Thursday, February 25, 2010

Very Old School

Now that was more like it.  Last night's episode of Lost, "The Lighthouse" was everything I had been waiting for this season.  As Hurley said to Jack, it was "very old school."  About the only thing missing was Julie Bowen, but c'est la vie.  Before we get into the details of last night's episode, a brief addendum about last week.  In my recap, I complained that Sawyer seemed way too gullible.  But Doc Jensen at has set me straight.  In his analysis of that episode, he posits that Sawyer is just going along with FLocke's plan so that he can ultimately protect his friends.  He's in fact hatching a long con of his own.  I like this theory, and its very consistent with the new "hero" Sawyer that we saw last season.  Sawyer may be in a really dark place right now, but I just don't see him selling out his fellow castaways, even Jack and Sayid, but especially Kate and Hurley.

But forget Sawyer, this episode was about JACK.  Finally, Jack was front and center again, the way he was throughout the first season.  I'm convinced that he, not Locke or anyone else, is the central character of the show.  In fact, I'll go out on a limb and predict that Jack is not only a "candidate," he is the candidate, whatever that turns out to actually mean.  The man who has spent the whole series fighting against the Island will ultimately find redemption when he fully embraces the Island and accepts the role that Jacob has for him.  And last night we saw that Jack has come along way, but he also has a long way yet to go.

I liked the way that Jack has come to terms with his flaws and failures.  He confesses to Hurley that he's "broken" and accepts that he wrecked his relationship with Kate.  He can openly admit that he chased his father's ghost to the cave (in the past, he wouldn't even admit to himself that he had seen visions of Christian Shepherd).  On the other hand, while he was drawn back to the Island in pursuit of his destiny, he is once again doubting the Island's significance.  But he is clearly searching for answers, as evidenced by his eagerness to follow Hurley once Hurley passed along Jacob's message.  And Jacob has Jack's number.  He definitely knows what buttons to push to get under Jack's skin, and he seems to have a limitless faith that Jack will eventually end up where Jacob wants him.  So what is the Lighthouse?  Is it really a signal to outsiders, or simply Jacob's spyglass to the world?  Or could it be something that reflects the person using it?  Maybe it only exists to provoke Jack.  Are there really people coming to the Island or was that part of Jacob's ruse?  I was reminded that Jacob whispered to FLocke when he died that "They are coming."  I assumed he was referring to our time travelers, but maybe not.  Regardless, I thought the Lighthouse was far more impressive and fascinating than the cave that FLocke took Sawyer to last week.

In the parallel world, Jack was dealing with the same father issues that have haunted him on the Island, but with a twist.  Jack's a Dad!  That's crazy!  (Who's the mom -- Sarah, or someone else?).  Jack was determined to escape the shadow of his father and forge a new path.  He told his son that he didn't want to pass on the same lofty expectations and fear of failure that Jack felt burdened with from Christian.  In that moment, Jack seemed to make peace with his father in a way that he has never been able to in the other timeline.   For the second straight week, I loved the parallel storyline.  I loved that Jack seems so discombobulated, as if his Island memories are lurking in his subconscious somewhere.  He couldn't remember when his appendix was removed.  Was it when he was a 8 or 9 years old, as his mother reminded him, or was it on the Island when Juliet removed it in the tent?

So many other great things to touch on in this episode.  Hurley is quickly becoming the MVP of the season.  He makes every scene better.  I love the dry comedy of his conversations with Jacob, and I love that he worked in both an Indiana Jones reference and an Obi-Wan Kenobi reference.  I chuckled when Hurley echoed fan hypotheses regarding the Adam and Eve skeletons in the cave.  And then there's Claire.  She's just all kinds of crazy.  What does her association with FLocke signify?  Did FLocke/MIB/Smokey lure her into the jungle that night so that she would be "infected"?  Did he prevent her from time travelling with the other castaways?  Does this confirm that the Christian that we've seen on the Island is just another manifestation of FLocke?  Do we need to be nervous for Jin?  My hunch is that FLocke will use Claire and Jin to infiltrate the Temple.

All in all, I thought this was a packed episode that really moved things forward.  The roller coaster has begun, and I'm definitely ready for the rest of the ride.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Cracked Windows

Last month, I criticized Warner Bros. for its wrong-headed move to delay the distribution of new releases to Netflix.  Last week, they reached a similar deal with discount rental company Redbox.  Again, the studio wants an exclusive 28-day window to sell their new releases on DVD before they are made available more cheaply for consumers to rent.  But in reality, this move will do very little to boost up DVD sales and will only encourage piracy by making it more difficult for consumers to conveniently and affordably access the content that they want.  According to Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, they need the separate home viewing windows to maximize "the best economics for the studio."

It is at least a little ironic, then, that while one studio defends its prerogative to space out home viewing windows, another studio strikes a new blow against the theatrical window for motion pictures.  In 2009, blockbusters like Avatar, The Blind Side, Up, and The Hangover demonstrated that long, successful runs at the local theater are still both possible and profitable.  And when a film establishes itself as a huge hit in theaters, it generally carries that success over into the home video market.  The Hangover has already become the best selling comedy DVD of all time.  But Disney has decided to go the other direction and actually shrink the theatrical window for the upcoming U.K. release of Alice in Wonderland. 

This is counterintuitive for at least a couple of reasons.  First, Disney has hinged a huge component of the marketing for Alice on the fact that it is 3D, creating the impression that the film is the kind of event that has to be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated.  This perception is undermined when the company is rushing to get the DVD out into stores.  Second, Alice in Wonderland is an "evergreen" property for Disney.  For most people, Disney's 1951 animated classic is the definitive reference point for this story, and Disney has been able to leverage that association over the years into its consumer products and theme park divisions.  Tim Burton's new take is a way for Disney to keep the property fresh so that it has new opportunities to profit from it in the future.  Thus, it is in their best interest for the 2010 film to be a big event that establishes a new touchstone for today's audiences.  That result won't happen if the film is pushed out of theaters too soon, leaving only a fleeting impression on popular culture.

If studios want to fully reap the benefits of their movies, they have to take the long view, which necessitates an understanding that the theatrical exhibition of movies is not only irreplaceable, it is the foundation upon which future success is built.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lost: Recruiting Class

Last night's episode of Lost, "The Substitute," was a definite improvement over the previous week, but I'm still concerned about the glacial pace that continues in the plot unfolding within the Island timeline.  On that front, the entire episode can basically be reduced to "Fake Locke/MIB/Smokey recruits Sawyer."  That's really the only thing that happened.  Oh sure, there were some interesting scenes with Richard Alpert, and that weird little boy that FLocke kept seeing (Jacob's ghost?), and they teased a few of the big Island mysteries (Jacob's Lists!  The numbers!) without really providing any real answers, and more people are headed to the Temple (that place is going to get old real quick), but it was really all about FLocke seducing Sawyer.  Which was pretty easy for him to do.  I'm actually pretty surprised that Sawyer, the consumate con man, was so easily won over.  I did, however, dig Sawyer's complete nonchalance with the idea that some thing was inhabitating Locke's form.  Didn't phase him a bit.  I guess the Dharma whiskey helped (and his excellent observation that the real Locke was always afraid, even when he pretended not to be). 

So what do you think is the ultimate endgame for FLocke?  When he tells Sawyer that they have to leave the Island together, does he mean all the 815ers have to leave together, much like the criteria for the Oceanic Six to return to the Island, or does he just need one recruit to assist him?  And why were only the men's names written in Jacob's cave?  We know that Kate and Ilyana were also touched by Jacob in the season 5 finale, so where were their names (I'm therefore also concluding that "Kwon" referred only to Jin and not to Sun)?  And is there a greater significance to FLocke acting as a substitute for Locke beyond getting access to Jacob?

Speaking of substitutes, for the first time this season I can say that I was genuinely more engaged by the storyline in the alternate timeline, because we finally got spend some time with the REAL John Locke again.  Honestly, I didn't realize how much I missed him, but his absence is definitely felt.  In the new off-Island timeline, John is actually very much the same man we've always known.  Although some of the details of his life are better -- he and Helen are engaged, and apparently his relationship with his father is different this time around -- he is still secretly raging against his limitations.  "Don't tell me what I can't do!" is still his refrain, and he once again unsuccessfully tried to embark on his Walkabout in Austrailia.  But then, something changed.  An encounter with the ever-pragmatic Rose convinced him to accept his reality and move on with his life.  He seemingly affects his fate and is content to become a substitute teacher (I guess it beats working for Randy at Hurley's box company). 

And so Lost's resident Believer, its Man of Faith, was actually buried twice last night.  Will he ever return?  I continue to believe that the real Locke has some important role to play in the resolution of the show.   Ultimately, I think there is no adequate substitute for this essential character.  But I also continue to be distracted by the winks at the audience that laden the new timeline.  Ben Linus the European history teacher was hilarious, raging about the coffee maker in the teacher's lounge, but isn't a little much to think that Locke would encounter Hurley, Rose, and Ben all in rapid succession like that?  All in all, it was a much more satisfying episode, but I'm still looking forward to a little more plot progression.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Last Night's Lost

After a brain-cooking, lightning-paced 2-hour season premiere, my hopes were set high that the final season of "Lost" would unfold like a freight train of tight plotting and answers to burning questions.  Alas, following last night's episode I was initially left with this disappointing thought:  "Wow, they just burned off an entire episode simply to set up the return of Claire."  With so few episodes left in the series, this is nothing to take lightly!  But upon further reflection, I recalled the producers declaration that they would be much more concerned with resolving the characters than they would be with resolving mysteries and mythology.  So what did we learn about our characters last night?

The episode title, "What Kate Does," is a play on the title of theseason 2 episode "What Kate Did."  It is also, I think, a reference to the fact that what Kate does, and has always done throughout the series, is run.  Last night she was on the run again, in both of the parallel storylines.  In the Island Present, Kate was running after Sawyer, only to discover that her "backup plan" was completely uninterested in her.  Sawyer was heartbreaking in this episode.  He quickly moved on from his bitterness (toward Jack, and even Sayid) and settled into brokeness.  He no longer blames Jack for Juliet's death, he blames himself. And he's not getting over it anytime soon.  He's clearly a man with nothing to live for and nothing to lose, and based on the preview for next week, it looks like he is perfectly positioned to listen to the pitch for whatever it is that Fake Locke/MIB/Smokey is selling.  I also liked that Jin got a few brief moments to shine as he confronted Kate on her motivation for leaving the temple.  Another highlight -- Miles telling Jack he'd be "waiting in the food court."   I like that this place has become so bizarre that everyone just takes it in stride now.

In the New Timeline, Kate actually stopped running and took a brief detour to assist Claire, who was experiencing premature labor after Kate hijacked her taxi.  Of course, we remember that Kate was also with Claire when Claire gave birth to Aaron on the Island, and I get the symmetry that Kate and Claire and Aaron are all connected to each other, no matter what reality we're in.  But was there anything else significant about this?  That was my big problem with this episode.  For an episode that was centered on Kate, I don't feel like they really they did anything to advance her character.  She was not brought any closer to the resolution that this last season is promising.

Two other thoughts in closing:  First, the inclusion of Dr. Ethan "I don't want to stick you with any needles unless I have to" Goodspeed was hilarious, but it highlights another problem.  I have to think that the audience is supposed to believe that this new rebooted timeline has consequence and significance.  But the Ethan bit is such an obvious wink-wink joke that it really undermines the reality of the reality, if you will.  It causes me to view this storyline as just an amusing "what if," which is probably not what the show wants us to be thinking.

Second, what do we make of Sayid?  After the premiere, some fans speculated that he was now the reincarnation of Jacob.  I think it's pretty clear now that that is not the case.  But what of the "infection" and "darkness" that he has?  It reminded me of Rousseau's description of what happened to her colleagues.  I suppose we'll learn more about what is happening to Sayid as we learn what happened to Claire during the last three years.  My guess is that this will culminate with Sayid having to make a big moral choice about who he really is -- is he really a killer or will he embrace the better angels of his nature?  In conclusion, this episode primarily focused on re-positioning some of our castaways for future events.  Instead of running, "Lost" was really just running in place.  I'm hopeful it regains its forward momentum next week.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Disney's Animation Gold Rush

Disney/Pixar's Up has become only the second animated film in history to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.  The first was Beauty and the Beast in 1991.  Although the nomination was widely predicted after the Academy decided to expand the number of Best Picture nominees to ten, it is still a remarkable achievement since animated films have been largely relegated to the Best Animated Feature category since its creation in 2001.  Overall, Up garnered an impressive five nominations, including Best Animated Feature, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Sound Editing. 

In addition, The Princess and the Frog was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Animated Feature and two nominations for Best Song ("Almost There" and "Down in New Orleans").  The nominations are a nice validation for Disney's return to traditional hand-drawn animation given the film's mediocre box office.

Perhaps the only disappointment for Disney Animation is that the charming Partly Cloudy was not nominated for Best Animated Short.  But overall, it's a pretty good day for John Lasseter and his crew.