Wednesday, May 25, 2005
"Mad About Me"
Well, I'm still not convinced this is any sort of a quality review, but I'm not sure reading over it more times will help anything, either, so here is my review of Star Wars, Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. I welcome your thoughts on the film. Particularly if you can talk me out of some of mine.
I came into Star Wars geekery fairly late in life. I saw Return of the Jedi in the theater and remember thinking it was sort of cool but a little hard to follow. Certainly it wasn't the life-changing experience a first Star Wars viewing apparently is for most people. John tried through high school to get me into the movies but, again, I guess I just wasn't yet ready to handle that level of advanced coolness. I was conversant with them; I knew the plots and the major plot twists and could tell Jabba the Hut from Wicket the Ewok on sight, but that was it.
When I finally did enter into life as a Star Wars geek, though, I did so with a vengeance. Sometime during my sophomore year of college it clicked, and now I'm one of those uber-nerds who's no fun to play Star Wars Trivial Pursuit with (as are most of my friends - makes for very boring games. "Who wants to go first? Okay, you win."). I've watched the movies a couple of zillion times, read the novels, played the role-playing game, bought a couple thousand of the CCG cards, etc., etc. I'm one of those people who knows the "stats" for the various ships and debates how actual dogfights would go. The kind of person who agonized with friends over Luke's direct attack with the Force on the Gamorrean guards at Jabba's Palace ("but that's a Dark Side point!"). The kind of person who gets why the title of this post is a Star Wars reference. It's a proud, if often poorly-dressed, club and I'm honored to name myself among its nerdly ranks.
I mention this by way of building up to (and providing a reference frame for) my thoughts about Revenge of the Sith. I've seen it twice now (both times on Opening Day) and I'm torn. I want to love this movie - it's the film that ties the new trilogy and old trilogy together, a fan's chance to see the battle that created Darth Vader in all his black-caped COPD-ish glory, the last Star Wars movie there'll ever be (unless Lucas decides to make more, but I'd be surprised if he does) - and there is certainly a great deal there to like, but there are many things wrong with this movie, too. I've tried a couple of times now to put together my thoughts in a coherent review-y fashion and I find the challenge a bit much for me, so I'll use the time-honored blogger's cheat of making a list of my thoughts on the movie. These are the things which I found noteworthy; some good, some bad. There are quite a few spoilers, too, so if you're hoping to see the movie sans expectations better to hold off on reading this post (and I apologize for already ruining the surprise that Vader becomes the Vader we know from episodes 4-6).
- On the upside (I want to start out with a good point about the film), it was visually spectacular. Lucas has an excellent feel for visuals and this movie - as Star Wars has since 1977 - pushed the limits of what can be done on-screen. The settings were rich and detailed, the CGI characters almost believable, and the climactic lightsaber duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan was, quite simply, awesome. On the other hand, though...
- The script, on the other hand, was awful. Really really putridly bad. Lucas's dialogue has always been a bit clunky, but faced with the challenge of portraying complicated emotional things like going to the dark side (and all the little battles with discipline and control that entails) or developing a love story he just falls flat on his face. The Anakin/Padme love story is absolutely critical to the plot of the movie. Anakin's love for Padme (which he's always just sort of had - none of the three prequels have bothered to explain it any further than that - but that's pretty common in films and not an indictment of the film unto itself) is both the one emotion he can't control that keeps him from attaining complete Jedi focus and it's the direct reason he voluntarily opens himself to the dark side, "nobly" accepting that any price is worth paying if it brings him the power to save her from dying in childbirth. Lucas knows that, you can tell he knows it, but he has no idea how to put it onscreen, so he settles for just having them say it over and over. Anakin talks about how he can't lose Padme and Padme either says horrendously cheesy lines like, "Those days by the lake on Naboo, where all there was was our love," or demands that he not shut her out. Twice during the film they have that conversation - Something's bothering you/It's nothing/Don't shut me out! They don't seem to get along very well, really - they haven't since the big sister-little brother relationship in Phantom Menace. Makes one wonder where the deep love that will almost single-handedly bring down the Republic is. I generally find Natalie Portman quite a good actress - in fact, I think she single-handedly saves Attack of the Clones's love story from being similarly horrible - but there's nothing she can do with this one. Hayden Christiansen is just in over his head. His job is to have smoldering eyes (especially at the end...) and be angry and generally look hunky, and he does those things well but none of them really forward any emotional development. It's sort of sad, really, that Vader becomes a much better emoter in the next movie when James Earl Jones takes over the vocal acting even though he no longer has any ability to have facial expressions.
Lucas also isn't funny but seems to think he is. To steal an idea from Ain't It Cool News, one line like "Boring conversation anyway" would have gone far towards saving the script. It wasn't as horrid as the C-3PO "comedy" bits in Attack of the Clones, but still some very poor and quite forced humor.
And while I'm discussing the script, I know that Anakin becoming evil was a foregone conclusion but still it would have been nice to have some sort of build-up to it. It's very sudden, jarringly sudden - one minute he's aghast at having been part of Mace Windu's death, the next he's off to the Jedi Temple to carve up some little kids. Some sort of transition would have been nice. In the novelization of the movie, it's made clear that Anakin's only able to defeat Dooku by tapping into his inner anger, which apparently he's been fighting with for his whole life. He learns that using the pent-up rage he still carries from a childhood as a slave and from watching his mother die can bring him great power. I want to make a "great responsibility" joke here, but I'll restrain myself.
- The characters in this movie just aren't interesting. Lucas seems not to realize that viewers are much more interested in watching characters they like do something somewhat cool than they are in watching characters they don't care about do something spectacular. Stephen King is an extremely rich man because he's figured this out as a horror writer - his novel's aren't scary because the monster is especially icky, they're scary because a character that you the reader are invested in is frightened. Friends became the most successful (financially, at least) sitcom ever in spite of only average writing and acting because they made people interested in the characters. Lucas doesn't seem to get that, at least not with the three prequels. He'd rather have one-dimensional characters do visually stunning things. There isn't a Han Solo anywhere in these prequels - no character who we're really interested in seeing develop and grow. Instead we have Anakin, whose whole character is to be moody and act like a petulant teen. We have Palpatine, who should be a fascinating character but just becomes weird and annoying as soon as he reveals himself as Darth Sidious (I actually heard someone gasp with surprise in the theater when he told Anakin he was a Sith Lord. I hope it was sarcastic). The closest we get is Obi-Wan, and that largely due to Ewan McGregor's exceptional work.
- Swinging back to a positive, the story itself is very good - better than the story of the orginal trilogy. The way Palpatine manipulates himself into Emperorship (that arc carries over all three movies), the don't-mess-with-prophecy plotline that sends Anakin to the dark side, the Chosen One prophecy, and the Clone Wars themselves (which are just part of the aforementioned Who Wants To Be An Emperor? plot) - all very good and very nicely intertwined. For all his staggering weakness as a scriptwriter, there's no denying Lucas's genius as an idea man.
- The very odd way Lucas ignored realism - particularly as it applies to time - bothered me a great deal. I'm willing to accept basically any premise in the realm of science fiction or fantasy, but I find inconsistency within that premise very annoying. Starships that travel the galaxy? Okay. Mysterious Force that allows people to have amazing powers? No problem. Sound transmission in outer space? You betcha. But once your framework is established, stick to it, for Pete's sake! Star Wars has established that hyperspace travel isn't instantaneous. The Millenium Falcon is renowned for her speed, and yet there's time for people to hang out, play some holo-chess, and generally be cool on the Tatooine-Alderaan route. Anakin and Padme have time to kick it in the cargo hold of their freighter on the way from Coruscant to Naboo. And yet in this movie Lucas ignores that and has Coruscant (the capitol planet where the Senate offices and Jedi Temple are located) and Mustafar (the volcanic planet where Anakin and Obi-Wan throw down - which is clearly stated to be on the Outer Rim - half a galaxy away from Coruscant) located close enough that travel's basically instant. After Palpatine senses Anakin's in trouble (which is after he's had his legs cut off and started to catch fire from the red hot molten magma), he hops in his shuttle and is at Mustafar in time to save him. That kind of breakdown in consistency drives me nuts. Also, the whole film seems to take place over maybe a couple of weeks, and yet when Anakin hugs Padme early in the film he apparently doesn't notice that she's almost full-term pregnant with twins. I know guys are stereotypically unperceptive, but that seems a bit much.
- There's also weak continuity with the old trilogy. I know that's unavoidable to a degree, but it still grates. In Return of the Jedi, Luke asks Leia if she remembers her mother and she replies, "Just a little bit. She died when I was very young." The second part is so very true - she dies when Leia's minutes old - that the first part seems implausable at best. Also Lucas's decision to make R2-D2 and C-3PO part of the prequels (an inexplicable decision at best) opens up all sorts of questions. Why doesn't Obi-Wan remember them when he meets them again in A New Hope? Where do Artoo's jet boosters go? In Revenge of the Sith he takes on 2 super-battle droids himself; where does that combat ability go? Now that we know that Yoda is the galaxy's premiere lightsaber warrior, why doesn't he just go with Luke in The Empire Strikes Back? Was the entire Kashyyyk scene put in just so we could meet Chewbacca a little bit early? Since Vader knows Beru and Owen Lars and it's been made clear that (at least early on) he still feels a great deal of attachment to his old life, is it really unlikely that he might come back to visit his mother's grave and note with surprise that the blond-haired kid on his way to Toshi Station for power converters has his old last name? These are all little things, but many of them would have been avoidable if the droids hadn't been in the prequels and Anakin hadn't been originally from Tatooine. There are some very cool nods to the old movies - Bail Organa and Yoda coming through the same door onthe Tantive that Vader would later stride through on Tantive IV (the blockade runner captured at the beginning of A New Hope) was a neat scene. Obi-Wan picking up Anakin's lightsaber as he leaves so that he can give it to Luke in A New Hope was a neat scene. The Death Star framework with a young Tarkin standing there was a neat scene. Creating an entire scene so that Yoda can say the word "Chewbacca" was lame. Having Padme name the babies with her dying breaths was lame - anyone who couldn't pick up on who the kids were over the course of the six movies needs a good old-fashioned dope slap anyway.
- There's some forced (no pun intended) awkwardness because of the transition to the old trilogy, too. Not as big a deal, but while I'm ranting I'll go ahead and mention it. Obi-Wan and Yoda obviously have to leave and go into hiding so that things can wait for the old movie gang to show up, but still it's pretty hard to defend within the framework of the film. "The Galaxy needs us now more than ever! Quick, let's go build huts!"
- I read the novel before I saw the film, and perhaps that affected my enjoyment level - took away any suspense and made it harder to get lost in the film. I don't know. There are certainly some things better explained in the book than on the screen, though. For instance, the reason Anakin is so thrown when he's told he won't be a Master is that he's already learned about Darth Plagueis and his ability to forestall death. He wants access to the Jedi records to learn this secret for himself, but only Masters can study records of Sith Lords. He sees being a Master as a way to save Padme - his driving ambition through the whole movie - and when that's suddenly pulled away from him he snaps. He's not (entirely) just being a whiny little kid who thinks he's cool enough for the big-boys table. For instance, Dooku is betrayed by Palpatine; his battle with Anakin is just a way for Palpatine to put Anakin into a fight where he needs to tap into his anger to win. Dooku thinks he's going to help bring Anakin to the dark side. For instance, the reason that the Jedi Council sends away Yoda - their most powerful Master - on a mission to Kashyyyk is to try to lure out Darth Sidious. (And to let Yoda say, "Chewbacca." Grrr...) For instance, the entire reason the Clone Wars were fought was so that Palpatine could have at his command an army of clones to attack the Jedi; clones have no emotions about their orders, so there's no warning for the Jedi to pick up on. For instance, the reason Yoda runs away from Palpatine is that he suddenly figures out the secret to defeating the Sith (this time he had it, and he knew it was right and that no one would need to be nailed to a tree...) and knows that if he loses the secret will die with him. Since he's losing already he runs off instead.
- And finally, this may be a nitpick-ish point, but I'm stunned and aghast and amazed and even a little surprised that they didn't get James Earl Jones to do Vader's voice. Certainly plenty disappointed. The entire Kashyyyk storyline could have been scrapped to clear up budget room, if need be. All they had to do to make Vader's first lines sound like the Vader we grew up with was have him phone in three or four sentences; instead we get a Vader that sounds like someone wearing one of those voice-modulating plastic masks. I have to assume that Jones was unavailable or (perish the thought) unwilling; Lucas went to such over-the-top lengths to include every tie-in to the old trilogy he possibly could, including having the same actors inside the R2-D2 and Chewbacca costumes. I could even have forgiven the Principal Skinner "Nnnoooooooooo!!" if it had just been Vader's voice doing the no-ing.
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Hey, a movie (is there any way to stop it?) starring everybody - and me!
Well, since the comic strip quotes game seemed to be well-received, let's play a little At The Movies with Meaningless Musings. Just like before, name where (which movie) the quote came from and who said it (actor or character or both). Also like before, these are all quoted from memory so they might be a word or two off, which on the upside might make them harder to Google. And speaking of Google, if you get the answer from a search engine I commend your resourcefulness but that's cheating so please refrain from posting those answers (there will, of course, be exactly no repercussions or investigations - those sorts of things solidly KFI at 1). Also also like before, feel free to post your answers as comments or e-mail 'em to me, as you prefer.
**Edit 5/20/05 - for the last four un-guessed quotes I've added a second quote from the same movie. Happy guessing!
**Edit 5/23/05 - #11 is apparently a bit too obscure (that or everyone's Googled the answer already). The quotes were from The Secret of My Success, one of my personal favorites back in high school but hardly a runaway blockbuster hit. There's a new #11 from a different movie for your guessing enjoyment.
And away we go --
1. Just fly casual. - Correctly identified as being said by Han Solo in Return of the Jedi. I love that line. "Keep your distance, Chewie... but don't look like you're keeping your distance."
2. There he goes to write the hit song, "Alone in My Principles." - Correctly identified as being said by Lenny Haise in That Thing You Do, perhaps the best movie no one's ever heard of. If you haven't seen it, make a point of doing so ASAP; classic stuff. I could easily have just used 15 quotes from this movie alone.
3. Well, I say it with a great deal of charm. OR There are 200 pairs of eyes on you and they're all wondering two things - who's that girl and why is she dancing with the President? - Correctly identified as being from An American President. The first quote's said by Lewis Rothschild (Micheal J. Fox) by way of explaining how he gets away with his system for dating - all plans are soft until confirmed 20 minutes beforehand. The second quote's said by Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening) as she's dancing with the President.
4. And X never, ever marks the spot. - Correctly identified as being said by Indiana Jones (apparently Harrison Ford quotes are generally known) in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Indy's face when X does indeed mark the spot later in the movie is absolutely priceless.
5. Is that a lot? - Correctly identified as being said by James Tiberius Kirk in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. The crew, having traveled back in time to nineteen eighty-something to find a humpback whale and thereby save the world (a plot device which somehow works very nicely) needs money, so Kirk goes to a pawn shop to sell a pair of glasses given to him by McCoy. The shopkeeper offers him $100, and Kirk - not knowing anything about money and certainly nothing about 20th century exchange rates - offers this bon mot.
6. He's a very clean man. - Correctly identified as being said by Paul McCartney (and many other people (primarily the manager guy whose name I can't remember - the Brian Epstein of the film (the one Lennon keeps calling a swine))) in A Hard Day's Night, which was the first movie to ever be released for sale in digital form.
7. Seize the fat one! - Correctly identified as being said by Prince John (Peter Ustinov) in Disney's Robin Hood. For my money, the funniest scene in all of cinematic history - when "On Wisconsin" kicks in and Lady Cluck charges across the field I can never keep from laughing hysterically.
8. Then him... then me. OR It will turn out well. (How will it?) I don't know. It's a mystery. - Correctly identified as being from Shakespeare in Love, perhaps my favorite movie ever. Certainly the film I've spent the most on theater tickets for. The first quote is said by Mr. Fennyman (Hugh was his first name, I think) over and over as he rehearses his role as the Apothecary in Romeo 'n' Juliet. "'Such mortal drugs have I, but Mantua's law is death to any he that utters them.' Then him, then me," if memory serves. The second quote is said several times by Philip Henslowe and once by Lady Viola.
9. If you were waiting for the opportune moment - that was it. - Correctly identified as being said by Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean.
10. You know the hot tip I told you about? Nobody told the horse. OR When the circulation bell starts ringing, will we hear it? - Correctly identified as being from Newsies. The first quote's said by Racetrack, one of the Newsie gang (played by the actor who played the sidekick on Doogie Howser, M.D.). The second quote's part of a musical number sung by Jack (aka Cowboy), played by Christian Bale (who'll soon be donning the Batman cape in theaters everywhere). And, I should note in case Emily reads this blog and decides to catch me on a technicality, later said by the chirpy little kid whose name I can't remember - Davy and Sarah's little brother.
** Edit - Ah, heck, this is fun. Five more -
11. I would offer up the proudest prayer a boy could think of: Lord, make me a great composer. - Correctly identified as being said by Antonio Salieri in Amadeus, one of the most intensely well-done movies I've ever seen. I've learned that I need to consciously and intentionally limit my viewing of this movie, even though I love the soundtrack and the storyline and the writing and acting are simply spectacular. The theme of looking up from a Purgatory of mediocrity, just close enough to truly know how far away you are, strikes just a little too close to home for me. Which is, of course, a different post for another day. Congratulations, and thanks for playing!
12. You're a Sikh Catholic Muslim, with Jewish in-laws? - Correctly identified as being said by Edward Norton (playing Father Brian Finn) in Keeping the Faith.
13. You will refer to me as "Idiot," not "You Captain!" - Correctly identified as being said by Lone Starr (two r's? Really? I didn't know that) in Spaceballs. I'd heard rumors once upon a time that Mel Brooks planned to get the new Spaceballs movie into theaters before Revenge of the Sith came out, but he's certainly running out of time.
14. Nonsense. I have not yet begun to defile myself. - Correctly identified as being said by Doc Holliday in Tombstone, after it's suggested to him that perhaps 30 consecutive hours of drinking and playing poker is a bit excessive.
15. Thank you for the cookies. I can't wait to toss them! - Correctly (if belatedly and, we assume, with Internet assistance) identified as being said by Julius (Governor Schwarzenegger) in Twins.
Sunday, May 15, 2005
We now return you to your regularly scheduled musing already in progress...
Four years ago, when I first started working at a hospital, I was excited to learn all sorts of fancy new medical terms and concepts. I did, but more than that I learned that true medical-speak involves never actually saying any of those fancy terms. I've never been part of a more abbreviation-intensive subculture; almost never are actual medical terms actually said. The medical world would like you to believe that's because we so often deal with situations where those extra fractions of seconds can be life-or-death, but that's nonsense. I'll bet even Chicago emergency rooms aren't nearly as excitement-packed as ER portrays - certainly 99% of the routine in a hospital is, well, pretty routine. My theory is that the abbreviations serve two purposes. They're much faster to write than the full words are - doctors and nurses do a tremendous amount of writing in charts and on flowsheets and on their hands and their scrubs and whatever other surfaces are handy; the sort of time savings one gets by replacing, say, "electroencephalograph" with "EEG" adds up quickly. They're also, unto themselves, meaningless. "Electroencephalograph" has all the sub-word-pieces in it you'd need to figure out more or less what it means - some sort of picture of electrical stuff in the head (or maybe Electric Head Picture, which would be, I think, an outstanding name for a band). "EEG" means nothing unless you already know what it is; if you're not in the know already it offers you no clues. Sometimes they make it harder yet by using abbreviations that use letters not in the original word - "EKG" for "electrocardiogram", for instance (the German word has a k (and probably a lot of ch's and some phlegm) in it; it's not completely random).
Whatever the reason, though, the use of abbreviations is absolutely ubiquitous and becoming comfortable with them is almost like learning a foreign language. Tonight at work, for instance, I wrote this on my clipboard about a particular patient: "CABG pod4 c ioCVA, JP, MT-s. RSW, Uc2, NPO - NGF." Another fellow was, "CADx4, MM, ¯INR, UAL, GD-NAS, GM ac&hs." In fact, looking over my whole clipboard - notes on 16 patients - I see only one word written out. Apparently I don't know the abbreviation for "pneumonia". Whatever I may think about the practice of expressing oneself without using any complete words, I certainly seem to have embraced it, which leads me to thinking about other abbreviations I've used in the past. I can think of three that I think you, Gentle Reader, might be able to productively incorporate into your vocabulary, and in the spirit of e-helpfulness I'll go ahead and tell you about them.
First up is "RSS". This has its own meaning now in the Internet world, but I have no idea what that meaning is (I'm quite sure at least two of you readers could enlighten me, if you were so inclined...). It seems to have something to do with tracing how someone found a particular website, or perhaps with tracking electronic paths back to someone's computer so their credit card information can be easily stolen. Fancier blogs all seem to have RSS feeds, so apparently an RSS is something you feed. It probably even stands for something cool, too, but again I've no idea.
I came up with my own "RSS" acronym back when I was a columnist for the Wartburg College student newspaper. I wanted to conclude my columns with some sort of actual worthwhile information and I thought doing a weekly poll might be fun, but I quickly learned that actually polling people is quite tedious. Plus you generally get a more or less 50-50 split unless your question is designed to create decisive results ("Is it okay to eat live kittens?" for instance). So I decided that instead of doing a regular poll every week I'd develop a whole new style of polling. Thus was born the Rod Simplified Survey, or RSS.
To conduct an RSS, find someone and ask them a question (or, in absence of anyone else, just ask yourself). Then project their response out to a demographic represented by your polling sample. For instance, if a professor expressed his opinion that the Wartburg tradition of Outfly was silly that could be reported as, "This week's RSS reveals that 100% of professors are in favor of doing away with Outfly." That's boring, though - better a result like, "100% of men ages 31-74 are firmly opposed to college students ever having days off," or "All people who live now or have ever lived in the state of Iowa..." or whatever Whatever the result, the key is that the results are 100% conclusive. The RSS allows polls to take a definite stand on something, and they're not, in the strictest sense of the word, inaccurate.
I know I didn't actually make up this system of polling, whatever I may have let myself believe. Professional polling companies have been making the data fit the results for years. It became a popular part of the column, though - people would occasionally stop me on campus and ask if they could be my polling sample for that week. I often think it would be sort of funny to have a little "RSS" link (like those fancy blogs do) on my website, but instead of having it link to whatever technical stuff a real "RSS" link links to, it would instead open up a page full of RSS results. That is to say, polls indicate that 100% of people who've ever used a computer think it would be funny.
Later, in my immediate-post-graduate years, I developed (in conjuction with some friends) the RTI and KFI, both scales for determining how desirable a particular action or event is. The RTI is the "Rod Tastiness Index," a 1-10 scale to determine how tasty ("tasty" in the holistic sense, not just basic food-and-drink yumminess) something is. A 10 would be the Cubs winning the World Series or holding your newborn child for the first time or Airwolf finally coming out on DVD - something of that sort. A 1 would be listening to the lead singer from Rascal Flatts singing opera or having to amputate your own leg or realizing that while you've spent an hour feeling around for the watch you dropped into an outhouse it was in fact just on your other wrist. The usage is to treat it as a verb - things RTI at some number, which can be any real number between 1 and 10. "How was your day at work?" "RTI'd at about a 5.4." Or you can just cite the number: "Didja check out this website?" "Yeah. Maybe a 3.2." Or, to revisit my earlier example, being able to buy CST stuff online RTI's at 8.6, at least.
The KFI is the "Kammerer Far Index," a boolean scale (expressed as either a 0 or a 1) to determine whether or not something's far. Again, this isn't "far" in the strict sense of distance but rather whether it's just too much work to contemplate. Things are either far or almost far, and since there isn't the range of possibilities that there are with an RTI, expressing something's KFI is usually just a matter of saying, "far," (or, in rare cases, "that's far," although the "that's" is generally considered too much extra work) or simply, "eh," (That's a short-e "eh" like in "then" or "den", not the Canadian long-a "eh") if something's KFI is 1 (if it's 0, then you just agree to do whatever task you've just rated). For instance - "Hey, can you help me move all my furniture into my new fourth-floor apartment?" "Sorry - far." Or, "Should we sit down and spend the evening talking about our feelings?" "Eh." Things that are ones on both the RTI and KFI scales are, obviously, about as undesirable as can be.
Movie trivia's coming soon; thanks to everyone who played the comic strip quote game. Now it's time to sleep the day away, which will be at least a 7.9.
Saturday, May 07, 2005
Who wants to play a game?
You're welcome and encouraged to post your answers as comments in a spirit of convivial work-together-ness, or if you'd rather e-mail your answers to me that's certainly fine too.
These are all quotes from regular in-the-paper comic strips (nothing tricky), although five of the strips quoted are no longer being made. Also, all these quotes were entered from memory - I'm 99% sure they're accurate, but there might a slight wording difference.
1. Yes, Santa Claus, there is a Virginia. - Correctly identified as being said by Howland Owl in Pogo. It's the punch line conclusion to a huge stretch of strips where the Okefenokee gang notices there's a Georgia in the USSR and freak out that somehow the Soviets have stolen it. With Christmas coming, they fret, what if Santa Claus goes to Georgia's new location and ends up getting lost and assuming that the rest of the Southeast is just gone? Pogo compilations are hard to find, but absolutely worth the effort and money, especially if you've never read the strip before; in my opinion the best comic strip ever in the paper.
2. Who the dickens is Dan Fogerburp?!? - Correctly identified as being said by Opus in Bloom County, a proud product of Iowa City. Opus is freaking out because his fiancee Lola tells him she has a tattoo of Dan Fogelberg.
3. You stupid darkness!! - Correctly identified as being said by Lucy in Peanuts. "I have heard it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness," says Linus to Charlie Brown. "That's true," replies Charlie Brown, "although there will always be those who will disagree with you." The third panel is Lucy standing out in the night yelling.
4. I just like to say "smock." Smock smock smock smock smock! - Correctly identified as being said by Hobbes in Calvin & Hobbes.
5. I am the master of all window treatments! - Correctly identified as being said by Bucky Katt in Get Fuzzy (while on a catnip binge).
6. If Jon's socks are in this drink... where is the ice? - Correctly identified as being said by Garfield in Garfield, which spent many years being only somewhat funny but has massively rebounded of late and is often the funniest strip in the paper on a given day these days. "My feet are cold." Classic stuff!
7. Clearly, J.R.R. Tolkien never played D&D. - Correctly identified as being said by Jason Fox in FoxTrot.
8. What if the Hokey-Pokey really is what it's all about? - Successfully evaded identification. Said by Jeremy Duncan in Zits. Jeremy's sitting around his room with his chum Hector and apparently thinking deep life thoughts.
9. They can make me do it, but they can't make me do it with dignity. - Correctly identified as being said by Calvin in Calvin & Hobbes. Calvin pitches an enormous fit about bathtime and then in the final panel grins merrily at the reader and says this line.
10. Car! - Correctly identified as being said by a random cow in The Far Side (no website for this one - here's why). I'll bet many of you have seen this one - a bunch of cows are standing around all bipedal-ish in a field and one of them yells, "Car!" In the next panel (sort of - The Far Side didn't really use panels) they're all standing around on all fours like regular cows. Then in the last panel they're standing upright again.
Thursday, May 05, 2005
"The problem with not knowing what you're talking about is that it's hard to know when to stop" - Tommy Smothers
- Yesterday evening, I found (through a link on Greg's blog) a flash version of the old Infocom Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy game. Ah, the many hours I spent on the old Commodore 128 trying to figure out the puzzles contained therein - not the least of which was just trying to figure out what it was you were expected to figure out. The new game seems to be exactly the old one, only with some nifty illustrations and without the frequent 45-second pauses while the disk drive chugs away. So far I'm on the Heart of Gold and zapping myself around to various out-of-body experiences that have, I've no doubt, some sort of significance but which I can't solve the connected puzzles for. Basically, in other words, exactly where I was 15 years ago. There's a link to the game in the links section off to the right - if you used to play the game, I think you'll greatly enjoy taking another crack at it (the site lets you save your game (just type "save" at the command prompt (you know, like you used to))). If you've never played, you should definitely check it out. The site also has the new radio re-recording of HHGG, which I haven't yet spent any time at all persuing, so excited was I to find the interactive, but which is, I'm sure, very nifty as well.
- There are a few new links (and a few renamed ones - I went ahead and changed all the blog titles to the actual names of the blogs instead of the bloggers' names) over in linkyland to the right. Aside from the HHGG interactive game there's Greg Nichols's blog "heckuva far" which I was pointed to a couple of weeks ago by "Air" Jesse Klosterboer and which I've quickly become quite attached to. If you haven't checked it out yet, click the link and spend some time reading through Greg's archives - he's extremely good at this blogging thing. Also, my name is in bold capital letters in the first post right now and I think that's cool. There's also been a cycling in the "send an e-mail to..." link. Pat McAlpine's given way to Jason Martin-Hiner (née Hiner)'s stepped in. And so goes the inexorable force of progress, coupled with my restless-little-kid need to keep tweaking the template.
- Stepping into ranting mode for a moment, I've been astounded (naívely, probably, but astounded nonetheless) over the last few months at the amount of TV time the Michael Jackson trial's been getting. I work night shift at a hospital so I generally get a pretty good sampling of nighttime TV going from room to room and if I didn't know better I'd think that the trial had somehow become actual news because the defendent is extremely famous and extremely weird (I'm not sure which is more important). Please don't misunderstand me - if he's guilty he did a horrible thing and I hope he's force-fed his own toes; there is no excuse for that sort of crime. My bewilderment comes from the fact that it's more interesting when a person who's famous does something (and he hasn't been convicted of anything) wrong. I remember being in American History back in 10th grade and listening to Mr. Harms proudly talk about how America has never had a monarchy. I think he was wrong - Hollywood's our royal family. We afford them a silly and extravagant life but by heck we get to watch them live it.
- Continuing in ranting mode, but on a completely different tangent - I'm so very tired of seeing the word "alright." There is no such word. None. It's a lazy misspelling of "all right" (or perhaps the last name "Albright") that's become commonplace because we're a society that's lost sight of the fact that "wrong" can simply mean incorrect so we hesitate to call anything wrong. I know it's in the dictionary, but I find myself unimpressed with that argument -conversationalisms have very much established themselves as dictionary-worthy (Exhibit A and B).
I've no problem with new words or new usages of old words (obviously), but is just an accepted misspelling. "All ready" and "already" mean different things, "all most" and "almost" mean different things, "all bum" and "album" mean vastly different things. As soon at "alright" thinks of its own thing to mean I'll cheerfully accept it. Until then it gets filed away with kat and occashun.
- I found an upside to the Cubs' penchant for disappointing tonight. I had the lovely and alas-none-too-rare joy of working with a patient who was determined that I would be as miserable as he felt. I try very hard to keep in mind that people in the hospital are generally at their worst overall and therefore not to be judged harshly - but this guy was a jerk. He was actively rude all night to me and the nurses; comments like, "Boy, they don't work very hard at teaching you how to do your job, do they?" and, "So you lost your way getting here?" A real winner all around. I was in his room at about 3:45 in the morning checking his blood pressure (which, I was told, I did incorrectly in a variety of ways) and noticed he was watching a replay of yesterday's Cubs/Brewers game.
"Watching the game?" I asked.
"Trying to!" he sneered at me (I kid you not, the man was like a parody "Man Who Is Mean" from a sitcom). "Can you finish what you're doing and get out - it's tied in the bottom of the ninth!" Then he turned back to the TV, "Come on, guys! It's the [colorful adjective] Brewers! You can win this, you [colorful... plural pronoun, I guess]!"
"Didn't you see this game when it was on earlier? Novoa's going to walk in the losing run in about ten minutes."
Ah, those good old reliable Cubbies.
- A couple of days ago I did some mixing/editing on the working draft of Matt's new song "Simple Life," and since then it's been running through my head quite a bit. I'm pretty sure both of you readers have heard it (I can post an mp3 if there's interest); it's a song about leaving the pace of life behind and creating a simpler one, told with the unforced rhymes and invitingly simple tune that Matt excels at (someday that man's going to be famous, and I intend to be clinging to his coattails for dear life). Particularly, I'm intrigued by the bridge: "This life that I'm living's all taking, no giving/And I feel like I'm driven by money and greed/I'll pack up these horses and make my divorces/From unhealthy courses and go plant some seed." All taking, no giving. The standard complaint about the hectic pace of life is that it's give, give, give with no time left for oneself, but I think Matt's right - it's generally the opposite. We don't have time to give of ourselves because there are so many other things to get done, so we end up taking. We count on friendships to stay on course without direct maintenance, we treat people as if they were just their jobs because we don't have time to do more. There's not room, not time for giving in this me-centric culture.
It may well be that Matt just needed the end of the first line to rhyme with "driven" and so flipped the words from their standard usage. I prefer to think it was intentional because the line is absolute genius as written and I enjoy thinking of myself as a bandmate of a fellow who writes lyrics like that. Whatever the origin of the line, though, I think it's something that bears some thinking about. Is my life all taking, no giving?
This was probably a bad thought to follow up my work story with. Hmm...
And thus concludeth my thoughts (I'm impressed with myself for having even this many). Thanks, as ever, for stopping by.
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
If you multiply in base-13, 6x9 does indeed equal 42
A disclaimer - this review contains a spoiler or two, so if you're planning to see the movie and hope to see it without pre-expectations, best to put off reading this post. Once you have seen it, though, I'd very much love to know what you thought.
I was first introduced to the Douglas Adams novels the movie is (sort of) based on back in junior high. My brother had a copy of the first one, I think, and I read the other three (at the time there were only four books in the trilogy (or at least I only knew of four)) courtesy of the Northwest Junior High library. I was (and still am) entranced by the way Adams played with language, his way of putting bits of sentences into other sentences, his absolutely wonderful gift for dialogue. I spent hours and hours and hours in junior high writing my own Douglas Adams-ish (I wish I could call them Douglas Adams-esque, but I don't think I can justify that) fiction, typing fiercely away on FREDwriter as my friend John typed away alongside me. Between the two of us we must have turned out hundreds of pages, much of it admittedly dreck but still a tribute to how influential the man was. John somehow taught himself to write well through those hours and hours of developing a voice and practicing transforming thought into text; I missed that part, but I think I got more of my dreck written than he did (quantity was key. Every day we'd check in as we were leaving the lab to see how many pages had been tacked on to our works). Someday I hope to find those old Apple II disks and figure out a way to transfer the text thereon to a word processor; that would be a delightful look back at who I was lo those many years ago.
All of which is quite off-topic; this is At The Movies, not In The Junior High Computer Lab. Last Friday I went with John, Mark, Carrie, and Jason to opening night. The reviews I'd read ranged from lukewarm to scalding, so I was a little nervous. The previews that ran before the movie included the new Herbie the Love Bug film and Chicken Little, which should have tipped me off to what sort of audience they'd made the film for, but I completely missed that red flag. The film itself... well, the film was "almost". Allow me to elucidate -
The film almost got Adams's universe. Hitchhiker's is set in a universe that doesn't share the standard science fiction assumption that for sentient life to reach the stars they must have solved the problems that humanity's struggling with. It's not completely ubiquitous but certainly present enough to acheive cliche status - the star-faring worlds have done away with racism, dictatorships, petty wars (what wars there are are usually either against some other society that's achieved star travel through oppression and despotism and allowing homosexual marriage and other obviously-society-destroying things or against an insurgent group inside the society that's led by a brilliant and charismatic but warped and evil madman), and often with the idea of money. The bit in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home where Kirk has dinner with Hot Cetologist Lady (Gillian? Help me out here, Star Trek faithful; it's been a long time) and then can't pay because they don't have money when he comes from is a classic example. In Adams's world society has just expanded out into a larger setting but kept all of its basic weirdness. The universe is a parody of the real world - sometimes literally. The filmmakers didn't quite get that; rather than put us into basically a weirder Mos Eisley setting they hustled us around between basically exotic locales and settled for having the Vogons (the major bad guys in the movie, but not the book) be a running joke about bureaucracies.
They almost got the Adamsian style of dialogue. Douglas Adams is one of the greatest writers of funny dialogue (indeed, I can't think of a legitimate challenger) in the history of the English language. The wordplay back and forth betweeen his characters is wonderful, and a major part of his novels. I'm completely at a loss as to why a filmmaker would say to himself, "Well, we're making a movie based on this book with outstanding dialogue; we'd better be sure to change a bunch of it!" But change it they did. Not completely rewrite it, not always - usually just change it. For instance (and forgive me if I miss a word or two here, I'm doing this completely from memory):
From the Book:
Arthur: "Where are we?"
Ford: "We're safe."
Arthur: "Oh, good."
Ford: "We're on a [I forget the exact wording. "Vogon Ship" but more descriptive]."
Arthur: "Ah. This is obviously some new usage of the word 'safe' that I wasn't aware of."
From the Movie:
Arthur: "Where are we?"
Ford: "We're safe."
Arthur: "Oh, good."
Ford: "We're on a [again, I forget exactly]."
Apologies for the inexact quoting, but you get the idea. They would almost use an exchange straight from the book but then change the punch line into something lame-o. It was weird, and very puzzling to me. The only thing I can think of is that they were aiming the film at a younger audience and thought that Adams's humor might be inappropriate in a movie version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (read that sentence again if you missed the sarcasm).
They almost picked a target audience. I expected the film to either be aimed at the hard-core fans - sort of like the newer Star Wars movies or the second and third Lord of the Rings films: if you don't understand the world you're watching the film certainly isn't going to bother to explain it to you - or at people basically unfamiliar with the . Instead it was a very weird combination of the worst of both. There were jokes aimed at the in crowd that were probably just confusing and annoying to those who haven't read the book - simple ones to fix, too. Explain why they're carrying towels! There was also a staggering disregard of the book's plot that indicated to me that the filmmakers themselves might not have read the book - certainly not aimed at HHGG devotees. I've never seen a movie adaptation that changed the plot more than this one - the characters' goals, the routes they took to reach those goals, and the exciting conclusion were all very different. Plus they of course had to add a love story.
They almost got the characters right. Arthur I liked quite well, Trillian was fine, Ford was okay. Zaphod was a disaster - they took an interesting character and made him an annoying idiot. I've heard that he was supposed to be a parody of Dubya, which is all well and good (certainly it defends some of the characterization choices), but certainly doesn't help make the film timeless. Marvin drove me nuts; they played him as the funniest part of the books, and while he was certainly entertaining the movie shouldn't have been about him any more than the books were.
The special effects were breathtaking (although, strangely, they opted to avoid dealing with Zaphod's extra head and arm by having his heads arranged vertically and his arm always under a cloak (until they're just taken away)), but they seemed to be the focus of the movie. I have trouble understanding why moviemakers these days are willing to spend millions and millions on special effects but not to spend money on a top-notch scriptwriter. The film was partially Adams's work (I'm not sure to exactly what degree) but somewhere along the line it lost his vision. Worth seeing for the sake of watching a HHGG movie, but really only almost worth the ticket price even then.
* Endnote - I found the frequent necessity of using the possessive of "Douglas Adams" bothersome. Strunk & White tell me, though, that when a non-plural word ends with an s the "'s" ending is correct, and far be it from me to argue with the Charlotte's Web dude himself.