Monday, May 23, 2005

Home From Iraq

My high school buddy Grant Doty has returned home to the US after a year's deployment with the US Army in Baghdad. Please read the final entry of his superb My Catch-22 Blog for some thoughtful (and, needless to say, informed) commentary on the situation in Iraq.

Thanks, Grant; glad you're back home safely.

Friday, May 20, 2005

The Empire Strikes Back

Well, I didn't think my article on the political messages in the new Star Wars movie would be taken so seriously, but I guess I should have known better than to treat such an important subject so lightly. And I probably also should have mentioned in my piece that the current US administration is guilty of injecting some Jedi rhetoric into its policies, so it's a two-way street.

Anyway, the Purple Section of USA Today saw fit to quote me on the subject...

Finally, I post the review of the movie (minus political analysis) that I wrote for The Bulletin magazine here in Brussels. Enjoy.

Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith
Opens May 18

You know the drill. You know where the story begins, how it ends and – having visited the website and read the bootleg previews and kept up with or been mowed over by the juggernaut that is this movie and the series it brings to a close – you have a pretty good idea of what will happen in between.

Still, when the house lights go down, and as the 20th Century Fox fanfare strikes up, you feel a tingle of excitement. Maybe it’s because in Belgium you are getting to see Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith a day earlier than anybody else in the galaxy (except for some lucky theatergoers in France, Switzerland and Uruguay – oh, yes and a few even luckier journalists, publicists, and assorted movie-industry pukes).

Or maybe it’s because, regardless of whether the movie is good or not, it will end an era in your own personal cinematic history.

You agree with most of your friends on the other five chapters. Like them, you saw the first movie ten times in the theater; you can make a solid case for why the second one was even better; and you were getting a bit too post-adolescent cool for the corny third one. Like them, you hated the first prequel, which surfaced long after your filmic tastes had switched in favor of small, depressing, character-driven, independent films; but you are willing to defend the second prequel as an improvement, with breathtaking fight scenes and unparalleled production design.
So, your expectations are once again high for this, the last-ever Star Wars movie.

The screen goes black and you take a deep breath. There is a sudden, familiar, eardrum-splitting burst of trumpets and timpani. Words scroll back into nothingness, like some black-hole screensaver. You don’t care what they say, and it doesn’t really matter. You didn’t come to a Star Wars movie to read backstory.

You came to be blown away, and you soon are. Yes, you expect the special effects to be incredible. After nearly 30 years of the Star Wars franchise, technology has finally caught up to George Lucas’ imagination. You cannot help but marvel at his ability to create new worlds, each one stranger, more richly detailed, and more visually stupefying than the last.

But what really amazes you is the improvement in the writing, and the genuine emotional content of some of the scenes. You figure it must be true that Tom Stoppard was brought in as a dialogue doctor for the Lucas script.

Even more crucially, Lucas has pared away the plot-muddling hoo-hah that bogged down the first two prequels. Episode One: The Phantom Menace had more talk of interplanetary trade pacts and galactic confederations than a Coreper II meeting. This film’s story is driven by basic emotional themes: love, anger, jealousy, betrayal, lust for power. It won’t win any acting awards, but a few scenes between Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker and Natalie Portman’s Padme actually manage to move you. When could you ever say that about a Star Wars movie?

You read the advance word about how much darker this installment is than its predecessors (or, for that matter, previously made successors), and that it may be too grim for small children. It is indeed dark. But you realize it isn’t anywhere near as violent as the video games every toddler seems to be playing these days.

Plus, you appreciate all the light touches of humor that punctuate Anakin’s downward spiral into Darth Vaderdom: killer droids who say “Ow!” when struck by a light saber, or a hulking and coughing General Grievous who limps around like a robot in need of an oil change, until a fight starts and he transforms himself into a buzz-saw version of one of those BMW bubble-scooters. You giggle at all the deft references to other movies, from Tarzan and Apocalypse Now to Nosferatu and Frankenstein (Lucas has always been a master of homage; the first Star Wars was practically a remake of Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress).

But what really clinch it for you are the storytelling, the overwhelming visual style and the unrelenting pace – this is Lucas at his fantastical finest. Nothing in any of the other five Star Wars movies matches the dramatic impact of the last 15 minutes of this installment. It is a combined triumph of seamless editing, skillful directing and, yes, believable acting that almost makes you forget Harrison Ford’s ‘I’m-phoning-this-performance-in’ smirk from all those years ago.

This may not be a movie for kids, but who cares? You were a kid when the first Star Wars movie came out and that one was made for you. You’re grown up now, and this one is also made for you. As Yoda would say: Love it, you will.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Please Let These Star Wars.....Stayyyy

I was lucky enough to see a press preview of the new Star Wars flick, Episode III Yadda Yadda Yadda (or maybe Yoda Yoda Yoda). Loved it. I'll have a very positive review coming out in The Bulletin and will post as soon as it is published. In the meantime, read a short article I wrote today for TechCentralStation about some bizarre political messages in the movie. Until next time, may the Schwartz be with you...