Thursday, March 31, 2011

End of an Era

This March is decidedly not going "out like a lamb."

Today, Sony Online Entertainment closed its Denver office. (And its Tucson and Seattle offices too.) This is the company I left at the end of last year. I only wish I could say my departure meant this development doesn't affect me personally.

A lot of my good friends were still there at SOE-Denver. Some of them I'd worked with for years. A few, who came there like me from Decipher, I'd worked with for literally more than a decade. Even the tiny handful of SOE-Denver employees who are keeping a job in this massive layoff will soon be relocating to San Diego for that job, so there's really no level on which this this isn't awful.

All I can do is send my best wishes to my abruptly jobless friends, and hope that everyone lands back on their feet as quickly as possible.

The end of the fiscal year sucks.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

(Small) Time Waster

I haven't really got anything to share today, so here, go play The Five Minute MMORPG. You have leveling! Killing things!


Just like a full-fledged MMO!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Continuing the stream of documentary films that Netflix has been recommending to me, I recently watched "8: The Mormon Proposition." It's a 75 minute look at California's notorious Proposition 8, from the 2008 election, to ban gay marriage just months after a state court had ruled that they were legal. The film focuses on the efforts of the Mormon church to funnel substantial amounts of money into the state to campaign (successfully) for the passage of the proposition.

There's an odd little catch-22 at work in this film. It was not widely known at the time of the election just how involved the Mormon church was in promoting Proposition 8. And yet, in conducting interviews for the making of this documentary, the filmmakers stumbled onto some rather incendiary comments that gained a fair amount of news coverage. As a result, the very "exposé" purpose of the documentary is almost undermined and rendered unnecessary by the time it could actually be seen.

Perhaps more importantly, I'm not really sure the involvement of the Mormon church in pushing the passage of Proposition 8 is really even The Point that should be made here. Yes, there are some potential legal issues surrounding a church's tax exempt status in the U.S. if they engage in too much political activity. But the film makes its entire meal out of this issue. However deserving a target the church ends up looking, wouldn't a more worthy documentary message have been "gay marriage should be okay" rather than "Mormon church bad?"

Now make no mistake, the film uses the words of the church's own elders to present the case against them. This is hardly a "hatchet job." But I do feel a little bit like it's trying to take gay people out of the cross hairs of public opinion by substituting Mormon leaders in their place. I just hope that's not the most compelling case that could be made on the subject.

I suppose this leads to another catch-22 I often find myself asking of documentaries. Is a documentary film capable of swaying the opinion of a person from one side of an issue like this to another? If it is, then is it even conceivable that the sort of person who needs to see the film ever actually would? In any case, this is not that film. While it does spend some time providing examples of lives destroyed by the passage of the proposition, the main thrust of the film is "those awful Mormon elders."

The bottom line is this -- it's not a bad movie, but it does betray the (justifiable) rage of the people who made it, and thus isn't as good or compelling as it could be. I rate it a B-. For a far more skillful take on "gays vs. religion," I'd recommend For the Bible Tells Me So.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Spinning the Wheel

Well, I've done it. I've started to read The Wheel of Time series for the very first time -- the fantasy series so preposterously huge, it couldn't actually be finished in the author's lifetime.

Some have warned me not to undertake this task. Once-fans of the series seem to uniformly agree that it turned sour somewhere in the middle. Some say it felt like the writer was just vamping to write (and sell) more books. Others suggest that Robert Jordan always wrote this way, but that his editors gradually lost the clout/desire to edit out the unnecessary parts.

But those who haven't given up completely also tell me that now that the series is at last winding to a close in the hands of new author Brandon Sanderson, it has picked up again and seems to be heading to a good conclusion. No stranger to epic and incomplete fantasy series (see: A Song of Ice and Fire), I decided it was time for me to give this famous one a shot.

Anyway, there are still (according to some estimates) nearly 4,000,000 words between me and the as yet unreleased final book, number 14 in the series. I'll probably still be working on this by the time it arrives.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Facebook Rant

This is probably going to piss off a number of people, but somebody needs to say it: your Facebook profile picture should be a picture of YOU. Or at the very least, have you in it.

It's wonderful that you're proud of your son/daughter/pet. It's nice that you love this particular sports star/cartoon character/rock artist. Facebook offers other ways that you can share all of these loves and more. But when you make these things your profile picture, you are making Facebook harder for all the rest of us to use.

First, someone out there in the world might be looking for you. After receiving a recent friend request from a junior high friend I hadn't heard from in literally decades, I decided to try and look up one of my best elementary school buds. And even though his name wasn't quite as commonplace as, say "Bob Jones," my search still turned up dozens of possibilities. None of the people with actual photos were him. As for the baby, dog, football player, and snow-capped mountain? There's no way to know.

Of course, this will not be motivation for many of you. You may well not want to be found by some of the people who might be looking for you. And I can even respect that. But then let me hit you with problem #2.

When you log on to Facebook from a different computer for the first time, the site will ask you to verify your identity by going into your Friends list and pulling a few random photos. "Who is this?" it will ask you. And last time I had to do this, three of the four photos it presented me were not actually photos of the person in question! "Well, that is my friend. But that is some baby, that looks like something Bob Ross would paint, and that is a character from a comic strip." Even presented with multiple choice options for each photo, I was not able to successfully pass the "test" and log in on the first try.

So pretty please, let us see your smiling face (smiling optional!) on your Facebook profile. Thank you.

(A few people might be about the Un-Friend me now...)

Saturday, March 26, 2011


I'm really not sure what compelled me to check out the 1986 film The Mosquito Coast, but I really wish I hadn't. It's all situation without any real story, a sequence of events without any drama.

Harrison Ford plays an inventor who has become fed up with life in civilization, so he picks up and relocates his family into the jungle of Central America. He happens upon someone who sells him the land of a small village, of which he becomes mayor. From there, many things happen -- though none quite coalescing into a narrative as such. He gets into a personality conflict with a local missionary. He invents a machine that makes ice, which the jungle natives have never seen. He starts to lose his mind and take on touches of a Messianic complex.

Plenty of events, but all of it phenomenally boring. I found myself almost nodding off a points. All I can think of to really commend the film is the appearance of a younger Helen Mirren as the main character's wife, and River Phoenix as his son. (You might say the one good thing to come of this movie was the idea to cast River Phoneix as Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.)

I'm rating it a D-, and advising everyone to steer clear.

Friday, March 25, 2011

It Lives!

For those of you who were concerned (and I'd like to hope there were at least a few of you), I believe my virus-fragged laptop is now back in working order. My thanks to all of you who responded with advice and possible fixes. And an extra special thanks to my friend "Roland Deschain," who gave up his time to do all the work.

There has got to be an easier way to get two days' worth of blog content.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


This is not a review of the movie Total Recall; I haven't watched it recently. No, this is the review of the DVD itself.

See, a friend of mine asked me today for some TV series I'd recommend. So I decided to look over my collection tonight for something to suggest. And as I was perusing the shelves, I came across what has to be the worst "special edition DVD" I own -- Total Recall.

For starters, observe the packaging above. It comes in a round tin shaped like the planet Mars, exactly the size of the disc. It rolls right off your shelf. (That little paper thing next to it was just for the store. It disintegrated in fairly short order after you removed the shrink wrap.)

Then it has the worst DVD commentary track I have ever listened to. (The part I heard, anyway; I couldn't stomach the whole thing.) This is The Room of DVD commentaries. Paul Verhoeven (director of the film) and Arnold Schwarzenegger got together to record it.

For the entire time, Schwarzenegger is basically narrating everything that's happening on screen. "In this scene, my character doesn't know if his wife is telling him the truth or not." Meanwhile, Paul Verhoeven is describing minutia about camera angles. "This shot is a set. This shot is green screen. Back to the set. Back to green screen." (As with Arnold's comments, we can see this.)

But pushing it all over the top is the contest they seem to be having to "out-accent" each other. It's a good thing neither is actually sharing anything insightful; you'd be hard pressed to understand it.

This DVD marked a turning point for me where I became much more choosy about buying DVDs for the special features. If the disc were to just accidentally roll away some day, I'm not sure I'd miss it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Way to Start the Day, Redux

Perhaps every once in a while, I should read my own blog. Not for vanity, but for my own good.

I had a dentist appointment scheduled next Friday. (Yes, April Fool's Day. Hmmm.) But yesterday afternoon, I get a call asking if it would be possible for me to come in this morning instead. At 7:00 in the morning. What I should have said is "sorry, I can't do it." But instead, I said "yes, sure."

What I've now learned is that my memory for this sort of thing is something less than two-and-a-half years long. Because I wrote of more or less this exact thing about that long ago.

Lesson not learned.

Shall I go ahead and schedule a cleaning now at 7:00 in the morning for late September in 2013?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lost Re-view: Man of Science, Man of Faith

The second season premiere of Lost was the most watched episode of the series' entire run, according to the Nielsen ratings. It was written by series co-creator Damon Lindelof (without writing partner Carlton Cuse, say the credits), and directed by series regular Jack Bender. It's an incredibly strong episode. To the writers' credit, they seemed to understand that they'd made the viewers wait to know what was inside the Hatch for long enough, and made at least two big decisions based on that.

First, there is absolutely no material in this premiere that addresses the fate of Michael, Jin, and Sawyer on the destroyed raft. Yes, they're three series regulars in mortal peril, but the audience simply doesn't care as much about them at the moment.

Secondly, the writers immediately answer the question: "what's inside the Hatch?" You don't know it the first time you watch the episode, but the opening sequence is set in the Hatch, giving us its occupant's perspective on the explosion that gives our survivors access at last. Of course, you don't understand anything of what you're seeing the first time around: Desmond awakening to the countdown beep, punching in something on the computer, taking a shower (under a shower head that some manic fan counted as having exactly 42 holes), giving himself an injection, then...

BOOM! Through a viewing scope and a series of adjustable mirrors, we look up the very shaft that Locke and Jack are looking down. Hurley is nearby, chanting the numbers to stave off a total meltdown. And then comes a very deft bit of writing.

Jack is practical, doing what the characters should be doing in such a situation. The Hatch is useless for their purposes, to hide everyone from the Others. It's a 50 foot drop into nothing, with a busted ladder. So time to forget about it and move on to another plan. But Locke behaves completely irrationally to the actual situation, and is the voice of the audience, now and for the rest of the episode. Forget about the Others and get inside that damn Hatch! And all the while, the plot thickens, as Kate notices the word "QUARANTINE" stamped on the inside of the Hatch door.

Back at the caves, Shannon has lost Vincent. Troubled that this is the one thing anyone ever asked her to do, she's determined to do it right. She's willing to trod off into the jungle alone at night, but Sayid goes with her. The two find the dog, but get separated as they split up to try and corner him.

Then comes the big "what the hell?" moment of the episode. The only bad thing about the episode, in my opinion. And even then, it was cool the first time around; it just sucks that it never really gets paid off. Shannon hears the infamous Whispers, and then looks up and sees a specter of a dripping wet Walt, who motions to "shush," and then chants something unintelligible. The uber-fans determined that Walt is actually speaking backwards, and saying: "Don't push the button. Button bad."

As Hurley might say, "dude." Obviously, the writers already knew about the button in the Hatch and such, and were having some fun. But obviously, they didn't know what was going on with Walt, because this never gets explained. But let's consider some possibilities here.

The Whispers precede the Smoke Monster. But Smokey can't manifest as a person who is alive, so Drippy Walt can't be him.

Walt wasn't thrown into the ocean, so why would he be wet? Much, much later, in season 6, we'd learn about the crazy baptismal pool in the temple on the Island. But do Ben's people, "The Others" who took Walt, actually control that at this point in time?

Desmond is "special," we'd learn, in his reactions to electromagnetic energy, and his ability to jump through time. Is Walt projecting through time? Well, that might be possible, except that he has no recollection of it later. Nor does he ever learn about the button.

In short... I got nothing.

So back to Kate, Hurley, Jack, and Locke, returning to the caves. Kate and Locke are talking about Locke's desire to get inside the Hatch. Hurley is cautioning Jack not to let Locke have time with "your girl." But Jack wants to know what Hurley meant when he screamed that "the numbers are bad." So Hurley, after initial reluctance, tells his entire story. The numbers, the lottery win, the bad luck (even adding a detail we hadn't heard yet, about the chicken joint where he worked getting struck by a meteorite)... everything. But Jack can only fix on one detail: "You were in a psych ward?" To which Hurley simply says that Jack's bedside manner "sucks, dude." (More on that later.)

When the group makes it back to the caves, it's just in time to defuse an argument. Shannon is freaking everyone out with talk of the Whispers, Drippy Walt, and Others. Charlie starts shouting about how there are no Others -- they're just the crazy French woman's creation. So Jack delivers an inspiration speech about the guns they still have, posting lookouts, and how he will "promise" that everyone will see the sunrise together.

But even as he's saying this, Locke has gathered a rope-like length of cable leftover from the plane crash, and is heading back to the Hatch to explore. Kate extracts Jack's honest assessment of the truth of his words, noting he isn't usually a "glass half full" guy, then sets off after Locke, saying he'll need help.

When she arrives, Locke hasn't started down the shaft yet. He says he was waiting for her. He wants to lower her in first, being smaller and lighter. A great moment follows, where she asks "what do I say if I need to stop?" Locke answers, "Stop." But there's a long pause afterward where you sense that Kate knows Locke is so gung ho about this that she doesn't quite trust him to stop even if she says so.

As Kate nears the bottom of the shaft (after a brief mishap where the trees used to support the cable snap), we have a callback to the pilot, as she starts counting to five (as Jack taught her) to push her fear to the side. But just after "four," a metal squeak sounds from below, the light shifts, and she sees movement. She screams to stop...

But then the spotlight Locke once saw come from the shaft flares on! A force pulls on the cable. Locke fights, his hands bleeding, but the cable then goes slack, the light shuts off, and Kate is gone.

Meanwhile, Jack hasn't quite convinced himself with his own speech. He decides to take off after Locke and Kate, and arrives at the shaft to find no one -- just the cable leading down inside. So he wraps his hands and climbs down in. He reaches the bottom and starts inside, beginning a long sequence of very meticulously planned material.

See, you don't know it the first time around, but everything you're about to see is going to be revisited again in the next two episodes, from Kate and Locke's perspectives. There's also important information about the Hatch itself, planted here in the season premiere, that doesn't even pay off until the season finale.

Jack finds shoes carefully placed to the side of the tunnel. (We won't learn what they're doing there this week.) He finds an elaborate graffiti mural painted on a wall, with 108 and the other numbers prominently displayed. (The director Jack Bender painted this mural himself, trivia fans.) He discovers the big source of electromagnetic force lurking behind a wall. (This is the detail that pays off in the season finale.)

Really, all this stuff is outstanding and effectively creepy, because it's so completely different from anything we've seen on Lost before. We've traded the wild jungle for a sinister-looking, harsh metal science fiction bunker, with weirdness around every corner.

Jack then moves into "the dome," the computer room full of whirring tapes, as music starts blasting over the intercom. If you know to be listening for it -- but the first time through, you don't -- you can actually hear Kate faintly screaming Jack's name just over the music (which will be revealed in full next episode). Jack sees the computer, and is about to push a key...

Locke appears, very tense: "I wouldn't do that!" Jack points his gun, but seconds later, it's not the only gun pointed at Locke. Another pops in from the side of the frame, revealing Locke as a hostage. The unseen hostage taker fires a warning shot at an overhead vent (another connection to Kate that will be revealed next week).

Jack tries one more barb against Locke about destiny, but is stunned when the hostage taker reveals himself by the choice of words in his threat: "Lower your gun, or I'll blow his damned head off, brother!" Desmond reveals his face, and Jack recognizes him.

From where? Well, that's a matter for the flashbacks this episode, centered around Jack. But while this is the most shocking thing given to us by the flashbacks, I'd hardly call in the most important thing, character-wise. Yes, we're getting Jack's fourth flashback episode here, but he turns out to be a character that still has plenty to offer.

We find a much younger version of him (great makeup work, by the way) working a shift in the hospital when his future wife Sarah is brought in after the auto accident she referred to last season. (So is another victim, a Mr. Rutherford. Eagle-eared fans would immediately make the connection that this was Shannon's father, who dies there in the hospital.)

After Jack stabilizes Sarah, a later scene has him breaking the bad news. With that terrible bedside manner Hurley was referring to on the Island in the present. Her back is broken, they'll try surgery, but chances aren't good. Jack's dad Christian pulls him aside and councils him: "You might want to try handing out some hope once in a while." But Jack dismisses the advice, saying it's only offering false hope.

Later, in the operating room, just before Sarah is about to be put under, she calls Jack in close, and tells him "a little secret." She confesses that she accepts she won't be dancing at her wedding. She might still "roll," though, and Jack is invited.

And then Jack has a massive, character defining moment. "I'm gonna fix you," he promises her. Even though just minutes ago, he was telling his father he believed this to be a hopeless case. This scene shows us that Jack isn't really just the cold, hard "Man of Science" we've known him to be all through season one. Somewhere in him, there is also a "Man of Faith," and it's ultimately that version of Jack that manifests in the final seasons and takes us straight up the very end of Lost.

It's all right here.

But, of course, the moment that would have everyone buzzing at the watercooler the next day was the following flashback, where Jack is running up and down stadium steps and encounters another man doing the same. Desmond is training for a race around the world. Jack confides that he made a promise to a patient that he couldn't keep; he couldn't fix her. Desmond counters, "Just one thing. What if you DID fix her?" Jack says in her situation, that would be a miracle. "And you don't believe in miracles," counters Desmond. A statement, not a question. A few more words between them, and then Desmond departs with the fatefully true words: "Good luck, brother. See you in another life." (As would occur in the episode's final moment.)

But for my money, this flashback (while good) is sandwiched between two even better ones. I already mentioned the importance of the earlier scene to Jack's character. Lastly comes the moment when Sarah awakens after surgery, and playfully flirts with him as he works up the nerve to tell her he couldn't fix her, that she'll never walk again.

To which Sarah replies, "You're yanking my chain right?" She can wiggle her toes! And Jack tests all over her legs; she can feel every touch. Both weep openly, and if you're at all like me, it's pretty hard for you not to cry right along with them. It's pitch perfect writing, and two outstanding performances from Matthew Fox and guest star Julie Bowen (the latter showing her comedy chops these days on Modern Family).

In short, this is a grade A episode of Lost. (Even though I myself was only fixated on "what does all this stuff in the Hatch mean?" the first time around.) As I said, the only false moment in the episode is the scene with Walt... but there's too much other wonderful stuff going on here for me to get too distracted by that. This episode is creepy and suspenseful. It makes you laugh and makes you cry. It deepens Jack's character and deepens the show's mythology. It just works on every level. A fantastic start to the second season.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Computer Help Wanted

I'm ticked.

I play by the rules. I don't take my browser to lots of strange web sites. I don't open e-mail attachments from people I don't know. I have an anti-virus software installed.

But a few months back, my laptop still managed to pick up some kind of virus which the anti-virus software was unable to eradicate. It seemed to be interfering with my ability to use the Backup utility to copy my hard drive (though I suppose maybe that's just as well, since I'd be copying a virus too). It also was causing havoc in my browser, causing about a third of the pages I'd surf to (including all Google search results) to forward automatically to some OTHER strange page I hadn't asked for. I didn't actually have a Windows disk, so I'd put off doing the "take off and nuke the site from orbit" solution.

Last night, I'm typing away on the laptop, and I see a notice pop up on the bottom right of the screen. Something from my anti-virus software. Something with a red banner. But before I could read it---- zap! The computer just shuts off. And when I went to reboot? Nothing. The laptop manufacturer's logo, followed by a blinking cursor. I've tried all the "hold this button" suggestions offered by that startup screen, as well as trying to start Windows in Safe Mode. Nothing. Blinking cursor.

I can get into the BIOS, and run a diagnostic that says my RAM and hard drive are still intact. I restore default boot settings.... but still nothing. Blinking cursor.

I wasn't treating my laptop like a filthy trollop. Why did it go out and catch a disease like one?!

And more importantly, what the hell do I do now that my computer won't even start up? Is it just a paperweight now?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

"Not As Good" is Still Good

I've seen the excerpts of many critics' reviews on the new movie Paul, and the consensus seems to be: good, but not as good as Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead. After seeing it myself today, I have to add my voice to the chorus.

But make no mistake -- even "not as good" as those two movies still leaves plenty of room for a really entertaining movie. The latest film from (and starring) Simon Pegg and Nick Frost is a send-up a sci-fi and alien movies, in which they play a couple of Comic Con geeks who pick up an escaped (CG) alien voiced by Seth Rogen.

All three of them are funny and do good work, but most of the best moments in the movie come from supporting cast members, including Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Blythe Danner, and Sigourney Weaver. (One possible reason for the "not as good as..." reviews.) The truly best moments of the movie come from clever references to other sci-fi films. You'll enjoy yourself a lot more seeing Paul if you've seen Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Aliens, and a certain infamous old episode of Star Trek.

Overall, I'd rate Paul a B. It's certainly worth seeing, and deserved better than to be the fifth most popular film this weekend (from what I've heard).

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Super Documentary

I seem to have had documentaries in my system lately. Not long ago, I watched another one from last year to receive wide critical acclaim, Waiting for Superman. This film, directed by the same man who directed An Inconvenient Truth, takes on the public school system in America.

Though some of the film shows the poor results of that system, more time is given to a half dozen charter schools with highly successful programs that would seem to illustrate a model that works... but that, according to the film, can't be implemented in the system at large due to bureaucracy. We're also shown a few examples of administrators who tried to change things from within the system, only to be slapped down.

To further add to the discouragement, the film tracks several families as they try to win the "lottery" to get their children into one of these charter schools. The odds are quite stacked against them, and the story does not end happily for most.

From one perspective, these human faces put on the problem at issue could make this documentary seem superior to An Inconvenient Truth. From my perspective, a little more time could have been spent articulating the case, particularly showing us more of what exactly these "success story schools" were doing differently. So I'd have to say that this documentary comes out a little weaker in the wash.

Still, it's a worthy film highlighting a very serious and real problem. I rate it a B-.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Winter's Discontent

Though this year's Academy Awards have come and gone, I guess I haven't yet abandoned the "quest" to see all of the nominees for Best Picture. If you are on a similar quest, though, I'm suggesting that you might want to abandon it if you've not yet seen Winter's Bone.

The story revolves around a 17-year old girl named Ree, living with her catatonic mother and two siblings in the Ozark mountains. Her father appears to have fled from an impending court date, and has offered his only real asset -- the house they live in -- as bail. The struggling family will soon have no place to live unless the girl can locate her father and persuade him to turn himself in.

The movie is all character, all situation, and very little plot. It's almost like the story of Chicken Little in its sheer repetitiveness. For a huge chunk of the movie, every scene involves Ree going to someone else to inquire about her father and getting told off in a country-folksy way. The various criminal backgrounds of these simple people felt a lot to me like territory covered quite thoroughly by TV's Justified -- with far less skill and far less engaging characters than that series manages every week.

Really, the only reason to watch the film would be to see the performance of the young lead actor, Jennifer Lawrence. And she does well enough, I suppose, though I'm not really convinced it's an effort worthy of the Oscar nomination she received. Hailee Steinfeld, the actress who anchored True Grit, was a far more compelling young performer in a tonally similar role.

I'll throw a bonus point or two toward the film for the appearance of the great-but-underutilized character actor John Hawkes, and the good-in-everything-I've-seen-him-in Garret Dillahunt (though underutilized here). But it still only amounts to a D+, which comes out to one Oscar nominated film I suggest you steer clear of.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Too Much of a Good Thing

Those who know me know that I love Rock Band. A lot. Too much? No, I say... and I now have a photo someone took at the recent PAX East convention to illustrate what I would say is "too much":

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Original Song

Tonight's Glee, the last new one for several weeks, was certainly songtastic. If you include all the failed attempts at original songs (and I'm just saying, I'd seriously consider buying "Trouty Mouth" on iTunes), there were 11 -- ELEVEN! -- musical numbers this week. Even if you count only the songs that were released as singles, this week's seven songs ties the record I believe.

All that singing couldn't possibly leave room for any plot, right? Amazingly enough, wrong! Not that there was a lot of story, but there was still time enough for "Scary Quinn" to brutally shred Rachel's ego, a scene to continue the incredible Santana-Brittany story from last week, and to finally and officially put Blaine and Kurt together as couple. Well done!

But since the episode was mostly all about the music, let's run through that. The Warblers had four -- FOUR -- songs this week. The opening number, "Misery," was good, but essentially a carbon copy of Mike Tompkins' version from YouTube. "Candles" didn't wow me, though I was glad to see Kurt get to sing at competition. "Raise Your Glass" was a fun toe-tapper, and in many episodes could well have been the best performance of the hour... but there were so many others against it.

I'll have to side with Blaine and say that of the Warblers' numbers this week, "Blackbird" was the one that moved me most. Okay, you have to ignore the fact that Kurt got as choked up over a bird as he did singing for his hospitalized father earlier this season. But Chris Colfer can definitely put an awesome spin on a Beatles tune.

A quick tour through the "failed" original songs. Rachel's "Only Child" served its story purpose of being a funny intermediate step between "My Headband" and a real song. As I mentioned earlier, I kind of liked "Trouty Mouth." And was laughing my head off the entire time. "Big Ass Heart" was surprisingly good too. Granted with those lyrics, the only radio it could play on would be the Dr. Demento Show, but still, catchy music. As for "Hell to the No" -- nothing against Amber Riley, who crushed it as usual, but I just didn't care for the song.

All I have to say about "Jesus Is My Friend" was that the Jewish star choreography at the end was funny, even if it was inspired by the swastika choreography from The Producers.

So then, the "real" original songs. Rachel's "Get It Right" certainly seemed heartfelt, and Lea Michele did what she does, good as she always does it. But I tend to need a few episodes between my "Rachel power ballad" moments, and I'm not sure it's been long enough for me since she sang "Firework." I found the song mostly forgettable, too.

But "Loser Like Me," on the other hand... yes, it was total bubble gum pop, prefab for top 40. The sort of music you're supposed to turn your nose up at, not like. But I loved it. It was bouncy and catchy as hell, and perfectly straddled the line of being a real song while feeling like something the kids might actually write. It's probably just plain wrong for me to pick this number over "Blackbird" for best of the week, but I think I have to. I expect both will be in heavy rotation on my iPod in the weeks ahead.

I'll reserve the full "A" for episodes that really sucker punch you with heart, episodes like Grilled Cheesus. But for good plain fun, tonight's installment still gets an A- in my book.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Know Your Audience?

There's a Borders bookstore less than 5 minutes from my house that's going out of business. (As are many Borders bookstores all over the country.) The entire stock is being discounted and sold off, prices dropping more and more leading up to the closing. But even with things only in the 30 and 40% off range right now, the store is looking pretty picked thin. Walking through the half-empty store pointed out a question I've always asked myself:

Who reads political books?

I couldn't help but notice the huge stacks of many different political books all over the place. At least 4 different biographies about Barack Obama. Several more books about his accomplishments (or mistakes, depending on one's leanings) since taking office. Dozens and dozens of copies of George W. Bush's autobiography. At least five different books by Glenn Beck.

I've always wondered, who is reading this stuff? I don't need to read any lengthy validation of my own political viewpoints. And while I try to keep aware of points raised by prominent politicians with opposing viewpoints, I certainly don't want to dedicate hours and hours of my time to read their screed at length. And while I'm sure that I differ from "the average person" in all sorts of ways, I don't imagine this general attitude to be one. So who the hell is reading these books?

Looking at the selection leftover in the half-empty, going-out-of-business bookstore, the answer appears to be: no one.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Good Adjustment

Today, I started playing catch-up on movies from last weekend and went to see The Adjustment Bureau. I didn't know there were any Phillip K. Dick stories left that haven't already been made into movies, but here you go.

Though advertised in the trailers as a "run from the conspiracy" sort of suspense thriller -- and it does have elements of that -- the movie also has more going on. The core of the plot is a romance, and the major theme is a philosophical examination of free will vs. fate, with a healthy dose of religious/spiritual undertones. In many ways, this concoction has a fair amount in common with the TV series Lost, though told in under two hours rather than over 100 episodes.

In any case, I found it to be a fairly successful mix. Of course, any love story can only work if the couple at the heart of it has heart, a real chemistry. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt do. Fortunately, it's not just a case where both performers have been good in other films, and are again here -- the two are actually good together.

Anchoring the "conspiracy" side of the movie are John Slattery and Terence Stamp. Both are ostensibly the "bad guys," though there are characters working for the titular "Adjustment Bureau" of all different levels of sympathy for the protagonist. John Slattery falls in the middle of the spectrum, while Terence Stamp embodies the biggest "heavy" of the movie. Both are compelling in their roles.

But while the film is possibly more than I expected (in that there's more to it than I expected), it doesn't quite cross the line into exceptional. All the elements work, though none is superb. The conspiracy elements are tense but not gripping. The romance is sweet but not touching. The moral questions are thoughtful, but not presented in a profound way.

In short, it's a solid movie, maybe even commendable for typical March movie fare. Worth recommending, but not likely to be a "best of the year" contender when all is said and done. I rate it a B.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Feelings on the Inside

So, Exit Through the Gift Shop may not have won the Oscar for Best Documentary Film of 2010, but I did just sit down to watch the movie that did, Inside Job. It's a look at the banking crisis that began in 2008, narrated by Matt Damon.

I enjoyed Exit Through the Gift Shop. Mind you, I didn't necessarily think it was "best movie of the year" material, but I was definitely entertained. But I have to say that if this was the competition, Banksy was robbed.

Alright, that's overstating things a bit. Inside Job isn't a bad movie. But what starts out interesting gets increasingly dry as it continues on. This isn't because of complex explanations of financial matters, either; most of the "what happened?" comes in the first 30 minutes or so of the documentary. Instead, the film starts to bog down in repetition. Cut to another interview with an author who saw it coming. Cut to photo of a bad guy responsible for the meltdown. Cut to on-screen text informing us that said bad guy declined to be interviewed for this film. Repeat.

But even the early "what happened" portion of the film is a bit hit and miss. I couldn't help but compare it to Michael Moore's earlier documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story. Inside Job goes into more detail, but at the level the average person should understand, doesn't really tell you any more than Moore's film (which also presents most of the same info in a rather more entertaining manner).

Still, I suppose there are some people out there who can't stomach Michael Moore. If that's the case for you, then I'd certainly recommend Inside Job as an alternative. I'd rate it a C+. I'm not sure there's a course of action for you to take after seeing it other than "get mad," but this feels to me like information any conscientious citizen ought to be exposed to.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lost Re-view: Exodus (Part 2, Sort Of)

Welcome back! Yesterday, I began a review of the first season finale of Lost, a mammoth triple-length episode that spawned a mammoth, triple-length review. As such, I decided -- like the episode -- to break things into two parts. Yesterday, I wrote about the flashback component of the finale. Today, I'm covering the on-Island adventures.

Things begin with Danielle Rousseau walking out of the jungle into the survivors' beach camp to warn them that "the Others are coming." She recounts the story of losing her daughter 16 years ago, preceded by the omen of a thick column of black smoke in the sky. Jack dismisses her as crazy, though Locke points out that fact doesn't make her wrong. And sure enough, a pillar of black smoke appears hours later.

They need a place they can hide 40 people, and Jack thinks of the Hatch. Rousseau says that in all her time on the Island, she has never seen anything like it. I suppose in her estimation, the station where she recorded her distress call doesn't count as anything like this one, but given that she doesn't know what's inside here, I'll give her a pass on that. (What's harder to understand is how she is so sure the Others took her baby and are such a serious threat when she also told Sayid that she's never actually seen an Other -- only heard them as whispers. So... crazy, I guess.)

Anyway, Sayid continues his protests about the Hatch, arguing that it might even belong to the Others themselves (not too far off the mark -- they occupy several old Dharma stations, just not this one). But recalling the dynamite Rousseau used to booby trap her own shelter, the group has an idea to get inside. And they get her to reveal where the explosives came from: the Black Rock.

Meanwhile, the raft has been damaged in the attempt to roll it down to the beach. (Opportunity #47 for Michael to throw a fit.) Jack wants everybody to help repair the raft and see it off, then run to hide in the caves. Meanwhile, he and a small band will go for the dynamite. Bad plan, says Arzt, unless he's there to supervise the handling of the dynamite.

But before the Black Rock brigade can set out, Jack has a little business to attend to. He won't be back before the raft launches, so he wants to give Sawyer a gun from the marshal's case, "just in case" the raft crew needs it. This leads to the first of several powerful scenes in the episode, an extended moment in which Sawyer reveals that he met Jack's father in Australia just before his death, and relays everything Christian had meant to say to Jack but never had the chance. Sawyer is shown to be a good guy at the core; faced with the real possibility he'll never see Jack again, he decides to bring Jack some peace -- for nothing in return. Jack is moved nearly to tears (as am I as a viewer, I have to say).

Then Jack, Kate, Locke, Hurley, Arzt, and Rousseau head out on their trek. It's a fun sequence that shows off some of the beautiful Hawaiian scenery, has several good lines of Hurley humor, and makes a point of showing us some mysterious scratches on Rousseau's arm. Arzt panics when they reach "Dark Territory" and turns back, but moments later returns in an even bigger panic, chased by the monster.

The group escapes the threat for now, but the close encounter prompts more misinformation from Rousseau. She claims the monster is a "security system" meant to protect the Island. She's just repeating something that we'd learn (in season five) her companion Robert determined, but the fact remains that this information is essentially the exact opposite of the truth. In fact, there is an altogether different "security system" in place (Jacob) to guard against the monster (leaving the Island). Whoops.

Meanwhile on the beach, Jin and Michael argue over repairs, repeating lines from The Empire Strikes Back, when Sawyer shows up with a new mast he's cut to repair the damage. The raft will soon be back in business, equipped by Sayid with a radar emitter to locate other ships, and a single flare to signal for help.

Another surprisingly effective scene comes when Walt goes to Shannon and gives his dog Vincent to her. Vincent took care of Walt when his Mom died, he says, because he's a good listener. Walt figures Vincent can do the same to help Shannon cope with the loss of Boone.

The emotions continue to build over the next few scenes. Sun brings Jin an English phrasebook she's created to help him learn a few important words. Jin says he must go on the raft, because it's his job to save Sun. He was brought to this place as punishment for making Sun suffer, and she doesn't deserve any of it. A true reconciliation occurs between them.

And then comes the actual launching of the raft. It begins with a wordless goodbye montage, underscored by brilliant Michael Giacchino music that swells into a phenomenal, sweeping sequence -- one of the most effective Lost has yet delivered.

Meanwhile, the traveling gang has reached the Black Rock, and learned that it's an old slave ship somehow beached miles inland. Hurley wonders how something like that could happen, to which Rousseau smartly replies: "Are you on the same island as I am?" Her job as guide discharged, she is out of there, leaving the rest of the group to retrieve the dynamite.

At the beach, Charlie is going back into "protector mode" in regards to Claire, and demands a gun from Sayid (to whom Jack entrusted the rest of the marshal's stash). Sayid sagely refuses.

Arzt is running his mouth to Hurley, who isn't even really listening -- but then really flips out when he sees Jack and Locke carrying a crate of dynamite from the wrecked ship. He lectures everyone about the way the old sticks will sweat nitroglycerin in the heat, and cautions that the inventor of dynamite blew himself up. (Factually incorrect, actually -- but one can assume blowhard Arzt is just doing what he does.) Then, just as Arzt is talking about how temperamental--

BOOM! Bits of Arzt everywhere, in a moment that was shocking the first time around, and still quite disgusting on a subsequent viewing. As Hurley puts it perfectly: "Dude."

Then comes a short scene where the raft crew, sailing from the Island, muse about how a place this big could have gone undiscovered. (We'll learn the answer to that eventually -- the Island moves!) Then Sawyer and Michael bond (oh don't worry, they'll be fighting again soon enough) over Bob Marley lyrics.

Shannon struggles with too much stuff crammed in a full suitcase as she tries to flee the beach, and when things spill out, it's revealed they're all Boone's. She breaks down to Sayid. "I need these things. I can't just leave them." Whether you like Shannon or not, it feels like a very real moment.

At the Black Rock, Hurley feels that Arzt's misfortune was Hurley's own bad luck. Meanwhile, Jack and Locke are back at the dynamite crate playing Press Your Luck. Or actually, Operation, as Locke refers to it, noting that he "absolutely" loves playing games -- in a bit of a callback to his recent episode, in which he explained the game of Mousetrap.

Rousseau arrives on the beach once again, and catches Claire when no one else is around. Claire suddenly has a brief flash of memory (hey, does that count as her actually getting a flashback in this episode after all?), of her inflicting those mysterious scratches on Rousseau's arm herself. But it's too late. Rousseau clocks Claire, and runs off with the baby.

Charlie's reaction is to haul off and punch Sayid for refusing earlier to share a gun. (Not that he'd have been there to use it, but hey, it's not really a rational moment for Charlie.) Sayid grabs him by the throat and calms him down. Soon, he does give Charlie that gun (but warning that it isn't for revenge), and Claire begs the two of them to go off and rescue "Aaron," naming her baby in that moment.

The Black Rock people are again raising a central theme of the series: fate. Kate, Locke, and Jack are all eager to risk their lives by carrying dynamite in their backpacks, but the group agrees only two are needed for the job. They agree to let "fate" decide and draw straws for the dubious honor. Jack is left out.

On the raft, Sawyer passes his time by reading through the messages that survivors wrote to their loved ones, and Walt calls him out on it, asking if Sawyer would want anyone reading something he'd written. Sawyer is oddly direct, telling Walt the last letter he wrote -- the only letter he'll ever write -- is to the man he's going to kill. It's a moment Michael might justifiably get mad about, a man telling his boy about plans to commit murder... but Michael's not paying attention for this one.

Shannon arrives at the cave, and is forced to see the spot where her brother died. Sun tries to comfort her, saying "he died bravely," but soon she sinks into her own despair, echoing Jin's earlier words to her. She too seems to believe the Island is a punishment, for things done before, secrets kept, lies told. Fate itself (there's that word again!) is punishing them. But Claire plays "Jack" to Sun's "Locke," and declares there's no such thing as fate.

Michael and Walt are having a bonding moment over steering the boat when they suddenly hit a log and the rudder falls off. Sawyer strips off his shirt and heroically swims out to save the rudder and the day. And one moment, Michael is saying exactly that to him. But the next moment, he's discovered the gun concealed in Sawyer shirt, and gets nasty again. Man, Michael is bipolar.

Sayid and Charlie pause for rest on their journey toward the black smoke, the place they believe Rousseau is taking Aaron. On the Island of strangeness, but no coincidences, they stop to rest at the wreckage of the Nigerian plane, and Sayid reveals the massive heroin stash. The scene closes on a long, lingering stare into Charlie's face.

The dynamite gang is on the journey back, speculating about what might be in the Hatch. Locke says it's "hope." Hurley hopes it's "Twinkies." Hurley turns out to be closer to correct, I would say.

And then comes a moment that kind of makes me hate Lost fans. Certain kinds of Lost fans, anyway. A large bird takes flight, squawking noisily. In my estimation, there is nothing out of the ordinary here; it's just a dramatic moment to underscore the whole "Dark Territory" thing. But apparently, after seeing this moment, some particularly nutty Lost fans were swearing up and down that this bird's caws were saying "Hurley! Hurley!" Thus, the so-called "Hurley bird" was born.

I imagine this as the first real "oh crap" moment for the writers, the moment they realized that they couldn't do anything on their show without some portion of the audience ascribing colossally important meaning to it. They'd try and laugh off this whole Hurley bird thing a year later in the season two finale, but ultimately this somehow became an issue so important to some people that the writers felt compelled to address it in The New Man in Charge. This actually ticks me off a little, as it somehow validates the notion that in the midst of this incredibly intricate tapestry of deeply rounded characters, it's okay if the thing you were most concerned about is where some damn mutant bird (that doesn't even look that strange) came from.

But I've dwelled more than long enough on that little rant. And fortunately, right after the bird flies off, something very relevant to the overall storyline of Lost makes a grand entrance: the monster. This time, we're actually shown a wisp of smoke as we hear the noise, and we even see a smoke tentacle grab Locke and start dragging him through the jungle. In other words, we really are seeing what the monster is for the first time in the series. But I remember the first time around that it actually didn't even occur to me that I'd really seen what I'd seen. It wouldn't be until the more grand presentation of Smokey in season two that I'd finally feel like I'd seen what it was. I guess I felt like "it can't just be smoke" or something like that. (And really, it wasn't.) But this is all a subject for a much later re-view, I think.

The group starts to flee Smokey, but Locke turns and runs toward it. Spotting this, Jack bounds off to the rescue. Which is a good thing, because Locke has a moment of doubt. We see him look into the "face" on the monster, just as he did early in the season. But instead of a look of wonder, he has a look of horror. The smoke drags him to a hole in the ground and is about to pull him in when Jack intervenes. He tells Kate to get the "backup dynamite" -- from his bag -- to toss down the hole. Locke begs them not to do this, to just let him go because he'll be okay, but Kate does as Jack says. The smoke slinks away, and Locke is rescued.

On the raft, Michael asks Jin about the English he has learned from Sun's phrase book as they fix the rudder. Michael also tries to return Mr. Paik's watch, though Jin refuses and tells him to keep it.

Sayid and Charlie are hot on the trail, but Charlie lets his guard down and receives a serious head wound from one of Rousseau's traps. Sayid tells him to go back, but he absolutely refuses, asking Sayid to put some of his combat training to use on a "wounded soldier." Next follows a truly uncomfortable sequence to watch, in which Sayid cauterizes Charlie's wound with gunpowder extracted from a bullet. Well realized all around in filming and acting.

Jack and Locke argue over Locke's peculiar request earlier to be let go. Locke believes he was being tested, and that he thinks he knows why he and Jack don't see eye to eye: "you're a man of science; me, I'm a man of faith." This puts words to a key distinction between these characters that will be repeated again and again throughout the show. (In fact, it will inspire the title of the season 2 premiere.)

The conversation then gets really interesting. Locke asks if Jack really thinks their being there on the Island is all an accident, coincidence. Locke believes they were all brought there for a reason and purpose. (As we'll learn much later, he's absolutely right!) Who brought them there? "The Island," says Locke. (Well, pretty close. Jacob, the custodian of the Island.) Locke continues, saying the Island chose Jack. "It's destiny." (Ooo, you're basically three for three, Locke!)

Ah, but then he says that Boone's death was part of a chain of events all meant to lead to right here, right now, their end purpose -- to open the Hatch. (Oooo, big swing-and-a-miss on that one, John.) Still, he finishes strong; when Jack says he doesn't believe in destiny, Locke insists: "Yes you do. You just don't know it yet." (Solid bullseye on that point, as the last two seasons would prove.)

Now we're cruising toward the climax of the episode. On the raft, there's an argument over wasting battery power on the radar device, mixed with poignant discussion about Sawyer's background and why it might have given him a death wish... and then, a blip on the radar!

Sayid and Charlie reach the source of the smoke, a giant signal fire on a beach with no footprints leading to or away from it. They hear Aaron crying, and Rousseau emerges from the jungle in tears herself. She'd wanted to trade this baby for her daughter. The whispers had told her the Others were coming for "the boy," but they did not show. (But as we'll learn in minutes, Rousseau may very well have heard the whispers she claims she heard. But "the boy" the Others are coming for isn't Aaron.) Sayid manages to talk the baby back out of her arms.

Jack, Kate, Locke, and Hurley have reached the Hatch, and are rigging the explosives. It's a tense scene, and though we probably never seriously believe the characters are in danger, the recent death of main character Boone, combined with the showy offing of redshirt Arzt maybe does manage to stick just a little doubt in there if you've never seen the show before. Maybe.

Kate challenges Jack about switching the dynamite into his pack. Continuing the theme of fate, Jack says he would never leave such a decision up to chance, and further gripes that everyone wants him to be a leader until he makes a decision they don't like. But the two make up over Jack's suggestion that they'll soon need to watch out for an inevitable "Locke problem."

The dynamite is ready, but Hurley happens to drop his flashlight and see his dreaded numbers engraved on the Hatch. He begs them not to light the dynamite, screaming maniacally. Locke hears him, but simply doesn't care. Hurley tries to step on the burning fuse, but Jack pulls him to safety.... BOOM!

Back on the raft. The signal is getting farther away. Sawyer convinces Michael to use their one flare. And then the signal comes straight at them. A small motorboat shines a powerful spotlight. "Rescue music" from Michael Giacchino swells. And then the bearded man on the rescue boat hits them with: "Only the thing is, we're gonna have to take the boy." Sawyer goes for his gun. Shots are exchanged. Jin and Sawyer are in the water. The Others grab Walt, beat up Michael, and blow up the raft!

"Walt!!!" screams Michael about five or six times, the last spoken lines of dialogue in the first season. (Also the first spoken line of dialogue in the season. Coincidence?)

A wordless montage takes us to the end. Charlie and Sayid return to the caves and give baby Aaron back to Claire. Shannon and Sayid embrace. A happy moment all around, save for the pan down to Charlie's bag, where we see he's grabbed some of the Nigerian heroin stash.

And then we're at the Hatch, indeed blown open in the blast. The characters look down into a long hole descending into the ground, and the camera slowly pulls back from them down its length...

At which point, you had to wait four months if you were watching Lost live as it ran for the first time. Aaaaack!

And with this episode, which I'd rate an A-, season one comes to a close. For those interested in trivia, I read that in every other season, each main character was left out of at least one episode; this was the only season in which at least some of the characters (Jack, Kate, and a few others) showed up every time. I believe it to be one of Lost's best seasons; perhaps once I've finally reviewed everything I can sort of average up my ratings and determine where it really falls.

My picks for the five best of season one:
  1. Walkabout
  2. Pilot
  3. The Moth
  4. All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues
  5. Outlaws
And if you're still here after all this, you must love Lost as much as I do! Now, go outside or something.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lost Re-view: Exodus (Part 1, Sort Of)

The finale of Lost's first season, Exodus, was actually a triple-length installment aired over two weeks when originally broadcast. But it was definitely conceived of as a piece, all written by the king duo of Lost, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, and all directed by crown prince director Jack Bender. As such, I decided to sit down and watch it as one giant episode, in one single sitting.

I wanted to review it that way too, but when I actually set down everything I had to say on the episode, the result felt like a month's worth of blog posts in a single entry. So, like the episode itself, I will break my re-view into two parts. Unlike the episode itself, I'm separating the entire three hours by flashbacks and non-flashbacks. (Hence why I say this is Exodus, Part 1, Sort Of.)

Let's deal with the flashbacks first, an interesting component to this finale. Instead of focusing on one character, the finale -- like the pilot -- offers flashbacks for multiple characters. But where the pilot kept a fairly tight scope, taking us back only to Jack, Kate, and Charlie's experience on board the flight, this finale serves up one flashback for every major character -- all set on the morning of flight 815's departure from Sydney.

At least, I think that was the concept. It unfortunately breaks down in a few places. First of all, Sawyer's flashback doesn't appear to be the "morning of," but more likely the "night before." And then poor Claire is completely left out of the mix for reasons that aren't clear. Was something filmed and cut for time? Did the writers feel there was nothing important going on in her life on the morning of the flight?

Sayid also is not the focus of any flashback, perhaps because his recent episode poignantly told us everything we need to know about what happened to him just before he boarded the plane. Still, he does at least appear in the flashbacks of a couple other characters, notably Shannon's.

Which is another point of interest here -- this is actually Shannon's first flashback of the series. It's easy to overlook this detail, since we know her past by way of Boone's flashback episode. Make no mistake, though, that installment was entirely from Boone's perspective.

So a fun concept, but already slightly undermined in its not-quite-perfect execution. It's then brought down another notch or two by seeing just what some of those flashbacks are. Though some are excellent and deepen the story, many are completely disposable, there only to give (almost) everybody a flashback scene in the finale.

Let's sift through them all. First comes Walt and Michael in a scene clearly from the boy's perspective. Walt wakes up early on the morning of the flight and starts blasting the TV purely to annoy Michael. He tries storming out of their hotel room, screaming "you're not my father" to any other patron in earshot, but to no avail. It makes for a nice juxtaposition against the better bond the two now have on the Island, but doesn't really offer anything we didn't already know.

Next comes Jack, in a scene at the airport bar that seems to serve two main purposes. First, it introduces Ana Lucia to the show in advance of her formal season two debut, laying a tiny bit of ground for her to be a maybe-possible love interest for him. Second, it establishes that Jack is no longer married. It's funny that this second point even needs to be addressed. Throughout the first season, there was never any inkling that Jack was married -- no ring, nothing in his interactions. Then came the revelation near the end of the season that Jack was married. I'm sort of surprised it took even a couple episodes before it was made clear this is no longer the case, running the risk of making Jack look bad in the whole "love triangle" aspect of the show. Oh well, done and done.

One last point worth mentioning in Jack's flashback is the final line, spoken by Ana Lucia: "Jack, the worst part's over." Sure, it works as a bit of irony given the plane crash they're about to be involved in. But (probably coincidentally) it works at face value in the entire Lost story of Jack. A distraught future Jack would later basically admit that arriving on the Island was the best thing to ever happen to him. Ana Lucia could never know how on the nose her words truly were.

Next up is Sawyer, hauled into a police office after getting in a bar fight. The cop smacks him around verbally with his record and his real name, and then says Sawyer is being deported. A basically unnecessary bit of business, I think.

Then comes Kate, in the most infuriating flashback of the episode. The marshal has her in custody and is checking his case of guns with airport security, who asks why so many guns, and what's the deal with the little toy airplane? The marshal then launches into a two-minute monologue where he explains the entire events of the two season-worst episodes centered on Kate. He does it quickly and with personality, cracking a few jokes and getting in several good digs on Kate. In short, this single three-minute flashback could have saved us two rather poor episodes of Lost.

Next is Shannon, lounging in the airport, asked by Sayid in passing to watch his bag for a minute. When Boone returns with the news that he couldn't get them into first class, she throws a fit. This just makes him goad her about her inability to do anything, and her completely illogical (but therefore rather in character) way of showing she can do something is to tell airport security that "some Arab guy" just left his bag unattended. While this flashback doesn't really contribute any new knowledge of Shannon's character, I give it a pass because it brings back Boone for one more appearance after his death, and because it shows Shannon being cruel to Sayid long before they would enter a relationship with one another.

Sun's flashback has her waiting on Jin at the airport, and overhearing a couple (who thinks she can't understand English) snarking about her geisha-like behavior. Not much to tell here, until the Jin flashback that immediately follows. (Well... sort of immediately. Actually, the break between parts 1 and 2 of this episode actually splits these two flashbacks; all the more reason to watch Exodus in one sitting.)

Jin heads into the bathroom at the airport to clean up, and is accosted by a Korean-speaking, American-looking man who also works for Mr. Paik. He knows Jin is planning to run away, and this is a threat to deliver the watch and come home. If he does anything else, he will lose Sun. "You are not free. You never have been, and you never will be." It's a chilling scene that outlines the stakes well for Jin, though it does make you pause and think about events earlier in the season.

In Sun's episode, we learned of the significance of the watch. In Jin's episode, we learned that he was planning to run away with Sun from her father. Separated by half a season, the viewer didn't really have to reconcile these two facts together. But being reminded of it all in this flashback, you have to stop for a moment and wonder: if Jin had decided to run, why did he care at all that Michael had found and kept the watch? I think I choose to explain this by saying that early on, when Michael found the watch, they'd only been on the Island a few days and were all still hopeful of a quick rescue. Whether Jin was still planning to run or not, he was likely to have to face Sun's father again, so he'd better get that damn watch back!

Next is Charlie, waking up the morning after an all-night drug bender with some girl he met in a bar who is clearly even worse off than he is. Though it's simple to describe, this is probably the single most important flashback of the hour. It shows how far Charlie has come, playing against his heroics on the Island in this episode... but it also shows how far he can fall again, as he'll learn of the Nigerian plane's heroin in this episode too.

Michael's flashback is next, showing him making a phone call in the airport to his mother. He worries he won't be able to raise Walt alone, and then asks if she will take him, declaring "he's not supposed to be mine." Walt overhears this, but plays it off like he doesn't. It's probably a good thing I already didn't like Michael's character by this point in time, as this revelation does him no favors. After an episode with flashbacks solely engineered to tell us how much Michael wanted Walt, but couldn't have him, here we see he doesn't actually know what the hell he wants. Am I saying a parent isn't allowed to have moments of stress or doubt over their children? No. But when it comes as yet another mark against a character with so many other marks against him? Ugh. I hate you, Michael.

Fortunately, relief comes in Hurley's flashback. I will first acknowledge that it adds absolutely nothing to the story of Lost, or our understanding of Hurley. The thing is, though, it's just plain fun. Set to some fantastic music by Michael Giacchino, it's an extended sequence of everything going wrong for Hurley that possibly can. He wakes up late on the morning of the flight because of a power surge that blew out his alarm clock. The elevator is full. The electrical system on his car goes haywire. A super slow airline agent messes with him. He has to buy a scooter off an old man to keep running for his flight after he reaches exhaustion. 4s, 8s, 15s, 16s, 23s, and 42s are everywhere. And of course, worst of all, he makes the flight, the gate agent ironically telling him: "this is your lucky day." Fun stuff.

Last is a simple flashback for Locke, who has to suffer the indignity of being carried onto the airplane when the special wheelchair used for loading disabled passengers can't be located. Not any more illuminating, really, but it's worth including for the performance of Terry O'Quinn, who makes you feel every pang of Locke's humiliation.

See? All this, and I've only finished covering the flashback portion of Exodus. That's what happens when I take on basically three episodes of Lost at once. So here's where I break for now, with the rest of my re-view to follow tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Anatomy Lecture

Time for another classic film, this time the 1959 courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder. Though it didn't make the AFI Top 100, it is often praised by critics as one of the best courtroom dramas ever made. I decided it was worth a look.

Despite the fact that the film is in black and white, it didn't feel all that dated to me as I watched it. The pace was much closer to what is traditional today than what is typical in other movies of the period. At the heart of the case is the rape of the defendant's wife, an issue discussed openly and repeatedly -- which surely must have been shocking in 1959, but is exactly why it doesn't always feel of that time.

But moreover, the whole affair, from the structure of the story to the courtroom theatrics of the lawyers, feels very similar to the way courtroom stories are still approached today. This movie may well be the inspiration that many modern writers look to. In particular, all of David Kelley's courtroom TV series, from The Practice to Ally McBeal to Boston Legal (I actually haven't watched Harry's Law) feel like they fit very well into the Anatomy of a Murder mold.

Perhaps for that very reason, though, the movie doesn't really ever feel "movie worthy." Sure, it has the length, at 2 hours and 40 minutes. But it sort of feels like a glorified three-part episode of some legal TV series from the 50s. It's never "a night at the movies."

But for what it's worth, I would have watched that series, had it existed. James Stewart makes a likable, charismatic defense attorney. The "aw shucks" folksiness he pretends at might wear thin in another actor's hands, but manages to go the distance here.

There are two prosecutors standing against him, one an over-the-top ham that showcases what I don't like about old-style acting. But the other is George C. Scott. And he is every bit as effective in his supporting role as James Stewart is in the lead. Like any courtroom drama, a great many scenes come down to "talking heads," but when these two are involved, it doesn't bore.

I wouldn't call this as great a triumph as the classic 12 Angry Men, but I would still cite it as a very watchable example of an older movie. I rate it a B-.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011


I thought tonight brought us a pretty solid episode of Glee. There were a few flaws, but the pluses definitely outweighed them.

I felt like they made much better use of Gwyneth Paltrow here than in her previous outing. She may have actually sang more songs this time than she did in her first appearance, yet her presence on the show felt a lot more organic; the show didn't seem like it all revolved around her character, and I certainly mean that in a good way.

Burt Hummel continues to be written as the best father on television. His scene near the end of the hour with Kurt felt to me like one of the most genuine, least forced instances of "the talk" that I've ever seen on a television show, all while handling the special circumstances here with a soft touch.

I also found Santana's confession to Brittany to be a powerful and effective moment. It was undermined just a touch by all the extras that kept walking through the frame; I have a hard time believing Santana would have chosen to have that discussion there in the school hall. Still, forget about the setting and focus on the words (and the brilliant way that Naya Rivera handled them) and you had a real high point to the episode.

It's a pretty solid Glee episode when you can talk about that many good things without even getting to the musical performances. But those were mostly solid too. After trying to prove she was "a little bit country" in her recent critically panned film, Gwyneth Paltrow showed she was really "a little bit rock 'n' roll" instead by nailing "Do You Want to Touch Me." The three-part harmonies on "Landslide" were excellent, and the kitschy Osmond family style presentation of "Afternoon Delight" was good for a laugh.

I thought "Kiss" was two great tastes that didn't quite taste great together. I loved the vocals on this cover of the Prince song. I loved the choreography of the tango. But when Will said "Kiss as a tango," I was expecting a more transformed orchestration of the song, perhaps along the lines of the version of "Roxanne" in the movie Moulin Rouge. Basically, though there was really nothing wrong with the number, I was still a bit disappointed. But not quite as disappointed as I was with the Warblers' "Animal." I've remarked that I usually find a Warblers' tune the best thing about any Glee episode; this time, I'm sorry to say that performance might actually have been the worst song of the hour.

Also misfiring a bit was what appears to be the abrupt departure of dentist Carl from the plot. At the start of the season, it seemed like he'd be more of a fixture on the show. But after serving as a comic device for getting into Britney Spears video remakes, he sang a number from Rocky Horror, got married off camera, and now appears to have ended his run. A bit of a waste.

All accounted, I'd call this hour of Glee a B+. Until next week, then...

Monday, March 07, 2011

Good Evening, Shoppers

The Oscars may have been last week, but I only just got around to watching one of the Best Documentary Film nominees, Exit Through the Gift Shop. Though it ultimately did not win the top prize, it was certainly the most talked about of the nominees. Made by the British street artist known as Banksy, it is a film about the man who originally set out to make a documentary film about street art. The roles reverse, with the subject becoming the filmmaker, and the would-be filmmaker becoming the subject.

It's hard to say too much more about my opinion of the film without discussing some of the material that isn't revealed until the last half hour. If you've already decided to see the movie and just haven't gotten around to it, you should probably consider bailing after this paragraph. I'll simply jump to the end and say that I rate the film a B, and recommend it.

If you're still with me from here, consider yourself warned about spoilers. Much has been made about whether or not this documentary is actually true, or an elaborate put-on. I think that's beside the point, which is made quite strongly regardless of the truth of the film. Namely, that is that you could make a case that the entire modern art movement is a bit of a put-on.

It turns out that the original documentary filmmaker is really nothing of the sort; he's just a bit of a nutcase that films everything, everywhere he goes, and who is into street art. He eventually falls so deeply in love with the subject that when Banksy half-heartedly suggests that he try his hand at some art (because the film he was making turns out like crap), he throws himself beyond reason into the endeavor, opening a massive art show in Los Angeles.

The thing is, the exhibit is somehow so overhyped and overproduced that droves of people are suckered in and end up spending in excess of a million dollars buying the art of a total unknown. This leaves "real" street artists like Banksy and Shepard Fairey at a complete loss. They feel this eager nobody has no more skill at art than he does at filmmaking. (And from the evidence we're presented, this seems true. He can imitate, but not create.) And yet, he's just as successful in the field -- maybe even more so -- than the "true artists."

But if the one man is a sham, it makes you start to question if all art in that style is a sham too. Hence the title of the film, Exit Through the Gift Shop; art that makes money, while being devoid of any deeper meaning. And as someone who has raised an eyebrow before when hearing intellectuals describe what they see in, say, a collection of colored shapes or a Jackson Pollock drip painting, this is a reaction I've had to art more than a few times myself. Hearing people actually in the field forced to face this same question makes for a wild ride.

So, as I said, I'd rate the film a B. It's an entertaining 80 minutes that makes you marvel and laugh.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

"The Citizen Kane of Bad Movies"

On at least two occasions now, Entertainment Weekly has published articles about a movie called The Room. An independently financed movie made last decade, they have dubbed it "the Citizen Kane of bad movies." Midnight screenings have apparently cropped up in parts of the country, where people get together to marvel and mock. Celebrities have spoken out in "support" of the film, including Paul Rudd, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Bell, and Patton Oswalt.

I had to know. You know?

It's rare that a movie lives up to its reputation, but I swear to you, this one does. It is all that's promised and more. (Less?) If you set out to make a bad movie deliberately, you'd be hard-pressed to do worse (better?) than this.

The acting is atrocious, none worse than star Tommy Wiseau. He has a canned laugh that will drive you right to the edge of insanity, and a speaking voice that described as "Borat trying to do an impression of Christopher Walken playing a mental patient." He is also credited as writer and director, and both producer and executive producer.

Half the dialogue is clearly overdubbed after the fact -- replacing even worse dialogue? Would that even be possible? Everyone who curses in the film manages to make it sound like they're saying the words for the first time, or as though their own mother were there on the set watching them.

Seperate sequences are often divided with strange shots of San Francisco scenery. And when the "action" is on screen, the camera work is awful, with characters often framed awkwardly and even sometimes cropped off-screen entirely. When they are visible, their costumes often seem a size or two too large for them.

The film is repetitious on every level. Lines of dialogue are repeated. Different scenes exist only to reiterate the same information delivered in earlier scenes. (Mark and Johnny are best friends; Lisa doesn't love Johnny anymore. If you pop out to the bathroom for a while, don't worry -- we'll make sure you understand this.) Characters fight in one scene, make up at the end of the scene, and then fight again immediately in the next scene.

There are no less than four creepily awkward, uncomfortably long sex scenes that seem to serve only as venues for playing four terrible R&B slow jams -- in their entirety -- that were probably written by a friend looking to score a record contract.

Subplots come abruptly and are just as quickly abandoned. (For example, Lisa's mom is diagnosed with breast cancer early on, a fact never to be mentioned again. Denny has a drug problem and is in debt to a dealer -- who is never seen again after the scene in which he's introduced.) Weird ideas are interjected for no discernable reason. (Hey! Let's play football in tuxedos!) At least one character disappears halfway through the movie. (Actually, I've read this is because the "actor" actually left at that point in the filming; a new character -- not named on camera, from what I can tell -- shows up to take over his lines in the second half.)

And perhaps most confounding of all: why the hell is it called The Room? I can't fathom what that title has to do with anything.

If I were rating this film on its own merits, it couldn't possibly get anything other than an F. I have never seen worse. But the thing is, this movie redefines the scale for "so bad, it's good." I didn't need a crowded theater or a room full of clever friends to be laughing my ass off the entire time. I actually want to watch this movie again, this time with the Rifftrax commentary. I'd probably be willing to watch it again with any of my friends who wanted to watch it with me, because I would truly love seeing the look on their faces as they saw it for the first time.

In other words, as an experience, it might be hard to rate this film as anything other than an A. It's un-be-liev-a-ble. I've seen it, and I still don't believe it.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Obligatory Charlie Sheen Post

I sort of feel like I'm supposed to do some obligatory "isn't Charlie Sheen just batshit crazy?" post here. But I don't think I have too much to say on the subject other than "isn't Charlie Sheen just batshit crazy?" So let me offer a few highlights of the Charlie Sheen related humor I've seen over the past week.

First, there's Jimmy Fallon's surprisingly "winning" impersonation:

Then there's the moderately entertaining Dath Vader/Charlie Sheen mashup:

But in my mind, the champion of Charlie Sheen humor I've seen is this quiz: Sheen, Beck, or Qaddafi, a surprisingly (and distressingly) difficult "game show."


Friday, March 04, 2011

Lost Re-view: Born to Run

I've reached the penultimate episode of Lost's first season. It was directed by Tucker Gates, who helmed around half a dozen episodes throughout Lost's entire run. And it has unusually complicated writing credits: "teleplay by" credits for Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz, and a "story by" credit for story by Javier Grillo-Marxuach. (Outside of the pilot, this is the only time ever on Lost that the credits would be split this way.)

Unfortunately, this is a hard episode to like -- a Kate-centric hour with two big strikes against it. First, it's Kate's third episode of the series. The only other character to receive that much focus in the first season was Jack, and as I've mentioned before, this seems acceptable for Jack. And only Jack.

Second, and far more damning, this episode serves as a sequel to the first season's weakest hour, the previous Kate episode. There, we watched a flashback in which Kate planned an elaborate bank heist just to retrieve a tiny toy airplane, learning only that its significance was that "it belonged to the man I killed." A dangling thread if ever there were one.

But the thing is, the first time around, I think I was interested in the answer to that puzzle. One could imagine that she meant "the man I killed" in the sense of the crime that made her a fugitive in the first place. But no, the truth is much more self-contained, as we learn this episode.

The hour starts in flashback, as we see a woman on the run soon revealed to be Kate. She has received a letter that moves her to tears. Next thing we see, she's gone to a hospital, trying to see a patient, but finding the door to the room guarded by police. So instead, she hides in the back of a doctor's car -- her friend Tom -- and appeals to him for help.

The flashbacks are quite direct from here. Tom schedules an MRI for this patient, referred to as "Diane," so that Kate can sneak in to see her. Then they reminisce about old times together. Late that night, they drive out to a spot where they buried a time school as children. (On August 15, 1989 -- that's 8-15, Numbers fans!) Inside, they find that all-important toy plane, and a cassette tape where their young voices reach out to them across the years -- he thinks they'll be married as adults; she wants them to run away together. The "run away" part turned out to be true, if not the "married" or even "together."

The next flashback has Diane brought down to an empty hall, and left alone for Kate to talk to. The revelation comes that Diane is Kate's mother, but when she regains consciousness enough to recognize who she's talking to, she starts screaming for help. Kate is forced back on the run, and Tom foolishly and fatefully tries to help by offering up his car. When Kate blows past a police barricade, Tom catches a fatal bullet before the car is wrecked. Kate is forced to flee, leaving the plane and the rest of the time capsule contents in the back seat.

With only part of one episode to establish a connection between Kate and Tom, it's impossible to invest in the relationship. Thus, the audience really doesn't feel much when Kate loses him. Worse, what we really wanted to know at this point in time is "what did Kate do?!" Surely a third Kate episode would tell us that, right? Wrong... it only answered a question posed by the worst episode of season one: "what's the deal with that stupid plane?"

The on-Island story of the hour is only somewhat more compelling. It all revolves around the raft. Charlie is already putting his heart into the success of the raft, imagining the crazy fame he and Drive Shaft will have when the world discovers he's still alive. talk of fame doesn't go over well with the fugitive Kate, however, who quickly decides her only chance to avoid arrest is to get a slot on the raft herself.

Oh, and about that raft? It needs to launch as soon as possible. According to Arzt, the monsoon season is almost upon them, which will shift the winds south, blowing anything that leaves to Antarctica rather than towwards any rescue.

Ah, Arzt. There's a short but interesting chapter in the story of Lost. I'm not entirely sure the series needed another pompous blowhard when Michael seemed often pressed into that role. Still, there was something vaguely fun about the character, particularly in the knowledge that he was really just set up to be killed off in memorable fashion. Though perhaps that death might have been a bit more effective if Arzt had had a little more screen time. It's sort of like a replay of Ethan, introduced only one episode before his big "twist."

But let's put a pin in the subject of Arzt for a bit, and continue with Kate. She talks to Michael about getting one of the four slots on the raft. She tries to argue that Sawyer brings nothing to the table, then even argues that Michael shouldn't be putting Walt in such danger. Needless to say, telling Michael how to raise "his boy" never goes over well.

But later, when Sawyer shows his sailing ignorance to Michael, the seed planted by Kate begins to grow. Michael threatens to kick Sawyer off the raft, which of course sends Sawyer straight to Kate. He knows her secret, knows why she's itching to get off the Island, and says there's no way in hell she's getting his spot. She calmly plays back: "I want your spot, I'll get your spot."

Next thing you know, Michael is doubled over with crippling cramps. Somebody has to find the doctor!

But Jack isn't around, because Sayid and Locke have taken him to see the Hatch. Interesting debate ensues. Jack is upset that Locke has hidden this secret for three weeks, but Locke points out that Jack sat on the secret of the marshal's gun case for just as long. An even greater point of debate comes when Jack starts asking how to open it, and Sayid blows up. Sayid had figured that Jack and Locke wouldn't be on the same page, that Jack would talk him out of trying to open the Hatch, which -- given its lack of handle -- clearly wasn't meant to be opened from the outside. But really, all this is just to keep the Hatch thread alive until the season finale. Nothing more will really come from all this for now.

Instead, Kate finds Jack on the journey back, and brings him to Michael. Jack suspects some kind of poisoning from Michael's water, and soon he and Locke are questioning Hurley about it. Hurley speculates that Sawyer might have been responsible. Or maybe Kate, because of the whole "fugitive thing." Another secret that Locke (kettle) is able to point out that Jack (pot, screaming "black!") kept.

Then comes a troublesome scene that's a challenge to explain. Walt comes upon Locke making a poultice for his leg wound, and explains that he wasn't responsible for Michael's poisoning as he was for the burning of the first raft. When Locke places a reassuring hand on the boy, Walt recoils and says "don't open it. Don't open it, Mr. Locke. Don't open that thing!"

In other words, here we go again, gang -- the "specialness" of Walt. I've talked about this before, and concluded that no satisfactory explanation can likely be imagined. I believe the official word from the creators, when all was said and done, was that Walt "was not special." But let's update the running tally of what he can do -- he's a natural at knife-throwing (and apparently, the power of visualization), and now he's a mind-reader/premonition-haver. Because the thing not to be opened can only be the Hatch, right? Even if you grant the Walt's "powers" are on the fritz because nothing ultimately too horrible came of opening it, you still have to explain how he knew to talk cryptically to Locke about it. I got nothing.

So back to Sawyer, trying to make nice by bringing medicine to Michael. Being nice to Michael doesn't usually go well either, and this is no exception. He says Sawyer is off the raft, their deal null and void after Sawyer poisoned him. But when Michael calls Sawyer a liar and a criminal, that's the last straw. Sawyer whirls on "Sweet Cheeks" (Kate), tears her bag from her hand, dumps out a stolen passport she was planning to modify, and exposes her secrets to the whole group.

Kate has no choice but to confess. Yes, she's wanted; yes, she was being escorted by a marshal; and yes, she will be going to prison if they're all rescued. But she didn't poison Michael, she insists.

And it's true. Because later, Jack approaches Sun, having deduced the truth. The intended target of the poisoning was Jin, who had been sharing food and water with Michael. Sun didn't want Jin to leave, and couldn't think of any other way to convince him to stay. She didn't want to hurt him, just make him unable to go.

At least, that's most of the truth. It turns out that the poisoning, though carried out by Sun, was suggested to her by Kate, who was trying for a win-win to get a spot on the raft. But it backfired, and a boastful Sawyer tells Kate his spot is back on. She asks why it's so important for him to be on the raft, and his answer is that "there isn't anything on this island worth staying for." (Which will be echoed poignantly in season four, when Sawyer tells Kate that they should stay on the island, because there's nothing to go back to.")

And that's basically about it. The whole "who in the group is sabotaging the group" motif is one that has been played before, and it's a shame to already see the show repeat itself like that so early on in the run. What's more, as with Locke attacking Sayid, there aren't really any lasting repercussions of the duplicity, either.

The Kate back story is not very compelling, with the one solid, emotional moment coming in her betrayal by her own mother. (Though even that point is only fully resonant after seeing the next Kate episode, which includes a flashback of her mother promising to do exactly that if they ever met again.)

A few good lines here and there from Hurley and Charlie step in to keep this from being quite as poor as the previous Kate episode -- but only barely. I'd still only rate this episode a C.

But before I sign off, one last bit of business: another mobisode from the "Lost: Missing Pieces" series. This one is called Tropical Depression, and takes place during the events of this episode. It's a short scene between Michael and Arzt, with Arzt confessing that everything he said about monsoon season in the episode at large was made up. We even get the backstory on what Arzt was doing in Sydney before the flight, and it's all part of a tapestry to make Arzt a more sympathetic character.

Basically, it's trying to address my complaint that Arzt wasn't much of a character before he was killed off... though I'm not sure how effective that can really be coming after the fact. (I believe it also serves to address a fan complaint: if all those monsoons were really coming like Arzt said, how come we never saw any of them on screen in season two?) Fun, I suppose, but not much more. I'd say you could take or leave this particular Missing Piece.

Next up, the season finale!