Monday, December 18, 2006

Happy Life Day, Everyone!

It's so much worse than I'd imagined. Since I was a wee lad, I'd heard legends regarding The Star Wars Holiday Special. Circulating on the internet for the past few years by those fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to record the travesty the one time it aired way back in 1978, it's been highly regarded as one of those things that everyone wants to watch, but no one really wants to see. Like a couple of monkeys screwing a football. Sure, it'd be funny to watch but you'll never be able to erase the imagery from your mind. Okay, replace monkeys with Wookiees and the football with, oh, I don't know. Harrison Ford. You get the idea. The whole thing is available for viewing over on YouTube, but be forewarned.

I'm usually quick to defend all things Star Wars, the prequel films included. Well, I sort of take that back. I've seen the two animated shows from the mid-80s (Droids and Ewoks) along with those God-awful Ewok made-for-television movies. I just can't defend a product that features Wilford Brimley having conversations with midgets in bear costumes. I have limits.
But man. This thing features Wookiees talking for minutes on end, assuming that we would not need subtitles to understand their repetitive grunts and growls. We see Chewbacca's father, named Itchy (for reasons unknown and preferably so), watch what is apparently some form of virtual pornography. There's Mark Hamill caked in what appears to be stage makeup. There's a seemingly coked up Carrie Fisher singing a song about a fictitious Wookiee holiday called "Life Day." And did I mention that it's sung to the tune of the Star Wars theme? Try to forget those lyrics, fanboy.

Speaking of singing, Bea Arthur sings a little ditty to the creatures in the all-too-familiar-yet-much-cheaper-looking cantina. Actually, this is worth seeing. No wonder the woman has a weird cult following. There's also an almost-decent animated short that introduced the world to fan-favorite bounty hunter Boba Fett.

All in all, it's one of those embarrassing pieces of Star Wars lore that George Lucas wishes we wouldn't see or talk about, but it's necessary. It's a rite of passage of sorts: If you can sit through the thing (broken up into 10 minute intervals on YouTube), and still gaze lovingly at your closet full of Star Wars crap, then the Force is truly with you.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I wish I could be excited about this. Seriously. I've seen the trailer for Rocky Balboa several times, one of which was in a packed theater before a screening of Casino Royale. It elicited laughter once people realized what it actually was. It starts off innocently enough with the Bill Conti fanfare that should bring chills to anyone who grew up with the original films (well, the first four). Then comes the lame ESPN commenatary, where the reporter speculates whether Rocky Balboa could go toe-to-toe with reigning champ Mason "The Line" Dixon (awful name by the way) based on a computer simulation. Really though? You're bringing this franchise out of retirement and the premise is based on a "what if" scenario from a video game? This is the kind of schlock that turns sequels into self-parody.

I love Rocky. The original film is one of the best underdog stories on celluloid. Sylvester Stallone, who wrote the film, created an iconic character that quickly became the embodiment of the American dream for a lot of people. How many people see the steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art without thinking of the training montage from the first film? Tourists in Philly flock daily to those steps to re-enact the scene for themselves. You see, Rocky is more than just a movie series. It's imprinted into the American consciousness.

I respect Stallone for trying to resurrect this story and give it the proper send-off it deserves, since Rocky V didn't exactly leave a very good taste in anyone's mouth. But isn't it a little too late? Do people truly want to see their aging hero propped up on screen and placed in a wholly unrealistic situation that would never EVER happen in real life? Are we that desperate?

It's going to be difficult to separate the character of Rocky from Stallone in this installment. They both seem to be grasping at former glory while the world asks: Why? Did I mention he's also developing a fourth Rambo film?

I truly hope that I'm wrong, and this film turns out to be a fitting end to the series, and that the Italian Stallion is put out to pasture gracefully. As far as box office numbers, to paraphrase Ivan Drago: If it dies, it dies.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Eminem's Back with The Re-Up

Okay, so Eminem Presents: The Re-Up is not a full-length album from Mr. Marshall Mathers, but it's damn close. He's featured on 7 tracks, and surprisingly the ones in-between are more than just filler. The remix of Akon's "Smack That" is better than the original, and newcomers Bobby Creek and Ca$his are featured on multiple tracks, as are labelmates 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks, D12, the late Proof, Obie Trice and Stat Quo. Whereas Kingdom Come was underwhelming, this mixtape (or is it a mixtape concept album?) came out of nowhere and provides some of the most refreshing hip-hop you're likely to hear this holiday season.

Standout tracks? "No Apologies" for one. This is Eminem like you haven't heard him since his acidic lyrics on The Marshall Mathers LP. He's been through a lot since his last album, and he vents it all here.

I'm also partial to "Re-Up," the album's title track. Every time 50 Cent and Eminem team up they bring out the best of each other so well that I wouldn't be surprised if they produce an entire album of these tracks in the future. They're also featured on the single, "You Don't Know" and "Jimmy Crack Corn."

While technically not an "album" in the traditional sense, this compilation is worth checking out for even the most casual Eminem fan.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

A Necessary Pilgrimage to the Alma Mater

Sometimes, ya just need to pack up, leave town, and reconnect with some old friends. That's exactly what I did this weekend on a trip to UConn to celebrate, among other things, my good friend Taryn's completion of the LSATs. Pictured at right, I think she had an awesome time. I did too, even though celebrating early also means being totally drained of all energy by 10 p.m. I was "that guy" falling asleep on the couch next to the black light. At least we got to reap the benefits of Chinese food at 2 a.m. Egg rolls FTW.

The two hour drive there and back gave me some much-needed alone time, and also gave me a chance to listen to some music that I've been meaning to check out. I'll admit it—Kingdom Come is not terrible. I obtained a copy of Jay-Z's "comeback" CD a few days ago, and while it doesn't totally suck it didn't blow either...my mind, that is.

The thing about Jay-Z is that he's showed us how talented he can be, yet he seems to be slumming it here in choosing to rap about how successful he is. Thus, he sounds like every other rapper out there right now. Where's the stirring self-reflection that was present in "Moment of Clarity" on The Black Album? Where's the raw energy from Reasonable Doubt? Jay-Z is supposed to transcend the genre and take it to new levels, which he's done in the past. On this new disc, he's just sorta stale. Keep in mind that mediocre Jay-Z is better than most of what's considered "talent" in hip-hop right now. I have to say, his song with Chris Martin, "Beach Chair" is really good. It's worth an iTunes download.

So in closing, it was a great weekend. Thanks to everyone that made it awesome.