Friday, March 28, 2008

Vindication is mine!

Thanks to Whedonesque for giving me the heads-up about this list: Empire Online's 50 Greatest Television Shows of All Time. I will grant you that this list seems to have been compiled by British sci-fi fanboys (Deep Space Nine but no NYPD Blue? Come on!) but if you take the list completely out of context and just as is, it justifies my taste in television. I present as evidence the following:

#2 (of all time, mind you) is my beloved Buffy the Vampire Slayer, right behind The Simpsons

#5 is Lost

#9 is The X-Files

#13 is the fabulous new Battlestar Galactica (which I'll recap when I have a spare decade)

#14 is Firefly - "... it had Nathan Fillion, whose presence officially makes anything 27% better."

#15 is Heroes

#21 is Angel (it seems as though some Whedon-fans compiled this list, no?)

#31 is Deadwood - "The word fuck and its derivatives are used 2,980 times throughout the show's three seasons." That's an average of 82.7 times per episode. Hee.

#48 is Veronica Mars

MirrorMask - movie review

It is entirely possible that Neil Gaiman is a genius - either that or he is extremely unbalanced, which is not mutually exclusive, I realize. I come to this revelation having recently watched Mirrormask, a gloriously trippy movie written by Gaiman and directed by David McKean. A quest story along the lines of The Wizard of Oz and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, this Jim Henson Company collaboration is an incredible fusion of live actors, puppets and CGI, so interwoven that at times – most times – it was difficult to tell one from the other.

Teenaged Brit Helena is a performer in her parents’ little traveling circus. Although the circus is shown as a dazzling place, infused with color and warmth, Helena is sick of it and just wants a normal life. One evening she has a fight with her mother who later collapses and is rushed to the hospital with a brain tumor. Helena spends days stuck in a dreary flat, covering her bedroom walls with fantastical pen and ink drawings and waiting for word on her mum’s condition. On the night her mother goes into surgery, Helena is restless and seemingly unable to sleep, sick with guilt over the nasty things she said to her mother. She hears music and wanders out into an alleyway that leads her into another world.

Convinced she is dreaming, Helena is unafraid of what she finds: bizarre and yet friendly people and creatures – all wearing masks - lurching and scuttling out of startling landscapes, going busily about their days. She meets a young juggler named Valentine who is initially put off by the fact that she does not wear a mask like the rest of the populace (“How do you know what expression to wear without a mask?”). He warms to her, however, when he learns she too can juggle and they set off together. Helena is soon captured by the White Queen’s people who fill her in on the current situation: this land she has wandered into, which is divided into Light and Dark, is now unbalanced because the Dark Princess (a twin of Helena) stole the balancing charm which sent the White Queen into a magical sleep, allowing the Dark to encroach upon the Light unimpeded. Helena, who likes to be useful, decides that her quest will be to retrieve the charm and restore balance to the lands.

During the course of Helena’s quest, she meets all kinds of fantabulous creatures: flying books that sulk if you give them a bad review; riddling sphinxes; floating stone giants; creepy, skittering one-eyed spiders who are spies for the Dark Queen; doppelgangers (both the evil Dark Queen and the comatose White Queen look like Helena’s ailing mother; the prime minister looks like her dad); and my favorites, a flock of Bobs (and one Malcolm) who seem to be a cross between gorillas and pigeons. The creatures and the landscapes are twisted marvels, all angles that don’t make sense and patchwork body parts. Nothing is nightmarish in that Helena (and likewise the viewer) is never really scared; everything is nightmarish in that this is clearly nowhere normal. Gaiman’s boundless imagination is lovingly interpreted and rendered by the production staff. The acting isn’t much to write home about but the sheer spectacle of the whole is wondrous.

After watching the entertaining but decidedly low-budget Neverwhere a while back, I was slightly skeptical about delving deeper into Gaiman’s catalog, anticipating more charming amateurishness. I needn’t have worried: the production values for Mirrormask have skyrocketed in comparison to little Neverwhere and this film is a sight to behold. I would venture to say that Mirrormask is a must-see for fantasy-lovers and I am planning to hurry to my comics shop to see if the book version is as much of a treat as the movie. But first I’m going to watch this very cool flick again.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

This Rural Life

Yesterday, when I went to refill the squirrelfeeders (technically “birdfeeders,” but who am I kidding), I opted not to wear my snowshoes. In the wintertime I normally have to wear them to make it across the backyard in any sort of timely or dry fashion but I figured I’d be fine without them this time, seeing how it’s the end of March and it had been in the sunny low 50°s (F) all day. Silly Mouse. Faster than you can say “black oil sunflower seeds” I had broken through the crust and was buried up to the middle of my thigh. Now, I’m not tall but still – mid-thigh! That’s at least 2 feet of snow. In my backyard. At the end of March.

All this white stuff has been a real gift for the skiers in these parts. We’ve had a good season with conditions well above average, verging on good quite often, and even possibly construed as great (for Eastern skiing) on a couple of occasions. However, all this white stuff has been a real burden at my house. Because our driveway is too short to merit plowing (says the lifelong Maine girl who grew up at the end of a half-mile dirt road) and we’re too cheap to buy a snow-blower, Mr. Mouse has played Hercules and shoveled a Thirteenth Labor’s worth of snow out of the drive and off the roof this year. I of course feel guilty not shoveling my weight with my puny girl-arms, so I try to keep the mailbox dug out at least.

For those city-livin’ fans o’ mine, we have what’s known as a “rural mailbox.” It’s a metal mailbox on a wooden post that sits at the side of our road and that regularly gets buried by the town snowplow as it makes its first pass down the street. And by “buried” I mean completely submerged: over the top of the post and behind a solid, compacted, frozen-slush snow-bank multiple feet thick. As you can imagine, the digging out is pretty brutal, especially if you’ve been gone skiing all weekend and come home on a Sunday night after the plow has gone by twice. I’ll admit I couldn’t keep up with it – I even broke a shovel trying to chip into the bank – and the mailman started leaving me nasty notes. You see, a “rural mailbox” has to be dug out so that the mail carrier can drive right up (our guy has an old Ford station-wagon) and open the box without stretching; the USPS requires a fifteen foot ingress and a fifteen foot egress. That’s thirty feet. You’ve got to be joking.

But they were serious and actually stopped delivering our mail until I had an actual flash of brilliance. I bought the cheapest rural mailbox I could find ($7.99 – metal with an all plastic latch and flag, real high quality stuff) and duct-taped it to a 2x4 we had lying around. Then I marched out to the road and shoved the far end of the 2x4 deep into the snow-bank until the new mailbox was perfectly positioned. Next day: mail. And so on with uninterrupted delivery for over a month now. As the snow-bank melts, I go out and reposition my contraption but it hasn’t needed much adjustment thus far.

It has been suggested to me that I not bother with the mailbox 'til spring - if I don't get my mail, I don't actually get the bills, right? Well, until someone figures out a way so that I don't owe the money if I don't receive the bills, I'll keep my juryrigged, duct-tape laden rural mail receptacle in place. Or until all the snow melts - which is looking to be July at this rate.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Nibbles and tidbits

Well, I haven't finished my latest book, and Lost is on hiatus until April 24th, and I won't have another Firefly recap until probably tomorrow ... so in the meanwhile you may peruse the following randomness if you are interested.

Peeps. I love peeps – those disgusting marshmallow creatures with the day-glo sugar crystal coating. I can’t eat too many of them because they make my teeth ache, so what I do is buy the small box: I eat one, leave one for my coworker Ann K. (who likes to let it sit out on her desk for a day or two until it gets crusty – yeesh) and squish the last two into Easter cards for my best girlfriends. (Why do I do that? Because it’s funny.) Just today, however, I found some folks who love peeps even more than I do: the Peeps Show II at the Washington Post. I hate to admit it but those are way more creative than just squashing the little guys in greeting cards.

Sweded films. I haven’t seen the new Jack Black/Mos Def movie, Be Kind Rewind, but I have become aware of the BKR-inspired craze running rampant through the internet: sweded films. A sweded film is a very short, extremely low budget (or no budget), fan-made homage to a classic film. This website has collected what they think are the top swedes online right now. My favorite is Jurassic Park, embedded below, but you should check out the rest of them. Predator and Die Hard are dang funny too.

Galaxy Quest. I’m embarrassed to say that I only just saw Galaxy Quest for the first time last night. That’s a funny, silly little movie – lovingly parodying sci-fi shows and their obsessive fans (read: Trekkies). If you haven’t seen it, the premise is that a bunch of washed up television actors from the Galaxy Quest show (a Star Trek clone) are approached by real aliens who have been watching transmissions of their show – and think it’s real – to help save their embattled civilization. The cast is stacked: Tim (Tool Time) Allen in the Captain Kirk role; Sigourney Weaver in the Uhura role; Alan Rickman as the alien doctor (who hilariously never takes off his head prosthetic even when he’s relaxing in his hotel after a long, hard day at the convention); Tony Shaloub (Monk) as the ship’s engineer; Sam Rockwell as the red-shirt; Justin Long (Dodgeball, Accepted, the Mac commercials) as a geeky uber-fan; and Enrico Colantoni (Sheriff Keith Mars) as the leader of the real aliens. While the movie gently pokes fun at Trekkies, it realizes the genuine love these fans have for their genre shows and never becomes cruel. Very cute.

X-Files Season 6. After waiting for MONTHS for Season 6 to become available on my queue, to no avail, and then searching all the videostores in town, also to no avail, I finally just bought the darn DVDs on - marked way down to around $20 – how far the mighty have fallen. This season was when the production moved from Vancouver to Los Angeles and, for many hardcore fans, marks the shark jumpage for the show. (Personally, I think it didn’t jump until Duchovny left – Robert Patrick was passable as the new skeptic but Annabeth Gish’s character was just too annoying for words.) I had forgotten how much I enjoyed Season 6 when it aired. There are a ton of standalone episodes – which I greatly prefer to the mythology arcs as there’s only so much conspiracy I can take – with tons of great guest stars, notably: Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin in episode 8; Bryan Cranston (the dad from Malcolm in the Middle) in episode 2; Darren E. Burrows (Ed Chigliak from Northern Exposure) in episode 15; Jesse L. Martin (Det. Ed Green from Law & Order, Dr. Greg Butters from Ally McBeal, and Tom Collins from Rent) in episode 20; Bruce Campbell (The Evil Dead, Army of Darkness) in episode 6; and most fabulously, Michael McKean (Best In Show, This Is Spinal Tap,etc., and Lenny from Laverne and Shirley!) as one of the Men In Black in episodes 4 and 5. Great, great fun.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Fountain - mini-review

The Fountain is the first movie in a long time that I just didn't get. From all the reviews I was reading in 2006 when it was in theaters, I know I'm not alone in that regard. Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream - which I've never seen), The Fountain is ostensibly a science fiction film, simultaneously (I think) set in 1500 A.D., 2000 A.D., and 2500 A.D. Hugh Jackman stars as Tomas, a conquistador searching for the Tree of Life hidden away in a Mayan pyramid; a cancer researcher, Tommy Creo, who just may be onto something; and a bald crazy man trapped in an interstellar terrarium. Rachel Weisz is Jackman's counterpart: Queen Isabella of Spain who sends the conquistador on his quest; and Izzi Creo who dying of a brain tumor.

I could understand the interrelatedness of the conquistador and cancer stories - Tomas/Tommy are determined to do everything in their power to save their country/queen/wife. Jackman acts up a storm in the Tommy-and-Izzi arc, truly breaking my heart as a man who has to watch his wife dying in increments before him. Actually, both Jackman and Weisz are lovely in these roles. It's the 2500 A.D. story arc that boggles me. Who is he - Tomas? Tommy? Why is he in a space snowglobe heading for an exploding star? Is this all allegory or is Tomas/Tommy truly being pulled through time by his love for Isabella/Izzi? Why is he bald? What the hell is going on here?

As far as the visuals go, this is a stunning film to see - I imagine it was breathtaking in the theater. Imagery repeats throughout the three arcs: tunnels and doorways; snowflakes, stars and tiny, flickering lights. The CGI is quite well done even when viewed on my crappy little ancient television. It's all quite beautiful.

But when it comes right down to it, what this movie left me with was a "huh." It's a big, dazzling overblown, sometimes sentimental and oftentimes confusing film that, I think, doesn't quite know what it's supposed to be. Not quite sci-fi, not quite historical fiction, The Fountain is a gorgeous, frustrating chimera.

For a totally different take on this film from a guy who knows a LOT about films, read here.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lost episode recap – “Meet Kevin Johnson” (S4E8) airdate 03/20/08

The Barracks: Everyone is standing around, looking nervously at Ben. Locke brings a still tied up Miles to join the group, thanking them for their patience. He asks Miles to share with the group why the Boaties are here. Miles says they’re here for Ben. “Uh, we kinda like knew that about forever ago,” snarks Hurley. Everyone wants to turn Ben over to the Boaties but Locke and Ben say that if that happens, the Boaties are under orders to kill everyone else on the Island. “So, what - he’s one of us now? You’re going to protect him” asks Claire incredulously. Hurley points out that Ben can’t be trusted – he hasn’t even told them who his spy on the boat is. When Ben tells them that it’s Michael, everyone is even more confused and upset. I’d say Locke’s meeting isn’t going all that well.

On the boat: a claxon goes off, awakening Sayid and Desmond. Up on deck, Captain Gault is beating the shit out of a couple of crewmembers. After they go down, he explains that he is trying to hold the crew together – everyone needs to just stay put and stop trying to escape on the Zodiacs. “Remember what happened to the last two men who took one of these boats? Remember what happened to Minkowski?” Gault then orders “Kevin Johnson” to clean up the blood. Sayid approaches Michael: “Why are you on this boat?” Michael replies, “I’m here to die.”

Barracks: Ben gives Alex a map to the Temple, the sanctuary where all the other Others are hiding out. He tells his daughter that she needs to go there so that the Boaties don’t discover who she is and use her to get to him. Alex wants to know if the Boaties are even more dangerous than her dad. “Yes,” says Ben, “but your mother will protect you.” Rousseau, armed as always, heads off, Alex and Carl trailing after her.

On the boat: Sayid and Desmond find Michael trying to repair the engine. He gets upset, saying they shouldn’t be seen with him. Sayid, however, is in no mood for games: Explain yourself now.

Flash: Michael is in a crappy apartment, writing a letter and looking at a photo of himself with baby Walt. Don’t know if this is -forward or -back yet, although I think -back, based on the car and the lame music on the radio. He pins the note to his jacket and drives off recklessly – I think he’s going to try to kill himself. He drives to the docks and, at speed, smashes into cargo container. After the crash, he’s not moving. Wasn’t he hurt in the earliest episodes – is this the start of those times? Nope: he’s alive, waking up in the hospital. A nurse says, “It’s a miracle you’re alive.” The nurse is Libby and Michael starts screaming. Ah – this is a flash to after Michael and Walt left the Island, but I’m not sure how far forward. Michael snaps out of it as the real nurse comes in to check on him. She asks if he wants her to call Walt, whose name was written on the note Michael had pinned to himself. “No,” gasps Michael.

Later and out of the hospital, Michael goes to his mother’s house. She won’t let him in and reminds him that Walt doesn’t want to see him. She’s angry, saying that first she was told they died in a plane crash, and then they show up at her house but she can’t tell anyone who they are or call them by their real names. Michael is looking chagrined during all this. His mom goes on to say that Walt has been having terrible nightmares. Michael asks his mother to tell Walt that he loves him and she agrees to do this, at least. As he walks away, a boy – who is definitely NOT the original Walt – peeks at him from an upstairs window.

Michael then goes to a pawnshop and trades his watch (which is inscribed in Korean) for a gun with bullets. He takes his new artillery to an alley and is just about to blow his brains out when a man comes out of the shadows, asking for the time. Michael hunches over, hiding the gun, muttering, “No, man, no.” The man steps forward. “Come on, Michael. How about for an old friend?” It’s Tom, looking quite clean and spiffy off-Island. And so this flashforward is not actually forward of the current time on-Island since currently, Tom has been shot and killed by Sawyer. Everybody got it?

After the commercial, Michael lunges at Tom desperately. “How did you find me?” he cries. Tom sneers, “We’re the ones who sent you home – you didn’t think we’d keep tabs on you?” Michael is wracked with guilt over murdering Ana Lucia and Libby and that’s why he’s been trying to commit suicide. Tom says that the Island won’t let him kill himself, no matter how many ways he tries. Tom hands him back his gun and leaves, saying that when Michael’s ready to do more work, he’s staying at some such hotel. Back in the crummy apartment, an increasingly distraught Michael tries several times more to shoot himself but the pistol keeps jamming. He is distracted in his quest for death when the news comes on with a report that Oceanic 815 has been found.

When Michael gets to the hotel, Tom is there with his love-muffin Arturo - thereby tying up a loose comment he made to a showering Kate a couple seasons ago that she wasn’t his type. Tom tells a bewildered Michael that the plane wreckage on the news was staged by Widmore because Widmore doesn’t want anyone else to find where the real plane ended up. When Michael demands proof, Tom shows photos of a Thai cemetery where Widmore (supposedly) dug up the bodies, and a bill of sale for an old plane. Because those photos and documents are “proof” – whatever. Michael wants to believe. Tom then gives him a “Kevin Johnson” passport and tells him he’s got a job on Widmore’s freighter as a deckhand. Michael panics, asking why he should work for the Others; Tom points out that he’ll be saving the lives of all his friends who are still stuck on the Island – it’s redemption for his murders of the Tailie women. Michael still protests, saying he won’t go back to that Island but Tom has yet another rebuttal prepared: Michael is to stay on the freighter and kill everyone on it.

Fiji (or reasonable facsimile thereof): Michael shows up for work. A friendly George Minkowski introduces himself; then Michael checks in with a friendly Naomi. There’s been a crate delivered for him. As Michael boards, a moderately friendly Miles is there: “Your name isn’t Kevin. Don’t worry, 80% of the people on this boat are lying about something.” Just then, Tom calls him on his cell, quickly discerning that Michael is getting cold feet. Tom tells him to man up, get on the boat, and do his job – or else tell Walt that he’s let all the Losties die too. Michael pitches his phone into the water as instructed and mans up.

Out at sea, Michael observes Frank and Naomi having a little disagreement about just who should go in the ‘copter first. Afterwards, Frank comes over and introduces himself. After some friendly chitchat, Frank asks Michael if he’s ever heard of Oceanic 815. Michael tersely says yes. Frank says that the freighter’s owner thinks the found wreckage is fake and they’re out here to discover if there are any survivors from the real 815. Hmm. That’s different from what Tom said, eh? Back in his bunk, Michael thinks about opening the crate but doesn’t.

Later, Michael is disturbed when a bunch of crewmembers (mercenary-looking types, not scientisty-looking types) shoot skeet with semiautomatic weapons. “I thought we were on a rescue mission,” says Michael. The crewmembers laugh at him. So Michael goes to his bunk and opens the crate. A small suitcase is inside which he takes to the engine room. There’s a bunch of explosives inside. He’s just about to set the countdown when phantom Libby appears behind him: “Don’t do it, Michael.” He’s terrified but presses the “execute” button anyway. The counter starts down from 10; Michael whispers, “I love you, Walt” and closes his eyes. When the counter hits 00:00, a little flag pops up with a note: NOT YET. Now, that’s just a tease.

Minkowski stops by Michael’s berth to let him know that he’s got a call patched through from the mainland. It’s Ben. Michael is less than pleased to hear from him and bitches about the faux bomb. Ben points out that there are in fact innocent people on the boat – and Ben does not kill innocent people. Michael scoffs: What about Libby and Ana Lucia? Ben says, “You killed them, Michael. No one asked you to.” Ben goes on to tell Michael that he wants him to compile a list of all the people on the freighter and give it to Ben when he calls next. Then, Michael is to disable the freighter’s radio and engine so the boat will never make it to the Island. Ben is such a master manipulator. “Then consider yourself one of the good guys.” Michael agrees to do it, and crumples, crying.

Flash to now: So you’re telling me that you’re working for Ben, says Sayid. Yup, says Michael. Sayid grabs Michael and drags forcibly him to the Captain’s quarters over Desmond’s ineffectual protests. Sayid tells Gault exactly who Michael is and what all he’s done, finishing with “he’s a traitor.” Michael doesn’t dispute any of it.

On Island: Rousseau leads her party through the jungle. I think she’s about to get killed. Carl too is twitchy, having a bad feeling about all this. Alex reassures him until someone starts shooting at them with silenced guns. Carl gets hit and quickly dies. Rousseau grabs Alex’s hand and tells her daughter that she loves her. Just as they start to make a run for it, Rousseau is shot and killed too. Alex – who is looking gorgeous in this episode, by the way – panics. She stands up in the clearing, raising her arms and shouting, “Wait, wait – don’t! I’m Ben’s daughter!”

Next week on Lost - Friend Mouse has to stay up really late since it's moving back to the 10 p.m. timeslot. Rats!

Previously on Lost. Next time on Lost.

Black Sheep (2007) - mini-review

I just saw a great movie on DVD: Black Sheep, a New Zealand horror-comedy. “There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand and they’re pissed off!” is one of the taglines. This is a totally low-budget flick, with an unknown Kiwi cast and experienced Kiwi crew (many of whom worked on King Kong and the LotR movies, according to the “Making Of” featurette). It’s awesome.

The predictable story is this: The hero, Henry, grew up on a bucolic sheep station, happily headed towards a sheep farming career until one fateful day when (1) his nasty brother kills his pet lamb and terrorizes him with the bloody carcass and (2) his father – a three-time national shearing champion – dies in a freak accident. Utterly traumatized, Henry leaves the farm only to return fifteen years later, still unable to even look at a sheep without a full-blown panic attack. Angus, Henry’s nasty brother, now runs the family farm and is experimenting with genetics to develop an Ubersheep. Misguided environmentalists steal some genetic material from the lab and, one broken test tube later, aggressive carnivorous mutant sheep are running rampant over the station, slaughtering humans left and right. It is up to Henry, his childhood friend and the current farm manager Tucker, and the cute girl environmentalist to save the day. It’s awesome.

The special effects are impressive: all practical effects - like incredibly realistic animatronics, puppets and prostheses, and no CGI that I could determine – done by Weta Workshop, the NZ-based effects folks behind The Chronicles of Narnia, Hellboy, LotR, and many more. Because the humans turn into zombie weresheep if they are bitten by mutant mutton but not killed and eaten, the filmmakers were even able to do homage to American Werewolf in London with a great transformation sequence. There’s a lot of blood and intestines and chewed off limbs for the gore fans as well. It’s awesome.

Black Sheep is an excellent addition to what is becoming my new favorite subgenre, comedic horror, and easily takes its place in the pantheon alongside Slither and Shaun of the Dead. This movie is very funny (to defend against a weresheep attack, throw mint jelly on it – it burns like holy water does a vampire! Hee hee hee hee hee!) with just enough gore and scare (at one point, when a mutant sheep is trying to get at the cornered heroes, I jumped so much that I spilled my tea all over myself. (Yes, I drink decaffeinated lemon tea with honey while watching horror movies.)). If you like a little comedy with your horror, or a little horror with your comedy, or even if you just like sheep, check this ba-a-a-a-d boy out. It’s awesome.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

There is no way it can possibly be Horrible

This is about the coolest thing I've heard about in a l-o-n-g time: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Written, directed and produced by my hero, Joss Whedon, this "limited internet series" is a musical starring Neil Patrick Harris as the villain, Dr. Horrible; Nathan Fillion (mmmmm!) as the hero, Captain Hammer; and Felicia Day (formerly best known as Vi, a soon-to-be Slayer from the final season of Buffy) as Penny, the love interest. Apparently they've started shooting already (scroll down the page about halfway to read Joss's own description of the project). I promise to update when I hear more, if I can stop squealing about the possibility of Nathan Fillion singing!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Blades of Glory - mini-review

All right, that's it. Intervention time: no more Will Ferrell movies for me. I thought Elf was pretty cute, and I'm vaguely interested in seeing Stranger Than Fiction because Emma Thompson in a Will Ferrell movie I just have to see to believe, but otherwise I'm done with it. Why torture myself?

Blades of Glory is not completely irredeemable, I'll grant you. It pretty much skewers the "sport" of modern figure skating dead on with its penchant for sequined costumes, make-up that would have been tacky in the days of disco, and predilection for smothering any sort of athleticism in gaudy pageantry. (I used to like figure skating back in the days of Dorothy Hamill and Scott Hamilton; now it's nearly as florid and overblown as a Miss America contest. And that's just the men's division!) BoG parodies the ridiculousness wondferfully: the hair, the costumes, the tantrums after the scores have been posted, the he-so-has-to-be-gay-are-you-kidding-me-ness of it all. Will Arnett and Amy Poehler (real-life spouses) are perfectly creepy as a brother and sister pairs team who is just a little too close for comfort.

Mr. Mouse and I did snort and chortle several times although the jokes are fatuous at best. When the rating was posted at the start of the movie, it warned of a "comic image of violence" which intrigued us to no end - what could that be? It was completely hilarious and impossible to describe, and Mr. Mouse made me back the movie up so we could watch it again.

Bottom line: If you're a wicked Will Ferrell fan, this one is better than average. If you're not a wicked Will Ferrell fan, I recommend rewatching Caddyshack for the 829th time instead.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lost episode recap – “Ji Yeon” (S4E7) airdate 03/13/08

For the record, trying to watch the show, type and read subtitles is one multitask too many for comfort. I wish I understood Korean – or at least could type without looking at the keyboard!

Das Boat: Frank-the-pilot heads below decks, carrying a brown paper bag. Regina (we’ve heard her on the phone but not seen her before) is on guard outside Desmond and Sayid’s cell. Frank notes that she’s reading her book upside down. This doesn’t seem to faze her much. Frank has brought Sayid and Desmond some food: cans of lima beans. The captives are not impressed with the cuisine and Frank explains that they’re having a problem in the kitchen. Sayid wants to know why they’re still being held captive and reiterates that he still wants to talk to the captain. Frank replies, “No, you don’t.”

On Island: Sun sits pensively by a fire on the beach, worried that Desmond and Sayid have not come back with the rescue after having been gone three days. Jin tries to distract her by talking about baby names; she compliments his improving English but says it’s bad luck to talk names before the baby is born. They banter about boy vs. girl – Jin thinks it’s going to be a girl. He wants to name the daughter Ji Yeon. Sun says the name is beautiful but, again, dear, let’s get off the Island before we pick names.

Flash: Sun puts a big tube of lube in her overnight bag - sassy! Suddenly, she is wracked by cramps as she tries to put on some lipstick. These are clearly more than menstrual cramps and, frightened, she calls the Korean equivalent of 911, asking them to send an ambulance. The operator asks what’s up and Sun gasps that she’s pregnant and something is very wrong. The camera pulls back as she clutches her huge belly and moans. Hmmm – flashforward?

After the commercial, a quick flash: Jin goes to a toy store and buys a huge stuffed panda, saying he has to get to the hospital. His cell rings and he tells the person on the other end that he’s on his way.

On Island: Sun wakes Jin up, saying that Kate and Jack have returned to the beach. Great! At the water trough, Kate sulkily fills Sun in on the goings-on of last episode, still out of sorts from being knocked unconscious by Charlotte. She says she thinks that the Boaties have no intention of rescuing the Losties. Disturbed by this, Sun hunts down Daniel and introduces herself, saying that she’s two months pregnant. Daniel: “Um, congratulations?” Hee. Sun goes on to ask point-blank if Daniel’s crew is going to rescue the Losties. Daniel hems and haws, saying that it isn’t really his call. “Whose call is it?” she wants to know, but he’s not saying. She rushes back to the beach encampment, interrupting some cute English chitchat between Jack and Jin (Jin’s been practicing! Poor Daniel Dae Kim has probably been begging the producers for some non-subtitled lines). In Korean so Jack can’t understand, she instructs her husband to collect enough food for two days and to meet her by their tent in twenty minutes: they’re going to join Locke.

On boat: Sayid finishes his can of lima beans, grumping that he hopes their captors resolve their kitchen issues soon. Just then, someone slides a note under the door. It reads, “Don’t trust the captain.” Well, duh, ya think?

On Island: Oops - Juliet catches Sun going through her things; Sun says she needs more prenatal vitamins. When Juliet presses the issue (e.g. didn’t I just give you a bottle?), Sun admits that they’re going to the Barracks. Juliet gets as urgent as she is able, saying that Locke is planning to stay on the Island and that Sun will die if she doesn’t leave with Jack. Sun doesn’t believe her.

Flash: Sun is wheeled into the hospital, moaning. The aide whispers to a nurse in an aside, “Oceanic Six,” so we finally know these are are flashFORWARDs. In her room, Sun is in quite a lot of pain when her doctor comes in … but he’s a new guy as her regular doctor is unavailable. SUSPICIOUS! Also, the aide’s fingernails are WAY too long for someone in the healthcare field. The new doc rubs Sun’s belly and says that the baby is in distress (he must have magic hands to know that from just a quick touch). He gives her something for the pain and she falls unconscious, calling for Jin.

Jin, meanwhile, loses the stuffed panda when someone steals his cab and then drops his cell phone, which gets run over and crushed. For some reason, he is insistent about having a panda and goes back to get another one from the toy store. The shopkeeper doesn’t want to give him the last one – “It’s on hold” – but a frantic and fairly menacing Jin throws a huge wad of cash at him, grabs the panda and runs out.

On Island: Kate tells Sun and Jin how to get to the Barracks. She also says she has to tell Jack about their defection but she’ll give them a good head start. Juliet comes up and tries to stop them, telling Jin, in English because Sun refuses to translate for her, that his wife will die if she doesn’t get off the Island in three weeks. Sun keeps walking so Juliet totally breaks all the girl-rules and tells Jin that Sun had an affair – she even thought the baby belonged to another man. His English isn’t good but he gets it. Sun whirls around and smacks Juliet in the face, which is sort of a letdown after last week’s excellent chick fight. Jin stares at her, dismay and pain filling his face, then turns and walks away. Sun calls after him.

Sun runs after Jin, trying to explain, begging him to look at her. Jin gathers his fishing poles and walks off; an oblivious Bernard asks if he can go with him and Jin, just trying to get away from his wife, says yes, come. Out in the outrigger, Bernard points out that he and Jin are the only two married guys on the Island. (Have you seen the current divorce rates, Bernard? It’s not that bizarre that it’s only two of you.) Bernard offers some commiseration and some advice, and then he admits to Jin that Rose has cancer. He says that Rose thinks the Island has cured her, but that even so, when the Losties split, they decided to go with Jack because it was the right thing to do - even though Rose might die when they get off the Island. It’s karma, says Bernard. Then Jin – who really has only understood two out of every five words his fishing buddy has been saying - catches a big fish. That’s karma too, exclaims Bernard, we must be the good guys! Suddenly I hear a bell tolling for the good guys.

On the boat: Desmond paces while Sayid listens to a banging in the pipes. He doesn’t think it’s mechanical – he thinks someone is doing the banging. Morse code? Someone trying to send a message? I think so, and I think Sayid thinks so but he’s not saying. Just then, Ecklie fetches Desmond and Sayid to meet with the captain. As they come out on deck, Sayid notices the ‘copter is gone. “On an errand,” says Ecklie. Sayid is skeptical: what kind of frickin’ errand? Then Desmond sees that girl Regina walking across the upper deck, heavy chains draped over her shoulders. She climbs over the railing and casually jumps off the boat, the chains plummeting her to the ocean floor. Desmond and Sayid FREAK OUT, running around ineffectually and shouting for help. The other crewmembers (Mr. Mouse spies Michael, hiding in his hooded sweatshirt!) just look over the railing at the trail of bubbles. A tall, handsome, scruffy man comes out of the bridge and shouts: “Stop! It’s over. She’s gone.” He comes down onto the deck and walks up to Desmond and Sayid. “I’m Captain Gault [?] and I suppose you two have a few questions.”

Does the captain have an Australian accent? Because that just makes him more attractive, frankly. Sayid wants to know why he just let Regina kill herself. The captain is pragmatic, saying that some of his crew seem to be suffering from a “heightened case of cabin fever … because of the close proximity to the Island.” They can’t move further away from the Island because a saboteur has wrecked the engines. When Sayid asks about the rescue, the captain says he has his orders. Orders from whom? Charles Widmore. Desmond’s eyes bulge. The captains says, “That’s right, you know him.”

Down in the captain’s cabin, he brings out the purported flight recorder from Oceanic 815. He explains that Widmore fished it out of the “wreckage” from the bottom of the ocean: the wreckage of the whole plane, filled with all the dead passengers. The captain goes on to say that obviously the wreckage was staged, at great effort and cost – not to mention the fact that 324 dead people had to be inserted into the faked plane wreck. This is not the least of the reasons why Widmore’s men want to find Ben. (Does Jacob’s List have anything to do with the 324 dead bodies put under the water? Hm.)

On Island: Juliet apologizes to Sun, but she had to try everything to stop them from joining with Locke; Sun snaps that it wasn’t Juliet’s place to stop them. Juliet tells Sun that she wants to get off the Island more than anything, and since Sun is her patient, she wants Sun to get off the Island too. She outlines the horrible sequence of symptoms that will lead to Sun’s sickening and dying, and thus the baby’s dying, if Sun doesn’t get off the Island. Juliet tears up as she speaks and Sun realizes that she’s not lying to her.

Flashforward: The doctor wants to do a C-section but Sun wants to wait for Jin. The nurse interrupts, peeking between Sun’s knees, and announcing that the baby is crowning. The doc gives up on the C-section idea and tells Sun to push. There is lots of screaming and groaning and pushing – a squeamish Mr. Mouse leaves the room, grumbling “How does this advance the story?” – then we hear a baby crying. Sun has a daughter. The doctor hands the baby over and I guess he wasn’t a bad guy after all. But, really, how long does it take Jin to get to the hospital?

On the boat: Ecklie leads Desmond and Sayid back to their new accommodations, on what he says is the “quiet side” of the ship. Sayid points out that the ship isn’t moving and, kind of crazily, Ecklie replies, “Well, if you say so.” He then asks what they thought of the captain. Sayid thinks he was surprisingly forthcoming. Ecklie: “The captain tells it like it is – just don’t piss him off.” Ecklie takes them to their cabin but it’s covered in blood (apparently left over from a suicide) and cockroaches. Ecklie orders a crewmember to come mop it up. The crewmember wheels up his mop-bucket … and it’s Michael in the worst-kept Lost secret ever. Sayid doesn’t bat an eye and introduces himself. “Kevin Johnson” shakes his hand.

On Island: Jin brings dinner to Sun as she is tidying their lean-to. She tries to explain why she had the affair but he won’t let her. He says he knew the man he used to be before the Island, and that what she did, she did to that man. But he is different now and he forgives her (– something the old Jin never would have done). Sun tells him that she no longer wants to join to Locke - they have to get off the Island. He agrees and says he’ll do whatever he has to do to help her. One question, though: he just wants to know if the baby is his. It is, she cries, it is. Hugs and crying. Boring.

Flash: Jin runs in with his frigging panda, finally. He greets the guard at the door, saying that he heard the Ambassador just became a grandfather and he has brought a gift from Mr. Paik for the new grandbaby. Wait a minute. He asks if it’s a boy or a girl and the guard says boy. Hold on. Jin grabs a blue ribbon from a flower arrangement to wrap around the panda’s neck as the Ambassador comes out. Scraping and bowing, Jin delivers the panda and relays Mr. Paik’s best wishes. As the door closes, we see that it is not Sun in the bed with the baby. Try to keep up, FM: Mr. Paik is Sun’s father. Jin leaves and a nurse remarks that he didn’t stay long. It’s not my baby, he tells her, but maybe some day – I’ve only been married two months. Whoa! The Jin-scenes have been flashBACKs! Tricky! And a pain in the ass to recap, I might add.

FlashFORWARD to a skinny Sun. The doorbell rings: it’s Hurley. She gives him a big hug, thanking him for coming. He asks if anyone else is coming and, at the negative answer, says “Good.” He meets the baby (“She’s awesome!”) and remarks that she looks just like Jin. “So,” he says, “I guess we should go see him.” And they go to a lovely cemetery where Jin is buried or at least memorialized. The headstone is, obviously, in Korean, but the dates I could make out seem to be “11/1974-9/2004” (to which Mr. Mouse states that Jin looks older than 30). Age aside, what this tells me is that Jin is not one of the Oceanic Six: the date of death would lead you to believe that, per Jack’s cover story, Jin "died in the crash" … and so is still on the Island, either alive or dead.

Next time on Lost. Previously on Lost.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Blood Simple - mini-review

I figured that I needed to do some catching up with the Coen brothers, what with their big Oscar wins for No Country for Old Men (which, no, I haven't seen yet). Mr. Mouse and I like the Coens' stuff a lot. I've seen Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo (one of our all-time favorites), The Big Lebowski and O Brother Where Art Thou; Mr. M can add Raising Arizona to that list. I know I still have some to see, but Blood Simple was what came up next in my DVD queue.

Set in Texas, Dan Hedaya plays a disgusting bar owner who discovers his wife (a babyfaced Frances McDormand) is cheating on him with one of his bartenders. He hires a total sleazebag PI (M. Emmet Walsh) to kill the cuckolding pair for $10,000. The PI fakes the murders and kills the husband instead, taking the money. Things only get more complicated when the bartender thinks the wife killed her husband and he tries to cover for her. At about two-thirds of the way through the movie I asked Mr. Mouse if he thought this would be the sort of film where everyone dies at the end. It comes close!

This 1984 movie was the Coens' first commercial film and seems to have set the stage for their ever more impressive career. It is jam-packed full of plot, as all their movies seems to be, and is rife with arty shots: slowly revolving ceiling fans, blood dripping from a dead man's fingers, shattered glass sparkling like diamonds. The story moves slowly, however, and some of the actors are not quite dynamic enough to carry the momentum through the pokey parts. My friend Paula L. gave me a copy of Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide, a behemoth of a book with over 17,000 films. He calls Blood Simple a "flamboyant homage to film noir made on a shoestring budget ... 'just a bit cold around the heart,'..." I would have to agree 100% with Mr. Maltin.

Now that I've finally seen the Coens' first film, I'm anxious to keep moving through what's left in their catalog that I haven't seen. A great lost weekend would be to watch 'em all, in chronological order to see how the brothers have matured - developed what works, thrown aside what doesn't.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Book review: In Search of Molly Pitcher by Linda Grant De Pauw

In Search of Molly Pitcher, by Linda Grant De Pauw, is a young adult novel that not only seeks to solve the mystery of just who Molly Pitcher was, but also the mystery that confounded all of us in grade school: how the heck am I supposed to write a paper about that?

The protagonist is Peggy McAllister, a thoroughly modern heroine. An eighth grader, Peggy is very bright, a little weird and a lot lonely. Her single mother works long shifts at Wal-Mart to make ends meet; her best buddy is her 90-year old “Greatgramps,” a World War II vet and former private investigator. Peggy is a misfit at school, seemingly friendless, and throws herself into her schoolwork to keep busy. When a local contest offers prize money for “excellence in eighth grade social studies,” Peggy decides to enter with a paper on a great American hero. She picks Molly Pitcher out of a list her social studies teacher provides to the class even though the teacher tries to dissuade her from this selection, saying too few facts are known about Molly. Peggy is tough, however, and more than up for the challenge.

And what a challenge it is. Conflicting stories abound – some calling Molly a sergeant and others a captain; some saying her husband was killed and others just wounded; some saying she carried a pitcher and others a bucket – and very few are based on primary sources. Peggy soldiers on, with support from her Greatgramps and a local historian/historical romance author, collecting a huge amount of evidence about the numerous women who were on the battlefields of the Revolutionary War. She finally develops her thesis that “Molly Pitcher” was not an actual person but instead the embodiment of female martial bravery during the American Revolution. Peggy writes her paper and wins her prize (although her cranky social studies teacher gives her a B- for writing about several women as opposed to one American hero, as was the assignment).

Peggy is a very believable little girl. The quest she goes on to uncover the truth about this American icon is likewise laid out in realistic fashion. In Search of Molly Pitcher is as much an instruction manual on how to undertake a research project as it is a detective story about one of American history’s mysteries. De Pauw takes the reader step by step through the research process her main character follows: figuring out what questions need answering, learning the difference between primary and secondary sources, assembling a bibliography, organizing information into hard evidence and leads for further exploration, and putting the mass of information into cohesive form.

It’s been a long time since I had to write an eighth grade research paper. I’m also not that interested in the American Revolution. But I sat down and read In Search of Molly Pitcher in one sitting, as excited as Peggy as she sorted out the facts from the fiction about her hero. This book takes an innovative approach to getting middle schoolers interested in history. If only someone had done something like this for math when I was in grade school I might be able to solve the mystery that is my checkbook register today.

Postscript: The book jacket illustrator is a Maine artist - cool!

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles - mini-review

Let me get this off my chest before I go any further. I would have enjoyed this movie a whole lot more if the inconsiderate, loud, stupid family of ignorant noisy dumbasses had not been in the theater with me. You know, their kids didn't bother me. This is a kids' movie so there were bound to be kids in the audience. And it's pretty scary for a PG movie, and these kids were a little young for a PG rating anyhow, so of course they're going to screech a bit. And when it wasn't scary, there was a lot of exposition so of course the kids are going to fidget. I can forgive all that. What I can't forgive is the at-volume discussion on whether "free refills" on the giant, non-diet soda mean you can go back more than twice or not. Christ on a pony: you don't need the soda, you defintely don't need the refills, and you certainly don't need to talk about it while the movie (not even the previews - the actual movie) is on. Grrrrrrrr.

Okay. Rant over.

The Spiderwick Chronicles movie, based on the series of children's books of the same name, follows the adventures of Jared Grace, his twin brother Simon and his older sister Mallory as they move into a creepy old mansion and discover that there is much more to the world around them than they thought. The mansion belonged to the Grace children's crazy great-aunt Lucinda whose father, Arthur Spiderwick mysteriously disappeared after writing his Field Guide to the magical creatures of the world. The Graces move in when their parents split up: the kids' mom is struggling to hold her family, and herself, together; Jared is taking the separation very badly. Jared finds the Field Guide while he is rummaging around in a secret attic room - although it is marked with a warning, he reads it. His doing so alerts the fairy world that the Field Guide has been found and very quickly that world makes itself known to Jared and his siblings: the good fairies (brownies, sprites, hobgoblins, griffins) wish to protect the Guide; the bad fairies (goblins, trolls and a very nasty ogre king) want to obtain the Guide for themselves, as it contains all the secrets of the good fairies. Jared, Simon and Mallory are thrust headlong into this battle between good and evil.

Jared and Simon are played, with very nice effect, by the talented and wicked cute Freddie Highmore, most widely seen as Charlie Bucket in Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remake. He does a remarkable job, being on screen nearly the entire film; not only is he believable as two separate personalities who really do act like brothers to each other (plus the twin special effects are impressive) but also with the depth of the struggle Jared goes through to reconcile himself with his parents' split. He's pretty heart-breaking. I read a review somewhere (and I don't remember where, I'm sorry) that said while the magic in this film is thrilling, what The Spiderwick Chronicles is really about is family. I would agree with that. The siblings squabble like siblings; Jared is a terrible brat to his mom (played by Mary Louise Parker who seems to be actually getting younger as the years go by - she looks more like an older sister than the Grace children's mother); but when it's all on the line, they figure out what's important, standing together against all the evil, be it a horde of goblins or, worse, an abandoning father.

The CGI is good (although I'm not sure how well it will translate to DVD) and there's a lot of it. There are really a lot of beasties in this movie: Thimbletack, the house brownie/boggart (voiced by Martin Short); Hogsqueal, the helpful hobgoblin with a fortunate taste for birds (Seth Rogen); Mulgarath the horrific ogre (Nick Nolte); the goblin horde; the swarms of sylphs and sprites; the outstanding griffin; and Andrew McCarthy in a cameo as the Bad Dad.

There is some scary stuff in here for sure; I'm guessing the youngest kids to see this movie got more than they - or their parents - bargained for. The ogre and his goblins are quite vicious - the kids get bitten and clawed and hurt. There is a lot of fighting and goblin blood and goo and gnashing of teeth. Not all of the terror is monsterific, however, as Jared blames his mom for his parents splitting up and there is some family in-fighting (his mom had promised not to yell if he promised not to hit things; both promises are broken under the strain). It all makes The Spiderwick Chronicles a better movie, however, since there's something more at stake than just the fairy realm.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Lost episode recap – “The Other Woman” (S4E6) airdate 03/06/08

Flashback: It’s Juliet’s first week with the Others on the Island. She’s still wearing makeup and her hair is big. She has a required session with the resident shrink, Harper Stanhope, who is wearing stiletto heels. Also, her eyebrows are super-arched and she's pretty cold for a therapist. They are interrupted by Tom who says that Ben wants to see the new doc. Ben is waiting on the porch of a cute little cottage: Juliet’s new home.

Now: Sun helps Juliet with her cute little lean-to on the beach. Jack runs up, saying that Daniel and Charlotte are missing. Jin says he saw them going into the jungle and Jack is unhappy – why didn’t Jin say anything? Because Jack told them that Daniel and Charlotte were friends, is the answer. Well, Jack wants them found and he, Sun, Jin and Juliet grab torches. As they leave the beach, it starts to rain – never a good sign on this Island, as we all know. The search party separates to cover more ground. Out in a clearing in the jungle , Juliet starts to hear the creepy whispering all around her. She whirls and it’s the Others’ shrink, Harper. “Long time no see, Juliet,” says Harper.

Harper is there to deliver a message from Ben: Daniel and Charlotte are headed to the Tempest and if Juliet doesn’t stop them from releasing the gas (I know – it will all be explained later), everyone on Island will die. How is Juliet supposed to stop them? With her gun. Juliet wants to know how Ben can be giving any orders when he’s a prisoner. Harper replies that Ben is exactly where he wants to be. Just then, Jack runs up, waving his own gun. Harper is not impressed and pretty much disappears before their very eyes as the whispering starts again. Neat trick.

Flashback: Big-haired Juliet is sobbing in her lab. She is interrupted by Goodwin. He’s looking for gauze because he’s got a burn on his arm, which she takes a look at. He knows who she is – the new baby doc - and he heard that they lost Henrietta this morning. Juliet tears up again, but he’s not blaming her. He asks if she needs someone to talk to, maybe Harper. Juliet says that she thinks Harper is a mean and spiteful person, that Harper hates her and only talks with Juliet because it’s her job. Ahem, says Goodwin, Harper is my wife. Oops. He doesn’t seem to take it personally, however, probably because Harper sure does seem mean.

Now: Juliet tells Jack that Daniel and Charlotte are headed for the Tempest Station, which is the Island’s power station. She asks for Jack’s help, without all his questions. He doesn’t like it but plays along. In the morning, Daniel and Charlotte consult their map. He’s worried that he can’t do “it.” Charlotte reassures him that he’ll be able to. They hear something and Charlotte pulls a gun (where’d she get a gun?). It’s Kate, barging out of the underbrush with no stealth whatsoever. She and Charlotte share glares.

Oh right, Kate is just on her way back from the Others’ compound and she just happened to run into Daniel and Charlotte. She explains that Miles is Locke's prisoner but unharmed, while the other two bring her up to speed on the boat situation. Charlotte spins a story that they’re out looking for the packs they tossed from the chopper in order to get more phone batteries. Kate – whose hair is RIDICULOUSLY BIG – figures that she's lying and wonders what bag Daniel is carrying if he’s looking for his pack. She takes a look inside Daniel's bag: gas masks. Charlotte comes up behind Kate and hits her over the head, knocking her out. “What?” grunts Charlotte to Daniel’s questioning look. I’m liking Charlotte more and more! Meanwhile, Juliet and Jack are still walking through the jungle and Jack is still pestering her with questions. He asks who Harper was and when she tells him, he asks why she was in therapy. Best line of the episode: “It’s very stressful being an Other, Jack.” And shut up, by the way, you annoying man.

Flashback: Juliet is explaining to Ben how the Island mothers’ immune systems seem to attack the fetuses in the second trimester. Ben is more interested in staring at Juliet when she’s not looking, however. Goodwin pops in with an egg salad sandwich for Juliet and Ben looks JEALOUS. A little later, in her therapy session, an extra-hostile Harper accuses Juliet of sleeping with Goodwin. And apparently it’s true – I guess “egg salad sandwich” is a euphemism! Harper says that if the relationship continues, “there will be consequences.” Harper doesn’t want her husband to get hurt: not by Juliet - she doesn’t want Ben to harm Goodwin!

Now: Locke is skinning a rabbit and getting blood all over himself. Claire questions Locke as to what’s going on with Miles. She wants to talk with him herself, thinking that she might have some success where Locke the big bully hasn’t. Locke doesn’t want her to but it looks like he might give in. Some time later, Locke brings Ben his dinner (the rabbit). Ben’s bruises are fading. He asks Locke if the revolution [against Locke's leadership] has begun yet. He notes that Locke’s people will be pretty ticked off when they find out Locke still doesn’t have a plan – Ben, he always has a plan. Man, he can play Locke like a Stradivarius. But Locke stands up to him a little so Ben tries a different tack, saying that if Locke will allow him a semblance of freedom (a bed to sleep in, utensils with which to eat), he’ll help. Locke says he doesn’t trust Ben but Ben pushes on, saying that the man the people on the boat work for is a common enemy for both him and Locke.

Flashback: Juliet and Goodwin are having a picnic on a secluded bit of beach. Don’t you think this is just asking for trouble – didn’t they just get warned? Goodwin wants to come out about their relationship but Juliet thinks that’s a bad idea because Ben wouldn’t like it. Goodwin scoffs: everyone knows Ben has a crush on Juliet. “What’s Ben gonna do?” Well, he’s going to send Goodwin out to impersonate a plane crash survivor that will ultimately get him killed. That’s what he’s going to do.

Now: Juliet and Jack find Kate in the bushes, hurt and whimpering. Juliet says she’ll go get some water for her. Kate tells Jack that Charlotte hit her and that they had gas masks. Jack, recalling that Daniel and Charlotte were heading for the power station, calls for Juliet to tell her about the gas masks. But Juliet has gone on through the jungle, leaving Jack and Kate behind. I would have done that too – they’re annoying.

In the compound, Locke has brought Ben aboveground. Ben gives Locke the combination to a safe hidden behind a picture. Inside is a VCR tape marked “Red Sox.” “I taped over the game,” says Ben. Heh – don’t tell Jack. They play the tape: Penny’s dad, Charles Whidmore, is on it, viciously beating a blindfolded man, one of Ben’s people. Widmore is the one who owns the boat, who’s been trying to find the Island. Locke asks how Widmore even found out about the Island but Ben has no idea. He says that Widmore wants to exploit the Island and will do everything he possibly can to possess it and its powers. Ben then pulls out a file he’s compiled on Widmore and gives it to Locke, apologizing for not handing it over sooner but it was the only bargaining chip he had. One more thing, however - Locke wants to know who Ben’s man on the boat is. “Okay,” says Ben, “but you might want to sit down.”

Kate and Jack track Juliet. Jack pesters her about why she left the compound. She tells him that the people on the boat know she’s a fugitive. Because it’s always all about Kate. They stare meaningfully at each other. Bleh. Meanwhile, ahead of them, Juliet has found the Tempest station. She opens it up and goes in, gun drawn.

Flashback: Ben has invited Juliet over for dinner. He’s all giddy and acting like it’s a date; she thought it was going to be an actual dinner party and has brought a couple dozen rolls. He thanks her for taking care of the two kids who were on Jacob's List that the Others took from the Tailies. She says that since they’ve gotten all the Listed people from the tail section, couldn’t Goodwin come home from his undercover assignment? Ben is resistant, insinuating that Goodwin has become involved with Ana Lucia, but says he’ll be back soon enough. Yeah, in a body bag, if I remember correctly.

Now: Juliet gets to the control room where Daniel, in full Hazmat regalia and gas mask, is trying to override the power station’s computer. She gets in his face with the gun and he is very surprised to see her. Daniel seems surprised a LOT. She stares him down and I get nervous that Charlotte will sneak up behind her and hit her over the head like Kate. I do have a little more confidence in Juliet, however. Daniel says he’s trying to render the gas inert and for a moment she believes him … and then, sure enough, Charlotte sneaks up behind Juliet and whacks her with a pipe. There’s an AWESOME chick fight, redhead vs. blonde, with Juliet possibly getting the worst of it until she finally grabs the gun. Charlotte insists that Daniel is trying to decommission the apparatus so that Ben cannot use the gas against the people on the Island. “He did that once before, remember?” Juliet comes pretty close to pulling the trigger but Daniel shuts down the machine in time. Everyone looks exhausted and relieved. Juliet also looks like she doesn’t know what side she’s on.

Flashback: Juliet is in her lab when Ben comes in. She’s reading Jack’s file – she thinks he can help Ben with his spinal tumor. Ben is somber, however, and tells her to come with him. He leads her out into the hillside to Goodwin’s dead and impaled body. I forget who killed him – was it Ana Lucia? “Why did you bring me out here?” she asks. “You mean instead of his wife?” he sneers. Juliet starts screaming at Ben that he did this on purpose because of her relationship with Goodwin. Ben gets angrily intense as only he can and snarls at her: “How can you possibly not understand? You’re mine!” Then, quite calmly, he tells her to take as much time as she needs, and walks back to the compound.

Now: Juliet and Charlotte come out of the power station. Kate and Jack run up, Kate waving her gun around angrily. Juliet vouches for Charlotte; Charlotte takes Kate inside to see how Daniel has secured the facility. Alone at last, Juliet tells Jack that Ben sent her here to kill Daniel and Charlotte. She tells him that the boat people are here to wage war against Ben and that Ben will win. And when Ben wins, Jack is not going to want to be anywhere near Juliet: “Because he thinks that I’m his. And he knows how I feel about you.” Jack gawks at her and then makes his move. Ooh: smoochies! I hope Kate sees this because that would be hilarious. You know, Matthew Fox just doesn’t have any chemistry with anyone.

Back at the compound, Hurley and Sawyer are playing horseshoes. Hurley’s good at it. The boys look up to see Ben, in clean clothes and carrying bed linen, going into his old cottage. “See you at dinner,” smirks Ben.

Next time on Lost. Previously on Lost.

Ocean's Thirteen - mini-review

Mr. Mouse and I are hugenormous Ocean's Eleven (the G. Clooney version) fans. I think we actually may have first seen it in the theater (shocking!), and between owning the DVD and seeing it on cable, it would probably not be an exaggeration to say we've seen the movie twenty times. Ocean's Twelve we saw once. Suffice it to say that we put Ocean's Thirteen into our DVD player with some trepidation, worried about the whole "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" potentiality.

We needn't have worried. While Thirteen does not attain the lofty heights of Eleven, it sure beats the hell out of its immediate predecessor. For one, they're back in Vegas. (Mr. Mouse and I love Las Vegas for some strange reason. It's gaudy, crowded and completely unnatural - all things that we do not like - and yet we love it. Maybe it's being able to have bloody marys 'round the clock, I don't know. But I digress.) The Ocean gang belongs in Las Vegas and, in Thirteen, they look comfortable again. Their buddy Reuben has been swindled by Al Pacino's weaslley and uber-rich casino owner, Willy Banks, and Danny Ocean and the boys come home to avenge their friend. The plot doesn't really matter. It's overly complicated and completely outrageous. The point is that the guys are all working together again for a common goal: knocking over another casino.

Another good thing is they've completely gotten rid of Julia Roberts this go-round. At the very beginning of the movie, Rusty (Brad Pitt) asks Danny if Tess (Julia Roberts) and Isabelle (Catherine Zeta-Jones) are coming. Danny says, "This isn't their fight." And with one fell swoop, they've dispensed with the balls-and-chains. The token woman, Pacino's casino manager, is played by Ellen Barkin and damn, she is foine in this movie, simply steaming up the screen whenever she's on it.

Like Eleven, the more you see Ocean's Thirteen the more you'll pick up - the jokes and the references, both the straight ones and the meta ones, fly by very quickly. In the long run, I don't think this third (and final?) installment of the Ocean's stories is as quite as charming as the first one, but it's still entertaining and full of pretty people having a lot of fun together.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

New Amsterdam - discuss amongst yourselves

Just when I was deciding that the Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was worth its spot in the barren wasteland that is my DVR these days, Fox goes and yanks it off the schedule. In its place: New Amsterdam. I just finished the first episode and, I must admit, it's pretty good. It's about this detective who is under a spell cast by a ethnic wise-woman which makes him youthful and immortal, so for the last 400 years or so he's been trying to become human again, but he solves crimes and helps people in the meantime.

Wait. Haven't I seen this before? Don't I own all five seasons on DVD? No, sillies: this detective is not a vampire - he's human; he's a real cop, not an unlicensed PI; he lives in NYC, not LA; the wise-woman was a Native American whose life he saved, not a gypsy he murdered; and to become human he must find his heart's true love. I repeat - it's really pretty good. It's a fantastical drama with more drama than fantasy. The writing is well above average (ahem, crapass Moonlight) and there are some clever lines. The acting is solid; there's actually character development for the majority of the cast, including secondary roles. The lead guy, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, is pretty but not unrealistically so and he does a very good American accent for a Dane. (Not that I know what a Danish accent sounds like, of course.) I hope New Amsterdam has some legs on it - I'd like to see where it goes.

Side-note with respect to the Terminator t.v. show: Summer Glau had better watch it as she's clearly being typecast. This is the third show she's been on where they've showcased her dancing ability: first she was a ballerina ghost in a stand-alone Angel episode; then she did a joyful folk dance in an episode of Firefly; and most recently she got to be a ballerina again in Terminator - or at least a robot imitating a ballerina. What's next if Terminator gets cancelled - a gender-bending Leroy in Fame: The Next Generation? I shudder to think (and so should her agent).

Monday, March 3, 2008

Lost my mind, or so you'd think

I think Lost is the root of more fan-generated discussion and theories, conspiracy- and otherwise, than any other show in the history of television. The X-Files may be runner-up but I suspect that even in its heyday, it never had the fan-base Lost does. I don't tend to get caught up in the mad tangles of online Lostfanwank (to misquote from a Buffy episode, people in chatrooms have the worst spelling). But, as a purveyor of television recapitulation, I feel I should contribute at least a little bit.

So here I am, doing my part to fan the flames as best I can. This one I find absolutely hiLARious and is my current favorite. It's excerpted from the rampant Lost discussion on Whitney Matheson's PopCandy blog:

foote23uk wrote:

"So the 'numbers' of 4 8 15 16 23 and 42 are all retired New York Yankees numbers, and there are of course the references to the Red Sox winning the World Series, and now tonight Mr. Widmore's auction paddle is #755, which is the famous record number of career home runs that Hank Aaron finished with that Barry Bonds eclipsed this past season. I'm not saying any of this explains anything about the show, other than the fact that methinks the producers may be baseball fans....."

So, if we follow that through, the Black Smoke Monster is ... George Steinbrenner?

My own recent observations were that (a) the actor who played the doctor in "The Constant" was also in the episode of Eli Stone that aired right after Lost and that I watched on my DVR, (b) the actor who plays Penny's father was also in the episode of Torchwood that aired Saturday night and that I watched on my DVR, and (c) Matthew Fox and the actor who plays Richard (a/k/a the Eyeliner Other) were both in that appalling movie, Smoking Aces, that I watched on my DVR. Clearly those nefarious Lost writers are tracking my viewing habits. If I disappear from the blogosphere and don't post for eight years, y'all will know they got me.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Book review: Falconer by John Cheever

My copy of this book is, I believe, from the original soft cover printing in 1977. The cover and frontispiece are filled to bursting with raves: “The outstanding #1 bestseller,” “Cheever’s triumph … a great American novel,” “Marvelous, extraordinary…,” “… the year’s likely literary event.” With all due respect to the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsweek, et al., book critics of the mid- to late-70s, I just don’t see it.

Falconer is the story (and by “story” here I mean “loosely-connected, disjointed, rambling stream of consciousness”)” of Ezekiel Farragut, a swinging, heroin-addicted college professor who has been locked away in Falconer Prison (hence the title – this book has nothing to do with birds of prey per se) for murdering his brother with a fireplace poker during a mundane disagreement. For 220-odd pages, we are drawn into Farragut’s twisted, pathetic world, observing the dreary day to day existence of the Falconer prisoners: the visits to the methadone clinic, lock-downs, chow time, work assignments, regularly scheduled mass masturbation in the tunnels beneath the jail, secret rendezvous with his much younger prisoner lover. We also learn of Farragut’s life before he was imprisoned: his uncomfortable marriage to a beautiful, scornful woman; his many, many affairs; his discomfort with his family. Through all of this it is insinuated that Farragut is actually better off in jail, whether he realizes it or not.

Every now and again there was a bit of linear plot, which was refreshing. Farragut’s prison lover escapes from Falconer during a visit to the jail by the cardinal; later, Farragut himself successfully escapes in a body bag meant for the corpse of his recently deceased cellmate. The problem was that I just didn’t care what happened. I found every character to be, one way or another, ignorant and offensive so I wasn’t sympathetic to any of them. In addition, since the novel is not written as straight narrative but rather as trippy free-form prose, there was no clearly delineated plot or characterization to follow that would make me interested in the book’s denizens.

There were a couple of passages that caught my eye with their lucidity. With regard to the concept of applause: “It had always astonished and deeply moved [Farragut] to realize that so diverse and warlike a people could have agreed on this signal of enthusiasm and assent.” The other was spoken by a prison guard after a long day of warding off a potential riot: “'Long ago when they first invented the atomic bomb people used to worry about its going off and killing everybody, but they didn’t know that mankind has got enough dynamite right in his guts to treat the fucking planet to pieces.'” Ain’t that the truth?

There’s certainly some wisdom contained in this novel, and some pretty passages as well. But if you are like me and prefer your stories to have a coherent plot, Falconer is not for you – no matter how much they loved it in the 1970s.