Saturday, 31 January 2009

I Semi-Promise This Will Be The Last Oscar-Related Poll...

One last poll before the big day (Feb 22nd), when some really mediocre movies get handed awards, and hopefully, just to make the whole thing not a total disaster, Mickey Rourke and the FX teams on Benjamin Button get their gold-plated just desserts too. By now it's probable that even though Slumdog has mysteriously been hit with all sorts of unsavoury accusations of child exploitation and dismissal by India, it's going to romp home. Though I am on record as not being best pleased about that, I'll just be happy if people stop referring to it as the longshot. It really isn't. By now people desperately want it to succeed, and it will. Benjamin Button will go home with some technical stuff, and Slumdog will get the biggies, a decision that will be the sanity-twisting equivalent of this...


...and, eventually, just as regrettable and embarrassing for the Academy members and the folks at home as this.


That inevitability aside, there are some actual longshots in that list. The ones no one thinks to bet on. In some awards the longshot occasionally wins (no one expected Bryan Cranston to get an Emmy for his Breaking Bad work as there were other, better known nominees there), but with the Oscars it pretty much never does. That doesn't mean they should be ignored though. Hence this new poll. Which longshot nominee would you most like to see score an upset and win?

  • Richard Jenkins (Best Actor for The Visitor)

  • Melissa Leo (Best Actress for Frozen River)

  • Michael Shannon (Best Supporting Actor for Revolutionary Road)

  • Viola Davis (Best Supporting Actress for Doubt)

  • Gus Van Sant (Best Director for Milk)

  • Thomas Newman (Best Soundtrack for Wall*E)

  • Martin McDonagh (Best Original Screenplay for In Bruges)

  • Peter Morgan (Best Adapted Screenplay for Frost/Nixon)

  • Wally Pfister (Best Cinematography for The Dark Knight)

  • Kung Fu Panda (Best Animated Feature Film)

  • The Baader Meinhof Complex (Best Foreign Language Film)

  • Milk (Best Picture)

  • Iron Man (Best Visual Effects)

  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Best Makeup)

  • The Dark Knight (Best Sound Editing)

  • Wanted (Best Sound Mixing)


  • I will admit, I have no idea if Wanted really had amazingly well mixed sound. I just want to know if anyone out there is eager for a movie featuring a Loom of Fate, bullet-curving, and bomb-rats to win an Oscar. If anyone votes for it, I'll assume Mark Millar popped by. Anyway, have at it, my pretties.

    Friday, 30 January 2009

    Rachel Gets Married In Magnificent Style

    When I posted my Best Movies of 2008 lists, I had a little rant about release schedules, and how making a list before seeing some potentially great movies got released made a mockery of the whole thing. Canyon argued very persuasively that we wait for a little while longer, but the thought of posting a Best Of list at the end of March (the earliest we could see Synecdoche, New York, which is released on Region 1 DVD two months before it gets a UK release) was anathema to me. I love lists like Picard loves Earl Grey, so there was no way I could put off blurting out my picks.

    To be honest, I thought that the final few big contenders might not get on the list. Synecdoche was the big hope, praised by some whose opinion means a lot to me but dissed by some hardcore Kaufman fans, so I couldn't be sure. Doubt looks promising, especially if you're a fan of Viola Davis, guilt, ACK-TING, and/or Joe Vs. The Volcano. The Reader could appeal to the Winslet enthusiast in me, even if it sounds like a potentially mind-shredding mixture of worthy ingredients and themes baked into Seriousness Souffle.


    Other than that, there was Rachel Getting Married, which Canyon had been excited about since The AV Club went a bit mental about it. Even though it was great to hear that Jonathan Demme, a director I had once been crazy about, was back on form after some dodgy efforts, I was less enthused than Canyon, thinking I would like it well enough, but surely not more than I had liked the perfect crowd-pleasingness of Iron Man, or the complex power struggles and martial arts mastery of Red Cliff: Part One, or Colin Farrell's eloquent profanity and existential misery in In Bruges.

    And yet I did like it. More than Iron Man. More than The Wrestler. More than In Bruges. More, even, than Kung Fu Panda, a film that makes me cry when watching just because I love it so much. We went to see it last night (finally released in the UK months after its initial US release), and I was floored by it. The only film of 2008 that I liked more was The Dark Knight, though Rachel Getting Married gives it a run for its money. Sadly for Demme and his amazing cast and crew, their excellent film still lacks Ledger and Eckhart, the Batpod, and the boat dilemma, so it could never be top of my list.

    I cannot overstate how happy I am that Demme has made a movie that feels so much like his earlier work, even if the shooting style (handheld cameras and a home movie feel) is so different from anything he has ever done before. Demme was renowned for making movies that feel like they're full to the brim with life and unpredictability even though, formally, his movies were often very stylised and structured. Even something as potentially uncinematic as a Spalding Gray monologue was rendered visually lively in his movie Swimming to Cambodia, and yet all he was doing was filming Gray at a desk.


    His post-Corman movies all felt like parties with plotlines, bristling with energy and quirkiness, and even if they weren't all perfect, they were still a lot of fun. Something Wild is possibly the ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Girl movie, generating so much goodwill in the audience that even the much-discussed third-act detour into thriller territory doesn't derail the good times. Married To The Mob is possibly the oddest and most lovable gangster movie yet made, with Dean Stockwell doing a great job of being funny and threatening at the same time. Stop Making Sense is the classic concert movie, a playful celebration of not only the music of Talking Heads but the idea of live music as theatre. Melvin and Howard, coming across like a lost Hal Ashby movie or the brother of Bob Rafelson's Five Easy Pieces, is in dire need of reappraisal. Even something as compromised as Swing Shift had the spark of something made outside the restrictive studio system despite the interference of people who just didn't understand what he was aiming for.

    The only other filmmakers from that period who managed to fill their films with such energy (at least that I can think of) were Jim McBride and Martin Scorsese. McBride regrettably disappeared after the failure of Great Balls of Fire (one of the most infectiously anarchic mainstream movies ever to fail miserably at the box office), and Scorsese has been chasing Oscars with some uninspiring prestige movies for a while now, cranking out shadows of his former great work. That said, I totally don't begrudge him winning, and even shed a tear when it happened. Look at him! I want to give that man a hug.


    (An aside: There is also former Demme collaborator George Armitage, responsible for the gleefully unorthodox Miami Blues and Grosse Pointe Blank, but sadly he too came unstuck with The Big Bounce, a deeply frustrating project that hinted at, if not greatness, then at least some light-hearted and good-natured fun.)

    That ossification of their exuberant style is similar to what happened to Demme. In a complete left-turn that still baffles me to this day, he made Silence of the Lambs, his biggest hit and an award magnet even though it is wilfully peculiar, bleak, and filled with idiosyncracies. It was a strange triumph for his brand of unorthodox and imaginative storytelling. However, for the longest time it was his last great hurrah. Philadelphia did a great job of raising awareness about HIV and AIDS, but it's not a particularly good movie. It's the first Big Theme movie of his career, and signalled that awful time in an Oscar-winning director's career when they lose whatever it was that made them interesting in the first place. It doesn't happen all of the time. Spielberg made Minority Report and Munich after winning two Oscars, and Bob Zemeckis followed his Forrest Gump win with performance-capture experiments of varying quality that were, however, still bold and fascinating on a technical level. However, how many interesting films has Barry Levinson made since Rain Man? Or Bernardo Bertolucci?


    In the case of Demme, while I would be eager to see his early movies, I have little interest in seeing The Truth About Charlie (despite having Joong-Hoon Park, aka the Korean Marlon Brando, in the cast), and zero interest in Beloved, which looks like a deeply flawed interpretation of Toni Morrison's book. Plus, who wanted to see a remake of The Manchurian Candidate? It has all the elements of a potentially good movie, except that it serves no purpose. The updating of the story to satirise the nefarious motives of Big Business was potentially interesting, but garbled by horrible plotholes and inconsistencies. Flashes of Demme's quirky eye for detail or image broke through from time to time, and the performances were a joy to watch, but it was a dispiriting experience, seeing Demme making movies that were a world away from his earlier films, all of which looked and felt like they were made on Planet Demme. His earthbound projects just didn't inspire me at all. (N.B. I wrote this paragraph a couple of days ago, but a quick look at The AV Club's New Cult Canon feature on Married To The Mob features the phrase Demmeworld. He really does make movies unlike anyone else.)

    In recent years his documentary work, such as Jimmy Carter Man From Plains, The Agronomist, and Neil Young: Heart of Gold, were critically praised, but their releases were so badly organised that, with my new apathy towards Demme, I couldn't muster the energy to chase them down. I never thought it would come to that. And now, that period has passed. Rachel Getting Married did many things to my brain and heart and soul, but first and foremost it's made me excited to watch his movies again. Those documentaries are definitely getting tracked down as soon as possible.


    Rachel Getting Married has been described as being Altmanesque simply because it features a large ensemble cast that talks a lot, and the subject matters echoes that of Altman's A Wedding. Other than that the connection between Demme's work here and that of the great man is not as definitive as has been noted. The use of naturalistic speech patterns have more to do with the way the movie is filmed, with hand-held cameras and natural sound, than with some stylistic tic appropriated from elsewhere. Cleverly the movie is filmed in the same style as a wedding video, as if an invisible visitor to the ceremony was recording everything. At times the film cuts to the PoV of a guest who is recording everything, and other than the film stock you can barely tell the difference in style. Altman's overlapping dialogue was intentional and often overdone to the point of parody. In Rachel Getting Married, it's a natural consequence of Demme letting his actors loose without rehearsals, hence lines are stepped on and come at the wrong moments, much as with real conversations. Check out this press kit for more information about Demme's shooting style.

    Saying the movie is realistically filmed is one thing, but it would still ring false if the performances and script were not up to scratch, but they are all nigh-on perfect. Jenny Lumet's debut script is an absolute marvel, superbly managing the tricky task of juggling tone and revelation and pace without giving away her structure. Love McKee though I do, it's hard to watch a lot of movies as learner writers show their act breaks too obviously, using McKee's work as a strict manual filled with compulsory rules instead of a guidebook of advice, which is how it should be treated. Lumet's script flows like real life flows, with unpredictability and awkwardness and accidents, but is structured perfectly. You just never notice until you pick it apart later. Of course, I shouldn't have to praise her for doing something that any writer worth their salt would do, but she does such an amazing job in a world where even this basic competence seems rare that I feel obligated to mention it.


    That said, even an amazing script would suffer without a great cast to add life and natural flow to it, and Rachel Getting Married has a superb range of performers who seem to have been in rehearsal forever, so seamlessly is everything played. One memorable scene, which could easily have turned into a stagy shoutfest, is conducted almost entirely through calm, acidic asides and vicious accusations delivered in quiet but furious voices, the protagonists moving from room to room while Anna Deavere Smith hands out plates of melon. Seeing the incomparable Bill Irwin desperately trying to hold his family together as the tragedy in their past threatens to bring everything crashing down is one of the most affecting things I've seen in film for years, and would not have worked if we were watching big meltdown moments.

    The only scene containing sustained histrionics, the climactic showdown between Kym and her feckless mother (played with odious brilliance by a perfectly cast Debra Winger), earns those screams. The fight we see has been in the offing for years, and when it comes it starts with almost no warning. I can't remember the last time a scene alarmed me more. Well, a scene that didn't involve a Batpod, exploding bodies, or some kind of monster on a rampage.


    The music, something obviously very important to Demme, plays a huge part as well. He's done more to champion African music than any other US filmmaker, and without it his narrative work of the past few years has felt incomplete. As the movie's form demands no non-diegetic music be used for fear of breaking the semi-realist spell, Demme fills the wedding with musicians, used diegetically, throughout. Demme has said he was eager to present a wedding that reflects his life experiences and circle of friends, which is why Sister Carol East and Robyn Hitchcock turn up to perform (this is explained away by having Bill Irwin's patriarch conveniently working in the music industry). There is much African soul and funk in later scenes, and classical-ambient noodling throughout earlier scenes. We even get to hear Tunde Adebimpe, in the role of groom Sidney, sing to Rachel (an excellent performance by Rosemarie DeWitt), which was a lovely touch.

    Sadly, that amazing soundtrack by Donald Harrison Jr. and Zafer Tawil's gets no Oscar nomination. Neither does Bill Irwin, or Jonathan Demme, or even (and this really disgusts me) Jenny Lumet. This despite it being widely admired, though I guess that means little when you have the moneyed likes of Harvey Weinstein running around strong-arming voters into praising illiterate Nazi movies. Much of our post-movie debate (conducted over amazing food at the West End branch of super-restaurant Tsunami, food fans!) was spent bemoaning Slumdog's recent SAG Awards win for Best Ensemble Cast. I can think of a number of movies more deserving of that award than the indifferently performed Slumdog, and none more so than Rachel Getting Married, which features a large and talented cast at the peak of their powers.


    That cast is Demme's secret weapon. By casting friends and family, filming them constantly, and ensuring that a party atmosphere prevails, Rachel Getting Married, feels fresh and new and exciting, just like Demme's work from decades ago. No other film of recent years is as vibrant and life-affirming as this, even while it deals with tragedy and pain and some of the worst behavioural impulses imaginable. The sense of real celebration, real love and emotion bursting from the screen, is palpable, even though Lumet's script goes to extremely dark places and stares down pain and loss and grief without blinking, and even though Demme is not afraid to have scenes play out to uncomfortable or tedious length.

    And yet it is almost totally ignored by the Academy, with numerous nominations given to less worthy movies instead. Of course, that includes my current bĂȘte noire, Slumdog Millionaire. Apologies for banging on about this yet again, but after seeing Rachel Getting Married, we were furious about the nominationariational state of play. Danny Boyle's movie purports to be an upbeat celebration of life and love, but at heart it's a hollow, ugly, fake trinket, a cubic zirconium blob of contrived uplift and phony sentimentalism. Rachel Getting Married is often painful to watch, but it feels real, and earns all of the emotions it generates in the audience. It serenades humanity in all its forms, whereas Slumdog is an inconsequential hymn to Hallmark-card simplicity. Despite all of its distracting flash it's little more than escapist Mogadon. As many fans have pointed out, it's not trying to be anything more than escapism, and that wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't so ugly and boring and aggressively stupid. Rachel Getting Married is a thousand-times the movie Slumdog is, and seeing Boyle and his cohorts pulling in awards and rapturous praise while Demme's movie is treated as little more than a competent amuse-bouche is driving me into paroxysms of rage.

    Of course, Rachel Getting Married did get one nomination. A Best Actress nod went to Anne Hathaway, whose phenomenal career-best performance earns her a prestigious Shades of Caruso free pass.


    I don't care if she goes on to make The Devil Still Wears Prada, or a series of Bride Wars sequels that rival the Bond films for longevity. In Rachel Getting Married she is incredible, playing Kym, a messy neurotic bag of hostility and guilt, to perfection. I've heard some people say her tics annoyed them (including at least one loyal reader of this here blog), but I didn't notice that. Perhaps it's because I know Kym, or at least someone who went through some similar life experiences and, sadly, came out of it just as angry and unhappy as her. Hathaway reminded me of that period so much that it freaked me out for long stretches of the movie. But in a good way. For a start, it gave me an insight into why people try to help family or friends who are going through horrible internal strife. Obviously, it's because you love them no matter what. A no-brainer answer, really.


    So yes, my lists (all four of them) are now all skewiff. The number two spot on my best films list goes to Rachel Getting Married. Anne Hathaway does the incredible and knocks the Unstoppable Winslet Machine out of the Best Actress spot. Rosemarie DeWitt and Bill Irwin get on my supporting lists. Jenny Lumet gives Martin McDonagh a run for his money for the Best Screenplay spot (I watched In Bruges again this week and I think it remains number one, but only just). Christopher Nolan remains my favourite director of the year, but Jonathan Demme is right behind him.


    Oh, Demme. Film buffs are still patiently waiting for the second coming of Woody Allen (or third, or fourth; I've lost count), and two weak-to-average movies have been treated like the equals of Crimes and Misdemeanours and Husbands and Wives, even though Match Point was a silly mess and Vicky Cristina Barcelona is kinda dull and obvious. We're not getting another Manhattan, or Hannah and her Sisters, or even Broadway Danny Rose ever again, and we should just accept that and treat his late career projects as mildly diverting exercises in mannerism and waffling. Demme, however, hasn't just made something better than The Manchurian Candidate. He's not just made his best film since Silence of the Lambs. He's made his best film since Melvin and Howard. Maybe even better than that. It's not a return to form, or the late-blooming of a failed but interesting director (his early movies are too good for that insulting appelation). It's vindication for his fans, proof that the man was an important and fiercely intelligent artist all along, and was just having a bad run that would end one day when the right project came along. In 2008, it finally did. I simply cannot praise it enough.

    Wednesday, 28 January 2009

    I Fail Because I Linkblog

    Yes, linkblogging. Is there anything lower? Sadly, a post I had hoped to finish today on the train was ruined by many factors, including fatigue from lack of sleep, loss of inspiration, and being surrounded by dreary people in dreary suits talking about office politics into their mobile phones at great length and volume. I have to stay away from these people, as they live off the good vibes of the rest of us. So, because I reckon that excuses me from guilt over lazy posting, here are three articles I have enjoyed today, and a trailer for a film I cannot wait to see.

    Popular Mechanics appears to be big on Lost, and have consulted noted physicist Michio Kaku about the time-travelling stuff. I thought for a moment he was watching the show, but I doubt that's the case. They do have Mythbuster Adam Savage blogging about it, though. Who do I prefer? Well, Kaku, in his popular science book Hyperspace, did explain how the universe exists in more than three spatial dimensions with far more clarity than most, but Adam Savage (with Jamie Hyneman) proved that a ceiling fan couldn't decapitate a human being unless powered by a crazy motor that one time, so he wins.

    Also in Popular Mechanics, they pick their favourite FX scenes of the year. They make some interesting points, and praise some underrated moments from the year, including the huge amount of thought put into the way teleportation works in Jumper, the crazy colours and energy in the first stage of the Casa Cristo 5000 race from Speed Racer, and the forest elemental scene from Hellboy II. All great scenes, all ignored by the effects techs who vote as Academy members. Fuck 'em.

    Finally, Slate has this fantastic drubbing of Slumdog Millionaire, which deconstructs the goddamn movie with far more pith and eloquence than I ever could. I thoroughly recommend it if you, too, have refused to acquiesce to the insane pod-person collective drool over this vacuous nonsense. In fact, I'm angrier about its success now than I was last week. Hopefully I'll get to explain why tomorrow.

    Check it out! New Coraline trailer!



    Hopefully this will finally make Henry Selick a household name, instead of him being known as that guy who worked on that Tim Burton movie once.

    Right, I have to sleep. Posted without editing, so forgive broken links, spelling mistakes, pointlessness etc.

    Tuesday, 27 January 2009

    Lost - Before You Left / The Lie

    The return of my favourite show of the last five years that doesn't feature a team of corrupt cops in LA or a foulmouthed barkeep in the Wild West is normally a cause for celebration. Proper Bacchanalian celebration with enough fireworks to blast the moon out of orbit. And yet, this week's two-episode season premiere happened with barely any fanfare on this blog or in my brain. Partially it's because, as I said in this post, I'm busy and distracted by unavoidable and unpleasant RL stuff, which has dampened my usual enthusiasm, but it's also because Lost, a show whose main attraction, certainly for a lot of its fanbase, is its willingness to spin plates and tease us with answers to questions that turn out to be questions themselves. It's been thrilling to go on this journey, but we're approaching the end, and those questions will now be answered with answers, and my confidence in the show's ability to excite me faltered during the hiatus.

    Certainly that is not the only reason to love it, but it's what makes Lost more than just an entertaining sci fi show. The speculation is half of the fun, and as someone said a while back, as we find out more about the central mystery, options for possible answers collapse like eigenstates, leaving us with what will eventually be a much more conventional story than some of us have expected. In the past I've tried to keep my own theories conservative, but even so, and even though I love the show like crazy, I don't expect anything out of leftfield any more. Other than an hour of shirtless Sawyer.


    That said, I've been expecting that shift for a while now, and thought last season would feature a closing down of possibilities, but it actually featured even more pleasantly obfuscating craziness than I had expected, including Ben's summoning of Smokey, Richard Alpert and Matthew Abaddon's interest in Locke's childhood, the frozen donkey wheel, and Claire's internment in Jacob's shack, to name just a few. This season, however, I had a suspicion that we would see the show become a little more conventional as the WTFs get addressed in a less mystical manner, and the two episode season opener didn't dissuade me from that belief.

    Part of it is the possibility that some of the theories will turn out to be correct, meaning some of our expectations will be satisfied instead of confounded. Lost may be the only mystery story told where the fans will become increasingly frustrated by a story resolving itself with answers (note that I said fans, by which I mean the Lostpedia-surfing hardcore, not the majority of fans, who will almost certainly be thrilled). One theory thrown about that seemed likely was that the whispers heard on the island were from the survivors, that some time-travelling weirdness had thrown them back in time, so that they were observing what was going on and commenting on it from a nearby treeline.


    This opener strengthened that theory, though it had the added twist of showing us Dharma activity that we would otherwise never have seen. That was a great use of the time travel dynamic, and the showrunners seem committed to keeping continuity on the table and paradox off it, but then, just to piss me off, we also had Faraday meeting Desmond during his Swan station tenure, which lead to his conveniently timed memory flash back in the present (i.e. three years after leaving the island), which smacked of contrivance.


    Why did that memory return at that point? The only reason is because the story needed it for full dramatic effect, which either means some uncharacteristically shoddy plotting on the part of the showrunners, or the satisfaction of the audience has suddenly become a variable in the Lostverse. I know I've said before that I love how the showrunners have made the fans' speculation part of their storytelling process, but that would be a step too far.

    To be honest, that part of the show is in danger of running amok. Too many fan in-jokes and winks at the audience cluttered these episodes, which were otherwise committed to rattling off as much backstory and plot as possible. It was a bit cutesy, and while that might have been a corrective against too much downbeat atmospherics, the show drew attention to itself in a way it hasn't done before. That's not to say I didn't find it funny. Ben and Richard Alpert had some funny moments, for instance, and Neil Frogurt's death by flaming arrow jolted a laugh out of me even while I thought it was a bit of a laboured gag. Even so, it was already hard to take Sayid's lengthy incapacitation seriously, in that it seemed like a contrived way to keep Sayid out of the picture while Hurley wrestled with his demons, as well as giving Hurley space to get arrested at the end.


    Add to that the absurd sight of him being carted from one location to another like, as many have already stated, Bernie from Weekend at Bernie's, and the traditionally broad Hurley-centric episodes written by Kitsis and Horowitz did a good job of dissipating the suspense of Cuselof's opener (it feels wrong to add that movie to the list of works of art that have influenced this show). Perhaps aired individually the episodes might have worked a bit better, though we wouldn't have had the phrase "Then God help us" uttered by Chang and Hawking at the beginning and end of the two-parter respectively. That's a touch I didn't pick up on first time around. (Check out the candles framing Miss Hawking's face. Lovely.)


    Of course, it wasn't all bad. Having the remaining survivors a-bippin' an' a-boppin' through time removes one of my concerns about season five; that we would see the Oceanic Six get exclusive screentime for a couple of episodes before heading back to the island, where we would then have flashbacks of what had happened on the island during those three years. That could have been confusing, as we would be getting on-island footage from two time-periods at once, which has never been a problem before.

    Also, after having the show's format shaken up last season, the possibility of on-island flashbacks would have seemed like a step back even though the content of those flashbacks would have been exciting. Instead, we've got the entertaining twist that the characters are now experiencing those flashbacks firsthand, participating in them and commenting on them. The best parts of this two-parter were spent trying to figure out what was going on and where everyone was within the chronology. The off-island stuff didn't excite anywhere near as much, especially Hurley's long-drawn-out crisis of confidence, which seemed contrived and inconsequential despite some terrific work from Jorge Garcia. I especially liked his Flying Hot Pocket of Death maneuver.


    In terms of "what the hell is going on?", my Sirens of Titan theory (scroll down) is still viable, though it is hinted here that it's not time agents trying to maintain the temporal status quo but time itself, which brings back nostalgic memories of Sapphire and Steel, where Time was sentient and evil. Here it seems like it is somehow patching itself up when damaged by the obnoxious actions of humans who are either trying to harness the power of the Frozen Donkey Wheel Chamber, or are unstuck in time like the few remaining Oceanic survivors.


    In fact, just a quick look through the online speculation about the most recent "revelations" (can anything on this show ever be considered definitive enough to be referred to as a revelation?) shows that many people consider this season to be more in debt to Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5, with its timelost protagonist Billy Pilgrim skipping from time period to time period. As I've yet to read that, I can't comment, and so will stick with my main theory for now. Certainly, that amazing opening sequence, with Pierre Chang being shadowed by Faraday, suggests there is going to be a lot of the back-history of the show caused by our protagonists.

    But, as I said, any satisfaction I will get from correctly predicting what is going on (if indeed I am on the right tracks) will be tempered by my frustration at not being surprised by the mystery. I'd much rather be caught out by something than suss it out. Puzzle narratives often frustrate me, even though I love them. I remember desperately hoping that Gabriel Byrne really was Keyser Soze, as postulated by Chazz Palminteri at the end of The Usual Suspects, as I'd figured out it was Kevin Spacey early on and wanted to be proved wrong.


    That's why Lost's emotional drama is the thing that will separate it from the usual puzzle narratives. Whatever the mystery turns out to be, the truly important answers will concern the fates of the characters. Is Charlotte doomed to die in horrible pain like Minkowski? Will Penny be murdered by Ben? Will Jack find peace? Is Jin alive? Is anyone actually dead? What's going to happen to Walt? Is Locke really going to lead anyone at any point, or is he doomed to be throwing knives from the bushes for the rest of the series? I'm sure when the final episode airs non-fans will be carping that the final revelations are not that impressive, but to the fans, that won't be what we take from it. We care about these characters, and we'll be alternately happy and upset depending on who prevails and who dies. Knowing that the final mystery revealed is the identity of Adam and Eve, I expect there will be tears.

    A lot of these concerns have been rattling through my head for a while now, and a lot of it is pointless worry that will be rendered moot as the show progresses. However, the two episode opener was still a little disappointing on first viewing, though a second viewing and reading fan feedback on the net has made me fonder of them. My upset is obviously a symptom of my current malaise, as I took some silly things way too seriously, allowing them to fester in my mind until they all added up to proof that the show had finally gone off the boil. ::sigh:: This is all because I got depressed upon hearing Drew Goddard had left the show to make Cabin in the Woods with Whedon, you know.


    So what were the things that bugged me? There's an absolutely terribly written and performed newscast at one point that shocked me, for one. It always amazes me how often news broadcasts in shows or films come off as unconvincing facsimiles of the real thing. There's a template for news pieces that anyone with even the most fundamental knowledge of journalism could emulate, but so often it doesn't happen. For Crom's sake, the news-speak on The Day Today is the best example of a fake news programme sounding just like a real one, even though that features news stories about John Major beating up the Queen and a horse infestation in the London underground. Why can't anything else get it that right?

    Sorry, personal bugbear. There was also some dreadfully on-the-nose dialogue, which might have been a consequence of the show rushing through so much plot, but even so, something like Charlotte responding to Faraday's enquiry into her health by cheerfully commenting that she had forgotten her mother's maiden name fell from our screen with a dull clang. Hurley's sudden obsession with the truth and his vow to never help Sayid again (prior to seeing him help Sayid) was another example that irked. Though, as I said earlier, it's tempered by my respect for Garcia, especially during his tearful confession scene, which was one of the highlights of the opener.


    Some plot mechanics were equally contrived. Considering Hurley is supposed to have killed three people, the police did a lousy job of looking for him. The visit to his house was awfully polite, with a bit of a chat with Cheech Marin before leaving without turning the place upside-down, and again, later letting Cheech drive away without searching the car, or getting someone to tail him. Of course, if I turns out they are agents of Widmore I take it back, though surely they would be even more ruthless.


    Also annoying was the show's sudden over-reliance on last minute reveals. A door opens. Someone pulls Hurley over and... It's Ghost-Ana-Lucia! WTF? Kate says hi to someone who is not facing us and... It's Sun! Dun dun duuuuun! Someone gets some beer out of a fridge. He walks up some stairs and... It's Frank! OMG! A man gets out of bed, listens to some Willie Nelson, gets ready for work, walks in front of a camera and... Holy shit, it's Dr. Pierre Chang! Outrageous! By the end of the second episode it was getting ridiculous, even though the reveals of Ana-Lucia, Ethan Rom, and Miss Hawking were surprising (less so for Michelle Rodriguez, as her appearance had been spoiled for me a while back). If the show is going to rely on this kind of silly delay-and-reveal stuff for the rest of the season, I'll be seriously pissed.


    Speaking of Pierre Chang, aka François Chau (who, bizarrely, played Shredder in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze), he sure as hell delivered his dialogue at an outrageous acting volume. Until now he's only been asked to intone Dharma info for the initiation videos, but here he gets to bellow warnings about dangerous time-energy leakages. It was hardly subtle. But enough of this carping. There was much to praise, as there always is. If Chang was performed at an inappropriately hysterical pitch, the performances from the huge main cast was invariably spot on and filled with character.


    Kudos especially to Yunjin Kim, who only had a couple of scenes but performed them brilliantly. Her transformation into creepy angel of vengeance is complete, her conversation with Kate brimming with barely suppressed rage. Her role in the outcome of this story is completely up in the air right now, but if I were Jack, I'd be worried. And probably crying about something or other.


    I'm now completely over my dislike of Jeremy Davies and his seemingly bottomless bag of acting tics. He grew on me in the fourth season, and in these episodes, trying to keep his scattered brain in check and presenting a face of calm to the survivors even as Charlotte's fate becomes unclear, he was fantastic. Seeing him hanging around in the cave that will become the Orchid station will be remembered as one of the great Lost WTF moments, though I suspect this means he's doomed to do something incredibly bad in order to save Charlotte. Some online speculation has brought up the possibility of his actions bringing about The Incident, even though that seemed localised around Swan station, not Orchid, though it's telling that Chang is filming his Arrow orientation video while wearing a Swan coat.


    There's talk this is a continuity flub, but I'm not so sure. Time will tell. (Geddit?!?!?)


    Terry O'Quinn had some great moments too, abruptly left alone only moments after inheriting control over the Others. His terror was especially affecting, as even the visit by Alpert could do nothing to calm him down. Only a spot of murderous knife-flinging in the final scenes seemed to restore his equilibrium. Now that he's saved Juliet and Sawyer I think I can forgive him for killing Naomi. Speaking of Locke, his scene with Alpert was surprisingly unambiguous, but has thrown up several interesting questions about where Lost is heading, and it all revolves around a compass.


    Lostpedia maintains that this compass, that Alpert gives Locke to give back to himself at a later date, is indeed the same one shown to Young John Locke by Alpert in the episode Cabin Fever, though it does look a bit different so who can say, but of course, if this compass is indeed the same one, then Locke will probably go back in time to before that moment, hand the compass over to Alpert, tell him who he is, and then disappear again. Following that, Alpert will track Locke down, and show him this compass in the hopes that he will recognise it. That struck me as odd at first. Wouldn't Alpert realise that Young Locke has no way of recognising an object that he doesn't yet own? However, it's entirely in keeping with what's going on, and only confused me because I'd been so distracted by the connection between the multiple choice question Alpert asked Locke and its similarity to the ceremony used by Panchen Lamas to find the next Dalai Lama. It was actually a very straight question; Alpert thought Young Locke already had a compass like that one. Instead Young Locke just picked up a knife because... what? He wants to be an adventurer? He's a potentially violent guy with serious issues? Who knows.


    The suspicion among Lost speculators is that Locke was visited by Alpert because he is somehow destined to be leader of the Others/Hostiles because the island willed it to be so. Instead, mysticism is not part of it at all. Alpert had already met Locke, and was chasing him down to find answers to this peculiar riddle in his past. That's all. At least, that's how it seems right now. This is the first time in a while that the idea that the island is somehow sentient, something speculators had been taking for granted, is off the table. Are we now entering a period when we visit the idea that the scientific anomaly that lies within the island has inspired different kinds of religious awe in the gullible population? Do the Others and the Dharma Initiative represent the battle between religion and science for the minds of the world? Seeing Miss Hawking doing very complicated maths in the basement of a church suggests there is maybe a reconciliation between the two.


    It strikes me that these two episodes, despite featuring a lot of new information, didn't leave as much room for speculation as usual. They were pretty straight forward, which is probably why I have been complaining about how the possibilities are closing down. Instead of the curious meandering that has thrilled me and a number of other crazed fans, it delivered more pace instead, either through expositiony dialogue, which pissed me off, or with action, especially a thrilling night attack with flaming arrows, of all things.


    Anyway, I'm not really that worried about the show, especially after seeing the first two again. It's just where my head is at right now, tainting almost everything I watch with sour emotions. Hopefully I can get myself together and properly appraise this season as it unfolds. Word has it the next episode, Jughead, is a corker. I hope so. Before then, some observations about miscellaneous moments from the opener.

    Kinda weird to find out that Ben's League of Time-Travelling Commandos includes a butcher. Later on we see Miss Hawking surrounded by candles. It's only a matter of time before Ben visits a baker and says something cryptic like, "The yeast is rising. If we're going to stop Widmore, I need you to make a batch of Death Ciabatta. Or some Maim Bagels."


    I didn't see the credits on this episode, but I was wondering if anyone was listed as Jack's Sweat Wrangler.


    Perspiration Spritzer? Withdrawal Emulation Expert - H2O? A shot of his back made Canyon speculate on how stinky Jack is right now. I didn't need to be thinking about that. Kate is very upset to find out that she is no longer the stinkiest person on the show.


    I love how Hurley's house is full of absolute crap bought using his winnings. A lovely touch. I could have shown about twenty screengrabs of that location, all cluttered with horrible out-of-place tat.


    Awesome cameo work from William Mapother as everyone's favourite anagrammatic Other, Ethan Rom. His hair was also very entertaining. It looks about ten shades darker than it did before. Real life vanity? Or just a way to try to make him look younger?


    Would you buy a used chance-at-redemption from this man? Look at that smile! It's more insincere and unconvincing than Gwyneth Paltrow's efforts to portray herself as the upper-class white Oprah.


    Yay it's Frank! They got him back for this episode, so hopefully that means we'll get more of him. If not, the United Brotherhood of Frank Lapidus Fans (UBFLuFf) will have something to say about that.


    Is everyone with me on the, "OMG Sawyer, Juliet is a way better fit for you than Kate!" thing? Look at them! The combined hottness is almost impossible to comprehend.


    Though Sawyer really needs to cool down. His barely suppressed fury over what he thinks is the death of his beloved Kate was a sight to behold. It's a testament to Josh Holloway's evolution as an actor that he managed to be funny, scary, and tragic, all while wearing nothing but a pair of jeans.


    Cheer up Desmond and Penny! It might never happen, though if it does, there's always a chance you'll have to experience it twice, what with all the time-travelling and whatnot.


    Who the hell is Jones? And how did he like having a Locke-rock right in the chops?


    In the "previously on" we see Sayid with his post-island straight hair, which looks like it took a long time to style. Look what happens once he's killed two men using gravity and a fully-loaded dishwasher; instant Jarrah curls.


    Yet again Locke falls off something, and is rendered unable to move, though thankfully it wasn't an eight-storey drop this time. I guess the show will still be having echoes of echoes even though the original format has been ditched for this meta-format.


    Is Sayid the baddestass badass in the world of TV? Okay, so Jack Bauer beheads pedophiles, breaks people's necks whilst having a heart attack, and enjoys snacking on terrorist-throat, but Sayid kills a man - using a dishwasher! - after being hit by two tranq darts. I think that counts for something. If he had the chance, Sayid would eat all the throats, I bet.


    Speaking of badasses, there is evidence that Juliet is becoming a badass. What evidence I hear you ask? Here is a picture of her with a gun.


    That is all.

    Monday, 26 January 2009

    BBC Breakfast Watch! Bill Turnbull Gets Pictorially PWNed

    It's been a while since I've watched this with a proper amount of attention, but I just had to mention this morning's edition. As Gordon Brown has been revealed to have a thin skin about political cartoons depicting him as too fat, Sian and Bill spoke to cartoonist Martin Rowson about it. Turns out Rowson once met Brown before he became Chancellor, and after asking him a serious question about economics, Brown chided him for the corpulence of his lampoons. This, apparently, stuck in Rowson's craw, which is why he, in particular, draws Brown as especially large.

    Anyway, after discussing his methods for a while, Bill and Sian made nervous comments about Rowson sizing them up for a drawing, and he revealed that he already had. Sorry for the crappy quality of this picture, but I had to use my terrible phone to take a shot of it. (Click on it for more detail. Oh, and copyright Martin Rowson, obviously.)


    I'm not sure what's going on with Sian, but his depiction of Bill is genius. This picture, provided for comparison, doesn't do the accuracy of the caricature justice, sadly.


    Of course Bill, being the delicate flower he is, took massive umbrage at it, and made sniffy remarks for the next few minutes. At first it seemed like he was trying to laugh off his "jowly" appearance, as Sian put it, but when she tried to pat his chins he got a bit arsy, and cutting back to them after a news bulletin he seemed genuinely annoyed. I loved every second of it.

    Quick celebrity encounter story: I met Rowson once at a talk with political comic writer/artist Joe Sacco at the ICA. While waiting to get my copy of Notes From a Defeatist, Rowson walked past and I collared him to thank him for a deeply offensive and hilarious cartoon about the Orange Walk that had just taken place with its typical levels of controversy. I think he thought I was going to tell him off about it. Poor guy. He was very nice about it. Joe Sacco was lovely as well. We chatted about his comic strip of a guy rebelling against work by furiously masturbating, and I said it put my frustrations about work into a much-needed perspective. He signed my book with an exhortation to get out of my soul-crushing job ASAP*, but I was so flustered about the growing queue of fans behind me that I rushed away without looking at what he wrote until later. He looked hurt that I didn't react to his generous message, which I still feel bad about even to this day.

    Anyway, here's my favourite picture by Rowson in a while, dealing with the BBC's rejection of a DEC-endorsed appeal for Gaza, and the return of humour-void Jonathan Ross to TV. And yes, I didn't say much about Bill and Sian, did I. It was just me expressing a burst of delicious schadenfreude, that's all.

    * Funny I should recall that now.