Thursday, May 19, 2005

Movie Review: Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

I happened to be walking by a movie theater last night when I noticed something odd. Apparently, they've made another Star Wars movie. I was surprised. You would think they would do something to let people know this movie was coming out, like put out some advertising, make a few toys, something. You would also think that someone would mention this on the Internet.

So, in order to help out Mr. Lucas, who evidently can't afford to promote his movie, and to do my part to spread the word, I submit for your approval the following review. I promise not to include any spoilers. No spoilers at all. None. Ok, maybe one: Apparently, Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father, and Luke and Leia are brother and sister! I know, shocking, isn't it?

But seriously, on with the review. Some would say this movie has quite a bit to live down to, considering the two toy commercials, otherwise known as Episodes I and II, that preceded it. On the other hand, preliminary buzz has been really good, so I think expectations have been pretty high for this installment. I know my expectations were high. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed.

There are some things in this movie that everyone knows has to happen. Anakin becomes Darth Vader. The Jedi are slaughtered. Yoda and Obi-Wan go into hiding. The twins, Luke and Leia are born and Luke ends up on Tatooine, to grow up on his Uncle Owen's farm. (By the way, what the heck kind of crops does Uncle Owen grow on that farm? I mean it's in the middle of a desert, for Pete's sake! "We should have a pretty good crop of sand this year. As long as it never rains, we should be alright.") All of this does happen and much more.

The Good Stuff

My favorite part: Obi-Wan Kenobi. As apparently the only actor allowed to show emotion in the prequels, Ewan McGregor delivers. Unlike the other characters, Obi-Wan Kenobi's character has really evolved over the last three movies, from wide-eyed youth to a mature and confident leader. We feel his anguish over Anakin's descent to the Dark Side. We see the conflict within him when he knows he has to deal with his former apprentice. Too bad the movie isn't really even about him. It's no wonder he is the favorite prequel character of many fans, not counting little green muppets.
He has also become one bad mammer-jammer of a Jedi. There's one scene where he fights General Grievous, the four-armed alien in a giant droid's body. This baddie can wield four lightsabers at once. In Clone Wars, which played on the Cartoon Network (yes, I know, I watch cartoons. Get over it.), Grievous defeated three Jedi Masters in one fight, defeating two of them at the same time. But Obi-Wan takes Grievous on by himself. In deed, Master Kenobi is down-right cocky throughout most of the movie. Even when he's out-gunned, out-numbered, or out-classed, he has a little smirk that says, "Bring it!"

The story. The plot moves quickly and keeps you interested for the entire two and a half hours. Different parts of the story are woven together brilliantly. Even without the back-story of the Star Wars saga, Revenge of the Sith would still be a great movie on its own.
This movie answers all the questions you've ever had about the original trilogy, and probably some you didn't. Not only questions like 'how did Anakin turn to the Dark Side?' are answered, but also, 'how did Palpatine get so deformed?', and 'why didn't C3PO remember Uncle Owen in Episode 4?'. You have to listen carefully for the answer to the last one, but the one about Palpatine is answered pretty dramatically, as are most of the questions this movie is supposed to resolve. This prequel ties everything together in a highly satisfying way. In fact, this is the one prequel that is worthy of the original movies.

The fight scenes. The fights are really well choreographed, and as a result, incredibly entertaining. Everybody gets to throw down. Anakin, Obi-Wan, Mace Windu, Palpatine, and yes, Yoda get some major action due to the abundant fight scenes.
The most powerful fight scene is the climactic duel between Obi-Wan and Anakin. It makes Darth Vader's and Obi-Wan's pathetic little dance in the original Star Wars movie look even more pathetic by comparison. It is very exciting and a fitting beginning for Darth Vader.

The special effects. The special effects in this installment make the original trilogy look like a bunch of amateur fan films. Especially impressive is the opening space battle scene above Coruscant.

The Not-So-Good Stuff

Hayden Christensen. At first, I thought that the Anakin Skywalker character was computer generated, like Yoda and Jar Jar. But then I realized that the CG characters were much more life-like. Chrisensen's constant impression of a wooden post kept taking me out of the movie. Some of the lines that were given him were actually pretty good. Too bad they were wasted on this actor. We hear the words come out of his mouth that express his inner conflict and ultimate descent to the Dark Side. But we don't feel that conflict, because Christensen doesn't show any emotion to accompany those words. The most powerful scene he has is right after he's been fitted with the Darth Vader suit and asks the emporer about the welfare of Padme. It was quite moving. I guess that means that Hayden does his best acting when there's a mask covering his face, and James Earl Jones is voicing his lines.
Most of the other acting in this movie was sub-par as well. However, Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) ,during one scene, actually got to display an emotion other than "constipated". And Ian McDiarmid, who plays Palpatine, does a good job of playing that creepy guy in the neighborhood who takes a little too much interest in young boys.

Padme turning into a weak little girl. Padme was one strong young woman in the first two prequels. But she spends this film either crying, or asking Anakin to hold her because she's frightened. I'm not saying she should have been given fight scenes. It would've looked pretty weird for a pregnant girl to take on the Sith. But there are plenty of other ways to show strength and independence besides violence. I know plenty of strong women, but I've yet to see any of them to get into a fist fight. (Though that would be kinda cool.)

Can I have a hand? Why does someone have to lose a hand every time there is a lightsaber duel? What is up with that? I won't reveal who loses their hands, but I can tell you I counted no less than eight limbs being cut off in this movie. That just counts the people involved in lightsaber duels. It doesn't include clone troopers or droid soldiers, who lose plenty of their own body parts. One scene that struck me took place after Anakin, at the behest of Palpatine, kills one bad guy who, incidently, had gotten both of his hands cut off. Anakin says in all seriousness, "I shouldn't have killed him. He was an unarmed prisoner." HA! 'Unarmed'! I think I may have been the only one in the theater who got that. The sad thing is, I don't think that line was meant to be funny, which leads me to my next complaint...

The silly dialogue. The silliest lines were given to Padme. An example: "Hold me Anakin, like you did by the river on Naboo so long ago when our love was all there was." Puke. Who talks like that? It's goofy dialogue like that makes me unable to care about either Padme or Anakin.

Still, Revenge of the Sith is a must-see even for the most casual of Star Wars fans. Many fans are saying this movie is even better than Empire Strikes Back. I wouldn't go that far. Because of the acting, I wouldn't even say it is as good as any of the original three movies. But it is still one great movie.

A warning: If you have little children, leave them at home. This film is way too scary for little kids.

Another warning: Don't get the Jumbo Coke at the concession stand before the movie, even though it's only a quarter more than the medium and you get free refills on it. I have a feeling that I would've enjoyed this movie much more if I wasn't fighting off the urge to go half-way through it. Fortunately, I have the bladder control of ten men, but this meant I had to hold it in for over an hour. That wasn't the least bit healthy, but at least I got to see the whole movie!

Using a new simplified rating system which I came up with myself, I give this movie a 20.45 stars out of a possible 23.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Canine/Kitty Conundrum

There has been a debate dividing America for quite some time. It is so divisive it threatens to split our great society into two parts. That is to say, Cat People and Dog People. As a wholly impartial and rational observer to this social crisis, I feel I am in a good position to offer some clear-headed insight. My neutral position can be summarized by the following simple truth: Dogs are good, Cats are evil.

When I say cats are evil, I'm not talking about your run-of-the-mill, cheat-at-Monopoly evil. I'm talking about pure, sadistic, spit-on-babies evil. Most people, especially cat owners, don't see the feline species as evil at all. But that is their plan. Their evil plan.

This stark contrast between cats and dogs can be seen in how they view their human caretakers. For example, when you get home at the end of the day, your dog happily greets you at the door, frantically jumping up and down, as if to say, "You're home! You're home! You're home! I'm so happy! I missed you so much! Don't ever go away like that again!"

Your cat, on the other hand will probably not greet you at all. You may see your cat the moment you come through the door, but that is only because bolting through the front door every time it opens is part of the planned Great Escape. Otherwise, she hardly notices your presence at all. "Oh, were you gone? Did you bring food?"

Cats take great pleasure in disrupting any activity you begin. Try sitting down to work at your computer. Your dog may come sit beside you to stare at you with great longing and admiration. "Don't mind me. I'm content to be in your wonderful presence where I can look at you." Your cat? "Going to use the computer? Great! I think I'll take a nap on the keyboard."

Cat lovers may object to this interpetation of feline behavior, citing examples where this sort of thing is cute and even affectionate. For instance, they may point out how a cat loves to rub against your shins as you walk, signaling its love for you with its purring. But don't be fooled. Your cat wants you to trip. Yes, that's right. Your cat wants to kill you. Your little feline buddy is thinking to herself, "If only we could do this at the top of the stairs. That would be cool." Is it hard to accept that these little balls of fur and whiskers are a bunch of cut-throat, wannabe murderers? Even if you cannot accept that Fluffy wants you dead, it is hard to deny that at the very least she doesn't care whether you live or die. After all, she could live off your remains for several weeks, maybe months if she doesn't have to share.

Contrast all of this to how your dog views you. You are the center of his life, the reason for his being. The death of a human owner has occasionally been known literally to throw a dog into considerable depression. To your cat, however, you are only slightly more important than the furniture. And if you're sofa ever starts dispensing food, well, there goes your spot on the totem pole.

Obedience is another advantage dogs have over cats. Even the dumbest dog will learn to come when his name is called. Not a cat. And it's not because your cat is too stupid. No, don't underestimate your cat. It's because your cat doesn't care. Even if she does recognize her name, there is no way she is going to stoop down to the level of taking orders from the likes of you.

After all of this evidence, cat enthusiasts may still try to defend these Satanic creatures by pointing out some lame supposed advantage over dogs - "But cats are clean". That's right. Instead of having a roommate who will love and obey you, as well as worship the ground upon which you walk, choose a cat. It may try to kill you, but hey, it can poop in a box.

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Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Nerds Are Coming

I remember when the designation "nerd" was an insult, a put-down, a slight, a word used by those who did not possess a multi-syllabic vocabulary to mock those who did. The term was used to deride those who had committed the crimes of making the honor roll, knowing the answers to the teacher's questions in class, or actually reading assigned material. TV and movies conspired in this ostracism of the unfortunately bright, portraying nerds as wimps who wore pocket protectors and eyeglasses held together with tape (I never met anyone under the age of 40 who wore a pocket protector).

I remember being called a nerd more than once. I never quite knew how to respond. What did they want me to say? Did they expect me to deny it? Even if I wanted to deny it, the evidence was irrefutable. I couldn't help it if I got every answer on the test and the extra credit questions correct. Really, does a score of 115% mess up the curve by that much? Nor could I hide the fact, as bizarre as it may have seemed, that I thought reading was fun. And yes, I admit, I found gym class about as enjoyable as running around with feral cats in my pants.

I wasn't even sure I wanted to deny my nerdiness. I mean, did I really want to be like those jocks who were attempting to ridicule me with their limited verbal skills? The most joy they got from reading was when they could finish the puzzle on the back of their Captain Crunch box during breakfast. Sure they enjoyed gym class - it was the only class they could pass without getting someone else to do their homework. I'm not condemning wanting to be accepted, or even having the herd mentality. But, if you're going to join a herd, why join the stupid one?

Things are different now. Much like women in our society who now have the right to smoke Virginia Slims, we nerds have come a long way, Baby. It is now no longer a crime to be a nerd. In fact, in some circles, it's cool.

This radical shift in long-held societal norms can be blamed on the advent of the personal computer. When personal computers first came out, not everyone owned one, because only nerds knew how to use them. This was fortunate for most nerds, as it gave them something to do with the time that most people waste on friends and hygiene. However, computers became easier to use. So easy to use in fact, that normal people began to invade this nerd's domain. Soon, almost every household had a PC or Mac. Businesses had embraced this revolution even more quickly, some putting a computer on almost every desk.

But there was a problem. Sure, computers were easier to use now, but what if one wanted to do something on them besides play Solitaire? What if a business wanted to actually connect all of it's computers together? Who would fix them when they broke, or froze up? This development was monumental for nerds everywhere, for now, being a nerd had a wide-spread practical application. Nerds now performed a role in society besides filling Star Trek conventions or being contestants on Jeopardy. Now, nerds were necessary. Indeed, during the dot-com and tech boon of the 90's, being a nerd could be quite profitable.

Nerds are now among the most successful people on the planet. Take Bill Gates, for example. One would be hard-pressed to find a bigger nerd than Mr. Gates, but he now owns approximately half of the planet. He's married to an attractive woman and seems to have a happy and stable family life. Yet, imagine what his life would be like if not for the advent of computers. He would probably come every night from his job at the local Radio Shack to a lonely apartment, with only his collection of Star Wars action figures to keep him company.

I don't know if the current crop of nerdy children are ridiculed the way their predecessors were in my time. But if they are, they can at least take solace in the likelihood that those who are mocking them now will probably be working for them in the future.

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