Sunday, May 29, 2005

A Bit of Web Debris

Firstly, here's a movie trailer for a new film from one of Canada's biggest directors, David Cronenberg's A History of Violence. Cronenberg's Spider with Ralph Fiennes was one of the most overlooked films of 2002, and this new one really intrigues me. Cronenberg has the "Indie" sensibility that some people love, but he combines it with an excellent sense of visuals and mood-creating. This one has me interested because of the excellent cast (Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris, Maria Bello) and the premise. Watch the trailer because it teases you without giving anything away. I want to see it now to find out what the story is. Also, Ewan and Anton will appreciate this, it has a nice little vigilante violence angle too. Oh, and it's based on an award-winning graphic novel (aka comic book for adults). What's not to love?

Also, I found a link to this bumper sticker, and I think it's pretty funny. Almost on par with those "Republicans for Voldemort" stickers.

"The Ultimate Authority In The Universe"

As a serious Star Wars fan, silly arguments come up all the time. One of the longest standing arguments between me and fellow Star Wars enthusiast is the proper pronunciation of the name of Darth Vader's flagship the Executor. My friend insists that it should be pronounced {ope}g{sm}z{ope}kj{shtu}t{schwa}(r). I argued that this is stupid and drains all the fear and intensity of the ships name. I stood by my pronunciation of the name as {ope}ks{schwa}kj{shtu}t{schwa}(r). Still, I was reluctant to force the issue. The word "executor" is no longer used in English to mean "one who carries out an execution" so I wasn't quite sure if I was right. Still, I was convinced that the flagship of the Imperial fleet shouldn't have such a lame "legal" sounding name. It didn't seem right, but for years I doubted myself.

Enter the fact master, Danny, who had the bright idea to consult the Ultimate Authority on all matters pertaining to the English Language:The Oxford English Dictionary. Here's what he found.

({ope}k{sm}s-, {ope}g{sm}z{ope}kj{shtu}t{schwa}(r) in sense 3; {sm}{ope}ks{schwa}kj{shtu}t{schwa}(r) in sense 1)

1. One who executes or carries out (a purpose, design, command, work, etc.); one who carries into action, or puts into practice (some quality); a conductor or manager (of affairs); an administrator or enforcer of (a law, vengeance, etc.); an agent, doer, performer, executer; in Scots Law, one who serves a writ or executes a warrant. Now rare exc. in legal uses.

{dag}2. = EXECUTIONER. Obs.

3. A person appointed by a testator to execute or carry into effect his will after his decease. literary executor: one who is entrusted with the care of the papers and unpublished works of a literary man.

So, on first glance I was partially vindicated. In the pronunciations, both of our pronunciations was accepted. "Beatiful," I thought, "I can continue to pronounce it my old way and defend myself with the oldest dictionary in the world." Further reading of the entry though led me to conclude that the likely definition that the Empire would use to name their ship would likely be the first definition, not the second as it makes no sense to relate the ship to either a legal will or unpublished literary works. I think it can be agreed that the first sense is the one that the Imperial flagship takes its title from.

If that is the case, read the pronunciation guide again. Done? Good. Now it says that my unnamed friend's pronunciation applies to sense 3. However, my pronunciation can be applied to sense 1 or 3. So, if I'm reading this correctly, and we also agree that the first sense is the one that applies to the title of the dreaded Imperial flagship Executor, then I am 100% vindicated. My pronunciation is not wrong. I was right, and not only that, I can with good reason suggest that my pronunciation is the correct and acceptable one and not my frusterating friend.

It's sweet to be right once in a while.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Business Buisness

So far I'm now a week into my job as a Teaching Assistant. It's really not a hard job, but it's fairly time intensive for what I'm used to. Add on to that my job at the newsstand and I keep too busy. I've really fallen behind in my movie watching (as Anton reminds me every ten seconds; sorry bud, but it's a lot easier for you to say, you don't have two jobs or have to get up in the morning). But the job seems to fit with my sensibilities. It's a lot easier to sit down with a student and explain a mark than argue with an angry customer about something stupid. Students, in general, respect teachers, even student teachers. Customers rarely respect clerks. Which is strange. The students pay a heck of a lot more for their "service" than the people at the mall.

Speaking of paying for something and getting something, tomorrow I'm going to my graduation ceremony at 9 am at Centennial. I picked up the gown and tickets today. I know a lot of people aren't going, but I mean, I've paid my $20 000 and I want the full deal. I'm not making a big deal out of it. I haven't gotten a haircut. I didn't buy any new clothes. But I do want to experience walking across that stage and having them hand me my degree. To me, this means a lot more than high school (which I didn't really enjoy or feel was really that valuable). I'll probably drop by the reception afterwards (from noon to 1 pm) and then my parents want to take me for lunch, just the two of them. Nothing fancy. But at the same time, I want to experience it for what it's worth. The end of one chapter and the beginning of another.

Oh, and I have now seen Revenge of the Sith four times. And it's still good.

Saturday, May 21, 2005


(Note: Mild spoilers for Revenge of the Sith ahead)

Eco's Intertextual Collage and Revenge of the Sith

The common consensus seems to be that Revenge of the Sith is better than the other prequel movies. This doesn't mean that the film hasn't come under attack from people. It's inevitable that the people who have been claiming Lucas doesn't understand filmmaking would cry foul once again. But the more I think about the film, and upon susequent viewings (I've seen it three times now), the more impressive the Star Wars Saga in its entirity seems to me.

One scene that has been the subject of much of the outcry is the scene in which Darth Vader, newly reborn in his dark armour, queries the Emperor about the fate of Padmé. The Emperor replies that Padmé was killed by Vader in his rage (with a sick, satisfied smirk upon his evil face), and Vader bellows with a Frankenstein-esque "NOOOOOOOOOO!" The scene is somewhat cliché. The posture and tone reminds me of a Universal horror film from the 30s. Some people at our screening laughed. I had a big fat grin upon my face. Is this evidence that Lucas has lost all his skills as a director? Did he botch what was supposed to be one of the emotional climaxes of the film with cliché?

I would argue no. The film still carries emotional resonance, but perhaps differently than many viewers would expect. To understand what Lucas accomplishes in the films, I recall an essay by Umberto Eco, entitled "Casablanca: Cult movies and intertextual collage."

What are the requirements for transforming a book or a movie into a cult object? The work must be loved, obviously, but this is not enough. It must provide a completely furnished world so that its fans can quote characters and episodes as if they were aspects of the fan's private sectarian world, a world about which one can make up quizzes and play trivia games so that adepts of the sect recognize through each other a shared expertise. Naturally all these elements must have some archetypical appeal. (394)
This description most definitely applies to Star Wars. This is the single greatest accomplishment of the films. He creates a self-contained world, not only with the amazing imagery and such, but also in the style of filmmaking that he has made, which many see as flaws. Eco goes on to say:

I think that in order to transform a work into a cult object one must be able to break, dislocate, unhinge it so that one can remember only parts of it, irrespective of their original relationship with the whole. In the case of a book one can unhinge it, so to speak, physically, reducing it to a series of excerpts. A movie, on the contrary, must be already ramshackle, rickety, unhinged in itself. A perfect movie, since it cannot be reread every time we want, from the point we choose [Note: Eco is writing before DVD, and I can see that DVD is changing this reality and making film more like books as I've noted before]...It should display not one central idea but many. It should not reveal a coherrent philosophy of composition. It must live on, and because of, its glorious ricketiness.

However, it must have some quality...Works are created by works, texts created by texts, all together they speak to each other...A cult movie is proof that, as literature comes from literature, cinema comes from cinema. (395)
Star Wars, as the child of Flash Gordon, Akira Kurosawa and Arthurian legends, is the penultimate example of this intertextual cinema made up of parts and sometimes it may seem that they don't fit together in a coherrant manner. This is the nature of the beast, but also what gives it its power. To go back to our example of Vader's Frankenstein-esque cry at the end of Sith, this is an example of Lucas using an archetypical sequence of cinematic language to communicate the monster's grief. Everyone who is reared on this kind of cinema is able to decode what is meant by Vader's cry. The scene doesn't need to be invested with the kind of care that one would a normal drama or non-cult movie. The cliché speaks volumes that might not have been possible otherwise. As Eco says, "When all the archetypes burst out shamelessly, we plumb Homeric profundity. Two clichés make us laugh but a hundred clichés move us" (401).

Lucas has done this in all his films, mostly unintentionally. Like Tarantino in our generation, Lucas, and Spielberg also, was raised with the language of cinema. Unlike the truly universal archetypes, there are the ones that require us to know something of the intertextual history, and bring our own history to it. In these cases, Lucas and Spielberg consciously try to create some of this "intertextualization."

[In] E.T., when the alien is brought outside in a Halloween disguise and meets the dwarf coming from The Empire Strikes Back [Obviously Eco doesn't remember Yoda's name]. You remember that E.T. starts to run and cheer him. Here nobody can enjoy the scene if he [or she] does not share, at least, the following elements of intertextual competence:
(1) He must know where the second character comes from (Spielberg citing Lucas),
(2) and, he must know something about the links between the two directors. (402)
Lucas engages in a playful response to the scene in E.T. in the cameo appearance of a group of E.T.-type aliens in the senate scene in The Phantom Menace.

Three E.T.'s can be spotted in the lower left hand corner box.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Circle Is Now Complete!

Some of us were recounting the most memorable movie-going experiences of our lives last night as we sat in the theatre, waiting. A few hours later Revenge of the Sith was added to that list.

The cast and creator of the now complete Star Wars Saga: (L to R) Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, George Lucas, Natalie Portman, Yoda, Darth Vader, R2-D2, C-3PO, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits, Jar Jar Binks, Christopher Lee, Liam Neeson, Pernilla August, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, General Grievous, Billy Dee Williams, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Chewbacca, Mark Hamill

This isn't a real review of the film. Most of you have probably already decided whether you'll be seeing this film or not. I'm not here to convince or dissuade (though, I'd love for everyone to see the film and have the experience I did). For me to write a completely objective review of Revenge of the Sith would almost be impossible. The Star Wars Saga has had such an important role in my life: in friendships, with my brothers, in shaping my love of filmmaking, inspiring my imagination. It's really hard to explain to people how much it has meant to me as a story. It is one of the defining myths of my life. To see it come full circle, and now to realize that it is finished is at once both undeniably exciting, and at the same time full of a kind of sadness as well. This will be the last Star Wars film, and while their will always be more books, comics, video games and even a rumoured television show, it is the films that really define the series and for me this is the fulfillment of the saga.

As far as a film, Sith doesn't dissapoint. And I've already seen it twice on this, the opening day. It's far and away the most action packed of the Star Wars films, drawing you into the action right off the start. We get to see Anakin and Obi Wan at their prime, acting as a team. We see why Anakin is "the best starpilot in the galaxy" and how Anakin really was to Obi Wan "a good friend." Sith is also easily the darkest of the six films. There is some undeniably dark imagery in the film. Even though we know Anakin's fate, as a fan who allowed myself to be drawn into the film, I dreaded his transformation, willing him to stay the path of the light rather than face the inevitable devastation to come.

In the end, the legacy of Sith, besides the obvious emotional importance as the last of the films, is that it will forever alter how we view the original trilogy. When we listen to Obi Wan recounting the tale of Anakin Skywalker to Anakin's son, we know what he's talking about. When we see the back of Vader's scarred head in Empire, we know how it came about. There is more poignancy to certain scenes, and more weight to the redemption story in the end.

In the end, the experience of Sith on opening night was one of highs and lows. I'm not ashamed to say that a few tears were shed at moments, as Anakin faces his terrible destiny. I trembled with excitement knowing I would see the lightsaber battle between best friends that I had waited my entire life to see. If a film can move me like that, that's a mighty feat indeed. Star Wars has been the most meaningful story to me in my life, and the circle is now complete.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Leaving on a jet plane...

...tomorrow morning at 11:15 AM, but I cannot leave without something for my readers (if any still remain after my pitiful posting record this last week).

I saw Kingdom of Heaven today. I enjoyed it. Not quite as good as Ridley Scott's own Gladiator, but far better than the other recent "historical epics" of the past few years. Puts Troy in its place for sure. The battle sequences are spectacular. I've always appreciated how Ridley Scott (in Gladiator and in Black Hawk Down) never makes battles seem like video games. It feels fairly real. Viceral. I enjoy that aspect of it. Scott is also much more in control of his effects, using them to further the story and create a believable world. Not at all did I ever think that the film was too fake or "digital" looking.

It's not perfect though. For one thing, Orlando Bloom, as good as he is in the role, just doesn't have the charisma or gravitas that Russell Crowe brought to his portrayal of Maximus. Still he packed on plenty of weight and has moved past the "pretty boy" image of Legolas or Pirates fairly well. Also, the storyline, in its effort to combine historical figures and events into a believable story, tends to meander and lose focus. As a hero, Balian lacks the drive and narrative action that Maximus had in Gladiator. In the end though, it was nice to see a decently done film involving knights and battles of that sort.

In other movie news, fans of film fantasy have a few exciting peeks here.

Firstly, and I'm very excited for this one, the trailer for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is out. I cannot wait. A new book in the summer and a film in winter.

Secondly, the teaser for The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is available on this French website. It looks ok. I still feel somewhat leery of letting the guy who made Shrek direct one of the msot beloved children's books of all time. Also, some of it seems a little bit to Lord of the Rings-ish. Which worked for those movies, but wouldn't work with Lewis's books. Either way, the trailer is supposed to be attached to Revenge of the Sith, and we'll see how the audience reacts to it.

Well, that's it. I'm off to Rome for a week. I may blog. I may not. Either way my laundry is calling me. And bags need final packing.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Excitement Continues!

I went to Future Shop today to pick up the soundtrack for Revenge of the Sith - perhaps you're sick of me talking about this film so much already; perhaps you should read a different blog then (I'm just kidding, don't go) - and it merely fuels the fire of my excitement. This soundtrack is killer. It's suitably original while still paying homage to the themes that run through the entire six film series. This is honestly the movie I've been waiting for my entire life. It's going to be an event!

The Ominous CD Art for the Revenge of the Sith Soundtrack Posted by Hello

Also if you need more to get you excited for the film check out the new music video for "A Hero Falls," which is also on the bonus DVD, that comes with the Revenge of the Sith soundtrack, the 70 min feature entitled Star Wars: A Musical Journey with narration by Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine).