Tuesday, May 31, 2005

TV Burning Questions

I was going to blog about my weekend (which was lovely), but so much of it was spent catching up on TV and the various season finales that my head is just full of questions....

Why do bad guys spend so much time in bars and clubs? I mean, seriously, if you were an evil mastermind, or even the henchperson of an evil mastermind, and you were working a machine that could destroy the world and had another evil mastermind/superspy in custody, would you really take time out to go get a drink and have a threesome with strangers? I mean, really, people, make it a little challenging to seduce you and give you swirlies until you talk!

And when will people on television learn that there are certain conversations you just should not have while driving? I mean, maybe it's just me and the fact that I am a generally terrible and rather nervous driver (I don't do it very often), but even if I'm talking to a passenger, I don't really look at them, because I prefer to, you know, watch the road. So any conversation that's likely to involve long, soulful looks, dropped cell phones or dropped ice cream really should also involve pulling over. Kirsten Cohen and Michael Vaughn (or whatever) take note! And Vaughn's a superspy for god's sake! Shouldn't he be better at looking around for possible hazards??

Dude, don't punctuate your tirade about the danger of leaky dynamite by gesturing with a stick of leaky dynamite! And would a stick of dynamite held in an outstretched hand really make you explode? Oh, it would kill you for sure, but chunks? I think that only happens if you swallow the dynamite.

If you're a long-shot presidential candidate, is it really a good idea to put an alcoholic, pill-addict, and recent massive heart attack victim on the ticket as VP?

Does Brenda Strong have some sort of exclusive contract for playing dead mothers who appear in voiceover?

Do you go to couples therapy when your girlfriend kills your brother who tried to rape her and is about to bash your head in with a telephone?

Is the junior prom a big deal anywhere but on TV? And do they not have SATs and college applications in Orange County?

If your heart attack makes you fall in the pool and drown, what is considered to have killed you?

Why would NBC schedule a spin-off of a franchise that's on 20 times a day on cable on Friday night and then wonder why nobody watched it? And if they wanted people to watch it, why wouldn't they advertise?

And why isn't American Dad funnier?

Friday, May 27, 2005

Gag me

I went down to the cafeteria to get some chocolate cake - because chocolate cake makes everything better - and the little take-out container had a sticker on it that read "Best if eaten by: you. Inspiration date: today."

So now, on top of being cranky, I feel a little nauseous.

Well of COURSE that went badly!

So Boy called a little while ago to tell me the furniture had arrived...minus the nightstands and with the wrong goddamn headboard. The headboard is actually a somewhat reasonable mistake - it's a slatted thing, and for some reason in birch the slats are closed (like they're laid over another piece of wood) and in pine they're open. We wanted the open version, but ordered everything else in birch, so they got confused. The nightstands, however, were "out of stock" and no one bothered to tell us.

Since I'm the resident yeller in the house, I called the store, where the heavily-accented salesman told me he'd just found out about the nightstands this morning.
"But we placed our order two weeks ago."
"They oversold them. In the newspaper."

I took this to mean there'd been a big sale circular, or a rush of phone orders or something. But isn't part of the gimmick of Gothic Cabinet Craft that they make the furniture for you? And if you go to the "factory outlet," as we did, doesn't that imply a certain easy accessibility to fresh-off-the-table-saw furniture?

Apparently not. Apparently, our nightstands are actually on a boat from Romania. Seriously, this is what he said.

He was quite apologetic about the headboard, and said he would swap it for the right one when the nightstands arrive, and he'd call me back when he had a clearer ETA. Good enough, but I felt the need to make the point that this screw up meant someone would have to take additional time off from work, and was therefore costing us money. "No," he said, "I call you when they're in to set up time. No wait unless they coming."

"Right," I said, losing my cool, "but we've already taken time off to wait for one delivery, now we have to take more time off to wait for a second one. Instead of getting it all at once like we were supposed to."

"No, I call you. You no have to wait twice."

"No no no. We've already waited once. So now when the nightstands come, even when you call us, that will be twice. And it costs us money. We lose income."

"I call you! I call you!"

He wasn't getting it.

"No... look... this was your mistake, and it is a problem for us. The time. So can you maybe give us some money back or something?"

"Next time you need something, you come in, I give you good deal."

I was done. I mean, it's not inconceivable that we will buy furniture from them again, but this did not strike me as an acceptable solution to the problem. But the old Greek had exhausted me. Now, of course, I want to find something - anything - to buy, just on principle. Of course then we'd have to get it delivered.

So it looks like our bedroom won't be complete for at least two weeks. At which point I'll be out of town for the summer and won't even get to enjoy it. I mean, they're bedside tables, not oxygen tanks. We can live without them, but that's not the point. Incompetence makes me crazy, especially when I've spent far more money on something than I'm in the habit of spending. Which I realize is nowhere near as much money as some people are in the habit of spending. But y'know, take some responsibility when you fuck up. Don't make excuses, don't blame other customers, and fix the damn problem in a timely and cost-effective manner to me, the customer. Because that is your job! And this isn't even a monopoly like the phone company, there are plenty of places to buy moderately priced wood furniture. You'd think they'd make a fucking effort to please the customer.


Anyway, here's the furniture we're selling again. I'm going to put it in every post from now until it's gone. Remember it's all OBE, so let's make a deal!
Ikea "Logga" bed and SertaPedic firm mattress (full)
Ikea "Robin" 3-drawer chest (green)
Armoire

Fun with Grown-Up Purchases!

The weekend before last, Boy and I went bedroom shopping. We'd dropped a bunch of money on shelving and various housewares at Ikea when we first moved into the new place, but this was the first time either of us had ever bought a whole room's worth of matching furniture. Six pieces in all (bed, headboard, 2 dressers and 2 nightstands), plus a mattress. It all felt shockingly adult. And as Boy pointed out, it's very strange to spend that much money and come home completely empty-handed.

It was all surprisingly easy and actually pleasant. We hit a sale and a salesman who gave us an additional 10% off on the furniture. At the mattress place, our salesman must have decided that we were never going to be a $2,000 sale for him so he wanted to make sure we some kind of sale, and spent a lot of time with us discussing the differences between traditional and "memory foam" mattresses, and wound up selling us a floor sample for much less than half what a brand new one would have cost. (So we went with the memory foam, which is fabulous - though admittedly it's awfully hard to judge a mattress in 5 minutes, and they frown upon customers having sex or spending the night in the store.)

So it was all perfectly lovely... until we tried to finalize our plans for delivery. Gothic Cabinet Craft couldn't give us a window until 1:00 yesterday afternoon, which was mildly irritating but not entirely unreasonable. However Sleepy's ("the mattress professionals, doing it right") couldn't tell us when to expect our delivery until 7:00 this morning! Um, what??? I've been given 8-hour delivery windows before, and I've been told to call back the day before, but the morning of?? When I finally got a live customer service rep on the phone and explained that I needed to know a little earlier than that if I was taking off from work, she was utterly baffled. I mean, seriously, what good is telling me the delivery window at 7 am? It basically shoots the whole day. Boy's schedule is more flexible than mine, and he's already staying home from 9 to 2 to wait for the furniture, and we're only working a half day at Huge Financial Company today, but I just can't believe no one's complained about this before. I get that there was nothing they could actually do to help me, since no information would be in their computers until the stuff was on the trucks and the trucks had their routes, but what amazed me was that the woman on the phone was so completely mystified by why I might find this policy unacceptable, or inconvenient, or why it might cause a loss of income!! Which of course just riled me up more, and I completely let her have it, hoping she'd at least relay the story of the angry man to a supervisor who might put into motion some sort of consideration of changing the dumbness.

As it turns out, the mattress coming between 6 and 10 tonight, so Boy's off the hook as soon as the furniture arrives, and I don't have to leave work any earlier than I'd planned to, but still. And of course that raises new issues, like the way we're not supposed to get any deliveries in the building after 7, I think, and the way the basement (through which all large deliveries are supposed to come, since there are stairs in the lobby not to mention nice floors) closes at 9:00 (which is itself another rant for another day), but fingers crossed it'll come on the early side and we can fully enjoy breaking it in.


On a related note, all of this means that we have some furniture for sale. So if you live in the New York City area, want some decent furniture for cheap, and have a way to transport the stuff, check the Craigslist links below (and you'll see why it was time to get new stuff that matches!!):
Ikea "Logga" bed and SertaPedic firm mattress (full)
Ikea "Robin" 3-drawer chest (green)
Armoire

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Figures

Last week I finally settled into a routine being back in New York and back at Huge Financial Company. I was doing well with the mornings, working slightly long days at the office to get some extra hours, and I even went to the gym a couple of times. But I was slightly over-scheduled with theater tickets, parties, and a certain movie about which I shall not blog for a while. This week, however, I had no concrete plans outside of work, and I was so excited for a relatively relaxing week in which I could just make some money, spend some time doing things around the house, get back on track with my diet and go to the gym three or four times.

So of course, on Sunday, I got sick. I'm not really sure how it happened. It feels like the kind of sick I usually get when I don't sleep enough and I'm run down. But I've been sleeping plenty, and I felt it coming on and immediately took some Zicam and went to bed for ten hours, which should have done the trick. No luck.

I took Monday off, which felt wonderfully luxurious, since as a temp I don't get paid sick days and as a stage manager I don't call out unless I'm really dying or really infectious. I slept a lot and even managed to tidy up the office and the kitchen, but it was hardly a miracle cure. I've been feeling a bit better every day, but have had a very hard time waking up in the mornings, and have been crashing early at night. Hardly the way I wanted to spend an easy week.

It doesn't help that the sun hasn't shown itself in four days, and that it's been fucking COLD in New York City. I suppose normally 50 doesn't qualify as cold, but in late May it does. And since they haven't turned on the heat at home and always keep the office frigid, I feel like I haven't been warm in days. Because I'm sure the weather has to improve and I'll leave the hermetically sealed office one day to find it's sunny and 70, I haven't truly given in and dressed appropriately. I've been layering but refuse to break out a heavy jacket. Yesterday morning my hands were freezing but it never crossed my mind to wear gloves. I noticed on the train that everyone seemed to be reacting the same way - and everyone looked grumpy.

If there was a point to this post when I started, I've forgotten what it is now. Just that the world is out to get me, I suppose, and I haven't felt much like blogging lately. Hopefully tomorrow will bring more entertaining news, as I have updates on the apartment, the computer, and I'm slowly but surely catching up on my TV.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Sith or That

Okay, just one more thought on Revenge of the Sith -- I got the soundtrack over the weekend, and it's excellent, but it does seem like George Lucas is the only person who believes these movies should be watched in order from Episode 1 to Episode 6. John Williams clearly believes this is the final chapter. I mentioned the other day that the best moments in the new movie are ones which harken back to the old movies. The score just sort of drives that home. The film ends with a shot and a piece of music lifted directly from Episode IV, and it's a moment of great portent, but only because of what it references. And I suppose if I'd never seen Star Wars it wouldn't even feel portentous, but probably in that case I'd be thinking "God, that was pretentious, what was that about?" In a world where this is the last of six movies (ie, the world we all live in, of which George Lucas is apparently not a part), it makes perfect sense to echo the first chapter in the last, completing the circle.

Also on the CD, I noticed that the closing credits contain "The Throne Room" music from the end of - yup - Star Wars. Now if that doesn't scream final chapter (or perhaps more accurately, "I've been writing this music for 30 years can I please just stop and go home and sit on my pile of money now?") I don't know what does.

Anyway. Enough of that from me. But for more Sith from better writers, check out Sars' marvelously spot-on review on Tomato Nation (contains spoilers), and for some funny see The Billboard Country Music Top Ten If Kenny Chesney Were Anakin Skywalker and Renée Zellweger Were Padmé Amidala on FameTracker (sort of contains spoilers but only if you're really a freak about such things).

Disappointed

How sad am I that the best thing about The Muppets' Wizard of Oz was the apostrophe use in the title?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Episode IX: Aren't You A Little Short For A Sith Lord?

Okay, I may blog for pages and pages about Star Wars, but I do not show up at the theater with a lightsaber either. There are toys in my apartment - Optimus Prime sits atop a bookshelf in the living room, and Chewbacca, Yoda and Beaker watch over my desk - but dude, you're 30, leave the sword at home. What are you going to do with it in the middle of a movie anyway? At one point before the movie started, two children started dueling in front of the screen. Cute. Then someone whose age I couldn't determine from our seats in the back row (where we wanted to be, for the record) but definitely post-pubescent joined them. Not cute. And he was bad. I mean he was just waving his saber around like he'd never used it before and had no idea what to do. If you're going to humiliate yourself in public like that take a class or something. There was a smattering of applause which I chose to believe was deeply ironic, and the child-destroying saber-waver bowed foolishly, in a way I believe was deeply not ironic.

The theater, normally a fairly classy old-school "movie palace" was a sty, as if they'd barely bothered to clean up between showings. I tripped over a trash bag someone had left in the middle of an aisle. Chaos for seats, chaos for popcorn, chaos at the bathrooms, where the men's line was at least twice as long as the women's.

Once the film started unspooling (dammit, another good word lost to the digital age) though, the audience was shockingly respectful. A theater manager got on a mic to basically apologize that they were "contractually obligated" to show trailers and commercials before the movie, as if he feared a riot. They knew their audience well though: The third time the green "This preview has been approved for all audiences" screen came up, people started to boo - until they realized trailer was for Batman. It was like waving something shiny in front of our cat.

"A long time ago in a galaxy far far away..." came up, and a few people cheered, but someone in the back yelled "Wait for it!" and they did, erupting at the first blast of trumpets and the yellow "Star Wars" title...and then falling silent just as quickly to read the crawl. People would cheer and applaud (or sometimes guffaw) at a moment, but hush up again as soon as someone on screen started talking, even for highly guffaw-worthy lines like "I'm beautiful because you love me." It was kind of neat. Short on social skills the nerds may be, but respect movie etiquette they do.

Back to I and II for a moment... I read this in Entertainment Weekly this morning: "Now [Lucas] volunteers that his prequel storyline - derived from material he'd brainstormed over 30 years ago to inform his writing of Star Wars - was 'thin.... It was not written as a movie. It's basically a character study and exhibition piece about politics - two things that are not dramatic. [Not like] the dramatic story that was constructed for Star Wars. But I wanted to be faithful to it, so I didn't construct other stories. It is what it is.... I said, "This is the story. I know I'm going to need to use Hamburger Helper to get it to two hours, but that's what I want to do."'"

A welcome admission of fallibility, but if you knew your material was thin, why on earth did you make movies that were over two hours long??? 90 minutes would have been plenty!

Okay, so I'm avoiding actually writing about Episode III, mostly because I know a lot of you haven't seen it yet and I don't quite know what to say without being spoilerific. I'll just say that I liked it. A lot. It's great fun, and the dialogue, acting and hair have all improved. But still...it's not really its own movie so much as a prologue to the original trilogy. As Owen Gleiberman points out in his review, we never really see Anakin give in to the dark side, at least not in a way that requires him to make a choice beyond "Now it's time for me to become Darth Vader because you're all waiting for it." This may be partly because the timeline is utterly confusing... The whole film appears to take place in just a few days, yet planets described as being very far away seem to take mere minutes to fly to, and Padme is more pregnant in every scene. And the best moments are still the ones that appeal to my inner geek (okay, and the outer one too): echoes of the original films in sets, music, sunsets, and Grand Moffs.

If you can take the pretension away, as I think most of us at the Ziegfeld did last night, it's a really good time, with some enjoyably over-the-top acting, massive action sequences, great swordplay, and Hayden Christensen in a bathrobe and leather pants. And in the end, isn't that what we go to Star Wars movies for anyway?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

On target this comic is

Episode VIII: Too Long This Post Is, Hmmmm

So, as we established the other day, I'm a big dork, but not a purist. I like the original Star Wars films so much - without crossing the line into thinking they're sacred - that I'm not even as hard on the new ones as most people. Much of the magic is gone, sure, and the writing pretty much blows, but they're still new Star Wars movies. They look and sound pretty, there are some interesting pieces of history falling into a story we already know, and of course I'll watch Ewan McGregor in pretty much anything, even if he doesn't get naked.

From yesterday's Salon: "For years fans of the 'Star Wars' series have been trying to convince us nonbelievers -- and, to an extent, themselves -- that George Lucas is a genius whose work plumbs deep universal themes.... Somehow, a series that began as an enjoyable tongue-in-cheek amusement has turned into a runaway train wreck of convoluted yet facile mythology, one that inexplicably invites, but can't support, constant defense as a serious work. It's not enough that the 'Star Wars' movies are the work of an occasionally clever but mostly simple-minded auteur-wannabe; they've also been hijacked by zealots who insist on assigning weight and meaning to every idiotic frame, spoiling the fun even for average moviegoers who simply have a nostalgic fondness for the original trilogy."

That's pretty on-target for me - even though I'm a more rabid fan than a nostalgic average moviegoer, I'd never call any of these films high art. They're fun. Big-themed, big-budgeted, occasionally pretentious, but basically pulpy action movies with mostly sub-Shatner acting ("...My sister has it. Yesit'syouLeia." "I know. SomehowI've...alwaysknown."). I'm not looking for depth, I'm looking for multiplex escapism, with a little emotion thrown in for good measure, just to remind me I'm watching something more epic than, say Face Off.

Much has been made about the new stuff being more childish, but remember that we were children when we saw the original films. For all the adult themes that are certainly there, my fandom began as a five-year-old's enthusiasm, and playing with action figures. There were surely adults who saw Star Wars and loved it, but I think it's safe to say that the majority of us who grew into scary fans were kids at the start. Still, the original films didn't go out of their way to include the now-obligatory "funny" scene, or the toy-ready creature. I could even make a case for the Ewoks, who were cuddly but also quite cleverly violent, and their deaths are certainly not played for laughs. On the other hand, George Lucas invented the kind of mass-marketing, media tie-in, toy residuals business that Hollywood has become. In 1977 there was little precedent. Now I wouldn't be surprised if McDonald's had a Depression Meal to go with the new Woody Allen movie, with a little Freud doll inside (and I would totally buy that). The point is, it's a different time, and movies are different. The originals hold up, but that's not the same as saying they could be made in the same way today. I don't think they could.

Of course that doesn't excuse plain old bad filmmaking, which transcends time. When I saw Episode I I was too excited to see a lot of its flaws, but even that couldn't save Jar Jar, Watto and the Trade Federation. Jar Jar doesn't make me mad on principle - there's totally room for a kid-friendly, CGI character, and for a storyline about separate factions (the Gungans and the...Nabooians?) coming together against a common enemy. And his position combined with his naïveté set important things in motion in Episode II. But good lord, did he have to be that?? Did he have to be so damn annoying and vaguely racist, and did there have to be so damn much of him?? Even worse was the battle sequence where the Gungans win essentially by accident, falling over themselves in "funny" ways that happen to blow things up. Including, occasionally, themselves. The violence in the original trilogy was sometimes whimsical (see the Ewoks and C3PO) but never comic to the point of having no stakes whatsoever (see Jar Jar and C3PO). Throw the curiously "Arab" Watto and the curiously "Chinese" Trade Federation guys into the mix, and it seems Lucas has some issues, and not just as an artist. Plus, you make your chief bad guys the Trade Federation?? I mean, sure, nefarious corporations are old hat, but these guys have an army!! So, for that matter, does the Banking Clan. What the hell??

Aaaaanyway, that said, I still didn't hate the damn thing. There was plenty to get excited about. And then I made the mistake of seeing it again. Excitement gone, it was not an enjoyable film the second time around. And the biggest reason for that was that Lucas desperately needs an editor. Episode IV was an even 2 hours (plus 5 minutes in the special edition). Episode I is 133 minutes, and Episode II is 143! It seems to me that Lucas just thinks everything he does is brilliant, and in fact much of it, well, isn't. And it's just bad storytelling. Cool as the podrace sequence is, it didn't need to be so long. Neither did the endless underwater journey or the climactic battle. Not no Jar Jar necessarily, but for the love of god, less of him!

Episode II suffers from the same need for cuts, but it's definitely better, if only because it's grown up a little. There's the one sequence that seems to be lifted straight from Super Mario Brothers and destined to be played on the X Box, but not much else in the way of pandering for merchandise. I genuinely liked the complicated politics, sure to go over children's heads. Palpatine starting a war just so he can take power, whichever side wins? That's good stuff! Eeeeeevil. It's hard to tell at time who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, and the Jedi don't know they're essentially working for the wrong side. More good stuff.

But then there's all that pesky dialogue. Really, one of the smartest things Lucas ever did was hand off screenplay duties (not to mention directing) to other people for Empire and Jedi, and I don't know why he didn't do it here. He'd still come up with the story, and obviously keep very tight control on how it turned out, as he does with everything from comic books to video games, but we might have been spared some of the torture of the Anakin/Padme love scenes. I mean, here are two talented, likeable young actors (actually, I hate Natalie Portman but the rest of the world seems to disagree with me), in a beautiful setting (a real one, mind you, CGI-free, just two kids in a field) and they couldn't be more wooden if they were, um, made of wood.

Anyway, after the Episode I experience, I was afraid to watch Attack of the Clones again, preferring to hold on to the relative enjoyment of the first time. But as today drew closer, I realized that I remembered very little of the plot. Which, really, isn't a good thing. Did anyone really need the title crawl to tell them what had happened between chapters of the first trilogy? But anyway I decided to take a chance and rent the DVD. To my great surprise, I enjoyed it more. The plot is really complicated in many respects, and a second viewing actually fleshed some of the details I'd missed the first time. Even the Anakin/Padme stuff didn't bother me as much, as I was less occupied with thinking, "Dear lord, make them stop talking" and instead focused on some interesting seeds being sown in Anakin's character.

On the other hand, watching it again also brought out the plot holes big enough to pilot a star destroyer through. Obi-Wan discovers that some Jedi thought long dead had commissioned a clone army without anyone's order or permission...and nobody questions this? In fact, Palpatine immediately puts the army to good use...and nobody questions that?? Even worse, they find Jango Fett working for the cloners (presumably under orders of the Senate, presumably the good guys), then follow him to another planet where he's working for the unfortunately named Count Dooku (presumably the bad guy), and no one ever questions how and why it is that he's playing both sides? Not even Yoda? And who in her right mind would think that Jar Jar is an appropriate proxy for a senator??

One comment I've heard a lot lately is that everything will fall into place when we see Episode III. True, writing the beginning of a story everyone knows - essentially writing towards the middle of something - is tricky, and I'm sure a lot of the holes will be filled in. But no matter how good it is, it won't make up for bad filmmaking. I really doubt that Jar Jar and the Banking Coalition will play a major role in the fall of the Jedi, so why did we have to spend so much time with them?! And if it were any other series, we wouldn't stand for it. If the first one is bad, the third one doesn't get made! That said, I'm excited for tonight. I can't help it. The music will play and I'll get tingles. We're seeing it at the Ziegfeld, the only old-school single-screen house left in New York, and from Empire to Moulin Rouge where I've had some of my most formative moviegoing experiences. And hopefully the really big nerds all saw it at midnight, so there won't be too much audience participation.

Now that the series is complete, I'm curious to see what happens when they're watched in order from I to VI. When Episode I came out George Lucas said that he'd always intended to tell Anakin's story, not Luke's. It's a complete and total revision of history, since in the 80s he'd said he planned to make a third trilogy, set after Jedi, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, since Anakin's rise, fall and redemption is not a bad story to tell.

But for me, half the fun of the new movies (okay, most of the fun) comes from the little winks and nods to the originals, and the knowledge of things to come. Much of it is heavy-handed, but I can't help getting a kick out of Palpatine calling baby Anakin "Young Skywalker," Obi-Wan telling Anakin, "I have a feeling you'll be the death of me," or the first time we hear the music that will become Luke's theme, or the Imperial March. There's great portent (perhaps too much) given to underwritten lines because we already know who will live, who will die, and who will turn to the Dark Side (and who's already there). Will someone watching the series for the first time (who happens to have spent the last 20 years in a cave), who doesn't know Anakin's destiny, understand or care about any of this?

On the other hand, unlike the way we watched the films the first time around, if we watch the newer ones first the writing will steadily improve as we go!

I recently caught a bit of Empire on TV, and was astonished to find myself getting chills during Luke and Vader's confrontation after Luke loses his hand. I wondered if the scene would have the same impact if, even if you're watching it for the first time, you've known for four movies already that Vader is Luke's father. Of course, I've seen it dozens of times and it still excites me, so I guess it probably will. I'm able to defend them to some degree, but there's not a single moment like that in Episodes I and II.

I know I should know better, but I'm still hopeful there will be one in III. For $10.50 I ought to hope for more than that, but if there's one thing Lucas has done completely successfully, it's engender a frightening level of loyalty and anticipation. Like I said, I'm hooked, and no matter how many times I'm disappointed I'll keep coming back for more. Hopefully this time will be different. And even if it's not, at least it will be the last!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Oops

So, poking around the Entertainment Weekly website today, I was reminded of a classic goof in Star Wars, in which Mark Hamill, caught up in the excitement of the scene in the hangar after the Death Star battle, yells out "Carrie!" (as in Fisher) instead of "Leia!" (as in Organa...yeah, I'm also one of those nerds who knew her last name long before Jimmy Smitts became her "dad"). You can't see his face, and Hamill seems willing to still be involved with the franchise (or at least make fun of it -- he voices his own action figure frequently on Robot Chicken), so it would have been awfully easy to fix. So of course I had to check the DVD when I got home. Still there. And the subtitles say nothing. Lucas didn't like a speck of dust on a matte painting but he doesn't fix that??

Size Matters

Who decided that miniature = cute? And when did our collective consciousness decide to agree? I picked up a new "fridge pack" of Diet Coke in 12 oz. bottles (so, the same size as a can but reclosable) at the grocery store tonight, and when I opened the box and took a bottle out, I thought, "That's the cutest thing ever." Except no, no it's not. It's not a kitten or a bunny or Adam Brody, it's just a little bottle.

Episode VII: Return of the Nerd

It's time to blog about a controversial topic. I've been putting it off ever since the DVDs came out, but as the end draws near I can avoid my destiny no longer. It's time to talk about Star Wars.

Like most kids of my generation, Star Wars was a huge part of my childhood. One of my earliest memories is of my 5th birthday party, 2 months after the release of The Empire Strikes Back, at which my presents included no fewer than four Luke Skywalker X-Wing Pilot action figures. Though I was too young for it in the theater, I must have seen A New Hope 100 times on HBO by age ten. In elementary school my friends -- not even all giant nerds! -- and I would reenact scenes in the park. But then after Jedi, when hope for prequels or sequels faded away, so did Star Wars. I didn't read comic books, and there wasn't the promise of a new video game release every six months like there is now. We didn't own a VCR until I was 12, and by then I had "outgrown" the action figures, most of which went (this still pains me) to the synagogue rummage sale.

Then, in tenth grade, I had a crazy English teacher who showed Star Wars in class in connection with our reading of The Odyssey. She was a rotten teacher, reviled by all, and except for the overall ideas Lucas borrowed from classical myths I've never seen any connection between the two (Ms. Mace was fond of saying "search for the father, search for the father" like some sort of well-read parrot, but neither Odysseus nor Luke actually set out to do that...or search for anything for that matter, both were fighting wars and one was just trying to get home) but watching the film again as a teenager was my downfall. By this time I had accepted teenage nerddom, but I guess I was a little surprised to discover how much I still enjoyed Star Wars -- possibly more than I had originally!. I rented the others, and the darker Empire, which had never quite grabbed me as a child, quickly became my favorite. It was all over. I was hooked and there was no turning back.

Now, I'm a pretty big fan and a pretty big nerd, but certainly not as big as those guys already lining up outside the Ziegfeld in their homemade Jedi robes. Big enough though to be able to listen to the score of A New Hope and recite dialogue in the right places ("If they traced the robots here they may have learned who they sold them too and that would lead them back...home!" cue the landspeeder string section). Big enough to have always called it A New Hope, even before the new films came out and made such things, um, fashionable.

But I'm actually not a hardcore purist. Yes of course I wish the films I'd grown up with were on DVD as I grew up with them, but I don't think the rereleases are a travesty at all. In 1997 I was thrilled simply by the prospect of seeing them in the theater again. The changes I object to I object to because they're bad filmmaking, not because they're changes. The added Jabba scene in Episode IV, for example, was cut from the original film because it's a bad scene! Adding a CGI slug (and a poorly-animated one at that) doesn't change the fact that the scene goes nowhere and repeats -- practically word for word -- dialogue and exposition we've just heard elsewhere. I have no problem with the expanded ending of Jedi, and since the people who do are also generally anti-Ewok (I am not, though remember I was 8 when I first saw the movie), I'd think they'd be thrilled that the little furballs no longer sing! (Yub nub, ichub yub nub...) The changes I love though are the ones you hardly notice. Empire, where no scene was added or significantly changed, fares best, with cosmetic fixes like windows and balconies in Cloud City where there were once blank white walls, and new sound effects on Hoth and the Asteroid Field. And the thing is, in the age of DVDs, we're so used to director's cuts and alternate endings, I'm not entirely sure why everyone reacts so badly to "tampering" with Star Wars. Why is an altered re-release of Donnie Darko treated like the second coming, but Lucas is the anti-Christ? Okay, you wouldn't go and add a scene to Casablanca, but a) Star Wars ain't Casablanaca, and b) you would clean it up for a new release, and in the age of big budget special effects pictures, this is what cleaning it up means.

Lucas kind of won me over in an Entertainment Weekly interview about the DVD, so here's a rather large quote: "Film is so expensive, and it's run by corporations. They just take it away from you, and it's frozen in time at the point where it got yanked out of your hands. I've been lucky enough to be able to go back and say 'No, I'm going to finish this the way it was meant to be finished.' When Star Wars came out, I said it didn't turn out the way I wanted -- it's 25 percent of what I wanted it to be. It was very painful for me. So the choice came down to, do I please myself and [finally] make the movie that I wanted, or do I allow the audience to see the half-finished version that they fell in love with? ... Nobody seems to mind the [idea of a] ''director's cut.'' But to go the next step and say, had they given me another week's shooting, or another $50,000 to finish these matte paintings, this is what the film would look like -- well, it's not a matter of changing your mind. Star Wars was not meant, in the end, to be seen more than once in a movie theater. It was designed to be a large theatrical experience that, if you saw it once on a giant screen, would blow you away. But this was before there was such a thing as DVD. If you went down and sort of analyzed it and looked at it frame by frame, you can see the tricks that are going on. There's a lot of stuff that's very thin, as in any old movie.... I fall 100 percent on the side of the right of the artist to alter it."

He's undoubtedly arrogant, but I can't say I argue with his logic, or with his right as an artist to alter his work if he chooses to do so. Georges Seraut painted over parts of "La Grande Jatte" after it had already been displayed, and nobody reviles him for it! True, a painting is hardly a thing of mass media consumption, but conceptually artists have being doing what Lucas has done for centuries.

Anyway, taken entirely on their own merits, the DVDs pretty much rock. The movies look and sound spectacular, and the bonus features are certainly in-depth (it's a wonder anyone ever went to the movies at all, trailers in the 70s and 80s were so bad). Only a few changes have been made between '97 and now, almost all of them related to the new movies. Lucas has always stated a desire to make prequels. Had he made them in the 80s, I'm not convinced he would have made these prequels, but then if he'd made his first draft of Star Wars, Luke would have been 60 and named Starkiller. Anyway, with 20 years between trilogies, and the technology to do so, why not go back and make it all fit together better, as it would have done if he had made 1-3 as originally planned? No amount of CGI revision can take away the spirit and life of those films (in other words, he can't turn them into Episode I no matter how hard he tries).

I'm a stickler for continuity anyway, so I can't really complain about a change like inserting Ian McDairmid into the brief scene in Empire in which the Emperor appears holographically. Sure, it sucks for the original actor (or his heirs) but it's McDairmid's performance in Jedi that defined who that character is, and if you're watching the movies for the first time in order from 1 through 6 (as Lucas would like you to), it's actually quite important that you recognize the Emperor as Palpatine. And I'm not sure, as a kid anyway, I ever knew who that guy who appears with Yoda and Obi-Wan at the end of Jedi was, since we'd never seen an undisfigured Anakin. So now it's Hayden Christensen, which I have to admit makes more sense.

I'm actually surprised he didn't change more. I'm curious that he's striving for continuity but didn't re-score anything. The music in the new films is John Williams' best work since...well, Return of the Jedi, and makes up for the sins of Harry Potter. But (major nerd alert), for example, Yoda's theme and the Imperial March weren't introduced until Episode V, the Emperor's theme until Episode VI, yet all are featured heavily in the new movies. Since Star Wars' music has always been an integral part of its storytelling, I think it will be weird when these themes drop out. Or, for that matter, when Anakin's doesn't return at the end. There's so much material at this point that they probably could have even done it without having to hire an orchestra to record new stuff. That does, I suppose, back up the argument that for Lucas it's all about him, and Williams' work (like those two bit players who wound up on the digital cutting room floor) is irrelevant to his "vision."

Oh well...I still have my old pan-and-scan videotapes of the original original trilogy, and my letterboxed edition from 1997. I haven't had time to sit down and watch the whole thing yet, but I'm thrilled to have it on DVD at last, altered or not. I got kind of tangenty here, and I'm not entirely sure what I set out to say. Tomorrow, thoughts on the new movies (spoiler-free, of course!).

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Bad Words

Caulk is an ill-conceived word. Sure, it's fine on paper (or screen), but say it out loud and it's awfully problematic. Especially considering that you use your caulk to fill holes.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Plug Away!

I think just about everyone who reads this also reads his blog too, but still I must kvell over my friend and help him sell lots of copies of his book so he can afford to offer more appropriate gifts than free sex.

Click here and buy Gay Haiku right now!!!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

More on the AIDS Walk

This strange thing has been happening in response to my AIDS Walk campaign. People keep apologizing and it's making me uncomfortable. I guess I should have put some kind of "don't feel bad, I understand that lots of my friends don't have money" disclaimer in the email instead of just using their form letter.

Here's the thing: Though I've done the walk before simply because I felt like it, this year I signed up only when a friend asked me for a donation and I decided I'd rather walk than give her money. I've already raised over $700, as opposed to the $25 I would have given her. So y'know, it's all good.

Most puzzling to me are the people who apologize for not giving more, or say they can't sponsor me because they've already sponsored three other walkers. One friend said she was sorry but she didn't sponsor anyone because she knew too many walkers and it wouldn't be fair. This person was also one of the founders of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and is clearly doing her part! Another co-chairs another city's walk. And they apologize for not giving me 25 bucks!

I guess it's a good thing. People are conscientous enough to feel guilty. But y'know, paying your own rent and feeding yourself and for that matter saving for your retirement are all more important than giving to charity if you don't have the cash to spare, lest you end up needing someone's charitable services yourself before long. And if you already "gave at the office," who cares whose name it's under??

I guess I should try to figure out how to send another email through their website.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Even chairty brings out the worst in me

I'm participating in the NYC AIDS Walk on Sunday, a fact which completely slipped my mind until yesterday. Well, not exactly, I knew I'd signed up for it (on a whim when a friend asked me to sponsor her and I decided to walk with her instead), but I didin't realize it was this Sunday. Fortunately, the website makes it relatively easy to send form emails to people, who can then donate online by credit card, so I've been sending those out in a mad dash.

My address book is quite large, filled with old work contacts (the transient life of a freelancer!) and high school friends whose emails I picked up at the reuinion but haven't spoken to since. The process of deciding who to ask for money is a curiously tricky one. It's all for a good cause and a reputable charity, so it's not like I'm asking for help with my rent. But there are some people I just don't feel comfortable asking. In some cases, I know they don't have any money to spare and I don't want to make them feel guilty or uncomfortable about that (or, frankly, waste my time). There are other people who I don't feel like I know well enough to ask, and still more with whom I'm not really in touch or owe a proper message to, and it seems rude to finally contact them asking for a donation.

But then there are people -- a considerable number of them! -- whose names I see and I think, "Well I don't really like him so who cares if I offend him?" Or, better yet, "She was such a pain in the ass when we worked together; she OWES me!" or "He forwards all those obnoxious emails from Moveon.org and HRC, let's see him put his money where his mouth is!" And that hardly seems in the spirit of the event. Though I suppose it is money for a good cause, no matter what the motivation.

Meanwhile, in the 24 hours or so since I sent my first emails, I've raised more than anyone else on my team, who have presumably all had weeks to get their shit together. It's wrong to gloat about that, right? It certainly feels like that's not the point. But then why would they rank walkers on the website, and let everyone see how much everyone else has raised?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Splendidly Awful

In general, I'm a big fan of Splenda. Artifical sweetener that tastes more like real sugar and supposedly won't kill you, blah blah blah, it's all good.

But here's the thing: I like Diet Coke. My choice to drink Diet Coke has nothing to do with actually being on a diet, it's because I find regular cola far too sweet and syrupy, and there's something indescribable in the taste of Coke Classic in particular that just weirds me out, unless covered by large quantities of Jack Daniels. Diet Coke, however, in all its Nutrasweetened goodness, is light and bubbly and caffinated and makes me extremely happy.

So while the new Diet Coke with Splenda tastes uncannily like regular Coke, I beg the good people in Atlanta to make it only an addition to the product line and not a full time replacement, because I don't have space to hoard that much soda.

Aaaand we're back...

Back at Huge Financial Company and it’s like I never left. Well, except for the game of musical chairs we’ve played. The temp who replaced me is still here, and the other temp has moved on to a permanent job, so I’ve replaced him. Through most of this building, the offices are at the core and the cubicles are on the outside. This means, oddly, that the important people have no windows but us peons do. However when I was here last month I was in this weird section of purgatory on the inside of the building where they stick consultants. The nice thing about that was being very far away from my actual coworkers, free to make phone calls, instant message, and blog with impunity through my fluorescent-lit gloominess. So the good news is I’m now near a window with a glorious 47th-floor view of Manhattan to the north. The bad news is I’ve lost all that quiet and unsupervised goodness and will actually have to work at work (or at least do a better job of keeping up appearances).

Of course, for the moment I can do very little, as I made a point of getting in early (as much for the purpose of padding my hours as anything else) and no one else is here. My internet login has been disabled in my absence, and the papers I normally work on are locked up, so all I can really do is sit and write this in Word.

I finished fixing my date book on the train this morning. Appointments that wound up spanning more than one day when they got moved (eg, something from 8 to 10 pm that’s now from 11 pm to 1 am) lost their end times and durations. So unless I happen to know for sure (like the length of a show I was working on), I had to guess. Did I spend 2 hours with friends in that restaurant or 3? It shouldn’t matter even a little bit, but it does because I’m crazy.

Otherwise, I guess I’m glad to be back home, rush hour subway and temp blahness and all. It wasn’t so much that California itself relaxed me, it was that living in a hotel for two weeks spoiled me, as did having a 1-minute commute. Even during tech that makes for a lot of sleep! I ignored my diet and didn’t feel guilty about it because I wasn’t at home and I walked a lot. And I was surrounded by people who used Macs, instead of fighting with this painfully slow Dell at the office! Oh well. Waddayagonnado?

Monday, May 09, 2005

Return of the Crank

Toto, I don't think we're in Northern California anymore.

I am, unsurprisingly, a compulsive record-keeper. So when I changed time zones and everything in my Palm Pilot's datebook shifted up by three hours, I was a little upset, because I don't just use my Palm to tell me where I'm supposed to be, I also use it to tell me where I've been, and when. Since my new-ish Palm has many fancy features I don't fully understand, I just assumed it was responsible for the problem. I tried several methods to fix it, and when none were successful I simply started to fix it all, working slowly backwards. I was totally zen about the whole thing. After all, I was in technical rehearsals, and later on a five-hour flight, and I had plenty of downtime. I got through last July before returning home.

Then today I opened iCal and discovered that everything had moved 3 hours later. If I'd really thought about it earlier, I'd have realized that the change hadn't occurred until after I'd synced. It hadn't been the Palm's fault, it was iCal's. Turns out there's a checkbox in the preferences marked "Turn on time zone support." Check it, and your calendar's current time zone appears on its window, along with the option to shift your appointments. Don't check it (the default), and it does it automatically. So the good news is, everything I hadn't fixed fixed itself. The bad news...everything I'd already fixed got unfixed, and now I have to fix them again. And for some reason, when appointments moved forward, items that were at, say 8 pm and wound up spanning over 2 days got confused and lost their proper durations. So unless I happen to remember, I don't know when anything ended. This shouldn't matter at all, really, since the events are in the past, but it makes me crazy. I think it's possible that I was less neurotic before returning to New York.


In other news, the sliding door to our shower popped off its track today when Boy was getting ready for work (and I had not yet gone to bed, having just arrived on an actual red-eye). This has happened many times before, and this time the screw that holds one of the little glidy wheels in place went down the drain. We've talked about replacing the doors with a curtain since before we moved in, and this was the final impetus I needed to get all butch and tear apart the bathroom (or, depending on your point of view, to get all faggy and redecorate). I'd never really examined the door closely before, and it actually looks quite easy to remove the frame without leaving a big mess, so late this afternoon I went to Home Depot and Bed, Bath and Beyond for supplies. This was all well and good, but by the time I got home it was too late to do any actual work without pissing off the neighbors. So the door is still off its track, I've got a bag full of hardware, and I'm completely unsatisfied.


On the bright side, I've returned to the land of Boy, Kitten, and good bagels. Of course, now that I'm back I need to resume by diet, so that last one is small comfort.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Tiger Envy

I promised myself I would wait. I'm planning to get a new computer in the fall (assuming I have a job and Powerbook prices drop as expected), and I said I could wait until then when the bugs are worked out and I have a faster processor. But it's just so pretty. I want it now.

The SF Apple Store is just a couple blocks from the hotel, so I went to the launch event purely to try to win free stuff (I got an iTunes song), and of course wound up playing with all the new features. I've been looking at all the fun Dashboard widgets I can download. It's largely cosmetic for me. There's nothing I need. I have LaunchBar, which is pretty much what Spotlight does, Dashboard is certainly a unnecessary toy, and I doubt I'll ever really use Automator, and I still don't understand what RSS is.

But dammit, it's shiny and I want it NOW!!!

Dancing with myself

This is brilliant.

Monday, May 02, 2005

When in San Francisco...

I think this city is actually making me gayer.

I was just informed that Armistead Maupin is attending our opening night, and I gasped audibly with excitement.