Saturday, April 30, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge -- Day 11

Day 11: A song from your favorite band.

My favorite band? Why, it's Barenaked Ladies! It must be; they're one of the few bands I've bothered to see in concert. And I'm still a fan even after the departure of vocalist Steven Page.

But how to pick just one song by them for the Song Challenge? I wanted something a little off the beaten path, which meant I ruled out their well-known radio hits. I thought about going with "Conventioneers" off their album Maroon, but it's a rather slow-paced song to trumpet as basically my top Barenaked Ladies song. So I decided to go with "A," off Maybe You Should Drive.

Of course, going with the "deeper cuts" means it's difficult to find a YouTube video of either song. Interestingly, there are scores of people doing covers of "Conventioneers" -- guess I'm not the only one who likes that song.

But you try searching for a song called "A" on YouTube.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Dîner Engagement

I had a more or less average reaction to last year's comedy, Dinner for Schmucks. It's not like I was itching to see the French film on which it was originally based. But many critics mentioned it in their reviews of the adaptation, hailing it as the superior film. Netflix also pushed it on me as a suggestion. So I decided to give it a shot.

The original is known as "Le Dîner de Cons," which is inaccurately translated into English as "The Dinner Game." (Probably because, if I understand the original title correctly, it's rather vulgar.) And it turns out that it's an adaptation too, of a stage play. While the American version opens up the action effectively enough that I never spotted the theatrical roots, this French film smacks of "one-act, one-room play." We never even see the dinner of the title, and I frankly found that quite a letdown.

Aside from the missing climax, the main plot points actually hew fairly closely to the American adaptation. Having seen one, there's little need to see the other. So then, which one to see? Well... I have to risk being an "ugly American" now and say that I found the remake vastly superior. Few things are as culturally specific as humor, and I simply found that the jokes in the French film just weren't working for me. Start with a different style of joke-telling, present it in a different way of acting, and filter it through subtitles, and I'm sorry to say the end result just isn't that funny.

Undoubtedly, your results would vary if you're a native French speaker. But I don't even think I'd recommend the movie to you on those terms, as I myself only found it worthy of a D+.

I mean, how much better could it reasonably get?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge -- Day 10

Day 10: A song that makes you fall asleep.

I think I reject the premise of this category. Music doesn't make me fall asleep, not literally. I simply get too engaged in listening to and dissecting the music to "nod off." I stayed overnight at a friend's house one night many, many years ago, and we slept in the same room. He listened to music to fall asleep; it kept me awake half the night.

All that aside, though, there are songs that I find "peaceful" or "calming," and I imagine that to be the general point at issue here. And to that end, there are a couple of New Age artists I'm particularly fond of. Patrick O'Hearn is one, and I considered making his song "Trust" my official pick here. I find it an especially relaxing piece of music. ("Peace" of music?)

But really, my favorite song in this genre is "Rain Maiden," by Wind Machine. Sadly, this is another song I could not find on YouTube; again, I'll have to send you over to Amazon for their 30-second sample. Wind Machine is my favorite band in the New Age genre for a variety of reasons. In no particular order:
  • They're a Colorado-local band. I've seen them in person many times, performing in area shows.
  • They're very gifted musicians. They create a distinctive sound from an instrument they call a "guitjo," a 7-stringed guitar where the three bass strings are replaced with secondary treble strings.
  • For a long stretch, the son of one of the founding members was a part of the band, a talented multi-instrumentalist (vocals, keys, synth-flute, penny-whistle, and more) who has since gone on to play in the bands of several solo artists. And this "kid" (no longer) is roughly my age. At the time I first learned of the band (in high school), I found this to be pretty inspiring.
  • Remember what I wrote about being in Little Shop of Horrors in high school? Well, we had a live band of professional musicians for the show, and the bass player was the first bass player for Wind Machine. (Yes, this is how I first learned of the band.)
Maybe you can see now why music doesn't put me to sleep. Could you fall asleep with all those thoughts swirling through your head?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Invitation to the Dance

It's a banner day for fans of A Song of Ice and Fire! Earlier today, George R.R. Martin posted on his blog -- a space normally reserved for whining about NFL football and how hard writing is -- that he finally finished writing A Dance With Dragons. (He'd taken to referring to the book as "Kong," hence the reference.) So holy crap, it looks like that July 12 release date might just be true after all.

In other news, ski season in hell opens today.

This totally trumps the Game of Thrones-related link I had been planning to share today. Apparently, two yokels down in Florida got in a fight this last Sunday night over the latest episode of the series. An argument over who is "going to win" climaxed in a guy tossing his cousin out a window. (Perhaps an homage to young Bran Stark's fate at the end of the first episode?)

Here, as with Charlie Sheen, I'm not even sure what "winning" means. Who's going to win the struggle for the Iron Throne? I would think it fairly obvious that with four books down and more to come, no one has yet "won" in the world of Westeros.

But at least we'll soon be a thousand-plus pages closer to finding out.

Save a window. Read a book.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Born This Way

Tonight's new episode of Glee delivered a lot of the elements I was missing from last week's episode. On the one hand, I'm not entirely sure the extra-length 90 minute episode was really necessary -- most of the extra time seemed to be used to do full-length treatments of songs we'd only get a couple verses of in a regular episode. But on the other hand, the episode did have plenty of character-driven story to unfold, so I won't begrudge the alchemy that got it there.

Of course, the big development was Kurt's return to McKinley. (And just as importantly, the return of his wild fashion sense.) Not only was it great to get him back again at last with the rest of the gang, but he delivered what I felt to be the best performance of the night with his show tune from Sunset Boulevard.

It wasn't the only strong musical entry of the episode, though. I found the mashup of "I Feel Pretty" and "Unpretty" to be the most effective mashup the show has ever done. Not only did the songs actually sound like they blended together, but the messages of the songs blended together. And I also think that singing with Lea Michele brought out a better performance from Dianna Argon as well.

The title number, Lady Gaga's "Born This Way," was a mixed bag in my mind. The cast served it up fine, and reading the different sayings on the T-shirts was great for laughs... I just don't think much of the song itself. The chorus is pretty much a knockoff of "Express Yourself" by Madonna -- a song that Glee has already tackled too. I just don't buy it as the uplifting anthem it's meant to be. (Or at least, that the show intended it to be.)

The rest of the songs were rather forgettable, I thought. Finn was overly autotuned in his take on the Sammy Davis Jr. song (undercutting the "can't dance" message with "can't sing either" tones); the Warblers were uncharacteristically low energy (and with what might be their last song on the show too!); and the dance number in the mall was trying too hard (and failing) to re-capture the visceral thrill and fun of season one's "Safety Dance."

But like I said, there was plenty of plot in the episode, more than enough to overshadow a few musical shortcomings. The highlight for me would have to be the continuation of the great Santana storyline. From her shrewd opening monologue, to the execution of her plan (and Kurt's detection of it), to Brittany's sucker punch confronting of her at the end -- never a false beat.

I was also pleased with the Emma plot. Will was a bit irrational with the whole "let's dive right into conquering your demons with this mass of unwashed fruit," but at least she was in the therapist's office where she needed to be by the end of the episode. I've found Emma's increasingly odd and unaddressed behavior to be even more distracting than some of Sue's irrational eccentricities, and I'm glad that the show is going to address them head on. And I say "is going to" because I'm hopeful this plot will be continued in upcoming episodes. I can't imagine them casting an actor like Kathleen Quinlan to just play that one scene and never appear again.

The Rachel nose job storyline wasn't as compelling, but it did set up the Quinn storyline that was much stronger. I'm not sure if learning about her past makes it more or less believable to me that she'd revert personality after her pregnancy the way she has, but either way it made for some strong moments in this episode.

Overall, I'd call this episode a B+. After a stumble last week, Glee seems to be moving back in the right direction.

Monday, April 25, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge -- Day 9

Day 9: A song that you can dance to.

For this category, I briefly considered picking a song from one of the many console dance games I've enjoyed over the years. Something from Dance Central, Dance Dance Revolution, whatever. My pick along those lines would probably have been "Somnambulist" by BT, just as the song I can remember enjoying most from one of those games. But a more than reasonable case could be made that that's not exactly "dancing."

I probably would have chosen to fight the good fight and say "it still counts," had I not thought of an alternative and unexpected choice: "Mambo Glamoroso," composed by Alan Silvestri for the opening titles and first scene of the movie Soapdish.

Remember those high school musicals I talked about a few Song Challenge entries ago? Well, one year, there was also some kind of conventional "school show" where kids of all ages (we were a kindergarten through 12th grade school under one roof) had different performances in a kind of revue.

My group, for reasons I can't remember now (if I even knew them then) decided to dance a mambo. We began our rehearsals with our teacher choreographing to some oh-so-serious tango-esque mambo that none of us really liked. So, being a vaguely rebellious teenager, I suggested we substitute something more upbeat and exciting. And, owning the Soapdish soundtrack, I suggested this cue.

So I'm not speaking figuratively when I call this "a song I can dance to." It's a song I did dance to, fully choreographed, on stage and before an audience of a couple hundred people. (Not that I remember more than a handful of the steps today.)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Kingsroad

Tonight brought the second episode of HBO's Game of Thrones series, and already the story is picking up speed. I continue to be satisfied with the adaptation from the book. It has been around 10 years since I last read A Game of Thrones, so anything being excised for time isn't strongly weighing on my mind.

I'm watching the series with someone who hasn't read the book, which is adding an interesting layer to the whole thing. As soon as an episode ends, I find myself thinking, "ooo, I can't wait until they get to this plot development and I can see your reaction to it!" Basically, there's a saying I've heard a few times in relation to particularly good books: "I wish I could read it again for the first time." Watching this series with someone "uninitiated," if you will, is as close as one can get to reading the book again for the first time, and I'm finding the series an absolute thrill so far for that reason alone.

But there's plenty else to commend it. I've been very impressed with the cast so far. Peter Dinklage is stealing the show as Tyrion, as expected. Less expected is how solidly many of the child actors are performing. I want to grab hold of Sansa and shake sense into her just as much as I did reading the book. I'm just as excited for scenes with Arya. And now that Joffrey had a more significant role -- he didn't even speak last week -- I find him even more perfectly cast; he's just such a tool!

I'm hard pressed to pick a favorite scene this week, though I found plenty of contenders. For sheer visceral thrills, the assassination attempt on Bran was compelling. But I also loved some of the dialogue-driven scenes, such as Tyrion's further conversation with Jon Snow, or Cersei's duplicitous visit with Catelyn in Bran's bedchamber.

At least with the series, I only have to wait one week for more, unlike the books themselves.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge -- Day 8

Day 8: A song that you know all the words to.

This felt like another weird category to me. I know all the words to literally thousands of songs. I'll bet you do too (or hundreds, at least). How do you whittle that down and pick just one song?

After pondering this for a while, I supposed that perhaps I should be picking a song where it's unusual to know all the words. Everybody knows the lyrics to "Happy Birthday." Tons of people know all the words to any given #1 hit single.

But how many people know all the words to "Yakko's World"?

I do. And it has come in handy on a few trivia nights.

I briefly thought about picking "You Can Call Me Al" by Paul Simon for this slot. But seriously... for sheer lyrical weight, what could compete with "Yakko's World?" Maybe Tom Lehrer's "The Elements" -- but I don't know all the words to that.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lost Re-view: Orientation

The third episode of Lost's second season was co-written by Javier Grillo-Marxuach (a returning writer from the first season) and Craig Wright (a new staff writer who would work for only part of this season before departing for Brothers & Sisters). It was directed by "head director" Jack Bender. The story is mainly built around Locke, though there are other things going on.

For instance, there's the story of Sawyer, Michael, and Jin... captured by the tail section survivors they've mistaken as Others. This episode picks up right where the previous one ended, with Eko beating the crap out of them with his mighty stick, and tossing them all down into a holding pit in the ground.

Not long after, Ana Lucia is thrown in with them as part of a con. She gathers intelligence on the hostages, posing as a captive herself. It's a well-delivered ruse that played wonderfully the first time around, though of course any tension here is gone on a subsequent viewing. Which is a shame, because without the fake out to thrill the audience, this subplot is just a long series of scenes just to have Ana Lucia take Sawyer's gun from him. (What can you do? Some things get deeper the second time around; some don't.)

The primary action is going on in the Swan (the hatch), beginning with a third replay of Desmond holding Locke hostage. This time, the action finally moves forward, with Kate slipping out of the air duct, sneaking up behind Desmond, and clocking him with the butt of her rifle. But Desmond's own weapon goes off, and takes out the all-important computer. Desmond goes into full-on panic.

And here we get into the material that had everyone talking the first time around. Desmond explains the countdown clock, and the button that has to be pressed every 108 minutes in order to "save the world." Soon, we're watching the Dharma orientation video. (More on that in a moment.) It's a big dump of information about "what the hell is going on" that, in true Lost fashion, poses new questions to replace any old ones answered.

In a way, it's a shame that all this is what gets the viewer's attention in this episode. Because, as I've always maintained, Lost is about the characters, and there's a really core character conflict at work here. Locke and Jack go up not just against each other, but circumstances put each of them against himself.

Locke instantly accepts this button pushing story. He has been saying that everything has been leading to him getting in the hatch, and this new mission further proves that. He has to accept the "save the world" premise of the button, because to do otherwise would be to acknowledge that everything he has gone through, all the sacrifices, were for nothing.

Jack, meanwhile, utterly rejects the premise of the button. His anger is hot and irrational -- until you realize that it's really outward-manifesting anger that's really just directed at himself. The last time Jack let himself believe in fate, he met the woman he would marry... and then later divorce, so so much for fate. That here on the Island he would somehow meet Desmond (something even Locke acknowledges would be "impossible"), and be tasked with what surely looks like "destiny?" To accept that would be reopening a painful door he'd long since shut.

Huge, weighty moments for the characters. But sadly, no one paid attention to it the first time around. We were all too busy parsing Desmond's tale of "Kelvin," and then dissecting every last second of the Swan orientation video. Ooo, it says this is station 3 of 6! What does that mean? Look, the Dharma Initiative is into polar bears and electromagnetism! And who is this shadowy Alvar Hanso? What's with the obvious splice in the film? What does it mean that the film has a 1980 copyright date?

It's all kind of a red herring, if you ask me. (Particularly when you consider that the timeline given in the film doesn't quite match up with what we see later to close season five. Here, "Dr. Candle" says that the Incident happened soon after tests were begun at this station, but later we see that the Incident occurs as the station is still being built.) But there are Lost fans out there for whom this stuff is the "important stuff." And while I think they're wrong, I can't blame them for reaching that conclusion. Even Locke seems to be emphasizing the importance of this film, speaking directly to the audience when he says: "We're gonna need to watch that again."

Either way, you have to praise the writers for creating a show for the DVR/DVD age.

The episode concludes with Desmond running off (not to be seen again until the season finale), Sayid repairing the computer, and Jack giving in to the Cult of the Button, pushing it as Locke requests. (But not before a brilliant exchange of dialogue between them -- Locke: "Why do you find it so hard to believe?" Jack: "Why do you find it so easy?" Locke: "It's never been easy!")

And to illustrate exactly what Locke means by that, we have his flashbacks in this episode. They occur some time after he's been conned out of his kidney. He's started going to meetings (which look like, but probably aren't, for Alcoholics Anonymous), and there he meets Helen. She's a funny and warm woman (played appealingly by Katey Sagal), and the two enter into a wonderful relationship.

But the problem is that more than Locke needs her love, he needs the love of his father. Or at least, he needs to know "why." And so, almost every morning, he's outside his father's giant house, waiting in his car for either the courage to go in or for his father to come out and say something. And one day his father does just that, to tell Locke he should "get over it" and not come back. "You're not wanted."

Helen keeps getting better, but Locke can't give himself over to that relationship. The episode concludes with a confrontation between the two of them, outside Locke's father's house. She wants to help him, but he has to promise not to keep coming back here. Locke has to take "a leap of faith" with her. And he seems to agree to this with a passionate kiss.

And though that's as far as this is taken in this episode, it's a huge insight into Locke in the grand scheme of things. Even watching this the first time around, you're already equipped with enough information to know this didn't end well. For one, Locke ended up in a wheelchair. For another, we've seen a flashback in which he's paying a phone sex operator to pretend she's Helen.

All this explains exactly why Locke is so keen to accept everything on the Island on faith -- including its latest wrinkle, the button: because Helen asked him to take a leap of faith with her, and he didn't go through with it. He lost her. So now, Locke has resolved to himself to take every leap of faith presented to him, lest he miss out on something else just as wonderful.

Really high grade stuff, in my view. (And, as always, bolstered by a top notch performance by Terry O'Quinn.) And yet, it's diluted a fair amount by the not-so-important Dharma trappings and the doesn't-quite-go-anywhere tail section plot. So overall, I'd rate this episode a B+.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Getting Exorcise

Around a decade or so ago, I was the target of a concentrated effort by several of my friends (who didn't even know each other) to get me to watch The Exorcist III. Forget the second film, they said, Three is the "worthy sequel." I eventually gave in and watched it. And while I forgot much of the story over time, there were two or three moments in the film that I'll likely never forget -- very memorable and effective scares.

Fast forward to this month, when I found myself in another discussion of horror films. Which had you seen? Which had you missed? It resulted in another few films that now have to go into my queue. But it also resulted in another "oh my God, you haven't seen The Exorcist III?!" moment in which I wasn't the one on the outside looking in. And this in turn led to me once again curling up on a couch in a darkened room to watch it, this time to share the experience.

I have to acknowledge first that a lot of the scares in this movie are "cheap" scares. People suddenly jumping into frame screaming. Loud musical stings. The sort of stuff I find off-putting. But at the same time, some of those moments come at the tail end of long, drawn-out sequences that do a very effecting job of ratcheting up tension.

And those two or three moments I remembered from years ago? Yeah, they still make my hairs stand on end today.

But I think there are other things to set the film a cut above. First, I find the writing rather clever. It manages to tell an entirely new story that is in no way dependent on having seen either of the earlier Exorcist films... and yet is very directly connected to the first Exorcist in an effective and interesting way.

Secondly, there's some great acting here. George C. Scott shouts and growls as -- let's face it -- he's done in other movies, but it's still damned effective here. Then there's the real standout: Brad Dourif as "The Gemini Killer," an incredibly creepy adversary that in some ways out-Lecters Hannibal Lecter. (And the performance came one year before The Silence of the Lambs.)

So... on the one hand, neat construction and solid acting. On the other, an occasionally slow pace and some cheap scares. With a thumb on the scale for some truly memorable moments that will get to you. I think I'm going to tally all that up as a B+. If you're a horror fan, you've probably seen the original Exorcist. I'd also recommend you check out this follow-up.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge -- Day 7

The "30 Day Song Challenge" continues...

Day 7: A song that reminds you of a certain event.

Here's where I'm going to use my "official" slot for a Star Trek related memory, by picking "Captain Borg," the piece Ron Jones composed for the final few minutes of the the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Best of Both Worlds."

Few cliffhangers on television -- ever -- have matched the intensity of this third season finale. You couldn't just hop on the internet immediately and find out if Patrick Stewart really was leaving the show. All you could do was wait four months to see how it all turned out.

I remember watching this episode over at a friend's house. We were watching in a side room, on the edge of our seats. When the music reached its crescendo and the words "To Be Continued" appeared on the screen, we heard her mother's anguished cry at ear-splitting levels from the other room: "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!" We had no idea she was watching it too. But she had pretty accurately vocalized what I was feeling. Quite a moment.

A distant second in this Challenge slot was "Ouverture · Ramsani," from the Cirque du Soleil show Mystère. (Sorry, but the best I can do for a link in this case is to point you to the 30-second sample at Amazon.) I've seen Mystère three times now. The first was both my first time ever seeing Cirque du Soleil -- in person or recorded -- and my first time ever traveling to Las Vegas. So in the midst of a trip that was already kind of blowing my mind, Mystère opened with this song, and an incredible visual display that pegged the "holy crap!" meter at the top of the dial. An "event" indeed.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Night of Neglect

We waited over a month since the last new episode of Glee. Unfortunately, what we got tonight wasn't an episode worth waiting for.

No, what we got felt more like an episode of American Idol than anything else. Every one of the musical numbers tonight was presented in the auditorium, and as part of an actual performance. They were also presented with illogically large backup -- half an orchestra, a full gospel choir, you name it. Basically, you had all the talent show trappings except the closing phone numbers where you should call or text your vote.

What this episode really needed was a strong plot to fill in the space between. But sadly, it came up short there too. There was the breakup of Will and Holly, and the sudden diva-like behavior by Mercedes. The former was inevitable in that Holly is being played by Gwyneth Paltrow. The latter was a case study in my least favorite thing about Glee -- the way characters can just suddenly turn on a dime and start acting completely differently, without any transition to earn it.

I appreciated the message they tried to serve up about cyber-bullying, but it came so suddenly as an unearned twist on heckling that it felt a bit too "The More You Know" to be organic. At least there was some good humor to be had. Sue's "League/Legion of Doom/Evil" was the source of some of it, but the highlight was (as usual) Brittany's awesome one-liners... and in this case, her surprise skill at trivia.

As for the performances themselves, all were decent, and one or two maybe even better than that. (Charice must be nothing but lungs and legs.) But the fact that the songs were all basically ballads only served to further slow the pace of a show that just wasn't popping. I think I'd call it a C-. I might even say that's being a bit generous, except that I have to give praise for the great scene where Santana told off the school bully.

Here's hoping for better in the weeks ahead.

Monday, April 18, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge -- Day 6

Next up on the "30 Day Song Challenge":

Day 6: A song that reminds of you of somewhere.

This was really a two-horse race. One is a Star Trek-related memory, and since I have another one of those coming up later in the challenge, I decided to go with the other choice for my "official" selection here.

The song is "Suddenly Seymour," from the musical "Little Shop of Horrors." (The link goes to the performance in the 1986 film, which I do love. But to clarify, I'm talking just about the song in general and not this performance of it.)

I performed in each of my high school's annual musicals during my time there, and had a blast each time. (It led directly to me studying acting in college.) Sophomore year, the show was Little Shop of Horrors, and I got the plum part of Seymour. This song takes me right back to that time and place.

It's actually a bittersweet memory on a few levels. For one thing, it makes me regret a bit not pursuing acting after college (even though I love what I do now). For another, the school auditorium in which we performed all those musicals burned to the ground a few years after I graduated. They built a new one in its place -- technologically superior in every way, but still not "my" auditorium. So this memory is of a place no longer there. (sniff)

For those who are curious about the Star Trek-related version of this entry in the Challenge, my selection would have been the theme song from Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Which, for the most part, is technically Jerry Goldsmith's theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but that's not the point here.)

On the day that Star Trek: The Next Generation first premiered (in Colorado, anyway -- it was on different nights in different syndication markets), my family had just moved into a new house. I was dying to check out the new series, and freaking out more than a little bit that the TV would not be hooked up in time for me to do so. I wound up watching the first episode, "Encounter at Farpoint," on a little 12 inch color TV in my new bedroom -- which at that point contained only a mattress and the TV, both sitting on the floor.

The theme song doesn't necessarily take me back to that place every time I hear it. But still, the memory is immediately accessible when I think back nearly 25 years ago.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Winter Is Coming

Tonight marked the premiere of HBO's adaptation of George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Being a long time fan of the books, this was absolutely a "must order HBO" event for me. And the results did not disappoint.

I'm not the sort of purist that is going to pitch a fit about the minor details that changed -- the slight aging of some of the children, or the Targaryens not having purple eyes. (Hell, I didn't even remember that last detail until Martin mentioned it in a recent interview.) I was just looking for the major elements of the book to be rendered faithfully -- and they absolutely were.

I imagine that anyone who watched tonight and isn't familiar with the books had a similar experience to what I felt reading the first 300 pages or so of the first book for the first time. Namely: "There are so many characters! Who the hell can keep all this straight?" But they packed in plenty in this adaptation, giving good screen time to over a dozen major characters, and introducing a few others for the fans, setting people up for the future even though they had no dialogue tonight (Joffrey and The Hound, for instance).

The environment was lavishly rendered; the sets, costumes, and CG assists on the backgrounds were all superb. Whether or not they matched the way I'd imagined things as a reader, I felt I could instantly look at any character or place and know exactly who or what it was I was seeing.

After the episode, I found myself chattering away with other friends, noting all the exciting twists and turns yet to come in the story (many not even due to happen in this first season). After that, I found myself wondering if familiarity with the books -- which right now I think is making me enjoy the series more -- might eventually come to make me enjoy it less. Will knowledge of every upcoming twist in the road continue to thrill me with anticipation, or will I grow bored by the lack of surprises?

Hard to say. I can only say that I was very pleased with the way this series kicked off, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next episode.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Yesterday, the FBI dropped the hammer on online poker, indicting three of the largest online poker web sites and their top brass with bank fraud, money laundering, and a variety of other charges. This is all pursuant to the law passed by Congress about four-and-a-half years ago (which I mentioned at the time) -- a last-minute rider grafted into an unrelated port defense bill (that no elected official would vote against for fear of looking "soft on terror").

There are so many arguments why this is wrong, you can have your pick. Why prohibit something online that's legal and acceptable in person? Why is it okay for states to sponsor true gambling in the form of lotteries, when they prohibit the decidedly more skill-based poker? Why not allow it and tax it as a source of revenue in these times when so many claim to be concerned about budgets?

The bottom line is, regardless of the outcome of these charges, these three sites are surely done for. Most of the others will probably fold up too, being too reliant on U.S. business and too afraid now to risk a similar fate. There may be some sites that keep rolling on the strength of non-U.S. players/customers, but we'll have to see.

We sure can't have people enjoying themselves in the privacy of their own homes, dammit!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Share and Share Alike

I've been having a mostly smooth transition to my new laptop, but I did hit one hiccup along the way. Even my backup of just 10 days prior was insufficient to cover all the music on my iPod -- I'd picked up about 100 new songs just in that period of time.

That means I smacked up against the wall deliberately put into iTunes by Apple: your iPod syncs automatically when you connect it, and (play counts aside) it's a one way connection. If it finds any music on the iPod that isn't in your iTunes library, it will "helpfully" erase it off the iPod.

But there was an answer. And in case you should find yourself in a similar situation, I'm sharing the intel with you: download this software called SharePod.

But it's not quite that simple. Unless you've altered the settings on your iPod, it will still default to "erasure" mode. Plug it in, and it will automatically load up iTunes and start syncing. So here's what you do.

1) Load up iTunes yourself.

2) Hold down Ctrl + Shift simultaneously, and keep them held down.

3) Connect your iPod.

3a) Fight that sense of panic you feel when it tells you it's beginning the sync process, and keep holding those keys down.

4) Your iPod will show up in the source pane on the left, but the sync process will abort. Now you can release those keys.

5) Right-click on your iPod in the source pane, then check the button "Manually manage music and videos."

Now your iPod is connected to your computer, and accessible as a hard drive by this handy SharePod program you've downloaded. Close iTunes, start Sharepod, and start copying. You can use Sharepod to sort the music on your iPod, find any tracks missing from your library, and copy them back to your computer.

It's not a flawless program (but I don't ask that from something that's free). It didn't automatically import the songs back into iTunes. It didn't grab play counts or "last played" data from the songs I copied back. But the important thing is, I did get my rightfully purchased songs back into my iTunes library.

Once that's all done, you can go back into iTunes, disable manual updating again, then disconnect and reconnect your iPod one more time to start the automatic syncing process. Everything should be copacetic at that point.

I suppose at the point I'm shelling out the money for a new laptop, I maybe shouldn't sweat a few more dollars spent on random song purchases. Nevertheless, I feel I shouldn't have to pay to buy the same thing twice. So thanks, Sharepod, for saving me some money.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge -- Day 5

Another day, another entry in the "30 Day Song Challenge."

Day 5: A song that reminds you of someone.

I briefly considered if the "someone" here could be a fictional character. There are a lot of themes from film and television soundtracks that are instantly and inescapably linked with a particular character. Jack Bauer for the 24 theme. Dexter Morgan for the Dexter theme. Well... I could go on and on. I did, in fact, and couldn't really find a reason to distinguish one memorable theme over another.

So I decided to embrace the intended spirit of the question and come up with a song that reminds me of an actual person, "Love Shack" by the B-52s.

Many years ago, I met somebody at the wedding of some friends of mine. We had this rather intense connection that I believed at the time was just a sudden, solid friendship. Today, through the lens of time, and with a greater self-awareness, I now understand that it was totally a major crush.

Aaaaanyway, there was a great moment at the wedding reception, and this song was involved. And I think I've probably over-shared, so the story ends here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Open Rango

I'm a few weeks behind on this one, but it was only last night that I finally got around to seeing the new animated film Rango.

If I were to judge it purely on the merits of the animation, I couldn't praise it highly enough. They animators of Rango have managed to out-Pixar Pixar with some of the most incredibly detailed sets and models ever rendered for film. From the skin and hair details on multiple kinds of animals, to the incredibly realistic water, to the authentic look of the desert landscape, every pixel of this film looks incredible. And the performances are solid too.

Of course, there's more to the best Pixar films than just how they look. Their stories generally have heart and emotion too. Rango isn't missing those elements, but they're not nearly as strong as the visuals. In a way, it's hard to criticize the story for being a bit rote, because the film is a parody of Westerns, and you can't really do that without incorporating all the elements. But I think it is fair to criticize the pace. Rango does drag in places, particularly in the middle of the film. (By the time the climax comes, you've almost forgotten the real origins of the main character.)

It does definitely bring the funny, though. Rango is at its best when it's breaking the fourth wall. Happily, that's most of the time. The film is full of pop culture jokes. Some characters talk to the audience. Most of it is done without much regard to whether an audience of children would actually "get it." And for my money, this is all for the good.

The voice acting is adequate without really standing out. I'd include Johnny Depp in that assessment; he sort of feels like he's bringing the "usual unusual" in his performance here. Timothy Olyphant has a fun but brief role to set up the final act of the film. Bill Nighy is a compelling villain -- but isn't even in the first half of the movie. How much you enjoy the rest of the voices will probably depend on how familiar you are with character actors in classic Western films.

In all, I'd say Rango is a movie that's better while you're actually watching it. I'd rate it a B-. It makes an impact, and has many good elements, but I'm not convinced I'll remember much about it a while down the road.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge -- Day 4

Do I really need to keep introducing this "30 Day Song Challenge" thing? You know what's up by now, I think.

Day 4: A song that makes you sad.

Personally, I can't really see listening to a song that could truly make me sad -- take me from a happy place and put me in a funk. But there are a few songs that remind me of a sad moment, or take an already-existing feeling of melancholy and deepen it.

The song that bubbled right to the top of my mind was "Breathe Me" by Sia.

I briefly considered that this might not be an entirely appropriate choice in this category, as the "sad memory" it invokes isn't really a personal one. Any fan of Six Feet Under will recall this song's prominent use in the final minutes of the series finale. But it was such a potent and sweeping sequence that it was all too easy to get caught up in emotion of it and completely ignore the fact that you were blubbering like a baby over fictional characters. I can't hear the song without being taken straight toward that place emotionally.

If I were to try and make a more "legitimate" choice, I suppose it might be "You Run Away" by Barenaked Ladies. I have no specific sad memory associated with the song. In fact, I think it the most sweetly beautiful song from them in over a decade, since "Call and Answer" off their breakthrough album Stunt. But it is a rather sorrowful song. I listen to it because I love the instrumentation and interplay between multiple vocal parts. I don't listen to it looking to feel good, because it won't do that.

Monday, April 11, 2011

It's Dead, Jim

Remember my poor laptop computer? The one that swan dove (virus infested) off a cliff, only to be miraculously resurrected days later through the stalwart efforts of a friend?

Yeah, it's dead. Marley's ghost "dead as a doornail" dead.

And this through no fault of that friend. In fact, the computer ran flawlessly after a got it back, and I even captured a backup that was current as of less than 10 days before my second disaster. But there's no accounting for a computer "birth defect."

Apparently, several models of HP laptop -- mine included -- were known to run too hot, and the processors then deliberately underclocked juuuuust enough that the solder would give out and fry out the motherboard some time after the warranty expired. At least, so say many, many people on the internet that experienced the same exact problem with this laptop.

My experience -- I was just loading up a file one night, and the computer quite suddenly just shut off. The light ring around the power connector was still on; it was getting juice. But the thing simply would not turn on again. And apparently, the replacement motherboard needed to repair the problem runs $400 -- only to be purchased directly from HP.

Seeing as how I could buy a new and perfectly respectable laptop for not much more than that, I decided it was time to move on from the computer that had failed me twice in less than a month. So there, over at the right, is a picture of my newest laptop, a decidedly not HP 14" screen Inspiron from Dell. I wasn't setting out to buy a "color" shell, but if I'm going to go the "not black" route, blue definitely would be -- and was -- my pick.

Now begins the process of making all the little tweaks that get everything back laid out and working the way I want. A long process, to be sure. But hey... new toy!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Top Bill-ing

Last night, I headed up to Boulder to watch Bill Maher perform. As you'd probably expect, his act is equal parts comedy and political commentary. As such, it wasn't the sort of experience where you say, "I laughed harder than I ever have at a stand-up comedian." He was funny, and I did laugh a lot, but a good portion of the experience was almost a form of political rally -- being in a big room full of like-minded individuals and just sort of "communing."

Not that everyone in the audience was 100% on board with Bill Maher 100% of the time. That actually was an interesting part of the experience too. A great deal of Bill Maher's act isn't just about politics, it's about religion. And if you're at all familiar with the man, or have seen his film Religulous, then you know he takes a dim view on the subject.

So it turned out that some of the fun in the evening was in "crowd watching." There was the couple laughing their heads off at the Mormons that suddenly clammed up when Maher turned to Christianity. There was the guy in front of us, deathly silent through all the religious section, that finally opened up at a short run of scatological humor.

But back to Bill Maher himself. He played over an hour an a half, without warmup, and it was mostly good, new material. He peppered in just a few of his best bits from monologues I've seen on his show Real Time, but it was still fun to see those bits live. Laughs, applause... just plain fun all around.

Assuming you like the man at all, I'd say he's a good ticket to look into if he comes to your city.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge -- Day 3

Time for a new installment of the "30 Day Song Challenge."

Day 3: A song that makes you happy.

I'm sure that whoever came up with this song challenge thing was thinking in the context of popular music. But my iPod actually contains just as many tracks from movie and television scores as anything else. Probably more, in fact. I love soundtrack music. So my "makes you happy" song pick was going to have to be from a score.

I chose a piece by Bear McCreary, composed for the second season of Battlestar Galactica, "Prelude to War."

I know, the name doesn't quite sound right for "makes you happy," but this is just an incredible, pulse-pounding piece that pulls me to the edge of my seat and makes me start air drumming taikos every time I hear it. There are just so many fantastic escalations of theme in the piece -- at 56 seconds into the song, 2 minutes and 53 seconds in... hell, I could keep gushing about this piece for paragraphs. Long story short, this song never fails to affect my mood for the better.

If I were forced to make a more conventional pop music selection for this (though I'm not; I'm making up my own rules here), I suppose I would pick "Flathead" by The Fratellis. Bouncy, awesome fun.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Rock On

James Franco may have stank up the place as Oscar host, but I was still curious to see the film for which he received a Best Actor nomination, 127 Hours. This is the real life story of adventure seeker Aron Ralston, who found his right arm pinned after a sudden collapse while rock climbing.

If you yourself have also been under a rock somewhere, it's possible you don't know how this story ends. If so, I suggest you skip the next three paragraphs. You know. Spoiler alert. Okay?

So, it was all anybody was talking about when it came to this movie -- watch James Franco cut his arm off. It creates an odd dichotomy while watching the film. On the one hand, the story itself is completely deflated of tension. You know exactly where it's headed, and even though the movie is barely an hour and a half long, it often feels like it's just marking time until the climactic moment.

On the other hand, you get a study in Hitchcock's theory of tension -- that a sudden explosion isn't as suspenseful as seeing the bomb under the table when the characters don't know it's there. Watching this movie, you know the main character is going to have his accident. You know he's going to suffer for a while. And you know what he's ultimately going to have to do. There are indeed a few moments where this "meta-film" level of suspense does make the film more tense.

Fortunately, the movie doesn't have to trade entirely on audience knowledge. The script wisely tackles a big issue head on: are we really supposed to take somebody as "heroic" when he's really an idiot for not telling anyone where he was going? During the second act, the character acknowledges this very issue, and it's one of the better sequences in the movie.

Less effective are the brief flashbacks used to try to open up the action beyond the inherently limited setting. We see Aron's family, but they're so barely defined that even the credits simply list them as "Aron's Mom," "Aron's Dad," and so forth.

So, with a script having both strong and weak moments, both helped and hurt by knowledge of how the story ends, what tips the balance on whether this is a good movie? Oscar nominee James Franco. However poorly he performed before a live audience, he's just as exceptional here. He gives an intense performance, with no one else to work with, nowhere to hide. In the somewhat similar film Buried, Ryan Reynolds at least had voices on the other end of a phone to interact with. Here, James Franco has to go it alone. If the film works at all -- and it sometimes does -- it's all a credit to him.

If you're a fan of performance-driven movies, and undeterred by some CSI-level violence, you may want to check this one out. I rate it a B-.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge -- Day 2

Continuing on the "30 Day Song Challenge..."

Day 2: Your least favorite song.

That's a polite way of saying "a song you frakkin' hate." There was a clear leader here, "Visions" by Abnormality.

I generally don't like metal. Scream-o death metal I hate most of all. This song was included on the disc for Rock Band 2. While I swore to myself when I set out on this song challenge that I wasn't going to pick tons of songs I know from Rock Band, this category seemed an appropriate place for a Rock Band selection. After all, if you don't like a song, the solution is usually simple: don't listen to it.

The problem with this piece of crap is that you have to play the song -- more than once -- it order to progress through your career in Rock Band 2. Plus, it shows up in random set lists you play to. And it's as torturous to play as it is to listen to, a song included only for the gamers who love difficulty and hate their eardrums.

Bonus weird points: the growling lead "singer" of this "song" is actually a woman. Wrap your head around that one.

I had two other possible contenders, though even combined, they couldn't match my hatred for "Visions."

First is "Revolution 9," by The Beatles. This "song" was "written" by John Lennon. Seriously, what the hell is that?

Second would be "My Heart Will Go On," performed by Celine Dion. I actually have nothing against the song itself, and it certainly fits where it first appeared in the movie Titanic. What drives me nuts is that I've been to at least three weddings where this song was played at the reception. Come on, wedding DJs, listen to lyrics some time. Do you really think that an appropriate message for a wedding is: "even though you're dead now, I'll keep on loving you forever?"

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge -- Day 1

There's a meme making the rounds on Facebook right now, the "30 Day Song Challenge." It's 30 "questions" delving into your personal musical tastes. I figured if I did it, it would also be 30 days you get to read about something other than movies and television. (Non-consecutively, though. I figure I can't break format that much.) So with that, let's get started!

Day 1: Your favorite song.

If you ask me, they put the toughest one first. I find it hard to believe that anybody out there with even a casual love for music could possibly have just one favorite song. I know I certainly don't. I had to find a way to narrow the focus here beyond "One of Several Thousand Songs I've Rated 5 Stars on My iPod."

I found my answer as I was considering a song for Day 30 of this exercise -- Your favorite song at this time last year. Inherent in that topic seemed to be the notion that you never really do have one favorite song forever, just a favorite song right now.

Okay, that I can do.

If you follow the blog, then you know I'm a fan of Glee. At any given moment, I'm sure some song from Glee is among my current "most frequently played" songs. And right now, the focus of that attention is "Don't You Want Me," from the Blame It On the Alcohol episode.

A close second would be Glee's pop anthem "Loser Like Me" from the most recent Original Song episode.

But ask me about my favorite song again before this whole "30 Day Song Challenge" is over, and you'd probably get a different answer.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Catching a Code

The other movie I saw this weekend was Source Code, the new multi-hyphenate (sci-fi-action-adventure) film starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, and Vera Farmiga. It's directed by Duncan Jones, the man who called the shots on another high-concept (but lower budget) sci-fi film, Moon. (By the way, that's a movie I've decided I was a bit too hard on in my original review.)

This story is built around the conceit that it's possible to build a detailed simulation of the people and events of the last 8 minutes of a person's life. Further, that you can send someone into that simulation to extract information as though you'd actually been there -- as many times as it takes to get what you're looking for.

Naturally, any story built around such a premise will inherently run the risk of repetition. And here's where Source Code scores a significant success. Although you see versions of the same events play out multiple times, the material manages to stay fresh. It's a testament to a well-thought out script and careful staging by the director.

Where I became slightly less enthusiastic about the movie is in the final act. It's not that it got "bad" -- it didn't. But the movie is essentially crafted as a mystery, a whodunnit with a technological twist. And you actually get the answer to that whodunnit with nearly half an hour still remaining. Rather than roll credits after answering the major dramatic question, the story segues over into more spiritual territory. What is reality? Can the protagonist have formed real relationships with the simulations he's been interacting with? Is the simulation a real world unto itself?

I do feel like those are viable questions worth building a story around, but I'm just not sure they fit seemlessly into this story. I feel that perhaps the writer always wanted to make these points, but was perhaps forced to dial back on his loftier ambitions in favor of a more marketable action movie. In other words, I feel like the movie reaches for a payoff that isn't quite set up.

Still, the ride is a lot of fun along the way. And the movie is far more thoughtful and thought-provoking that typical action movie fare. I'd rate Source Code a B.

Monday, April 04, 2011


I checked out a couple of new movies this past weekend. One was the horror film Insidious. It stars Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne as a couple whose young son slips in a coma-like state shortly after they move into a creepy house. (If you've seen the trailer for the movie, then unfortunately, a minor mid-movie revelation about what's really going on has already been spoiled for you.)

The movie was a bit of a roller coaster ride... in the "is it going to be good or not?" sense. The opening title screams its way onto the screen with a ginormous font and a 100 decibel violin screech that basically declares a hokey movie is about to ensue. Fortunately, though, the movie then immediately moves into more sophisticated territory.

For the first hour, a tense script bolstered by solid acting performances manages to build a truly effective sense of dread. The movie delivers far more suspenseful scares than cheap camera-cut/music-sting scares. It's well on course to be the best horror movie released in quite some time.

Then, the movie "burns the snake." First, it abandons anything novel and new about its premise and slips into a pretty direct copying of the plot from Poltergeist. It loses the grounded-in-reality terror of a threatened child and swaps in the you-can't-relate danger of navigating the astral plane. And it stops earning its scares; it resorts to the cheap scare tactics that were laudably absent in the beginning.

The movie doesn't come off so badly that I would warn a horror fan against seeing it. Still, even a horror fan is likely to lament the way in which something with such promise took a wrong turn halfway through the journey. Overall, I'd call Insidious a B-. Worth catching on DVD, but probably only worth the theater trip if you really love scary movies.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

An Ice Evening

While I've been to the Pepsi Center before for a concert, I'd never been there for an actual sporting event. I surely wasn't going to break that "streak" with a Nuggets game. But for an Avalanche game? With the right person? Sure, I'm game for that!

Of course, if you follow hockey even a little, you probably know that the Avs have been having a bad season -- and an epicly bad couple of months. A win was not expected tonight, and they did not disappoint. Which, if you're a fan, is to say they did disappoint. Nevertheless, I had a great time.

Though spread out across many years, I've now been to a pro football, basketball, baseball, and hockey game. The "competition" wasn't even close. Baseball just bores me; I can distract myself with the "experience" of being at a game for a few innings, but lose interest long before the game is over. I can't even muster that much interest in the interminable stops and starts of a football game. And basketball I find too repetitive. But the hockey game? Yeah, I had fun, and was even kinda starting to see the appeal there.

Those who've known me for a long time are now free to laugh their heads off at me.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

A Game of Phones

From a web site earlier this week (that misidentified the game being played as Magic: The Gathering), here is a humorous overuse of technology:

Each of these iPhones is displaying a card from the Game of Thrones TCG, making this deck even more expensive than any TCG deck short of maybe an all Black Lotus Magic deck.

I would ask why. Whoever did this would probably respond, "why not?"

Friday, April 01, 2011

Lost Re-view: Adrift

The second episode of Lost's second season simply couldn't match the high quality of the season premiere. It doesn't help that it focuses on the character I most dislike, Michael. But more than that -- according to the Lost fan sites, the episode had a troubled development process.

Apparently, this hour was originally developed to feature Sawyer flashbacks. Actors were cast, and filming began on some of the scenes that would have been included in that episode. But the producers saw the footage that was coming in, and decided they didn't like what they were seeing. Later on in the season, with the entire production process running barely ahead of a figurative runaway boulder, there wouldn't have been any time to do anything about it. But here, early in the season, they decided that they could afford to lose a few days' work. They scrapped the flashbacks, rewrote new material for Michael, and the result was Adrift.

The writers credits on the finished product went to Steven Maeda (a new staff writer hired for season two) and Leonard Dick (a returning veteran of season one). The hour was directed by series regular Stephen Williams.

Perhaps it's because the flashback material here was written so quickly, but that component of the episode takes very little time (just four scenes), and makes very little impact. We've already learned that Michael gave up Walt against his will. This episode fills in a sort of "middle period" after his car accident where he tried to mount a legal battle to keep him.

The first flashback shows Michael in a low grade lawyer's office. Outside the window, the still-standing World Trade Center towers establish a rough time frame (though I've read this detail was only added after the episode's first broadcast). The lawyer doesn't even get Michael's name right, then confides that if he's the best Michael can afford, he has no chance of winning this "David and Goliath" confrontation.

Next is an arbitration meeting where the lawyer hired by Susan (Walt's mother) eviscerates Michael. Then later, a scene were Susan meets with Michael one-on-one to plead with him to just let Walt go, to let Susan provide for him and not press the issue in court. In the final flashback, Michael has relented, and meets Susan and a young Walt in the park to give him a gift (a stuffed polar bear) and say goodbye.

And that's really all there is to it. The scenes are meant to play off the present, where Walt has been taken by the Others. Yet I'm not sure what statement is really being made here. Is it supposed to be a juxtaposition that Michael once let Walt go and now is fighting to get him back? Is it pure emotional resonance, depicting two occasions where Walt left Michael's life? It's hard to say when the dramatic punches are so weak... and especially when there are far more interesting things going on elsewhere in the episode.

That would be what's happening down inside the Hatch. This hour "rewinds" a bit into the events of the previous episode, showing Locke at the top of the shaft as the light flips on and Kate is dragged inside. We see him tie off his plane cable "rope" to climb down in himself.

When he reaches the bottom, he takes off his shoes and leaves them -- in the spot where Jack noticed them last episode / will notice them when he arrives later. (Tenses get a little weird here, folks.) Locke spies the Dharma Swan station logo on the wall -- it's displayed prominently for reasons that will be significant a little later.

But when Locke finds Kate, Desmond sneaks up behind him with a rifle and demands, "are you him?" In the full spectrum of the show, we know that Desmond is referring to his official Dharma replacement on "button pressing" duty, though this is left quite mysterious for the moment. Locke tries to improvise that yes, he is "him," but when Desmond tests him ("What did one snowman say to the other snowman?"), the ruse is pierced.

They try another approach -- the truth. Kate reveals they are survivors of a plane crash. 44 days ago, Locke says. Desmond flinches at this piece of information, and it's a cool moment of planning ahead by the writers that won't make sense until the second season finale, in which we learn that Desmond is himself responsible for their plane crash. But for now, there's 20 episodes between here and there.

Spurred on by Kate's "tell the truth" tactic, Locke presses on. He outs Kate as a fugitive and encourages Desmond to have her tied up. Locke is made to do the honors, and takes the opportunity to slip her a concealed knife before she's locked in a dark room.

Kate frees herself with considerable effort, and fumbles around for a light switch when the door to her room won't open. She finds herself in a pantry stacked high with Dharma-labeled food. (Notice the logo again, viewers!) She grabs a fistful of Apollo bars and escapes through a vent in the ceiling into the air ducts.

Meanwhile, Locke is trying to gain Desmond's trust by revealing all about the plane crash. Desmond is glad for the confirmation that there is still a real world out there beyond the walls of his bunker, but he's very concerned to hear if any -- and how many -- of the crash survivors have "gotten sick." Before Locke can press about what in the world that means, however...


The sound that Lost fans would be haunted by for the entire season. The final four minutes of the Swan station's countdown clock have begun. What follows is a sequence that was hugely compelling and mysterious the first time around, further stealing focus from the drab Michael flashbacks. Though it's no longer mysterious once you've seen all of Lost, it is still momentous (being the introduction of such a major plot element) and thus still quite enjoyable. Desmond forces Locke to enter The Numbers on the computer, and the mysterious timer resets itself to 108 minutes.

And then they hear Jack arriving at the top of the shaft, calling out to them. Desmond uses his complicated series of mirrors to take a look, but doesn't recognize the good doctor from his own past. He starts up the record player to provide a distraction.

We now revisit the moments that closed out the previous episode, this time from a new perspective. We see Kate call out to Jack from her hiding spot in the vent, unable to be heard over the music. We see the showdown where Desmond holds Locke at gunpoint, and where a bullet nearly hits Kate in the vent. We see Jack recognize Desmond. And we...

Well... nothing. Infuriatingly, this episode ends this particular plot line in exactly the same place it ended the last time we saw it. I have a little more appreciation for the dramatic technique of this now, but at the time it first aired, this episode just pissed me off.

Though it did so not really because of the repetition of the Hatch story, but because of the lackluster Michael story. I've already covered his boring flashbacks. The "present" material surrounding him doesn't accomplish much either. It's basically 15-20 minutes of him yelling... for Walt, at Sawyer... just yelling.

It starts with Sawyer rescuing Michael from the ocean and pulling them both onto a bit of raft debris. Saywer has to perform CPR to save Michael's life. (Bummer.) Then Michael screams for Walt for a while. Sawyer tries to get him to conserve energy. Telling Michael what to do, no matter how much sense one is making, goes over about as well as usual.

Later, Michael decides to blame Sawyer for his misfortune. "You feel guilty. You made me fire that flare." As though they were out there in the ocean trying to do something other than find a boat, you know?

Then, courting a horde of angry "jump the shark" accusers, an actual shark shows up to harass the two of them for a while. Sawyer gets an oh-so-manly moment where he digs the bullet out of his shoulder himself with his bare hands, but then we're back to more yelling.

Sawyer comes to the realization that the people on that boat who took Walt were the Others, and from the Island itself. "Shut up," is about all he gets from Michael on this. (No "thanks, now I know where I can start looking for Walt.")

They drift along in the current, coming to one of the raft pontoons still intact from the wreckage. When Sawyer goes to retrieve it, the shark returns to menace. Before Michael takes it out with the gun he was pissed off at Sawyer for having in the first place, we get an interesting camera angle below the water that reveals a frame or two that would have the Lost fans bouncing off the walls. The tail of the shark is branded with the same logo Locke just saw earlier this episode inside the Hatch!

And this is indeed explained in time. Among Dharma's many odd experiments were a series of genetic modifications on animals -- polar bears, sharks, and birds (that are not saying "Hurley," dammit!) among them.

Anyway, the pontoon is recovered, a more stable life raft than the falling-apart collection of bamboo Michael and Sawyer had before. On the pontoon, they survive until morning. Michael finally breaks down and accepts that what happened is his own fault, that he never should have brought Walt along on the raft. But he swears he will get his son back, with a conviction that is proved out by Michael's actions near the end of the season.

The two then notice that the current has taken them right back to the Island. Home sweet home. They wash up on the shore... and then see Jin come running out of the jungle, screaming in panic and bound at the wrists. They can't understand the stream of Korean, but do make out one clear English word: "Others."

Shadowy figures -- though not actually the Others, we'll later learn -- approach on the beach. How they're actually shadowy in broad daylight is a bit of a mystery. (Practically speaking, the roles of Libby and Bernard had seemingly not been cast yet.)

And there you have it, save one very brief moment in the caves between Charlie and Claire that comes about halfway through the episode. Claire spots the statue in Charlie's bag that he took from the Nigerian plane. Just a little reminder to the viewers, keeping the heroin subplot alive.

I think with knowledge of the whole and the greater patience that goes with it, I don't have as low an opinion of this episode now as I did the first time I saw it. Still, it stole a lot of the momentum built up by the awesome season premiere. I rate it a C+.