Thursday, May 19, 2005

Revenge of the Sith observations - spoiler free

A word on the title - this is only spoiler free if you have seen the first 5 films. If you haven't, then there are some spoilers below, particularly ones that might affect your enjoyment of the end of Empire Strikes Back. If you want to avoid them, stop reading at the paragraph that starts with "The movie itself was a fitting end."

I had the extreme pleasure of catching the 12:01 show of Revenge of the Sith with some friends Wednesday night/Thursday morning. It was something to be a part of. The last of the Star Wars films. Ever. One of the guys I was with also had the pleasure of seeing the sneak preview at 7:30 downtown, and then headed out to see it again with us. Yup, we're kind of geeks.

But how could I not be? My first memories of a movie were of being so scared by Star Wars when Darth Vader makes his entrance to that now-famous music that I hid my face so I didn't have to watch. (I scared easily as a child, and I was 5 and-a-half when I saw it.) Then, when it was over, I wanted to stay and watch it again.

I have no specific memory of the circumstances surrounding my first viewing of Empire, but I remember leaving school early, and being driven by a friend's mother to see Jedi at the Runnymede theatre (now a Chapters) when I was 12 and it was opening day. I also have fond memories of watching a double feature of Star Wars and Empire not long before that with some friends, to refresh the movies in our minds - like we needed it.

I loved those movies. I loved the characters. When Han Solo got frozen in carbonite, I went home, and took my Boba Fett action figure, put him in a cup of water, and put that in the freezer. (My mom loves that story.) Boba Fett has since become one of my favourite characters in the whole sextet of movies.

I camped out (in shifts with some others, including my wife who was as anxious as I to see it - if not more so) to buy tickets to Episode I. I will admit to being disappointed, compared to what I remembered, compared to the ideals these movies had become to me. But it didn't matter. I bought the DVD, and I have seen that movie a number of times as well.

When Episode II came out, I didn't camp out, but there I was, loyally, at the midnight show on opening day. Again it fell short of my (possibly unfair) expectations. A good movie, lots of cool effects, and some amazing battles, but not a stellar link in the Star Wars chain. We saw this at a theatre on the North side of town, and the press were there, and there were people dressed up. It was something. A great experience made even more so by the people who were there with me.

So now, Episode III has hit the theatres, and again, I lined up at 6:30 pm or so for the 12:01 am show. (For the record, we were not first in line, there were two guys ahead of us) There were a few people in costume, really hard-core fans who had been down to Indiana for Star Wars Celebration III who tried to get some of the audience involved in a little pre-movie fun. Unfortunately, they were not the most charismatic of figures, and it didn't go over well, and they were heckled. And this is the point I wanted to make: One of the hecklers, when it was described which group (Halton FanForce, I think it was) these people were from yelled, "That is the nerdiest thing ever!" To much laughter. Now, the spokesperson for the group was a woman, in her mid-to-late 20's who was there with her son, who she said was 9. So not only are people mocking her in front of her son, but here we are, sitting in a midnight show for a movie, which would lose nothing by being seen 19 hours later, when most people who aren't nerds would see it, and we (as a group) are heckling someone for being more nerdy? Where is the line? Apparently doing without sleep to be the first to see the movie is cool, but being into it enough to dress up and let the excitement take you is too far. Many of the people who were there were probably mocked at some point in their lives for being nerds or geeks. Yet, the feel the need to draw some bullshit line as far as how geeky is okay, and throw that same abuse downward. I was embarrassed for the girl, and for her son. Fortunately, I really needn't have been. They didn't let it bother them. And it was forgotten when the movie started.

The movie itself was a fitting end (or is that mid-point?) to the saga of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. The dialogue was trademark Lucas. That is to say, not great. The acting was better from the main players than in any either of the previous films, and was certainly enough to keep you involved. All the loose ends required to move from the first trilogy to the second are tied up.

One of the really interesting things about this film is the theme that the wrong choices can be made for the right reasons. It happens throughout this trilogy. Jar-Jar Binks (the much-maligned Gungan whose presence in this one is almost nil) is responsible in Attack of the Clones for helping the Chancellor create a clone army to fight on the Senate's war. The imagery here is clear - these guys are destined to become the Storm Troopers one day. Jar-Jar wasn't sitting there thinking "I know, I'll help to create an army that will enslave and kill the whole galaxy one day." He was thinking "we need to be protected. I will hand a little power to the government to do so." This is not unlike modern politics in the USA. The Patriot Act is a little power handed to the Government at the cost of some freedoms. Now, I'm not trying to compare the Emperor to Bush (though I wouldn't swear that Lucas wouldn't draw that comparison at this point) but it is interesting the way the movies parallel some modern themes.

This is Anakin's story as well, in many ways - he makes the wrong choices, but for the right reasons. This is why his fall is all the more telling. Saying anything more would definitely take me into the realm of spoilers though. So just allow me to say that this movie has a mature and interesting, if somewhat dark theme, and tone to it.

Overall, this was an excellent watch, and while it still didn't hit the heights of Empire Strikes Back, it was certainly the best of Episodes I through III in my opinion, and may be the third best of the series, behind Episodes V and IV. I highly recommend it to any fan of Star Wars, or anyone who used to be a fan, but was left feeling cold by the last two.

May the Force be with you. Always.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Survivor Finale

Man, I don't think I could ever win Survivor. Among the obvious reasons, like not wanting to do without food. and such, I do not think I could handle the utter self-righteousness of people who do not deserve it at the final tribal council. I'd blow up at them.

If you haven't watched the final episode of Survivor: Palau and care who won, read no further... there will be spoilers.

It actually started well before the final Tribal Council. Katie, who had tried by this point at least twice to kick Ian off of the Island, and who had eliminated him from an reward challenge in which you got to choose your target, was really upset that Ian hadn't taken her on a reward challenge trip with him, because he said he would. She was in tears, and reduced Ian to tears as well, since he had betrayed her. Hello? Weren't you the one who was into the all-women's alliance to remove Tom and Ian, until it went south thanks to Caryn? Didn't you, right after eliminating the rock-solid ally of yours from the reward challenge agree with Greg and Jenn to vote Tom then Ian out as soon as you were at five people left? Where the hell do you get off being upset at someone else for playing the game, and for "betraying" you?

Similarly, Greg was planning on voting Tom out when they were at six people, rather than at 5 where they agreed all bets were off. Tom and Ian saw it coming, and with the help of Caryn and a little last-minute strong arm of Katie, voted Greg out instead. Yet Greg's moment at tribal council was to call Tom on the carpet at that final Tribal Council demanding to know why Tom didn't honour their deal. It must have been hard for Tom not to say, "Gee, Greg. I guess for the same reason you lied to me, Mr.'at least I left with my integrity intact.'" I know I would have had a really hard time.

Season after season, there is a parade of people who tried to lie and manipulate their way to the top and failed, who when they get up there, and aren't being judged by those around them like the final two are, make a big deal out of the deceptions of the two who made it while taking a moral high ground, based on deception or at the very least, a very different view of history than what has been recorded on national television. Katie might have been one of the worst, and least deserving final two in history. But at least she admitted every flip-flop, every questionable move was a part of a strategy to win a game, and didn't try to hide behind some non-existent veneer of honesty.

Or of omniscience. Coby claimed that he "was looking for honesty tonight, and didn't get it from Tom." This is another recurring theme. That somehow those who have been eliminated know everything that went on, and that the view they have decided on is the only possible version of the truth. Tom did answer Coby honestly, it just wasn't what Coby wanted to hear. And if you go back through the history of Survivor, there seems to be at least one question of this sort per game, and usually with the same "I know what the truth is, regardless of if I have any way to tell" filter in place.

My only regret is that Steph, who may have been the most deserving person of the title of Survivor in the history of the game didn't get a chance to meet Tom at tribal council. Ian showed a great deal of character, I thought, in the way that he came in third, particularly because I think he could have won that challenge and been sitting at the final tribal council with Katie, who I think he could have beaten.

But still, as it was, the person who won was probably the most deserving of everyone in this game. I'm just sorry Wanda didn't compose an ode to Tom as her tribute to his victory.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Howard Stern... Enemy of the State?

Okay, so usually I am pretty quick to discount Howard Stern's "everyone is out to get me" paranoid ranting as a by-product of his megalomania. The fact is, the man is inordinately talented (whether that talent lends itself to an area you can appreciate or not), and has the listeners and ratings to prove it. But he is also an egomaniac. I don't think he could be as succesful as he is if he weren't. He has signed a 5-year, $500 Million contract with Sirius Satellite Radio to move over there as soon as his contract with Viacom-owned Infinity Broadcasting is up at the end of the year.

Now, satellite radio has been on the scene for years, and the FCC has never tried to police its content. In early April of 2005, new FCC boss Kevin Martin said that satellite radio needs to start policing its own content so the FCC doesn't have to. I suppose it's possible that this is just coincidental timing, but it does seem like since the biggest radio personality in the history of the medium is moving to satellite, who the FCC already has a beef with, they are turning their sights that way.

Keep in mind - this is a subscription service. If one doesn't want one's kids listening, one only needs not subscribe. But yet the FCC is thinking of targeting this industry for policing. This accomplishes two things as far as I can tell:

    1. Makes the FCC seem petty and small. They wanted Stern's obscenity off of public airwaves. They won. Stern himself, being the megalomaniac he is would never admit it, but the fines and hardship they have brought to bear on the companies that carry Stern's show have made it impossible for Stern to really do his show as he would like to on public airwaves right now. Agree with their motivations or don't, (and to me, this is a slippery topic - some of what Stern does isn't appropirate for all ages., and part of his show is on at a time when parents are at work, and kid could be sitting with a radio, outside of his parents' influence listening - if this show were on later in the evening when this situation is less likely, I would come down entirely on Stern's side. As is, I am still somewhat undecided) it looks to me like they have accomplished their goal of "cleaning up the airwaves" as it was originally stated. Stern is leaving, and other imitators (Opie and Anthony for example) have already been chased to satellite. Other people (Don and Mike for instance) have cleaned up their show, or as Don & Mike put it, are now running "non-bleu." (Which, by the way is hilarious when Mike O'Meara delivers it in his Wayne Newton impression) Regardless of which way things are working, the public airwaves are headed in the direction the FCC has determined is best for the population of the United States of America. Yet here they are, chasing a grudge. This makes the work they are doing seem less well-intentioned and makes them look like they really are out to get Stern. Which brings us to...
    2. Brings Stern more interest. I would say that it martyrs him, but I don't think even the FCC has the power to kill the juggernaut that is the Howard Stern Show. I'll tell you this much, though. If the FCC wasn't teetering dangerously close to what I see as a serious attack on free speech, then I wouldn't be writing this entry about Stern. Not that my little blog entry is going to bring him a ton more listeners, but the fact of the matter is that this is big news. And the news will never be told without Stern's name attached to it. There is no doubt in my mind that Stern will be worth every penny that Sirius is paying him. And the FCC will be helpnig him make sure of that.
It was said by Pierre Elliot Trudeau, one of the more famous and longest Prime Ministers here in Canada that, "The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation." He was right, and by moving from public radio, Stern is moving from the street corners in public view into the nation's bedrooms. The FCC needs to understand that they have no place there, and should accept the victory they have won. Otherwise, they are giving David exactly the sling bullet he needs to take down Goliath. And Stern would like nothing better to put it right between their eyes. While lesbians kiss in the background.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Instinctive Irritations

Okay, I have a theory: People aren't necessarily rude or ignorant, but rather are driven by instinct to do things that serve them well, potentially at the expense of the rest of society. We are driving these instincts out of people (for better or worse is a topic for a different time) as much as we can, but some still remain, in areas that we tend to ignore.

Today, I will address an issue that many of you have wondered about, but dismissed it with a shrug and a "people are stupid." Here it is: why do people stop in doorways? At parties, in shopping malls, at the door to your lunchroom at work, in meeting rooms, people do it. They stop in the one area guaranteed to be most disruptive to those around them. Why? Are they just idiots who don't know better? No, I 've observed that behaviour in people who both are intelligent, and typically polite. My theory is... wait for it... it's instinctive. A doorway is an easily protected space. If you know what is on one side of the doorway, and can put your back to that area safely, you can only be attacked by roughly a 90 degree arc. You can't be flanked at all! This kind of thing had to be a motivator for our (very distant) ancestors. It is bred into us to find security, and not even necessarily on a conscious level. Not to mention, it also allows for the possibility of running away. A doorway, my friends, is beneficial to which of the fight-or-flight reflex one follows in the case of a threat.

I know what you are thinking: "Wow... this guy's an idiot." Okay, maybe not. Maybe you are thinking: "Hey... he might be on to something. Someone should do a study." I have it all planned. We will monitor heart rates, observe body language and such of people talking in doorways, and in open spaces. The only problem is, all the study money is going to studies making such ground-breaking conclusions as "Men who have sex are happier," or "Homeless people in cold climates die earlier,on average, than people with homes," or "inhaling smoke is bad for you." There are tons of those kinds of studies being done. But mine never will. Of course, I have to admit that is quite possibly because I will never persue it beyond this page. Anyone out there know any Psych students? This might make an interesting paper for them. And lord knows they could just plagiarize this and hand it in, as it should be apparent that I hold all of my ideas up to the strictest standards of scholastic verification before posting them on the internet. After all, I wouldn't want to be the only person to put complete and utter crap out there on the web.

Next time someone does something that you consider stupid, stop and think... is it a pattern? Might there be a reason they do this? In many cases you will find the answer to be: "Nope. They're just an idiot." But those times, few and far between as you might find them to be, where there might be other forces afoot... Those are the things blog entries are made of.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Disney Calling

So, I spent a decent chunk of yesterday working with some friends to pick the restaurants that we will be eating at a little under 100 days from now. Yep. Restaurants a hundred days in advance. And that is nothing. I made one of the reservations for that time frame months ago.

Why, you might ask, am I planning a few meals so far in advance? The answer, my friends is Walt Disney World. For all my inherent curmugeonliness, I love it there. It actually has the ability to render me pleasant for extended periods of time. I know that sounds hard to believe, but it is true.

Part of the reason I love it so much is the food. I love food (by the way, if anyone is keeping score, I'm less fat, having lost 5 pounds, and a percent of body fat in the last week - funny, getting off my ass and exercising seems to be helping) . Some of the best meals I have ever eaten were at Walt Disney World. There is a restaurant there, that isn't cheap, but is the only 5 star restaurant in Orlando. It is called Victoria & Albert's. All the waitresses introduce themselves as Victoria, and all the waiters as Albert. It's a prix fixe 7-course meal. This time, when we go, we are eating at the Chef's Table. At least my wife and I are. The meal is so expensive, I'm almost embarrassed. But it includes 7 courses of the best food I've ever eaten, and matching equally exquisite wine selections. But here is the good news: All the rest of the meals we have chosen also promise to be excellent. Even the places I haven't eaten at before look very promising. The biggest challenge in some of these places will be whether to try something new or stick with an old favourite. The Hollywood Brown Derby, for instance, makes an amazing Ahi Tuna. I know that, and I think about it often. But they have so many things on their menu that look great.

My wife hadn't started really looking forward to the trip until yesterday. She also loves the food there, so just thinking about it got her in the mood to go again. We're a little under 100 days to arrival, and I am excited already.

Beyond the food, Disney will be all geared up for "The Happiest Celebration on Earth," a celebration of 50 years of Disney parks (since Disneyland over in California opened). There is all kinds of stuff being set up in Disney World specifically for this. It promises to be quite exceptional.

And hey, maybe while we are there, we'll drop a finger in one of our meals and make a few extra bucks...