Saturday, February 28, 2009

episode: battlestar galactica, "someone to watch over me" (4.19)

I thought "Someone to Watch Over Me" was a wonderfully written, visually compelling character-driven episode of Battlestar Galactica, and whereas some people may have felt underwhelmed by the emphasis on love (and with it, absence and betrayal) and wanted a stronger pursuit of dogfights and/or mythology, personally, I think that understanding these characters more will provide for an explosive last few episodes. (I teared up a little when I typed that.) Think about it. A lot actually happened in this episode. We were introduced to Sonia, a Number Six model who has replaced Natalie as the leader of the Cylons. (And I'm assuming she was the Number Six that was at Caprica Six's side in the hospital last week.) Boomer took Hera (more on that below), so now Cavil has the "special" hybrid child. And Boomer pretty much hit Adama with a "point of no return" ultimatum: attempt to shoot her down with Hera on board, and she will jump. Adama didn't back down (boy, he didn't!) and Boomer's jump ripped pieces of Galactica apart. I don't think there's any doubt that the ship Galactica is the "dying leader" of the Pythia prophecies.

Am I forgetting any-- Oh right. Starbuck's dad is Daniel. And kudos to the writers of this episode, David Weddle and Bradley Thompson, for providing this information in such a dramatic way.

Because this episode was primarily about three pivotal characters -- Starbuck, the Chief, and Boomer -- I have divided my thoughts by their character-specific narratives, but in no way do I see these narratives as isolated from one another. The very climax of the episode was heightened by the editor's decision to make Dreilide Thrace's song the connective tissue between the Final Five('s recognition of the song), Tyrol (entering into an empty home), Boomer (jumping), and Starbuck (reawakening from an infantilized state of being). Extremely well done, I say to you, sirs.

Starbuck: First of all, the opening of this episode was brilliant -- and I know I tend to overuse that word a lot with this show, but to be fair, I don't use that word very often elsewhere. BSG is my Plato's Form of the Real, to which everything else must be compared. The episode begins with a montage of Starbuck's routine. This exploration of the quotidian is interesting not simply because she's found herself trapped in monotony*, but because her recitation of the crew's mission (as she is the CAG, once again) comes to her in passing. She is not concentrating on remembering her lines, nor is she preparing for her presentation. As she mentions, "Our mission is the same as it was last week. And the week before. And the week before that." In one simple line, we, the audience, finally find out what the pilots have been doing these past week and what the goal is they're reaching towards. So in this opening montage, it's not just about Starbuck feeling trapped -- because "trapped" implies that one can eventually escape, and as Maurice Blanchot would argue, the everyday escapes [you] and thus you cannot escape it. The opening montage is instead about the despair and desperation found in the everyday. BSG has traveled this road before, most notably with Dualla. The everyday can sometimes be the hardest part of living.

* I particularly appreciated the multiple shots of Starbuck in the shower. She didn't do much other than shower, and there wasn't a strong differentiation between these scenes (she wasn't angry in one, sad in another, for example). And this visual redundancy further emphasized the state of not-being that Starbuck experiences throughout the entire episode.

I had a conversation with my BSG comrades J&G last night, and J. has a difficult time caring for Kara Thrace because she seems to bounce from man to man, taking what she wants from them and discarding them when it's uncomfortable for her. We eventually came to appreciate the fact that people like this exist in the real world (we call them narcissistic self-centered assholes...), but for J., he wants to see a redemptive moment from a character like that. I, on the other hand, because I know of Kara's history with an abusive mother and absent father and losing Zak Adama, I don't need her to bounce back. It's not that she "uses" these men -- Lee, Leoben, and Sam -- but that she gets specific answers from each of them. With Lee, their relationship revolves around competition and action, and he's really the only person she truly trusts. But Kara is a self-destructive person who doesn't think she deserves happiness (because of her mother and because of Zak's death, which she blames herself for), and so her relationship with Lee can never fully flourish because she doesn't trust herself enough to be with him. From Leoben, she gets religious answers -- and his prophetic utterances mirror her mother's assertion that she is special and needs to fulfill that role better -- but Leoben leaves her at the very moment when Kara loses her concept of self. "Kara" is a fighter pilot, but on Earth, she discovered that "Kara" is dead and she has no idea who (or what) she is anymore. And Leoben can't provide those answers anymore. He doesn't know who or what she is either. And then there's Sam Anders, who represents civilian life and normalcy, a side of humanity that Kara never thought she could be part of. When you think of previous Starbuck-centered episodes, she constantly puts herself out on the field (or out in space, rather), even if her chances of dying are 110% likely. That's why "Maelstrom" was such an interesting episode because Kara, I think, has this secret death wish. Dying in battle, dying in a moment of glory, would hold more meaning to her than, say, living on New Caprica and having a life with Anders. And of course, we don't get to see that domestic side of Starbuck for very long before she's held captive by Leoben. And perhaps there's a reason for that. "Domestic Kara" is not Kara at all. So Anders represents this life of normalcy (he's not a soldier, a concept that primarily makes up her identity), and with Anders in the hospital -- and Lee in political circulation -- she really has no one left to provide her with answers. What does she do? She goes to the bar, downs a few shots, and then imagines -- projects? -- a pianist.

I'm not going to go into specifics about her scenes with this pianist, other than to say that they were very well done. Katee Sackoff did some of her best acting in this episode, and a particular highlight is when she tries to press the piano keys and can't. In that moment, she's crying -- but it's not a scene of self-pity. It's a scene of hardened determination. She wants to play the keys as to prove to herself that she can, that the memory of her absent father will not keep from making her own decisions, but instead she cries and she hides these tears from the piano player. Others have compared the ending reveal -- the pianist was never really there -- to The Sixth Sense, but I think that's unfair because that gimmick has been around a lot longer than that movie. But what was particularly satisfying about the reveal was that Starbuck was NOT shown to be shocked. It wasn't really a reveal -- and let's be honest, most of us (should have) figured this out long before the ending, namely since the pianist didn't talk to anyone else and no one in the bar was affected by his playing. So after the "reveal," there is the mid-shot of Sackoff, and she portrays Starbuck as someone who is finally coming to terms with her father leaving her. Just like Anders and Leoben and Lee, her father cannot provide her with any more answers. In the same vein that her father's song made her feel happy and sad all at once, Kara Thrace is a character who finds sadness in happy moments (like marrying Anders the morning after she and Lee profess their love for one another) and the silver lining in despair (such as her determination to find Earth).

Boomer/Tyrol: Oh, Boomer. You make it so hard for me to empathize with you. Boomer, of course, was the first "deactivated" Cylon, and during her secret affair with the Chief, she discovered clues that pointed to her being a Cylon. (And in an interesting parallel, when Boomer was secretly planting bombs aboard the Galactica, it was Tyrol who helped her and almost took the fall for her. The irony, of course, is that back then, neither of them knew their true identity and were dealing with the exact same problems that they face here, almost four years later.) Boomer shoots Adama; Callie shoots and kills Boomer. Her murderer then marries the man she loves and has a child with him. In the episode "Downloaded," we get the initial seed of darkness and anger with Boomer. Whereas she originally felt like she was betraying the humans, she later feels that the humans betrayed her -- that the Chief betrayed her -- and she joins/is manipulated by Cavil to join his band of not-so-merry men, hell-bent on the destruction of the human race. Boomer's entire arc here -- helping Ellen escape to Galactica -- was only a ruse so she could capture Hera and bring her back to Cavil. If there a twisty-mustached villain in BSG, it would be Boomer.

Two things to discuss about Boomer: (1) Does she still really love the Chief, and (2) Why would she sleep with Helo? In response to the first one, my answer is yes, she does still love the Chief. Not only does she ask Tyrol to leave with her at the end of the episode, but her projection of their potential life together -- a life they were planning long before either of them knew they were Cylons -- was so specific to their discussions from four years ago that I got the sense that she has been escaping into this projection reality for the past few years. How often she goes there, I don't know. And then after Boomer leaves Galactica with Hera, Tyrol's projection of the house has him in his uniform (and not grey t-shirt), which shows his own projection -- projection from psychoanalysis, not Cylon-projection -- of heartbreak. Boomer is gone, and Hera, the metaphorical surrogate for their own child, is gone. Tyrol thus enters an empty home which, like a heart, is filled with empty rooms. Did Boomer manipulate the Chief? Absolutely. But manipulation and love are not mutually exclusive. She could very well have used him in the hopes that he would escape with her at the end.

As for the second question, she slept with Helo as a means of responding to the notion of Athena. Boomer was originally part of Galactica then betrayed them for the Cylons, and Athena (waaay back on Caprica in season one) betrayed the Cylons in order to join the Galactica fleet. Athena found love with Helo and they bore a child together, and not only that, but Adama and the rest of the fleet accepted her. (Not initially, of course, that took time, but Boomer wouldn't know about the hard struggles Athena faced.) She sees Athena as a weak Cylon, someone not worthy of being part of her line of Eights, and she resents Athena for being and having everything that she couldn't. Boomer is fully aware that Athena is tied up and would witness her sex tryst with Athena's husband, which is why Boomer comes at Helo like a lion ready to pounce on its prey. It's not sex; it's domination, and Boomer is dominating Athena, not Helo.

Fantastic character-driven episode, and I really think it's created a nice set-up for the upcoming last three episodes (sniff...). These characters are more real than real to me, so I know that saying goodbye -- and not living out the future with them -- is going to be hard. Sometimes I think I shouldn't become so enmeshed in these characters, but this show, more than any experience I've had in the real world, reminds me on a constant basis why humanity deserves a fighting chance, despite our flaws and our mistakes. I'm going to miss that reminder.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

posters: they sure don't make 'em like they used to

Update, 11:54pm: Actually, it looks like they DO make 'em like they used to... check out the trailer for the upcoming Alien Trespass below. Needless to say, I think it looks like a Mystery Science Theater reject and oh-so awesomely awful.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

episode: dollhouse, "the target" (1.2)

Critics didn't love the pilot of Dollhouse, and to be honest, I wasn't crazy about it either. There was obvious studio head meddling going into the narrative. The opening "introduction" to Echo was so short it had to be afterthought, and the closing snippet about Alpha's escape was an obvious last-minute push to add mystery and intrigue to these characters and their relationships with one another. So without going into too much about the pilot, I say -- skip it and watch the second one. The second episode, "The Target," is a much better hour of television and you get all of the introductory materials (via well-used flashbacks) in a more cohesive and less disorienting way.

"The Target" was based off of Richard Connell's short story The Most Dangerous Game" (which you can read in its entirety here), with a slight twist at the end. There are three reasons why this episode worked really well -- and why I ultimately recommend the show, basing my judgements on something other than gratuitous love for creator Joss Whedon. First, Elisha Dushku can only act one role (tough/vulnerable/naive) -- BUT you hardly notice her inability to act when she's playing this role. (See also Faith on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) In the pilot, she played a hostage negotiator, complete with inhaler (huh?) and glasses (seriously?), and Dushku didn't sell it. But here, in "The Target," she sells that she's a sportsman and that her shift to retaliate is plausible and engaging. Second, this episode showed more of her relationship with her handler, Boyd Langdon (played ever-so wonderfully by Harry Lennix). We learn why she instantly trusts him (she was programmed to trust him when he says the phrase "Everything is going to be okay"), and we learn how Langdon was initially brought into the Dollhouse. He became Echo's new handler when Alpha went all Patrick Bateman on everyone, including her previous handler, but without touching Echo. And third, the flashbacks offered a fluid narrative device in showing -- and not telling! -- us about Echo's resurfacing memories. Whereas in the pilot, Echo remembered things kind of randomly, but here, with this narrative device, Echo gains access to privileged information, just as we do in learning about Langdon, Alpha, and the Dollhouse.

So here's my theory, one that I think leans more towards the humanist side in all of this, but not in any way that would detract from the science or morality of the show. I don't think Echo is the first doll to recover suppressed memories. (Certainly Topher isn't "erasing" or extracting memories; he's merely relocating them in the brain.) I think Alpha was the first doll to start remembering his missions, and when he learned of his true identity -- either his "real world" identity or his identity (or lackthereof) as a doll -- he decided to load into his brain martial arts skills in order to defend himself. Remember, Topher says that Alpha implanted HIMSELF with those skills, so why and how could he do this? He did this because he knew the truth about the dollhouse.

So what does that have to do with Alpha's Echo trail for Agent Ballard (who, I'm convinced, is named after the sci-fi writer J. G. Ballard)? I'm not too sure, but I definitely think Alpha has feelings for Echo. I think he fell in love with her, and every time her memories were altered and went back to a tabula rasa state, Alpha grew increasingly angrier with his and her situation. This theory falls apart when you consider Ballard in the mix (why doesn't Alpha just expose the Dollhouse immediately?) or Echo (why didn't Alpha just take Echo with him when he escaped?), but both of these concerns could certainly be answered later and still be in line with my theory.

Basically... I want the show to be more about interpersonal relationships than ethics. Is the Dollhouse ethical? Are the dolls still people without memories? (For what is the "I" if the "I" has no past?) How long will Boyd Langdon have qualms, inner conflicts regarding the Dollhouse? I'm more concerned about Alpha and his relationship to Echo. And even if it isn't romantic, perhaps he thinks of her like his sister. And hopefully -- since Alan Tudyk will be playing the as-of-yet unseen role -- Alpha will have an ironic sense of humor. Alpha can be dark and twisty, but he can also be fun to watch.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

exciting casting news: michael cera, michel gondry, alan tudyk, and andy richter

I don't which of the following makes me happiest, but I am ecstatic to announce all of them.

Michael Cera has finally signed on for an Arrested Development movie!!! I think I just blue myself! Arrested is my second favorite television show (right after BSG, right before Mad Men), and I am oh-so curious to see what new ideas Gob will come up with (will any ever match "Fuck Mountain"??) or what other phobias Tobias has (because you know the Never-Nude is not the only one). Eek!

Michel Gondry is in talks to direct The Green Hornet. Yes, the one with Seth Rogen. Yes, the film that will no doubt be the most random amalgamation of awesomeness ever. How can this get any weirder? I know. Cast Meryl Streep as Rogen's love interest... and then everyone BUT Streep is nominated for an Oscar.

• This news is somewhat hidden in the spoiler chat (so don't click on the link if you don't like spoilers!), but according to Kristin at E!, Alan Tudyk will star as Alpha on Joss Whedon's Dollhouse. Be still my beating, bursting heart. Tudyk played Wash on Firefly (it really is true that Whedon keeps the paychecks coming for his merry band of men), and Wash is a favorite character in the Whedonverse. He was everything Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer tried to be but couldn't be. I'm surprised this news hasn't broken out elsewhere -- which makes me question the validity of the announcement -- but Tudyk would certainly heat things up on the show. And, oh, he's pretty damn easy on the eyes.

• And lastly, what may be the nicest surprise ever, NBC has announced that Andy Richter will be reteaming with Conan O'Brien on The Tonight Show. They were such a good team back in the day, and they have such great chemistry together. (If you missed O'Brien's last appearance on Late Night, watch it over at Hulu, and definitely pay attention at the 5:58 mark for O'Brien's early reporting on a team of people who played "old-timed baseball." Doesn't get much better than that.) In addition to joining O'Brien in some sketches (O'Brien has reassured us that his humor will not be "growing up" when it moves to an earlier timeslot, yay!), Richter will also be the announcer -- which means we will get some Richter-O'Brien lovin' every night.

Monday, February 23, 2009

best/worst of oscars fashion

Best Dressed of the evening, Kate Winslet and Penélope Cruz

I have to admit, I usually hate dresses that are dyed, one-shouldered, or just overall asymmetrical, but I loved, loved, loved Winslet's dress. It was my favorite of the night, and she looked absolutely stunning. Her hair was reminiscent of Grace Kelly, but the dress was all her own. And Cruz also looked fabulous (no one can pull off bangs like this woman can), though her dress was a little fairy-tale wedding-ish for it to be the best dress of the whole evening. But I cannot find a flaw with either of these designs.

Other Best Dressed, Taraji P. Henson and Evan Rachel Wood

ACK! SHIELD YOUR EYES! Tilda Swinton and Reese Witherspoon

Sunday, February 22, 2009

highlights of the oscars

For a list of complete winners and the other nominees, go here. (It's scary how quickly Wikipedia is updated with information...) And for additional reading, I recommend this recap from I Watch Stuff. It's very funny (Sophia Loren eats babies, apparently).

The good news is... the Oscars didn't suck this year. In fact, there was a lot to recommend.

:02: Host Hugh Jackman starts his Oscar tribute medley (complete with the line "swim in a sea of excrement" during a serenade to Kate Winslet). The "low-budget" set was just as entertaining as some of the numbers (especially the Benjamin Button cut-out and the lime green Frost/Nixon lawn chairs), which included "the Craiglist dancers" (!!!) and a Frost/Nixon duet with Anne Hathaway. While dancing with Hathaway's Nixon, Jackman delivered one of my favorite lines of the evening: "Oh, Nixon..."

:07: The best part of the opening? Jackman's tribute to The Reader. He starts off with the line, "The Reader, I haven't seen The Reader" and goes into a full-on futuristic dance number with people in shiny leotards -- which has absolutely nothing to do with the post-WWII Nazi Germany film.

0:12: I'm not quite sure why the Oscars decided to hand out the acting awards by five fellow winners -- perhaps to honor the craft rather than any one person -- and I'm still undecided on how I feel about it. I have to admit it, though, the Best Supporting Actress presenters (Eva Marie Saint, Goldie Hawn, Angelica Houston, Whoopi Goldberg, and Tilda Swinton) had the best material. It was nice to see the nominated actresses already in tears (Viola Davis broke my heart!), humbled by the kind words spoken by these past winners. (Of course, all of the nominated male actors were nowhere near this level of touched...)

:22: Tina Fey and Steve Martin present the best original and best adapted screenplay awards. (For the record, I'm sad that In Bruges didn't win best original screenplay, but the screenwriter for Milk, Dustin Lance Black, gave an appropriately touching and hopeful acceptance speech.) Fey and Martin are one of the highlights of the evening -- and possibly any Oscars ever. I, for one, appreciated that writers were presenting the awards, and so the intelligence of their act really reflected how important words are to movies.

The two incredible presenters walk out to center stage.

The crowd is amazed by the star power and beauty of the two presenters.

The audience members are too stunned to leap to their feet.

The crowd is thrilled at seeing the presenters, except for those consumed by bitter jealousy.

The audience breaks into wild, uncontrollable applause.
They also gave us this great exchange. Fey: It has been said that to write is to live forever. Martin: The man who wrote that... is dead.

:33: Jennifer Aniston is in the running with Robert Pattinson for most awkward presenter of the evening. Her "acting" casual was really distracting. (Just goes to show, folks, the woman can't act.) But Jack Black saved their performance by explaining how he makes money off doing animation: "Each year I do one Dreamworks project, then I take all my money to the Oscars and bet it on PIXAR!"

:40: Kunio Kato wins for Animated Short Film (La Maison En Petite Cubes) and has difficulty thanking people in English. He does it well, but you can tell he hears how broken his English is because he winces every time he starts a sentence with "thank you." So once he's reached the end, he adds, "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto." Funniest. Thing. Ever. Just like Josh Brolin, I couldn't stop laughing.

1:01: Ben Stiller presents the Cinematography award with Natalie Portman... as the never-named but much-alluded to Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix quit acting to become an actor, and here Stiller claims he wants to stop being known as the funny guy. And then during the reciting of the nominees, he walks around on stage.

1:12: Seth Rogen and James Franco star as their Pineapple Express characters in a Judd Apatow short film where the guys watch the films which haven't been nominated -- and, of course, they're comedies. (Ha! Take that you pretentious academy!) When they watch an intense scene from The Reader, they burst into laughter.
Franco: When I watch movies, I want to be intellectually stimulated... or watch young boys have sex with Nazis.

Franco: (While watching Tropic Thunder) Who do you think is a better actor -- Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama?
Rogen: That's... that's Robert Downey Jr.

Rogen: (While holding an Oscar statue) Do you think I could make this into a pipe?

1:22: There's an unnecessary musical medley... not that I didn't like it, I just thought it was inappropriate for the Oscars. Of course, this was a tribute to musicals that were adapted into films (The Sound of Music, Singing in the Rain, Chicago, Grease), with the best moment belonging to the juxtaposing mix of Jesus Christ Superstar's downtrodden "I Don't Know How to Love Him" with Hairspray's upbeat "You Can't Stop the Beat." More importantly, at 1:25, Zac Efron finally comes into the light. (Holy crap, has he been on the stage the whole time?) I geek out a bit because the thought of High School Musical at the Oscars blows my mind. Interestingly, this was put together by Baz Luhrman.

1:35: Cuba Gooding Jr. yells at Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder. "Aren't you outta your mind?!?" I grow uncomfortable... and pray that the Oscars never let Gooding back on their stage again.

1:38: Heath Ledger wins for Best Supporting Actor. And all is right in the world. His family accept the award, and their speech is composed but still touching. (Adrien Brody is visibly moved. Or stoned.)

1:43: Bill Maher shamelessly plugs his documentary. I want to slap him in the face.

1:46: Ever the entertainer, Philippe Petit (Man on Wire) balances an Oscar statue on his chin as everyone looks on in amazement.

2:32: A. R. Rahman wins for his original song "Jai Ho" for Slumdog Millionaire. He offers this beautiful line: "All my life, I had the choice between hate and love. I chose love, and here I am."

2:41: Queen Latifah sings "I'll Be Seeing You" during the montage of all those who passed during the past year (ending on Paul Newman -- it always surprises me by how worked up I get by his death). But everyone claps. I thought the point of having Latifah there was so people wouldn't show favoritism through their applause...?

2:57: Five previous Best Actress winners (Sophia Loren, Shirley MacLane, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, and Halle Berry) appear on the stage... and everyone stands and applauds. You know, for an entire industry who tries to maintain a patriarchal order -- these five women brought an entire audience to their feet, whistling and yelling and clapping at their brilliance. It certainly seems like this is the biggest award of the night. (Seriously, any one of these actresses -- other than Angelina Jolie -- could have honestly won.) After MacLane presents to Anne Hathaway, there's a cut to fellow nominee Meryl Streep, which I thought was nice because Streep looked like the proud mother of her Devil Wears Prada co-star.

2:58: But the best part is Marion Cotillard's thanks to Kate Winslet that really made me happy. She was actually humbled and sincerely grateful for Winslet and her body of work, for her courage and beauty. Cotillard was crying more than Winslet, and Winslet was earnestly touched by Cotillard's appreciation. And then... Kate Winslet wins, and everyone cheers "FINALLY!"

trailer: funny people

My commentaries on Friday night's Battlestar Galactica and Dollhouse episodes will be posted in the next two days, but in the meantime, here's a trailer for an Adam Sandler movie that -- GASP! -- actually looks good. (He's one of those people, like Tyler Perry or Ben Stiller, who I wish would stop making movies.) Funny People was written and directed by Judd Apatow, and of the plot he says, "I'm trying to make a very serious movie that is twice as funny as my other movies. Wish me luck!" It's about a comedian (Adam Sandler) who has a near-death experience and then lives his life as new and fresh from then after. Highlights of the trailer include Leslie Mann's gloriously awful impression of Eric Bana (sporting his natural accent) and the gut-busting line, "I like your movies -- the ones where you kill Bruce Willis." Hanz Gruber love!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

warning: awesomeness will occur

Warning: You should have a five foot radius around you while watching this, and you definitely shouldn't have any liquid or food in your mouth. It could be very dangerous.

episode: lost, "316" (5.6)

Some brief thoughts on last night's episode of Lost...

Overall, I thought it was just an okay episode, but we viewers have been spoiled with rewards this season (the writers have actually been answering our questions), so of course this episode is going to seem slow in comparison with the previous episode. But surely the rest of the season cannot play out in such a fast pace. My only issue with this episode is that it was Jack-centric. Not only has Jack had more (unnecessary) flashbacks than anyone, but there wasn't a conflict with his character. He was the only one who wanted to back to the island, so, as Alan Sepinwall noted, "This was, essentially, an hour of watching Jack pack for a trip to the airport."

• On the other O6ers: Sayid is the new Kate. He is apparently being escorted by a marshal and, as we know from earlier this season, he's a bit of a wanted man. Eloise said that they needed to recreate the circumstances as closer as possible, and if Locke is replacing Jack's father in the coffin, I think it's perfectly acceptable that Sayid would adopt Kate's old character, the "fugitive with the heart of gold." As for Hurley, I definitely think Charlie reappeared to him again and told him to get on the plane. How else do you explain Hurley carrying around a guitar? It's safe to say that Hurley "saw" someone who told him to go to the island -- though it could very well be Libby -- but my money's on Charlie because of the guitar.

• Also, on the flight, Sun is twisting her wedding ring, which mirrors Rose's concern for Bernard on the Oceanic 815 flight. And Ben showing up late mirrors Hurley's panic run to make it to the Oceanic 815 flight on time.

• And with all of these connections, why is no one concerned about bringing Walt back to the island???

• The episode's title is obviously referring to the Ajira flight number (and also alluding, yet again, to the mysterious numbers), but any Christian who sees the numbers 3 and 16 together will automatically think of the oft-quoted passage John 3:16. (Personally, I get really annoyed by how often John 3:16 appears in everyday culture because it's like the Cliff's Notes version of Christianity, and, personally, I find it very reductive. But for the purposes of Lost, and having a character named John playing the Jesus role, I think it's appropriate.) And for those of you unfamiliar with John 3:16, here it is:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
Loosely (and not literally) applied, this is pretty gosh darn appropriate, isn't it?

• The Lamppost "station" is a reference to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, as the lamppost was the intermediary between the wardrobe/real world and Narnia. (Also, though I don't know how significant this is to Lost, in Prince Caspian the children come across mysterious ruins... though there are no four-toed statues in sight.)

• James Joyce shout out! Ben is reading Ulysses, which I think most people know as a modern (perhaps postmodern...?) retelling of The Odyssey. Leopold Bloom walks around Dublin for a day... but the significance here is that the last chapter of Ulysses is titled "Penelope." And Ben is reading this book. There is no doubt in my mind that Ben has killed Penny at this point -- or at least attempted to kill her. (I'm inclined to think he's already killed her since he's on his way to the island, presumably to never return to the world again. I don't think Ben is interested in living outside of the island. He only left so he could exact revenge on Charles Widmore by killing his daughter.) So although Ben's bloody face is disturbing to look at, it's that much more appalling when you make the connection that he's done something to Penny.

• Jack, our recovering alcoholic, is seen with a drink twice -- but he never drinks. Redemption overload!

• The photograph of the island is dated 23 September 1954, the same year that the United States military brought Jughead to the Island. It is also classified as for "U.S. Army eyes only." So, (1) what does Eloise and Dharma have to do with the U.S. Army (which just adds fuel to the theory that Eloise and Ellie from "Jughead" are indeed the same person), and (2) seriously, no one has a more updated photo?

• The painting at the church -- The Incredulity of Saint Thomas -- is by Caravaggio and is housed in Germany, not LA. Of course, it's appropriate that Lost's own Doubting Thomas, our dearest rational Jack, is the one who is lectured/schooled on the skepticism of faith.

• I think most people's favorite exchange from the episode comes between Jack and Ben. Jack asks him, "How can you read," to which Ben deadpans, "My mother taught me." It's funny because it's a creepy lie -- a lie because Ben's mother died at childbirth, and creepy because Ben sees and talks to his mother, so he very well could have been taught by her -- but there were better lines. Like Frank's delivery of "We're not going to Guam, are we?" But my favorite? Jack asks what's going to happen to everyone else on the flight, and Ben (the self-serving Henry Gale version that I grew to love) responds, "Who cares?"

• As for Frank being on Ajira flight 316... Frank was always supposed to be on the island, first as Flight 815's original pilot and again as the chopper pilot and the final time as the pilot of Flight 316. Chalk this up to course correction.

• And lastly, Jin is totally working for Dharma. I'm expecting some awesome Dharma-Daniel-Jin storylines coming up. (Speaking of time-travel craziness -- as is usually the case -- remember that Sawyer found an Ajira bottle in the Swan station. This leads me to believe that in the 70s, when Jin is working for Dharma, and might have been working for them for years, Ajira actually crashes or interferes with the Swan station in some way. I think the bottle Sawyer holds is in fact from Flight 316 and from the present-past. Remember that in the last episode we see Locke "correcting" the wheel axis, so perhaps there are no more time jumps and everyone -- Sawyer and Jin and Daniel and them, and also those on Flight 316 -- are all stuck in the 70s.)

• One more thing... that Jack-Kate kiss? Puh-lease. The inconsistent character melodrama, I can do without. When I saw her laying on the rock in the island, I held my breath in hopes that... could she be dea-- Nope! (As long as they keep writing her as a woman who only exists to fulfill some need in the plot -- specifically the males' plots -- I will continue to hope that she dies.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

national review's 25 best conservative movies

National Review has posted a list of the 25 best conservative movies of the last 25 years. I was surprised by how many films on this list I actually enjoy and, furthermore, consider some of my favorite movies. Below, I have listed some of the more notable films, and my favorites are denoted by asterisks (***). The following comments are from insightful readers of the National Review.

1. The Lives of Others (2007)***
“I think that this is the best movie I ever saw,” said William F. Buckley Jr. upon leaving the theater (according to his column on the film). The tale, set in East Germany in 1984, is one part romantic drama, one part political thriller. It chronicles life under a totalitarian regime as the Stasi secretly monitors the activities of a playwright who is suspected of harboring doubts about Communism. Critics showered the movie with praise and it won an Oscar for best foreign-language film (it’s in German). More Buckley: “The tension mounts to heart-stopping pitch and I felt the impulse to rush out into the street and drag passersby in to watch the story unfold.” — John J. Miller
4. Forrest Gump (1994)***
It won an Oscar for best picture — beating Pulp Fiction, a movie that’s far more expressive of Hollywood’s worldview. Tom Hanks plays the title character, an amiable dunce who is far too smart to embrace the lethal values of the 1960s. The love of his life, wonderfully played by Robin Wright Penn, chooses a different path; she becomes a drug-addled hippie, with disastrous results. Forrest’s IQ may be room temperature, but he serves as an unexpected font of wisdom. Put ’em on a Whitman’s Sampler, but Mama Gump’s famous words about life’s being like a box of chocolates ring true. — Charlotte Hays

5. 300 (2007)
During the Bush years, Hollywood neglected the heroism of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan — but it did release this action film about martial honor, unflinching courage, and the oft-ignored truth that freedom isn’t free. Beneath a layer of egregious non-history — including goblin-like creatures that belong in a fantasy epic — is a stylized story about the ancient battle of Thermopylae and the Spartan defense of the West’s fledgling institutions. It contrasts a small band of Spartans, motivated by their convictions and a commitment to the law, with a Persian horde that is driven forward by whips. In the words recorded by the real-life Herodotus: “Law is their master, which they fear more than your men[, Xerxes,] fear you.” — Michael Poliakoff
6. Groundhog Day (1993)***
This putatively wacky comedy about Bill Murray as an obnoxious weatherman cursed to relive the same day over and over in a small Pennsylvania town, perhaps for eternity, is in fact a sophisticated commentary on the good and true. Theologians and philosophers across the ideological spectrum have embraced it. For the conservative, the moral of the tale is that redemption and meaning are derived not from indulging your “authentic” instincts and drives, but from striving to live up to external and timeless ideals. Murray begins the film as an irony-soaked narcissist, contemptuous of beauty, art, and commitment. His journey of self-discovery leads him to understand that the fads of modernity are no substitute for the permanent things. — Jonah Goldberg

20. Gattaca (1997)
In this science-fiction drama, Vincent (Ethan Hawke) can’t become an astronaut because he’s genetically unenhanced. So he purchases the identity of a disabled athlete (Jude Law), with calamitous results. The movie is a cautionary tale about the progressive fantasy of a eugenically correct world — the road to which is paved by the abortion of Down babies, research into human cloning, and “transhumanist” dreams of fabricating a “post-human species.” Biotechnology is a force for good, but without adherence to the ideal of universal human equality, it opens the door to the soft tyranny of Gattaca and, ultimately, the dystopian nightmare of Brave New World. — Wesley J. Smith
24. Team America: World Police (2004)
This marionette movie from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone is hard to categorize as conservative. It’s amazingly vulgar and depicts Americans as wildly overzealous in fighting terror. Yet the film’s utter disgust with air-headed, left-wing celebrity activism remains unmatched in popular culture. As the heroes move to stop a WMD apocalypse, they clash with Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, and a host of others, whom they take out with gunfire, sword, and martial arts before saving the day. The movie, like South Park itself, reveals Parker and Stone as the two-headed George Grosz of American satire. — Brian C. Anderson

craig ferguson's "lonely goatherd"

A little background information: My mother went into labor while watching The Sound of Music and refused to go to the hospital because "the Nazi part" hadn't come yet. So my mother waited. Until this three-hour movie was over. Before allowing me into the world. Well, lucky for us (so as to not become a site for bitterness), The Sound of Music became one of my favorite films (Captain von Trapp is amazing) and ABC shows the film every year on my birthday. I can't even think of a time when this film didn't show on my birthday. But there is one part -- one song -- that my mother cannot stand, and it happens to be the song that is the most fun to sing: "The Lonely Goatherd." Its playfulness is contagious, but my mother absolutely hates it. She walks out of the room. So mum, this video is for you.

In the video above, late night comedian Craig Ferguson's puppets do a rendition of "The Lonely Goatherd." Watch, listen, enjoy, and repeat. You'll need to repeat it because you will have missed it the first time from laughing so hard.

(Actually, this video is really for me. I think Craig Ferguson is one of the funniest improvisational comedians I've seen -- certainly on any late night program -- and I can never tell when his jokes are scripted, which is a sign that he does his job well. He's been starting off each episode with a puppet show, rather than a monologue, and the set-up should absolutely fail, but somehow it doesn't. What's impressive about the video above is that Ferguson knows the lyrics to the song -- really well -- to the point that, when the unicorn's mouth doesn't match the lyrics, he knows and the unicorn looks around confused. So what's better than Craig Ferguson, puppets, and The Sound of Music? Not much, not much.)

Monday, February 16, 2009

flight of the conchords, "the carole brown song"

In case you missed last night's episode of Flight of the Conchords, which matched the height of the near-perfect first season, here is "Choir of Ex-Girlfriends" (or The Carole Brown Song?). The jokes were top-shelf (Keitha's "Australianness" was comedy gold), the sight gags were clever (Bret's gloves that look like hands!), and the songs were brilliant (see also "Too Many Dicks on the Dancefloor"). But instead of doing a commentary on the episode (I don't watch the show regularly enough to add anything insightful), I thought I would simply share this video that makes me so, so happy.

It is also worth noting that Michel Gondry was the director of this episode, and the music video above clearly showcases his unique visual style.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

ew: rom-com clichés to retire

Because I despise Valentine's Day -- a $14.7 billion capitalist market that reminds me that we're little more than consumer-sheep -- I am posting some of romantic comedy clichés that Entertainment Weekly would like to require. There are 24 in all, but I've posted the ones that especially grate on my nerves. Also, you may have in the past picked up on the subtleties of my disdain for romantic comedies, and I'm always ready to post anything anti-rom-com related. So happy Valentine's Day. It's great to love somebody, but -- like this list notes -- it's not great to be cliché.

She's smart, she's sassy, and her mistakes can be captured in print or on film. Her job can take her anywhere, introduce her to anyone. Occasionally, she has deadlines.

EXAMPLE: In 13 Going on 30, Jenna (Jennifer Garner) is an editor at a women's magazine that needs to be redesigned, so she calls on her old friend Matty the photographer (Mark Ruffalo).

SEE ALSO: Writers in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, The Devil Wears Prada, Never Been Kissed, Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally..., and Hitch; Talk/news-show employees in Little Black Book, Someone Like You, Bridget Jones's Diary, and Knocked Up.


EXAMPLE: We're gonna have to quote EW critic Lisa Schwarzbaum here, because we weren't paid to see New in Town: ''Renee Zellweger teeters in high heels as a brittle singleton executrix who relocates to a Fargo-adjacent burg and discovers the virtues of 'square' Christian values.''

SEE ALSO: The ad exec-turned-baby applesauce maker (Diane Keaton) in Baby Boom; the home swappers (Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet) in The Holiday; the big-city fashion designer (Reese Witherspoon) who returns to her roots and coon dog cemetery in Sweet Home Alabama; and the movie star (Julia Roberts) who's just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her (side note: worst line EVER) in Notting Hill.

Apparently, the best/easiest way to make a woman seem vulnerable/single is to have her fall on her butt or walk face-first into something. The pratfall epidemic is truly painful.

EXAMPLE: In Bridget Jones's Diary, Bridget (Renée Zellweger) slides down a firemen's pole onto her bottom (and a camera); in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, she parachutes into a pigpen and slides off the roof while spying on Mark (Colin Firth).

SEE ALSO: Jessica Alba in Good Luck Chuck; Amanda Bynes in What a Girl Wants; Drew Barrymore in Never Been Kissed; Monica Potter in Head Over Heels; Hilary Swank in P.S. I Love You; Anna Faris in The House Bunny; Brittany Murphy in Little Black Book; and Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries.

A close cousin to the ''Fat Guy, Skinny Wife'' rule of sitcoms, this applies to movies where a superhot girl falls for a guy totally below her league because she learns what a nice guy he is. When was the last time a schlubby girl got a hot guy?

EXAMPLE: Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) wins the heart of uberbabe Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) in Knocked Up.

SEE ALSO: Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah in Roxanne; and Kevin James and Amber Valletta in Hitch.

* Of course, my male students find absolutely nothing wrong with this because, and I quote, "nobody wants to look at ugly people." Kevin James isn't exactly a Greek god...

Rom-coms and fashion go together like horror movies and blood, so it's no surprise that the majority of them include a scene in which a character tries on a series of outfits in front of giggling friends, helpful salespeople, or smitten lovers.

EXAMPLE: Jane (Katherine Heigl) shows Kevin (James Marsden) her entire wardrobe of bridesmaid dresses in 27 Dresses.

SEE ALSO: Pretty Woman and Sex and the City.

saturdays with ted: jonathan haidt and ursus wehrli

I have recently begun reading Jonathan Haidt's The Happy Hypothesis -- which I am finding to be quite engaging -- and I went online to discover this website After registering my name, I began to take a few psychology surveys, the first of which happened to relate to Haidt's Ted talk on conservative and liberal morals. (According to the study, liberals tend to value justice and have a higher openness to experience, whereas conservative value loyalty.) Here, Haidt opens with the following anecdote:
Suppose that two American friends are traveling together in Italy, and when they come face to face with Michelangelo's David, they both freeze dead in their tracks. The first guy -- let's call him Adam -- is transfixed by the beauty of the human form. The second guy -- we'll call him Bill -- is transfixed by embarrassment at staring at the thing in the middle. My question is, which of these men voted for George Bush and which voted for Al Gore?
Interestingly, Haidt makes the connection that most Tedsters are liberal, and this becomes a problem because all of these individual thinkers actually become a team working towards the same goal. We need to have diversity. And in speaking to this liberal audience, he consciously points out that people who think that the half of America who voted for Bush are either dumb or super religious are blinded by the trappings of their own close-mindedness. In an engaging lecture, he goes on to discuss the 'first draft' of the moral mind, the five moral foundations of psychology (harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity), and how these five foundations work.

And now for some humor... Ursus Wehrli "shares his vision for a cleaner, more organized, tidier form of art -- by deconstructing the paintings of modern masters into their component pieces, sorted by color and size." As someone who isn't the biggest fan of modern art, I find Wehrli to be very funny (on Jasper Jones: "He was practicing with his ruler.") and the images he uses are fantastic. His re-constructed works are actually aesthetically pleasing, mostly because -- as a person who values logic and reason -- I appreciate structure and order.
Comedian and cabaret artist Ursus Wehrli is the author of Tidying Up Art, a visionary manifesto that yearns toward a more rational, more organized and cleaner form of modern art. In deconstructing the work of Paul Klee, Jaspen Johns and other masters into its component parts, organized by color and size, Wehrli posits a more perfect art world.
After the talk, Wehrli notes that he will autograph his book for anyone "using the name of any artist." Ha, what wit. And if you don't want to stick around for the whole 15 minutes (though it goes by quickly, trust me), skip ahead to the 12:28 mark, where Wehrli reorganizes a Jackson Pollack work.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

episode: lost, "this place is death" (5.5)

I don't have anything too insightful to add about last night's episode, mainly because it moved the plot forward -- some say in a hurried way, but I say at an appreciated pace. We learned that Charlotte's parents were part of the Dharma Initiative and that she had indeed been on the island before; Daniel visited her when she was a child and warned her that coming back to the island would mean certain death (and I hope the show sticks to the time-travel rules and that, no matter what Daniel says to her, he doesn't change the fact that she dies); the time-travel flashes have been occurring because Ben knocked the wheel of its axis (does this mean the time-flashes won't happen anymore?); Jin gives Locke his wedding ring to convince Sun that he is dead, but when Ben gives the ring to Sun, it is this very item that convinces him he is alive; Eloise Hawkings is in fact Daniel's mother (but is she the same Ellie that was part of the Dharma Initiative and took Daniel to the atomic bomb?); and Kate still sucks.

I thought this episode was very good in answering some of our questions -- how Danielle's men got "the sickness" (from the monster), what "the Temple" looks like (the hieroglyphs say "Underworld") -- and it showed us some awesome scenes along the way, like Smokey ripping off a guy's arm and Desmond encountering Ben. As Alan Sepinwall notes in his recap, there's no reason for Desmond to recognize Ben or to know that Ben is searching down his beloved Penny to kill her as retribution for Charles Widmore killing Alex.

In case you haven't been reading Entertainment Weekly's Lost recaps, I highly recommend that you do so. I believe a team of graduate students must be behind these impossibly thorough connections, all of which are highly educational to the mythos and intelligence of the show. Take for instance EW's insight into Charlotte's further connection with C.S. Lewis, as demonstrated in this week's episode:
''I'm not supposed to have chocolate before dinner,'' she blurted, her mind suddenly elsewhere. And then she was gone for good.

The temptation of chocolate takes us somewhere, too — namely, straight to hell. In C.S. Lewis' first Chronicles of Narnia novel, The White Witch — a stand-in for Satan; the incarnation of death — seduced Edmund into betraying his siblings with an English delicacy made of chocolate known as Turkish Delight. For Charlotte, the Island was her Turkish Delight — her forbidden fruit — and chasing after it led to her doom. ''This place is death!'' she bellowed, and I couldn't tell in that moment if her mind was in the present, speaking of her killer environs, or if it was in the past, passing along something she had been told.

Digging deeper into the Charlotte/Lewis connection, we sinker deeper into an abyss of subtext. Along the way, we pass A Grief Observed, Lewis' chronicle about the death of his companion, Joy, and how it tested his Christian faith. Then, there's The Great Divorce, which actually isn't about marital dissolution but a fantastical vision of the afterlife, à la Dante's Inferno, although it was actually meant as a parable about living in the here and now. (The title is a riff on — and the book a response to — William Blake's surreal manifesto, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.) These are stories about the underworld, the mythical place where souls hang after they've shed the mortal coil. And now recall the Egyptian hieroglyphics in "The Hatch," which according to the producers of Lost translated into ''Underworld.'' And Smokey's scene-stealing, arm -ripping presence in this episode reminds us that the guy who made the Map in "The Hatch" called the Monster by a different name: ''Cerberus,'' the three-headed demon dog that guarded the gates of Hades. And finally, know that Christian Shepherd, the dude with the Jesus pun name, played the part of ''psychopomp'' in this episode — a ''psychopomp'' being a mythic underworld figure who serves as a ''guide to souls,'' escorting the dead between states of existence.
Pretty interesting, right? And here's a connection that EW makes to HP Lovecraft's works:
Actually, forget CS Lewis and his Christian parables. ''This Place Is Death'' felt like an HP Lovecraft horror story to me. Lovecraft was all about fools who go chasing after forbidden knowledge and buried secrets and wind up getting more than they bargained for, if not killed, or worse, driven hopelessly mad. His stories were full of ancient lands hidden away from the world, where malevolent gods and their pet monsters dwell in their ruins and lie in wait for explorers and other lost souls to feed upon or possess. The essential Lovecraft saga is At The Mountains of Madness, about geologists who discover the remnants of an old civilization in Antarctica and stumble into supernatural trouble, including a monstrous, shape-shifting creature called a Shoggoth. What did Faraday say in this episode?

And here's where your mind is about to blow up. I'm not kidding. It. Will. Explode.
Per the precedent set in ''The Constant,'' in which Season 4 Faraday did not remember meeting Time Traveling Desmond in the past until Season 4 Desmond actually made the trip, I don't think Season 1 Rousseau recognized Jin from their Season 5 encounter. Yes, a little confusing, but it's all summed up by the term ''course correction'' which Lost has frequently cited.

Simply, this means that some kind of omniscient and self-aware agency — God; Fate; Some undiscovered regulatory force — finds a way to sort things out when paradoxes or inconsistencies are created by time travel. This is not merely a writers' contrivance. This is actually rooted in some kind of theory. It is called ''The Principle of Self-Consistency,'' and it was promoted by two eggheads, one named Igor Novikov, and one named David Lewis — and yes, as we learned last season, that also happens to be the name of Dead Charlotte's Dharma Dad.

But it's that Novikov guy who's about to flip your lid. In 1991, in a journal called Classical and Quantum Gravity, Novikov and another dude named Andrei Lossev wrote a big paper about time travel called — drum roll please! — ''The Jinn of the Time Machine: Non-Trivial Self Consistent Solutions.'' The purpose of the paper was to describe various solutions to paradoxical problems created by time travel. Here's an example of one such paradox — taken from a book I found called The New Time Travelers — that I believe speaks to the larger plot of Lost. Let's say a writer wants to write a novel. So he builds a time travel machine, goes to the future, buys a copy of the novel he wrote, then brings it back. Easy. Except who created the novel if the author really didn't write it?
And in describing the significance of Jin's name, EW explains:
The term ''Jinn'' is another word for the kind of genies you might find in Arabic fairy tales. Novikov and Lossev used the term Jinn to describe things like that magical novel I mentioned earlier — things whose existence defy conventional explanations. According to the mysterious author of The New Time Travelers, Novikov and Lossev were drawing on the depiction of a kind of Jinn that you find in the Koran; they are ''a race of spirits that can appear suddenly and unexpectedly.''

A race of spirits that can appear suddenly and unexpectedly. Just like Jin in last night's episode. Just like Christian Shepherd in last night's episode. And just like Desmond in last night's episode — Desmond, whom Faraday in the season premiere called ''miraculously unique.'' Just like a Jinn.
Lost, I may have been short with you in the past -- a bit impatient, with a lot of eye-rolling and sighs -- but I'm 100% back on board. Take me wherever you may lead.

film news: february 2009

• Joaquin Pheonix was on The Late Show with David Letterman last night, and it's not a pretty sight. Whether he's under the influence of some substance (the glasses do not hide the fact that his eyes can't focus) or acting, it's extremely uncomfortable and in no way going to do anything for his career. I've always had a soft spot for Pheonix, so it's difficult to watch someone with so much talent on an obvious downward spiral.

• Woody Allen's latest muses? Josh Brolin and Anthony Hopkins.

• Been wondering what Michael Moore's next project will be? Following Sicko, his next documentary will take a look at the bailout.

• What? Someone outside of academia can analyze The Incredibles through a Nitzschean lens? The following is by Julian Shapiro over at Film School Rejects:
In order for class stratification and nobility to be properly instilled, the supers need to exploit the commoners for their own gain. On the flip side, however, it could be interpreted that instead of simply intending to save Metroville, the Incredibles aimed to cleverly thrust themselves back into the spotlight instead (in hopes of reclaiming superheroic greatness.) Thus, The Incredibles presents a very murky conclusion to the Nietzschean dichotomy that they had originally established in act one: it showed that it is possible to return to pseudo-greatness—or perhaps even Nietzschean greatness itself—after the birth of mediocrity, but it did not attempt to establish how permanent this form of greatness would be, nor how Nietzschean of a form it took; superheroic nobility was implied to once again be celebrated but there was no suggestion that the commoners had learned their lesson and accepted Nietzsche’s ideal of a “natural” society—one in which class stratification is strict and the growth of the noblemen is the outcome of a self-centered will to power. Hence, The Incredibles’ narrative coming full circle seems to suggest that the superhero is permanently compromised by the slave revolt.
• You can watch the first five minutes of the Clive Owen and Naomi Watts film The International over at Film School Rejects.

• Now, this is geek-tastic. The Vader Project, via Cinematical, "features 100 reimagined Darth Vader helmets created by some of today's most talked-about underground and pop surrealist painters, artists and designers." It's exhibiting at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Visit The Vader Project website.

• This is older news, but still worth noting because of the actress involved... Cate Blanchett has replaced Sienna Miller in Nottingham, the Robin Hood update with Russell Crowe. And despite my protests, Crowe will not be playing Maid Mariam.

• And lastly, for Valentine's Day, please give out these STD e-cards to your loved ones.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

episode: important things with demetri martin, "timing"

Overall, I really enjoyed the premiere of Important Things with Demetri Martin, though I think the sketches are not nearly as well constructed or timely (ha) as the quick punchlines or drawings. But I'm a sucker for ironic comedy, and no one's better at it than him. Each episode will focus on a different topic/theme, and the premiere looked at timing.


Amanda Peet did a brief guest appearance during the first sketch in which Martin plays an actor who can only act angry off camera. The scene paid off at the end when, after the producer secretly filmed Martin's genuine frustration, Martin goes after the cameraman, screaming, "That was a personal moment!"

The "guy who is too early for a rave" went on for too long. This is one of those sketches that could benefit from a page from Trigger Happy and Robot Chicken; sight-gags should only last 5-10 seconds long, especially for that shock value. This scene lasted for maybe thirty seconds (forty-five?), and that was too long.

The De Beers mock commercials were funny ("Engagement Appreciation" ring, "We are Deep Into Ring Debt" ring), mostly because the thought of a "Just Do It to See What Happens" ring is amazing.

The sketch were the rookie cop enters the wrong apartment and opens fire... not funny. Even with the ice cream bit at the end. I also didn't particularly like Timeline Gigolo sketch. Mary Magdalene? Black Tuesday? A potato famine? Betsy Ross? Surely there are funnier events in history he could have explored.

Millivanillisecond -- amount of time Milli Vanilli was popular
Millenivanillium -- amount of time during which you can make Milli Vanilli jokes

I bought a clock, and the big hand broke off it. I didn't want to throw it away, so I added "ish" to every number. (2ish... 3ish... 4ish...)
Unfortunately, I didn't find the multi-tasking song-and-drawing number to be interesting. The visual jokes weren't very good... and is it just me, or did Martin skip a couple of pages? It certainly showcased his talent (a guitar, harmonica, keyboard, and bells?), but the jokes themselves weren't that funny.

I wonder if there were any Goths in Gothic times. It would be like, "You look completely appropriate. You don't look sad or lonely at all."

I hate meeting babies. [There was more to this joke, but this line alone was hilarious.]

I think a good place to be during an earthquake would be in bed with somebody. If you timed it right, you would seem like the biggest stud in the world. "How was it?" "He ruined my apartment."

[On onion rings] I hate it when I take the first bite and the onion's like, "Fuck it, I'm going!" "Be patient, onion!"

[my favorite joke from the show] "Timing is everything." That's a cliché... now. But if I said that a long time ago, I would've been original. Think about it.

upcoming awesomness

Just a reminder about some upcoming awesomeness...

Tonight is the premiere of Demetri Martin's new Comedy Central show Important Things. It comes on at 10:30pm, which gives you a half-hour of post-Lost brain-melting before you switch over to Martin's observational comedy. (On skydiving: "It's just showing off while you fall.")

Friday night is the premiere of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse. It comes on FOX at 9pm (following The Sarah Connor Chronicles at 8pm). Of course, you'll need to switch over to Sci-Fi the awesomest awesome that ever awesomed -- Battlestar Galactica -- at 10pm.. Friday nights are a sci-fi geek's wet dream, so if you plan on going out, make sure you set your TiVo.

And on Saturday night, Alec Baldwin will be back to host Saturday Night Live's Valentine's Day episode. Baldwin should make up for Steve Martin's surprisingly unfunny episode from two weeks back.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

grey's news: heigl and knight leaving

[Via The New York Post.] According to co-star James Pickens Jr., who plays the chief, Katherine Heigl and T.R. Knight are leaving Grey's Anatomy. With this news, I hope that Izzie Stevens dies (because allowing her to survive a fatal disease would be copping out), but I wonder how George O'Malley would be written out. Perhaps he gets a job elsewhere? There has been talk that Denny might come back, so perhaps when Izzie "crosses over" she'll be visited by him again, though I doubt the writers will handle the scene with intelligence. Sometimes I feel like the Grey's writers are better at the guests' storylines than their own stars'.

At any rate, I'm happy with this news, not because I dislike either actor (I actually adore Katherine Heigl) but because the show's character relationships are becoming too convoluted and the cast is overcrowded.

Update, 5:10pm: According to Kristin over at E!:
However, a well-placed ABC source tells us, "There's no way [Pickens] could know that, because nothing has been decided yet. Nothing has been written and [Heigl and Knight] are still working out what will happen next season with the network."

According to inside sources who work on Grey's, it is likely that Heigl and Knight will make an exit at the end of the current season. Both have asked to leave the show. However, ABC needs to sign off on letting them out of their contracts, which has not been done.

my television worlds: "I want to go there"

Because my brain is spending so much time thinking about Lost and Battlestar Galactica (I'm either the coolest chick you know or the dorkiest), I have fallen behind on my episode reflections. Instead of going back and looking at individual episodes, I've offered some general thoughts on my favorite (and least favorite) shows below. In no particular order...

The Office: The post-Super Bowl hour-long episode (above) is honestly one of the funniest episodes of any television. The cold open alone is worth the price of gold. It also had an extended title sequence with the other secondary characters (Creed, Kevin, Meredith, etc.), but it seems like they've gone back to the shorter titles with the half-hour episodes. At any rate, "Stress Relief" has some gut-busting moments, like Dwight channeling Hannibal Lecter, Creed's declarative statement "I saw you in the parking lot! That's how I know you!", Dwight's "You don't have any land" insult, and one of the sweetest Jim-Pam interactions ever. And Ed Helms was nicely spotlighted with how unperceptive he is. Noting that he could never be a movie critic because he doesn't read into them that deeply: "I could be a food critic. That food is bad. I could be an art critic. That painting is bad." Last week's episode, "Lecture Circuit, Part I," brought closure to the Pam-Jim-Karen triangle (Karen is pregnant -- and married to a guy who looks like Jim!), and it ended on a note that suggested Holly (from HR, the one with the perfect breasts) might be coming back. I didn't care for Andy's storyline this week -- although, someone talking in third person is annoying, but Andy referring to himself as the Nard-Dog in third person is hilarious. This season has really been hit or miss with me, but when the show is strong, it's stronger than anything else out there.

House: This is one of my "passive" shows, a show that I watch with little consideration or care. I don't care for Thirteen or her relationship with Foreman (they have the worst chemistry ever!), but it is interesting to me that Thirteen was given the placebo drug for her Huntington's treatment. I just wish Foreman hadn't switched the placebo to the real treatment in the same episode that he discovered this. He should have wrestled more internally -- going to every other doctor is a dumb idea because any of them could, and should, turn him in for even thinking about switching the drugs -- for more than thirty minutes of one episode. Cuddy's baby storyline is RIDICULOUS and poorly constructed. She wants a baby but adoption's harder than she thought... she finds a crack baby and becomes its foster mom... then she struggles between work and home and doesn't know if she wants a kid... I'm sorry, but it really aggravates that shows keep representing this struggle between motherhood and a career. I'm not saying that this struggle doesn't exist -- because it does -- but every show dealing with a baby storyline uses this plot. And besides, Cuddy has resources to not be burnt out. She may have to be at the hospital a lot, but I'm sure should could take a lot her work home, and she could hire a live-in nanny if she needed to. It's a stupid obstacle to put between her and House. As for that couple's pairing... they're actually a nauseating couple to me. Verbal foreplay does not mean they would be good as a couple. This isn't the 1930s, folks. No self-respecting woman would be attracted to House's childish antics, and it certainly wouldn't be Cuddy. Maybe it's because I don't like her character (her clothes are two sizes too tight and she's poorly developed, especially in how she deals with House), but I don't consider Cuddy to be House's equal. Bring back Stacy. Bring back his ex-wife. That pairing was amazing.

Chuck: Last Monday was their first episode back after a long hiatus, and they came back with a 3D episode, no doubt trying to pull in new viewers. I won't go into the episode because, although funny at times, it didn't move the plot anywhere and acted as a reintroduction to the show and its characters. I love this show and am glad it's back. Monday is the new Thursday with its lineup of high-profile shows at the 8pm timeslot -- HIMYM, Gossip Girl, House, Chuck -- and I would choose Chuck every time. Besides the fact that I'm in love with Zachary Levi and Adam Baldwin is the biggest untapped comedic talent ever, the show is extremely well written and there's always something/someone to laugh at. Sadly, tonight's episode was preempted because of Obama's address, but it should be back next Monday and I will go back to posting episode commentaries on them. I'm looking forward to Scott Bakula's upcoming stint as Chuck's dad. (When did Bakula get old enough to play a 30-year-old man's father?)

On Sunday, Alan Sepinwall moderated the Chuck panel at NYC's ComicCon, and he shared this wonderful exchange between creator Josh Schwartz and a fan:
Kid: "In the Christmas episode, when Casey's toe got shot off, did he get a robotic toe?"
Schwartz: "He does now, as of today."
Fedak: "It's actually a toe and a missile."
Kid: "Does that mean he's like Darth Vader?"

Grey's Anatomy: My biggest problem with this show is that I would never let any of them be my doctor. Cristina is the most competent, and Meredith can spout off ridiculous medical terms, but the former has horrible bedside manner and whenever the latter's in surgery, she's preoccupied by her own unwillingness to be happy. The others are all idiots, and the new interns lack any credibility. They are caricatures of middle-schoolers; they're either sheepish or giggle like school girls at an embarrassing surgery. I'm supposed to believe these people are adults? But... I do enjoy the show. It's another one of my "passive" shows (that I used to be die-hard about, but no longer am after that unfortunate Gizzie mishap), but I'm almost guaranteed to cry during one of the episodes. This season specifically, the episode with Bernadette Peters broke my heart. (A woman with a 30-second memory window had to be retold over and over that her husband died.) I didn't mind the Izzie-Denny storyline because I do like Denny. I feel like, and I hope this was intentional, the Denny-apparition is not the same as real-world-Denny. They talk to and treat Izzie differently; Denny-apparition's repetition of "I'm here for you" was creepy from the beginning, and it seems like Izzie is heading towards a brain cancer storyline. I'm thrilled that Meredith and Derek are finally settling down and past their obsessive behavior, and I do like the development of Cristina/Hunt and Lexie/Sloan. I still find Lexie to be incredibly whiney and annoying, but she's bringing out the best in Sloan and I'm glad he's no longer a two-dimensional sex-obsessed jerk. And... George? Is he leaving the show? He's all but disappeared this season, which, honestly, I'm okay with because I've never cared about George. Speaking of George... Melissa George's stint needs to be over soon.

One last thing: I really, really love the addition of Dr. Arizona... Something, but her interaction and kiss with Callie in the bar restaurant was very poorly done. First of all, we've never seen these two interact with each other, and the writers think they can mask this or overlook this by adding a line like "People talk, and there are people who care about you"? There are rumors and so this adult doctor (really one of the only adult characters on the show) puts the moves on someone she doesn't know? This was just a quick-fix to get past the firing of Brooke Smith as Dr. Erika Hahn, and it made me lose all respect for this new character that I initially enjoyed. Her interactions with Bailey were phenomenal, and they work well together. Speaking of Bailey... would somebody give Chandra Wilson an Emmy already? It is well past due.

Secret Diary of a Call Girl: Another "passive" show. I really need to stop watching this. Even with the addition of Callum Blue (The Tudors, Dead Like Me) as Hannah's boyfriend Alex, she's a boring character. Why does he want to be with her? Because she's sexually explicit? What about her dodgy behavior and her inability to put down her defenses is appealing to him? She's not just guarded; she's absent. She dodges him and his questions. Hannah is a very strange character; she's not fleshed out at all. And as I've mentioned before, I don't think Billie Piper is particularly attractive, but whoever is doing her makeup is not helping. Since Piper was five months pregnant while filming this, we get a lot of close-ups on her face, so why paint her face like she's a clown? And why isn't her friend Ben in these episodes more? Grrr. Season one ended on such an interesting note; why is season two dragging its feet?

United States of Tara: I just can't get into this show. It's not personal. It's not enlightening. The storylines aren't very interesting (in fact, they're quite boring). The actors don't have chemistry together, and the family dynamic is awkward. The actors seem to exist separate of one another, at least until a scene calls for them to be in the same room with one another. I just don't buy them as a family. Not in the way they act or talk to each other. I love Toni Collette, but she just doesn't have strong material here. And her character's son isn't just gay or stereotypically gay; he's "hip gay." As in, his maturity is too advanced for his high-school age (his in-class comments on films are entirely unbelievable -- I should know, I teach film to college students), and it's like his sexuality is idealized in this bizarro version of what it means to be the "perfect homosexual." Bah. I just don't like any of the characters. I gave up on this show three episodes in.

30 Rock: I'm just not feeling this season at all. I think the biggest problem I have with this show is that the situations themselves aren't funny. The situations are mediocre -- like Jenna auditioning for the Janis Joplin biopic or Liz going on a date with Peter Dinklage or Jack dating Salma Hayek -- and then they try to cover this up with one-line jokes. Most of the time these jokes are fantastic (though nothing as quotable as "Son of a married couple!" or "Live every week like it's Shark Week!"), but because they comprise most of the comedy, the episodes don't seem very cohesive. I know I'm in the majority, but bring back Will Arnett. He brought the right amount of ridiculousness to the show. Tracy is sort of the child, and Jenna is the idiot, but Arnett's character was the man-child, and he plays those characters so well (see Arrested Development). I'm also a bit annoyed by all of the guest stars because I don't feel like they're incorporated very well into the scripts, though I am enjoying Jon Hamm's guest spot as Liz's hunky neighbor. I may be biased, but his first episode was last week and we rarely saw much of him. Again, the situation wasn't very funny -- the entire episode was set up so that he'd be accidentally roofied -- and I felt like he wasn't given strong material. But I think this Thursday's episode shows promise. We'll see. I'm just disappointed overall this season. Liz is becoming as silly as the secondary characters, as is Jack, and I don't know if there are enough "adults" on the show to make me believe that they are actually able to produce TGS every week.