Monday, May 31, 2010

We Regret to Inform You...

In a case of truly awful timing, the movie I happened to have from Netflix this past weekend was The Messenger. This was last year's film starring Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster as soldiers tasked with notifying the next of kin about the deaths of loved ones at war in the Middle East.

With everything going on with my sister weighing on my mind, I was seriously considering just sending the movie back without watching it. But I'd tried to distract myself with other more mindless things throughout the day, and hadn't really met much success. Plus, this is Memorial Day weekend. There was something undeniably appropriate about the subject matter at this time. I decided that even though my experience was sure to be colored by circumstances, I'd just watch the movie anyway.

I found it to be a mixed bag, though trending more good than bad. The very concept of the film is a strong and original one. We've seen versions of the "death notification scene" in more military movies than I could possibly name, but it's an altogether different take on things to follow the people delivering that message, rather than those receiving it. This point of view is just as interesting a way of showing the "cost of war" as, say, a movie about capture and torture (such as Brothers).

However, the execution isn't nearly as clever as the idea. This isn't really a story so much as a character study. The main dramatic narrative of the movie simply surrounds the Ben Foster character, a soldier wounded in action, now assigned to this detail much to his dismay. Exactly what happened to him and what effect it has had on him is the core question, and the climatic scene of the film has him opening up to Woody Harrelson's character to reveal the truth.

What happens leading up to then is a loose collection of "tone poems," just a series of little vignettes on grief. Some great actors show up to deliver good scenes, including Steve Buscemi and Samantha Morton, but these scenes don't have nearly as much to say collectively as they do on their own.

But the acting really is fantastic, and most of all that from the two leads. Woody Harrelson made this film and Zombieland both in the same year, and it shows what command he has of both comedy and drama. And Ben Foster is incredible, especially in that big scene at the end of the movie. Here's a guy that really ought to be a bigger star than he is. He keeps showing up as the best thing about movies that are pretty good (3:10 to Yuma), average (Pandorum), or even downright awful (30 Days of Night), but he's never really been the "star" of anything.

I'd call The Messenger a B- overall. The parts are greater than the whole, but many of those parts are good enough that some of you may want to take a look.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


I find my focus has been drifting today to strange little details. Like the lock on the front door at my place. On this door, "locked" is the horizontal position, while "unlocked" is the vertical. This is the reverse of every place I've lived for my entire life, and took some getting used to.

Still, I've lived here over two years now. It seems to me like more than enough time to get used to it. And yet I still find myself checking the door and consciously thinking "unlocked is locked."

Some things just take time to get used to.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


On the one hand, it seems a little weird to talk about serious personal misfortune in an impersonal internet setting like this. On the other, it seems weirder still to just carry on with my usual fluffy blog snark and not acknowledge it. So...

My brother-in-law died this morning. He was only around 30 years old, so to say this came as a shock doesn't begin to convey the unusual situation here. (There aren't any details or explanations at the moment.) The rest of the family and I are just trying to figure out to be there for my sister and her two-year-old daughter.

No profundity here. Just shock.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Out for the Count

Though I've long been aware of the basic plot of The Final Countdown, I'd never actually seen the movie until this week. It's the story of a modern-day (at the time -- I'll come back to that) aircraft carrier being transported back in time to the day before the Pearl Harbor invasion, faced with the dilemma of whether to use their advanced technology and foreknowledge to alter the course of history. I'd heard middling reviews of the film overall, but I seemed to recall one of my friends thinking highly of it, and I'm also a fan of co-star Martin Sheen. (The other co-star, Kirk Douglas, is alright by me too.) I decided to take the plunge.

Right away, I was struck by a whole "meta" level going on in this film that was never intended or anticipated by its filmmakers. The movie was made in 1980 -- just 39 years after the Pearl Harbor attack. It's now 30 years on past that, so present day is getting to be pretty damn close to the gap these characters had on the history their supposed to be revisiting. The technology looks somewhat dated (though perhaps not as much as you might expect), and the well-known actors look amazingly young compared to how we know them today. Basically, there's a level at which you're imagining the scenario of a modern naval ship heading back to 1980 (though there wasn't a World War to be fighting at the time).

Trying to set that aside, the movie does have a decent opening act. The journey back of the carrier and crew, and their gradual discovery and acceptance of where and when they've been transported, does make for some good tension. It's not suspenseful as such, since the synopsis of the film puts the audience ahead of the characters for a long while. But there is still some tension, because you do feel it's going to be interesting to see what they do.

But that's when things start to slide downhill, because unfortunately, they don't do much of anything. The writers had a lot of directions they could take this story. They could explore the creation of an alternate history. They could tell the story of a mutiny among the crew, or at least of a major dispute between the captain of the carrier (Douglas) and the government observer sent to critique the crew (Sheen).

Instead, they take the least interesting road: not interfering with anything. With each passing scene, you get more of a growing sense that this film is going to take the cowardly way out and not get into any real fiction, and so with each passing scene, it gets a bit less interesting. The carrier never takes any decisive action that could cause major changes to history. The minor changes they affect are undone in the course of the film. And then, right at the climax, when it seems they're about to go for broke, the anomaly reappears to whisk them back to the future before anything goes wrong. (And the captain, moments earlier apparently committed to attacking the Japanese, instead basically gives up, recalls his planes, and surrenders to it.)

Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen do continue to inject some interest throughout, but it's by sheer force of talent. The script is far more concerned with portraying something close to accurate conduct aboard a naval ship (complete with the jargon appropriate to the setting) than in building the characters much in any dramatic scenes. And the characters almost have to stay this thin for you to accept them essentially doing nothing important by the time the final credits roll.

In spite of a sort of epilogue you can see coming a mile away, the movie essentially winds up saying "it never happened." And that's a shame, because the premise really is interesting, some good actors were in place, and there was a good build of drama in the first half hour or so. I feel if they'd truly committed to telling a "what if?" story, it could have been something pretty great. As it is, I just call it a C+.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hollow Idle

If you know me at all, you know that I rarely go for "dumb movies." The occasional exception does come along -- a Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle or some such -- that 1) I somehow decide to see; and that 2) I actually find at least somewhat funny. I can offer no better reason than "you can't get to point 2 without first allowing point 1" as explanation for why I recently decided to watch Idle Hands.

This is a now decade old(!) comedy about a slacker druggie teen whose hand becomes possessed by an evil force that makes him kill everyone around him. It stars Devon Sawa (if you recognize him at all, it would have to be from this, or Final Destination) in the main role, and features an it's-a-shame-nobody-will-put-him-in-better-films Seth Green, a before-anyone-knew-who-she-was Jessica Alba, a brilliant-even-in-crap Fred Willard, and an I-can't-believe-she's-slumming-it-here Vivica A. Fox.

The movie isn't a disaster. It does yield some decent laughs here and there. But that's about all it's good for; the story is (predictably) deficient. Even when a movie goes completely for laughs, I expect a certain basic level of sensical storytelling until you cross the line into Zucker Brothers, Airplane! or The Naked Gun type territory. This movie doesn't ever go quite that far, and so I couldn't quite buy off on some of the ridiculous things that happen in the course of the film.

When the main character kills his two buddies, they just come back as undead things (I hesitate to use the word "zombies," as their personalities remain intact) to keep cracking jokes until the final reel. How this happens to them and not anyone else killed in the course of the film is truly bizarre. Rather than try to explain it in relation to the supernatural cursing of the main character's hand, we're simply told that these two stoners were too lazy to "go toward the light."

And don't even get me started on the final act, which has our hero chasing his own severed hand all over town.

I don't want to give the impression I was expecting a narrative masterpiece here, but I had thought my expectations sufficiently lowered, and the film still slid under them. Yes, there were laughs, but there are better films you can watch just for cheap laughs (like those Zucker films I mentioned). I give Idle Hands a C-.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Close Shave

More proof that Firefox is a superior web browser to Internet Explorer: someone has released a tool for Firefox that, when installed, eliminates all references to Justin Bieber from your internet browsing experience. (It is humorously known as "Shaved Bieber.")

That said, there's a pretty long list of things I can think of wanting scoured from my browsing experience before Justin Bieber.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Unanswered Questions

Some net humor from Vulture: 100 Unanswered Questions from Lost in about 5 minutes.

A commenter over on their site observed that the editor of this video must not have been that big a fan of Lost, as several of these questions actually were answered somewhere in the course of the show. And while that does miss the point of the joke a bit, I think there is a valid point there. A true Lost fan would have called this video "108 Unanswered Lost Questions."

Monday, May 24, 2010

Day 8, 2:00-4:00 PM

Somehow fitting that the final episode of 24 airs of the 24th of May. Let's get to it then!

Kiefer thanks us for hanging in there through cougars, moles, and other insanity.

Once more for old time's sake: events occur in real time.

It's not a "Security Alert," it's a "Security........ Alert."

It's not a "Global System Wipe," it's a "Globalsystem Wipe."

Like Cole was really gonna just leave after busting in like that. Worst bluff ever.

Chloe takes an uncomfortably long time to decide that letting Jack assassinate the Russian president isn't the best thing to do.

We're contractually obligated to show off the rear-view camera feature of this car. You'll want to buy this car in case you're ever racing to prevent an assassination.

"We couldn't have asked for a better outcome." Seriously?

Okay, the back seat gag was good -- credit where it's due.

In case the moles don't know where to go, CTU is putting up signs now when they're out in the field.

For her next mass e-mailing, Chloe will pose as a Nigerian prince.

This guard is seriously botching his perception role. (Or is Jack's obfuscate that high?)

Alright Jack, count to five while you get sutured. (Oops, wrong series ending this week.)

Stop saying "in less than an hour" instead of "within the hour" so that I can take a damn drink!

So... I guess she'll be wanting that pen back now.

Having failed to surpass David Palmer for best 24 president ever, Taylor now realizes she has only 90 minutes left to reach the summit in the opposite direction. (And she knows she has competition like Wayne Palmer and Charles Logan, so she's hopping to it!)

I wish my laptop booted up from sleep mode that fast.

Jack's "inside our perimeter." (Drink!)

Really? Vending machine reflection facial recognition?

Time for a "last minute perimeter sweep." (Drink!)

What's Arabic for "shut your pie hole?"

Eriq LaSalle just really wanted to be in a 24 before the chance was gone.

You might as well holster the gun, Chloe. If you actually need to use it against Jack, you won't be fast enough.

Was that a "dammit, Chloe"? I'm not sure if I should be drinking. Well... just in case.... drink!

Thankfully, they spare us the "halftime re-cap" that normally accompanies these two-hour episodes.

"Trust you?" asks Suvarov of Logan. Trust YOU?!

Chloe manages to Luke Darth Bauer.

"Dammit, Chloe! Pull the trigger!" (Drink!)

"I understand what's at stake here." (I have been here in this episode too.)

The return of Jack-ula!!!

Logan manages to further Sidious Darth Taylor.

Logan: "Clearly I underestimated her." Pillar: "What?"

A celebratory drink. What are you having, Pillar? "Morphine!"

Naming a country "IRK" seems even more ridiculous when we actually see it printed on a plaque.

Taylor suddenly remembers her character is nothing like this.

She'll be giving a more complete statement "within the hour." (Drink!)

Eric La Salle tells us again that the president will say more "within the hour." (Drink!)

Logan: "Let it ring." Pillar: "What? Let what ring?"

Pillar had a really rough day/hour, in which getting his ear bitten off was not the worst thing to happen to him.

After a first attempt three seasons earlier, Logan really goes through with shooting himself.

But he apparently stinks at that, just like everything else.

This is going to be a seriously busy news day.

Why did this crew not just shoot Jack on sight rather than abduct him?

Twinkle, twinkle, little drone.

One more "within the hour." (Drink!)

"Whatever happened here didn't happened." So, the opposite of Lost's finale, where "whatever happened, happened."

Maybe Jack will go back to Africa to see how that soccer kid ended up.

Have we just changed the way we track time?

And there it is. I have to say this finale was better than I think I was expecting it to be. If it wasn't coming at the end of such a nonsensical season (say, if it had capped last year's much improved season 7), I'd probably say the show was ending on a high note. As it is, I felt like it only managed to crawl partway out of an impossibly deep hole the writers of the show had dug.

But I'll still always have affection for those first three seasons or so of 24. So long, Jack Bauer. (Drink!)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The End

So there it is, the end of Lost. While I didn't think it was "the best" episode of the series, I did very much enjoy it, and I thought it a fitting end for the show. I think the opinions are going the vary wildly on this, and it's going to have a lot to do with where your investment as a viewer lies.

Put simply, if you're in it for the Mysteries of the Island, you probably hated this finale. Why was the Dharma Initiative still dropping food on the Island two decades after their work there came to an end? Who built the giant statue of four-toed Tawaret, how, and why? Not only did you not get answers to questions like that, but you actually got even more questions in this finale without answers! Who built the strange "stopper" down the hole with the light, and what was with all the crazy markings all over it?

Well, if that's you, you're free to speculate about such things. I care little or nothing about these kinds of details. I've said many times before, and I'll say it again here for the last time, I was invested in Lost for the characters. And on the level, the finale delivered a number of triumphant moments. The series of "awakenings" were a good narrative device, though I thought they actually weren't the most powerful moments in the finale. Actually, they more served as a way to remind of us powerful moments in the past seasons of the show, a sort of "greatest hits." Remember when Locke first realized he could move his legs? Remember when Kate helped Claire deliver her baby (even as Boone was dying elsewhere)? Well, I do too, and it was nice to be reminded of some of these moments that made me like Lost so much to begin with.

I may be an outlier in this, but I actually thought the most potent moments tonight were the new character beats that were found throughout it all. Miles' love of and belief in duct tape. The reunion of Claire and Charlie (and Aaron). The moment when Ben finally found acceptance as Hurley asked him for his assistance. And the careful symmetry of it all, ending with Jack lying down in the very spot where we first saw him wake up in the first moment of the first episode.

Lying down to die, of course. That was the big revelation of this final installment, that the "Sideways World" we've been watching all season was actually the first step of the afterlife for our heroes, after their separate and respective deaths. It's very interesting to me that, if you'll recall, the most popular theory on Lost for the first two years was "they're all in purgatory," denied repeatedly by the creators, and ultimately shattered in the season two finale (when the listening station out in the real world picked up on the destruction of the hatch). Now, things circled back around to the purgatory idea, but with the other reality, not the Island, serving the role.

Lots of things make greater sense now, when you look back at the Sideways World with this knowledge -- that this was a place of the castaways' own making. Kate swore she was innocent of murder in this reality, and indeed she may have made it so. Sun and Jin were not married here, perhaps because the actual marriage took them down a very dark road before they could truly become happy together. Sawyer refashioned himself as a detective, a true hero -- but wasn't completely able to let go of the baggage of chasing the man who killed his parents. Jack tried marriage with Juliet, but it didn't "take," because it wasn't those two who were meant to be together. So on, down the list. It's a pretty nice tying up of this season-long plot line. (Though with perhaps one exception... what was Sideways Eloise Hawking's interest in preventing the castaways from realizing they were dead? Is she some kind of guardian of purgatory? Or is she punishing herself over killing her own son in reality, and just looking to make the rest of them pay too?)

But it's only too appropriate that Lost leave questions for interpretation on the table. You can imagine for yourself what happened to Lapidus, Miles, Richard (who can now age!), Kate, Sawyer, and Claire after they made it off the Island. You can imagine the rest of Rose and Bernard's life on the Island. You can imagine the adventures of Island-keeper Hurley and his "number two" Ben.

It's funny, but going into tonight, I'd had the feeling over the last few weeks that I would want to sit down and watch the whole series again. And I still will probably do that at some point. But now, after having seen the finale, I don't feel as great a need to do so right away. The show no longer seems to me about seeing how all the pieces fit together. I'll watch it again to relive those great character episodes again -- to get the same sort of feeling that the best moments of tonight's finale gave.

Pretty solid. I can't honestly say I'm expecting anywhere near as much from tomorrow's 24 finale.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Pillar in the (Gaming) Community

Sangediver (and his wife) have been picking up more new board games than I have lately. But either way, it has given me the chance to try out some new (to me) stuff. I think one of my favorites of the more recent crop they've "harvested" is The Pillars of the Earth.

This is a game based on a novel I've heard good things about, but have not read. I therefore can't speak to whether it feels like a good tie-in to said book. But I can say this, the game does not feel like it's based on a book, and I mean that in the most flattering way. I've sampled a few tie-in games here and there over the years (like the Game of Thrones board game, Cthulhu and Arhkam games), and I tend to find them all overwrought. In their desire to make the game represent the source material, I feel these games often get caught up in minute details that are more about achieving a simulation than a good strategy game.

Not so for The Pillars of the Earth. The rules are very straight forward, and the goal feels quite "Euro-game abstract." (In theory, we're all building a cathedral together, but the actual cathedral bits are simply turn markers, and the points you score don't affect this in any way. Rather than get bogged down in little things, this is just a solid "worker allocation" game.

Each turn is divided into two phases. The first is a fairly straightforward, clockwise-around-the-table process of gathering resources (building materials and/or money). The second phase has each player allocate three worker pieces to any of around a dozen areas of the board where different tasks can be undertaken (consuming the money and resources you've earned).

This second phase of the turn is an interesting one. I wasn't sure I liked it at first, but repeated plays of the game has made me appreciate it more. Each player's workers are put into a cloth bag, then pieces are pulled one at a time and given to the owner to assign to the board. But the first to place must pay a steep price in gold, that drops by 1 with each piece pulled, until finally all remaining pieces can be placed for free.

At first glance, it seemed as though random luck could see a player have the first chance to place pieces often enough to really swing the balance of the game. But the money turns out to be a significant factor here. As I've played the game more, I've seen occasions where the players placing later actually do better, thanks to the money they save.

Made for four players, there is an expansion (which my friends also picked up) that adds a few more areas to assign on a secondary board, and raises the cap to six players. There's fairly good compensation for making sure the extra players work, and the new areas of the expansion board add some interesting things to the game. But still, I'm not sure the game works great with a full load of six. During the first "go clockwise" phase of the turn, it can be an awfully long time between your actions; five seems to be a better limit with the expansion, I think.

Right now, this is a game I try to suggest fairly often, and would gladly play if someone else brought it up. I'm past the point of feeling like I must own my own copies of games I like when someone else I know has one, but this is one I could see myself coming close to making an exception for.

It has me a bit curious about the book too, I must say. And about an upcoming television series, which though financed out of Canada and Germany, will apparently be airing here in the U.S. on Starz starting in July (and boasting quite a cast). Reason to subscribe to Starz in a few months? We'll see.

In any case, I can keep enjoying the board game until then.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sound Judgment

Over the years, I'd seen bits and pieces of The Sound of Music on various TV channels where it's been run more times than I can count. I'd never seen the entire movie from beginning to end, however, and recently decided to address that.

The movie has an epic pedigree, of course. It's the most successful movie musical ever; adjusted for inflation, it's actually the third highest-grossing film. Adapted from Rodgers and Hammerstein's stage production, it's stuffed full of famous songs, known to many people who might not even know they come from this show. But is it deserving of the hype?

Sort of. Mostly, perhaps. But it is now a 45-year old movie, and it carries the marks of films of that era. It's a long movie (it even has an actual intermission!), and rather slowly paced -- as per usual in the style of the time. It seems at times to "try too hard" in establishing itself as more than a mere filming of a theater production. "We're in the true European countryside, dammit!" screams the film, as it lingers indulgently on two-minute landscape shots of mountains and meadows. Of course, this completely loses sight of what made the play worth adapting in the first place.

Even though the movie clocks in at over three hours, it still suffers from some awkward cuts from the stage production. Oh, I've never seen it in a theater, but a cursory glance at the song list from the play shows a number of original tunes in the second act. These were all excised from the film, leaving only "reprises" of songs from the first act behind. (And one song written specifically for the film.) The effect of this rearranging (a word with more than one meaning here) is that the film starts to feel needlessly repetitive. It feels like no new material is being introduced in the second half of the story -- it's all simply a replay of the first half. In fact, a few songs are repeated twice in the film in their entirety, such as "My Favorite Things," "Edelweiss," and "So Long, Farewell."

But while I found the overall structure of the movie clumsy, there are still a number of specific scenes that work. For example, I griped about the repetition of the song Edelweiss, but it's actually the first occurrence of it in the film that was the movie's alteration, and it's this first scene that's one of the most effective in the film. It's the moment when Christopher Plummer's character, Captain Von Trapp, finally reconnects with his children, and lets down his facade. And it's a truly tender and touching scene.

A great moment of another sort comes in the main performance of "Do-Re-Mi." By contrast, this number is essentially devoid of any emotional content, but there's an exuberance to it all, just pure fun in the performance. It's also one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most clever songs, with carefully crafted rounds sung between the characters.

I mentioned Christopher Plummer's fine performance already; praise is also due, of course, to Julie Andrews as Maria. The acting is perhaps a little broad by today's standards, but it's actually quite nuanced by the standards of the time. (And Maria is quite an outgoing character.)

Perhaps seeing the movie in pieces, the way I had before now, is a better way to enjoy it -- a way of enjoying the individual scenes that work, without being made aware of the overlong and repetitive way in which the whole unfolds. But I would call it a B- overall. In my book, that makes it one of the "classics" that's probably actually worth seeing.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Oh Please, Can I Give You $500?

I was never a drinker of the Apple kool-aid, but I couldn't deny that the company had a certain cachet about about. The were fighting "the man," better than "the man."

These days, they totally are the man.

I came across this story today, about a woman who wanted to buy an iPad, but was turned away because she was planning to pay in cash. There are at least two levels of "who the hell do they think they are?" to this story.

First, is it really a good policy to turn away a customer that wants to give you $500?

Second, money says right on it: "This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private." I'm no legal scholar, but I believe they're required to take cash.

It's all okay now, though. Heat from this story prompted Apple to change their policy, so that they now will indeed let you give them your money. Aren't you lucky?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Literal Eclipse of the Heart

"Literal videos" are becoming more and more common. If you don't know what those are, you're in for a treat. This one is fairly well talked about online, but well worth seeing again even if you've caught it before:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What They Died For

Sunday's upcoming episode of Lost may be the true finale, but I think in some ways, tonight's episode is the last one of Lost "as we know it." I say that because tonight is the last episode where the writers are setting pieces into place for the future. Opening new doors even as old ones close has always been Lost's way -- not so after tonight. (Not that I believe Lost's finale will actually tie up things completely in a neat little bow, but you get my point.)

Even though the table was really being set tonight, there were a lot of thrills and fun moments in the episode. And perhaps oddly, I felt the best of these moments actually came in the Sideways storyline. Put simply, I just loved watching Desmond Hume, the "Zen Awakener."

Watching Desmond pursue his agenda was almost like watching a great heist movie. He's "assembling the team." First, he was back at the school... but for Ben, not Locke. Then the ante was upped as he intentionally surrendered himself specifically for the purpose of picking up Sayid and Kate. Then more wheels within wheels as he made an escape (with the help of an unenlightened Ana-Lucia, and an apparently fully enlightened Hurley, who even recognized someone he'd never "actually" met). Next time, Desmond will be off to the dance, where we know several other characters will be in attendance.

The thing is, I don't even know exactly what "the heist" here is. I mean, I have a sense of what it must be, but I don't truly know the particulars. And that's all straight out of a well-made heist movie too! The whole feeling I got was that I'm about to watch the fun-filled final act of an Ocean's Eleven or Italian Job or some such. (Either version of either, take your pick.)

The Island story had some good moments too. Of course, Jack accepting his role as "the new Jacob" seemed inevitable, and was really only surprising in that I kept wondering if the Lost writers would find a way to subvert expectations. Frankly, if 24 weren't ending next week too, I think the writers there could learn a thing or two here. Sometimes, it's not the best thing to just do whatever is "shocking." Sometimes, it's better to be true to the characters. Jack's been on a journey for some time now. Let's get him there!

But the most interesting stuff on the Island, to me, dealt with Ben. After apparently trying to go it "good," he's slipped back to the darker side. Of course, we can speculate as to whether he's trying to do what Sawyer tried to do to Ol' Smokey earlier this season, and run a con. It certainly seems possible. But even if that's true, there's a dark edge to it. Regardless of Ben's intentions regarding Fake-Locke and The Island, Ben is only too happy to kill his nemesis Charles Widmore. (The presence of both Alex and Danielle Rousseau in the Sideways story this episode served to remind us of just what Ben lost, and why he would jump at a chance for revenge.)

The weakest stuff surrounded Jacob. Maybe I'm still left with a bit of a bad aftertaste from last week's mythologically minded mumbo-jumbo, but I found myself a little annoyed with some of his hand waving this week. Kate was crossed off his list because she became a mother? But Sun wasn't? Or was Jin the only real "Kwon" candidate? Does being a father not count? Or only not count when you've never met the child?

I know, I know... we were explicitly told last week that Jacob gets to "make the rules." I'd have a much easier time just dismissing all this and going with the flow if the show hadn't made it seem so damned important all along that these rules exist, all the while coaching us to sift through them repeatedly for deeper meaning.

Fortunately, there's more than enough good character stuff in play now -- in both realities -- that I can put this one dim spot out of my mind.

And so it's down to just one episode, this Sunday. Hard to believe.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Day 8, 1:00-2:00 PM

With all the deaths and departures this season, actor John Boyd keeps moving up in the opening credits. If the show weren't ending next week, he might be the star soon enough.

Mmm... evisceration. Drink while watching 24 -- it's tradition. But for your own sake, don't eat.

If you ever meet Jack Bauer in person, and are fortunate enough to survive the encounter, you will at least have to buy a new cell phone.

How exactly do you call ahead to a news agency and say, "just in case some evidence happens to show up in the next hour or so, I didn't know anything about it." ??

Logan says Taylor should tell the press that if the story gets out, more lives will be lost. She dismisses this as "more lies." Actually, I'm fairly certain this is the ONE true thing Logan has said. After all, it follows that if a peace agreement goes unsigned, lives will be lost as a result.

Facial recognition and Chloe say that Michael Madsen has a twin that looks 82% like him.

Eat your bananas.

Jack has upgraded to a bigger "Jack Sack." Which, among other things, appears to include a Darth Vader mask.

There's bullet proof, and then there's Bauer proof. (Which nothing is.)

Chloe needs to hear what's going on in the CTU shower.

I'm pretty sure they can hear you through that glass door, Mr. Editor Guy.

The Russian in the garage sure gave up information fast for a "tough guy."

Jack just got stabbed again. Does that mean he'll be sleeping with that anonymous Russian thug in about 12 hours?

Poor Meredith Reed, getting arrested again for the second consecutive day.

If you think that what Jack did with the fireplace poker is something, you should see what happened to the tongs and the shovel.

Time to "trade up bad guys" one more time. We've got quotas to meet, you know.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Family Ties

I do still watch Survivor. It's total junk food television, and nothing I'd recommend to anybody even when it's good. I think I probably wouldn't keep watching it myself, but I do have some friends that come over weekly and share in the junk food with me. It kind of goes down well with a bunch of friends snarking and shouting at the screen.

The season finale is tonight, but that's actually not what I want to talk about. A few days ago, in the last episode, they had the traditional "fly the loved ones in" episode, where contestants get all blubbery over seeing family from home, then compete in some challenge in the hopes of getting to spend a few hours with them. They do this every time.

And I never quite understand why the people are always falling apart in tears.

Stay with me here, because I don't think I'm an especially cold bastard or anything. I think I'm fairly close with my immediate family. I'm sure I could be closer, and see them and talk to them more often, but I know a lot of people who see their family very infrequently, or don't even want to have anything to do with their family.

When I lived out in in Virginia for five-plus years, I usually made it back to Denver to see my family once or twice a year, for holidays. It was not at all uncommon for me to go ten or eleven months without seeing them. Now granted, I would talk to them on the phone; we weren't completely cut off from each other. But sometimes I'd miss a weekend or something, and we'd go two weeks with no real contact.

Now I know that Survivor is a situation that'll wind you up and break you down. Starvation, exhaustion, heat, roughing it... sure, that'll get you a little raw. But I still don't see why when the brother, or the mother, or the spouse, or whoever, comes walking out, almost every single contestant just falls to pieces. Is it that hard to go one month without seeing your family? Do they only cast people with crazy-strong family connections?

I mean, sometimes there's a poignant story to go with it -- like on this most recent occasion, when an uncle came in because the husband was at war, and the mother was dead. The uncle had been there at the death of the mother, and so it was a tear-jerking moment for the poor contestant.

Maybe most people just really aren't used to being that far from family? Maybe I'm just a callous S.O.B. Whatever. I'm confused.

But I probably should call my mom.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A 9? Only on a Scale from 1 to 16

I've occasionally talked about how some of the better experiences I've had watching a movie were when I knew virtually nothing about the movie before sitting down to see it. It seems to me this is even more likely to happen with the movie in question is some kind of suspense tale, like recently, when I watched The House of the Devil.

But there is another way it can go, and that's what happened when I decided to take up the Netflix Suggestion Gods on their recommendation of a 2001 suspense movie called Session 9. I didn't even bother to look and see that the star of the movie was David Caruso, the whispering over-actor that headlines CSI: My-Hammy. If I had, I almost certainly would have passed, but I got blinded by the promise of something unexpected, and the notion that "we really think you'll like it."

Session 9 is the story of an asbestos removal crew that is tasked with cleaning up an historically significant and preserved building. Said building is a sprawling, creepy-looking mental institution that has been abandoned for decades, with some rumor-filled ghost tale about what happened to make them close the place down. Honestly, there's some potential in the concept. You got "haunted house story" in my "insane asylum story?" It's like chocolate and peanut butter!

The problem is, there end up being at least two stories going. One involves a particular member of the crew that happens on some old reel-to-reel recordings of one of the final series of patient interviews from "back in the day." Over the week they're all working on the building, he sneaks away to listen to the next psychiatric session (hence, the film's title), and gets ever closer to learning what might have happened. This is the more interesting of the two storylines. It plays out rather effectively, almost in the style of an old radio drama, where you have only the audio to take in, and your mind fills in a lot of the details as your imagination roams free.

Unfortunately, that's the plot line that receives short shrift in the movie. The principle thread concerns the ways that being in this old building starts to affect the team members psychologically. One goes missing, others start to see things, and more. You'd understand why this gets the main focus of the film, as it certainly sounds like the more compelling storyline... or at least the more conventional, for a horror/suspense movie.

The problem is, for you to care about the breakdown of a group of characters, you have to care something for the characters. With both flawed scripting and acting, none of them really merit any level of concern. There's an even bigger problem with the writing and editing, in that the film is all building up to a "twist ending" of sorts, and yet the truth of it is tipped very, very early on in the film. In fact, it's handled in such a bland way, you don't even get the sense that information was intentionally being concealed. You just get this early, slightly vague scene that ends abruptly and leaves you thinking, "oh, I guess something like this must have just happened," followed an hour-plus later by the shocking revelation that, "um, yeah, it did happen, and you're supposed to be surprised now!"


There is something strong at the core of the film, but overall, it's buried too deeply in the need for one or two more thorough script re-writes and better casting. I give Session 9 a C+.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Lick Long and Prosper

Alan Dean Foster, a prolific sci-fi writer who has written more movie novelizations than I can count, wrote the book version of last year's new Star Trek film. This novel, in turn, was read in audiobook form by the new Spock himself, Zachary Quinto.

(For the moment, let's leave aside my considerable confusion over why anyone would want to listen to a recording of someone reading a book adapted from the script of a film, as opposed to just seeing the film.)

Some very enterprising people (ha!) decided to take this audiobook, a sound editing program, and do something dirty. Perhaps you've heard of "slash fiction?" It's fan fiction about two characters having a sexual encounter. In this case: Kirk and Spock.

Be warned, this is surprisingly dirty, given the source material, and even more surprisingly sounds rather authentic, given that it's assembled from all sorts of scattered sound bites.

Once you've heard it, there's no going back.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hamlet Redux

Having just seen a live production of Hamlet just a couple of weeks ago, it wasn't really high on my list to watch Hamlet again right away. But then it happened that last Tuesday was the release date of a new DVD that grabbed my attention.

Last year, the Royal Shakespeare Company staged a respected version of Hamlet starring David Tennant in the title role, and Patrick Stewart as Claudius. The BBC arranged for those two -- and everyone else in the original cast -- to assemble for a film version of the play. I decided that even at the risk of becoming "Hamleted out," I needed to see this version.

I remarked in my recent comments on the play that one rarely sees it unabridged in some way; this production was the exception to that rule -- though probably not surprisingly, given the RSC origins. As such, it runs over three hours in length. It all exposes all the strengths and weaknesses of William Shakespeare's most famous play.

Let's not be blinded by reputation, there are weaknesses. This is a ponderously long play, and you feel every moment of that because so much of the story is about inaction. Hamlet knows what he has to do -- avenge the murder of his father. But he spends scene after scene talking about it, psyching himself up, talking himself out of it, setting test after test in which he says "after this, then I'm going to go through with it," berating his lack of conviction, and repeating the cycle again. It's probably a fairly realistic portrayal of what an actual person might do in such a situation, but it at times makes for some rather repetitive drama.

But on the flip side, all those speeches, all that self-debate -- it's truly powerful language. There's a reason this play is quoted more than any of Shakespeare's others. The soliloquies, the dialogue... it's all beautifully crafted.

And in David Tennant's gifted hands, you get all of that. His performance as Hamlet is outstanding. Every major speech has a different overall tone, and different layers are exposed within each. He revels in the language, while simultaneously not losing the level of telling the story and playing the character. Patrick Stewart is similarly excellent in a dual role as Claudius and the Ghost of Hamlet's father.

Not every single member of the cast is up at the level of those two, but there are several others worthy of praise -- this production has a great Polonius, a wonderful Gertrude, a compelling Horatio, and more. With actors like these, following the meaning of the words is easy, even when things get dense. I think one watches Shakespeare primarily for the language and the acting, and this version of Hamlet delivers these things in full measure.

This is fortunate, as the production falls rather short in other areas. Foremost, this doesn't come across as a film so much as a theater production with cameras. And while I should have perhaps expected this, given the origins, I expected more. One or two scenes on location try to open the film up a little, but it predominately takes place in a single room. And I mean that literally. Even when the action is supposed to be taking place in different places (the throne room, the queen's bedchamber), you can clearly see that it's all just the same space with a few bits of furniture moved around -- just as it would be for a play.

The concept of this staging isn't good, either. This Hamlet is set in a vague netherworld of time, implied as the near-present one moment, but suggested as the distant past the next. In a particularly obnoxious directorial choice, moments of the action are played as security camera footage, with our perspective jumping mid-scene into a black-and-white 7-Eleven vision. One can imagine what intellectual idea this was meant to convey, but it's simply jarring and out of place. Throwing a film technique at us that would not be possible in a stage performance is no substitute for actually reimagining the piece as an actual film.

But as I said, it's the language and the acting that one sees Shakespeare for. At least, that's why I see it. And here, it is superb. Overall, there's far more in this version of Hamlet to commend rather than condemn. I'd rate this Hamlet a B. If you have any interest in the play -- or are even just a Doctor Who fan that likes David Tennant, or a Star Trek fan that likes Patrick Stewart -- you'll probably want to check it out.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Clustershag in the Parliament

I've been following the results of the recent election in the U.K. with some interest, not just curious because I know some people who live there, but because like the Canadian kerfuffle about a year-and-a-half ago, it's just interesting to compare and contrast it with American politics.

As with Canada, the major difference in comparison to the U.S. is the presence of more than two political parties with a measurable amount of clout. But even though there are three parties in play in the U.K., it seems to me from what I have read that none of them embrace positions as "far from center" as the two American parties. The Conservatives who have just taken the majority (but not an absolute one) seem not to be as far right as American Republicans, nor do the Labour Party or Liberal Democrats seem to be as far left as the American Democrats. (Indeed, both of the latter seem to be widely characterized as "center-left" in everything I've read. Or rather, "centre-left," in the Queen's English.) I marvel at (and am possibly a bit jealous of) a political system in which not only are there more than two viable choices, but they're all congregating within an area less polarized than the extremes of the politics I'm exposed to daily.

Where it gets weirder to me is this new "coalition government" that's coming as a result of the election. Because the winning party didn't attain a majority all on its own, they're having to play nice with the third place party to get that majority. As near as I try to imagine this, there's no analog for this in recent American politics. Not since the days soon after we became a nation has there been a concept of "first place becomes president; second place becomes vice-president -- even if they're of opposing parties." But that's what we have here... a step removed even, since the new Deputy Prime Minister's party actually placed third. Imagine if, after winning election in 1992, Bill Clinton was forced to take on Ross Perot as his Vice President to form a workable government. Odd, to say the least.

From what I gather, the Liberal Democrats are the more centrist of the two left-leaning parties in the U.K. (though I'd be happy for someone who knows more than I to clarify), so perhaps it's not too odd for them to try and seek common ground with Conservatives. Still, you have a party that's fundamentally "right" having to work together with a party that's fundamentally "left" to govern. Cooperation is forced here. Another notion that (I think in this case for worse) is lacking in U.S. politics.

But when I read about the positions of these two U.K. parties in general, and of the two party leaders in particular -- David Cameron and Nick Clegg -- it doesn't honestly seem like they have that much to find common ground about other than the shared desire to step into power and stick it to the Labour Party. "As long as it's not Gordon Brown running things," seems to be the subtextual tone of this whole thing. "I can get along with this guy, or else risk being voted right back out of whatever power I have in a few month's time."

Perhaps there's some ignorance on my part leading me to this conclusion. Perhaps I'm working too hard to project my American political sensibilities onto the whole thing. But like I said, I find it interesting to watch.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Across the Sea

Tonight's installment of Lost left me rather divided.

On the one hand, it seemed like a very necessary chapter to tell for the full picture of Lost to be completed. On the other, it felt a bit like an unwanted disruption to the momentum from last week's episode that raised the stakes for our characters more than ever before. An entire hour where none of the main characters appear, save in a brief clip lifted from season one? When there are only two episodes to go after this one? What's up with that?

On the one hand, there was some fine acting in the episode. It was particularly welcome to see Allison Janney, great in general and superb on The West Wing for so many years. On the other hand, the episode seemed so steeped in a sense of abstract myth that the emotion of it didn't seem real, didn't really connect.

On the one hand, we got some big answers and revelations about Jacob and the Man in Black. We learned they're twin brothers. We learned (in a vague sense, at least) why the two aren't/weren't able to kill one another directly. We saw how M.I.B. came to be the Smoke Monster. We saw the creation of the "frozen donkey wheel" from the end of season four. We finally learned the identities of the two skeletons in the cave from season one.

On the other hand, some rather key issues were not addressed. How did the strange moral contest between Jacob and Smokey come to be? What exactly keeps Smokey imprisoned on the Island, and why can Jacob apparently come and go as he pleases? What about Smokey leaving the Island would spell the end of the world, as Jacob has told us?

As I mentioned, I found the episode a bit lacking in genuine emotion, and a bit too preoccupied with presenting the "creation myth of Lost" (as it were). Two brothers, pitted against one another for an impossibly long time. It just seems so far removed from the more accessible personal dramas of the Oceanic survivors as we've seen them for six years.

But there was one thread in the episode that did catch my interest. And it goes back to what a marvelous actor Allison Janney is, because it was her character. She was the ageless custodian of the Island before Jacob, and her story is a particularly telling one, if you really think about it. It seems to me that she always knew what she was doing. The nameless brother always really was her favorite, and that's why she groomed him his whole life for the more merciful assignment -- to murder her so that she could finally be free of her charge. For the son she liked less, she gave the real curse -- eternal life, stuck guarding the Island. She wanted out, and to do this, she had to arrange for two things: her successor, and her own death. She never banked on the favorite son to gain an eternal existence too.

All this sheds a different light on Jacob in the modern time frame. Until now, it has seemed that the Man in Black was searching for a loophole that would allow him to kill Jacob, and finally -- after who knows how long -- got the drop on him. But now that we've seen the story of the twins' adopted mother, a different scenario seems more likely. Like his mother before him, Jacob just got sick of the job. To be free of it, he had to undertake the same two tasks: arrange his successor, and then arrange his own death. It seems perhaps he was only too happy to die through the loophole his brother found.

I guess it goes to show you just how much I thought this episode was "too mythological" when I found the most accessible and interesting part of it to be the plight of a man trying to escape the curse of eternal life. I mean, not a bad episode, by any stretch. And as I said at first, almost certainly necessary to complete the story of Lost. But honestly, it was probably Lost's weakest episode of this season.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Day 8, 12:00-1:00 PM

Watching a video on 24. It's almost like watching a flashback or something.

Arlo's sad that Dana's dead. He has no one to harass with his lame innuendo now.

"Yesterday." Not a word you hear often on 24.

You mean they could have done that smoky window thing with the CTU offices at any time, and it's only now that someone thinks to use them?

Maybe that's because when the windows look like that, it looks like Pillar and his aide are taking a shower together.

Let's use the Sprint mobile hot spot.

What kind of assassin leaves his cell phone ringer on?

The Russian president is landing "in the next half hour." The press will be notified of Logan's pivotal role "in time for the 1:00 news." We sure are going out of our way not to say "within the hour."

Set up a two block "perimeter." (Drink! Finally! It's been like three weeks!)

"You don't want to do this." Actually, I'm pretty sure Jack does.

"This isn't working. Dammit!" (Drink!)

Sunday, May 09, 2010

It's Called Acting, People

A few weeks ago, when I saw Tartuffe at the National Theatre Conservatory, I was struck by this sign that was sitting by the doors as you walked into the theater:

This was in reference to a scene late in the play when the head of the family finally realizes he's been duped by this con man posing as a priest, and begins tearing pages from his Bible in frustration, renouncing all religion.

Here's the thing. When you go to see a play (or a movie, or when you watch a TV show, read a book, or whatever), it's all fake. People don't really get shot, they don't really die, and so on. You'd have to be a complete moron to think that you'd need to stand a sign up outside a theater before Hamlet that says "No actual actors are killed during this production."

So why then a sign assuring us that people aren't tearing up real Bibles? It's all fake! We should all know that! This is a case of either/both people walking on eggshells just because religion is the subject matter, or taking leave of their reason just because religion is the subject matter. Either way (or both), I don't think it's right that religion be held in this class different from everything else. (Yes, I realize that pretty much seems to be "just how it is," but I'm saying it shouldn't be.)

Food for thought for a Sunday.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Throwing Down the Gauntlet

I know a lot of my regular readers play one MMORPG or another. (Or more than one.) You probably also know of me that I don't. But here's one such game I can get behind.

Behold, the 5 Minute MMORPG!

All the experiences of an MMO, compressed into an easily digestable time frame. You get grinding, killing, loot... even lag! And it's all free!

(...and perhaps slightly similar to Gauntlet. Which was awesome, so that's okay in my book.)

Friday, May 07, 2010

Mancha, Mancha Man

Terry Gilliam is a director who has courted disaster several times in making his movies. In some cases, there has been much debate over how much of the troubles were his fault -- see The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. In other cases -- such as the death of Heath Ledger during the production of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus -- the problems have been beyond his control. But never has Terry Gilliam encountered more trouble than he did making The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, starring Johnny Depp.

You've never seen The Man Who Killed Don Quixote? No one has. This cursed production was shut down after only a few days of filming, following a series of disasters you wouldn't think could occur in a few months. And presumably in anticipation of DVD "making of" features, the entire implosion was captured on film.

What results is a documentary, the "Unmaking of" of a film, if you will: Lost in La Mancha. As a narrative, it's a real triumph, because you could scarcely craft a story with such thematic resonance. Terry Gilliam is Don Quixote in this story. Denied the budget for his film in Hollywood, he rounded up one of largest budgets ever for an all-European film, and set out to make the film in Spain. As pre-production begins, we see him tell his department heads that they ought to reign him in when necessary. And then he goes on to ignore them and tilt at windmills.

There are some curses on the film that are out of Gilliam's control: the sudden illness of a major actor, flash flooding at an outdoor location where filming has only been partially completed. And yet you also can see that things weren't all that well planned out to account for even minor problems that would have been reasonable to expect, and you see Gilliam's stubborn refusal to accept any compromises to his vision. Some would say that makes him an artist of integrity, but in this documentary, it sometimes makes him look like a bit of a tyrant.

Indeed, it's a credit this documentary ever saw the light of day, and in this unvarnished form. Perhaps Gilliam was willing to let this all be seen, warts and all, in the hopes that it would generate interest and funding all over again for him to try to make the movie once more. (Which, supposedly, is gearing up to happen now, nearly a decade later, with Robert Duvall now taking on the role of Quixote.)

But while Lost in La Mancha is compelling to those interested in the filmmaking process, it's not the best documentary film on its own. The footage is all shot on handheld camcorders, and cobbled together in the roughest ways. It looks exactly like what it was surely intended to be originally: a DVD special feature. It may run movie length, but it doesn't look or feel like a movie.

If you can accept those terms, then the movie may hold some interest for you. And while it did hold some for me, I couldn't help but wonder if this tale of a movie's undoing might not have worked better as a nonfiction book, rather than going "meta" and becoming a movie itself. I rate it a C+.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Increased Degree of Difficulty

The 5th Annual World Sudoku Championships were held last weekend in Philadelphia. I have no idea who won; I doubt the name would mean anything to me anyway.

What did blow my mind, however, was the PDF of the Puzzles Example Booklet that they put up online. It's 21 pages of increasingly outrageous Sudoku variants that makes the mind buckle just to contemplate -- never mind trying to actually solve one.

There's "Integer Division" Sudoku, where numbers on the line between two cells indicate the result you get when you divide the large number of the two by the smaller.

Hexagon Sudoku, where the cells are all hexagons, and you must place your 9 numbers so they don't repeat in any of the three directions.

Musketry Sudoku: five overlapping grids, each of which obeys their own rules while simultaneously interacting with the others.

Trinary Sudoku, in which all the 9 numbers are presented in base 3 -- clues for numbers may give you only one of the two digits IN the number that belongs in the cell.

And that's only about 2/3rd of the way through an ever-more-difficult booklet. It makes my brain hurt.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Just the Bad and the Ugly

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It's called the greatest "Spaghetti Western" ever made. It's ranked #4 on IMDb's Top 250.

Conspicuously, it is not ranked on the AFI's Top 100 -- in the list's original or updated incarnation. And that maybe should have been my first clue. It's not that I've always (or even usually) agreed with the AFI list, but the film's absence there was the first tip that perhaps some people hold the film in overly high esteem.

Having now seen the movie, I do not get it. At all. The movie clocks in just shy of a ponderous three hours long, and feels longer still. The languid pacing goes 10 minutes before the first line of dialogue is spoken, spends the first half hour introducing the major characters, doesn't bring up the actual MacGuffin of the plot until after the one hour mark, and culminates in a three-way "Mexican standoff" that lasts nearly lasts five minutes. (Really! Time it! I'm talking five actual minutes, not five "internet hyperbole minutes.")

I suppose that for some, this is precisely the charm of the film. Certainly, this style inspired subsequent films. But I wasn't charmed; I was just plain bored. I honestly tried to find some redeeming element of the movie, but couldn't come up with anything other than the legendary musical score by Ennio Morricone. Even that is more famous than good. The notorious hook is entertaining for a minute or two, but doesn't sustain for three hours any more than the film itself.

Sorry, "one of the greatest films ever," but I've got to give you an F.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Candidate

I understand that ABC wanted to run as many episodes of Lost during the "sweeps months" of February and May as possible, and this is why the show had to take one week off for a re-run in the midst of its final season. But I think it's very unfortunate that this one week break occurred right here where it did. Having now seen tonight's episode, I feel it really needed to come hot on the heels of the last new installment. The needed "break" would have come better at practically any earlier point in the season.

Now mind you, I thought this was a pretty fantastic episode. I think it would be hard not to think so. But the table wasn't properly set. There was no re-cap at the start of the hour, and with all the details one has to track watching Lost, a few just weren't quite clear in my mind. For example, where the hell were Ben and Richard this hour? I can't for the life of me remember how or when they got separated from the rest of the group. And honestly, it wasn't important, given the emotional content of this episode, but it detracted and distracted from the drama a bit for me. I guess I should have taken notes.

Anyway, what do we have? The removal of ambiguity, I suppose, in the Jacob/Smokey conflict. Jacob may have seemed not quite on the level at points in the past, but then, he never took actions that led to the deaths of some of our beloved characters.

First, we lost Sayid. It was an interesting and fitting conclusion to the arc his character has had this season. He's always been a man caught between trying to be good, but unable to forgive himself for being evil. Early this season, he was told he was evil, and so completely embraced that. But we now learn that Desmond did get through to him, preparing him for his ultimate redemption this week -- sacrificing himself to save the "candidates."

Well, some of the candidates. Sadly, we lost Sun and Jin and well. That one hurt. There seem to be an inordinate number of Lost fans caught up in Jack/Kate, Sawyer/Kate, Jack/Juliet, Sawyer/Juliet, or whatever. But the real love stories of the show were Desmond and Penny (though that didn't develop until later into the show), Rose and Bernard (interesting that we saw Sideways Bernard briefly tonight), and Sun and Jin. Their reunion was two seasons and change in the making, and now we see how bittersweet a reunion it truly was. It's appropriate that Jin pledges not to leave her again, and the two die together; but sad that they leave a young daughter behind (who Jin never got to see in person!), and that their reunion was so short lived.

Of course, we haven't quite completely lost any of these characters, as all are still alive in the Sideways world. Even with the mountain of emotion going on in the main Island plot line, there was still room to advance things in the Sideways story too. We got a touching story from Locke about how he ended up in the wheelchair in this world, and a perhaps even more touching admission from Jack in the same scene.

That's a lot of emotion for one hour!

Monday, May 03, 2010

Day 8, 11:00 AM-12:00 PM

Right around the time Dalia starts praising the President's "integrity and moral courage," Taylor starts shifting uncomfortably.

"My husband wasn't perfect..." Ah, but he had perfect hair.

Logan and his aide Pillar have like a four-minute scene about killing someone without ever actually saying so.

Jack and Cole are making an awful lot of noise during this silent approach.

Saying "you won't take the shot" to Jack Bauer is basically daring him to shoot you.

Chloe says Jack is "no longer in the custody of CTU." Was he ever?

"How in God's name could this have happened?" Try Jack Bauer's name.

Logan's plan? Let's put a mole in CTU. I understand there's an opening for that.

Nope, standing outside a bank staring in creepily won't look weird at all.

Pillar worked at DIA? The Denver International Airport?

Why is the bank guy knocking before he comes back into the room with the safety deposit box? "Are you two lovebirds decent in there?"

Can you really just carry a gun into a bank to put it in a safety deposit box?

Jack and Dana play a little PvP.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Superman II Two

It's fairly well known that when Peter Jackson directed the Lord of the Rings trilogy, he filmed all three movies simultaneously. Less widely known is that the first two Superman movies, from 1978 and 1980, were also filmed at the same time... sort of. The story is far more complex than that.

Richard Donner was the director behind the two movies, and apparently was in constant conflict with the film's producers. The films were running over-budget and behind schedule, and there were arguments about what the overall tone should be. The release date for the first film was in jeopardy, so the order came down to stop filming any sequences for Superman II and finish the first film instead. As we know, the film was released to critical acclaim.

But the success of the film didn't resolve any of the creative differences between Donner and the producers. In short, Donner was fired from the project, and it was decided to significantly rewrite the second film. A new director, Richard Lester, was brought in to finish the film. Though Donner had finished 80% of the film, most of his work was scrapped.

It began with the elimination of Marlon Brando. His Jor-El character was to have appeared in the film, but Brando was by far the most expensive actor in the cast. By rewriting the film to have Superman's mother appear in place of his father, a huge savings was made in the budget.

The original opening was thrown out too. If you recall the theatrical release, a terrorist threat on the Eiffel Tower brings in Superman, who disposes of the bomb in space, triggering the destruction of the Phantom Zone and the release of the supervillains. The original opening more tightly connected the criminals' release with the first movie; it's Lex Luthor's missile from the end of the first film, which Superman disposes of in space, that destroys the Phantom Zone.

The ending was rewritten as well, because it had actually been stolen to use as the ending for the first movie. The "turn back the world" climax of movie one was originally conceived of as the end of movie two, reimprisoning the Kryptonians in the restored Phantom Zone, and causing Lois Lane to forget her discovery of Clark Kent's true identity, because "it never happened." But in the desperation to complete a whiz-bang first movie, this gimmick was taken for the first film, as it was thought to be the most powerful moment in either of the two film scripts.

But even though Richard Lester would go on to reshoot the vast majority of the movie, Donner's hand in it was not eliminated entirely. Gene Hackman refused to come back and re-shoot any scenes for the new director; everything featuring Lex Luthor in movie two was Donner's work, or an awkwardly filmed body double.

He wasn't the only one not to return to the project, either. Composer John Williams was busy with other work, and passed on returning to write the score for Superman II. Another composer came in and used Williams' established themes, though the finished work seems less full and powerful than the music of the first film.

Despite all this, Superman II did go on to a reception largely as positive as the first movie. But it was a very changed film from its original conception. It was more campy, never missing a moment for a joke, no matter how silly. But fans in the know were aware of the "original" Superman II, and a few years ago, their enthusiasm was sufficient to convince the studio to fund a "Richard Donner Cut" of the film.

Released on DVD, this incarnation of Superman II is definitely more in keeping with the first film. It's actually a good case study in how two different directors can approach the same material (for the most part) and end up with two very different tones in the work.

Nevertheless, "Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut" is far from a perfect film. Donner supervised this re-edit, but he clearly still has a chip on his shoulder about the whole experience. It's not that he can be blamed for this attitude, but it does color the way this version is put together. Donner clearly wanted to excise as much Richard Lester footage as he possibly could... but he only had finished about 80% of the movie himself. Using even that remaining 20% of Lester's work seemed to be painful to Donner, and so he used only what was absolutely necessary. I would argue he used less than what was absolutely necessary. The pacing is rather awkward, with many sequences cut short, certain bits of "connective tissue" absent in the plot, and other abridgements. This isn't a movie that can completely stand on its own.

But there are improvements too. All the Marlon Brando footage has been restored, and the "loss of powers" subplot of the film works far better in the father/son context than it does in the theatrical version. The procession of schticky jokes is gone; no toupees flying off in the Super-wind, no defacing of Mount Rushmore, far less of the hick Idaho cops, and almost no "Non is such a stupid oaf" jokes. Superman's more stupid super-powers have been eliminated -- ripping giant a cellophane S off his suit to throw at the bad guys, creating multiple duplicate images of himself, amnesia-inducing kisses. Make no mistake; the tone hasn't suddenly shifted to Dark Knight-like seriousness, but it is more dramatic.

I'd rate the Donner cut of Superman II a B-. It's probably still not something you should make time for unless you're a big fan of Superman, or of movie-making. But it is an interesting look at a road not taken.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

A Tender and Touching Story...

...about nothing. Get ready for "George."

It kind of reminds me of the comical trailer for The Shining that was making the rounds a while back. Personally, though, I find this one more clever.