.

38. Paper clips are: really handy for averting worldwide disaster, if MacGyver is to be believed.

39. If I do anything well, it's: fill out blog-quiz things.

40. And by the way: why did write the book of love, anyway?

...and still MORE traffic babbling!

I know, few things in Blogistan are more boring than when some small-fish blogger suddenly starts squealing, "Woo-hoo, look at all the traffic today!" So I'm perfectly aware how annoying it will be when I now squeal, "Woo-hoo, look at all the traffic today!"

I've long despaired of ever getting a link from the real heavy hitters of Blogistan, but today I've got the next best thing: Atrios and Pandagon link this Lance Mannion post, which in turn links me. Following the bouncing ball, I get lots of traffic. Yay, me!

Anyway, stick around, new folks. Feel free to peruse the archives. And thanks to Lance for the link.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Traffic Babbling

I see via Roxanne that there's some kind of study out there that notes the staggering conclusion that many political blogs saw traffic drop after the heights achieved back in November, when US political life reached its quadrennial apex with one of those Presidential elections that we like to have once in a while. I don't have much to note about this, except that it seems pretty obvious to me. It's like the way you don't see too much football coverage once the Super Bowl is over, right?

(Well, that's probably a bad example in Buffalo, since we'll talk football 24-7 here no matter if the season's in full swing or it's March and the draft is still a month away.)

My own traffic is through the roof this month, thanks to all the Star Wars posting, mainly. This month is already my best month ever, and there are still seven days to go. Next month we'll see just how "sticky" this blog has been, and how many of the newcomers stick around. Hopefully it'll be a lot -- anyway, as always, thanks for reading!

Yes, yes! To Mary you listen!

Mary Messall on Revenge of the Sith, in which she makes this wonderfully insightful statement:

Star Wars isn't literature. It's architecture.

Beautiful. Just beautiful. It's almost enough to make me think that everything worthwhile to be said about Star Wars has now been said. But of course that won't stop me from talking about more myself. No. Never that!

Oh, and she also responds to Orson Scott Card's bizarre take on the whole thing. I just don't understand how the bright guy who wrote How to Write Fantasy and Science Fiction turned into such a tool, but there it is.

A Reader's Request

In comments to this post, Lynn Sislo specifically requests a particular photo, and I aim to please at least part of the readership (at the risk of hopelessly annoying another part of the readership). So here are The Wife and I. This was taken, if memory serves, last Thanksgiving night, after we got home from dinner at my parents' home.

The Wife tells me that she's often getting comments from people to the effect that when they meet me, I'm not what they expected in a husband for her. One person even went so far as to tell her that they envisioned her with a conservative businessman, not an aspiring writer with an affection for workwear. Oh well. It's worked for us for eight years and one week. (Our anniversary was last Tuesday.)

And yes, we actually do go out in public both dressed in overalls on occasion. It's become a kind of little "code" thing between us.

(BTW, I'm 5'10" tall, just by way of perspective. I think this photo makes me look taller than I really am.)

Don't Adjust Your Monitor

Because of all my recent heavy traffic (at least, heavy for these parts), I've had to move some of the larger graphics files for this blog -- the masthead, my two "author" shots, and the frequently-used background graphics -- to the webspace my ISP allocates for another screen-name, where I have nothing else residing. So if things feel like they're suddenly loading very slowly, it's because the same old pictures are loading from a different location. Once you load the blog a time or two, the difference should disappear, I hope.

(And boy, has all this Star Wars blogging brought in the traffic! I'm averaging over 200 hits a day the last week or so, which is quite a jolt in the traffic here. Thanks for coming by, readers, and stick around! I really do write about things other than space-opera film series by filmmakers from the San Francisco region in this blog.)

Monday, May 23, 2005

I'll take "Yet More Lists" for $500, Alex!

Via Tosy and Cosh (which one is Tosy, and which one is Cosh?) I see that the film critics of TIME Magazine have listed their 100 greatest movies of all time. Here's their list, with the ones I've seen in bold (and with additional, occasionally pithy, commentary):

Aguirre: the Wrath of God (1972)
The Apu Trilogy (1955, 1956, 1959)
The Awful Truth (1937)
Baby Face (1933)
Bande à part (1964)
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)
Blade Runner (1982) (I have never understood this film's high acclaim. Its production design is absolutely brilliant, but the story and characters inevitably leave me cold every time I watch it.)

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Brazil (1985)
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Camille (1936)
Casablanca (1942) (This is the best movie of all time that doesn't also happen to be a Star Wars movie.)

Charade (1963)
Children of Paradise (1945)
Chinatown (1974)
Chungking Express (1994)
Citizen Kane (1941)
City Lights (1931)
City of God (2002)
Closely Watched Trains (1966)
The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936)
The Crowd (1928)
Day for Night (1973)
The Decalogue (1989)
Detour (1945)
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
Dodsworth (1936)
Double Indemnity (1944)
Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Drunken Master II (1994)
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
8 1/2 (1963)
The 400 Blows (1959)
Farewell My Concubine (1993) (I'm actually cheating here, because I've seen the first hour of this film six times. Every few months I request it from the library for watching in installments after The Daughter has gone to bed, and each time, I end up having to return it before I can finish it. Which is a pity, because that first hour is just engrossing.)
Finding Nemo (2003) Ummmm...one of the greatest ever? Well, it just might be, but for a list to include this but nothing by Hayao Miyazaki seems odd to me. Nemo is a wonderful film, but it's not a Spirited Away or a Princess Mononoke.

The Fly (1986) (Oh, come on, now. This is a classic?!)
The Godfather, Parts I and II (1972, 1974)
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966) (In all honesty, it might have been For a Few Dollars More.)

Goodfellas (1990) (Good movie. But I don't care how many people think it got robbed at the Oscars, Dances With Wolves moved the bejesus out of me.)

A Hard Day's Night (1964)
His Girl Friday (1940)
Ikiru (1952)
In A Lonely Place (1950)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
It's A Gift (1934)
It's A Wonderful Life (1946) (Sorry, but I just don't like it.)

Kandahar (2001)
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
King Kong (1933)
The Lady Eve (1941)
The Last Command (1928)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Léolo (1992)
The Lord of the Rings (2001-03) (Whoaaaa, again)

The Man With a Camera (1929)
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Metropolis (1927)
Miller's Crossing (1990)
Mon oncle d'Amérique (1980)
Mouchette (1967)
Nayakan (1987)
Ninotchka (1939)
Notorious (1946)
Olympia, Parts 1 and 2 (1938)
On the Waterfront (1954)
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Out of the Past (1947)
Persona (1966)
Pinocchio (1940) (For those who think that Disney flicks are all just happy and fun little entertainments, I refer you to the scene where Lampwick turns into a donkey. It's as chilling a moment of pure horror as I've seen in a film. Really.)

Psycho (1960)
Pulp Fiction (1994) (The friend of mine at The Store with whom I saw Revenge of the Sith also adores this film, and we're constantly quoting it to each other in passing. A key catchphrase of ours, for when one of us is having a very frustrating day, is: "I'm trying real hard to be the shepherd.")

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Pyaasa (1957)
Raging Bull (1980)
Schindler's List (1993) (It kind of bothers me that this film has become somewhat overshadowed by the decidedly inferior Saving Private Ryan. Schindler's List just might be the most powerful film I have ever seen.)

The Searchers (1956) (This is one of those films you gotta see, even if after you see it you're unclear as to just why it was that you hadda see it. If that makes sense.)

Sherlock, Jr. (1924)
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Singin' in the Rain (1952) (Just thinking about this movie makes me smile -- and it's not even my favorite musical!)

The Singing Detective (1986)
Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Star Wars (1977) (Only, as far as I am concerned, the greatest movie ever made. Suck it, Citizen Kane!)

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Sunrise (1927)
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Swing Time (1936) (Ahhhh, Fred and Ginger....)

Talk to Her (2002)
Taxi Driver (1976)
Tokyo Story (1953)
A Touch of Zen (1971)
Ugetsu (1953)
Ulysses' Gaze (1995)
Umberto D (1952)
Unforgiven (1992) (My favorite Western after Dances With Wolves.)
White Heat (1949)
Wings of Desire (1987)
Yojimbo (1961)

Wow, there are a lot of movies on that list I haven't even heard of, much less actually seen. Goodness. And there are some on here that I think I may have seen, but I'm not sure, so I didn't mark them as such.

UPDATE: Upon further reflection (assisted by Nefarious Neddie in comments), I remember that I've only seen half of Lawrence of Arabia. Maybe someday I'll have my own "Second Half Film Festival", in which I finish all the movies I've started watching over the years and not finished....

I'll take "Strange Fashion Decisions" for $500, Alex!

In yesterday's roundup of sentential links, I linked a blog with the sentential title, "It's Ok to Show Bum Crack", adding that the title caught my eye because it hit on a particular phobia of mine, by which I mean, I am always paranoid about, well, whether my shirt is remaining tucked in the back, because I hate that well-known malady that is known to afflict members of the plumbing profession.

And in comments to that post, Lynn Sislo, ever the quick one, asks: "Oh! Is that why you wear overalls?"

Well, in terms of practicality, yes, it is! The plumber-thing is something I never have to worry about. (Of course, the plumber-thing seems to be a fashion statement of its own these days, at least for women.) And that's really the only main "practical" reason I have for wearing overalls, since it's pretty clear that I'm about as far from a farmer or construction worker as one is likely to get. I mean, it's not like I actually have a need for protective clothing or large amounts of cargo space for carrying tools around or anything like that. And what of that, anyway? I see that cargo pants are showing up again, which is fine by me, as I like the baggier appearance than the skin-tight appearance, but does anyone really need all of those pockets? I see people wearing carpenter jeans all the time, and yet I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've seen anyone actually use the hammer loop for its intended purpose.

Ultimately it all boils down to comfort. I just don't really have the time or the inclination to wear something that I find uncomfortable, if I don't have to. This is why I never wear neckties, unless I happen to be attending some kind of function at which a degree of formality is required (and even then, I think that neckties are just plain dumb articles of clothing). I find the overalls more comfortable than regular blue jeans, given that they are looser and baggier. Now, I freely admit that my "comfort-above-all" paradigm might not work if I didn't happen to be a suburban father who works in a grocery store and has aspirations of being a writer, but hey, it works for me. And that's all I really have time for, these days, when it comes to clothing.

(BTW, NPR did a story on the history of overalls a while back; yes, they have a long pedigree. Here's another article I found on the subject. Oh, and I may have mentioned my theory previously in this space that women invariably look better in men's clothes than men do in the same clothes; overalls most definitely apply. I've never seen a woman who didn't look adorable in them. I just look like, well, some guy. Oh well.)

I'll take "Raining and Pouring" for $500, Alex!

Congratulations to Jennifer, whose "All Things" are going to be undergoing some substantial upgrading as she attains new employment. Huzzah!

I'll take "Authors I Don't Plan To Read" for $500, Alex!

Every time I start to think, "Gee, maybe I should just go ahead and read Ender's Game, since it's an SF classic and all, despite the fact that I think Orson Scott Card is a complete tool", along comes something to make me follow that thought up with, "Yeah, I think I'll stick with reading Christopher Moore." Lance Mannion has the details today.

And once again, Ender's Game gets shunted off the "To Read Soon" pile.

I'll take "Root Canals" for $500, Alex!

Drew Vogel hates Revenge of the Sith as much as I love it. I have nothing, really, to say in response to his review, except that I disagree with just about all of its particulars. I would, though, like to know just why he bothered seeing it at all, given that I've long known how much he hated TPM and AOTC, and how little hope he had that Revenge would be any better. I mean, if you're as convinced as Drew was that the film was going to blow, why go see it?

I'll take "Things That Suck" for $500, Alex.

With the answer being, "Our news media". Witness this article about the ongoing Senate filibuster debate, which frames the whole issue thusly:

At stake: Bush's ability to steer the courts in a more conservative direction.

That's not what is at stake here, folks. President Bush has appointed over two hundred judges, and only ten have been blocked by the Democrats; so to pretend that unless these ten get their up-or-down vote (itself a brand spanking new item of principle for Republicans, apparently) the President will simply have to settle for a liberal court system is absurd. The judicial aspect of George W. Bush's political agenda will not be hopelessly derailed if he doesn't get these ten judges on the court. In the greater scheme of things, this is a minor issue elevated to Grand Battle Status.

Sunday, May 22, 2005


I haven't freeloaded off the government's bandwidth in a while, so here's something from the ever-reliable Astronomy Picture of the Day site. It's the galaxy NGC-3370, which resides in our sky in the constellation Leo.

Since NGC-3370 is approximately 100 million light years away from Earth, I'd say that it can be safely described as "a galaxy far, far away."

(Stop with the "boo hiss" stuff. Do you think I can't hear you all!)

The Maestro of a Galaxy Far, Far Away

NPR confers with John Williams. The score to Revenge of the Sith, of course, is Williams at his space-operatic best.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

If you've ever said to yourself, "What the Interweb needs is a site featuring nothing but photos and videos of people crying while they're eating", well, look no farther.

(via ASV)

Five Things I Haven't Read

And over at Kevin Drum's blog I see this new meme, in which I list five books I'm vaguely embarrassed to admit to having never read. OK then....

1. Tom Sawyer. This is perpetually on my "to read soon" list, and yet, somehow I never read it. Maybe I'll read it...soon. (A true story from my educational youth that I never tire of repeating is that I was in the so-called "advanced class" in English in tenth grade, which meant that while the "normal" classes were being required to read Mark Twain, I was required to read Ordinary People. I've always believed that my teacher that year should have had her license revoked on that basis alone.)

2. Dracula by Bram Stoker. I actually started reading this once, and I was enjoying it, but my reading was interrupted somehow -- I think I went on a trip and forgot to take it with me, or something like that. And I never finished it. Since I love horror and since it's one of my writing genres, it seems that I really should have read this one by now.

3. The Brothers Karamazov. I swear, this thing sits on my shelf, taunting me: "I ain't goin' anywhere, bitch!" Someday this book and I are going out into the wilderness, and one of us is coming back alive.

4. The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz. Another book that is eternally on my "read it soon, dumb-ass" list. That I haven't read the autobiography of my own favorite composer strikes me as a major failing of character.

5. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. When I get back from the wilderness after slaying Brothers K, this one's next.

Ten Things I Haven't Done

I saw this over at Rox Populi, and as always, I follow blog memes like a lemming to the sea, so here are ten things that I have never done.

1. Ridden a motorcycle.
2. Eaten raw oysters.
3. Proposed marriage.
4. Acted on stage.
5. Dined in a restaurant that required formal attire.
6. Ridden a looping roller-coaster.
7. Attended a rock concert.
8. Seen any of the Godfather movies all the way through.
9. Eaten pierogi.
10. Ridden on the Maid of the Mist.

Yes, I'd like some cheese with my whine.

OK, has anyone else ever tried to bid on an item on eBay with more than a minute left, but then had eBay reject the bid because the auction has ended? This happens to me every once in a while when I'm trying to bid on something, and it's always annoying. I always refresh the auction pages until there's about a minute left, and then I bid and refresh immediately. The whole process does not even take half a minute (and I'm on dial-up), and yet somehow this practice of mine somehow still manages to take more than a minute on eBay's end. Does eBay occasionally speed up time or something?

OK, I'm done. Now I gotta watch to see if the thing I wanted is relisted, and then I gotta wait another week and hope some other dillhole fine eBay user doesn't see the same item and go, "Ooooooo!"

Sentential Links, #2

I had a good time collecting links and sentences for last week's version of this, so I may start doing it every Sunday. I'm grabbing sentences from blog posts I read elsewhere, and to get the context, you'll just have to click the sentences. OK?

:: If ve say you vill gamble, then you vill gamble. Und you vill smile vhile you are losing.

:: I left the theater emotionally shaken, unable to really talk about the movie.

:: So a few days ago, Mars Global Surveyor took a picture of Mars Odyssey--the first time one extraterrestrial orbiter has taken a picture of another. (And click on the link within the post)

:: I suppose I was distressed enough when I found out that, when viewed from space, the Earth was in fact branded with copyright messages for Google -- presumably these are intended to warn off any other sentient extraterrestrial A.I.'s that might get ideas.

:: Consider: with very few exceptions, Franz Schubert's 600-odd songs were sourced from texts from writers who would certainly have still been in copyright under current legislation.

:: What a bunch of two-faced, filthy-minded hypocrites. Millstones for them all.

:: When you are contacting alien races always be ready to teleport if there is trouble.

:: Professional musicians usually juggle music with administration and hitting on creative ways to earn a living.

:: It's Ok to Show Bum Crack. (OK, this isn't totally fair, since it's actually the title of this blog, as linked by Sheila. But that title, for good or ill, certainly caught my eye, touching as it does a particular phobia of mine. And the blog, a series of cartoons, may not be safe for work. Anyway....)

:: The truth is that there is no reason in the world to elect judges-- the job they do has nothing to do with the popular will, and may run counter to it. (Permalinks never seem to work here; scroll down to the second post dated May 20, 2005.)


Saturday, May 21, 2005

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Long post ahead, folks. I mean, lllooonnnggg post. Warn you, I did.

The time has come to talk of many things, all of them Star Wars. In the paragraphs that follow, I make zero attempt to skirt around plot details that may be spoilers. Seriously. If you haven't seen Revenge of the Sith yet, and you're still trying to maintain some semblance of being spoiler-free before doing so, please skip this post. Really.

OK, you're still here, which I take as permission to spoil the entire movie for you. So here I go. This will be part speculation on what the answers are to some vexing questions either posed by the new film or left unanswered by it, part explanation of what I think the film's flaws happen to be (yes, there are flaws, and I have never maintained that the Star Wars films were flawless), and, yes, a big part of this post will be a big sloppy love-fest for the series in general and this film in particular.

Now that I've seen Revenge of the Sith twice, and taken a couple of days to mull it over a bit, my original reaction stands: it's an astonishing piece of work, and I am convinced that it is a great film. Why do I feel this way?

Revenge of the Sith is, obviously, a tragedy in the classic sense that at its heart is a character who succumbs to his inner demons to the ruin of pretty much the entire world as he knows it. One criticism I've heard a lot is that since the film's ending is predetermined, there can't be any real suspense; it should go without saying (even though I'm going to say it anyway) that I reject this idea utterly. I read the Lord of the Rings books twenty years ago, but that didn't destroy my enjoyment of the films. The Passion of the Christ isn't a bad film, or a useless one, just because the fate of its protagonist is probably the most famous fate of a protagonist in history.

But there is a real point to be made there, and it's this: stories don't exist merely to get us from the beginning of a plot to the end of it, and learning what happens next is just one reason for following a story. One. It's not the only one. I liken watching the Prequel Trilogy (henceforth "PT", versus "OT" for the Original Trilogy) to setting out on a roadtrip whose destination is known, but whose route is not. If I want to drive from Buffalo to San Francisco, there are a lot of ways I can do it. Some of them involve crossing northern plains, some involve the grain-filled heartland, and others would take me through southern bayous and southwestern deserts. Hell, if I had an amphibious vehicle, some routes would involve a hell of a lot of water. Just because I know where I'll be at the end of the trip doesn't make the stuff in between any less worthy of the journey.

So that's the spirit in which I take the PT: a journey with a predetermined ending point. The question then becomes, not do I know what's going to happen to all these characters, but am I moved by what happens along the way. The answer to that, clearly, is an emphatic yes.

I know that this isn't a very popular opinion, but it seems to me that almost every bit of criticism I've seen leveled at the PT, from the most erudite film critics to the most foul-mouthed fanboys, hinges on matters of execution. It's the acting, the directing, the dialogue, et cetera. Well, I've never been able to convince myself that the acting is as bad as reputed; ditto the dialogue, even though I freely admit that it often is very clunky dialogue indeed. None of these matters of execution were so bad as to eject me from the story, which was the thing I came for in the first place. (And I should note that when I say that I admire story most of all, I'm not excusing the bad acting or wretched dialogue. I'm openly stating that I don't think the acting is bad or the dialogue wretched in the first place.)

So what did I admire about the story of Revenge of the Sith? I found it unbelievably emotional, and that to me is the key to the whole thing. But emotion is a tricky thing; talking rationally about emotion is like eating broth with a fork. I've got a list of arguments as long as my arm about why I think the PT films are as good as I do, but to someone who watches them and can't get beyond the supposedly bad acting or dialogue, my arguments aren't going anywhere. That's probably the way it should be, but I do wonder if perhaps we've placed a bit too much of a premium on dialogue these days. Movies that, to me, have great dialogue in conjunction with a crappy story are inevitably held in high regard.

What I admired most about the PT story, especially as it came to fruition in Revenge, was simply this: the way the events of the two trilogies are intertwined in cyclical fashion. Nearly every key choice faced by Luke Skywalker in his journey is preceded by a similar choice faced by Anakin Skywalker before, but Anakin's choices lead to ruin until it comes time for his very last choice.

The parallels were obvious in The Phantom Menace, with Anakin, like Luke, being a simple youth on a distant desert planet. Some fans, of course, were chagrined that Darth Vader should hail from the exact same planet as his heroic son, but in retrospect of making Anakin's fall a dark reflection of Luke's rise, this makes sense to me. Both leave their homes behind, the first by choice and the second by necessity, but both for the same reason: to join the Jedi. But their reasons behind that are different, and that's probably where the seeds of their eventual fates reside: Anakin leaves because he wants the power of being a Jedi, while Luke leaves because he wants to fight the forces of evil that have destroyed his home. Anakin, it seems, is following the adventure and excitement that Yoda later warns Luke are things that "a Jedi craves not". Looking at this in Campbellian terms, Luke at first refuses the Call to Adventure, when he first refuses to accompany Ben Kenobi to Alderaan; Anakin doesn't refuse his Call to Adventure at all. This is the first example of one of the faults that will lead Anakin to eventual ruin: his intense eagerness. He's always so damned eager, and everyone's trying to get him to calm down. Everyone, that is, except Palpatine.

Later, of course, both Anakin and Luke become Jedi trainees, but both are initially refused as such. Yoda clearly thinks that training Luke is a colossally bad idea, but he eventually relents, and fairly quickly, at that. Anakin, meanwhile, is refused bluntly by Mace Windu, who basically says, "We don't care if he has the highest midichlorian count in the history of sentient species. We're not training him." That's actually a huge moment in Anakin's story, and I think it explains a lot about the moment in which Anakin finally and conclusively decides to turn to the Dark Side in Revenge of the Sith. But more on that later.

Both Anakin and Luke have trouble sticking to the task at hand. Yoda bluntly says as much, referring to Luke: "All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, on what he was doing." Luke suffers the same problem again, when he has future visions of his friends in deep suffering, and he decides to abandon his training to go to their aid. And Anakin, at a similar juncture, had already done something very similar, when he decides to leave his assignment of protecting Padme on Naboo to go home and follow up on his dreams about his mother.

(BTW, I'm supremely glad that in Revenge Lucas decided to actually show something of Anakin's dreams. He didn't do this in AOTC, which led to a moment that has been widely ridiculed by prequel-haters as being, well, Anakin engaging in a moment of private enjoyment in bed.)

Of course, both Luke and Anakin fail to save their friends. Yes, Luke's friends escape (minus Han Solo), but they don't escape through any actions of Luke's, but because Lando Calrissian decides at the last moment to have a moment of integrity after betraying his old friend. Anakin's mother dies, of course, leaving Anakin feeling completely powerless - - a feeling surely unwelcome to a person who left his mother behind so he could go off and seek power in the first place. This leads to his first direct experience with the Dark Side, when he slaughters the sand people. And, of course, by disobeying warnings to stay put and not get involved, both Anakin and Luke get their asses kicked by Sith Lords, and both lose their right hands (well, Anakin loses his entire arm) in the fights.

So: after two episodes of each one's adventures, both Anakin and Luke stand in roughly the same place: both wounded and scarred and nearly defeated, and both having failed to keep their loved ones from coming to harm. And each is to face his greatest tests in the battles to come.

As both Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi open, both Anakin and Luke are far more confident in their abilities. Since Revenge focuses on Anakin's ultimate fall to the Dark Side, and since ROTJ climaxes with Anakin's redemption, the events that transpire in Revenge are by far the most important. Why does Anakin, then, turn to the Dark Side? The answer seems easy, at first: he wants to learn some technique Palpatine promises him for keeping people from dying. This was alluded to back in AOTC, of course. But it's not the only answer.

One criticism of Revenge that I've seen is that Anakin's turn is too fast: he is good, then he suddenly helps kill Mace Windu, and then this basic exchange takes place:

ANAKIN: What have I done?
PALPATINE: You have fulfilled your destiny. Join me!
ANAKIN: I will join you.

Yes, that probably seems a bit fast, if you view those events as transpiring in a vacuum. But they do not transpire in a vacuum, and the key is in examining just what Anakin is discovering here. He's finding Mace Windu with his lightsaber at Palpatine's throat. There is a lot of subtext to this scene, subtext which makes Anakin's turn here a lot more plain, and subtext that's apparently being missed all over the place.

First of all, Anakin tries telling Windu that Palpatine must be allowed to live and stand trial, which is a reversal of Anakin's own actions earlier in the film when he has had Count Dooku in the exact same position. Anakin knew that it was wrong for him to kill Dooku, and now he's trying to rectify that by arguing that Palpatine should not be likewise summarily executed. Windu is clearly having none of it, which forces Anakin's hand to act. Of course, the two situations aren't really the same, but in Anakin's mind, they are, because he's incredibly confused. And it doesn't help that it's Mace Windu who's about to execute Darth Sidious.

This is where Windu's actions back in TPM come into play. The first time Anakin ever met Mace Windu, the Jedi Master was visibly cool toward him, and events in AOTC and Revenge make it clear that despite all of Anakin's hard work and heroism as a Jedi, he has never gained Windu's trust. Meanwhile, it is equally clear that Palpatine has become almost a surrogate father to Anakin, perhaps the only real father figure he has ever known. I would posit that Anakin is not only tempted by the power of the Dark Side of the Force, but also in equal measure by Palpatine. He is joining a cult of personality here.

And this is where I think that Anakin's journey versus Luke's journey mark their real differing points: the role of fatherhood in the lives of each.

Anakin, remember, had no father. It doesn't really matter how he was conceived; the point is that when Qui Gon Jinn discovers him in The Phantom Menace, Anakin has never had a father figure. Qui Gon becomes that, for a time - - with Anakin encountering Mace Windu for the first time during this brief period, and being judged wanting - - until Qui Gon dies, and then it's all up to Obi Wan.

But Obi Wan is just not equipped to be a father figure to Anakin, not really. Here's a Jedi who has only just ditched the title of "Padawan" (and done so, apparently, without undergoing "the Trials"), and being handed the task of training the potentially most powerful and important Jedi in history. (This is the first, really, in a long line of incredibly bad decisions the Jedi make. It can almost be argued that the PT is a double tragedy, with Anakin and the Jedi in general falling because of severe character defects.) Palpatine, though, apparently steps in and fills Anakin's need for a real father figure. Anakin leaves Tatooine as a kid, starts having all these adventures, and meets two very important people: Mace Windu, who says, "We're not training you," and Palpatine, who says, "We shall follow your career with great interest!" That's where it starts.

We don't really see Palpatine taking young Anakin under his wing, but it's very clear that he has done precisely that: in AOTC, there's a clear bond between the two when they meet in Palpatine's office early on, and everything in Revenge hinges on that tightening bond between Palpatine and Anakin. So when Anakin is faced with horrible choice of assisting Mace Windu or assisting Palpatine, beside that shattered window on something like the five hundredth floor of one of those Coruscant skyscrapers, Anakin isn't just being asked to take a stand against the Sith. He's ultimately being confronted with turning against his father. And just as Luke does later on when he is likewise faced with the task of killing his own father, Anakin refuses. But where Luke later refuses because he thinks he can turn his father from the Dark Side, Anakin refuses and then realizes that this refusal has left him with no other choice but to turn to the Dark Side. Anakin's dilemma is the reverse of Luke's, and it plays out as such.

Anakin's feelings of fatherhood continue to fester. He is clearly less than thrilled to have made Padme pregnant, but still, he seems attached to the idea, and it's absolutely essential to note that at the end, when Palpatine tells him that Padme is dead, Anakin does not know that she has given birth. Darth Vader has lost the child he thought he'd have, and he never knew that there were actually twins - - which works just fine, as he doesn't realize this until the very end of ROTJ. (I've never had a problem with Vader not realizing that Leia was his daughter in any of the scenes in which they are in close proximity in A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back. I've just never assumed that the Force worked to that level of precision. It's not like, when getting ready to blast Luke out of the Death Star trench, Vader realized that the Rebel pilot in front of him was actually his son - - he merely remarks that "The Force is strong with this one.") So when Vader later learns that he has a son, he thinks that he can fill the father-void in Luke's life that Palpatine filled in his. But he doesn't realize that Luke has had father figures - - Uncle Owen, Ben Kenobi, and even to a small extent, Han Solo. The reason Vader's temptation doesn't work in TESB is that he's trying to tap into a void in Luke's soul that isn't there. (And also, really, because Luke isn't just Anakin's son, but also Padme's, and she turned away from precisely the same temptation to rule at Anakin's side.)

But a big part of Anakin's temptation is this business of using the Dark Side to save the ones he loves. Again, this mirrors Luke's temptation in ROTJ: remember all those lines in the later film when the Emperor is telling Luke that only by turning to the Dark Side can he save his friends on Endor. Luke almost snaps completely when the spectre of tempting Leia is made, but he catches himself at the last moment, which Anakin never does - - until just a few moments after Luke's refusal to turn. Luke's ultimate refusal of the Dark Side, I think, finally opens Darth Vader's eyes: all along, Vader has believed that it's impossible to turn back from the Dark Side. (To be fair, all the Jedi seem to believe this, too - - at least Yoda and Obi Wan believe it to be impossible.) Vader stands beside his surrogate father, watching as his surrogate father prepares to kill his son, in precisely the same way that he once killed Mace Windu, and he realizes in that moment just what has happened and what he has become. And because Luke refused the duty of killing his own father, Anakin Skywalker finally returns to that moment over twenty years before when he first turned to the Dark Side and does what he couldn't bring himself to do then: he kills his own surrogate father.

That, to me, is pretty breathtaking story construction.

Other thoughts on Revenge of the Sith:

:: Maybe it's that I've heard a lot of operas, but I had no problem at all with Padme dying of a broken heart. This happens in opera all the time, and the emotional strokes in Star Wars films tend to be operatic in nature. I'd almost love to hear a Star Wars opera. Yeah - - screw the TV series, I want an opera. I want to see Anakin versus Obi Wan as two tenors belting their arias at one another, and Padme's tragic demise as a soprano. That would be cool. I wonder who'd compose the music, though?

:: I wonder if the power that Palpatine uses to seduce Anakin - - the power to cheat death - - is actually the same power that Qui Gon has discovered and is passing on to Yoda and Obi Wan? That would be ironic, wouldn't it - - the same power ends up being the key to Obi Wan and Yoda equipping Luke with the powers he needs to eventually triumph.

:: I'm glad the film established that C-3PO's mind needs wiped, but I think it would have been a bit more poetic if a way could have been found for Anakin to do the wiping. I'm not sure how Lucas could have done this, but I think it would have been a nice implication for later on.

:: I had no problem at all with Vader's "NNOOOO!!" upon learning that Padme is dead. It was the lurching out of the harness, Frankenstein monster-style, that kind of hampered that scene for me.

:: The film's pacing is, to my mind, excellent; I was never bored, and this to me was one of those long films (two hours, twenty minutes) that didn't feel like it was that long. Yes, I did tear up several times, mostly during the Jedi purge, during the confrontation between Anakin, Padme and Obi Wan, and during Obi Wan's final, tortured "You were the Chosen One!" speech.

:: Seeing the Death Star superstructure at the end, now I'm wondering: since ANH takes place twenty years or so after Revenge, if that's the same Death Star that later ends up on the sorry end of Luke's proton torpedoes, and if it takes that long to make a Death Star, is the one in ROTJ already under construction, or to begin shortly thereafter? Some people have complained through the years that it seems repetitious to have another Death Star in ROTJ, but I always figured, if you came up with an idea for a superweapon, would you just build one and leave it at that?

:: After TPM, I was prepared to reserve judgment on the whole "midichlorians" thing. And, well - - Lucas has now not mentioned them since, so I'm left to wonder what the whole point of that was. If it was to simply make a reason for Anakin being fatherless, Lucas could as well have just posited that Shmi Skywalker's father died very early on in Anakin's life or abandoned them or whatever. I still don't think the midichlorians directly contradict the nature of the Force as described by Obi Wan in ANH, but as it is, they seem fairly useless story-wise. I suspect their real purpose is to give Qui Gon a reason to suspect that Anakin is not just a Force-sensitive kid, but an incredibly Force-sensitive kid. The midichlorians do not represent to me a big storytelling error, but they are an error nonetheless. Lucas should have either fleshed them out properly, or not mentioned them at all. (Frankly, a bigger error is in having the "What are midichlorians?" conversation take place on a landing pad as the ship is getting ready to blast off. That was just weird, I always thought.)

:: In a couple of places, I thought that the lightsabers looked, well, shorter than they should have been.

:: I liked that Obi Wan picked up Anakin's lightsaber after defeating him on Mustafar, and I liked that Padme was buried with that little pendant that Anakin carved for her. I loved how Obi Wan destroyed General Grievous with a blaster, and then tossed the "uncivilized" weapon aside.

:: I would have liked to see even more of the political side of Palpatine's machinations, frankly. I know, a lot of the political stuff is what people find boring in these movies, but I'd have liked to have seen him strongarm the Senate into his bidding, and the roots of the Rebel Alliance beginning in the inevitable faction that would have opposed him. And I'd have liked to have seen the popular view of the Jedi turn against them as well. George Lucas could have really drawn parallels between the fall of the Jedi and the fall of the Knights Templar (after AOTC, in fact, I was convinced that he was going in that direction). The parallels are there, to be sure - - particularly in the way the Jedi are completely unaware, almost to the very end, of their precarious position - - but that would have been a powerful historical analogy had Lucas pushed that envelope.

:: OK, I'll say it: the childbirth scene doesn't work. It's not a bad scene, by any means, but it felt flat to me. I think part of it was the incredibly goofy looking medical droids, especially the one that looks roughly the way I'd expect a toaster on the USS Enterprise to look, the one with the big green eye and the little red one, or vice versa. The scene's not that big of a liability, being itself an emotional scene and coming as it does at the end of a lot of emotional stuff, but I'd have liked it better had it played out thusly:

INTERIOR: Medical station - antechamber.

Obi Wan, Yoda, and Bail Organa wait outside a medical operation chamber. Through the windows we see medical droids working on Padme. Padme is delirious and mumbling through it all.

PADME: (whispering) Anakin, no…please, no…come with me…

OBI WAN: I pray that we were on time. Anakin hurt her badly, and breathing the Mustafar air didn't help any.

The antechamber door opens, and one of the medical droids comes out.

DROID: I am sorry. We were not able to save her. She lapsed into unconsciousness, and died soon after.

OBI WAN: She is gone?

DROID: Her injuries were not typically mortal ones, so we are not certain why she died.

BAIL ORGANA: (bitterly) She couldn't live without him.

OBI WAN: What of the child? Did the child live?

DROID: We were able to deliver both of them.


YODA: Two, there were?

INTERIOR: Nursery.

The three men stand alongside the bassinets, each containing one of the twins.

OBI WAN: Twins. I had no idea.

BAIL ORGANA: What shall we do with them?

YODA: Hidden, they must be. Discuss these children we must, for the last of the Jedi younglings are they.

Or something like that. (Don't fry my writing in the comments; I just tossed this off the top of my head.) I would also have had Bail Organa's wife name Leia, and have Aunt Beru name Luke. But that's just me.

:: I like the word "younglings", actually.

That's all I have for right now. I'm sure more thoughts will occur to me over the next few days, weeks - - hell, probably years. That's what I love about Star Wars: it's the gift that keeps on giving.

Friday, May 20, 2005

If I were a rich man....

When I was a kid, my father would more often than not be singing some song or other under his breath. Sometimes it was a country tune, other times a popular standard, and most often it was a show tune of some sort. And as I suspect many people's fathers did when they were wandering around singing in accompaniment to their own daily stuff, my father maintained a pretty loose relationship with the lyrics, freely substituting a liberal helping of "dooby doobies" and "la dee dum dee dum dum doo's" whenever the actual poetry of Messrs. Lerner or Hammerstein or Gershwin or Berlin or Cash or whomever slipped his mind.

One example that I remember being very consistent was his singing of "If I Were A Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof, which he would sing-and-improvise thusly:

If I were a rich man,
All day long I'd biddy-biddy-bum,
If I were a wealthy man.

Except, well, I actually watched the film of Fiddler on the Roof a year or so ago and discovered that the actual lyrics of If I Were A Rich Man go thusly:

If I were a rich man,
All day long I'd biddy-biddy-bum,
If I were a wealthy man.

So my father wasn't covering a faulty memory of lyrics at all. Go figure.

All this is, of course, an introduction to a blog-meme with which I have been tagged by Paul of Aurora Walking Vacation. It goes like this: you take the following list of prompts and pick five of them to "complete". Here's the list:

If I could be a musician...
If I could be a farmer...
If I could be a psychologist...
If I could be a lawyer...
If I could be a missionary...
If I could be a gardener...
If I could be a painter...
If I could be an architect...
If I could be a doctor...
If I could be a linguist...
If I could be a writer...
If I could be a professor...
If I could be an athlete...
If I could be a justice on any court in the world...
If I could be a world famous blogger...
If I could be married to any current world politician...
If I could be a scientist...
If I could be an actor...
If I could be a chef...
If I could be an innkeeper...
If I could be an agent...

And my five are as follows:

1. If I could be a musician I'd be a classical musician. But what kind?

I always wanted to be either a trumpet player in a symphony orchestra, or a conductor. I was never that interested in being a trumpet soloist; to me, the grandest musical thrill was the teamwork involved in pulling together a massive work and making it into a cohesive, emotionally satisfying work. If your band or orchestra is rehearsing well, there's a moment when you suddenly realize, "My God, it's all shaping up", when you suddenly realize you're listening to the entire work as opposed to your own part or the parts of those around you.

But to be a conductor, well, then you're the one responsible for seeing that all these musicians under your baton get to that point. And you have to have the vision to know what the entire work is going to sound like all along, and the knowledge of all those disparate parts to get them all to work together.

As a conductor, most of all, I would have a pulpit from which to champion the music I love most. There'd be Berlioz and film music concerts galore!

2. If I could be a farmer I'd probably be a cattle rancher as opposed to an actual farmer. I think it would be cool to own a herd of buffalo. Or maybe I'd raise alpacas. I'd be more attuned to caring for animals than for cultivating crops, I suspect. And of course, if I were to become a farmer, I'd be able to dress the part already, right? Heh!

3. If I could be an architect I would try to design buildings not as gigantic de facto sculptures but as buildings, like Louis Sullivan used to do. I'd make the classic architecture of Buffalo as my guide, and I would stay in Buffalo and fight tooth and nail to make this a walkable city once again. I'd design buildings that come to the sidewalk, buildings of materials available locally and able to be built by local construction firms. I wouldn't build anything that disrupts street patterns and I wouldn't build a single damn parking lot that looked like a parking lot. I'd conceal them within actual buildings, like they do in Toronto.

4. If I could be a writer I would...wait a minute. Who says I'm not a writer? If I were a writer by trade, as opposed to just being a writer by calling myself one, I would write the stuff that I'm already writing. So I guess that's a pretty boring answer.

5. If I could be a scientist I would study the human brain, in hopes of discovering a way to regenerate damaged brain tissue. My reasons for this are, I suspect, obvious to anyone familiar with the contents of this blog.

OK, now's apparently when I "tag" three other bloggers to do this thing, so I'll go with Sean (who I'm sure will find some way to mention his new-found wish to be waterboy for the New England Stupid Patriots into it somehow), Darth Swank (whom I'd personally like to see answer with the "If I could be an innkeeper" entry, since I bet his inn would include some kind of Asian pop-culture decor in every room), and Craig of the North Coast (just to tag someone local).

The best first two hundred bars in music history!

Something strange that's been going on for nearly two years: One of my favorite classical works is the Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 by Georges Enescu. If you get a chance to hear this piece, please do -- it's basically nothing more than twelve minutes of one Romanian folk tune after another; as an exercise in form it's not much, but as an exercise in sheer exuberance it's almost unmatched.

The strange thing, though, is that at least once a month I will be driving someplace and as soon as I'm within two minutes of my destination, Buffalo's classical station will cue up the Romanian Rhapsody #1. So invariably, I only get to hear the first two minutes of the thing, which puts me in this mood that won't disappear until I get home and listen to the entire work on CD. It's almost like that episode of South Park when Cartman can't hear the first verse of the Styx song "Come Sail Away" that he doesn't immediately have to sing the whole thing.

Yes, this happened today, on my in to work. I listened to the piece this afternoon when I got home.

Eye Candy

Here, for no particular reason (and, therefore, in no particular order), are some of my favorite visuals from the Star Wars movies. I'm thinking of individual shots here, mostly, or scenes whose visual flair I found particularly appealing.

1. Sunset on Coruscant, from The Phantom Menace. I know I said no particular order, but this is actually my favorite pure visual from any of the films. Just after young Anakin is quizzed by the Jedi Council, there's a wipe to a brief series of shots -- we're talking fifteen total seconds of screentime here -- depicting dusk on Coruscant. We see the sun's final edge slip beneath the horizon, then a couple of the tallest buildings falling into dusky shadow. That moment is just pure visual gold.

2. Luke departs Hoth, from The Empire Strikes Back. We get our only real glimpse of the entire Hoth system here, as Luke's X-Wing fighter rockets away from the planet, and then his four thrusters, each shrouded in red afterglow, as he roars away from the camera. I've just always liked that little shot.

3. The "GAHHHH!" Star Destroyer captain from The Empire Strikes Back. As Vader's fleet moves through the asteroid field, one Star Destroyer's conning tower is hit dead-on by a particular large asteroid, destroying it; cut to the bridge of Vader's ship where he's meeting with his captains via hologram. The one on the left is apparently the captain who's currently getting a really close look at an asteroid, because he suddenly throws up his arms in terror and then his hologram winks out. Nice touch.

4. The "orchid planet" from Revenge of the Sith. During the Jedi purge, one female Jedi Knight is killed by her accompanying clone troopers on a planet that appears to be the homeworld of three-story tall orchids. I liked that.

5. The binary sunset from A New Hope. An obvious one; an iconic image from the film that started it all.

6. Anakin versus Dooku in Attack of the Clones. I love how Lucas made the set go dark here, so that the only light was the lightsaber blades, and they flash across closeups of the combatants' faces. I found it an interesting composition, unlike anything else in any of the other lightsaber duels.

7. Shuttle Tyderium versus the Super Star Destroyer in Return of the Jedi. As General Solo's rebel squad is trying to infiltrate Endor, their stolen Imperial shuttle flies really close by Vader's Super Star Destroyer, with the Death Star looming beyond. The sense of scale in this scene always impresses me.

8. The Gungan City, in The Phantom Menace. I love it when Jar Jar swims over a rise, and there beyond is this city of golden bubbles.

What are yours?


You know, folks, I have no problem with people not liking the last three (or even four) Star Wars movies. I really don't. I defend them vocally because I truly enjoy and admire them, but I've never had a problem with mere difference of opinion. I have real reasons for loving the films, and I've elucidated some of those reasons many a time in posts here.

What I do have a problem with is all the arrogant condescension people who hate the Prequel Trilogy feel an almost instinctive need to visit upon those of us who love them. I'm sick of being told that I've drunk George Lucas's Kool-Aid. I'm sick of reading reviews like this mean-spirited, "Oh look how clever a snark-king am I" piece by Anthony Lane (a reviewer I admittedly rarely enjoy, because I tend to only enjoy snark when being visited by a Democrat upon Republicans). And when I'm sick of being the subject of comparisons like this:

Phantom was a knife in the gut of Star Wars fandom; the only Star Wars fans who like that film are the science fiction equivalent to the Michael Jackson fans who mill about outside the courtroom of his molestation trial.

No, fuck you.

I am neither stupid nor delusional because I happen to like The Phantom Menace. Nor am I stupid or delusional because I failed to despise Attack of the Clones. Why people in like position to myself have to be insulted by everyone with a negative view of those two films completely escapes me. But at least I don't have to worry about enduring this kind of shit again in three years' time.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Oh. My. GOD.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is everything I hoped it would be, and far, far more. I am absolutely astonished. More later, of course, but this movie delivered. In spades. With a cherry on top. And coffee after.

UPDATE: OK, I figure I should probably expand my thoughts a bit here. I'm still saving it all for a more in-depth post over the weekend, so suffice it to say that even though I knew what was going to happen in this film (both in the broad sense and in the sense that I really didn't try to be "spoiler-free"), I was still drawn in emotionally. I still wanted Anakin to make the right decisions, I still wanted everything to turn out right. And I was emotionally drained when the film had ended -- so much so that, since I already had tickets to a noon showing today, I turned to the friend with whom I went at midnight and said, "I don't know how I'm gonna make it through this thing again in ten hours."

Even as a lover of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, I was astonished at George Lucas's confidence and rock-steady hand in his direction of this film. There was only one or two scenes, really, where the dialogue was openly awkward; and even then, neither scene was anywhere near the level of awkwardness displayed in, say, the Hoth hospital room scene in The Empire Strikes Back. One line that sounded awful in one of the trailers or TV ads sounded perfect in its context.

Best of all, Lucas seems to have backed off his fabled approach to directing actors ("Faster, and more intense!"), by giving them time to deliver their lines and react to one another to a degree he didn't so much allow in the first two Prequels. And I have to say that I'm not sure if Ian McDiarmid shouldn't receive the first Oscar nomination for acting in Star Wars history. He was that good in Revenge of the Sith. He alternates moments of blistering evil with moments of almost fatherly concern that I really saw just how Anakin got seduced by him. It was one of McDiarmid's lines, actually, that first made me start to shift from "Wow, man, I'm watching Star Wars!" to "Oh my God, this is how it all happened." During a speech of his maybe halfway through, McDiarmid delivers a line that is identical to a line he uttered in Return of the Jedi -- and he delivers it in the exact same manner, the exact same tone of voice. That was my first real spine-shiver of the film, and there were so many still to come.

John Williams's score was brilliant, as expected; even the bits of action score tracked in from his previous prequel efforts worked well. The visuals were obviously outstanding, with the added bonus that the shots were designed so much more artistically this time out.

George Lucas didn't merely redeem himself or make a decent movie here. He made a great one.