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Archive for January, 2012

Bits and Pieces: 5 Things I’m Digging Right Now

January 24, 2012 Leave a comment

The year of writing is getting off to an inauspicious start, but I’m not as worried about it as I was. Starting something cold turkey is as difficult as stopping it, but I will get there. First, a couple of programming notes:

First of all, I’ll be welcoming my brother-in-law, Matt Campbell, as a co-writer on the Lost Re-Rewatch Project, though for him it’s merely a Rewatch Project. He’ll be sharing thoughts on certain episodes, which may or may not be supplemented by yours truly. He’s an insightful guy and has a view of the show that is distinct and, frankly, a little less rose-colored than my own. I hope you enjoy the extra voice.

Second, I am teaching a course for the Drury University English Department this semester, Editing and Publishing, which will focus on the (fine?) art of critique and reviewing. I may post class content–or more accurately, content for class–here from time to time, as well as share some of the good stuff that comes across my desk.

And now, because I’m feeling it, a few things I’m hyped up about these days:

1. Hell On Wheels. I got behind this show early on (it premiered after The Walking Dead) and am catching up on DVR. It pretty much kicks ass. Anson Mount is an ex-Confederate with a score to settle, Common is a badass freed slave, Colm Meany is a complicated railroad magnate, and Dominique McElligot is… well, scorching hot. The plot is a little murky so far, but the acting is very strong. Plus, it’s AMC, so I have faith it will rule eventually. It’s set in a railroad-building camp, and everything from the opening credits to the whore-with-a-heart-of-gold storyline indicates it wants to be nothing less than Deadwood, minus the HBO-ified vocabulary. I’m not sure it’s going to quite get to that level, but it’s still my third-favorite show currently on TV–second if Game of Thrones takes an inevitable Season 2 swoon.

2. AppleTV. I asked for this for Christmas at the suggestion of a couple of friends, and my loving wife obliged. Holy cow, what an invention. For $100, you can have access to hundreds of movies, your personal iTunes account, and your Netflix account, all on your TV. For me the biggest benefit was no more watching Netflix streaming films on a laptop, radiating my lap in the process. Any episode of The Office on my TV at the touch of a button (without buying $250 in DVDs)? Yes please.

3. Risk iPhone app. Yeah, I know. Thoroughly addicting, though, and a great time-killer.

4. Trolling the Internet for cheap vacations (or at least affordable ones). Thanks to the big H, for the first time ever I’m actually looking forward to doing our taxes this year, and despite the usual misgivings about “savings” and “debt” I have a few fantasies about how any return could potentially be spent–it is a round-number anniversary for Nichole and I, after all. I realize I’m setting myself up for grave disappointment when my modest pay raise equates to a higher bracket, but it’s really just fun to look. Kayak and Lonely Planet are couple of current favorites.

5. The @Philanthropy Twitter feed. From the Chronicle of Philanthropy, if you work in non-profit-land, it’s a must-follow. Lots of topical information and free professional-development options. If you don’t work in non-profit-land, and don’t care about your fellow man, I recommend @Zodiac_MF. He’s profane. He types in all caps. He live-Tweets game shows. He loves pop culture that OWNS.

Hope this helps you enjoy killing some time. Peace out.

Categories: General

Lost Season 1, Episode 4: Walkabout

January 18, 2012 1 comment

Welcome to the Lost Re-Re-Rewatch Project. In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes. This is my fourth round-trip to the Island, but my first time attempting to chronicle my thoughts on the show on an episode-by-episode basis. The mission: A post per episode. Nothing so epic and theory-heavy as Doc Jensen’s great stuff at EW.com, which I highly suggest you read (the theory game is a bit moot at this point anyway), but hopefully it will help scratch both my writing itch and my Lost itch at the same time.

Episode 4: Walkabout

Overall Episode Grade: A

And here we come to it. The best episode of Lost’s first season, and one of the finest (and most important) ever. More than an excellent hour of television, “Walkabout” did three very important things for this show. First, it proved that this series was going to be about more than just a weird island and character actors. Second, it featured some fine acting: In the premiere everyone was too disoriented, and the second episode featured Evangeline Lilly. Third, it provided the first “oh shit” moment of a series rich with them. And as they say, you never forget your first … “oh shit” moment on a primetime series.

The focus character is John Locke, who to this point has been spooky and quiet, sitting around playing Backgammon and sharing secrets with Walt like a masculine version of Jerry Sandusky (sorry). But still waters run deep, and early in the episode, when it becomes known that the food supply has run out, Locke plays his cards, kicking open a suitcase of knives that he had checked aboard the plane. He suggests a boar hunt, and we’re like, “Thank God.”

Kate and Michael tag along, and things go predictably amiss. Michael gets gored, leaving Locke to roam alone. He has a run-in with the Monster (we don’t know what he’s made of just yet), Lost cuts to commercial, and we think old man Locke has been nothing but a red herring. How wrong we are.

In the flashbacks, we see a man at work, mistreated by his boss (the porntastically named Randy Nations, who is such an ass he’d probably make a worse cellmate than Martin Keamy). We see a man at home, bearing his soul to a phone sex operator. We see a man in Australia, being denied a trip on a walkabout, which he’s been discussing the entire episode (see video below). Then, as the walkabout guide leaves him at his desk, his refusal final, Locke pushes back from his seat and we see for the first time that he’s… in a wheelchair. Jaws hit the floor. The episode cuts to the image we saw in the episode’s opening scene: Locke laying on the beach, wiggling his toes. (John and I wear the same gold-toe socks, by the way. I’m totally a candidate.) The moment is punctuated by Michael Giacchino’s first genuinely soaring score of the series. It is one of the best moments of some 121 hours of produced television and probably the moment most fans will point to as being their tipping point.

We get to know little else about Locke, other than the fact that he hasn’t always been disabled. We discern that he has a massive chip on his shoulder, yet he’s still a pushover (at least to his boss and his phone-sex girlfriend), and he knows someone named Helen, who he wakes up talking about after a near-miss with the boar. He has a mantra (“Don’t tell me what I can’t do.”) that will become a slogan of sorts for several characters in the show.

I should take a minute and make a fanboy’s case for Terry O’Quinn as one of the finest TV character actors of our generation. It’s possible that the role of John Locke was simply made for him, but I think it’s something less fleeting. No TV actor I can remember can better transition between ferocity and fatherly pleasantness than O’Quinn, a trait that has suited him at every step in his career (“The Stepfather,” and an extended presence on CBS’s reboot of Miami Vice more recently). He also has a way of playing off of other good actors (Fox and the yet-to-appear Michael Emerson, in particular, in this series) which makes him indispensable to a ensemble cast. He won one Emmy for Lost for Best Supporting Actor, and in a decade that hadn’t include some of the best dramas ever (not to mention Emerson) he probably would have won more. More personally, O’Quinn/Locke reminds me of my father-in-law, Dwight, in his intense silence and careful mannerisms that only adequately hide a Marine’s intensity. I just hope Dwight never asks me to go fetch something out of a crash-landed plane for him… but that’s for later this season.

The rest of the cast’s exploits are minor. I will summarize them in haiku.

Charlie and Hurly.
One thick, one thin. Do nada.
Mom’s gotta dig someone.

Rose is sad. Jack sits
staring at the beach sunset.
Her man ain’t dead. Suuuuuuure!

Boars eat dead in plane.
Time to burn the fuselage.
Weepy castaways.

If I need a eulogy,
Get Emilie De Ravin
to read. Pretty please?

Jack is seeing stuff.
Man in suit, like a mirage.
Wait another week.

Episode: “Walkabout”
Director: Jack Bender
Best Scene: The last one, one of the most lasting images from the entire show. The first “wham” moment. Honorable mention goes to the eulogy for the passengers who died and Locke revealing his badass suitcase full of knives.

Ah, here we are:

Best Line: “How come anytime there’s a hike into the Heart of Darkness, you sign up?”—Jack to Kate when she volunteers to go on the boar hunt.
Best Throwaway Moment:
In Locke’s first flashback scene, he’s operating a calculator that sounds an awful lot like a certain number-counter when it resets in a certain hatch in the not-too-distant future. Which, in turn, sounds a lot like the clicking sound one Smoke Monster makes as it does its thing. I wonder which castaway the Smoke Monster likes best?
Worst Moment:  Thankfully this ending was so solid there was no need for Hurley’s CD player. But the early scene where Hurley and Sawyer are fighting over food is pretty weak. What, the fat guy’s hungry? Go figure.
Revelations: Kate’s a vegetarian (though I think I remember her eating eggs in the previous episode); Rose is convinced that her lost husband is not dead; LOCKE WAS IN A FREAKING WHEELCHAIR UNTIL THE TIME OF THE CRASH! This is where the show goes from mysterious to supernatural, and (really) never looked back.

If you’re into spoilers, or have seen the whole show and just like funny stuff (as if there are more than 3 of you reading this). Check out the John Locke Rap.

Next Episode: “White Rabbit.”

(All images and ep-title links are courtesy Lostpedia.com)

Categories: Lost, Reviews, TV

Writer’s Block, Sleeping on Planes, Sleeting on Panes and Sour Straws

January 12, 2012 Leave a comment

This daily writing thing isn’t going as well as I’d hoped it would. A combination of the lack of a computer, a busy schedule and the simple fact that I do not sit down until 8 p.m. at night have combined to keep me from getting this ball rolling, other than a couple of Lost reviews (with a couple more in the cannon, don’t you worry).

In previous attempts, I would be discouraged. Not this time. This time is different. That’s because, if I don’t have anything overwhelmingly amazing to say… I’m going to say something uninteresting. That’s why I started a blog and not, say, a half hour television broadcast. Well, that and the fact that I tend to make fun of all local TV personalities and I am not, if anything, a hypocrite.

• The fan Nichole and I keep in our room to drown out the noise from Division Street threw craps a couple of weeks ago, and since then we’ve been sleeping with a white noise app on the iPhone. Does anyone else use this? I wake up in the middle of the night and I truly think I’m on a plane. The only difference is it’s easier to get to the bathroom and the stewardess who comes by the bet with peanuts every half hour is way nicer than your average Delta hag.

• It snowed today in Springfield, which means that nothing else happened. The official policy at the Community Foundation is that we don’t close the office unless Missouri State University cancels classes, which means I might get a snow day once every two or three years. And that’s fine. By the time you’re 32 years old, you really should be beyond pining for days off work anyway… unless you work in education. Then the only thing worse than a treacherous drive to work is a day at work with a bunch of kids complaining that school wasn’t canceled. It’s the Circle of Annoying Life.

• If the entire world were made up of dark chocolate and Sour Straws (preferably the strawberry kind, but sour apple are okay, too), I would be a very happy diabetic man.

• I forgot to mail my aunt’s birthday card (her birthday was Jan. 2) and I just found the envelope in my car after swearing up and down I had mailed it. If you’re reading this, Aunt Amy (and you’re not), I apologize. Cards are big, big deal in my family, a tradition that my wife doesn’t understand and I haven’t done a very good job to carry on. I’m particularly useless when it comes to mailing them. Just be warned, in case you ever join my family.

• Nichole and I finished Season 3 of Mad Men today. Holy crap. Aside from a couple runs of Lost and perhaps mid-Season 5 of 24, it’s the best three-episode arc of a television series I’ve ever seen.

• I get to go to Reeds Spring and Bradleyville tomorrow, then come home for a long weekend. Who needs snow days?

 

Categories: General, Navel Gazing

Lost Season 1, Episode 3: Tabula Rasa

January 7, 2012 1 comment

Welcome to the Lost Re-Re-Rewatch Project. In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes. This is my fourth round-trip to the Island, but my first time attempting to chronicle my thoughts on the show on an episode-by-episode basis. The mission: A post per episode. Nothing so epic and theory-heavy as Doc Jensen’s great stuff at EW.com, which I highly suggest you read (the theory game is a bit moot at this point anyway), but hopefully it will help scratch both my writing itch and my Lost itch at the same time.

Episode 2: “Tabula Rasa”

So, I promise some original subject matter on this blog at some point. Someday I will unleash my long-nascent opinion-making machine, but it is not this day. For now I spend too much time writing about a television show that aired more than seven years ago.

So, “Tabula Rasa!” Lost developed a not-at-all-undeserved reputation over its six seasons of having killer season premieres and then mailing it in for at least the next week. Season 1 set that expectation. It’s almost like J.J. Abrams in no way expected the show to get picked up as a series (perhaps a mini-series?), and when it did was like, “Oh crap. Let’s make episode two revolve around the female lead and kill off a semi-pricey guest actor!”

Not that “Tabula Rasa” is completely without its charms, starting with the name. Tabula rasa is a Latin phrase that, translated to English, roughly means “blank slate.” That is, it’s an argument–most famously favored by 17th century philosopher John Locke (yes, John Locke)–that human consciousness and experience are not pre-determined, but decided by external factors and capable of being altered. As Wikipedia puts it, it’s the “nurture” side of the nature vs. nurture argument, one which becomes central to the ultimate endgame of Lost. (Seriously: There’s not much better than trolling Wikipedia and reading about philosophy.)

Ergo, no character’s past is more mysterious in Lost‘s beginning episodes than that of one Katherine Ann Austen. In the first episode we learned that she was the criminal being escorted by the U.S. marshal aboard Oceanic 815. We also learn that the marshal is awake, but dying because half of a drink cart is embedded in his gut. Eventually Jack learns about Kate’s fugitive status, then Hurley, which is done mainly to give Hurley something to be nervous about.

Meanwhile, Kate is coming back from her trip through the jungle with main cast’s B team. She’s been given charge of the group’s lone gun because… hey, why not? She’s not Iraqi. When the group gets back, they don’t say anything to the rest of the castaways about the strange message blocking their radio signal. Why not? As Sayid says: “Hope is a dangerous thing to lose.” It was nice to remember a time when Sayid wasn’t the darkest mofo on the Island.

Anyway, Jack and Kate play their little cat and mouse game for the rest of the episode. In between we get flashbacks to how she was arrested, being turned in by a poor, one-armed Australian farmer. She saves his life after wrecking his car, which allows the marshal to get the drop on her. But she definitely wants the farmer to get his reward. Aww… Kate.

Also: Michael sees Sun naked as she’s showering in broad daylight! Where is this going? No one knows!

Also: Is it me, or is Claire hotter with the big pregnant belly than afterward, when everything interesting about her is gone. This isn’t a pregnancy fetish thing. I think it might actually be true.

The show’s third act saves the episode, and gives us our first of many Jack-Sawyer tiffs. The marshal is dying, and after trying to strangle Kate, goads her into offing him because Jack won’t. Kate (who still has the gun, remember), coaxes Sawyer into doing it for her. He botches it, collapsing a lung instead. Jack has to finish the job. Sawyer feels so bad he can’t even smoke. Jack and Kate have a talk on the beach about her past. She offers to tell him what she did and we’re all like “OKAY!” and Jack’s all like “What we did before doesn’t matter.” And we’re all like “DAMN YOU JACK! (But not really because we don’t care all that much).” And, although we will eventually find out what Kate did (in an episode brilliantly titled “What Kate Did,” in Season 2) I don’t think Jack ever does. And he learns an awful lot about Kate.

Meanwhile, the man who coined the episode’s namesake philosophical tenant, one John Locke, is busy finding Walt’s Laborador, Vincent, who we know is on the island. Locke crafts a dog whistle, find the dog, and then gives the dog to Michael to give to his estranged son. The episode ends with a close up of Locke looking grim. And that scar highlighting a single eye makes him look absolutely horrorshow, my brother.

Overall Episode Grade: C

Episode: “Tabula Rasa”
Director: Jack Bender
Best Scene: Slim pickings here. I’ll take Jack and Sawyer in the plane’s fuselage. Jack’s scouring for drugs, Sawyer for smokes and porn. They verbally spar. Good times.
Best Line: This exchange between Jack and Sawyer in the fuselage:
Sawyer: “You’re just not looking at the big picture doc. You’re still back in civilization.”
Jack: “Yeah? And where are you?”
Sawyer: “I’m in the wild.”
Best Throwaway Moment: The jungle group is arguing over who gets to keep the gun, and Sawyer, still not trusting Sayid, says “Sure, give it to Al Jazeera there.” Charlie chimes in: “Al Jazeera’s a network…”. Good timing in an episode that needs a non-angsty moment.
Worst Moment:  In “Tabula Rasa” we are introduced to Hurley’s CD player, which he finds amongst the baggage. It’s a cute little gimmick that runs for about the first half of this season. The episode ending with a popular song (some of them good) as the castaways do… stuff. Here we get Joe Purdy’s “Wash Away” over sappy scenes of castaways making nice after conflicts that lasted all of two episodes. Seriously, seriously cheesy stuff here.

Revelations: I honestly can’t think of one that maters. The marshal dies. Kate was on the run but has a heart. Not an all-timer in the mythos department.

But just wait until the next episode…

Next Episode: “Walkabout.”

(All images and ep-title links are courtesy Lostpedia.com)

Categories: Lost, Reviews, TV

Lost Season 1, Episode 1 & 2: Pilot

Welcome to the Lost Re-Re-Rewatch Project. In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes. This is my fourth round-trip to the Island, but my first time attempting to chronicle my thoughts on the show on an episode-by-episode basis. The mission: A post per episode. Nothing so epic and theory-heavy as Doc Jensen’s great stuff at EW.com, which I highly suggest you read (the theory game is a bit moot at this point anyway), but hopefully it will help scratch both my writing itch and my Lost itch at the same time.

Many of you will think it’s crazy to continue devoting hours upon hours to a show Ive seen three times over. I won’t disagree, and neither will my wife (though she will be long in bed when I watch most of these episodes). But I’m of the belief that no time is wasted that is spent appreciating and exploring good storytelling, and I hope you enjoy what I’m trying to do here over the next many months, particularly if you are a fan of the show. Besides, what is 121 hours, anyway?

Episode 1: “Pilot Part 1” and “Pilot Part 2

What is there to be said about this episode that hasn’t been said over the last seven-plus years? Cinematic in scope and production, this is nothing less than one of the greatest (and riskiest) television pilots in history. The extended opening crash/rescue scene, beginning with the famous, meme-to-be of Jack’s eye opening in the jungle, is of particular magnificence. I become only more impressed with this beach scene with each subsequent viewing and, believe it or not, notice something new each time. It’s the only segment in the entire series where the passengers of Oceanic 815 are truly strangers to one another, and hence to us. It’s not impossible to recapture that feeling amid the chaos of the crash’s aftermath.

To seasoned (re)watchers, the rest of the episode pales a bit in comparison to the hectic opening minutes. Jack and Kate’s meet cute, the duo’s first (with Charlie) of an infinite number of treks through the jungle to find the cockpit, and even the first attack by the “monster” (no sign of smoke just yet) might have been heart-stopping on first viewing, though I kind of doubt it. There are a lot of good moments, but it’s also pretty easy to spot a lot of what was wrong with the first season: Too much Shannon and Boone, a little too much Charlie and Walt, that sort of stuff (granted, the show needed to immediately appeal to people who like A. Hot twentysomethings, B. The Lord of the Rings and C. Kids in adult dramas).

The group’s first encounter of the “Monster” is pretty startling, and gives the producers a reason to get all the principals in the same shot for the first time. The opening half of this episode–which was actually the first of two parts, airing a week apart but which I am including as a single episode–ends with the evisceration of the “Pilot,” which is why I suspect this episode title endured.

(Aside: Producers confirm that, in the original script, the role of Jack was set to be played by Michael Keaton and the character was supposed to die during this episode. Wow. Asshole tendencies of both the character and actor notwithstanding, that fact should truly make most Losties grateful for the impact Jack, and Matthew Fox, had on the series.)

One creepy-special glimpse of John Locke weirdness aside, the second half of the episode is, primarily, a trek by many of the castaways into the heart of the Island to acquire a signal after Sayid fixes the transceiver. Again, too much Shannon, a little too much Charlie. Fortunately it contains the right amount of Sawyer, who is the one to use the marshal’s gun (more on him in the next roundup) to pop a cap in some polar bear ass. Ironically, said polar bear won’t really be explained until AFTER the series is over, in a 14-minute DVD-extra addendum.

The final shot of the episode is an all-timer, a sweeping, revolving panorama said group of voyagers standing around the transceiver, which has picked up a recording of a woman repeating the same “Help me, they’re all dead” message over and over… which has been playing for 16 years.

The best episode of the series? No. Best pilot ever? Probably not. But one of the 10 or so episodes of Lost that I can watch, context free, at any moment for any reason? Absolutely.

Overall Episode Grade: A-

Episode: Pilot, Parts 1 and 2
Director: J.J. Abrams
Best Scene: John Locke invites Walt to play backgammon. Acts creepy. Foreshadows the living hell out of the entire series.

Best line: “Two players, two sides. One is light, the other is dark.” — John Locke
Best throwaway moment: Locke smiles at Kate with an orange in his mouth, a la The Godfather. Kate looks disturbed (get used to it).
Worst moment: Contrived Shannon-in-a-bikini scene. Kate’s semi-contrived bathing scene.
Revelations: Kate was the fugitive, there is or was someone else on the island, there’s a big ass thing in the jungle that eats aviators, Charlie is a junkie, Jack’s a boozer, Evangeline Lilly was a pretty terrible actor in 2004.

Next episode: “Tabula Rasa”

(All images and ep-title links are courtesy Lostpedia.com)

Categories: Lost, Reviews, TV

Not Looking Back

January 2, 2012 1 comment

The first (and last) time I posted here it was August 2. I wish I could say this was a world-altering post five months in the making. It is not. But the time for regrets is over. There’s no time like the present.

So, refer to the previous post for my reasons for wanting to begin this project, and please keep a few things in mind:

1. My friend Jeff (who is still blogging daily) has since moved back. I will let him tell you why and how here, but suffice it to say, from a selfish perspective, I am okay with it.

2. The design of this blog sucketh mightily, and I’ll slowly add features (featurettes?). It’s a work in progress. I don’t even have an avatar, which is distressing. But the writing’s the thing.

3. The Beer and a Jog project lasted two months, at which point the time strains of Nichole returning to work (seriously… our evenings feel like they last a whole 20 minutes) and the burden of paying for the beer conspired to sink the ship. Unfortunately, the running ended shortly thereafter.

3. This blog will serve, for the next few months, as a landing page of sorts for the English 251 class at Drury University, so if anything seems odd, that’s why. I’ve taught the class on two other occasions, though this will be my first go-round without having the benefit of 417 Magazine as an employer (and thus an online publication/internship carrot dangling to keep students buying in). But it has also inspired me to switch up the curriculum a bit, which could be a very good thing. We shall see.

I’ll try to keep this page interesting and relevant and as focused as humanly possible. Expect observations, pop-culture critique (a Lost re-re-re-watch is slated to begin tonight) and sports commentary. Anyone with a fondness for Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Cardinals baseball or classic movies may be particularly interested.

After the cut: 10 quick resolutions. Read more…

Categories: General, Navel Gazing