I just returned from seeing Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and I must say that I am as shocked as anybody by the fact that it is actually a pretty good film. Certainly, of all the prequels, it is the only one to actually feel like a Star Wars film.
To a large extent, Star Wars was the mythology of my childhood. I was four when the first film came out, seven when it was followed by Empire Strikes Back and ten when Return of the Jedi hit theaters -- too young to realize just how flawed Jedi was compared to the other two and for that, I'm thankful. I was one of those kids who had all the action figures, all the toy spaceships, the whole shebang. I once owned every issue of the Marvel comic book series and when my family got our video disc player (remember those?) Star Wars was one of the first discs we bought and I used to watch that film on a daily basis. In short, Star Wars was, in many ways, my childhood.
As illogical and silly as it might sound, there was a part of me that was actually deeply offended by the very existence of The Phantom Menace. With its incoherent storyline and clunky performances, the film seemed like a very affront to some of my most cherished memories. My reaction to Attack of the Clones was a little less extreme. It wasn't so much offended as I was just bored.
But Return of the Sith works. In every interview George Lucas has given over the past couple of years, he's said that this film would be the darkest of the entire series and, on that count, he was right. It is just as dark as the transformation of Annakin into Darth Vader should be. Still -- especially when compared to the shallow attempts at crowd pleasing in the previous two prequels -- it's still shocking just how dark Lucas allows things to get. When Annakin goes evil, he truly goes evil. This is the only Star Wars film to feature the murder of children and -- if you're a longtime fan of the series like me -- the effect is devastating. (I'd be interested to hear the reaction of somebody with no previous exposure to the other films to ROTS.) The dialogue, admitedly, is still clunky but it's not incoherent (as in Phantom Menace) or mind numbingly banal (i.e. Attack of the Clones). It's melodramatic and a bit obvious but it is totally appropriate for the universe that the Star Wars films take place in. Lucas direct some truly thrilling battle scenes but, as opposed to the other two, he never allows his obvious love for digital technology to get in the way of telling the film's story. The actors range from excellent (Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan Kenobi, Ian McDairmand as Palpaltine) to adequate (just about everyone else) but nobody is so mind numbingly Jake Lloydish bad as to destroy the audience's suspension of disbelief. Hayden Christiansen still isn't much of an actor but he doesn't embarress himself and manages to make his character's transition from good to evil at least acceptable.
Another frequent comment from Lucas, over the years, has been the claim that once the third film came out, the other two prequels would look a lot stronger. On this matter, he's incorrect. (Sorry, George...) Quite frankly, the quality of Sith proves just how superflous the first two prequels truly were. If Lucas had simply made Sith without taking those detours into the worlds of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, he'd probably be hailed as one of the true genuises of the cinema. As it is, he's proven himself to be a strong action director who, when he's good, is very, very good and when he's bad; well, that's when he makes The Phantom Menace. But enough of that! What's important right now is that Lucas -- whatever misfires the past might have produced -- managed to make a worthy addition to the Star Wars mythology with Revenge of the Sith and for that -- for allowing me to guiltlessly relive my youth for 2hrs and 30 minutes, he has my thanks and appreciation.
¶ 7:56 PM(0) comments
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
It's the Revenge of the Stepford Singer!
America has voted and, in a move that will undoubtly bring comfort to bland virgins everywhere, they have named Carrie Underwood the new American Idol. I have to admit that I ended up getting hooked on American Idol this season; this despite my earlier comments condemning the show and the bland mediocrity that it often forces on viewers. And speaking of bland mediocrity, did I mention that Carrie won?
Still, we now have an answer to that eternal question -- what if Britney Spears had never gotten that boob job? Why, she'd be Carrie Underwood, of course!
¶ 9:10 PM(0) comments
Monday, May 23, 2005
And yet another day in the life of Jack Bauer comes to a close.
Yes, I just finished watching the fourth season finale of 24, which has been hyped -- for the past two months or so -- as one of the greatest things ever to be unleashed on American television screens. So, did it live up to the hype? Well, no -- but then again, what could have? It was entertaining, joyfully implausible, and a fitting end to what, I believe, will probably be remembered as the show's best season.
So, how did things finally wrap up this season? I guess there is where I should throw in some sort of big spoiler alert but -- screw it. There's something rather childish about people who scream, "You spoiled it for me!" whenever they read any details about films or TV shows on the internet. So, I'm not going to give into the anti-spoiler lobby here because, quite frankly, they've gotten far too annoying to rate such consideration. At the end of the finale, Los Angeles was narrowly saved from nuclear annihilation, elusive terrorist Mandy (Mia Kirshner, who I still remember being so impressive in Atom Egoyan's film Exotica) was granted a full pardon in return for turning on terrorist Marwan who escaped capture by falling to his death from the top of a very high building, the pathetic President Logan -- after spending the last few hours panicking and basically getting in the way -- was acclaimed as a hero, Tony and Michelle got back together, and Chloe did not smile.
And, of course, Jack Bauer was forced to fake his own death and go on the run; an international fugitive now as the result of his earlier raid on the Chinese consulate. He did call former President Palmer to let him know that he wasn't really dead but, interestingly, he didn't feel the need to inform his daughter, Kim. Apparently, he's as glad she's been written out of the show as everyone else.
In other words, it was the closest 24 has ever come to giving us a happy ending. Season 1 saw Jack's wife murdered. Season 2 saw President Palmer apparently killed (though it turned out later that he actually survived) and the third season ended with Jack chopping off the hand of his daughter's boyfriend and apparently suffering something of a mental breakdown. After all of that, it was kind of a relief to see that all Jack had to do at the end of this particular day was fake his own death.
The final scenes of the show -- Keifer Sutherland walking alone down the street as the morning sun rose over the city he had saved just thirty minutes ago -- had a lot of nostalgia value for me. When I was a kid, one of my favorite TV shows was The Incredible Hulk which always ended with the exact same scene of Bill Bixby, walking down yet another isolate road, hitchhiking and trying not to get angry. It became an iconic image of my childhood. To me, the final scenes of 24's 4th season were a perfect hommage to The Incredible Hulk.
As I've said before, 24 is that rare politically-charged show that can appeal to both liberals and conservatives. For liberals, it shows that everything they fear about American security forces -- the lies, the use of torture, the violations of civil liberties -- is true. And to the delight of conservatives, the show responds to all of these outrages by saying what so many of us wish Bush would say to the critics of the War on Terror: "So what?"
¶ 9:35 PM(0) comments
Sunday, May 22, 2005
I am watching A&E right now and -- unfortunately -- every image that has appeared on the screen for the past two hours has been amazingly annoying. The latest offender was the latest OnStar Commercial; this one featuring a bunch of smirking children staring at the viewer and asking, "Would you put me in a car without a car seat?" "Who's going to let the police know when we have an accident?" "Who's going to find the carjackers who drove off with my kid brother?" "Someone should." Okay, first off -- no, I would not put the first child in a car without a car seat but I may be tempted to kick the self-righteous little brat out while taking a sharp curve. As for who's going to let the police know and all the rest -- well, listen. I'm not going to make light of anybody's whose life has been saved by Onstar but the message of the commercial just rubs me the wrong way. Basically, what these kids are saying in their sweet little passive-agressive way is "If you don't buy a GM car with OnStar, my little brother's going to die and it's going to be all your fault."
The other major annoyance is the "reality" TV show Intervention, an hour show in which various addicts are ambushed and lied to and forced to go to treatment centers. I swear, this show is like an infomercial for 12-step programs. I know it may seem strange to condemn a show about keeping addicts from killing themselves but there's just something about the whole "intervention" process that -- like OnStar commercials with chipmunk-cheeked children -- rubs me the wrong way. The show, for me, gets off on the wrong foot at the beginning of each episode when we are informed, "These people think they are appearing in a documentary about addiction. Actually, they're about to face an intervention." Actually, they're being lied to by a bunch of people who didn't have the guts to actually do anything when the problem actually started -- y'know, back when it might have done some good. And then there's the interventionists themselves -- so patronizing and full of their own sense of righteousness. Strangely enough, we never hear just how much these folks charge to set up a carefully scripted ambush. So, in the world of Intervention, I guess they just do it out of the kindness of their hearts. The worst of them is Jeff, an older balding guy who is a former substance abuser and who basically comes across as the Rev. Jim Jones if Jimbo hadn't decided to spike the Kool-Aide with cyanide. Seriously, one gets the feeling that if AA were a Moonie-like cult, they'd brainwash new members by forcing them to watch episodes of Intervention for 72 hours straight.
Hmmm...Travis, the former rock star turned meth addict, has walked out of his intervention and now -- as the cameras roll -- the unseen cameraman is trying to talk him into going to treatment. "C'mon, man, just go." Jesus Christ, does the guy get paid a commission for every addict he brings in?
A quick post here to announce that my internet fued with the mysterious, guest-book signing "Sheena" is at an end; at least as far as I'm concerned. Sheena, if you've been following this enthralling drama, is the reader who informed me, via my guestbook, that I am "a fucking idiot." Well, I'm glad to say that I am not a fucking idiot and apparently, neither is Sheena.
So, let's all breathe a sigh of relief and give thanks that yet another possible cyberspace war has been prevented. There may be no end in sight in Iraq but here -- for now at least -- there is peace on Earth and understanding between surfers.
¶ 8:59 PM(0) comments
Sunday, May 08, 2005
As I've noted several times, I am practically obsessed with unsolved disappearances. Natrually, the case of Jennifer Willbanks, the runaway bride of Georgia has held my attention since it started. The Willbanks Case, for those who have had better things to do with their spare time, basically goes as follows:
The day before her wedding, Jennifer Willbanks goes out for a jog and then doesn't return. A few days later, she shows up in New Mexico where she tells authorities that she was kidnapped by a hispanic man and a white woman. And then, a few hours later, she confesses that no, actually, that didn't happen. Turns out, she got cold feet, jumped on a Greyhound bus, and simply ran away from the wedding.
Now, this story has gotten a lot of snickering coverage amongst various media outlets and there's a lot of talk of sendings Willbanks to jail for filing a false police report and basically making everybody go to a lot of trouble finding her. People have been so focused on the tawdry aspects of this little case that there's a lot of far more interesting issues that have been largely ignored.
Such as, why did the disappearance of Jennifer Willbanks automatically recieve national attention -- even before the hoax was revealed -- while the thousands of other people who disappear everyday are lucky to so much as even get their name mentioned in the local newspaper? The answer, of course, is obvious. The disappearance of a pretty woman on the eve of her wedding? That's a story that easily opens itself up to melodrama and overdone pathos and everything else that the news media thrives on. It's a perfect case of "reality" that can easily be turned into entertainment. (The fact that the whole kidnapping turned out to be the exact opposite of reality doesn't change that fact.) Whereas the thousands of other people who vanish everyday -- well, their stories just aren't as sexy. They don't have backstories that can be used to manufacture an automatic emotional response. They don't lend themselves to entertainment. They are just as missed and loved as Jennifer Willbanks but, sad to say, media is not interested in tragedy unless that tragedy can be easily reduced to a pithy soundbite.
The other issue is why did Willbanks go to such trouble to get out of her wedding. Why not just break up with the guy? Now, I have to admit that on this issue, I actually sympathize with Willbanks. The fact of the matter is that we live in a society that places a lot of importance on the idea of marriage. If someone has reached the age of 33 (like Willbanks) or 31 (like me) without having gotten married at least once, there's a tendency to suspect that there's something wrong with that person. People wonder why. For whatever reason, the concept that some people might be happier not sacrificing their independence or that they might not want to live under the burden of that type of commitment simply does not seem to be an acceptable reason to the majority of people out there. Willbanks did what a lot of people do when they're overwhelmed; a stupid thing. God knows I can remember how overwhelmed I was during those few months back in 2002 when I was engaged. I have never felt as trapped as I did during those months. On one side, I had everybody in the world counting the days until I was married and making elaborate plans for the day of my weddings; plans that more and more frequently seemed to have little to do with me other than the fact that I was a convenient excuse. And on the other hand, I had the growing realization that I had absolutely no desire to be married. It didn't mean I didn't love my fiancee. And it doesn't mean that there still isn't a part of me that continues to love her to this day. It simply means that I loved coming home to an empty house and doing whatever I wanted to do when I wanted to do it more. And if that sounds self-centered, well, it is. I'm self-centered and apparently, so is Jennifer Willbanks.
Reva Renee Renz -- Renz would have won my vote in 2003's California recall election, if not for the fact that I'm not a resident of California. Anyway, Renz was one of the more likeable candidates in that free-for-all, one of the few who took it seriously without giving into meglomania. Her blog gives the details of her run and her life after. Renz is the owner of Deva's Bar in Tustin, California and I have to admit that the only reason I currently desire to visit California is to have a beer at that bar. Renz stands as proof that Republicans are a lot more fun than most people care to admit.
Yankee From Mississippi -- Shannon Black's blog, featuring writing that often puts me to shame. Plus, isn't that just an amazingly cool title for a blog or anything else for that matter?
The Charley Project -- A huge site, detailings hundreds of cold cases dealing with missing persons. This site is actually far superior and better written than the similar and better known Doe Network.
Crime News 2000 -- Despite the 2000, this is a daily updated listing of all the latest developments in all the morbid and disturbing stories that tend to capture the national psyche nowadays.
Doe Network -- One of those web sites that justifies the existence of the internet in the first place, the Doe Network is a huge database of missing persons and unifidentified remains from around the world.
Is this girl Tara Leigh Calico? -- This web site details the disappearance of a 19 year-old girl in New Mexico back in the late '80s. The details of Tara Calico's disappearance have haunted me for years now and served as the genesis for my current interest about missing person cases in general.
National Review -- The magazine for both true conservatives and Libertarians who think Ayn Rand was a hack
Politics 1 -- The site is officially on hiatus but there's still the occasional update. The archival information on the various candidates in the 2000 and 2004 Presidential races always makes for interesting reading.
Amazon.com -- I've posted quite a few reviews of books, film, and music on this site and I've gotten a good deal of very gratifying and very positive feedback from them. (I've also managed to piss off just about everyone who cried when they saw Titanic for the 10th times but that's another story...) Those reviews can be found by searching the site for Jeffrey Ellis from Richardson, Texas.
The Homepage of Gregory Alan Norton -- Homepage of one of my favorite liberals, fellow writer Greg Norton who I published in the premier issue of Jack the Daw way back in 1995. His site quotes my review of his excellent first novel, There Ain't No Justice, Just Us and includes information on how to order the book.
Xlibris -- Homepage for Xlibris, the publishers of It's Impossible To Start A Fire If You Have No Desire To Burn