Tag Archives: star wars

How Wude

Sometimes perverse curiosity gets the better of me. Sometimes I revisit movies like Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. A long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away), it was the most-anticipated movie of 1999. But the intervening decade has turned it into a feature-length joke, a dartboard for cracks about podracing and midi-chlorians. So I was curious if it lived up to its negative reputation. Short answer? Yeah, pretty much. Long answer?

Let’s start with the writing. Episode I’s most fundamental flaw is tangled up with its role in the Star Wars franchise: whereas the original trilogy was all about telling an old-fashioned adventure story, the prequels are all about expanding the series. In Episode I, any detail added to the Star Wars universe is treated as inherently good, even if it impedes the storytelling. Thus, the film’s opening crawl begins with these words, ushering us into a bold new era:

Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute.

(Oh, no! Not the taxation of trade routes! But how will the economically marginalized denizens of Outer Rim planets transport their goods now?)

Yes, gone is the original trilogy’s quotable pulp poetry. Instead, we have reams of clunky exposition. Even top-drawer actors like Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor are hobbled by the jargon-strewn dialogue—not to mention their own distracting Jedi hairdos. Supporting characters are reduced to mere mouthpieces, onscreen only to deepen the franchise’s convoluted politics and mythology. While the original trilogy was streamlined and instantly iconic, Episode I putters about in a morass of details and misplaced priorities. Its establishing shots—all those crisp CGI vistas—stirred up pings of recognition in me. (“Ah, the old Star Wars magic…”) But then it’d cut away to actors muttering gravely, and the tedium would set in.

Granted, when Episode I focuses solely on exotic landscapes, it can be kind of engrossing: “Ooh, an underwater abyss. Ooh, a giant coliseum. Ooh, a planet-sized city.” And the film does contain a pair of solid performances: Ian McDiarmid as the Machiavellian Senator Palpatine, and Ray Park as his taciturn protégé Darth Maul. But when it’s bad, it’s very bad indeed. The score sounds like a parody of John Williams bombast, accentuating pretty much everything; the film is infamous for its racial caricatures (e.g., the Neimoidians and their “Me rikey!” accents, or Watto’s obvious Fagin/Shylock lineage); and it’s just littered with botched attempts at humor. Slapstick droids! NASCAR-style color commentary for the podracing! Even a pack animal fart joke.

Of course, I’ve saved the worst for last. Because it’s impossible to overstate how violently Jar Jar Binks derails this movie. If, as a perverse exercise, you tried to create a mood-killing, unlikeable character, you could never improve on Jar Jar. No matter what’s happening in a given scene, he becomes its focal point; everyone else is suddenly the Bud Abbott to his Lou Costello. Somehow, George Lucas must’ve thought he could leaven the film’s solemnity with Jar Jar’s manic bumbling. But wow was he wrong. Jar Jar even gets a failed catchphrase (“How wude!”) that he trots out again and again, as if it’ll become funnier with repetition. (Spoiler: it doesn’t!)

The end result is a tone-deaf movie that, scene after scene, smacks you with its awfulness. Early on, for example, we get a tête-à-tête between Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn and Anakin’s mother, played by Swedish actress Pernilla August. As they discuss her son’s destiny, you can sense real performances, even real emotion, broiling right beneath the surface. But then all the tragic potential of this mother/son relationship gets squashed beneath the tacky costuming, artless writing, and hydra-headed subplots. Hell, Episode I isn’t just bad. It’s insistently anti-good.

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Link Dump: #45

This week’s lucky kitty, being held by Natalie Wood, comes to us courtesy of the Super Seventies tumblr. This week’s collection of links, meanwhile, is extra-swollen with informational goodness, since we didn’t have one last week (blogathon and all, you know). Also, keep in mind that we’ve got one more week of “normal” blogging before we switch over to all-horror, all/most of the time, for October. And now, enjoy:

We had two search terms of note over the past couple weeks. The first, which made laugh out loud, was “what is antarctica pussy?” It’s one of life’s big questions. The second was “сатанисты фото,” which is apparently Russian for “satanists photo.” I feel like somebody has a very flawed impression of what we write about at Pussy Goes Grrr!

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Link Dump: #15

It’s that time of year again! The “most wonderful time”! The time when you start feeling bad about how inadequate all the presents you’re giving are (and all the people you’re forgetting), when you feel guilty over not being able to spend enough time with family, when it’s cold as fuck outside and a new year is looming around the corner. Wonderful.

This week’s special Xmas kitty comes courtesy of Rankin/Bass’s stop-motion classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), because Ashley vetoed my selection from A Garfield Christmas (1987). And now I have an inadequate present for you, dear reader: links! Here’s the best of the Internet for the past week:

  • Andrew Pulver of The Guardian wrote this terrifically in-depth essay on Jules Dassin’s great noir Night and the City.
  • From the “What If?” Department: Victorian Star Trek, complete with sepia tone.
  • The verse may not be great, but Adam Watson’s “Dr. Seuss does Star Wars” drawings are hilarious. Especially Jabba.
  • Vulture has “2010’s 25 Best Performances That Won’t Win Oscars,” many of which are dead-on, and contain a few more end-of-year overlooked movie suggestions.
  • Slate Magazine has 17 overlooked Christmas movies, including All That Heaven Allows and Eyes Wide Shut. That’s my kind of list! Keith Phipps of The A.V. Club has three more, one of which features Jimmy Durante and a squirrel.
  • The San Diego Film Critics Society gets my admiration for 1) being one of the few critics’ groups to break with the Social Network solidarity and 2) actually making interesting, wide-ranging choices. Scott Pilgrim! Shutter Island! Never Let Me Go! Variety!
  • Here’s a hilarious top 10 movies list from Lisanti Quarterly. I seriously can’t wait to see The Super-Loony One.
  • But with all this year-end cinematic partying, we can’t forget the year’s worst movies: here are lists from The Film Doctor, The Telegraph, and The A.V. Club.
  • The ultimate holiday present: zombie-centric reinterpretations of beloved movies!
  • You know what’s really threatening America? Businesses that say “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Thankfully, some clever Who down in Whoville came up with GrinchAlert.com, where irate customers can put Baby Jesus-hating stores on the “Naughty list,” and presumably boycott them. (Go sarcasm!)

As your reward for receiving the above gift, here’s a bonus: the past week’s wacky search term action! I was greatly amused by the horny redundancy in “i like sex and pussy also” and the saccharine overkill of “animated smiling heart.” Someone accidentally created a porno spoof title with a dash of Latin by searching for “dr. jekyll et mr. hyde fuck.” (Let’s not dwell on the mechanics of that action, by the way.) Lastly, I’m kind of baffled by all the hits from “fogging cockroach.” Maybe they’re searching for an exterminator? FYI: Pussy Goes Grrr is not a bug extermination website. We also can’t recommend any good ones. Sorry, and have a happy winter!

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Christmas in hell: The Star Wars Holiday Special

It’s now that season: snowflakes fall from the sky, reindeer land on rooftops, etc., etc., and lots of yule-y things happen. In celebration of this fact, and inspired by the Nostalgia Critic’s recent videos, Ashley and I decided to watch some of the saddest animation Christmas has to offer. We then followed this up with one of the saddest things that have ever been offered by anyone, ever.

Both of the animated videos we watched were silent and sublime; these were The Snowman (1982) and The Little Matchgirl (2006). The Snowman is just beautiful, based on a book of the same name by Raymond Briggs (who you may also know for the bleakly apocalyptic Where the Wind Blows). Introduced by David Bowie (!!!) and animated in Briggs’ quietly emotive storybook style, it tells very simply of a boy playing with his snowman, leading into delightful, imaginative adventures, accompanied by the song “Walking in the Air.” Watching this cartoon is like stepping out into the most tranquil and transient of winter mornings.

The Little Matchgirl comes from Disney and is based on a story by Hans Christian Anderson. Unlike many Disney products, however, it’s neither cutesy nor infantile; instead it speaks to the trauma of poverty and lost dreams as it shows an unwanted girl freezing on the streets amidst her garish, desperate fantasies. No anthropomorphic animals or obligatory songs here: just the contrast between cold gray and the warm colors of house and hearth to illustrate a subtly tragic story. The Snowman and The Little Matchgirl are half an hour and 7 minutes respectively; we strongly recommend you check them out this holiday season.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t just stop there. We had to keep going. And so, urged on by its abominable reputation, we watched The Star Wars Holiday Special. For those of you who don’t know, the SWHS was produced shortly after the release of the first Star Wars movie, when Star Wars fever was blazing a path across the nation. Some folks at CBS figured, Why not make a Christmas special themed around everyone’s favorite galaxy far, far away? (Needless to say, I have many reasons why not.) It was broadcast once. And never released on video. However, because that’s what the Internet is for, you can easily watch it on Google Video. (I am not liable for head injuries sustained during viewing.)

So. The Star Wars Holiday Special. Why is it so bad? There are many reasons, none of which can be recited without causing a little bit of pain. I mean, it all starts out with Han Solo trying to escort Chewbacca back to his home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” i.e. Wookiee Christmas. And at first you can think, “Huh, Han and Chewie flying around in the Falcon. Seems like your typical Star Wars stuff…” Then we have the credits. And it’s all downhill from there. Now, I don’t know too much about 1970s TV. But were variety shows really so madly popular that they had to shoehorn Star Wars into this format?

Presumably, if you are a relatively sane human being, when you think “Star Wars” your mind does not also jump to “Music! Comedy! Musical comedy!” But for some reason, somebody’s mind did just that. To this end, they added to the reliable Star Wars cast with such TV stalwarts as Art Carney, Bea Arthur, and Harvey Korman (the latter of whom plays 3 terrible roles). They also made pitiful attempts to fit the “music” and “comedy” (in the loosest senses of the words) segments into the main story, which only makes the special look more disjointed and inane than it already is.

So, after the credits, we are introduced to the first, agonizing segment, which strongly resembles an abortive pilot for a sitcom about Chewbacca’s family (mother Malla, father Itchy, and son Lumpy. Yeah.) The dialogue is entirely in “Shyriihook,” which is apparently the Wookiee language. Alas, Shyriihook is neither pleasant to the ear, nor particularly expressive. Therefore, we’re treated to about 9 whole minutes of Wookiees walking around their home, groaning and ululating loudly to each other. 9 whole minutes. Plus the first of many colorful psychedelic trips. High-quality television, this is not.

Mercifully, this would-be introduction to “Lumpy Knows Best” is cut short by a human voice – that of Mark Hamill, at the time recovering from a near-fatal car accident. He plays Luke Skywalker, working on an engine with R2-D2, and sets the Wookiees’ minds at ease. “Try to enjoy your Life Day,” he reassures them. If only Hamill’s soothing voice could similarly take away our woes. We then get a skit that involves Art Carney mumbling to himself (is it supposed to be funny-? We’ll never know), after which we’re shown Darth Vader marching about on a Star Destroyer. I know what you’re thinking: Darth Vader, voiced by James Earl Jones. Awesome, this can’t be a total waste of time!

Well, then we cut to a commercial break, and never see Vader again. (OK, maybe for about 3 seconds in animated form.) Instead we get to see more day-to-day Wookiee hi-jinks. Thrilling, no? Malla watches a four-armed Harvey Korman yuk it up while cross-dressing on a cooking show. Later, an ominous Imperial representative appears on an Orwellian telescreen in the Wookiees’ living room and starts barking orders. Then more Art Carney, handing out Life Day gifts. This is a man who had won an Academy Award only four years earlier. Fame is a fickle mistress.

It’s Carney’s Life Day gift to Itchy that leads us out of television hell and into some heretofore unimagined, somehow much worse über-hell. This is the abyss, folks. It’s never really explained, but his gift turns out to be some type of virtual reality chip, allowing Itchy to enter into an end-of-2001-style light show, which is also occupied by the floating head of Diahann Carroll (who had been nominated for an Oscar only three years prior while starring opposite James Earl Jones in Claudine). Carroll here plays a singing cyber-prostitute. Did I mention this has the words “Holiday Special” in the title? Check out some of her dialogue:

Oh, yes. I can feel my creation! [giggle] I’m getting your message. Are you getting mine? Oh! Oh! We are excited, aren’t we? Now! We can have a good time! Can’t we? I’ll tell you a secret: I find you adorable. [Itchy rewinds the program] I’ll tell you a secret: I find you adorable. [rewinds again] I find you adorable. [again] I find you adorable. I don’t need to ask how you find me. You see, I am your fantasy. I am your experience. So experience me! I am your pleasure. Enjoy me.

Oh, the ’70s. Those wild, liberated times, when hairy aliens getting off to human women in virtual porn was considered great yuletide programming. Carter was in the White House, and anything was acceptable. I guess? Carroll sings “This Minute Now,” the first of many unnecessary, forgettable songs. Then we watch Princess Leia chat with Malla while making snarky comments C-3PO – because this is Star Wars, remember? And not Interspecies Porno Theater. Which may come as a surprise.

The viewer is then granted the respite of more commercials, after which martial law is declared on Kashyyyk and the tone of the special radically shifts to a Wookiee Holocaust drama as Imperial Stormtroopers raid the house. And Jefferson Starship is played on a music box. I just said the words “Wookie Holocaust drama” and “Jefferson Starship” in two consecutive sentences. Either I’m babbling and psychotic, or it’s The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Then, finally, about halfway through the special, we get the one piece of redemption, however slight. It’s the segment that’s generally accepted as being not-quite-terrible: a short cartoon that introduces Boba Fett. Sure, it’s poorly animated (the robots look rubbery and Han Solo’s eyes look stitched shut), but at least it has a vaguely Star Wars-ish story. Something about an invisibility medallion on an orange planet called Panna, and Boba Fett being Darth Vader’s right-hand man. And… a sleeping virus that forces Han and Luke to walk upside down?

OK, it doesn’t make much sense, especially not in context (why is Lumpy watching a cartoon about his brother’s adventures?), but the point is, it’s by far the best part of the special. The scenes in the alien city play out like second-rate Ralph Bakshi, and that’s really the best you can hope for. But then, far too quickly, Boba Fett flies away for some reason, and it’s over. And it’s back to The Diary of Lumpy Frank (Schindler’s Wookiee?) as Stormtroopers needlessly tear the head off of Lumpy’s Bantha toy and barge back out. Which means it’s time for another random, unfunny skit starring Harvey Korman as a malfunctioning robot who has to flap his arms a lot!

These skits just go on forever, killing the special’s nonexistent momentum, and making you feel very embarrassed for poor Harvey Korman. (Luckily for Korman, he would go on to such comparatively dignified roles as “Captain Blythe” in Herbie Goes Bananas and “Professor Balls” in those Pink Panther movies they made after Peter Sellers’ death.) Inexplicably, the Wookiees’ telescreen starts droning on about a “live broadcast” that’s required viewing for Stormtroopers. And since a bunch of Stormtroopers are hanging around, they congregate near the telescreen and watch it.

The broadcast is initially described as if it were an ethnographic study of some distant outpost of the Empire. And indeed, it does take place in the Mos Eisley cantina, featuring many of the weird aliens you remember from Episode IV. But then the gruesome truth is revealed: it’s actually another “comedy” skit, plus a song, starring Bea Arthur as a bartender and Harvey Korman as an obsessive, Travis Bickle-esque patron who drinks out of a blowhole in his scalp. (Again, several words I had once hoped never to use in such close proximity.) After some banter, we get to the song, “Good Night but Not Goodbye,” which amounts to the Tattooine equivalent of “Closing Time” by the Minneapolis-based band Semisonic.

This was about the point where Ashley and I looked at the time left in the video and started cackling, “So close, so close, we’ve almost made it!” Han and Chewbacca finally arrive in time to easily dispatch a single Stormtrooper via Railing Kill – which is exactly the kind of thrilling action sequence you were waiting for after an hour and a half of soul-dismembering dreck, right? Han heart-warmingly wishes the family a happy Life Day, Art Carney briefly reappears, and then that ol’ reality rug is really pulled out from under us, as the Wookiees magically have red cult robes on, walk out into space, and end up in a fog-drenched Life Day celebration chamber!

As the viewer squints, disoriented, at the screen, C-3PO waxes philosophical about his inability to fully enjoy Life Day, and Princess Leia gives a dull monologue full of words like “life,” “hope,” “love,” and “life,” concluding with “This is the promise of the Tree of Life.” Finally, we get the big pay-off, as Leia sings a big, stupid Life Day son, set very roughly to the tune of John Williams’ original Star Wars theme. Some sample lyrics:

A day that brings the promise that one day we’ll be free

To live, to laugh, to dream, to grow, to trust, to love, to live, to be!

I’m thinking this was not exactly penned by Cole Porter. Maybe it’s awkwardly translated out of Shyriihook?

Somehow, the special continues even after she finishes singing. We get Chewbacca taking an extended look back at his own life, allowing for liberal repetition of clips from Episode IV. Then the Chewbacca clan returns to its home, where they sit together around a table filled with glowing objects. Just look at all that crass commercialization of Life Day. And at long, long last, the credits roll. Never was there a sweeter feeling than experiencing two hours of unmitigated torment and knowing that it’s finally over. Also, having a list of ending credits is like knowing who to blame. In fact, there’s a fun game Ashley and I played.

Director Steve Binder, shame on you!

Songwriter Mitzi Welch, shame on you!

Assistant art director Leslie Parsons, shame on you!

Choreographer David Winters, shame on you!

Script supervisor Sheila Lauder, shame on you!

You can do this for quite a while. In fact, by itself, it’s far more enjoyable than every second of the special itself. Sure, maybe these people were just doing it for the money. But I don’t see how that excuses participating in such an overwhelmingly atrocious venture. Hopefully they don’t make a mistake that egregious again, but even so… for shame. You too, hairstylist Evelyn Trimmer. That said, I will now try as hard as I can to block the whole damn experience from my memory. Maybe I’ll accidentally forget my sophomore year of college too. I don’t care; it’ll be worth it.

If you’re up for a better-than-miserable Christmas experience, there’s always the classics. Like Santa Claus. The Mexican one, from the ’50s. As featured on MST3K. OK, maybe the movie itself sucks, but there’s nothing like Mike and the bots singing and enjoying space snow to put you in the holiday mood. Alternatively, you can turn to Christmas music like Jonathan Coulton’s dystopian carol “Chiron Beta Prime,” or better yet, an entire movie full of suitably dark Christmas-y songs: Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Happy holidays, from Pussy Goes Grrr!

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My fear of heights

It’s one of the basic human emotions, and I’m more or less obsessed with it: FEAR. I’ve said, “Fear rules my life,” or alternatively to quote a Kurosawa film title, “I live in fear,” and while these statements may not be literally true, fear is still a pretty big part of my lifestyle. Hell, it’s a major element of human life in general! You can’t be a human being, for the most part, without being afraid of something. There’s a movie with Jeff Bridges and Isabella Rossellini called Fearless that I may watch some time (solely for Isabella – just to hear her sexy Swedish-Italian voice). Daredevil is sometimes called “The Man Without Fear.” And granted, at a certain point, fear becomes debilitating. Ask anyone with a phobia. Or even though I’ve never been diagnosed with anything, ask me! Or don’t and I’ll tell you anyway.

For example: I am afraid of heights. Seriously afraid of heights. To the point that when I’m in a hotel room a couple stories up, I have to hold tight onto something stable and I still fantasize about the whole structure collapsing and somehow throwing me to my death. I think an overactive imagination is not helpful when it comes to irrational fear. I mean, it’s one thing for your imagination to lead you into elaborate, insane fantasies about people doing irrational, generally vulgar and sexual activities out of the blue. But then there’s the times when you can’t do something because your imagination’s rule of thumb is, “Conditions will work together to throw me to my death.” It’s like Murphy’s law except nothing can go wrong so you have to imagine that it will! I had something like this today, but I can’t remember just what it was. Oh, right! OK, so I was watching a piano being burned as performance art in the middle of campus. And I heard some popping – like normal wood popping as it burns. And my thought process was something like this:

“Oh no. What if one of the strings is under a lot of tension, and it gets burnt off, and it flies over here and slices into my head and kills me?” I actually imagined that happening. And it made me quiver a little. Luckily it was too crowded for me to turn tail and run, but still, I think that’s a bad sign. My fears have gotten alternately better and worse throughout my life, but they still get pretty ridiculous. One recurring theme is the fear that I’ll be skipping along, then dash down some stairs, then slip and go flying and smash my head on something and die. This can also just involve a potentially slippery sidewalk. My visions of what concrete can do to a human head are far gorier than, I suspect, anything concrete actually does do, especially on a daily basis and out of the blue. According to my psyche, if you just trip a little while running on a sidewalk, you go crashing down, and maybe your scalp gets ripped off or your skull crumbles as it tumbles onto the hard ground. These are just the occasional fears that flash in my head. They don’t paralyze me or keep me from walking like normal, but the point is that if a situation could conceivably lead to some kind of painful outcome related to falling or head trauma, I’m fairly likely to imagine it happening.

The other day I was thinking about one image I’ve seen in a few movies: take the scenes in Star Wars set on the Death Star, in these areas where you have to travel along thin catwalks… or else you fall forever to your death.

Why would you build that?

Other movies with similar scenes include Forbidden Planet (1956) and The Thief of Baghdad (1940). Basically, what I’m talking about is places that, through some satanic miracle of architecture, have vertical depths that go down, down, down, and, well, pretty much just all the way down! The Thief of Baghdad scene, I think, had killer octopi (octopuses? octopodes?) at the bottom for some reason. But if you’ve fallen that far, do you really care what’s lying in wait to eat you? The scenes in Forbidden Planet apparently involved some kind of Krell power plant that took up miles and miles of space underground. That’s a fascinating movie that I used to just love but haven’t revisited for a while. It’s basic premise is interesting enough (and some damn good Shakespearean sci-fi), as it concerns the now-extinct residents of the titular planet, the Krell, who apparently had enormous heads and unimaginable intelligence. The brilliant twist? We never see them; all we see are the toys (and power plants) their civilization left behind. It’s a nice little underlying theme reminiscent of, oh, earlier horror movies, and even (given the mood I’ve been in as of late) Lovecraft – first, how the sins of a long-dead race can even curse visitors from earth. And as for unseen aliens who mastered the secrets of altering matter with their minds, and only indirectly affect human beings? Definitely something Lovecraftian there. Here’s a sample of the Krell structure, which I just read was an influence on Star Wars‘s set design.

Why would you build that, either?

You start to get an idea of how this scared the wits out of younger me, and continues to terrify me. Just the idea of standing somewhere where a little slip to the left or right would mean plummeting forever and then SPLAT – I would, no doubt, be lying on the catwalk immobile hoping to magically get off of it without standing up. For some reason the idea of a bottomless pit scares me less. Maybe because it’s less realistic? Or because there’s nothing to worry about at the bottom?

I’m going to sleep now – I’m tired and sick and have work in 8 1/2 hours. But I hope you enjoyed this peek into my crippling fears. And if you ever see me somewhere up high, clinging like hell to whatever’s closest, you’ll understand. Maybe another day, I’ll delve into my constant fears when it comes to social interactions and being around other people, or maybe the pleasures of fear. It’s a rich topic.

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