10.05.2004

New Trilogy Review

The Digital Bits has a pretty good review of the new trilogy, including a good summary of the changes Lucas has made for the DVD editions.

New Trilogy

Maybe I've explained my attachment to "Return of the Jedi" - pre-tampering, it's my second-favorite of the five films - but in any case, I saw the post-tampering version for the very first time last night. When Lucas re-released them in the theaters way back when, I only went to see "The Empire Strikes Back".

"Return of the Jedi" was the first Star Wars movie I saw. It wasn't my first exposure to the franchise - I'd seen the toys and knew who all the characters were - but it was the first time I'd seen one of the movies. I wasn't fortunate enough to see it in the theater, instead we were in Hallock, MN, at my great-grandmother's funeral.

Hallock is the second-to-the-last town in Minnesota before either Canada or North Dakota - it's way up in the corner of the state. The funeral was in Kennedy, the absolute last town before either ND or Canada, but Kennedy didn't have any motels, just the church and a restaurant. So we had to stay in Hallock, which was still small enough that the funeral brought enough people to town to put a squeeze on the available motel rooms. My mom and my sisters and I stayed in two rooms at a place that seemed like a glorified version of someone's home, just a little strip motel on the side of the highway.

One night, my mom had to go to a adult-type thing that she well knew would be boring and intolerable to her three young kids, so she let us stay back in the motel and got us a pay-per-view movie: Return of the Jedi. Finally, I was going to see what all the fuss was about. I was going to learn for myself how evil Darth Vader was, and how good Luke Skywalker was. I would get to see Jabba the Hutt for real, yo!

Anyway, the three of us huddled together on a creaky twin bed and stared up at the small black-and-white television on the cheap, olive-green dresser at the foot of the bed. In all my life, I can't think of more than a handful of times I've been more deeply affected by a movie. These were probably the worst conditions for viewing a movie, but to me - I'd seen the toys and the promotional posters and photos, so I knew what it was supposed to look like - it was better than VistaVision.

Anyway, my thoughts on the new, new version: the only thing that's very clearly terrible is the little song and dance number that he inserted, and it isn't even that long - maybe a minute at most.

But one of the things that struck me as I watched was the art of illusion they used to make those movies - they used real things to build them. Real sets, real props, real costumes, real puppets, etc. That is the key difference between the towering achievement of the first three movies and the bland, unremarkable filmmaking of the new trilogy. "Return of the Jedi" was the first Star Wars movie I ever saw, and part of the reason it resonates so strongly is that when the emperor arrives at the Death Star, those are real people in the stormtrooper costumes. On Tatooine, that's a real desert they're shooting on. When C3PO and R2D2 go into the basement of Jabba's palace to receive their job instructions, that's a real set, a real puppet giving them instructions, and real puppets being tortured and destroyed (and doing the destroying). The Rancor is a real model moving, made large by a trick of perspective.

Now I didn't watch the whole thing - I shut it off just before Luke and Vader start fighting, during the Ewok battle and the great space battle (which will blow your mind, it looks so good). So I still haven't heard the new end song, nor seen Hayden Christensen inserted in place of Sebastian Shaw, etc. But seeing it in widescreen has convinced me of the quality of this film. If "A New Hope" is Star Wars as filmmaking on a shoestring, and "The Empire Strikes Back" is Star Wars as auteur filmmaking, "Return of the Jedi" is good old-fashioned Hollywood-pulls-out-all-the-stops blockbuster filmmaking.

In short, it hasn't looked so good since it was in black-and-white on a ten-inch television in the middle of nowhere.

10.01.2004

City Slicker in our Jerkwater Burg

Perhaps you didn't know this, but Madison's the largest "city" I've ever lived in. As a teenager it seemed like big shit to roll into town here, but now, as you can see, I'm calling it a town. It's so provincial here.

Anyway, it was trips to the coasts (NYC and Seattle) that gave me this metaphorical cockpunch. When you're 16 and you strut down State Street in your combat boots stuffed full of Taco Bell and carrying a new Pink Floyd CD at your side, it probably feels like you've hit the big time. Then ten years later you shuffle into an anonymous Chinese restaurant in a dark alley in Chinatown and eat the best pork dumplings you've ever had; you no longer feel like you've hit the big time, but you do feel like you don't have the time for such affectations that suggest you know everything. Same with Seattle: you get a few rolls of sushi, eating fish that was likely caught that morning, and you're too busy keeping your eyes open for the next Great Thing to feel like you're all king shit.

Anyway, the point of this post: Madison's got game too. Nice to see the New York Times isn't too busy sticking its tongue in Thomas Keller's ass to take notice of us. Sometimes living in the provinces has its advantages.

A Rare Victory

Brewers pulled out a close win last night, nearly giving it up in the bottom of the ninth. But they held on for a nailbiting 7-6 win over the best team in baseball. Good stuff.

I hear there was a debate or something last night, too.

9.30.2004

Tuning Out the Noise

There are four days left of the regular major-league baseball season. Starting tonight, and through the weekend, my beloved Milwaukee Brewers play a four-game series with the best team in baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals.

Milwaukee's not going to the postseason, but there will be a postseason, and it will probably run the entire month of October, ending just in time for November 2nd, the U.S. presidential election.

Until we have a new World Series champion, I'm submerging myself exclusively into sports news. The real news, the political and world events news, have become so incredibly banal and surreal that I just need to turn it off. On the workfront, people are shocked - Shocked! - that I'm not going to watch the debates, but why bother? I know who I'm voting for. I know where I stand on the issues, and I'm no longer interested in carrying on informed discussion about them - nearly everyone I encounter on a daily basis has an identical position. There's no need to further discuss how little trust we have in the current President.

So, how's your favorite team faring? Are they going to the postseason? Who's going to win the AL West? How about the NL wildcard? I'm predicting a Cardinals-Twins World Series. Look for the Cardinals to win, 4-2.

9.24.2004

Smell the Glove

Oh, look! Dogs can smell cancer. Perhaps this means I should go see a doctor, as most dogs I encounter go straight for my crotch.

9.10.2004

Apologies

I'm sorry I haven't been posting. I was busy with work, then I was in Kansas, and then I had a lot of work to do, and now I'm exhausted and melancholy and not feeling much like giving shout-outs.

Excuses, I know. But that's all we've got, action or excuses. Anyway, I'm working on a longer post. I'll post it when I feel ready and you'll like it.

8.24.2004

Mmmm. Cold pizza for an early dinner. So tasty.

8.20.2004

What the Desert Is Like These Days

So, someone died, then. I went to the visitation on Tuesday. I don't really want to talk about it more than I just did.

Jiu-Jitsu last night was okay. I got to wrestle with one person last night, and he was very patient and instructive. I learned a few submission holds, and an interesting way to break someone's arm, which is nice.

The nuances of the art interest me a great deal - how to place a hand where, and why. One of the submission hold I learned, called a bicep crunch, involves wrapping the curled arm of your opponent around the bony part of your forearm and squeezing on it. The effect is to wrap the opponent's tendons around your forearm and stretch them out and, if necessary, dislocate the elbow. I wasn't getting it down because, as I later learned, I wasn't getting my wrist down far enough in the crook of my partner's arm, and when I did, it was the narrow part of the bone in there, not turned wide.

Later in the evening, as we were wrestling, I think he got sick of being so dominant, he left to take on another partner. It's true that I had more fun playing Tekken against strong competitors, and it was probably more fun for them too. But if no one is willing to spend the effort to teach and dominate me, how am I ever going to get better?

Anyway, the death. It was my ex's mom, the grandmother of my daughter. At the visitation, they had pictures up from her life, some fading to green and red with age. One of the pictures was her senior photo, and it took my breath away. She had the same stunning look that my ex did, the look that just made me go all weak inside. My daughter's got it too, on the right day.

Anyway, it's a sad thing. I struggle to relate emotionally to other people, and this is no exception. Of course I understand that if my mom died I'd be absolutely crushed, but I don't know what I'd want people to say or do, what I'd expect from people, how I would grieve. I wanted to tell me ex how bad I felt for her, that I was thinking of her, but every time I opened my mouth I was just going "blah. blah. blah."

So sad. I just hate to see people hurting.