Wednesday, May 27, 2009

springfieldpunx: pop culture awesomeness

Dean Fraser, artist of the Springfield Punx series, enjoys taking pop culture characters (and real people) and turning them into Simpsons-style characters. When you go to his website, you'll find that he has a healthy obsession with all things related to Batman (he has at least four different variations on The Joker and three on The Penguin), and he's currently doing a series of Lost characters (Ben Linus, Charlie, and Hurley). I really enjoy and appreciate the work he does, and I hope you do too. His Arrested Development series (including some secondary characters!) is especially entertaining.

Update, May 30th: Here are some Lost characters. (l-r) John Locke, Ben Linus (he does get beat up a lot), and Sawyer (aka Jim LeFleur)

(l-r) Rorschach from Watchmen, Marty McFly and Doc Brown from Back to the Future

(l-r) Dwight from The Office, Captain Freakin' Planet, Dr. Greg House from House

Late Night Gods: (l-r) Steven Colbert, Craig Ferguson (complete with yodeling monkey!), and Conan O'Brien

Arrested Development alert! (l-r) Tobias "I Think I Just Blue Myself" Fünke, Steve "Steve Holt!" Holt, and Buster "I'm a Monster!" Bluth

Monday, May 25, 2009

fellini's 'roma': the papal fashion show

For my dad: "We'll always have Rome."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

lost: the valenzetti equation and a moment of grace

Between seasons 2 and 3 of Lost the writers and producers created an alternate reality game (ARG) known as The Lost Experience. In short, it was intended to engage the audience in a narrative that would be too difficult to tell on the show itself. Videos were created and hidden on the internet, following a band of contemporary characters following the Dharma Initiative and the Flight 815 hoax. The Lost Experience supposedly followed the story of Lost, and those who chose to engage in the experience would be rewarded with extra information while those who didn't follow the game (and only watched the show) would not be missing anything. And for the most part, that's been true. I stopped following easter eggs on the internet after season 3, but there is one part of the Lost Experience that has become part of the mythology for me, a major part that has yet to be addressed on the show: the Valenzetti Equation.

The Lostpedia website explains:
According to the 1975 orientation film in the Sri Lanka Video, the Valenzetti Equation "predicts the exact number of years and months until humanity extinguishes itself." During the video, Alvar Hanso also states that the radio transmitter on the Island, will "broadcast the core numerical values of the Valenzetti Equation." The numbers, 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42, are explained in the Sri Lanka Video, as the numerical values to the core environmental and human factors of the Valenzetti Equation. Alvar Hanso also states in the video that the purpose of the DHARMA Initiative is to change the numerical values of any one of the core factors in the equation in order to give humanity a chance to survive by, effectively, changing doomsday. However, Thomas Mittelwerk reveals that as of 2006, they have failed to change the values through manipulating the environment, as the equation continues to arrive at the same six numbers.
The equation, therefore, is a mathematical prediction of the end of days, and Dharma is part of the experiment to change the equation. So here are my questions: (1) Why hasn't the show explained either the Valenzetti Equation or Dharma's purpose? Having just finished season 5, I would think the Cuse and Lindelof would have incorporated this background information into the story by now. Changing the equation explains why Dharma is experimenting with polar bears in tropical climates, electro-magnetism, and time-travel (the bunnies). (2) The purpose of the numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42 are still being depicted on the show as coincidental. When they were etching the numbers into the Swan's door, why wasn't there an explanation as to why those numbers were chosen? And (3) the show is heavily invested in this idea of variables. If the following theory is correct (which I attribute entirely to my mother), then why hasn't the Valenzetti Equation been mentioned?

If the show does not incorporate the Valenzetti Equation into the last season of the show, I will be very disappointed. The following explanation of the show has allowed me to accept and appreciate the characters, their ridiculous circumstances (and even more ridiculous decisions), and to embrace the tone of the show rather than merely criticize the reality of it.

The End-All, Explain-All Theory (that makes Lost better than it actually is)

If we assume that changing the Valenzetti Equation is in fact part of Lost's mythology -- and I really hope it is because it explains so much (for a show that explains so little) -- then we can connect Jacob and Esau's "game" to the equation as well. Let's say that Jacob and Esau are god-like characters (not necessarily the Judeo-Christian God, but some sort of metaphysical beings), who are engaged in an eternal debate concerning the quality of humanity. To borrow the over-arching question of Battlestar Galactica -- Is humanity worth saving? Season 5's finale began with Esau stating, "They come, fight, they destroy, they corrupt. It always ends the same." It refers to the cycle of destruction in humanity's history, and cyles are traceably mathematical in nature, so Esau could be representative of the Valenzetti Equation. He predicts and awaits for humankind of destroy itself. (I will ignore, for now, what the loophole is and why Esau is intent on killing Jacob. Perhaps Esau isn't interested in saving humanity.) Jacob's duty, therefore, is to prove to Esau that humanity is worth saving -- that the outcome of the equation/cycle can be changed -- by choosing randomly selected individuals to represent the human race.

The random selection is important. Sure, Jacob could have chosen Buddhist monks or philanthropists to come to the island, but the point is that humanity is flawed. Our heroes are flawed. Our heroes make mistakes. Our heroes are not incredibly intelligent. They are average people who are conflicted between their hearts and their heads, between doing what is right and doing what is necessary. And as Daniel Faraday mentioned before he died, our characters are the variables. Not variables in time travel, but variables in the equation. Faraday noted that free will is what changes the course of history. Our heroes were chosen to save humanity through their choices.

In the finale, Jacob is reading Flannery O'Connor's Everything that Rises Must Converge collection of short stories outside of the hospital where Locke's father pushes him out the window. Wikipedia describes the collection as follows:
In the story after which the work is titled, human weaknesses are exposed and important moral questions are explored through everyday situations. Critics view the story as a prime example of O’Connor’s literary skills and moral views. [...] Through irony, the blindness and ignorance of the characters are exposed. The title Everything That Rises Must Converge refers to an underlying religious message central to her work: aiming to expose the sinful nature of humanity that often goes unrecognized in the modern, secular world.
My mother, having a PhD in Southern literature, explained to me that Flannery O'Connor's works are about a moment of grace, where a character, despite their moral turpitude, may be redeemed. Patrick Galloway expands on this in his essay, "The Dark Side of the Cross: Flannery O'Connor's Short Fiction":
O'Connor is compassionate to her characters in that she gives them the opportunity of receiving grace, however devastating that might be to their fragile self-images, as well as their fragile mortal frames, for in O'Connor, grace often comes at the moment of grisly death.

In a letter written to Winifred McCarthy, Flannery O'Connor writes, "There is a moment in every great story in which the presence of grace can be felt as it waits to be accepted or rejected, even though the reader may not recognize this moment." [...] Critic Carter W. Martin notes, "Most of the short stories are constructed in such a way as to dramatize the sinfulness and the need for grace..." and goes on to delineate two different kinds of grace normally received by the characters: "prevenient grace-- which moves the will spontaneously, making it incline to God--and illuminating grace, by which God enlightens men to bring them nearer to eternal life." That is to say either a kind of spark that ignites a low smolder of realization, or full-blown revelation. Usually the character "recognizes his need for repentance and either accepts or ignores the opportunity.
In "The Incident: Part I and II," many of the characters have a moment of reaching grace -- hence the significance of Jacob's flashbacks. (Earlier I mentioned that I didn't like the flashbacks, but considering that Jacob was present for each character's moment of grace, I now appreciate their relevance to both the characters and the mythology of the show.) Kate promises to near steal again, but we all know that she chooses to rob a bank later in life (which leads to the death of her childhood friend). Sawyer's decision to write a letter to the man who killed his parents is thwarted by an inkless pen. Jacob gives him a new pen, allowing him the choice to continue writing the letter. A friend of the family tells young James Ford not to finish the letter, but we know that he chooses to finish it later. Locke is essentially killed by his father but is revived from Jacob's touch. This is the moment where Locke is given a second chance at life. He can go on being pathetic and miserable (a failed relationship, daddy issues, etc.) or he can choose a life of adventure. His infamous line -- "You cannot tell me what I can and cannot do" -- places the decisions of his life solely in his hands. Despite being in a wheelchair, he chooses to do a walk-about. When faced with killing his father, per Ben's instructions, Locke chooses to ask Sawyer to do it (which is arguably Sawyer's moment of choice as well). Sun and Jin, our resident couple of institutional love, get married and vow to honor and love one another. But we all know that Jin chooses to work and murder for Sun's father and that Sun chooses to have an extramarital affair. Their moment of grace comes through their separation in time. Three years after the time split, Sun and Jin refuse to let go of the idea of finding one another. (Love, my friends, love is what will save humanity.) With Jack and Hurley, they are both at a crossroads -- Jack with quitting his job and Hurley with being released from prison. They can continue moving forward, or they can change direction altogether. As Jacob points out to Hurley, he doesn't have to get on the Ajira flight. He could have chosen to walk away.

And most importantly, Ben has the choice to kill Jacob. Perhaps it is because Jacob knows how Ben will choose -- Ben does have quite the history of killing people (let's not forget about The Purge) -- that prompts him to tell Ben, "You? What about you?" He says it with such sadness, not because he knows that he is about to die but because Ben represents everything that is greedy and immoral about humanity. Ben could have walked away. But he didn't. He chose to kill Jacob, hence Esau's victory burial of Jacob in the fire.

The entire series of Lost has been about choices. Originally it was about the choices of Jack versus Locke, but when you consider all of the flashbacks throughout the series, it makes a lot of sense that these flashbacks serve to illustrate not simply the type of character each individual person is, but also how they come to make choices. What outside influencing factors help determine their path? What do they choose to ignore, what do they choose to embrace? And most importantly, how is their moment of grace significant to the Valenzetti Equation? Sawyer sacrificed himself by jumping out of the helicopter. Kate returned to the island to find Claire. Jack and Juliet, the rational characters, are willing to "reset" history for love. Charlie sacrificed himself for Desmond and the others. Michael died as a means of redeeming himself for leaving the island. A majority of these deeply flawed characters have already had their moment of grace, that moment where they undoubtedly answer the question -- Yes. Yes, humanity is worth saving.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

episodes: bones, grey's anatomy, the office, 30 rock

Bones: I am extremely irritated with this show. The season four finale, "The End in the Beginning," offered viewers an immediate look at Brennan and Booth in bed together -- something the creators have sworn up and down would be real and not a hallucination or a dream -- only to discover that it's not actually Brennan and Booth. While the real Booth has been in a coma for the past four days, the audience learns in the last two minutes that Brennan has been writing a crime short story/book based on people she know. The following are my major irritations: (1) First of all, the actual story she writes -- complete with a lame Hodgins voiceover -- isn't a very good story. (2) Secondly, it took me an entire forty minutes to figure out where this bizarro world came from. These are characters I know, and yet somehow they're not... oh, it's a story. Told by someone. For some reason. That won't be revealed until the last two minutes of the show. Because the writers didn't introduce it as a story (but rather immediately leapt into bed with Booth and Brennan for cheap thrills), I spent a majority of the hour waiting for the end of the episode. I didn't care about these bizarro characters with their bizarre personalities. I wanted to get back to the normal Bones world I had grown to love. The only thing I liked about this world was that it showed how well John Francis Daley (Sweets) can sing. (3) And lastly -- and this is a major problem -- there was no chemistry between the lead actors during their sex romp. This could be because of two reasons. One, the sex came at the very beginning of the episode, and because there was no build-up, the scene couldn't climax (much like the characters, I'm sure). Without the build-up, there's no audience investment. Or two, randomly beginning the episode in bed -- with Booth in a hospital bed in the last episode -- lead to a lot of confusion. So instead of enjoying the moment for what it was, the audience scratched their heads and wondered what happened between last week and this week that allowed Booth to be healthy enough to engage in sexual relations. Outside of these two possibilities, the scene simply didn't work. It was awkward and the actors seemed to be pulling back. (The actors are friends in real life, so I bet it was like kissing a sibling on the set.) But most of all, imagining a story is the exact same as dreaming. Brennan and Booth still have not had sex, something the creators have been promising since mid-season. I'm angry. I feel cheated. And the fact that this show has been renewed for two more seasons really worries me.

The Office: Hands down, the finale "Company Picnic" was the best thing on television last Thursday. It was able to balance the multiple strengths of the show, including sight gags and verbal jokes, outrageous caricaturizations (which Blogspot informs me is not a word, but then again, neither is Blogspot) and quiet moments of heart-tugging goodness. Steve Carrell and John Krasinski really brought their A-game to this episode, and the writers pulled off a wonderful showcase of the often times overlooked or ignored supporting cast. Stanley had the winning line of the night: "I usually don't enjoy the theater, but this is delightful." The episode began with a wonderful prank on Michael -- wonderful because it's based in reality (what office employee doesn't dream of taking advantage of their boss and skipping out on a full day of work?) -- and it was nice to see Dwight get in on the prank. And yes, I enjoyed Dwight's awful pun while changing the clocks, "Like clockwork." And then the episode follows our favorite Scranton Branch into the Dundler-Mifflin company picnic, where hilarity ensues on the volleyball court and we discover, through one of the sweetest moments of the show, that Jim and Pam are pregnant. It's a scene that is right above the proposal (for its style of execution) and just below the kiss from "Casino Night" (only because nothing will ever touch the awesomeness of that moment). The reveal came through a window in the hospital (begin watching at the 20:14 mark), and we see the look of shock and awe on Jim and Pam's face, right before they kiss each other and Jim starts crying. Then he comes out to call Dwight with the sweetest line of the episode, "Dwight, send in the subs." Way to make my heart swell, Krasinski.

Below are some of the highlights:
• I loved the introduction of Dwight's best friend, Rolf -- "I met him in a shoe store. I heard him asking for a shoe that could increase his speed and not leave any tracks." -- mostly because I will never tire of anyone calling Angela a whore.
• Michael wrote down a list of why he and Holly are soul mates -- "Holly and I are soup snakes, and the reason is... in terms of the soup... that doesn't make any sense. We're soul mates." -- and was smart enough to know he should wait to tell her of his affections. Michael Scott is only as self-aware when he's around Holly.
• I'm going to miss Idris Elba as Charles, Michael's interim manager while Michael created the Michael Scott Paper Company. In this episode, his competitive nature really heightened his character's contempt for the Scranton Branch, namely Jim. This is a very specific type of character that would work well within the Office universe. Best line: "It must be nice to get a rest from all your rest."
• Michael and Holly's skit, "Slumdunder Mifflinaire," worked so well despite its obvious awkwardness (Michael announces the closing of a branch, when said branch is present without any knowledge of the layoffs) because of Steve Carrell's Indian accent and because they made torture into comedy. This skit, by the way, really showcased why the show will suffer the loss of Amy Ryan next season. Michael and Holly chanting "Dun-der, dun-der, dun-der" to the tune of the Jaws theme song was as sweet as anything Jim and Pam have ever done.
• Pam played volleyball in junior high, high school, college, and went to a volleyball camp most summers -- and she's proud of it.
• Best site gag: As Kevin is speaking into the camera -- "It's 6 to 6. It's a nail biter." -- he gets hit by the volleyball. Unexpected physical pain is always welcome. (And this was followed by Angela asking Kevin, "Now it's 7:6. Or is that too much accounting for you," to which Rolf says, "Here's an accounting question for you. What does one fiance plus one lover equal? Answer: one whore.")
• Second best site gag: To delay the game while Jim takes MVP Pam to the hospital, Dwight kicks the volleyball into the woods with such anger and then yells, "I'll get it!" and saunters away. I laughed embarrassingly hard.

Grey's Anatomy: The finale "Now or Never" was certainly the talk of Facebook on Friday. (Sadly, Facebook statuses have replaced "watercooler talk.") I don't have much to say outside of George and Izzie's storylines -- other than someone needs to give Chandra Wilson (Bailey) an Emmy already, and then more Emmys for the previous seasons that she hasn't won -- so I'll stick to those major characters. (1) Izzie: When she emerged from her surgery with short term memory loss, I immediately thought back to a previous episode where a woman had to be told every 30 seconds that her husband died on his way to the hospital. At first I was peeved because I thought they were recycling material, but then I realized the familiarity of the storyline was supposed to evoke a response to tragedy. What if Izzie had to be told over and over again that the tumor was removed? It's not as heartbreaking when compared to the woman whose husband died, but the source of one's identity is very much rooted in memories. Eating jello (action) is not as defining as remembering whether or not you like jello (memory). We all knew that Izzie's memory would eventually come back, but it was wonderful to see it come back in such an honest way. Her husband Alex delivers one hell of a speech about his fears, which makes Izzie hold on to his words and thus focus on remembering. His speech, delivered so well by Justin Chambers, included thoughts on leaving her, on feeling helpless, on her not being the same person he married. It wasn't sweet; it wasn't romantic. It wasn't anything anyone would ever want to hear after going through brain surgery. But damn was it honest.

(2) George: I didn't realize George was the John Doe on the table until the Chief said he sent O'Malley home early to be with his mother before he departed for Iraq. Creator Shonda Rhimes has noted that the writers deliberately edged George out of major storylines so that when he was absent in the finale, nobody would take notice. Well Shonda, it worked. I was completely taken by surprise. (Rhimes has also noted in previous seasons that she pitches the season's finale before they even begin writing that season, so I believe her when she says it's merely coincidence that Katherine Heigl and T.R. Knight have been publicly scrutinized for their roles in the show and that they're the ones who end up flatlining at the episode's end.) There are two reasons why George's storyline broke my heart. The first is all due to Ellen Pompeo. Her delivery of "007? 007! 007! Oh my God, oh my God. It's George!" will forever be etched in my memory. Broke. My. Heart. (Best thing Pompeo's done on the show yet.) And second, in the first hour of the two-hour finale, George-as-John Doe is on the operating table, being poked and prodded by all of the major surgeons, including his ex-wife Callie, his mentor Owen Hunt, and his friend Meredith Grey. John Doe stepped in front of a bus to save a complete stranger from being hit, and someone wonders aloud if anyone thinks they could ever do that for someone else. Callie says, "We like to think we would, but... [we wouldn't]." That's our George. George is the type of person to step in front of a bus for someone else. The way that these scenes were set up -- thinking of John Doe as some random patient in the beginning, then realizing that the patient is our heroic George towards the end -- was extremely well plotted. For the most part, the finale was a typical episode... but the last few minutes, where Izzie and George both simultaneously flat line, left a lot of fans screaming at their television, "SERIOUSLY?!?"

30 Rock: My biggest issue with this show is that the jokes are often isolated within specific scenes -- and further, those scenes are isolated from other scenes -- so it was nice to see Liz's fifth grade kidney performance brought back to reveal she went to school with Sheryl Crow. Overall, the episode was just okay, but I didn't care for the forced catchphrase storyline (despite it being funny, it was so self-aware that the irony was quickly replaced by the idea that NBC is making 30 Rock catchphrase central -- even their website has "It's a deal breaker, ladies!" everywhere), or Tracy Jordan going back to high school to deliver a commencement speech. The episode did have one great moment, and that's the closing charity song ("One song. One man. One kidney."), filled with the voices of Mary J. Blige, Elvis Costello (alias of an international art thief), Clay Aiken, Cyndi Lauper, Adam Levine, and many others. It was more parodic than the straight-laced "The American Dream" song from Wag the Dog, and I do enjoy a good mocking of consumer capitalism.

• Dr. Spaceman was used remarkably well in this episode, from "Kidney transplantation is no laughing matter, so I apologize... (insert childish laughter)... kidney is just such a funny word" to yelling "Opposite! Opposite!" at the kidney transplant form.
• Here's a complete list of the catchphrases Liz Lemon offers to various women throughout the episode: "This guy's making you talk like a crazy person. You have sexually transmitted crazy-mouth. That's a deal breaker." "Your fiance's gay. Look at him, look at you. Classic case of 'fruit blindness.'" "He thinks he deserves a va-jay-jay upgrade. He doesn't; he's not Tom Brady. Shut it down." "There's no such thing as bisexual. That's something they created in the 90s to sell hair products." "Only one snake in the bed. Deal breaker!" "Not on my watch, beyotch." "S to the D. Shut it down." "Talk it out before you walk it out." "Long distance is the wrong distance."
• Say what you will about Tracy Morgan as an actor or a human being, his performance as Tracy Jordan makes even the worst storylines so much better. The "When have I ever cried" montage was hysterical. In case you've ever wanted to revisit some of Tracy's best lines, you can go here and read every line he's ever uttered.
• Here are the lyrics to the charity song:
Sometimes life brings pain and strife, and all seems wrong. That's when you find a friend and write a song. So give the gift of giving, and give it far and give it wide. Take the leap pushed down deep inside. And just give a kidney to a father or a dad. Just give a kidney. We hear it doesn't really hurt that bad, and we know you want to give it to a super human being (?). So get it done. We just need one. For Milton Green. This country has six hundred million, and we really only need half, which still leaves three hundred million kidneys. Do the math. Milton Green (x a lot). He needs a kidney. Milton Green. Don't ask why, he could die if you don't call today. Listen, when someone starts talking in the middle of a song, you know it's serious. So give Milton a kidney. We all believe in this cause so much that we're doing it for free. Except for Sheryl. And only three of us are drunk.
The song continues, but it moves so quickly between the celebrities... but the highlight was Cyndi Lauper exclaiming, "I'm one of the drunk ones!"

Monday, May 18, 2009

review: angels and demons

I am going to preface my review by saying that I used to mock my father -- and still do, really -- every time he shouts "I've been there!" during a location shot in movies. Italy, France, Turkey, England... he's been to many a far off lands, so imagine how often I've had to endure the phrase, "I've been there!" But then something happened. He took me to England. He took me to France. And he took me to Italy. So now whenever I see the Gherkin or Piazza San Marco, I exclaim with childish glee, "I've been there!" and he becomes the one mocking me. I went to see Angels and Demons with him yesterday (as well as my equally well-traveled mother), and having walked around Rome with the explicit intent of following the path laid out in Dan Brown's novel, I sat in my seat, squirming and beaming with extreme sensory recognition. Raphael's Chigi Chapel. Bernini's St. Teresa in Ecstasy in Santa Maria della Vittoria. Raphael's tomb and the occulus in the Pantheon. The Baldacchino (which rests above St. Peter's tomb) in St. Peter's Cathedral. Between receiving my undergraduate degree in art history and walking the exact path of protagonist Robert Langdon, I was geeking out throughout the entire movie, suppressing the urge to scream "I've been there!" over and over and over again.

With that said, I have no idea if this is a good movie. I walked away feeling pleased, but that's because I've been there and there and there. Some quick notes: First, Ayelet Zurer, who plays the female lead Vittoria, is infinitely better cast than Audrey Tautou in The da Vinci Code. Second, this film is heavy on exposition -- but, unlike Duplicity, the scenes move along quickly and the narrative unfolds at an entertaining pace -- and, although I had no personal dissatisfaction with it, I can understand how anyone unfamiliar with either Rome or art history might get lost along the way. Third, the film starts with a short introduction to CERN and their large hadron collider, which is one of my favorite things ever. The science behind the scene is reductive and oversimplified, but I suppose that's necessary to move the plot along. Still, this allows me a good opportunity to share some links:
The science behind Angels and Demons, including, while unrelated to the film, whether or not the LHC creates black holes.
Has the Large Hadron Collider Destroyed the World Yet? This is a website to check. Daily.
• CERN's easy explanation of antimatter.
• Some breathtaking photos of the LHC. Who says technology can't also be art?
And lastly, the film explains the Illuminati's mission in one scene, and if you happen to zone out during that scene or leave to use the restroom, you will miss the secret organization's motive. Also, Langdon does not explain -- at all, if I'm remembering correctly -- why the eye, obelisk, or pyramid are associated with the Illuminati. He just says, "An eye within a pyramid! The sign of the Illuminati!" and you're supposed to accept it. On the plus side, the film revisits the science vs. faith dichotomy enough times that even if you don't understand who exactly the Illuminati were, you at least know why they existed.

The film, of course, made damn sure that it offended neither religious people nor atheists, which actually disappointed me. (Not that the film wasn't insulting, but because there was no real debate between any of the characters.) The head Swiss guard and the camerlengo are quick to point out Langdon's atheism, but he has a private audience with church officials at the end that makes everything copasetic. The political correctness just seemed a little forced. Many members of the papal court -- particularly the head cardinal -- are suggested to have a duplicitous nature (he's religious but with immoral motivations!), but there are many positive conversations about the necessity of faith and religion. As an agnostic, I always appreciated Dan Brown's handling of this debate, and I was sad that my favorite part of the book was not included in the film.(*) In the book, the camerlengo (played in the film by Ewan McGregor) grabs a news reporter's microphone and gives a message to those watching coverage of the papal conclave. Included in that message, he says to the non-believers, "You look at the stars and you say, 'How can there be a God?' I look at the stars and I say, 'How can there not be a God?'"(**) I've always referred back to this scene when people ask me to explain why I'm agnostic (which they incorrectly perceive as "fence-sitting").

(*) Although this scene was not in the film, there are other scenes that state quite plainly that science and religion are not, or should not, be contradictory.
(**) I do not have a copy of the book on me at the moment, and I have not read the book in a few years. This is a scene that I pulled from memory, so there is a good chance the wording is entirely incorrect.

I'm fairly certain I enjoyed the film, though I know others may not be as forgiving as I am. Whenever my brain contemplated a plot hole (the set-up of the goose chase is pretty implausible, considering the limitations of the villain), I just remembered Bernini's sculptures. When the movie was over, I ran into a friend who said she was less than impressed, but then, she's never been to Rome.

The Vatican? I've been there.

upfront week

Upfront Week doesn't technically begin until today (Fox on Monday, ABC and NBC on Tuesday, CBS on Wednesday, and CW on Thursday), but already Ausiello has a cheat sheet listing those shows that have been renewed. Here are some highlights, and by that I mean shows that interest me the most (and because reality TV is the bane of my existence, you will not find any of those listed here):

Better Off Ted: RENEWED. Whoo hoo!
Brothers & Sisters: Renewed.
Castle: RENEWED.
Cupid: Canceled. Yeah... this remake was alarmingly bad.
Desperate Housewives: Renewed. Forever.
Eli Stone: Canceled, and the last of this past season should finish airing this summer.
Grey's Anatomy: Renewed.
Lost: Already Renewed.
Pushing Daisies: Canceled, and the last of this past season should finish airing this summer.
Scrubs: Renewed, with Sarah Chalke and Zach Braff returning for six episodes.
The Unusuals: Canceled. Too bad; the actors had great chemistry together.

The Big Bang Theory: Renewed for two seasons.
How I Met Your Mother: Not official, but it'll most likely be renewed.
The Mentalist: Ditto. It's the number one show on television.

24: Renewed.
American Idol: Renewed. Ugh, go away.
Bones: Renewed for two seasons.
Dollhouse: Renewed for thirteen episodes.
Family Guy: Renewed.
Fringe: Renewed.
House: Not official, but it'll most likely be renewed.
The Simpsons: Renewed.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Canceled.

30 Rock: Renewed.
Chuck: Renewed for thirteen episodes, but with a tighter budget. They'll probably be getting rid of a character, or at least decrease the number of episodes the supporting cast is in.
Heroes: Renewed. Ugh, go away..
The Office: Renewed.
Parks and Recreation: Renewed.

Looking back over this list, I can't help but think... man, I watch a lot of television.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

isaac spaceman on lost's finale

Isaac Spaceman over at Throwing Things wrote the following in a recent post, which I found to be quite insightful. Perhaps Lindelof and Cuse actually have this thing well plotted out...

I thought it was an excellent (but not pantheon-level) Lost, but mostly I was impressed with how intricately-written it was, weaving together not just the basic mythology, the Romeo and Juliet B-story, the turtles-all-the-way-up (tm Carmichael Harold) escalating conflicts (survivors vs. survival; survivors vs. Others; Others vs. Dharma; Ben vs. Widmore; Jacob vs. Esau), but also a number of allusions to prior season finales. To be clear, I'm not saying these are coincidences or minor similarities, in the nature of a high-school "compare and contrast" paper. I think these were explicit callbacks to the prior finales and restagings of pivotal scenes or shots. To wit:
• In the Season 1 finale, "Exodus," Jack takes a volatile explosive (old dynamite) from an anachronistic source (an inland-beached galleon) and carries it in a backpack to the Swan hatch, to blow it up. In "The Incident," Jack takes a volatile explosive (a plutonium core rigged to blow on impact) from an anachronistic source (an underground Egyptian temple) and carries it in a backpack to the Swan hatch, to blow it up. "Exodus" ends with the camera going down the hatch. "The Incident" ends with the camera going down the hatch (though it is shot in the accelerating style of the last shot in the pre-credits opening of the

• Season 2 opener, "Man of Science, Man of Faith," when the camera went the other direction).
The Season 2 finale was "Live Together, Die Alone." In "The Incident," Juliet answers Sawyer's "what do we do, Blondie?" question with "Live together, die alone." The climax of "Live Together, Die Alone" is the implosion of the Swan, followed by Desmond, laying underneath the station, turning the failsafe key, triggering a fade to white. In "The Incident," the Swan implodes, followed by Juliet, laying underneath the station rubble, beating the bomb with a rock, triggering a fade to white.

• In the Season 3 finale, "Through the Looking Glass," Ben asks to speak with Jack alone before Jack does something that will cause everyone on the island to die. "The least you can give me is five minutes," he says. "Five minutes," Jack responds, and Ben invites Jack to "have a seat on the rock." In "The Incident," Sawyer asks to speak with Jack alone before Jack does something that will cause everyone on the island to die. "I need five minutes, that's all ... you owe me that much, Jack," says Sawyer. "Five minutes," replies Jack, and Sawyer invites Jack to "take a load off" on the rock. Also, in "Through the Looking Glass," Hurley rides to the rescue in a Dharma microbus. In "The Incident," Hurley rides to the rescue in a Dharma microbus.

• The big reveal in Season 4's finale, "No Place Like Home," is that the object in the box is Locke's corpse. The big reveal in "The Incident" is that the object in the box is Locke's corpse.
Also, in Lost-related news, I recently discovered Jorge Garcia's blog, and he seems like a really awesome guy. Between the hilarious photo captions ("I think that guy flipped me off.") and all of the misadventures he seems to have (cake batter in a spray can, really?), it's a lot of fun to read. In another life, I'm sure he and I would be BFF -- all because of a simple photo frame.

ew: 50 most heart-breaking songs of all time

Johnny Cash, "Hurt"

Entertainment Weekly created a list of the 50 most heart-breaking songs of all time. It's a pretty good list, and below are some highlights (all commentary written by the EW staff). I was going to include some of the suggestions from the commenters, but so many of them picked Adult Top 40 songs (The Fray's "How to Save a Life," really?) that I think a lot of them missed the point of the list.

49. Sufjan Stevens, "John Wayne Gacy Jr." (2005)
The only song about a real-life serial murderer on our list, Stevens' intimate, piano-strewn portrait of a killer is truly a masterwork of creeping devastation: "He dressed up like a clown for them / With his face paint white and red / And on his best behavior / In a dark room on the bed he kissed them all."

44. Jackson Browne, "Late for the Sky" (1974)
"Looking hard into your eyes, there was nobody I'd ever known," Browne sings on this intimate peek at a crumbling relationship. "Such an empty surprise to feel so alone." Bedroom navel-gazing at its best.

36. Phil Ochs, "Rehearsals for Retirement" (1969)
The underrated folk singer's reluctant goodbye to the world must have been painful enough to hear when it first came out and his career was still active. Listening to the same words now with the knowledge that Ochs would take his own life seven years later is almost unbearably tragic.

18. Bill Withers, "Ain’t No Sunshine" (1971)
Withers was working in a factory making airplane toilet seats when he wrote this remarkably bleak but beautiful R&B ode to longing for someone when she's gone.
[Side note: It's hard for me to hear this song without immediately thinking of Notting Hill.]

15. Beck, "Lost Cause" (2002)
On the saddest track of Beck's saddest album, love hasn't just slipped away -- it's no longer worth fighting for, replaced by apathy and pretty, pretty exhaustion.

14. Bonnie Raitt, "I Can't Make You Love Me" (1991)
Is there anything more heart-wrenching than begging someone to make love to you one last time -- knowing they don't want you anymore? Can't think of it.
[Side note: Remember when Carrie Underwood auditioned with this piece?]

6. Eric Clapton, "Tears In Heaven" (1992)
The guitarist responded to the accidental death of his four-year-old son with this devastating lament that makes horribly clear the chasm that now lies between Clapton and the loved one he has lost.
[Side note: How is this song not #1? In my very limited opinion, this is the best song ever written.]

3. Johnny Cash, "Hurt" (2002)
The Nine Inch Nails original conjures a sad-if-sadomasochistic glee. Johnny's tear-inducing cover reinterpreted those mixed feelings into ones of genuine loss and heartache.

And then, EW realized they had some glaring omissions and wrote another list of ten, including Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah," Joni Mitchell's "River," Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees," and Tom Waits' "Ruby's Heart."

Friday, May 15, 2009

living at the cineplex

I've seen a lot of movies in the last two weeks, and instead of doing individual reviews of them (especially since they're a bit late), I'm only going to write a few words on them. In short, the only movie worth seeing again is 17 Again.

Wolverine: For science-fiction fans, origins stories are always a highlight. In most sci-fi narratives, the story begins in the middle (as with the Star Wars trilogy) or at the end (as with most post-apocalyptic tales, such as I Am Legend). Starting in the middle creates intrigue about the character and how they got to this point, and Wolverine is one of the most interesting characters of the X-Men universe. So I'm absolutely flabbergasted that no one even tried to make this into a good movie. Every step along the way, there was some producer going, "This doesn't need to be good; we've got Hugh Jackman!" (1) Wolverine's awesome name, which refers to his primal and animalistic qualities, was appropriated from his girlfriend's Native American story about a jealous moon? What? Seriously? (2) We see Wolverine's original claws, which were rounded and made of bone. It makes absolutely no sense then, that adding adamantium to his skeletal structure would sharpen the blades into sharp killer knives. (3) The good/bad duality was so transparent, obvious, and no additional element was added to it to make it interesting. Wolverine's good; his brother's bad. (4) The action scenes didn't even try to be realistic. One particular shot had Action-Jackman walking away from an explosion, and I swear the shot was created circa 1978. Jackman's face and bad hair fill the frame as fire explodes behind him. Another scene has Ryan Reynolds splitting a bullet with his sword -- I repeat, splitting a bullet with his sword -- and the fractured bullets end up killing two guards behind him. Ridiculous. (5) Speaking of Ryan Reynolds, I don't recall the name "Deadpool" ever being uttered, but the ending of the film sets him up for a sequel. Really, Hollywood? Was this sequel created with the sole intent on formulating another sequel? (6) Overall, it was an entertaining film and, since I saw it as a double-feature and paid only $4.75 for the show, I was able to ignore that two hours of my life were stolen from me. But it's not a good movie. It's not a good story. The relationship aspects (whether with Wolverine's brother or his girlfriend) were poorly constructed. The best part of the film was the opening credits (though nothing will ever top the Watchmen credits), and after that, it lacks creativity (even the big show-down at the end of the film is a mash-up of previous action movies) and never takes off. As far as action films go (and let's be honest, they have different criteria of quality than other genres), I'd give it a C/C+.

Observe and Report: I really didn't get this movie at all. It's a satire that didn't seem to know it was a satire. Seth Rogen plays a mall cop infatuated with Anna Faris's character (I've only ever seen her play one type of character, and I despise the character every time), and he believes that catching the mall flasher will somehow win her heart. Except... he takes her one of the most disgusting dates I've ever seen half-way through the movie, and he doesn't exactly grow by the end of it. The whole point of watching a movie about a useless bum is that eventually he turns his life around or grows up or learns something. And he doesn't. Also -- spoiler alert -- he shoots the flasher. He doesn't catch him; he shoots him. (And really, this is the only scene that suggests the movie's an absurdist satire.) The worst part of the movie, though, was Michael Peña as an offensively stereotypical portrayal of a sexually-ambiguous Mexican with a lisp. There were parts of the movie that were funny, but overall, I look back on the experience and think... what was the point of any of it? Other than sucking my brain out through my eyeballs. I do not recommend this movie to anyone (seriously, who was their target demographic with this?), and I'd give it a D-.

Duplicity: This movie was 90% exposition and 10% Clive Owen looking really good in suits. (And when I think back on the film, there's only 10% of it I care to remember...) In short, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen's characters team up as romantic partners to con two competing corporations for the "ultimate con job." They are CIA agents working for Paul Giamatti's company (and he is completely wasted in this role), with Roberts' character infiltrating his rival's company to compete for -- wait for it -- a hair growth serum. (This was a very disappointing payoff to the biggest build-up in the movie, and I kept hoping for something more monumental to be at the center of everyone's deception. A hair growth serum? Really?) The reason why this movie was so bad is because it was redundant in its execution (exposition voiceovers over a montage of the plan being set into motion), had way too many flashbacks (all to previous romantic encounters of Roberts and Owen's relationship -- which, really, was a false setup for the nature of their relationship), and how often everyone schemes someone else. I like caper films, I do, but they only work when there is one common goal between the main characters. That's why the convoluted plot of Ocean's 11 worked, despite there being such a large cast. Throughout the movie, Roberts and Owen's characters constantly deceive and question one another, and the movie tells me that it's in their nature to do so and, furthermore, this makes them ideal partners in a romance. Umm, no. I understand that the writers were setting up a world where nothing is as it seems and no one can be trusted -- and the audience, therefore, cannot predict the ending -- but it became too much plot and not enough character development. And I won't give away the ending, but... it was suitable, both within the narrative itself (nobody wins!) and also the execution. That's right. The ending of the movie is a flashback montage with a voiceover explaining how everything lead up to the ending. I was bored out of my mind during the movie, but I can understand how other people might enjoy. It wasn't God-awful and I would only recommend it to a select handful of people, but I would never spend my time watching this movie again. I'd give it a C+.

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past: If you've read more than ten posts on this blog or you've ever met me in real life, you know two things almost immediately. I loathe romantic comedies (except for French Kiss), and Nicolas Cage is the worst actor of all time. So why would I voluntarily go see a movie that is so formulaic and saturated in verbal foreplay that even the trailer makes me retch? Because I'm a cinephile, that's why. Because most movies I see are crap, and whether I go into it knowing that or discover it while I'm watching it really makes no difference. Based off of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (one of my favorite narratives ever told), Ghosts follows Connor Mead, a douchebag with a douchebag name and a douchebag job, on a journey to become less of a douchebag. (Matthew McConaughey was perfectly cast, by the way.) Jennifer Garner's talents are wasted as the "girl who got away (but not so far that she won't forgive ten years of pain for one apology)." The biggest problem with this movie is that Matthew McConaughey doesn't know how to not be a douchebag, so there's no physical, verbal, or emotional growth at the end of the movie. There's just what's in the script. He's the exact same character he was at the beginning of the movie. All of the jokes are tired, and you know exactly how the movie ends. And this could have been fixed -- as much as a romantic comedy could -- by adding another conflict of interest. Connor Mead is the best man in his brother's wedding, and having slept with all of the bridesmaids, he's the most popular guy at the wedding. Even though the women despise his misogynistic ways, they still want to bed him. (There is a scene earlier in the film that mocks this notion, with a young artist telling Connor to use and dispose of her, but it was too realistic for the mocking tone to really pull through. The scene was just sad and offensive, then.) The only real problem that Connor Mead has -- like Ebeneezer Scrooge -- is himself. That leads to a very unfulfilling story, especially when the protagonist (and I use that word in its most basic form) never really changes. Sure, Garner's character is given a love interest (who is surprisingly okay with the fact he was flown in specifically for wedding sex), but they have such little screen time together that he never becomes a real conflict for our two lovebirds. And as with all romantic comedies -- you knew this part was coming, right? -- I was offended by the representation and reduction of women to sex-crazed idiots (who never seem to know how to hold their liquor). Garner's the only character to escape this representation, of course, because romantic comedies push for "authentic women" to be sexy, when really, every woman watching wants to be the other two-hundred sluts represented in the movie. As with Wolverine, I really don't think anyone was even trying to make a good movie. I'd give it an F. That's right. An F. What Michael Douglas was doing in this film is beyond me.

17 Again: I saw this as a double-feature, being the second film after Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, and out of all of the movies I've seen recently, I enjoyed this one the most. Perhaps it's because I have an unabashed crush on Zac Efron (he's just so pretty), or perhaps it's because any movie following Ghosts would look like Citizen Kane, but this movie has a lot to recommend it. But first, the bad: (1) What's more unbelievable, that Matthew Perry would be transformed into his former 17-year-old self, or that Zac Efron would grow up to look like Matthew Perry? Yeah... (2) There was a lot of creepiness floating around regarding romance. I remember watching the trailer and thinking Efron's character, Mike O'Donnell, shouldn't be protecting his daughter from a slimey boyfriend because she'll mistaken his concern for romantic affection, and... yep, that's what happens. His daughter tries to seduce him -- as a lioness, no less. Also, he hits on his ex-wife (Leslie Mann, who's remarkable in everything) in practically every scene they're in, and it's often uncomfortable to watch, even as an outsider who knows what the real situation is. (3) The age-reversal comes too early in the movie, and they don't explain why/how it happens. There's a random "spirit guide" who allows him this transformation without so much of a reason why. At least in Pleasantville, Don Knox explained why he made the switch. But once you get past, you know, the plot, the rest of the movie is smooth sailing. Now for the good: (1) Thomas Lennon (of Reno 911) steals every scene he's in as Mike's geeky best friend. He's obsessed with wooing the principal (played by The Office's Melora Hardin), and he wins her over with Lord of the Rings references and Elfish. (2) Zac Efron was able to project a "fatherly tone" quite well when he was in "father" mode around his children. He's a little too good at basketball (one scene finds him dribbling circles around his daughter's boyfriend, and the scene sticks out from the rest of the movie), but I knew there were going to be random moments displaying Efron's awesomeness going into the movie. (3) Leslie Mann is a landscaper, and the backyard she creates is AMAZING. Okay, so that has less to do with the movie more with my love of HGTV, but it's still something I enjoyed. And (5) This isn't really spoiling anything because most age-reversal movies have "the moment of honesty" (where the transformed protagonist tells his love interest the truth in a very vague way), but this film, I think, has the best moment I've seen in this genre.

"I want to remind you of September 7th, 1988. It was the first time that I saw you. You were reading Less Than Zero, and you were wearing a Guns 'n' Roses t-shirt. I'd never seen anything so perfect. I remember thinking that I had to have you or I'd die... then you whispered that you loved me at the homecoming dance, and I felt so peaceful... and safe... because I knew that no matter what happened, from that day on, nothing can ever be that bad... because I had you. And then I, uh... I grew up and I lost my way. And I blamed you for my failures."
Showing up for his divorce court date as his 17-year-old self, Efron reads a letter to his wife. Efron's delivery of the above words is surprisingly very moving, and the only reason I didn't get teary-eyed is because I was so mesmerized at the notion that Zac Efron can actually act. And of course, his soon-to-be ex-wife finds the letter later and discovers that there was no letter at all. It was a piece of paper with directions to the courthouse. I have to admit, I was very happy with this development. And lastly, (6) most movies, and in particular this genre, like to bash us over the head with a moral reveal. In Big, it was the idea that youth is fleeting and you should enjoy it while you can. Growing up and becoming an adult will eat your soul. (Or something like that.) In 13 Going on 30, it was the idea that being popular is not as important as being true to who you are. If you compromise yourself or your judgments, you will lose out on true happiness (with Mark Ruffalo). And while 17 Again has one of these morals, it's the best one I've seen from this genre. Now this I won't spoil because it's just too good, and because this is the only film on the list I'm actually recommending. I'd give this movie a B (with a smile).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

trailers: the "OMG these look awesome" edition

episode: lost, "the incident" (5.16)

So... that just happened.

• The fifth season finale of Lost opens with an unfamiliar face (a motif usually reserved for Lost's season premieres) spinning and weaving a tapestry (with a machete!) in the base of the Egyptian statue. He then catches his own fish in a makeshift trap, and offers a piece to another strange face. The Black Rock presumably sails in the distance. There are two interesting things to note here. (1) Jacob and his little friend are involved in some sort of game, one in which rules are applied (hence why Man #2 needs to find a loophole). As Alan Sepinwall notes in his always-insightful recap, this relationship is analogous to Ben and Widmore. Certainly, Ben thought the safety of his daughter was protected under some set of guidelines, which Widmore broke. And (2) Man #2 is certainly an Esau-like character, isn't he? The son of Issac and Rebekah, Esau was the older twin of Jacob. Because his mother favored Jacob, she instructs Jacob to pretend to be Esau in order to obtain his birthright, which then made Jacob the heir after his father's death. In Genesis 27:41, Esau vows to kill his brother, but Rebekah intervenes and saves Jacob.
Genesis 27:41: So Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing that his father had given him. Esau said to himself, "The time to mourn for my father is near. Then I'll kill my brother Jacob."
Although this makes it sound like Jacob is the deceiver, Issac agrees that Esau was not responsible enough for his birthright and denies him a blessing. The brothers eventually reconcile, although only superficially and it seems the rivalry lingered. So between Lost's Jacob and Man #2, who is the deceiver and who is being deceived? Ever since Jacob's name was uttered, we've assumed that Jacob is the most closely linked to the island -- but what if it is really this other man who's in charge? What if Jacob's powers only extend to setting up the pawns of their game?

Here is a complete transcript of the opening teaser.
Jacob: Morning.
Man #2 (Esau?): Mind if I join you?
Jacob: Please. Want some fish?
Man #2: No, thank you. I just ate.
Jacob: I take it you're here because of the ship.
Man #2: I am. How did they find the island?
Jacob: You'll have to ask when they get here.
Man #2: I don't have to ask. You brought them here. You're trying to prove me wrong, aren't you?
Jacob: You are wrong.
Man #2: Am I? They come, fight, they destroy, they corrupt. It always ends the same.
Jacob: It only ends once. Anything that happens before that, it's just progress.
Man #2: Do you have any idea how badly I want to kill you?
Jacob: Yes.
Man #2: One of these days, sooner or later, I'm going to find a loophole, my friend.
Jacob: When you do, I'll be right here.
Man #2: Always nice talking to you, Jacob.
Jacob: Nice talking to you, too.
• So it seems that "Jacob's cabin" isn't actually his cabin. First of all, it seems to be inhabited by Man #2 (at least, according to Ilana, someone other than Jacob), who may very well be able to imitate dead people -- perhaps he is some incarnation of Smokey, and if so, does this mean Man #2 is the Christian Shephard Ben and Sun talk to in present time?(*). And second, it looks as though Rose and Bernard constructed the house(**) as a means of escaping the absurd antics of the Losties. (By the way, I loved the delivery of L. Scott Caldwell's (Rose) lines, "Oh, sure, you guys all joined up with the Dharma Initiative," and "It's always something with you people." God, I missed Rose and Bernard.) This scene, as well as establishing that Sawyer still pines for Kate (despite Juliet being more awesome in every fathomable way), explained the whereabouts of R&B that was true to their characters. "So we die," Bernard says with complete resolve. All they need is each other, and ever the optimists, R&B have everything they need. It was a really heartwarming scene, completely ruined by the dreadful Juliet-Sawyer-Kate triangle.

(*) Man #2 can't be Christian at this point because he's already imitating the body of John Locke, who's standing outside the cabins... right?
(**) I'm just assuming, really. How many houses have we seen on the island besides the Dharma barracks? There is a time-loop problem with this assumption, though. Locke (and arguably Hurley) go to the cabin and see Jacob, but Locke is unable to find the cabin later. If the house was constructed circa 1977, the cabin shouldn't jump locations if flashing through time. I'm sure that the cabin -- and what Man #2 is using it for -- will be explained next season.

• A quick thought from Isaac Spacewoman over at Throwing Things (which I totally agree with): "If I had one nagging thought this entire episode, it was that it is discomforting, and not mildly so, to realize that we're five years into caring about these characters (or some of them), and suddenly it's apparent that most of our heroes are a bunch of zealot terrorists trying to drop a thermonuclear bomb into a peaceful construction site and the rest are plotting to kill God. If, five years ago, we started in the compound watching a bunch of dirty and self-destructive people fall out of the sky to upset our idyll (just like Sawyer and Juliet did a few episodes ago), we probably would have an entirely different perspective on this little adventure."

• Speaking of Juliet, I sure am going to miss Elizabeth Mitchell. She's the only actor on this show who can handle complex emotions. Whereas actors like Matthew Fox (as much as I adore him) and Evangeline Lily and even Josh Holloway can only express one emotion at a time (no matter how intense it is), Mitchell was able to convey rationality, heartbreak, resolve, regret, and love all at once. However, and I completely blame the writers for this, Juliet's apocalyptic-suicide mission would have been so heroic if she hadn't done it for love. ("I saw the way you looked at her." Really?) And on that note, it was admirable that the writers allowed Kate to come back, not for Sawyer but, to give Aaron back to his rightful mother. But then they make it so Jack wants to detonate a bomb because he had Kate and then he lost her? I was certainly under the impression that Jack wanted to detonate the bomb to save (because that's what he does) all of the 815ers who died (Boone, Libby, Ana-Lucia, Nikki, Paolo, Arntz, Charlie, Shannon -- a lot of people died!), but no, he wants to detonate it so he can hit the reset button on him and Kate. I can understand that the writers are planting the two most rational characters -- Jack and Juliet -- as the "believers/saviors" of love, but the execution was just so unbelievable and untrue to their characters.

• Oh, Zombie-Locke and the patricidal Ben. What a sweet couple this pair make. (1) The original Locke is dead dead. His body is still in the coffin from the plane, and this switcharoo was made apparent earlier in the episode, to me at least, when Zombie-Locke suggested to Richard that they kill the other passengers of the Ajira flight. Even Richard was surprised at this suggestion, and if Richard Been-Around, Seen-a-Lot Alpert is surprised, you know something is afoot. (2) Zombie-Locke is most likely Man #2 from the opening scene. This means that it was Man #2 -- and not Richard, and not the original Locke -- who set in motion the idea that Locke is destined to die in order to come back to the island. This means that Ben really did kill Locke, which only adds to his ever-expanding list of father-figures he's taken care of. (3) And now Jacob is on that list. I really thought Ben was going to kill Locke out in the hallway -- there was a moment of hesitance, and when he grabbed the knife from Zombie-Locke, deception seemed inevitable -- so when he killed Jacob, I felt a bit cheated. I thought to myself, "Hey, I was just getting to know this Jacob guy." And then Zombie-Locke pushed Jacob into the fire and burned him.

• Things I liked: Sawyer and Jack finally beat the crap out of each other. This has been a long time coming. (And can it be true that Jack never knew about Sawyer's parents until just now? Kate never told him during their engagement or at any other point in the last three years?) I also loved, loved, loved the few seconds leading up to and during the dropping of the bomb. Everyone knew -- the characters as well as the audience -- that dropping the bomb was suicide, and thankfully the show didn't linger on that obvious fact for too long. When Jack finally dropped the bomb, the looks on everyone's faces -- especially Elizabeth Mitchell's -- were brilliantly done. And what made this scene extra fantastic was the closing shot (similar to season one's ender, "Exodus," where the camera goes down the hatch). Juliet furiously bashes the bomb(***), and when the screen went white, those watching became all too aware of how absurd that idea actually is. Blow up the island? In the hopes we'll return to 2004 and the plane will never land? Now we're stuck in limbo, just as those characters are.

(***) Unlike "Exodus," which did not show us Desmond in a Dharma suit below, "The Incident" showed you what was at the bottom of the well. And FYI, if you're ever angry and need to do something destructive, it seems that cursing at the object to be destroyed always does the trick. When Juliet's rock doesn't detonate the bomb, she yells at it, "Son of a bitc--" and you knew it was over. Ka-blooey.

• Things I didn't like: As much as I enjoyed watching Mark Pellegrino (Rita's abusive ex-husband on Dexter) as Jacob, I did not like the flashbacks. What exactly did they add to the story? Jacob "marks" someone by touching them and they thus become a pawn in his game, and that's fine, but the moments depicted in the flashbacks left a lot to be desired. Young Kate steals a lunchbox? Hurley shares a cab with him after being released from prison (and Hurley's not super freaked out about this guy)? He freaking gives Jack an Apollo bar as a metaphor for "needing a push"? Juliet's parents got a divorce (and Jacob wasn't even in this one)? Wow, snooze. The only interesting about them -- if you would even call this interesting -- is that it seemed like Jacob had a previous connection/relationship/meeting with Ilana. I'm also upset, of course, that neither Radzinsky or Kate died. I know Radzinsky dies later with Kelvin, but gosh darn is that character annoying.

• One last thought before I go... the title at the end of the episode, as well as the teaser for next season, inverted the colors so instead of white-on-black, it's now black-on-white. Perhaps next season takes place in bizarro-world where everything is backwards.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

what i've been up to: TV edition

In all honesty, I haven't had the desire to update since the finale of Battlestar Galactica. I said I would post my reactions to it -- and perhaps one day I still will -- but I never got around to it because, in all seriousness, words failed me. It's analogous to writing a eulogy, except instead of eulogizing one person, you're reflecting on an entire world that's gone. I tried to prepare myself for the end, but nothing could have prepared me for the emotional flood that came at the line, "I know a bit about farming..."

But enough about my unhealthy idolatry of BSG. Here're some quick thoughts on a few things that have crossed my path...

Two shows that have surprisingly won me over are Castle and Better Off Ted. The former's success rests largely with the charm and charisma of lead Nathan Fillion, whereas the latter only succeeds when showcasing its ridiculously funny supporting cast. I think Castle is funnier than most other situational comedies (though technically it's billed as a crime dramedy -- I still haven't decided if incestuous genres elate or irritate me) because Castle's situations are actually funny. When meeting his daughter's boyfriend before prom, he opts to intimidate him with a blood-splattered lab coat and fake severed head. That's much better than the cliché ".45 and a shovel" line. Also, Fillion and his co-star Stana Katic have really strong chemistry together. Their potential romance is masked by Beckett's transparent contempt for him (she keeps him at a distance because his novels got her through a difficult time in her life, and she doesn't want to be vulnerable around him), but it works because the show is able to space time for them to be serious and smart as well as flirtatious and fun. Better Off Ted is the complete opposite of a crime dramedy -- if there would be an opposite for such a genre. This show is about a man who struggles with ethical and moral dilemmas while working at Veridian Dynamics (I recommend watching the company's commercials, especially their response to Barack Obama's address interrupting their air time), and it's therefore a... corporate satire. Between Portia de Rossi's perfect delivery and the Phil-Lem bromance, I'm really hoping ABC takes a chance and renews it for a second season.

Scrubs had a wonderful series finale last week, and I hope that ABC gives creator Bill Lawrence the freedom to create a new show rather than rehash the Scrubs formula. For one, it's time that Scrubs ends (even though I enjoyed this last season on ABC), and two, it's just not Scrubs without the inner monologue of John Dorian. The finale was funny, honest to the characters (J.D.'s book of Dr. Cox's insults was wonderfully balanced by Cox's secret compliment to J.D.), and Alan Sepinwall has a good rundown of some of the show's inside references in the finale. Also, I highly recommend checking out the last five minutes of the show, complete with the perfectly selected "Book of Love" (Peter Gabriel's version) in the background. And while we're on the subject of ABC, the penultimate episode of Lost moved along nicely to set up the events that will occur in the finale tonight. Although the theme of "leading" is so season one (instead of Jack-logic vs. John-faith, it's now Richard vs. Ben vs. Locke vs. Jacob vs. Widmore -- and any of those dynamics are interchangeable), I enjoyed the new and improved Jim LaFleur opting to save himself and his lady Juliet over rescuing the others. My biggest problem is -- and will always be, it seems -- that Lost spent so much time explaining time via the closed-loop theory that I'm going to be really irritated if they switch it midstream. Faraday had this extensive journal detailing his theories on the "constant," and then he goes to Ann Arbor for three years and says, "No, no -- it's about the variables!" That's an unnecessary red herring. And also... You. Can't. Change. The. Past. I'm sure I'll have much, much more to say on Lost after tonight's finale.

Now for the shows that are continuing to disappoint me... While I enjoyed last week's episodes of The Office and 30 Rock, they were still just typical episodes. As comedies, they're supposed to have jokes, and so I did laugh. But the jokes were not mind-blowing or gut-busting at all. (Although, I love that Liz and Pete couldn't guess the ages of black people. Samuel L. Jackson is 61 and Grizz is... 18?) Both shows have had a really uneven season, and the only reason to watch them is to catch the weekly pop culture reference. Unlike How I Met Your Mother, which has created innumerable phrases that have forever changed the pop culture landscape (Legend--wait for it--dary, the cougar, slap bets, the lemon law, "Woo" girls, and of course, Robin Sparkles), 30 Rock offers one-liners that only last a week before being replaced by the next week's one-liner. (This week, it was "That's a deal breaker, ladies!", which was spoon-fed so it's twice as awful.) These shows really need to step up their game and remind us why they were so great in the beginning. Also, I was disappointed in last week's episode of Bones. Brennan's rationalization of wanting a baby with Booth was... irrational. Now, on paper, it makes sense that Brennan would want Booth's child. They each have different skills that would be beneficial from an evolutionary standpoint. She's intelligent, and he's quick-witted and strong. But her reasoning for wanting a child was poorly executed. Having a child is obviously more than extending your good genes. It requires time, patience, selflessness -- and Brennan's decision to pass on her good genes was completely selfish and uncharacteristic of her. However, Booth's reaction (and everyone else's, for that matter) was characteristic and understandable. I just hate it when the Bones writers equate intelligence with obliviousness or social ineptness. Also, what was with Booth having a tumor? They've been planting the seed for a while (previous hallucinations), and all of a sudden he's diagnosed and treated in one episode? Judging by next week's previews, Booth is back on his feet. My guess is the writers needed an emotional response from Brennan to sleep with Booth out of love and not just logistics, and if that's the reason Booth had a freaking tumor, I'm going to be very upset.(*)

(*) In an episode of Slings and Arrows, the creative director explains that mourning is really a selfish act, that when we mourn, we're really mourning our own loss, a loss of ourselves or bits of our identity. This is a very interesting observation, and one that I agree with, that applies here. The only reason to give a MAIN character through a potentially fatal disease is so that other characters are affected by it. It's not a one-episode treatment; it's an evolution of a character's relationship with that person. See, for instance, Izzie and Alex getting married on Grey's Anatomy. Although I think the execution was poorly done (Miranda convinced McDreamy, who then convinced Meredith, who then talked Alex into taking her wedding), but the point is that it deeply impacted the structure of these characters. Most significantly, I think, it allowed Callie to repent her previous hatred for Izzie. Even Cristina was changed by the disease! On Bones, everyone in the waiting room seemed more concerned about Brennan than Booth... and that's just not good writing.

Lastly -- on the TV front, at least -- Dollhouse was a thoroughly disappointing hour, and if the show is renewed for a second season, I will not be watching. The major problems I had with this episode: (1) Ballard tells Romo Lampkin (Mark Sheppard will always be Romo Lampkin to me) that the Dollhouse is underneath them and Romo walks away? Was Ballard's smile to the camera supposed to indicate that he intended for Romo to walk away...? (2) Ballard works for the Dollhouse now? NO. No. Why in the world would DeWitt allow that? Why would Boyd? (3) Eliza Dushku's acting was so horrendous in this episode that I almost broke my TV. Alan Tudyk's Alpha is implanted with multiple personalities (one of whom has a multiple personality disorder!), and he becomes schizophrenic. Dushku's Echo is imprinted with thirty-eight personalities and she simply talks through casual exposition? Poorly, poorly done. Even the editing favored Tudyk's performance. (4) The cat-and-mouse scene at the end was... non-existent. Sierra and November are imprinted as assassins and then... they're not seen again! Ballard and Boyd are able to capture Echo and take her back to the Dollhouse as Alpha escapes. (5) Why would the now fully-aware Echo willingly go back to the Dollhouse? There was pertinent scenes left on the cutting room floor. The ending of the episode was way too rushed for all that happens. (6) And this is the real kicker... the entire arc of the first season, the entire reason Alpha went psycho and killed people, the entire reason we've been watching the show... is essentially that Alpha thought Echo was hotter/better than Whisky (Dr. Saunders)? WHAT?!? I understand that, as a serial killer, Echo probably fit one of Alpha's profiles, but his actions can be reduced to mere jealousy. Whisky was getting all the attention. He thought Echo was better. So he killed a bunch of people and took off. And then came back in a ridiculously elaborate plot to steal Echo.(**) Seriously, Joss. This is first-draft material.

(**) I'm still unclear as to why Alpha stole Echo, imprinted her with the mind of an idiot, and then kidnapped a store clerk and imprinted her with Caroline's personality. What was the point of his crazy rant? Why steal all of Echo's previous imprints? Sigh...