Friday, December 31, 2010

All apologies on this NY-Eve from a Star Wars Fan

So... just finished up the episode 3 review from the Red Letter Media guy, aka Harry Plinkett, aka (real guy) Mike Stoklasa.  Mike/Harry's been at this for the past year, dropping his Phantom Menace review back in December of 99, and giving all of us Star Wars fans a reason to.... reassess.... or just be reminded how fucking awful the movie is.  Or, well... maybe not awful is the world, just 'flawed'.  You know.  The way that they say that Manos: The Hands of Fate is in the Mystery Science Theater episode on the movie.

Harry Plinkett: "Oh..."

I have to admit it.  This is the mea culpa time, and maybe it's too late or way past the time for forgiveness.  I used to like these movies.  Nay, I did enjoy the first two just as being hyped up into the theaters.  Fuck, I even saw them multiple times (for the first one, to age myself, I was 15, and the second one 18 and mostly stoned most of the time, what else was I gonna do, read a book?)  I was already a fan going in, having loved the original trilogy (I was one of those bastards, actually parodied by Woody Allen in Deconstructing Harry, who had a Star Wars themed Bar Mitzvah for Yahweh sake).  I was excited to see what Lucas would do.

Why did I like these movies?  Want the proof, hell with it, here, here, and here are my original reviews written years ago on the IMDb, unaltered and filled with the bullshit that nightmares are made of.  How into it was I at the time?  Just to make sure I knew what I needed, I even sat down and watched the movies on DVD with commentary.  Hrm.

More hell with everything, up until a year ago I still maintained that Revenge of the Sith was a great movie, nevermind a good one, going as far as to put it in my top 50 of the decade (albeit at the bottom number but in there), had a lot of resonance, was what the prequel series was building up to and delivered with fantastic action, real emotional connection, a dark palette that called back to Faust, and even featured some awesome Ron Fricke photography in the background of the rest of that CGI lavastorm.  I might still hold on to the DVD to check it out from time to time just for some individual scenes and shots.   But... I do a double take now.... and a triple take... and I realize as a filmmaker and an audience member, so much of the film, and the other two of course, are filled with lazy filmmaking decisions, tired troped, repeated themes and other bullshit.  Damn.

Going to Plinkett's reviews, however, was not necessarily seeing the light, but seeing with clear, critical-cum-constructive criticism, that these movies had a lot of bad things going on.  Stupid things.  Things that didn't connect with the audience, or were full of shit (one such thing, for example, being Lucas' "admittance" that these movies are really just for children.... sure, just say something that is meant to cheapen the effect of the original 77-83 series while also coyly looking over the fact that these prequels include things like trade federation talks, decapitations, dismemberments, killing of children, lots of other dark shit... loh yeah, good times away from Pooh bear).

Why should I be angry about this now?  When I think back to the movies on their own there are lines, moments, shots, even scenes that I do remember, and kind of fondly.  And then other times... I just shrug and wonder a big WTF, like Zach Galifianakis finding the tiger in the bathroom in The Hangover.  I try and think back to the time and suddenly it's like a blur.  Did I write these fucking reviews?  Did I even *see* these movies?  I'm reminded of the line from Tom Servo from a MST3K episode: "I have a theory the director shot this without having watched it."  That's on my end.  I know Lucas watched it.  Without.. energy... hrm.

He's a Frog-Man, Jerry, a FROG-MAN!
Am I going to sound like another of these idiots who suddenly do an about-face and say "oh, yeah, the Star Wars prequels, I knew they were bad all along".  No.  The truth is I'm like that guy in the parable at the end of Raging Bull.  "All I know is, I once was blind, now I see."  As a teenager, and into the age of 21 and for a few years on, I put on blinders (not completely, but somewhat) that these movies were really entertaining and awesome blockbusters.  Just look at those reviews.  Jebuz crisp.

I'm almost surprised you're still here and not shaking your head at how I was in my youth.  I'm almost surprised at myself myself that I still would want to hold on to episode 3 after the clear and insightful analysis, going down to the language-of-cinema and character building and storytelling that Stoklasa lays bare... I have to try and think back again, what did I see in these movies, or at least in Revenge of the Sith that so impressed me?  The action?  Perhaps.  Some of the special effects?  Maybe.  That opening shot?  ... Damnit, I might still find that kind of cool, but in a way that is completely a guilty pleasure kind of opening shot (I could disagree that the chaos of the action there *is* part of the whole point of it, but... no, maybe it's best to let that go).

It was clear even during the times the prequels came out and in the interveneing years that the Lucas of the 70's and the Lucas of the present was different.  It is telling, and accurate and so wonderful, to see the comparison to Citizen Kane with the Revenge of the Sith.  I might go a step further than Plinkett and find that that third film, if not the whole prequels, are still very personal films to Lucas.  I wonder if Lucas sees himself in both Anakin Skywalker and Palpatine: one has fallen from grace, and the other has  risen to a point of power that is truly Machiavellian and he pulls all of the strings of all of his underlings who seem to be at his every whim and never challenge him.  That sounds about right.

It's like poetry, it rhymes.  Shrug.

But does it being an independent film and the work of an auteur who has a personal connection make it a great film?  I don't think so.  Not anymore.   Fuck.  Why was it even a great film for me to start with?  Will it ever be a *good* film again after seeing this review?  I keep asking this- maybe in some part as I'm drunken on this New Years Eve and rolling around the subject in my brain- because of some disappointment levied at the prequels compared to the original ones.  In a way Plinkett's reviews in their critical analysis are like the movie-review form of psychotherapy, looking over again at things that seemed good at the time but were not.  It's similar to a family member getting hypnosis and just 'realizing' that they treated their respective family member like crap years before and didn't really connect with it at the time.  It's eye-opening.

Do I apologize to myself?  To you, you reader in your comfy chair or reading in your car (don't do that!) Do I try and ease the pain by trying and defending my previous assessments in any way?  Do I bring up the one think Plinkett didn't bring up in the reviews: John Williams musical scores, which were still, despite everything, as beautiful as they could be given, uh, how the movies were?

Maybe it's just something about growing up and realizing what was childish... or droolish, stupid things of youth, are there and for there really.  The Star Wars prequels were beefed up technologically-saavy pieces of product in the guise of a character study.  As a Star Wars fan, they are messes, but at the time they were fun.... and, hell, here I go again (don't I sound like one of those guys who says "Well, I know I shouldn't have enjoyed getting drunk and driving at 100 MPH alongside a screaming bus of children, but, well, it was fun at the time."

Or... it was the hype of the moment... a new SW movie... lots of lightsabers... Yoda fighting... growl... Palpatine has unlimited power... Order 66 (btw, it's pretty clear Lucas is just trying to be cute there- 6 is too obscure, but 666 is too obvious and would incur the frightful, powerful wrath of IRON MAIDEN, so... yeah 66).  Or maybe it's just because of being a kid and liking those older movies, and making excuses like for the alcohol comparison I mentioned earlier.

So... in short... I'm Jack Gattanella, and I'm a recovering Star Wars prequel fan.  And I haven't had a drink in... I don't remember, but not for a while (that is, not having watched the movies outside of the reviews).

But what about the reviews by Plinkett?  Oh, they are completely and wholly works of critical-art, the likes of which I would like to hold and cherish like the previous generation held up Pauline Kael's reviews as works of art.  That doesn't mean every moment is perfect, but it's genuine, entertaining, eye-opening, incisive, insightful, and totally deranged which I really love.  Nothing can really quite match the awe and surprise of that first Phantom Menace review, particular as most of us (certainly not me) had seen one of this man's reviews before and known his methods of pizza-roll delicacy and a penchant for grinding hookers into bone in his Teaneck, New Jersey basement... oh yeah... (::Howdy neighbor!!::)

But not just that, Skoklloosssssoo, (sorry, misspelling) does one better: he actually puts his own story around the critical framework.  It would seem to my understanding like his own subtle challenge to Lucas: "not only will I take apart your movies, see why they are so flawed in their inception to the little bits like green-screen and static reverse-shots (the likes of which are making Steven Soderbergh RETIRE for Dogsakes), but I will put a story in there, as B-level as it is with a hooker escaping my grasp and getting revenge and what-not, that WILL connect with the audience on some level, and has engaging shot compositions, mood-perfect lighting, and even some nice music and swell acting.  He's branching into a new form of internet-movie criticism where the videos become movies onto their own realm.  He's riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave of his own making.

So I salute this guy and his pizza rolls and his hookers and merkins and cat fucking and pizza rolls and his in-depth take on the prequels.  They've reduced me to a blathering lot of apology and reassessment.

What do I think of these movies now?  Should I give them another look see?  Would it be like revisiting an old would-be friend like in Interview with the Vampire where Brad Pitt goes back to the old homestead to see the burnt remains of Tom Cruise sitting in that chair?

Maybe... maybe not...


THANK YOU FOR THE MENTION OF THE CEDAR LANE CINEMAS IN TEANECK NEW JERSEY!! (coincidentally where I saw Revenge of the Sith... on one of my multiple viewings of the film in the summer of 05)

So... Happy New Year!

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