May 30, 2005

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

The last Star Wars movie we'll ever see, Episode III almost delivers everything fans had been hoping for. Lucas has a gift for operatic storytelling, but his plotting, motivation, and dialog desperately need some help from a real screenwriter. (NOTE: Lucas was the sole writer for Episodes 1, 3, and 4: He had a co-screenwriter for Episode 2, and only only wrote the stories (not the screenplays) for Episodes 5 and 6.)
SPOILERS AHEAD: The scene where Anakin is flailing on the rocks, sans limbs, and Obi-Wan is despairing the loss of his 'brother', is incredibly moving. It's so near to true Shakespearean tragedy, it reminded me of how easy it would have been to make Episodes 1, 2, 3 follow closer to classic tragedy, instead of a messy mishmash of romance, tragedy, and political thriller.
Too many people judge Episodes 1, 2 and 3 by their standard for Episodes 4, 5, and 6: they want Episodes 1, 2, and 3 to affect them the same way that 4, 5, and 6 did when they were young, and it's just isn't possible. I firmly believe that our generation's opinion of Episodes 4, 5, 6 is artificially inflated by nostalgia. There are lots of movies I saw when I was ten which I love for nostalgia value but are empirically shitty. The Star Wars movies are not shitty, but Episodes 4, 5, and 6 are not as good as we remember.
Having said all that, I think a lot of fans are disappointed because the shadow of Darth Vader, easily the most interesting character in Episodes 4, 5, and 6, hangs over Episodes 1, 2, and 3. And once Vader finally appears in Episode 3, he gets two lines of dialogue and that's it. A Lucasfilm staffer went on record predicting that fans would want to see "Episode 3.5", meaning, the adventures of Darth Vader after he dons the helmet. I agree completely. In fact, my major restructuring of the prequel trilogy would work like this: the adventures of nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker (most of Episode 1) should have been simply recounted in one or two scenes. The adolescence and coming-of-age of Anakin would be told Episodes 1, then Episode 2 would show his seduction and turning to the Dark Side. Episode 3 would be Darth Vader's early years. (May 25, Showcase Cinemas Randolph; May 30, AMC Framingham)

Also On Memorial Day, Through The Years

I have been to the movies on Memorial Day Monday 13 times in 24 years, but it's not a great track record. 

Simply Disarming

Limbs (Original and Robotic) Removed in the Star Wars Movies
  • Episode I: The Phantom Menace •  Obi-Wan Kenobi cuts off Darth Maul's arms...and the entire top half of his body!
  • Episode II: Attack of the Clones •  Count Dooku cuts off Anakin's right arm.
  • Episode III: Revenge of the Sith •  Eight limbs
    • Anakin returns the favor by cutting off Dooku's arms, and then his head.
    • Obi-Wan Kenobi cuts off two of General Grievous's four saber-wielding robotic arms.
    • Anakin saves Darth Sidious's life by cutting off Mace Windu's right arm.
    • With one swipe, Kenobi severs Darth Vader's remaining arm, and both his legs. Wailing and gnashing ensue.
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story • I don't recall any limbs torn out? I've seen the movie twice but I don't remember any man or droid losing an arm or leg. 
  • Episode IV: A New Hope • C-3PO loses an arm (temporarily) during the Tusken Raider attack in the Dune Sea.
     • During an argument in the cantina at Mos Eisley, Obi-Wan Kenobi defends Luke Skywalker by cutting off Ponda Baba's arm. We are shown the totally fake-looking alien arm, with some fake blood, on the floor (see photo). I can't say for sure that there's never any blood in the six movie saga, but it's so uncommon to make this instance seem out of character.
  • Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
     • Luke cuts off the Wampa's arm while escaping from the ice cave on Hoth.
     • C-3PO loses both arms when blasted by Stormtroopers in Cloud City.
     •  Darth Vader cuts off Luke's right hand- just one of those father-son things.
  • Episode VI: Return of the Jedi •  Once Vader learns there is another Skywalker, he lures Luke out of the shadows with a threat to turn the sister to the Dark Side. Luke goes ballistic. Luke battles fiercely, Darth is on the defensive. Luke gets Vader on the ground and on the edge of the chasm. Seemingly enraged, Luke doesn't stop pounding away at Vader until he chops Vader's robotic right hand off. This seems to lift the fog of rage. Luke stares at the robotic stump, and then clenches his own robotic right hand. Twenty-five years later, I was not surprised to see wires sticking out of Vader's wrist, but back in 1983, fans didn't really know how much of Vader was still inside that black suit. Earlier in Episode VI, Kenobi says Vader is "more machine than man now", and he should know!
  • Episode VII: The Force Awakens •  The first Saga film with no limbs removed...but they did film one! Check out this deleted scene where Chewbacca finally follows through on Han Solo's threat to tear someone's arm out:

May 9, 2005

103: The Effects of a Texas Festival on a Musical Mix

I think the title says it all: I composed this mix after attending the South By Southwest Music Festival for the first time. There's no better time to escape dreary Boston winter weather than mid-March; and Austin, Texas, is not a bad place to escape to: T-shirts and jeans abound, tequila flows like water, the roads are paved with pork ribs, the Dr. Pepper is sweetened with cane sugar, and the steaks are chicken fried.
This mix is peepered with music we heard on our trip: read on...

  1. HUDDLE FORMATION; I saw The Go! Team perform at a UK Pop showcase. The show was a circle-jerk of music industry weasels with corporate credit cards. It was like the Black Hole Of Calcutta of self-congratulation. The Go! Team had a UK record deal but was pimping themselves for a US deal- the hype was so thick I had to burn my sneakers afterwards. The band members knew it, and they were so smug I wanted to slap the bass player around to regain my self respect. Having said all that, I like this song.
  2. BRIGHT FUTURE IN SALES; Fountains of Wayne
  3. F.I.N.E.; I was reminded of this Aeromsith song when I heard the new Billy Idol song on the radio.
  4. SCREAM; Billy Idol
  5. SISTER SURROUND; We saw The Soundtrack of Our Lives from the front row as they opened for Robert Plant on our first night in Austin. The Scandinavian sextet did great imitation 1970s rock, with one Keith Richards clone, one Pete Townshend clone, and the lead singer was a beefy bearded man in a mumu who looked like Mick Fleetwood. Between sets, I ran into "Mick" near the bar. I gave him a quick soggy hug and yelled in his ear "you guys are FABULOUS!"
  6. BIBLE CYST; The Legendary Shack Shakers also opened for Robert Plant, and they put on a hell of a show. Think of a hillbilly Stray Cats on amphetamines and you're close to the mark.
  7. OH WELL, PT. 1; Fleetwood Mac
  8. SON OF A PREACHER MAN (live 1991); Joan Osbourne
  9. SHOW SOME EMOTION; Joan Armatrading
  10. LOUNGER; Dogs Die in Hot Cars was also in the UK Pop showcase - I was drawn to them because they play power pop and their lead singer sounds like the guy from XTC. Their CD was pretty good, and their set was OK.
  11. TAKE ME OUT; Franz Ferdinand
  12. ONE (live 1992);  'Automatic Baby' was a hybrid of R.E.M. circa Automatic for the People and U2 circa Achtung Baby:
    • Michael Stipe, vocals
    • Mike Mills, guitar
    • Adam Clayton, bass
    • Larry Mullen Jr, percussion
    This one-off ensemble covered U2's "One" at an awards show. I really liked Stipe's interpretation of the lyrics. He sang the same words as Bono did, but his style is so different! Back in the early 1990s, it was damn near impossible to find a one-time-only performance from a TV show- if you didn't record it on VHS, you were out of luck. Somehow I found the recording on a benefit CD completely unrelated to the awards show.
  13. CLOSER TO YOU; The Wallflowers
  14. SUCH GREAT HEIGHTS; The Postal Service, since used in UPS commercials?
  15. BOULEVARD OF BROKEN SONGS; A great mashup of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and "Wonderwall"; A year after I discovered this mashup, we heard it on the set of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart- it was one of the high-octane songs they play during commercial breaks to keep the crowd pumped up.
  16. KINGDOM OF RAIN; I always liked this song by The The because Sinead O'Connor sings on it. I finally bought the CD at a yard sale that spring.
  17. CATCH MY DISEASE; Ben Lee, I always love tinkly kiddie piano!
  18. RENT A COP; Ben Folds
  20. GUERO CANELO; A memorable song in 12/4 time, from Calexico- we saw them live at SXSW too.