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Book and Comic Reviews

(5/30/05)

Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman (Simon and Schuster).  The legendary boss of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer gets a surprisingly "fair and balanced" treatment from Eyman, whose previous credits include an excellent biography of John Ford.  I say "surprisingly" because posterity has not treated Mayer well at all – he has usually been caricatured as a reactionary tyrant who lived to harass and exploit creative talent.  Eyman himself admits that, while he has "never begun a book with more misgivings," he has "never been more pleasantly surprised" about what he found.  While a number of the unpleasant stories do have some basis in fact, Mayer was a far more complicated man than the stick-figure villain of popular legend.  He was an expert manager who knew when to delegate authority and when to impose his own, and he salted his generally imperious manner with many acts of thoughtfulness and consideration.  The book gets a little grab-baggy in the middle – with Eyman eschewing a chronological development of Mayer and MGM in favor of a collection of anecdotes based on interviews with MGM survivors – but it is most definitely fair-minded and presents both sides of every famous and not-so-famous anecdote about Mayer.  A good read for anyone interested in the history of the movies and 20th-century popular culture. 

Walt Disney Comics and Stories #657 (June 2005).  The big whoop in this most recent issue is the initial installment (actually, parts 1 and 2) of "Mythos Island," a 10-part adventure which will feature players from both the Donald Duck and the Mickey Mouse "universes."  Teamups of this sort are few and far between in these latter days and should be encouraged whenever possible.  The characters don't actually meet in these early installments – Donald, Scrooge, and HD&L are the key players in part 1, Mickey and Goofy in part 2 – but the table-setting chapters do establish the basic premise of encounters with a mystical island featuring incarnations of various cultures' mythologies (here, Greek and English). Writers Pat and Carol McGreal promise background information on the series in future issues of WDC&S, and, from the looks of things, such info will be sorely needed in order to I.D. specific mythological characters.  The McGreals' approach to the mythological material falls about halfway between the relentlessly fact-driven approach of a Don Rosa and the more relaxed, semi-anachronistic approach of a DuckTales episode like "Maid of the Myth" or "Home Sweet Homer."  Artist Cesar Ferioli, normally a Mouse specialist, shows here that he is more than up to the task of delineating the Duck characters. 

The best thing in the more "conventional" part of the issue is "Being Goofy," a Sarah Kinney/ Jesper Lund Madsen takeoff on Being There in which an amnesiac Goofy (who, rather oddly, retains his distinctive personality while forgetting his own identity) is exploited by female media mogul Madison King, who uses his uncanny ability to predict public taste in order to reconstruct her media empire.  The story's "amnesia" premise seems unnecessary to me; surely, Goofy could simply have been oblivious as to what King was doing to him and behaved in much the same manner?  The one saving grace about the "amnesia" ploy is that it permits the spectacle of a conflicted Mickey wrestling with the question of whether to tell Goofy the truth and thereby spoil his contented "new life" as a cosseted media guru.  Madsen's artwork is OK but not great; I would have liked Madison King to be more physical attractive, which would have added an extra frisson to her exploitative, but genuinely friendly, relationship with Goofy.  Elsewhere in these pages, William Van Horn checks in with "Nature Boy," a pretty good effort in which Donald gets an unexpected opportunity to indulge in (and exploit) his newfound obsession with "becoming one with nature" – I particularly appreciated the restraint with which VH handled the final couple of panels, not showing the actual details of Donald's eventual downfall and temporary incarceration in "Nature's Happy Acres Rest Home" -- while Pat and Shelly Block provide their own (somewhat predictable and childish) take on the "obsession" theme with "The Undiscovered Treasure," in which Donald becomes convinced that he's found a treasure map.

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(5/23/05)

Reagan's Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started it All by Craig Shirley (Nelson Current).  A conservative activist and political consultant, Shirley presents the first full-length examination of the duel for the 1976 Republican Presidential nomination between incumbent President Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.  Since the '76 GOP convention is the first political convention that I can honestly say I "remember" – I recall watching it on TV while our family was on vacation at Ocean City, NJ – I naturally had interest in reading more about the event.  This story isn't exactly "untold" – I've read a couple of the contemporary accounts of the '76 election season that are cited by Shirley, including Elizabeth Drew's American Journal and Jack Germond and Jules Witcover's Marathon – but it has certainly never been treated in such exhaustive detail.  Shirley is obviously a Reagan partisan; despite his proclamation in an Author's Note that the operatives in both camps were "pretty much good guys, trying to honestly do their jobs," the Ford crew definitely gets the fuzzier end of the lollipop in most cases, with much being made of the Ford campaign's clumsiness and inability to fully recognize the strong challenge posed by Reagan. Indeed, Shirley attributes the fact that Ford, on the heels of Watergate and his "unelected" ascension to the Presidency, came within a hair of defeating Jimmy Carter in the general election to the toughening-up that Ford's campaign developed while responding to Reagan's challenge.  The author makes a compelling argument that the modern-day, more ideologically uniform Republican Party came into being as the direct result of Reagan's close defeat.  Despite some awkward writing in places and a few factual boners (e.g. the movie Rocky premiered at the end of 1976, not during the campaign!), the book will make interesting reading for anyone interested in the history of contemporary American politics.   
 
Mickey Mouse Adventures #3.  For the second straight issue, the Mickey digest concludes with a lengthy reprint of a relatively recent story from the Italian digest Topolino.  This time around, Augusto Machetto and Sergio Asteriti's "Captain Fracasse" transplants the heroes and villains of Mickey's "universe" to the milieu of 17th-century France. Mickey becomes the noble but poverty-stricken Baron de Mousenac, Minnie the "lost" heir to the throne of France, Black Pete the clumsy and lustful (for Minnie) Duke de Jambedubois, and the Phantom Blot the "tyrant Blackcape of Fantombre" who has usurped the throne.  I don't particularly care for Asteriti's fussily-detailed, desiccated artwork – and since when does the Blot feature hair growing out of the top of his head? -- but Dwight Decker does a good job on the translation and dialogue.

The issue leads off with Stefan Petrucha and Joaquin's "Out of Sites," a decent tale in which Mickey and Horace Horsecollar (in his "modern" guise of a rather more benevolent version of Richie Rich comics' nasty, prank-playing Reggie Van Dough) must team up to thwart a jealous amusement park owner's theft of a group of tacky tourist attractions.  The Donald Duck co-feature, Michael T. Gilbert and Miguel's "Dead Letter Donald," goes the "mastery story" route, with Don attempting to prove that he deserves a job as a postman by delivering some long-lost letters.  Uncle Scrooge owes a penny for postage on his 50-year-old letter, but he's willing to pay it, for a very Scrooge-like reason.  First, however, he has to catch Donald as the latter spans the globe to get the ancient mail through… 

Donald Duck and Friends #328 (June 2005).  Carl Barks' 1944 Donald Duck story "Three Dirty Little Ducks" leads off the ish, followed by Sarah Kinney and Rodriques' "Computer Commando" -- in which Mickey finds that the espionage-themed video game that he has been desperately trying to master is actually a "test run" for possible membership in a real spy organization -- and David Gerstein and Vicar's "Pigeon Pikers," which details Donald's efforts to break up a poetical carrier-pigeon correspondence between Daisy and Gladstone Gander by engaging in the expected "dia-bo-lick-al sa-bo-ta-gee."  Familiar ideas, all – Barks reused the "HD&L refuse to bathe" theme in another story a dozen years later, and he took a whack at a similar "pigeon story" in the early 50s – but the two newer stories provide some additional bang for the $2.95, with "Computer Commando" serving up a nice twist ending and Gerstein slipping multiple cultural references into "Pigeon Piker" that run the gamut from Emile Zola to Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines.  Wears his vast learning lightly, does David. 

Mickey Mouse and Friends #277 (June 2005).  At first glance, Stefan Petrucha and Cesar Ferioli's "Mickey Most Wanted" seems like your bog-standard "amnesia" tale.  Mickey gets conked on the head, is convinced by pint-sized mobster Krankle Gorb and his partners in crime, Od, Bod, and Cod, that he is a criminal mastermind, and becomes you-guessed-it.  But Petrucha is too imaginative a writer to settle for clichés.  In the tradition of all heroes, from Batman to Roger Ramjet, Mickey's elemental "hero instincts" ultimately win out in an amusing and believable fashion.  In "It's Elementary, My Dear," writers Pat & Shelly Block and artist Millet also take a well-worn notion – in this case, Donald's Nephews suffering social embarrassment as the result of his lowly jobs – and put a little backspin on it, though their solution shows somewhat less insight into the characters involved than does Petrucha's.  Finally, Sarah Kinney and David's "The Great Protector," trumpeted by Editor John Clark as "the perfect Goofy story," comes sufficiently close to its hype to save Clark from embarrassment, as Goofy goes overboard in promoting a good idea (in this case, being kind to animals) as only he (and possibly Fethry Duck) can.

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(5/16/05)

Little Lulu Volume 3: My Dinner With Lulu (Dark Horse Press).   No major glitches (apart from some possible relettering of a few balloons) in this latest Lulu reprint release, thank goodness, as we take a few steps back in time and view material from the first five Lulu comic-book releases, all part of the Dell Four Color series (starting with FC #74 in 1945).  The earliest efforts of writer (and, early on, artist) John Stanley and his partner Irving Tripp are a little uneven when it comes to depicting the physical forms of the characters, but in their style of humor, they most definitely anticipate what is to come.  Interspersed throughout are one-page "silent" gag sequences that might (though I can't vouch for it) have been written by Lulu's creator, Marge Buell; they definitely display the sort of humor that Marge employed in her Saturday Evening Post panels.  Any Lulu experts out there are free to correct me if I am wrong.

BTW, I've just purchased the first two Lulu volumes as a belated birthday present for my niece, Lulu Peach.  I think she'd get a kick out of reading about a character with the same name.  If I'm lucky, the gift will also spark an interest in comics in general.  I can only hope!

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(5/7/05)

The Complete Peanuts: Volume 3, 1955-1956 by Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics Press). 

Third "verse," same as the first and the second… well, sort of.  As in the first and second volumes, V3 serves up straightforward, black-and-white, chronological helpings of the daily and Sunday Peanuts strips, with a celebrity introduction (by Matt Groening, in this case), a generic Schulz mini-bio, and a useful but somewhat incomplete index tacked on for good measure.  As in the second volume, some of the previously-unreprinted strips do not reproduce well because of low-quality source material (though the fuzziness seems a little less pronounced this time around, perhaps because there were more papers to choose from by this time).  The one big difference this time around: Many of these strips will be recognizable to long-time Peanuts fans.  We are now standing on the edge of an immense ocean of heavily reprinted material from the strip's true glory days, and so there will be fewer surprises in store for those seeking the new and unfamiliar.  It will be interesting to see how mass-market sales are affected by this shift. 

Not that there aren't a goodly number of "Ooh, I never knew that" moments in this collection.  Schulz started to work direct pop-culture references into his work at about this time -- many Peanuts fans may recall a strip or two in which Charlie Brown wears a Davy Crockett hat, or Snoopy imitates "Msssp Mssspe" (Mickey Mouse) – but until now, I wasn't aware of how many of them there actually were.  You'll find references to Miss Frances (of Ding Dong School), Howdy Doody, impending satellite shots, Duke Snider, American agricultural policy, missile defense, sci-fi movies, the mid-50s "pink and charcoal" fashion fad, and numerous riffs on the Crockett phenomenon.  (Charlie Brown, surrounded by Crockett merchandise, is moved to cry, "Where will it all end?" – and by volume's end, characters are wondering whatever happened to ole Davy what's his name.)  There might even be some references to then-popular ad campaigns that I haven't yet been able to identify.  Schulz was a creative genius independent of any outside influences, but he was evidently willing to hang gags on ephemera almost from the beginning. 

During this period, Charlie Brown really began to mutate into the "Rats/Good grief/I can't stand it" "eternal loser" we all know and love.  In these early days, though, his constant whining about how no one likes him, how inept he is, etc. can get on one's nerves.  He has not yet acquired the *Sigh*-laden fatalism of later years and can often react quite violently and emotionally when he is thwarted, frustrated, or just feeling depressed.  In this volume, Schulz really puts Charlie through the wringer in three agonizing "continued" stories: his first losing fight against a not-yet-kite-eating-but-certainly-kite-absorbing tree, his first really big failure in a baseball game, and his failure to receive a Christmas card (he is ultimately reduced to going out and buying himself one).  Rest assured, he does not take any of these misfortunes well.  Also remember that it was this version of Charlie that first attracted many readers to the strip.  Postwar angst, anyone?  Thankfully, you need no neuroses to continue to enjoy this marvelous project.  It's a must purchase for anyone who loves great cartoonery and American pop culture.

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(5/2/05)

The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown.(Nick) What a thriller.  I recently downloaded this book as an unabridged audio file for my trip to NC.  It was a "page turner" so to speak.  Having never heard an audio book, I was pleasantly surprised.  The reader uses accents and tons of drama to enhance the story.  Anyway, the author dissects many little coincidences in history and art to create this "historical" account of the ancient and contemporary crusades and the men (and women) who gave their lives to protect the holiest of holy mysteries of faith.  I can easily see how some religious fanatics take this fictional story as "heresy" given it's "true" nature of the search for the Holy Grail.  There are a couple of surprises inherent of a good suspense thriller and the quest doesn't really stop at the end.  The end of the story leaves you very satisfied partly because the hero, Robert Langdon, is likeable, courageous and tolerant of the entire progression of events in which he found himself.  I actually can't wait until the movies comes out next year.

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy Douglas Adams.(Nick) I downloaded this book also.  In light of the movie being made, I decided to finally "read" this book having heard about it for the last 15 years or so.  First of all, Adams himself reads the book and does an exceedingly good job at giving personality to each character.  I laughed from beginning to end; first at the alien perception of "The Earth" and second at the crazy "mad-libs" way he describes the most mind-boggling, mind-blundering, mind-numbing things you've ever heard.  In fact, the only way I can describe this story is to call it the "Ultimate Mad-Libs Story of the Meaning of Life and How We Got Here and Everything."  Our hitchhiker, Ford Prefect has been trapped on The Earth for 15 years and finally finds his way off just as it is destroyed by surveyors who happen to be making a bypass through this part of the galaxy.  An earthling named Arthur Dent grudgingly tags along mostly in disbelief over the most inexplicable things he encounters. We follow their near death adventure when they miraculously meet up with old friends who are running from the law in a stolen improbability drive ship in search of the most mind-boggling, mind-blundering, mind-numbing planet in the galaxy.  They are aided by the their copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  The guide offers a unique look at the "world around us" while providing the most vital advice you'll ever need when traveling...always keep you towel on hand and most of all, DON'T PANIC!  This book is the first part of a five book series.  The distinctly British humor is wonderful and I am looking forward to the continuing saga.

Right Turns: Unconventional Lessons from a Controversial Life by Michael Medved (Crown Forum).  The former left-wing, antiwar activist turned popular movie reviewer, radio talk-show host, best-selling author, and (most recently) crusader for "family values in Hollywood" contributes his own mite to the growing stockpile of autobiographical literature by individuals who have made the "long march" from the Left to the Right.  On the spectrum of seriousness of such "road to Damascus" tales, Medved's book ranks about halfway between such entertaining but relatively frothy fare as Harry Stein's How I Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy and the sober-sided, frequently depressing tales related by David Horowitz in Radical Son or Whittaker Chambers in Witness.  Medved's tale is clad in portentous coloration – he headlines each chapter of his life's journey with a "lesson" he's learned through his experiences – but he does not forget to have some fun along the way.  It could hardly be otherwise for a writer whose other credits include The Hollywood Hall of Shame and The Golden Turkey Awards.

Medved makes it clear that his change of viewpoint stemmed largely from his growing commitment to Orthodox Judaism, which reinforced his latent conservatism (even during his youthful activist phase) on such issues as entrepreneurship, drug use, and the admirable nature of the law-enforcement profession.  For all the additional "lessons" he puts forth for the reader's consideration – such as a dogged insistence that "do-it-yourself conservatism" counts for more in preserving society than "top-down liberalism" – it is the messages about faith and its relevance to daily living that resonate the most.  A critic on Amazon.com scored Medved as an "obnoxious example of Jewishness" who has the cheek to see God's providence in many episodes in his life, but this same Medved has also attempted to build alliances between Jews and Christians and to convince Jews that secularism is far more dangerous to the health of their belief system than an upsurge in Christianity – an entirely rational and constructive approach, in my opinion.

Medved's prose is good, and he has an eye for the telling (and frequently absurd) anecdote.  I could have done without a number of the lengthy details about his intimate personal life and his family problems, but as he reveals in one of his title lessons, it is his nature to "never feel embarrassed."  He certainly shouldn't feel embarrassed about this enjoyable, yet thought-provoking, effort.  
 
Magazine Reviews (Spoiler Warning: Conflict of Interest Advisory!) 

The Harveyville Fun Times! #59 (Summer 2005).   

Mark Arnold's Harvey Comics fanzine is on the brink of its 60th issue and 15th anniversary of publication – and, if this ish is any indication, on the precipice of something else.  Mark evidently had to struggle to get this one out, resorting to a massive reprinting of the Hostess Snack Cake ads from the 70s that featured Harvey characters.  Yours truly doesn't help matters with a Richville Ruminations column that's considerably shorter than usual ("real life," and all that…).  Regular contributors Joe Torcivia, Quinton Clem, and Pete Fernbaugh are AWOL.  Here's hoping the whole gang is back on board for the combined diamond-and-crystal anniversary issue (yes, I had to look those up).  If not, this venerable publication may soon join Casper the Friendly Ghost in a state of decedence.   

Passions #40 (May 2005). 

Ken Bausert's APA reaches its 10th anniversary issue, with most of the key contributors making an appearance.  Highlights include Keith Viverette's anguished dissection of the Terri Schiavo case, Mark Strickert's thumbnail sketches of the various major-league ballparks he's visited, Brent Swanson's slapdown of the notion of a "family-friendly Las Vegas," and Robert Koenig's treatise on The Monkees.  Yr. Humble Servant weighs in with comments on the NCAA basketball tournament, the Eagles' Super Bowl loss, Warner Bros.'s cockeyed Loonatics (which has since been radically revamped, thanks to a protest campaign orchestrated by an 11-year-old kid, wouldjabelieve?), and a tribute to deceased Disney Comics artist Daniel Branca.  The term "there's something here for everyone" was invented for this magazine. 
 
Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #656 (May 2005).

Daisy's nieces, April, May, and June, the stars of the show????  Ooooohhh, I'm dyyyin'!

"Cruisin' for a Bruisin'" by William Van Horn: Donald insists on "chaperoning" the Nephews on their quest to conquer the Junior Woodchucks' Dune Boarding Trail.  Needless to say, HD&L end up pulling Don's tailfeathers out of the sand on multiple (and repetitive) occasions.  I'd love to know where Bill got this idea, as there aren't that many dune trails up Vancouver, B.C. way.

"Volcano Villains" by Halas, Martinez, and Isabella: Veteran comics scribe and Comic Buyer's Guide columnist Tony Isabella turns in a surprisingly leaden effort in a ho-hum tale that mixes deliverymen Mickey and Goofy up with a scheme to fake a volcanic eruption and subsequently loot the abandoned homes of evacuees.

"Die-Hard Fans" by Pat & Carol McGreal and Esteban:  Don't know why I enjoyed this story so much.  April, May, and June are usually deadly characters to deal with.  The McGreals manage to make them palatable, even giving them a chance to hatch a scheme fully worthy of Donald's wily Nephews.  Here, the girls must teach their visiting screen idol, Dirk Duckly, to treat his fans and others with proper respect.  Esteban makes AM&J look as good as they have ever looked, artistically speaking, and despite the somewhat sexist overtones (especially in the final scene), this tale puts those AM&J filler stories in the late-60s Comics and Stories to shame.

"Blockheads" by Sarah Kinney and Madsen:  Horace Horsecollar's modern-day obsession with practical jokes gets another workout.  Nice (though somewhat predictable) ending.

"Star-Struck Duck" by Antrobus, Angus, and Vicar:  Donald gets a job as chauffeur to vain starlet Jane Duck (inspired name, eh?) and tries to wring some jealousy out of the dating Donald and Daisy as a result.

Also included: a 1956 Li'l Bad Wolf reprint and a Grandma Duck story. 

Uncle $crooge #341 (May 2005).

"The Magic Hourglass" by Carl Barks, with new framing sequence by William Van Horn.  This story from 1950 has long been an irritating burr in the tooki of continuity-addled "fanboys" who insist that its portrayal of Scrooge's wealth as depending entirely upon his possession of an ancient, mystical hourglass needs to be permanently swept under the rug (or, if you prefer, magic carpet).  For my own part, while I regard the hourglass thing as one of the inevitable bumps along the road of Scrooge's development as a character with a consistent, commonly-accepted backstory, the presence of real, live human(!) Arabs alongside the standard ducks, dogs, and pigs is more than enough to place this tale in the "Questionable" file.  So how to handle this "hot potato" of a classic story when it comes time for the inevitable reprinting?  Bill Van Horn provides a clever framing sequence in which Donald's Nephew Louie presents the story as a "tall tale" at a Junior Woodchucks' fireside tale-telling confab!  Enough wiggle room is left so that the reader can regard the tale as possibly having happened, but as Louie says at the end, "That's the fun thing about a tall tale… Nobody has to believe it!".  A nice finesse, indeed.  If nothing else, now we can put Louie's "unique" ability to spin outrageous tall tales next to Dewey's "ability to think up escape plans" (as seen in the DuckTales episode "Duck in the Iron Mask") as a character trait that is his and his alone.  

"Around the World in 80 Daze" by Dick Kinney, Romano Scarpa, and Giorgio Cavazzano.  A real oddity: an early reprint from the Disney Comics Overseas Studio Program that does not involve David Gerstein's fave, Fethry Duck.  Scrooge battles his rival (in European stories, anyway) John D. Rockerduck in a round-the-world race with a twist – the winner has to travel "the fastest and the cheapest!".  A decent enough yarn, but Scarpa and Cavazzano's art styles do NOT mix.  Donald's lower body is MUCH too bloated here!

"The Metro Raid" by Antrobus, Bartholomew, and Branca:  Just for the nonce, Scrooge's money bin is being shaken like a leaf by passing trains on a nearby subway line, and the Beagle Boys try to take advantage of the all-too-convenient fact to literally "shake down" the contents of the bin.

"The Stubborn Stork" by Carl Barks:  A 1959 reprint from a Gyro Gearloose one-shot in which Gyro and Scrooge, using Gyro's new bike-saucers, labor mightily to remove a vent-clogging stork from the top of Scrooge's money bin.

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Movie Reviews

(5/23/05)

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. (Nicky's take)  I agree with Chris below but to offer a less cerebral critique of this excellent flick ,all I'd like to say is the fights and action sequences were awesome.  I agree that the dialog was weak.  I think the top billing of Christopher Lee (Dooku) was misleading .  Yes he's a great actor.  Yes he plays the perfect bad guy.  But top billing for less than 60 seconds of footage, come on.  Still... a great fight.  I wish he had more air time.  There is something cool about the Sith order.  I wish they made some sort of movie about their training.  Bad guys can often be more colorful and interesting than the good guys. 

 A SMALL NOTE ON SHAMELESS MARKETING:  OK George!  How low can you sink!  Darth Vader doing M&M promos and ads with the creepy big headed Burger King guy.  Your are sinking much too low.  We can be thankful there are no cuddly Ewok-like aliens to market.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.  This is probably it for the Star Wars theatrical franchise – though I've learned, like James Bond, never to say "never again" about such things --and I'm modestly pleased to report that ROTS (quite possibly, the most unfortunate public acronym since "CREEP" of Watergate notoriety) is the best entry in Lucas' prequel trilogy, though still not as good as any of the "holy trinity" of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the JediROTS replicates the Star Wars series' strengths and weaknesses in bold primary colors.  The action sequences are more spectacular than ever, while the dialogue is, if possible, the hokiest to date.  After Nicky and I saw the movie, I spent the rest of the day saying to her, "I-can't-believe-what-I'm-HEARING!" and "What-are-you-SAYING!" in "tribute" to the impossibly contrived and lifeless dialogue between Anakin Skywalker and his wife Padme.  It says a lot about the quality of the script that the most effective and memorable "non-action" scenes come at the very end, when the newborn twins Luke and Leia are given to their caretakers to the strains of John Williams' musical score – and no dialogue whatsoever.  The ending sounds a note of hope for the future that was not at all easy to pull off, given the extremely downbeat nature of the predetermined plot.  

Some people have interpreted certain snatches of ROTS' dialogue, such as Anakin/Darth Vader's claim that "If you're not with me, then you're my enemy," as George Lucas' slap at George W. Bush and the War on Terror.  While that could certainly have been Lucas' intention, the man obviously doesn't know anything more about politics than a butternut squash, so it's not really that bothersome.  The clumsy claim in the "opening crawl" that "There are heroes on both sides… [and] evil is everywhere" in the Clone Wars is not the thinking of a man who has anything coherent to say about geopolitical doings.  (If there are "heroes" in General Grievous' Droid Army, then they are, as Winston Churchill might have put it, very well disguised.)  Similarly, Obi-Wan Kenobi's retort to Anakin/Vader, "Only a Sith deals in absolutes," flies in the face of the Jedi's oft-proclaimed absolute devotion to the preservation of the Republic.  I am a little annoyed that Lucas allowed current concerns to impinge upon his creation, but more amused than anything else.  For heaven's sake, I could put a political spin on the movie by noting that the ascension of the perpetually cloaked Emperor to absolute power in the guise of "ensuring freedom" could be interpreted as an allegory for the imposition of law-by-fiat by similarly garbed… left-wing federal judges.

Overall, ROTS is a decent "climax" to the Star Wars saga, but the long-standing complaint that the Disney Studio has lost the magic element of "Heart" as a key ingredient of its products could also be applied here.  Yes, its Cantina Scene looks silly today, and a lot of its dialogue was just as perfunctory as that of ROTS, but A New Hope had elements of fun, excitement, and emotional investment in the characters that these newer films have conspicuously lacked.  I'd still have to regard the first three… er, last three… er, whatever… Star Wars films as being a distinct cut above The Phantom Menace and its successors, including the energetic but largely hollow ROTS.

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(5/2/05)

The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)  (Nick) Well, I couldn't resist watching the number-one pick for the worst two hours in television history according to David Hofstede (SEE ARCHIVE  - What the Heck Were They Thinking).  Call it morbid curiosity.  Call it stupidity.  Call it two hours of my life that I will never get back.  Despite having the immensely successful movie's shoulders to stand on, this rushed tidbit of "entertainment" makes the Brady Bunch Variety Hour seem like Citizen Kane.  We begin in the home of Chewy's family.  They grunt and bellow as if in pain over the fact that he and Han are late for Life Day celebrations.  They spend way to much time here and you are forced to listen to a toddler test his mother's (and our) patience. FAST-FORWARD.  FAST-FORWARD.  We see some shots of cutting room floor footage of the movie and then some stepped on and scraped off your boot cutting room floor footage.  Luke gets a call with R2 on hand to say..."I don't know where they are."  We then cut to Chewy's dad watching pornos.  The kid is playing with some Cirque de Soleil dancers and a depressed looking psychedelic Jefferson Starship sans the lucky (and smart) Grace Slick.  I didn't have the strength to listen to Leia sing.  FAST-FORWARD.  FAST-FORWARD.  Between incompetent storm troopers and unlikely, jump-on-the -bandwagon guest "stars" like Bea Arthur and Art Carney, the special is anything but.  The cartoon made Chris actually utter a sound that I won't even attempt to spell.  I wish I could unchain the nerve synapses created in my memory...I really wish I could

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