Sunday, October 31, 2010

The New Zombie Apocalypse

Happy Halloween, one and all!

One of the ways I celebrated this year was to watch the premiere of the new AMC series, The Walking Dead. And I loved it. I've watched all the other AMC series before. Mad Men and Breaking Bad, though I love both now, were very much "slow burns" for me in the beginning. I wasn't really pulled in for maybe three or four episodes. Rubicon never really pulled me in at all.

But this. This was great. This first episode was written by Frank Darabont, best known for his great Stephen King adaptations, and he definitely showed here that his brilliant movie The Mist was no fluke.

The first hour immediately set-up some interesting characters. Even the first (post opening credits) scene of the main character Rick sitting in his squad car having a conversation with his partner (pre-apocalypse) really laid it out there -- this show is going to be about real people, even with the trappings of zombies all around. The best moment of the episode came in watching Morgan have to stare down the sight of a rifle at his zombified wife, struggling to work up the will to do what needed to be done.

The show seemed to nail the horror just as well as the heart, though. Lots of creepy, half decaying zombies. Vivid visuals of a yard full of corpses, or a freeway jammed with cars. Lots of very well-thought out moments, like the dark hospital staircase barely lit by a succession of matches, opening the hour with the jarring image of shooting a little (zombie) girl in the head, or the deafening sound of a gun being fired inside a tank.

I'm hooked. I hope there's a story here they're able to keep rolling for many more episodes. And I hope plenty of people tune in to see it.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Numbers You Have Reached...

I recently upgraded the software driving my smart phone. (So that I could play the new Droid version of Angry Birds, he confessed.)

The previous incarnation of the system software had the ability to link the profiles of my Facebook friends with contacts in my phone. I don't know whether I'd quite call it "handy," but it was one of the phone's many minor conveniences -- automatically seeing a friend's Facebook picture show up when they called.

Well, the new software goes a step farther, and pulls even more data from my network of Facebook friends. Specifically, if one of my friends has a phone number listed in his or her Facebook profile, that number now shows up as a contact on my phone.

So first of all: I am truly shocked at how many people just put their phone number on their Facebook profile. Seriously, I don't understand why anyone would do that. (There are literally dozens and dozens of you who do it and may well be reading this, so perhaps you'll enlighten me.)

Secondly, and I hope I'm not offending anyone too deeply in saying this, but I'm not truly all that close to everyone I've friended on Facebook. Be honest; you aren't either. It's fun to get back in touch with someone you haven't talked to in years and years, sure. But I'm not sure I just automatically want that person's phone number saved in my cell phone. This may be a case of technology being "too helpful."

Or... maybe you'd really like a phone call from me some time? You could always drop me a hint via a Facebook message.

Don't worry. I have your phone number.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Dark Tale

Two weeks ago, CSI (the original, Vegas-based incarnation) aired a rather messed up new episode entitled "Sqweegel." It was setting up the "recurring villian of the year," as CSI has had for most of its seasons, popping up occasionally between stand-alone episodes.

Aside from the lame name of the villain, which sounds like it wants to intentionally conjure thoughts of the Lord of the Rings' ring-craving nemesis, this dude is pretty cool, unsettling, and weird. He's an uber-patient contortionist that can hide in impossibly tight spaces. He stalks his victims for weeks, learning everything about them. And he makes his kills while wearing a freaky skin-tight rubber body suit that traps any physical evidence of himself he might leave behind a crime scene.

Also, as I noticed when I saw the "written by" credits flash on screen at the start of the episode, he was not originally created for CSI. He comes from a book titled "Level 26: Dark Origins," written by CSI series creator Anthony E. Zuiker and (I presume) a ghost writer, Duane Swierczynski. "Interesting," I noted aloud to my friend who was watching the episode with me. "I think I recognize the name of that book," she replied, accessing her encyclopedic knowledge of the book store where she works.

After we both enjoyed the episode, she off-handedly suggested that she might have to read the book. I told her to give me the word if she did. Instead, she showed up a few days later with the book in hand and loaned it to me. Well, what the hell? I wasn't reading anything else.

Even with the CSI story unfinished at this point, I feel safe in saying this concept works far better on the small screen than it did in the pages of a novel. It's telling that the television series shared almost no connection with the book other than to lift out its interesting nemesis. (Indeed, it didn't even really copy him exactly; the TV Sqweegel has a more refined motive, is far more sinister and less playful, and is -- as you would expect on CSI -- much less "forensic proof.")

The book itself is pretty much crap. The writing smacks of the worst of several popular writers all rolled into one. The short, almost staccato chapters -- some only two pages long -- try like Dan Brown to pull the reader through by simulating a brisk pace, but rarely end on compelling cliffhangers. This isn't even as readable as The Lost Symbol, never mind his best, Angels & Demons.

The overtly vulgar language and attempts to present graphic imagery are the efforts of a wannabe Stephen King. Mind you, I'm no King enthusiast (mostly due to his typically garbage endings), but not for nothing has the man earned his reputation. He knows how to turn a phrase to invoke horror, and even suspense, on a printed page. Level 26: Dark Origins, reads like someone familiar with the style, but who doesn't actually understand it.

Worst of all is the preposterous plotting that tries to put a top secret government agency between the hero and the killer. "We understand this super-agent is retired, but if you don't get him to work this case, we'll kill you. And then we'll kill him. Mwa-ha-ha-ha!!!" (And then to solve this case, you'll have... who, exactly?)

Then there's perhaps the weirdest element of all. Level 26: Dark Origins is not just a novel. It's a "digi-novel!" Spaced every 20 pages or so are "cut scenes," to use some video game terminology, which seems most applicable. The book instructs you to go to a web site, type in a code, and then watch a couple minutes of interstitial footage filmed specifically for this novel. I suppose one could applaud the effort to do something different, telling a story in mixed media. But instead, I see mainly the flaws.

First of all, the book has to cover the possibility that someone reading it isn't going to have access to the internet, or does and isn't going to take the time to go to the web site. Thus, most of these "cyber-bridges" (as they're called) reveal no actual information to progress the narrative. The few that do have the relevant information regurgitated in the novel a few pages later, so as not to leave other readers in the dark.

Secondly, the cut scenes undermine the reader's ability to imagine the novel on his own terms. I realize this is an odd complaint to make, since I was already coming to the book with the CSI episode's rendition of Sqweegel in my head. Nevertheless, it made the read a jarring experience. I'd get a few chapters in, imagine what a certain character might look like, and then find out "oh... well, I guess he looks like Michael Ironside." I'd develop an idea of who the cartoonishly evil bureaucrat character was, and then learn, "oh, it's Glenn Morshower." (Who, after playing the lovable, awesome, and heroic Agent Pierce for several seasons of 24, is woefully miscast here. He is a fine actor, but this wooden dialogue is not helping him escape typecasting.)

More than any of the characters (including Sqweegel himself), any of the writing techniques, or the book/web gimmick, the book seems mostly interested in selling this ridiculous idea that murderers are classified according to one of 25 "levels" of "evilness." (As if there would be that many. "So, you think he's an 18?" "Oh, no way, he's got to be a 19!") And rather than really show us how this Sqweegel is actually the worst of the worst, we're simply told repeatedly that he's so evil, they had to invent a new level 26 just for him. (On second thought, maybe this whole "we need a new number that's one higher" crap is how the scale got to be so stupidly large in the first place?)

In short, the only good thing to come from Level 26: Dark Origins is the very thing that made me ever read it in the first place -- it spawned a really cool episode of CSI. Perhaps that one plus is enough to give a D- to an otherwise F-grade piece of pulp, but either way, it isn't worth your time.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rocky Road

The recent episode of Glee centered around The Rocky Horror Picture Show sparked an interest to watch the film itself again. I haven't seen it in at least a decade. I've never seen it in a theater with the rice and the toast and the squirt guns and so forth. Some would argue that means I haven't really seen the movie at all.

Perhaps they're right. No doubt, the film is a completely different experience on those terms. Looking at it just for itself, watching it alone in a quiet living room, it's very much a mixed bag.

One thing the film does brilliantly is parody classic B sci-fi movies. The effects are silly, the acting outrageous, and the tone mindless. And somehow, all of this is pulled off with a tongue so perceptibly planted in cheek that you know it was all intentional. If it's possible to make a bad movie in a good way, this movie pulls it off. Thousands of movies come off worse for their lack of this self-awareness.

But frankly, the "joke" wears thin somewhere around the halfway point. For a while, the characters are outrageous and fun, the music is catchy and strange, and the threadbare nature of the plot is endearing.

Yet there's a reason why all the most recognizable songs from Rocky Horror come from the first half of the movie -- Sweet Transvestite, The Time Warp, and others. The songs in the back half are forgettable when they aren't amorphous shadows of songs from the first half. The characters' stubborn refusal to stop being caricatures starts to become boring. The procession of unexplained and unexplainable plot developments (that still somehow manage to add up to less than a coherent plot) seem like a bridge too far. Yes, we get it, this is just like a bad movie. Too much like a bad movie.

I can understand how the audience participation came about. The film is tailor-made for it, full of unnecessary and long pauses just begging to be filled with quips. And of course, once the "show" about the show developed, I believe people fell in love with that, not the film itself. Well, that, and love of the awesomeness of Tim Curry. (And perhaps marveling at how Susan Sarandon managed to not throw away her illustrious career before it even got started.)

Perhaps one day I'll get to experience the "Rocky Horror Picture Show Show," if you will, and I'll have a different opinion of that. But just evaluating the movie itself, I rate it a C+.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lost Re-view: Outlaws

The second Sawyer-centric installment of Lost offers a key piece of information that was omitted from his first episode: the reason he was in Sydney prior to that fateful flight. But this isn't a simple curiosity; it's woven into the episode in a vital and compelling way.

This episode is directed by the number one "house director," Jack Bender, and written by Drew Goddard. The latter is a "Joss Whedon alumnus" from Buffy the Vampire Slater who also worked on Alias. This episode of Lost seems to have been a job-on-the-side of some sort, though. He would not write another Lost until season 3, the year he officially joined the writing staff.

We open, in the traditional manner, on a tight close-up of the eye of the featured character. Only this time it's a a young James Ford, in a flashback that shows us the stark and brutal reality of what was described to us previously only in "the letter to Sawyer." We see his mother hide him under the bed, hear her shot by her raging husband, and then see him enter the room, sit on the very bed under which young James hides, and shoot himself. Little is left to the imagination, the least of which is the question of why Sawyer is so damaged.

The next flashback tantalizingly features Robert Patrick as a seedy associate of the adult who now calls himself "Sawyer." You might expect a more significant role for the recognizable science fiction icon who played the T-1000 in Terminator 2, but no, this is his only episode of Lost. In fact, it's his only scene. He merely provides shoe leather to get the plot going, telling Sawyer he's located the con man responsible for his parents' deaths, living down in Sydney. Unfortunately, the only real bit of character in this tiny role comes after the fact, when we learn at the end of the episode that this information is false -- a con itself. So an unfortunate waste of some interesting casting, in my opinion.

On to the next flashback, with Sawyer down in Sydney, procuring a pistol from another unsavory associate. This one goes out of his way to tell both Sawyer and the audience that it's a serious thing to murder someone. He doesn't think Sawyer looks like the killing type. (Something Robert Patrick's character mentioned too.) The narrative pump is being primed.

When the next flashback arrives, it's the single longest flashback (uninterrupted by any on-Island scenes) that the series has ever had to this point. Sawyer finds a shrimp shack where his target is working. He engages the man in conversation, but his hand shakes as he goes for his gun. As promised, he can't go through with murder, and flees the scene.

He heads to a bar to drown his sorrows, and who should he run into there but Jack's father, Christian! Unlike the "in passing" connection that placed Sawyer in Boone's flashback, this marks the first time on the series that one Oceanic survivor's past connects directly and meaningfully with another's. I remember how both pleased and surprised by this I was the first time around; the surprise was quite an achievement, considering the story of Jack and his father is relayed in the re-cap at the start of the episode, despite the fact that a Sawyer-themed episode then starts to unfold.

Christian and Sawyer have a conversation about a theme very core to Lost -- determination versus fate. Christian makes a timely reference about how the Red Sox will never win the pennant (timely, as they'd done just that a few months before this episode first aired) to illustrate his belief that some people are just fated to suffer. And along those lines, he can't pick up the phone to tell his son -- "a good man, maybe a great one" -- that he feels gratitude and pride, not hatred, for costing him his job. One call could fix everything, but Christian is made to suffer. He's too weak.

This last bit strongly connects to Sawyer, who also has one action (though not quite so simple) that he believes could fix everything. "Will it ease your suffering?" asks Christian. "Then what are you doing here?" And so the extended flashback finally closes with Sawyer returning to the shrimp shack to confront "Sawyer."

But though our Sawyer shoots the man, he learns it's not "his man." His old associate Hibbs just wanted this guy killed for not paying a debt, and used Sawyer as a tool to carry out the assassination. And Sawyer, not so cold and heartless as we -- or he himself -- might have believed, is clearly anguished.

It all adds up to one of Lost's most powerful flashback tales yet. It's also paired with an interesting, though at times odd, on-island story for Sawyer. He awakens from a nightmare in the middle of the night with a boar inside his tent, raiding his stuff. When he tries to pursue it, he comes across the "whispers" that Sayid encountered. And just barely audible to the audience amid those whispers is the line: "It'll come back around."

This is one of the reasons I chose to re-cap the entire series of flashbacks before backing up to talk about the rest of the episode; that line of dialogue is also the last words spoken by the man Sawyer murders in his flashback. Put a pin in that thought; I'll come back to it in a moment.

The next morning, Sayid is laughing it up over Sawyer's misfortune. Hadn't the boar already moved on elsewhere because of Locke's hunting anyway? Sawyer turns serious and asks Sayid about the whispers, but pulls up short of confessing he heard them too.

Well, Sawyer still has a gun (unlike the others who helped hunt Ethan, who all returned their weapons), so he decides to go get some revenge on this boar. Kate decides to tag along, looking for an opportunity to coax the gun out of him and get it back in Jack's safekeeping.

The crafty little boar comes by in the middle of the night, leaving all of Kate's things untouched, but pulling out everything from Sawyer's pack and even peeing on his shirt. It's personal! It's on!

Locke crosses paths with them, hanging around long enough to plant an interesting idea in our heads. He tells the story of his sister, who died when Locke was a boy. Locke's mother -- foster mother, he notes -- was anguished for months, until a golden retriever showed up from nowhere, took to sleeping in the girl's room, and hung around until shortly after his mother died. She believed that her dead daughter was somehow embodied in the animal, a notion that even the "man of faith" Locke dismisses as "silly." But it eased her suffering.

While this tale reveals a little of Locke and is interesting, the ulterior motive here is to plant the notion that maybe this boar tormenting Sawyer is some embodiment of the man he killed, here to seek revenge. And just as it was with Locke's mother, it doesn't really seem to matter if it's actually true. Sawyer throws all his anger into hunting down and killing this boar.

It all comes to a head when Sawyer does catch up with the boar... but finally doesn't kill it. "It's just a boar," he says finally. He and Kate head back to camp.

So, are you ready to jump off the deep end with me? I'm about to spin a fanciful theory here -- one I can almost guarantee you was never in the heads of the writers at the time they made this episode, but might just fit within the whole of Lost that we now know.

We learned in the final season that the "whispers" are the voices of the restless dead, trapped on the Island and unable to move on. It also seems as though people need not necessarily die on the Island for their spirits to become trapped there; Richard Alpert's wife, who died in the Canary Islands, manifests to Hurley. So when we hear the whisper of Sawyer's victim near the beginning of the episode, I think we can assume that indeed, it really was his tormented, restless soul reaching out to Sawyer.

Well, we also know that the whispers seem to share some tenuous connection with the Man in Black. Basically, when Ol' Smokey is around, the whispers are often nearby as some sort of... warning? Herald?

So, I'm certainly reading too much into this episode, but try this notion on for size: what if the boar was the Man in Black? Sayid said there weren't any boar in the area anymore, that the presence of this one was odd. The whispers came to Sawyer in close proximity to one of the boar's attacks. The boar shows unnatural intelligence and specificity of behavior, taunting Sawyer and raiding his stuff while leaving Kate's untouched. Who's to say that the Man in Black can't assume a physical form of some dead thing other than a human? (In fact, a boar torments the chained Richard Alpert in the hold of the Black Rock -- yet doesn't actually attack him -- before the Man in Black comes to the rescue. Maybe that boar was his manifestation as well?)

Jacob's "rules" apparently prevent Smokey from harming a candidate himself. But if they harm each other, or get killed in some other, indirect way? Well, that's permitted. So perhaps Smokey is trying to get Sawyer killed, tromping off in the jungle alone? Or perhaps this is a test of character. We know that Jacob and the Man in Black have an ongoing bet as to whether individuals are fundamentally pure or corruptible. Maybe the goal here isn't Sawyer's death, but his corruption -- which would presumably either make him ineligible as a candidate, or make him pliable enough to become a tool for Smokey to use, much as he would later corrupt Claire.

Or maybe, as Sawyer succinctly put it himself, "it's just a boar."

But whether you choose to stretch this story into the mythos of Lost or not, it still plays effectively as a story about a man who has done wrong turning around and trying to do right. And it contains one of the best scenes in season one, Saywer and Kate's campfire game of "I Never."

It's a brilliantly written scene. It's a vehicle to provide backstory on the characters as they ask each other about their past. (Sawyer: "I never been married." But Kate has!) It lets each character get digs in on the other. (Kate: "I never implied I've been to college when I never had." Burn on you, Sawyer.) And it ends with the cold revelation that both Sawyer and Kate have killed a man. (Of course, we knew this about Kate, but it's another thing for Sawyer -- for whom everything is a commodity -- to know that.) And best of all, the scene unfolds without any musical score. I do love Michael Giacchino and his considerable contribution to Lost, but this particular scene is one that's all the more powerful and intimate for its lack of music.

There's also a small but nice runner for Charlie in the episode. He's withdrawn after the last episode, not responding to anyone, even a more-flirtatious-than-usual Claire. When he elicits Hurley's help to bury Ethan's body, Hurley becomes concerned about his mental state.

Hurley asks Sayid about "Gulf War Syndrome." And though Sayid jokingly notes that "that was the other side," he does pick up the concern about PTSD, and goes to talk to Charlie. Sayid tells a story about volunteering for a firing squad, and feeling guilt even after executing a guilty man. He tells Charlie: "You're not alone. Don't pretend to be."

But the episode ends with Sawyer and Jack. Having decided to spare the boar, Saywer gives the gun back to Jack because "I made a deal with your girlfriend." Jack off-handedly quotes his father about the forever-cursed Red Sox, but takes the opposite view: it's not that some people are fated to suffer, it's that some people use any excuse to pawn their mistakes off on others.

But Sawyer isn't quite listening to this. He's making the connection, realizing that the man he met in Australia is Jack's father. We the audience know that he knows... and yet he doesn't reveal this information to Jack, even though Sawyer is vulnerable and generous at this moment. Why withhold this knowledge and deny Jack closure? Is he still conniving enough to hold onto something valuable? Is it purely a story-motivated choice to hang on to something juicy for later? You decide.

In any case, this is a really full episode with a lot of great material going on in it. And though it didn't genuinely move me as much as other episodes, it is very revealing of Sawyer and makes him a more rounded character. I rate Outlaws an A-.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

False Labor

Another week of Caprica; another week of it staying in place quality-wise, neither improving or slipping.

I get the impression that someone, maybe the writers, or maybe Syfy Channel execs, think that what people want to see on the show are more Cylons, perhaps leading to the Sam storyline tonight, which culminated in a Cylon going in and shooting up the joint for an extended action beat. And I won't deny, it looked cool and delivered some visceral thrills.

And yet, this whole Tauron storyline just really isn't packing the emotional punch I wish it would. Sam talked of his marriage; we learned (apparently) that the mob figurehead he's been reporting to is his father. And yet somehow the most potent Tauron moment in the hour (I thought) was the brief moment of ickiness I felt watching "Mom Adama" pimp out her son to his assistant.

The Daniel storyline, as per usual, was the much better component of the episode, and the measuring stick I wish the rest of it all would reach. I enjoyed his growing frustration with his fake-Amanda, at his own ability to make it work. It says something very interesting about Daniel that he chose to make a fake-Amanda rather than another Zoe, given that a Zoe was one of the cases of the old program actually working. He rather torture himself by being spurned by his wife again... except that the program can't be made to do that.

Clarice was sort of a non-entity in her own storyline this week. The driving force was one of her wives, and how she interacted with the real Amanda. I like the ambiguity of the story Amanda told her to gain acceptance, and the apparently genuine emotion to it -- all contrasted with the final moment in which she disavowed all she'd said as a lie. Should we say "nice performance" or "nice try?" I don't think I believe that it was really all a lie; I think Amanda only wishes she were that ruthless.

I suppose this episode provided a little more to talk about and consider than usual, so maybe Caprica actually was improving a bit this week. But with its ratings sliding ever farther each week, and with the recent news that the Syfy Channel has decided to try dipping into the Galactica prequel well for a second time, perhaps I should stop wishing for the show to get better. That only sets me up for disappointment at what seems its inevitable cancellation.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Back to Back

Tomorrow, a new Blu-ray edition of the Back to the Future trilogy is being released to celebrate the original film's 25th anniversary. But as a special treat, that first film was also run in theaters for two performances -- one Saturday afternoon, and the other tonight.

I'm in the process of remaking my top 100 movie list. (A long, slow process.) But Back to the Future was my #1 the last time around, and I can't imagine it won't still be after I'm through this time. I had to go see it again in a theater, with an audience.

Part of what makes a film special to a person is the circumstances in which they first see it. Back to the Future was the first movie I ever saw twice in one day. My mother and I had heard good word of mouth about it, and I was on summer break from school. So one afternoon, she, my then five-year-old sister, and I all went to see it. (I honestly don't recall what we did with my then one-year-old brother.)

We all loved, loved, loved the movie, even though my Mom chewed her own fingernails down to nubs during the action-packed climactic sequence. So when my Dad got home from work that day, we told him that he had to see this movie, and we all went back out that very night to do just that.

It's entirely possible that I could have seen practically any movie under those circumstances and positively adored it. But Back to the Future stands completely on its own merits too; that personal story is just the little boost to put the film in the top slot on my list.

Back to the Future has one of the tightest, most intelligent scripts ever written for a feature film. There is virtually no scene in the movie that isn't working on multiple levels, setting up dominoes to be knocked down later. In the very opening sequence, a slow pan across Doc Brown's sea of clocks, you get foreshadowing of Doc hanging from the clock tower at the film's pivotal sequence, a mention of the truck Marty wishes he owned, and a reference to the Libyans who stole the plutonium to fuel the time machine -- all before any character appears on screen.

All the film's exposition is delivered effortlessly, from a dinner that tells us all we need to know about how Marty's parents got together, to Doc's demonstration of the plan to get Marty home. It's all woven so tightly together that I once read that Robert Zemeckis almost cut the famous "Johnny B. Goode" sequence from the film before seeing how it killed in a test screening -- he saw it as an unnecessary stalling of the breakneck plotting.

In the final act, the movie delivers one "the whole audience cheers" moment after another, from George punching out Biff, to kissing Lorraine for the first time, to the successful return to 1985. And in that final time-traveling sequence, it's a text book example of the perfect extended action sequence. Problem piles on top of problem, all intercut for maximum tension, all put on a literal ticking clock.

And throughout, the movie is funny! Seeing it with an audience made me appreciate all over again just how funny a movie Back to the Future really is. And that's not just a testament to a clever script, but to an absolutely exceptional cast. Michael J. Fox is at his most charming; Christopher Lloyd displays rubber-faced perfection; Lea Thompson is a flawless blend of sweet and naughty; Thomas F. Wilson is a quintessential bully; and Crispin Glover's awkward gooberocity manages to steal scene after scene despite the incredible skills of that powerful group.

Alan Silvestri's score is one of the finest for any film ever made. The liner notes for my copy of the full soundtrack (not the original album release -- though I do love me some Huey Lewis and the News) says it was the largest orchestra ever assembled for Universal Studios. It's a grandiose, larger than life sound, and it makes the movie -- which is actually rather tiny if you really stop and just look at it -- bigger for it.

The themes, from the rousing overture to the softer themes for Marty and Doc, to the wonderful growling bass piano of Biff's theme -- they're all unforgetable. If you've ever scene the movie, even it was years ago, I'm sure you can hum one or all of them from memory. And the pulsing, relentless cue for the big finale is a literally pitch-perfect 10 minutes that... well, makes you want to chew your fingernails down to nubs. Alan Silvestri has had a long career with many great scores, but this film is his masterpiece.

The film is such a thoroughly satisfying ride, full of exhilaration and laughs, that it's only later that you can even catch a moment to stop and ask questions like "what happened to the Libyans after they crashed their van into the Photo-mat?" or "Did Marty's parents ever have a 'hey, wait a minute' moment around the time their son turned... oh, fourteen-ish... and looked unnervingly like the young man who brought them together?"

In short, I regard Back to the Future as a perfect movie. Even though its sequels didn't match the same greatness (how could they have?), they're still solid efforts that in no way detract from the original. And while I still had a vivid memory of seeing it on the big screen before, I was thrilled to do so again, and would eagerly do so again any time the opportunity presents itself...

In the future!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Training Film

I missed it when it was in theaters earlier this year, but the buzz was high enough about How to Train Your Dragon that I decided to catch up with it on DVD. With the exception of Toy Story 3, it's pretty much the best reviewed movie of the year.

Having now seen it, I think I see why. It is not the exceptional film that Toy Story 3 was. But it's a movie I think would be hard not to like on some level. There is a heart at the core of the film, of a son trying to prove himself to his father while simultaneously trying to find his own way. He's a gawky and likable character too, effectively voiced by Jay Baruchel -- this is the type of role that's his bread and butter in live action, so why not in animation?

There are also visceral thrills to the film as well. The flight sequences are all exhilarating, infused with a true sense of wonder and fun. (And maybe vertigo too, if you're susceptible to that sort of thing. I imagine it was one film that really was worthwhile in 3D.)

But then there's a running subplot of a budding romance that isn't quite so interesting. There are battle scenes filled with fire and action and menacing creatures that seem too much to me for most young children. And there's a weird detail I would have liked to have ignored, but is forced in your ears for the entire film: in this Viking village -- that's Scandinavia, folks -- all the adults seem to speak with Scottish accents. And weirder still, their children have no accents at all.

Still, while the details might not all be perfect, the movie's heart is in the right place. Craig Ferguson voices a great character used for effective comic relief. The backbone of the story is strong. And it is fun, overall. I rate it a B-.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Today, I went to see Paranormal Activity 2, the sequel to last year's low-budget sensation. I know you're supposed to "strike while the iron is hot," but I think this sequel could have benefited from some extra time spent on the script before rushing it into theaters.

It's not a bad movie, actually. But it's also not really a different movie. On the one hand, it's rather clever the way this sequel ties itself in with the original, adding to the overall narrative and providing new context for the events of the first film. But while this movie fleshes out the overall story in a satisfying way, it's lacking in the good moments that really make a suspense movie tick.

Specifically, there are virtually no "gags" in the movie that aren't directly copied from the first film. There's a Ouija board sequence, a dragged-by-the-foot sequence, a strange and loud noises coming from downstairs sequence. Some of these moments are perhaps realized better than they were in the first film, but not so much better that they justify the repetition.

I noted that the most significant flaw of the original was a mistaken pacing of the plot. Things "escalated" too quickly, with a can't-be-ignored event happening too early in the film for the characters' behavior to be credible afterward. This movie does better justice to its characters, but slacks in its duty to the audience. In Paranormal Activity 2, a half hour of the movie unspools before anything really "happens," and even then things begin at a sluggish pace.

In a strange way, though the story is completely dependent on the film's connection to its predecessor, it would stand better on its own if the first film had never existed. The scary moments would play scarier if you hadn't seen their like before. The slow wind-up of the tension in the first act wouldn't leave the audience quite so impatient if it didn't feel like things were struggling to reach the level of another film.

In short, it's possible that Paranormal Activity 2 is actually a better movie than the first one. But it also feels like hours three and four of one long movie, and no on-the-cheap, camcorder-filmed, "things that go bump in the night" movie could possibly hold anyone's attention for four hours. This movie rode a line for me between a B- and a C+. I tend toward the latter right now; if I had waited say two years after seeing the original rather than one, I'd probably shift it up to the former.

Friday, October 22, 2010


A co-worker suggested I take a look at the 1998 legal drama A Civil Action. Based on a non-fiction book of the same title, it chronicles a low-moral "ambulance chaser" lawyer who takes on a case against two mammoth companies. He struggles to prove them responsible for toxic chemical dumps that resulted in the deaths of several children in a small town.

Script-wise, it's mostly mediocre stuff. It does have one interesting aspect to recommend it... spoilers on this, so if you ever intend to watch the film, skip on to the next paragraph. Essentially, the good guys "lose" in this movie -- a rather novel twist on this brand of film. Yes, they reach a settlement, but it's a weak one. The clients don't get what they want, the attorney who pursued the case is bankrupted, and all is far from well. In the real life story (as the film informs us just before the end credits roll), a larger settlement was obtained on a later appeal, but the film does not dramatize this.

In all other respects, the story is not particularly noteworthy. A clever line here and there, but a largely predictable David-and-Goliath story.

But what does lift the movie up out of average is an extensive and talented cast. John Travolta stars as the intentionally unlikable protagonist lawyer. One of his adversaries is a far more intelligent and likable character played by Robert Duvall -- a roll for which he received an Oscar nomination.

The supporting cast is full of recognizable names and faces. Kathleen Quinlan is one of the mothers who lost her child. The presiding judge in the case is John Lithgow. The rest of the prosecuting team is rounded out by Tony Shalhoub, William H. Macy, and Zeljko Ivanek. Turning up for a scene or two: James Gandolfini, Stephen Fry, Kathy Bates, and Sydney Pollack. With a precise delivery of a line, or a specific bit of business, each of these performers brings a little special something to the film.

Ultimately, there are better legal dramas out there. But A Civil Action is not bad overall. I give it a B-.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Art Test

My taste in games tends toward the more strategically sophisticated "Euro games," but sometimes you have a crowd around, and you need a good party game. It's awfully hard to beat Time's Up for a fantastic party game (in my group, at least), but we recently found another strong contender.

It's called Telestrations. Technically, I don't suppose you'd actually need to buy the game to play it -- in fact, BoardGameGeek has the public domain version of it under the strange name Eat Poop You Cat. But the boxed version of it has some handy dry erase markers and booklets to ease the process.

The game is essentially Pictionary crossed with Telephone. You start with a word or short phrase, and must draw an illustration of it. You then pass that illustration to the player on your left, who must try to guess your drawing. But then, without checking to see if he guessed correctly, he passes his guess (right or wrong) to the player on his left. That player then draws the word he's been given (which may or may not be the original word)... and so on around the table, the original concept possibly being ever more corrupted as it works its way back to the starting player.

A simple idea. The scoring is pretty loose (in the "serious" version, but even more so in the "fun" version). But the thing is, the game generates enough laughs that scoring is hardly the point. I actually don't think I'd want to play the game with too many actually skilled artists in the mix; the fun comes from watching the tougher concepts devolve with each iteration.

The packaged Telestrations version of the game does a good job with its clue cards, offering a decent mix of things that stand a good chance of surviving a trip around the circle, and others that assuredly won't. Each of the times I've played, there were plenty of laughs and fun for all. Better still, the game actually gets more enjoyable the more players you have in it -- a rarity, even for a party game.

If you tend to have a large number of people at your game night, or if your friends aren't into the deep "thinkie" games, Telestrations might be one for you to pick up.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Here Beginneth the Lesson

More awesome Sesame Street, this time augmented by the further awesomeness of Patrick Stewart:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Things We Lock Away

This week, Caprica continued its frustrating blend of good and bad, satisfying and just plain confusing.

In the plus column was that fantastic final confrontation between Daniel and Vergis. Vergis' speech about choosing death was chilling, and him forcing Daniel to wield the knife was a great cap to the episode.

Another great scene came only a bit earlier as Amanda and Clarice had their conversation at the Graystone house. It was fun to see and hear both of them cloaking their hidden agendas -- Amanda to try and get an invitation to Clarice's house, Clarice to try and get Zoe's missing pendant. Isn't subtext fun?

I also liked the thwarted expectations over the long-anticipated reunion of Zoe and Tamara. Not a happy moment at all; why wouldn't Tamara be enraged at Zoe for her current hellish predicament? And speaking of hellish, it was powerful to see the brutal beating of Zoe in the arena. The inability to die was hardly a blessing in that situation.

But then there were moments of confusion which detracted from the whole. Wasn't Clarice's husband Nestor killed in that car bomb in the mid-season finale? Okay, I'll give you the bait-and-switch with Amanda being alive when it seemed she was dead, but to do it again with this other character? Particularly when that character's death might have served to explain a little of why Clarice has gone so ballistic lately? Or am I completely misremembering things from that mid-season finale? (It has been nearly eight months, after all.)

Then there was the flashback showing the real Zoe working on her program to create the Avatar Zoe. That might have been a fun moment, except that I found it rather hopelessly muddled by the decision to have her inspiration come from the previously unseen "Imaginary Friend Zoe." I mean, I get that there were three separate incarnations of Zoe in these scenes. But was there no better narrative technique to more deftly tell the story besides piling doppelgangers on top of doppelgangers? Who literally talks to themselves when they talk to themselves?

And still, when is Joseph Adama going to become a meaningful presence on this show again?

I don't find myself liking Caprica any less from week to week, but neither am I pulling any closer to it. It remains steadfastly shy of being great, but just interesting enough to keep me watching. I wish it were otherwise.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ref for Madness

Perhaps I should have saved it until closer to Christmas, given the time setting, but I recently watched the dark comedy The Ref. Denis Leary stars as thief who winds up taking a couple hostage after a botched home invasion. But the acrimonious couple (Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey) is on the verge of a divorce and can't stop bickering. Hilarity ensues.

Well... mostly. There are moments that the movie is fairly funny, but it's more often the "polite smile" kind of funny, rather than the "laugh out loud" kind of funny. Part of this stems from the movie never actually getting that outrageous. There's something about The Ref that feels less like a film, and more like an episode of a TV show.

But film or episode, it does have a pretty good cast. Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis both manage to breathe a lot of life into the narrow comic premise of the bickering couple; it would easily have been flat and, by the end of the movie, stale in lesser hands, but they go the distance. And Denis Leary is likeably unlikeable as the burglar. Christine Baranski also has a couple of good moments in a minor role.

So overall, I'd say it's worth it... assuming you're in the mood for a caustic comedy peppered with salty language. I rate it a B-.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Really Excessive Destruction

I went to see the new movie Red this afternoon. (I suppose that should be "RED" since it is an acronym -- but that looks rather annoying to me.) On a certain level, this movie seems like it's meant to scratch the same itch as the recent film The Expendables: "let's watch some older people kick ass." But while The expendables and its epic cast of people who actually did kick ass on film in the 80s held no appeal to me, this movie populated mostly with actors known for very serious work did.

I mean, where else can you see the outstanding and classy Helen Mirren fire off a tripod-mounted machine gun non-stop for a minute without ever blinking at the recoil? Or revel in Morgan Freeman as an 80-year old killer? Or John Malkovich, plying his patented and entertaining brand of crazy... with heavy weaponry?

Make no mistake, the cast is the reason to see this movie. It's a pretty cotton candy and fluffy piece of nothing that begins to evaporate before you even make it across the parking lot and back to your car. But the cast -- including the not-old Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, and Karl Urban -- injects something into it that makes it worth your time.

In fact, their presence so elevates the proceedings that, for a while, I don't think I fully appreciated just how tongue-in-cheek and preposterous the whole thing is meant to be -- not until well past the point where I would have "gotten it" for any other action movie. But finally, somewhere around the point where I realized I was seeing more spent cartridge casings on screen at one time than most action movies must use in the entire film, it clicked. I mean, it is based on a comic book, and while it never really does have that giddy abandon of that genre, it's decidedly fantastical.

But, like I said, also kind of dumb and disposable. The one thing that really hung with me afterward was the musical score by Christophe Beck. It is this bonkers mix of broad orchestral action cues that you might expect in this kind of film, but also dances with strange bluesy jazz, and even riffs that feel lifted from a 70s blaxpoitation film.

I think I'll call it a B- overall. It's not one to rush out to the theaters for, but probably worth a rental later.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

E.T. Phone Denver

This week, I received my mail-in ballot for the upcoming election. This morning, I sat down to dutifully research the Colorado-specific issues enough to make an informed decision. It was pretty smooth sailing, until I got to the City and County of Denver's "Initiated Ordinance 300":

Shall the voters for the City and County of Denver adopt an Initiated Ordinance to require the creation of an extraterrestrial affairs commission to help ensure the health, safety, and cultural awareness of Denver residents and visitors in relation to potential encounters or interactions with extraterrestrial intelligent beings or their vehicles, and fund such commission from grants, gifts, and donations?

I can't be reading this one correctly, I kept thinking. But no, it's exactly what it looks like: setting up a commission to prepare Denver for an encounter with an alien (from space, not another country) and/or its abandoned spaceship.

Is Denver being punked?

Don't get me wrong. I believe "E.T." is out there somewhere. The Drake equation and all that. But coming to Denver, Colorado in the immediate future? I think someone is seriously overestimating the sway of our tourism bureau.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Lost Re-view: Homecoming

In an interview given between the fifth and sixth seasons of Lost, co-creator Damon Lindelof stated that Homecoming was his "least favorite episode of the show ever." I think perhaps he was trying to take the heat. This isn't even the worst episode of the first season, never mind of the entire series, but it was written by Lindelof himself. It wouldn't exactly be sporting of him to bash a member of his writing staff by calling out one of their episodes the worst, right?

But I can see elements of why it must bother him so much. For one, the flashbacks here are ultimately worthless. If Lost were a novel, its editor would surely have had the author remove them.

In a sequence of about four or five scenes, the flashbacks follow Charlie about a year after the break-up of Drive Shaft. He meets a girl named Lucy, with the intention of stealing something valuable from her house to sell for drug money. But he actually likes her, and briefly tries to go straight before giving into his need for a fix.

None of this provides any new information about the character. Nor does it really reflect upon the on-Island story of the episode. A very forced line of dialogue from Lucy ("You'll never take care of anyone.") is the only thin connection we're offered. Dominic Monaghan gives a fine performance, but the only real reaction these flashbacks elicit is the knowing smile fans of The Office get when Lucy refers off-handedly to "some paper company up in Slough." Even the editors seem to recognize we're barely going skin deep this time. Until this point, nearly every episode begins with a tight close-up on the eye of the character to be featured; this episode begins pulled back, showing Charlie's entire face.

If so much of the episode is a bust, then why isn't it as bad as Damon Lindelof claims? Well, in my opinion, it's because there is a satisfying tension in the on-Island story. Claire has returned from... well, we don't know where as we watch this for the first time. And neither does she; she has amnesia of her time away. If this is a television cliché, Damon Lindelof hangs a bell on it at least by having Sayid ask of Jack how often he's actually encountered amnesia in his medical career.

Unfortunately, this means Charlie has to win Claire's trust all over again. And he doesn't start off well, withholding important information from her. Ethan re-emerges from the jungle with a threat: if Charlie doesn't see to it that Claire is returned to him, he will personally kill a survivor every day until that happens.

The stakes are exhilarating and high. And we see Ethan carry out his threat. Though Locke, Boone, and Sayid try to booby-trap and guard the camp, poor Scott (of "is it Steve or Scott?" fame) is found dead on the beach, his neck broken, along with all the bones in his arms and fingers. This psycho means business!

This menace is so effective in the storytelling, and the final confrontation with Ethan so visceral, that I found myself caught up in and entertained, even knowing exactly how it was going to end. And ultimately, it's this rush that's going to lead me to give the episode a passing grade in the end. But the fact is, once that visceral response fades and you start to really examine what's going on in this episode, holes do appear.

First of all, as a friend noted of the earlier episode in which Claire was abducted, it's never really clear why Ethan is such a homicidal maniac. There are tastes of that in some flashbacks that involve him, but he's also shown as quite tender to Claire during this exact time period, when we learn in a later season what was going on with Claire while the Others had her. And why doesn't he just take Claire himself? Why the special psychological torture in asking Charlie to do it? It's all a tough gap to bridge.

Then there's the posse that comes together to go after Ethan. Locke is wisely reluctant, noting that Ethan has the advantage. But Kate suggests an equalizer to Jack -- the four guns taken from the marshal's briefcase. Though Jack is initially reluctant to the idea of edgy people with no weapons experience roaming the jungle with guns, he ultimately agrees to recruit Locke, Sayid, and Sawyer to join him in a hunt. (And specifically shuts Charlie down, even though he wants to go.)

This is actually a neat moment of people who have had recent conflict laying that aside and working together for the good of the group. But there's a button on it that's sloppy writing. See, Kate wants to go too. And when Jack notes there are only four guns, Sawyer produces a fifth weapon that takes the same ammunition -- the one taken off the marshal himself. When last Kate held this gun, she claimed not to know how to use it. And only in flashbacks have we the audience seen this is a lie. For our Island characters, isn't Kate perceived to be exactly the sort of gun-inexperienced wild card Jack didn't want on the team?

In any case, what this posse doesn't bank on is Charlie. From a character standpoint, it's a superb and authentic piece of writing. We already know from Charlie's last episode exactly what his Achilles' Heel is. He has to feel like he has a purpose, a use. So when he's shut down by Jack, he reacts in the way he must. He follows them all into the jungle, picks up the gun that gets dropped in the brutal fist fight between Jack and Ethan (Jack wins this time, by the way), and shoots Ethan. Six times.

As I said, completely authentic from a character standpoint. Infuriating from a narrative standpoint. The posse was trying to take Ethan alive. The audience wanted them to take Ethan alive. We want answers, dammit! Charlie's execution is a too-neat device to forestall providing any. And even though Charlie makes an observation that rings true ("Do you really think he would have told us anything, Jack?"), it's still maddening. I suppose I can appreciate more the character truth being displayed here on the second viewing, because I now have the answers I was screaming for on the first viewing.

And still more evidence why I think Damon Lindelof was wrong to call this Lost's worst hour: the episode contains a handful of solid moments for other characters. Hurley delivers a brief but touching eulogy at Scott's funeral. He speaks uncertainly, but from the heart. It still shows exactly why we like Hurley, but uses him for more than comic relief -- which has been his main purpose in the series so far.

There's also a trio of really nice scenes surrounding Jin. The first occurs just after Claire wakes up for the first time after being carried back to camp. He talks to Sun and expresses a heartfelt concern not only for Claire, but specifically for her baby. (This loosely hints at his own inability to father a child.)

Second comes a scene where Charlie comes upon Jin in the jungle, and after greeting him with likely the one Korean word he knows, proceeds to tell Jin that he's very fortunate to be cut off by the language barrier. Everyone else is worrying about Monsters and Others and more, and Jin only has to worry about himself and providing for his wife.

That scene is then turned on its head when Jin is attacked by Ethan, and Sun later attends to the injury. Jin expresses the exact opposite sentiment. He was attacked because of something the other survivors did. He did nothing himself, and can do nothing to influence his fate one way or the other, because he's cut off from everyone. Though these three scenes are just a grace note on the episode, they really do a lot to humanize Jin and make you feel sympathy for him.

Yes, this episode had weak flashbacks. Yes, Ethan's character is a bit hard to track. But the tension is high, Charlie's behavior honest, and some side scenes with other characters actually quite special. So overall, despite Damon Lindelof's self-criticism, I'd rate this episode a B-.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Opus Day

I'm basically a fan of Richard Dreyfuss. I'll admit that if you told me to "quick, name 10 actors you like," he wouldn't make the list. I don't even know if he'd show up if the challenge were expanded to 20, maybe even 50. But he is a solid actor. He was recognized with an Oscar for The Goodbye Girl, and nominated again for a movie I recently decided to watch, Mr. Holland's Opus.

The movie is the simple story of a struggling composer in the 1960s who decides to make ends meet for his family by becoming a high school music teacher. This "just for a few years" necessity becomes his permanent career, as the movie takes us through the next 30 years of his life.

The movie is a blend of elements that work and elements that don't. Dreyfuss' presence alone tips the balance more toward the former, I'd say, but the whole isn't rock solid. The ultimate summation of the movie is that the wonderful masterpiece the main character was trying to compose all his life is actually the accomplishments of the students he teaches over the years. But I'm not sure the movie really builds to this closure.

Don't get me wrong; I believe that teachers can have profound impact on a student. I need only think back to my own schooling to come up with multiple examples of teachers I think really shaped me. (And one that had a very memorable negative impact.) But this movie only really touches on Mr. Holland's interactions with three or four students. One dies, and another isn't seen again at the conclusion of the movie. Sure, we see an auditorium full of students that praise the main character at the end of the movie, but we only really know two of them. So I get the "idea" of the point being made; I just don't think the movie actually makes the point as effectively as it could.

Nor do I find the interactions with the students particularly convincing. Your affection for these scenes in the movie will undoubtedly hang on whether you believe that an instruction to "play the sun" would instantly turn a teenager into a skilled clarinet player. I'm doubtful.

But while the movie is largely about a teacher and his students, it also follows the man's family. And here is where I think the movie really shines. Glenne Headly plays a wife who is supportive, but realistically so. The two characters end up having a child born deaf, and the harshness of a man steeped in music failing to communicate with a son who can't hear it is far and away the most powerful material in the film. These scenes excel in a way that made me miss this part of the story whenever the focus returned to the classroom.

Richard Dreyfuss does indeed give a strong performance. There are some good people in the supporting cast too, including William H. Macy and Olympia Dukakis. But overall, I think the fact that Dreyfuss was the only Oscar nomination in any category for this film is telling. It's a likable enough movie, but its reach exceeds its grasp. I'd rate it a B-; worth seeing if you like Richard Dreyfuss, and quite possibly one you could skip otherwise.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Prime Example

Not long ago, Netflix tossed an obscure recommendation my way: a small, independent sci-fi film called Primer. I'd never heard of it, and didn't know a thing about it. But I've sometimes had some truly pleasant movie experiences watching a film with little or no foreknowledge of what I'd be seeing. So I decided to keep in the dark, and see what there was to see.

I think if I had dug into just what the film was, I would have been more intrigued. The movie was written, directed, and produced by a man named Shane Carruth. He stars in it and wrote the music too. He filled out the cast mostly with family and friends. That's because he made the entire thing for $7,000. And while it does certainly look like a low-budget film, I would never have dreamed it was $7,000 low. It never feels like any compromises were made in the film's creation. It looks like the movie "should look."

And that really fires my imagination. Hell, I could come up with $7,000 to make a movie. Could I makes one as solid and professional-looking as this? More than anything in the movie itself, the ingenuity and resourcefulness of even bringing the film into existence really tickles my brain.

But as an added bonus, so does the movie itself. It's the story of a group of engineers who spend their nights off from their respective jobs working in a garage trying all sorts of different experiments. They're trying to discover something (they really don't care what) they might use to make a name for themselves. And in the first act of the movie, that's exactly what two of the engineers do. But what they accidentally invent has all sorts of scientific, ethical, and personal ramifications to it that begins to fracture their friendship.

I hinted earlier that the movie looks as it should. It also feels like it should. That writer-actor-director-producer-composer turns out to be even more of a renaissance man; in life, he's a mathematician and former engineer. So his sci-fi movie is starkly authentic. Here's what I mean: when you hear technobabble on a show like Star Trek, it rings false. You can see the "seams" of the craftsmanship, it exists to solve a problem, and it somehow feels dumbed down for the audience. In Primer, you flat out aren't going to understand half the technobabble (unless you're an engineer yourself, perhaps?). It isn't solving a problem, it's the characters working through a problem. It's not dumbed down. But it's also not wasting screen time either, because the character of these characters is being revealed in the ways they interact with each other.

And that's before you even really get to the meat of the plot, when the two discover what it really is that they've invented. Any synopsis you read of this film will undoubtedly tell you what that is in the first sentence; I'm going to withhold that information from you as I did from myself before seeing the movie. I think it's cooler that way. Suffice it to say that there are some tricky consequences here that these characters are too morally immature to handle.

But the movie does have a few flaws. It's surprisingly short at barely over an hour and 15 minutes, and I think this is because it doesn't really get into the broader issues that could have been in play here. The first act is about making the discovery, the second about abusing it, and only in a very brief 15 minute final act do the larger issues surface -- and they aren't given much space for exploration when they do. The film remains focused on the two men themselves and their relationship, which I suppose is consistent in tone with the whole, but feels like stopping short on what is otherwise such a hardcore sci-fi premise.

Also related to the briefness of that final act, I found it rather hard to follow. I think myself a fairly bright person. When it comes to movies, if I get lost (which is rare), I will generally attribute that to bad writing -- a lack of "connective tissue" -- rather than my lagging intellect. This movie lost me a bit at the end. I don't want to attribute it to bad writing, because the first hour of the movie was so solid. But neither do I want to lay the blame on my own intellect, you know? In any case, be it a lapse in my attention or a disinterest in the actual conclusion of the story by the writer, things get a little fast and loose (and muddy) at the end.

But still, the movie is entertaining overall, and very thought-provoking both in what you see on the screen, and what went into putting it there. I rate Primer a B, and definitely give it the thumbs up to anyone who likes "real" science fiction, not just the glitzier version of it more often presented in film and television.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


At some point during tonight's episode of Caprica, it struck me that the show has reached a strange dichotomy.

On the one hand, the series is now delivering quite a wealth of visceral thrills in every episode. This installment opened with the botched train bombing, and proceeded through Clarice's crazed revenge killings before culminating in her execution of her rival Barnabas.

There were also powerful moments of a much quieter nature too. We watched Daniel's callous blackmailing of his former co-workers, and his being forced to face the consequences of that. And there was the ice cold confrontation between him and Amanda, over the still-open wound of Zoe.

The emotion on Caprica is as high as it has ever been. But the "connective tissue" has never felt more lacking to me.

At what point did Clarice suddenly become such a homicidal maniac? She seemed rather sweet just a half dozen episodes ago as the series was unfolding. She was honey, not vinegar. Less a delicious villain, but rather a more compelling character. And why was she in such a feud with Barnabas anyway? Was there some past between them that I missed somewhere?

And what about the Clarice-Amanda relationship? I know that the last few episodes in the first half of the season showed Clarice trying to worm her way close to Amanda to learn information about the Zoe-avatar. But I sensed only the very beginnings of a friendship there. I'm not quite seeing the path from there, over just two or three episodes, that gets us to the closeness they have now.

When did Lacy transform into such a crazy soldier for the cause? Wasn't it just three episodes ago that she was figuratively holding her nose over all these dark deeds, but sucking it all up because her friend Zoe asked her to? Did Barnabas brainwash her into the cult or something? Couldn't we have seen that happen?

And why is Joseph Adama barely a supporting player all of a sudden?

There are some powerful moments being presented on the show right now. But since it feels so disconnected to me from what the show was just a few episodes ago, I wouldn't call it powerful storytelling. I'm rather reminded of an improv game where one player is forced to stop making up a story mid-sentence, and another player suddenly jumps in to continue it in his own completely different style. Was the long break meant to make us forget about where we just came from in the story?

Or perhaps this "new story" will pick up enough in the next episode or two that I won't mind the jarring lack of transition so much? If I'm enjoying the new story more, does it matter if it doesn't quite cohere with the old one?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Get a Clue

I feel less and less motivated these days to go out and see a midnight screening of a movie. But some just won't be denied. So it was this past Saturday night, when I went to a local theater that was showing the fantastic comedy Clue. I'd never actually seen it in a theater before, with an audience -- an added extra for the whole experience. But regardless of venue, the movie is one of my favorites.

It's actually an unbelievably well written movie. It's a movie based on a board game -- a rather ludicrous idea. The first brilliant thing the writers, John Landis and Jonathan Lynn, did was to recognize this fact and embrace it to provide the tone for the movie. It is a ludicrous idea to base a movie on a board game... therefore, let it be a ludicrous movie, a farcical comedy.

But what's truly impressive is how many details of the board game are preserved in the film. The silly names of the characters are explained away as deliberately assigned aliases. All six of the weapons are introduced and used. All nine rooms are featured, with at least one significant scene set in each. The secret passages connecting rooms on the corners of the game board show up.

And then there are more subtle connections to the game, that probably never even occur to you when you're simply enjoying the movie and not thinking about it. The "silhouette on the basement wall" graphic that used to appear at the center of the board is recreated. The writers manage to craft a murder where you do have to question in what room the victim actually died. (How this fact could not be known in the board game was always the real mystery to me.) The climax shows the murder solver having to run to the rooms where they took place, and dragging the party he accuses along with him, all exactly as it works in the game. Then of course there are the multiple endings, a nod to the fact that the murder solution is different every time you play the game. In short, I think the only element of the game not represented is the fact that you have to roll a die to move.

But all of that just deepens my appreciation for Clue. What makes me love it in the first place is that it's damn funny. No joke falls flat. (And hearing the constant laughter in the theater audience only underscored that fact.) There's highbrow wordplay, lowbrow physical comedy, humor in styles from Three Stooges to Marx Brothers, prop humor, tweaking of mystery film conventions... "every part of the buffalo" is used.

And the cast! How could you possibly say enough about the cast, a who's who of brilliant comedians? As the opening credits rolled in that darkened theater, every name drew applause.

Eileen Brennan's Mrs. Peacock runs from outlandishly broad (her reaction to the possibility of having been poisoned) to wry and subtle (her response to being asked if she's afraid of a fate worse than death: "No, just death. Isn't that enough?").

Martin Mull's Colonel Mustard is a perfect buffoon. He's the butt of most of the great "you're so stupid" jokes in the film, and one-half of a brilliant "who's on first?" like exchange in the second act.

Christopher Lloyd played Professor Plum here in the same year he was Doc Brown in Back to the Future; 1985 was a banner year for the man. Here, he's a hilarious lech who tosses off some of the most subtle one-liners in the movie ("It's frightened." "Shucks.") for some of the biggest laughs.

Michael McKean takes the stereotype that could have been Mr. Green and makes it funny throughout. Jokes at his expense that could have come off mean-spirited are hilarious instead. And he nails every one of the many sight gags given to his accident-prone character.

Lesley Ann Warren is great as Miss Scarlet. Her character is probably the "straightest" part in the film, and she conveys both streetwise and seductive in a way that would be credible even in a dramatic movie. Then she turns around in the same scene and gets a huge laugh with lines like "dinner wasn't that bad" or "who are you, Perry Mason?"

Tim Curry is at his best as Wadsworth the butler. He gets some of the biggest laughs throughout the movie, and of course wraps up the film with his dizzying, rapid-fire reveal of murder solution. (Set to music which might just be the single film score I wish most would be released on CD -- though I know it never will be.)

And finally, there's Madeline Kahn as Mrs. White. I swear I felt a little about humanity as a whole sitting in that theater, realizing that there are other people in the world who think she was as funny and gifted as I do. As skilled as all these other actors are, even they can't keep pace with her. She steals every scene she's in. She does it with dialogue. (Her "flames" monologue was recited aloud in perfect unison by half the audience, and received raucous applause at its conclusion.) She even does it without dialogue. (Her tiny but outrageous reactions to Wadsworth's tearful story of his wife's death had the audience in stitches, and me struggling to breathe even though I've seen the movie countless times before.)

I'm not saying you have to think Clue is the greatest comedy ever made. But if it doesn't make you laugh out loud when you watch it, I'm not sure I want to know you.

When I heard stories about how Monopoly and Battleship were both recently optioned for possible movies, it gave me a moment's pause. Yes, the idea sounds phenomenally stupid. But so did the idea for Clue, and it was brilliant. Yes, they almost certainly will suck (if they even ever get made).

But maybe... just maybe... the result will be a grade A movie like Clue.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Smell Like a Monster

Sesame Street proves yet again why it's awesome:

Although, given the recent asinine Katy Perry controversy, how long to you give it before someone is complaining that Grover looks like a terrorist 16 seconds in?

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Round of Applause

Whenever I head out on a trip to Las Vegas, I'll often try to make time for some appropriately themed movie before I go. It's not really superstition or anything; I just like the idea of "setting the mood" for the trip. I've watched Ocean's Eleven (the remake, not the mind-numbing original), Swingers, plenty of others.

This trip, I watched one of my favorite movies, Rounders. Though not a single frame of the movie is actually set in Las Vegas, the poker theme is certainly appropriate. I can think of no other movie that treats poker more authentically than this one. In almost every hand, players behave intelligently. The hands make sense, and you can even apply real life poker skills to "reading" them before they're revealed if you've never seen the movie before. Plenty of real terminology is used, sometimes explained, sometimes not. There's just a true love of the game at the heart of this movie, something I never see in other poker films and TV that feature irrational behavior, string-betting, dumb luck, and more.

If Rounders were only about that, I'd probably still like it. But what makes it a truly great film to me is that this is only one small piece of the whole. Maybe even the smallest one. The film is really about a simple message: "you are who you are; you can't be any other way." We see it in the protagonist, who tries to suppress his poker-playing skills in favor of a more "respectful" career as a lawyer. We see it on the other end of the spectrum in his best friend, a world-class screw up who drags both of them down with his impulsive behavior.

I might be trumping this film up to be more important than it actually is, but I find this "moral" helpful to be reminded of every so often, whether by watching this film or by some other means. Be who you are; don't try to be something you're not. I find this more inspiring than the specifics of watching a young man possibly on the path to winning big at poker.

I suspect that the actors involved were really on board with this deeper meaning beneath the poker trappings too. Otherwise, I can't easily explain why so many phenomenally talented performers wound up in the same fairly obscure, comparatively low-budget movie.

You've got Matt Damon in the lead role, fresh off his Good Will Hunting Oscar win and suddenly a hot commodity in Hollywood. He's sympathetic and charming, and deftly handles the abundant voice-over narration in the film. (Something few actors can do well.)

Ed Norton plays his trouble-making buddy, and effectively makes you want to reach into the screen and choke the crap out of him even more than you want to cheer him on in any film where he plays the hero.

John Turturro is a Yoda-like mentor to Damon's impetuous Luke, calm and cool, and a major force in the film despite limited screen time. Especially effective is a climactic scene in which he dresses down our hero quite thoroughly while never raising his voice.

John Malkovich is absolutely brilliant as the villain that bookends the movie. It's an over-the-top performance for sure, with a borderline mockable accent and silly mannerisms. But the laughs are intentional, and the menace is evident.

Famke Janssen is a sultry presence in the film, arguably not necessary to tell the story, but a welcome and memorable character nonetheless that adds another texture to the whole.

Gretchen Mol's character is the one weak link in the film, though I don't lay the blame on her. She's saddled with playing an unsympathetic character (both in how she treats the main character, and how the audience will see her). It's unfortunate that this admittedly boys' club of a movie can't have this girlfriend character be strong without coming off as, essentially, a "bitch."

Then there's Martin Landau, who might just be my favorite of all in this movie. His character, a professor at the protagonist's law school, delivers the all-important speech in the heart of the movie that expresses the heart of the movie -- that message I'm so keen on. It's a gifted and moving delivery and, even more than Malkovich's wild performance, makes the movie for me every time I watch it.

In short, Rounders is an A in my book. I can't ever watch it as a non-gamer, a non-poker enthusiast, but I'd like to think it would resonate with me anyway. If you've never seen it, I highly recommend it.

Friday, October 08, 2010


Caprica returned this week, more than six months after its last new episode. I was in Las Vegas when it aired, so I only just got around to watching it.

The extra few days turned out to be a good thing, I think. That's because I got to hear the overnight ratings for the broadcast. They were damn poor, even by Syfy channel standards. In short, I expect that this batch of episodes, the back half of season one, will be the last Caprica episodes ever. So I think my mindset on this Battlestar Galactica spinoff series has transformed now from "hope it improves into something strong" to "I'm prepared to go down with the sinking ship."

I'm not going to be disappointed if Caprica ends after one season, as I would have been after just one season of its excellent "parent" series. But the show isn't bad either. Actually, I'm reminded a lot of Dollhouse, and wonder if the series could follow a similar course -- not great at the outset, but finishing out as something strong.

This week's episode, though, seemed about in the same place as the show was last spring: one step up, one step back.

For example, the opening sequence about a terrorist bombing to destroy a sports stadium packed with fans was pretty incredible. It was tense, it had emotional weight to it, and it was capped with a powerful visual of the building imploding with tens of thousands of people in it. Gutsy of the show to go there in the walking-on-eggshells-about-September-11th environment.

And yet, it didn't go there. Not really. The entire sequence turned out to be a fiction played out on holobands. And it led into a run of the mill storyline about Clarice Willow making a power grab within the STO. It didn't feel like it illuminated the character, and didn't really feel like it advanced the plot.

Then there was the suicide of Amanda Graystone. When we saw it last spring, I thought to myself that it wasn't likely they'd actually kill off a main character on a show that just got started. But then this episode rolled out and it appeared they had. They even took Paula Malcomson's name out of the opening credits. So then I started to think that maybe they were going to Zoe-ize her to keep her in the story, though I was a little unsure as to whether the show needed two people-avatars-in-Cylons.

Then, ahha! -- bait and switch. Amanda was revealed to be alive at the end of the episode. And now I'm not sure what to feel about it. What's the purpose behind the charade? Does this turn of events undermine the emotional heft for Daniel's character?

Does Joseph Adama suddenly seem too much more "in the family" this week than he did in prior episodes?

These shifts could signal moving on to something better, which would be great for the show. But I'm also a little skeptical about it all... at least, after just this one episode. I suppose I'll see what's in store next week.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Back from Sin City

So I don't have any involved stories to tell about my trip to Las Vegas. Just a few short snippets, and the overall point that I had a really great time.

Going with a friend who had never been to Las Vegas before, I ended up doing a bunch of the typically touristy things, but that was pretty fun. For example, I've probably seen two dozen Bellagio fountain shows over the years, but one of the shows I saw this time was hands down the best I'd ever caught. It was set to the song "One" (from the musical A Chorus Line). Most of the fountains shows just seem to be "turn on the hoses, spin them around a bit; big jets for the grand finale." They could be set to practically any song and you wouldn't know the difference. This one actually had very recognizable choreography to it, almost like an actual chorus line, and it was really neat. Never would have seen it if I wasn't walking around town with my friend.

On the flip side, though, was my trip down to Fremont Street. It's a Catch-22. Everyone who goes to Vegas really should see it. The light show on the four-block long scoreboard-ish thing is an attraction people talk about. The area itself is "authentic" old Vegas. But it's also kind of a dump, and once you've been down there about 45 minutes, you've seen it all and you're ready to hightail it back to the Strip. But of course, we had to go. And sure enough, 45 minutes later, after my friend called it "dirty" or "grungy" or something like that, we were back on the bus. Oh well, you gotta do whatya gotta do.

But something I've done before and was totally happy to do again was go see Ka, the Cirque du Soleil show at the MGM Grand. It's really a fantastic show, and seeing it with my friend the stage manager added another layer of appreciation to it all. That jaw-dropping stage is just... well... jaw-dropping.

I played some poker too, and I've decided that aside from those cool fountains, I probably shouldn't hit Bellagio for entertainment on any future trips. For my third Vegas trip running, I dumped a lot of money at a Bellagio poker table, only to have to try to earn it back elsewhere. I also played at the Mirage this trip; had I just stuck to there, I'd have been up for the duration. It's superstition, I suppose, but I'm gonna go with it next time.

So that was Vegas. A good time was had by all. (Well, both of us.) Aaaaaahhhhhhhh.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Sweet Lady Liberty

I'm back from Las Vegas! I had a good time, but I'm also completely exhausted. So here (courtesy of the New York New York casino) is a picture of a 10 foot tall Statue of Liberty made of jelly beans:

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Lost Re-view: Special

Back watching the first season of Lost the first time around, I was pretty sure Michael was my least favorite character. Having now seen his entire run on the show, I'm sure of it. Yes, I hated him even more than Ana-Lucia.

I hope that the writers were intentionally trying to create such an unlikeable character, because I scarcely think they could have done a more thorough job if they'd tried. Michael systemically picks fights with all the most beloved characters on the show, has a very one-note story line, and is never really shown to have any redeeming characteristics to balance his fly-off-the-handle temper.

And this flashback episode centered around him showcases all of this. (Technically, one flashback scene keys off Walt, making this the first episode since the pilot to feature multiple perspectives in flashbacks.) The episode was written by David Fury, the Joss Whedon alum I praised for his earlier efforts on Lost. He does his best with the story he's given, but with the whole writing staff evidently conspiring against Michael, things are largely out of his hands.

The episode begins in the expected fashion with a closeup on Michael's eye. He's tromping through the jungle, screaming Walt's name. (Also expected.) Two very loaded and telling lines occur right at the top of this episode. One comes from Hurley, who observes of Michael that he seems to hate being a dad. Hurley once again serving as the voice of the audience. The other occurs when Michael runs into Jack and asks him (in regards to Walt) if Jack listened to his father when he was 10. "Maybe I listened a little too well," is the reply. We certainly know a fair amount about Jack at this point, but it's still somehow even more revealing about how deep the resentment there goes.

Walt's out getting knife throwing lessons from Locke. Locke talks about seeing the mark you want to hit in your mind's eye. "See it before you do it." And he does, much to the amazement of Boone. Following Walt's uncanny backgammon skills in an earlier episode, this sets up the theme spelled out in the title -- this episode is going to be able Walt being "special." More on that as we proceed.

Michael shows up at the knife lesson and flips out. Okay, I can understand a father maybe not wanting a strange man to let his son play with knives. But Michael escalates it to the point where he's actually threatening Locke with a knife himself. Way to parent by example there, Michael. Locke puts Michael in his place: "You know why he's formed an attachment to me? Because I treat him like an adult and you still treat him like a boy." Locke thinks that here on the Island, Walt should be allowed to realize his potential. First Charlie, then Boone, now Walt. An odd slate of characters targeted for Locke's philosophy of redemption and transformation.

The character to actually show sympathy for Michael is Sun. They have a clandestine conversation (her English skills still not widely known), in which Michael reveals his worry is that Walt might have to grow up on the Island. So he hatches the scheme to build a raft and escape, the beginnings of another story (like the Hatch) that would run for the rest of the season. He tries to enlist Sayid, Jack, and Shannon to help, but they all claim varying levels of disinterest. (Though Shannon later changes her mind, tries to get Boone involved, and gets shot down. Boone is definitely over her now.)

Michael then drafts Walt, who sees it as punishment to work with his father. So at the first opportunity, Walt slips away and goes back to Locke. Locke actually abides by Michael's wishes, and is telling Walt that they can't spend time together anymore just when Michael storms in and throws another fit. In the span of 60 seconds, he yells at his boy ("I don't want to hear from you"), threatens Locke ("I catch you with my son again, I'll kill you"), and burns the Spanish comic book that has been one of Walt's few sources of entertainment on the Island. (A comic that includes a polar bear shown very prominently to the audience.) More classy stuff, Michael!

No surprise, this does nothing to make Walt inclined to obey, so he slips off yet again. And no surprise, Michael's all up in Locke's grill immediately. This time, though, Walt's on his own. Locke not rising to the bait for a fight, he offers to help Michael search for the boy.

Turns out he's out being attacked by a polar bear! In the full scope of Lost, we know this is one of the bears experimented on by the Dharma Initiative, escaped or released from Hydra Station. But in the confines of this episode, we're very much made to wonder if "special" Walt didn't somehow conjure up a polar bear after seeing one in the comic. In any case, Locke and Michael manage to rescue Walt, who in a contrasting irony from the beginning of the episode, is given a knife by his father to help defend himself. And now, Locke and Michael may finally be okay. Until the next time Michael flips out, anyway.

If this plot all sounds rather repetitive... well, frankly it is. But it's very cleverly disguised, being broken up by perhaps the largest number of flashbacks to appear in any episode yet. How did Michael get to be this way?

It begins a decade earlier when he and his girlfriend Susan -- who refuses to marry him -- are buying a crib together for the son they're expecting. (Michael actually looks much younger in this scene, in a bit of very nice work done by costuming and makeup.) But a few years later, it's ending. Susan wants to take a job in Europe, she's taking Walt, and because she isn't married to Michael, he doesn't really have a say in the matter.

As a personal aside, I know one or two guys in real life who've been thoroughly and truly screwed in custody battles because of the legal system's bias toward the mother. (No matter how screwed up she is, apparently.) You would think this background might make me more inclined to feel sympathy for Michael. The fact that it really doesn't I think speaks volumes about how despicably he's written in the "present."

Jump ahead a few more years. Susan has met someone in Europe. Michael's upset, and plans to come to Europe to do... well, something. But he never gets the chance; he's hit by a car immediately after hanging up the phone. (Another bit of very clever work, this time by the editors and visual effects team, who use a couple of extras to conceal a camera edit. The result makes it look like actor Harold Perrineau hangs up the phone and then actually gets hit by a car all in one take.)

So now Michael is in the hospital, expecting a year of physical therapy. Susan comes back to the U.S. to see him, and offers to pay the bills. But there is sort of a "price" for this. She's marrying her new man Brian, and he wants to adopt Walt. She very astutely forestalls Michael's likely fit over the idea by simply asking him about his reluctance to let go of Walt: "Are you doing this for him? Or for you?"

Skip more years... almost up to the present. Susan dies quite suddenly, and Brian shows up unexpectedly at Michael's door. He says the truth is he never wanted to adopt Walt at all, he just did it to get Susan. Now he wants Michael to come to their current home in Sydney to take Walt permanently. This marks perhaps the only time in all of Lost that a character manages to "underclass" Michael; the man wants a 10-year old boy to lose both the only mother and father he's ever known in the span of a week or two.

But Michael agrees. He shows up in Sydney, and receives from the nanny the box we saw him looking at in the previous episode. It contains letters with drawings -- everything Michael ever sent to Walt over the last decade, none of which was ever shown to the boy.

Walt, unsurprisingly, doesn't want to go with a total stranger back to the U.S. So Michael lies and says he's forcing this, that Brian wanted to keep Walt, but he won't allow it. The consolation prize is they can take the dog Vincent -- who turns out to not even be Walt's dog. I suppose you can understand this tactic by Michael, but I question whether starting off with your "new" son by casting yourself as the bad guy is a wise move. Then again, it's not like Michael knew they were about to be stranded together on a strange Island somewhere. But it is very telling of why the relationship between Michael and Walt is so strained. Not only have they actually spent more time together on the Island than they ever did before the Island, but that entire time together began with a statement that was both a lie and engineered to make Walt angry.

In addition to these flashbacks breaking up the rather cyclical plot, there are a couple of subplots as well. Sayid is still trying to get to the bottom of Rousseau's map, but he thinks he's finally figured out that it points to a particular location on the Island that he wants to go investigate. It's very vague to those watching it the first time around, but there are enough clues within the episode to tell the repeat viewer that we're about to see the Black Rock for the first time.

Meanwhile, Charlie remains despondent about the missing Claire. People still talk of her as missing and not "gone." I wonder if this is why, in the midst of all this speculation about a character on the show possibly being killed off, that I never once considered that it might be Claire the first time around?

Having been unable to keep her safe, Charlie now wants to at least protect her diary. Except that it's gone missing. He suspects Sawyer of stealing it, and enlists Kate's help to go confront him. Turns out, weaselly Sawyer in fact did take the diary, and a quick fistfight ensues over it. Charlie punches Sawyer in his lingering stab wound and manages to seize the upper hand.

The subplot finishes off with a very humorous scene in which Charlie struggles with whether to read the diary or not, and then with a darker scene in which he finally does. There are some nice words about Charlie himself, but then a dark passage about something she sees in her dreams, something also mentioned by Rousseau, a "black rock." (See? It's all connected!)

The episode ends on two scenes, one sweet and one cliffhangery. Michael gives Walt the box containing all those drawings from the past 10 years. And Claire emerges from the jungle, returned from wherever she's been! Definitely ending on a strong "tune in next week moment."

So, I've saved one crucial scene for last -- the one flashback keyed off Walt rather than Michael. It's just prior to his mother's death, when they and Brian are all living in Australia. Walt's looking through a bird book and feeling ignored by his parents. When he somewhat archly calls to them, "you're not looking," a bird smacks into the patio glass and is killed. Brian gives us a horrified expression, and composer Michael Giacchino gives us a seriously ominous piece of music. Intercut as it is with Walt being attacked by a polar bear that might (we think at the time) come from his own imagination, this is the big "Walt is special" moment. And in case you miss it, Brian later spells this out as the reason he wants Michael to take Walt back later: "There's something about him. Sometimes when he's around, things happen."

Here we have another real question about Lost, much like the question of whether Claire's psychic is for real. Is Walt special? Does he have powers? Wow... this is kind of a tough one.

On the one hand, it would be much more interesting for the narrative (in my opinion) if he did. And certainly, his abduction by the Others in season two tells us they think there's something special going on with him too.

On the other hand, we know that the Walt plot never really goes anywhere. The sudden growth spurt of a young actor on a show where only a few weeks are supposed to pass every season suddenly necessitated the need to write him out. We barely ever see Walt after the end of season one. We later find out the the mysterious polar bear he may have summoned with his mind isn't really his doing at all. We don't ever really get closure on this whole plot. (Unless you count The New Man in Charge. I don't.) So unless you want to just dwell in unresolved frustration on this story point, the better thing to do is to say that Walt is not "special" and assume that everyone got it wrong.

But that doesn't explain the "apparition Walt" that would show up in seasons two and three.

So I'm just stuck here on this episode. There's some good acting. There's a script that's actually crafted well... for a show trying to keep things open-ended at the time. But I also regard this subject as the single greatest unanswered issue on Lost, and I find myself at a loss to think of any explanation that tidies it all up.

Plus, of course, there's an awful lot of the worst character on the show in this episode. Somehow, I compile it all together and come up with a weak B- as my grade for the episode. Yes, warts and all, it's still better than the "Kate steals a toy airplane" episode.