Sunday, March 26, 2006

Tackling my Goals and Keeping my Promises (Part I of unknown parts)

Where to begin?

First, I am no longer under the sway of the Wretched Disease. Z-Pack failed me this time, but Levaquin seems to have done nicely in its stead. Second, it is sunny today, and it was sunny yesterday too. This is good news.

To begin, a couple of reviews. Short ones.

Review: Chicago XXX

These guys just don't quit. Thirty albums over forty years, touring, merchandising... you have to give them credit. And the best part? You listen to a song, and you can tell it's a Chicago song (credit to my dad for nailing that observation). Whether it's "25 or 6 to 4" from Chicago II or "90 Degrees and Freezing" off XXX, it's undeniably Chicago. And that's a good thing. Their latest effort is not without flaws or shortcomings--many of Chicago's songs simply tend to sound the same after a few listens. While I recognize that the band's vocal talents lend themselves to ballads, and that the ballad has been the bread and butter of the band for the last twenty years, that doesn't mean that there aren't fans of the old-school up-tempo songs that Chicago made a name with in the first place. It's not that I want to see less of, for example, "King of Might Have Been," it's that I'd certainly like to see more in the vein of "90 Degrees." But all in all, the band is still making quality music, even with all that other quality music in their past. And the cool part is, they're from Chicago, one of the greatest cities there is.

Review: Auntie Mame

Good old Shiloh Onstage is the only theatrical venue I know of that charges six dollars for a show. Parkview, which is describably better than Shiloh, charges five. Heritage, which is like freaking Broadway compared to either Shiloh or Parkview charges eight. But they deserve to (and damn, their theater is nice!). Hell, Georgia Tech only charges five for students. And Shiloh insists on extorting that extra dollar per person. Oh well.

The only reason I can stand to pay this much is because there are people I know and like both in the show and watching it with me. Usually it's Sally, who's a wonderful actress, who is in the shows I see; this time it was my friend Taylor's sister Mary. And as usual, the person I specifically come to see turns out to be the best part of the show. This was an appropriate comedy for a high school drama department, and it was done with about the amount of skill and talent as you'd expect from a decently good high school drama department. As seems to be typical, Auntie Mame featured the following:

--A reasonably strong lead, who knew the lines and the proper styling to deliver them, but didn't quite push into excellence;
--A couple of supporting characters who were entirely over-the-top, because that sort of thing gets reactions from the high school audience, but who could actually be very good actors if they toned it down just a bit;
--A bell curve of a few excellent performances, a few very weak performances, and mostly average to slightly above average acting by most of the cast;
--Technical difficulties that didn't materially interfere with the production, but made scene changes take a bit longer than they really needed to;
--Lines that could have been very funny, or very emotional, or very important to the plot, that were obscured by 1) overaccenting, 2) not speaking clearly enough, or 3) having someone else talking or music playing at the time;
--"Wait, how long did you say this play was again?"

But of course you didn't need to see Auntie Mame to know any of that happened; that's just how high school theater works. And as usual, a fairly good performance (if not a great one) combined with the chance to watch it with your friends, and your friends in it, made for an entertaining evening.

Now... the discussion of Star Wars to get that impressive-sounding list of topics started.

It's generally accepted that the original trilogy (Episodes IV-VI, "the originals") is much better than the newer trilogy (Episodes I-III, "the prequels"). Exactly how much better is of course a matter of personal opinion and open to some debate. Takes on this seem to range from "Oh, come on, the prequels weren't that bad" to "Wow, that sucked, but hey, it's still Star Wars" to "Holy crap, that ruined what used to be the best science fiction series ever" to "I didn't even like the originals that much, but these prequels definitely cemented my dislike."

So, the natural question is, why were the prequels so bad? Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that George Lucas is at fault. And this stance has a good deal of merit. Take a defining scene in The Empire Strikes Back, where Princess Leia tells Han Solo "I love you." And Han tells her "I know." Now, if you want me to believe that that was in the Lucas script, you're full of it. That was an ad lib moment, and one that exactly nailed the character that Lucas outlined in his script. It's how movies are supposed to work: the director comes up with an idea for a character, the actor comes up with how to play him properly, and it's this collaboration that makes the character memorable. You need both sides of the coin.

In the originals, we got both sides. In the prequels, we clearly did not. Lucas's micromanagement of everything and his death grip on the script, made the characters fall flat. Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Hayden Christensen are all accomplished actors. We all know that they know what they're doing. And yet their efforts fell flat because George Lucas wouldn't allow any "I know" moments in the prequels.

But I have two alternate explanations for why the prequels seemed to be terrible compared to the originals: scope and theme.

By "scope" I'm referring to the central conflict of the series. In the originals, the central conflict was superficially between the Empire and the Rebellion, but the more important philosophical conflict involved the Sith and the Jedi. The conflict in the prequels was also Sith vs. Jedi, but I think it might have been more interesting had it been farther removed from the original trilogy. Yes, the rise of Darth Vader is a very interesting premise, and one that's central to the story of Star Wars. However, I think it has more psychological (and therefore literary) than cinematic merit. Just get a decent author to write the book, and it would be a compelling novel. Recall how Jake Lloyd ruined Episode I; that problem would be fixed by novelizing the Darth Vader story compared to filming it. And Vader's ludicrous "Noooooo!" moment at the end of Episode III? In book form, that could have been internal and possibly very emotional, but in the movie it simply looked ridiculous. A better time period might have been, say, the rise of the Jedi in the first place, or the first war against the Sith; something where we didn't have any conceptions about the characters.

And the "theme" I'm referring to has to do with the internal motivations of the main character in each series. At its core, the original trilogy is a hero myth. I won't bore those of you who are unfamiliar with Joseph Campbell by detailing what that means; just think of Luke Skywalker. He was basically a whiny brat in Episode IV who gradually grew into a heroic warrior by the end of Episode VI. He had to deal with temptations from the dark side, having his friends in danger, personal centering and discipline, and weighing his own opinions against those of his teachers; this effected a remarkable transformation in his character.

Contrast this with the prequels, which is a love story at its core. Compared with the insight and majesty of the hero myth, a love story is mere popular tale. Especially one in which the actors involved are not really able to display a range of emotions that could have made the movies good, at least for a love story.

Coming up next... the remainder of what I promised in the last entry, plus a few thoughts on the basketball tournament.


andrew said...

hey dude

i just wanted to say hello...and i love you. in a completely heterosexual way. but anyway. you should try to check out sufjan stevens (songwriter, in case you have no idea like most people) if you haven't already. i highly highly suggest checking him out. lol.

i sent him a recording. i hope i get on that label. har har. most likely NOT. but a songwriter must aspire to something. i swear though. if i ever get recording time in a studio, there is going to be some A12 happening.

have a good one.
i show your blog to my friends. lol :-D keep on fighting the good fight.

and other weird posts.
by Andrew van Devender.

Matt Pavlovich said...

I'm happy to say that I have both Michigan and Illinois in iTunes right now. Good stuff. I particularly like his use of syncopation and bizarre meters.

Alcides' 12 does need to get back together. Lay down some tracks. Heck yeah.

Andrex said...

i enjoy your mom's use of syncopation and bizarre...'meters'

omg it's allah

p.s. michigan is the best w007