Friday, May 30, 2008

End Of Season Review - House M.D.

While compiling our weekly views of how the previous seven days of TV had affected us, we noticed that the first half of House's fourth season had often been the highlight. Coming off an appalling third season, with its format badly in need of an overhaul, season four began with an almost clean slate. His usual acolytes scattered to the four winds, House was coerced into finding three new minions, which he did by way of a selection process that took up the first half of the season. It was pure genius, allowing the show to keep its dramatic side confined to disposable subplots (diseases of the week), while allowing the comedic half to flourish with withering putdowns, mischievous gameplaying, and petty squabbling. I think I said at the time that the show had been waiting to find its voice, and finally it had. Forget about the dreary seriousness of season three, with its silly bad cop subplots, and forget the formulaic nature of the show. It had finally found a way to rise above those limitations.

Much criticism is made of the rigid format and how the show cannot escape it, but it can wiggle around within it, which tends to take the attention off House and his machinations. Season four changed a lot, including pushing the medical drama just ever so slightly out of the spotlight, and concentrating more on House and his gameplaying. Plus, he wasn't in danger of being "cured" by his colleagues, and no one had yet another freakout about his drugtaking. It allowed Hugh Laurie to do what he does best; supersnarky misanthropy tempered with flashes of intense humanity. Agonising over how to cure House (which can often waste several episodes of a season) was almost entirely removed, except in an episode in the second half of the season, No More Mr. Nice Guy, in which Kutner suspects House is suffering from neuro-syphilis which could be responsible for his terrible personality. Of course, this is a joke played by House, but much of the episode featured House's colleagues worrying that they would ruin him as a doctor by curing him of his misanthropy, much as the show would be ruined by such a plot development. It was a nice way of acknowledging that they're not going to be messing with House for a while.

At least, they're not going to waste time with the staff of Princeton-Plainsboro trying to figure him out. Instead, in a nice twist, House himself might want to trigger a change in himself, with the two-part finale throwing him into a situation where one of the few things he cares about, Wilson's friendship, is in jeopardy. Due to his irresponsibility, House and Wilson's girlfriend Amber get into a bus crash just after she takes flu pills. With her kidneys damaged in the crash, she cannot process the amantadine in the pills. At the end of the final episode, Amber dies in Wilson's arms after he shuts off her life support, and we sobbed. Seriously. Like, for a long time after the episode ended. Stupid TV show.

Perhaps next season this new antagonism will provide much of the drama, as House tries to win back the friendship of his only friend, perhaps by becoming a better person. The prospect of such an arc is potentially interesting, as change has to come from within, and I'd much rather watch Hugh Laurie battle with his demons instead of putting up with conversations between his colleagues about what to do with him, conversations that are rarely done well and can drastically shift the balance of the show from humour into boring hand-wringing and frustrating contrivance. However, it will almost certainly feature the removal of one of the most appealing features of the show; House and Wilson's mostly good-natured game-playing. As I've said before, their interaction is one of the most entertaining things on TV, and losing that would suck. That change in tone at the start of season four might be temporary, but if Wilson's reaction to the sight of House recovering from the coma he entered while trying to diagnose Amber is anything to go by, we're in for a rough patch. Ingrate!

As I say, the first half of the season was especially good, with House bouncing off a large roomful of well-sketched characters, with his other colleagues stripped of their angst over his personality and becoming entertaining foils for him. They even fixed Foreman, who had previously just been a sulky minion and ended up becoming almost an equal to House. His arc was especially well thought out and depicted, with Omar Epps at first disgusted with himself for becoming the thing he most hated (i.e. an approximation of House), and then becoming reconciled with it.

That the second half of the season, after House had chosen his new team, was not up to the first nine episodes was not that great a surprise, especially with the disease of the week drama becoming more prominent, but there were consolations. Frozen, featuring House diagnosing an snow-bound Mira Sorvino via webcam was particularly entertaining, and Living The Dream, with House kidnapping the star of his favourite daytime soap was funny too. All the while, the tone of the show remained lighter than it has been, and even though the formula of the show reasserted itself in later episodes, I still felt that my support for the show even through its most tedious interludes had more than paid off. As Canyon said prior to watching the finale, even if the show can often feel like it is doing the same thing over and over again, there are very few, if any, shows on TV right now that do this kind of thing so well. The dialogue is better than pretty much anything else on TV. It's funny, it's smart, it's philosophical. If it veers into sentimentality every now and again, that's the price we pay for the rest of the intelligent writing showcased almost every week. The show doesn't get enough credit for that.

Sadly, with the strike shutting the show down for a while, once more we had an arc damaged by not getting enough screentime, as with CSI's Warrick arc. Amber quickly switched from Cutthroat Bitch to Best Girlfriend Ever, and if you had an inkling about what was lying in wait for her in the finale, you would possibly have found the whole thing contrived. Luckily we had no idea what was going to happen, but still, it could have done with more room to breathe. That's not a proper criticism of the show, though, and Canyon's praise still stands. The showrunners did the best they could with little time to properly set up that two-parter.

And boy, did it work out well. Writers Peter Blake, David Foster, Russel Friend, and Garrett Lerner (working from a story by Doris Egan) went all out over the two episodes (called House's Head and Wilson's Heart), treating the viewer to interactive hallucinations, spectacular set-pieces, arc resolutions (poor Thirteen finding out she was positive for Huntington's while we were already upset about Amber was simultaneously cruel and brilliant), and heart-rending goodbyes. It was devastating and amazing and brutal and a million other things. It was easily the best of all the season finales we've seen so far, with Reaper, Ugly Betty, and Lost yet to come (not to mention Battlestar Galactica's mini-season finale and the last episode of Doctor Who).

That said, while I liked the whole finale overall, the first part was, sadly, overdirected to the point of obnoxiousness by Greg Yaitanes (who I have railed against before). If ever there was a TV director who is determined to get noticed enough to win a film career, it's him, filling the episode with annoying Sonnenfeld-esque close-ups, flashy lighting, and Cuddy stripping. Here is a picture of her post-strip. I'm not going to contribute to the uncomfortable memory of poor Lisa Edelstein having to dress like a schoolgirl and rub her butt on a pole.

In contrast, Katie Jacobs, helmer of the second half of the finale, was relatively restrained, which was just what the more emotional episode needed. With more subdued editing and framing, we were treated to an emotional rollercoaster, perfectly judged and beautifully performed (there's a good chance Laurie's usual award nominations will be joined by some for Robert Sean Leonard and Anne Dudek). Okay, I will admit that there was one good sequence by Yaitanes in the first part, namely the dazzling bus crash flashback in the final scene. It's big, scary, and superbly shot, and made me regret grumbling about the rest of the episode. That is, until I realised that the whole sequence was very reminiscent of the plane crash flashback at the end of Peter Weir's underrated drama Fearless, even down to the shots of hands reaching towards each other, a tunnel of light, spinning and debris and carnage, etc. I don't blame Yaitanes from borrowing from that sequence, as it's great. If he didn't borrow, then the guy knows how to create good scenes that just happen to really resemble scenes from a well-known movie. I guess that's a skill too.

Other than the possibility of an organic transition from misanthropic House to a more caring, sharing House (who would still hopefully be enough of a jerk to be entertaining; turning him into Santa would be absurd), I have no idea what to expect of the new season. Will the new team leave? Thirteen now knows her days are short, so there's a possibility she won't be around for long. Will that mean a return for Cameron? That would mean more screentime for Jennifer Morrison, whose only purpose this season seemed to be making sure she stands as far away from ex-fiancee Jesse Spencer as possible while still remaining on the same show (it was as if they were playing hide and seek on set, which was both funny and sad at the same time). All I want to know is, will the show stay funny? Or will this be Tritter-Redux, with House and Wilson at each other's throats? After the awesomeness of season four, that's the last thing we need.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lost - Via Domus

Going by my usual timetable, I should have written a large post about the first part of the Lost season four finale by now, filled with the usual screencaps of Michael Emerson's face, but as that episode felt so incomplete (with its bizarre catch-up montage at the end), I thought it best to wait until the whole thing had aired. That said, if the tragic event hinted at in the finale preview clip that aired on Sky earlier today is anything to go by, I'm going to be crying for so long I might not ever get around to it.

Still, I feel I should write something about the show to mark the first airdate of the last episode of this amazing season, and it was by pure chance I got a cheap copy of the Ubisoft game Lost: Via Domus last week. Yesterday I started playing it. Today I finished it. Let's just say it's not much of a challenge, game-wise, and it's lacking in a lot of other respects too. Believe me, I would have liked to write something positive today, but it's not to be. Even with the best will in the world, I can't praise what is an ill thought out experience.

The plot revolves around an amnesiac survivor of the Oceanic 815 crash, and his efforts to discover his identity and his past, details of which are portioned out throughout the island sections of the game and, cleverly, within flashbacks. Those sections are the most unusual in the game, starting when you encounter the ghost of your ex-lover and journalistic rival, Lisa, who is hanging around the island in a Christian Shephard stylee. These moments trigger a bleary memory of a ripped-up photograph. To relive the full flashback cutscene you have to figure out what the pieces of photo represent, and then, while seeing a muted version of the cutscene, take that photo, all the while trying to find the right spot (difficult when you also have to get the camera focused properly). It's a lot of fun (and not as complicated as it sounds), as are the little plot Easter Eggs you find afterwards, that link you to a dastardly Hanso Foundation plot involving sarin gas, as well as Hanso employee Thomas Mittelwerk who, in the Lost Experience ARG, showed little remorse in killing large amounts of people in order to change the values of the Valenzetti Equation and thus save humanity.

Sadly, other than the Hanso links and a couple of bizarre inclusions (which I'll list in a moment), the game itself is very little fun. Sad to say it, but other than Henry Ian Cusick (sounding nothing like himself), Yunjin Kin, Daniel Dae Kim, Andrew Divoff, Emilie De Ravin, and the great Michael Emerson, the majority of the voice cast do terrible impressions of the main characters, leading to much immersion-disruption. The voice of Charlie is particularly inept, futilely trying to capture his accent and mangling it in the process. That's not the worst part of it all, though. Interacting with the characters is probably the meat of the game, the rest of it being a repetitious slog, yomping through barely navigable stretches of jungle, getting picked off by tree-bound Other snipers, or getting hunted by Smokey. Hearing its trademark whir and chitter is fun, but getting past it is tedious. It cannot attack you when you hide in banyan tree clumps, which is fine, but navigating the jungle sections is a question of finding markers and hitting A, which will point you in the direction of the next marker.

That's all well and good, but sometimes the marker is hidden behind trees, and walking in circles trying to find them can lead to you getting caught by Smokey. What's worse, coming out of hiding in a banyan tree cluster means your POV changes direction, and you will sometimes find yourself pointing the wrong way. With barely any recognisable landmarks in the jungle, you will lose your way over and over again, meaning you have to go back to the previous marker and find your way again. If you get caught by Smokey, you go back to the previous save point, which can often be a long way back, or be preceded by an unskippable cutscene. Doing that was where most of my morning went. There is a more dynamic version of this kind of level later on, where you race through the jungle toward the sonic fence, leaping over logs and sliding under trees, which is definitely an improvement, but makes the game look like Crash Bandicoot, except with occasional references to 18th Century philosophers.

Even more exasperating, a couple of levels require picking your way through a pitch-black cave with only a torch (or lantern) to guide you. These can be affected by water or bats, which reduce the amount of time they can remain lit. As you cannot pass through these sections without light, at the start of each section you are given the option of trading objects you have found around the island for spare torches, lanterns, or oil canisters. The trade sections, during which you interact with Locke (or Charlie, or Sawyer, in nickname overload), are not badly done, but they take a while to get through. First time around that's not a problem, but if you fall into one of the many crevasses within the caves, you will go back to the previous save point, and have to trade again. Last night I went through the same trading process about 15 times. By the end of it I was utterly pissed. I didn't buy this game just so I could squint at a pitch black screen, or go through the same menu scenes and badly voiced conversations. Big Fat Ugh.

Those sections tend to artificially pad the game out, which runs for about five measly hours. With repeated deaths and replayed cutscenes, it goes on for much longer. There are some fun moments: the episodic structure of the game, with "Previously on Lost" recaps; finding cool Easter Eggs like the Pearl Station and Roger Linus' van (even though it's standing up and in the wrong place on the island); entering the numbers into the Swan Station computer; finding The Turn Of The Screw; the brilliant opening cutscene showing the front of the plane break off, etc. Most startling, though, are the moments that deviate from the show. Lindelof and Cuse have said that the game is not canon, and I would hope so, as we get too see things surely no Lost fan is meant to see.

::Beware game spoilers::

One of the most notable moments in the game is your character discovering a secret doorway under a waterfall that leads to the source of the magnetic anomaly behind the concrete wall in the Swan Station. There you discover what looks like a broken reactor or generator, covered with debris, and controlled by another computer, which you can temporarily shut off after passing an easy IQ test. Of course, this is before The Incident at the end of season two, so it's fair to say at that point the game deviates pretty drastically from the show, if it hadn't already.

In the final "episode" Ben and Juliet, sitting in a conference room inside the Hydra Station (which you explore to find a large underwater complex) persuade you to get Jack to The Black Rock, so he can be captured, thus invalidating the actual season two finale. At that moment it's obvious the game is playing very fast and loose with continuity, which frustrated me (yes, that good old sense of entitlement that rages across the internet has manifested in my soul, sadly). Of course, your character, now flitting like an enormous Gary Stu through a story that has suddenly morphed into an inconsequential piece of Lost fanfic, saves Jack (and Kate), and then races toward a boat, in a less exciting version of the Crash Bandicoot stage. You then have a chat with Locke, before setting sail on 325 degrees heading that Michael went on, and as you leave the island behind, there is the noise of the Swan Station imploding, followed by the sound of Oceanic 815 cracking up. In the sky you see the plane falling apart, and then you find yourself waking up on the beach to find Lisa, now not a ghost, standing over you and trying to revive you, surrounded by wreckage and carnage, right back at the start of the story.

Can you believe that? I spent the whole game bored, and then in the final twenty seconds it goes bonkers batshit McNuts. It was strange. I had an electric thrill run through me, thinking I had just stumbled across an insane clue as to the nature of the island, that perhaps Desmond's ill-fated cruise away from the island (that had taken the majority of the second season, before turning up again, pissed out of his head and belligerent) had been something like that, but when I calmed down, I realised it was just more fan-fic, with a finale that was nothing more than a speculative take on the central mystery of the island (i.e. why no one can get off the island). Either that, or it was all a dream ZOMG! At least, that's what I think. I guess we'll see tonight.

So is anything good about the game? I will say I was thrilled that the magnificent Michael Giacchino delivers another amazing soundtrack, tinkering with established themes to create something new and melancholy especially for this game. Hearing his work during the many boring sections of the game made it almost seem tolerable. The man is a marvel (and hey, Lost fans, the season three soundtrack is out, and it has a second disc containing the entire Through The Looking Glass score). Other than that, it was underwhelming and kinda pointless, unless you want to explore the island, and even then the geography is all wrong. People bitch about Bad Twin by engine-explosion victim and flight attendant-lover Gary Troup, but it was an entertaining enough mystery, even if its relationship to the Lostiverse was tiny. It was certainly better than this "game". Save your pennies, kids, and buy that soundtrack. Unless tonight a character leaves the island and zips back to the first episode. In which case, buy it tomorrow, because it was canon all along and Cuselof lied to us, those mischievous tykes.

And so, with a few hours to go before our minds are hopefully blown, I leave you with the Orchid Station clip featuring Dr. Edgar Halliwax. If you have any interest in the show you've probably seen it already, but considering tonight we will see the station (and maybe two rabbits who are actually the same rabbit except separated by a few seconds), it's worth revisiting it.

Namasté, bitches! See you on the other side of awesomeness (I hope).

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Adventures in Heinous: Boycott Turner Classic Movies!

Much to our perpetual amazement, we have found that we actually control TV with nothing more than our brainwaves. All we have to do is discuss a film that one of us hasn't seen, proselytise about it at length, and make vague comments about hiring it out or buying it cheap. Then, voila, it turns up on TV a few days later. It has happened so often we're starting to take our power for granted. Surely this could be harnessed for good somehow? We could move to China and talk about Kundun a lot, so that it magically appears on one of their state-sponsored channels at peak time. That should resolve that human rights catastrophe in time to stop Sharon Stone wrecking what's left of her career because she just can't stop herself from speaking out about injustice.

Re: our superpower, case in point. Just a week ago I went into praise overload about Philip Kaufman's wonderful adaptation of Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff. I can't remember why I suddenly started on about it; perhaps it had something to do with overdosing on Geoff Johns' brilliant run on Green Lantern, which is currently revisiting the test pilot past of Hal Jordan (calling all comic fans wandering past this blog; buy Green Lantern! It's the easily the best DC title on the shelves right now). Whatever the reason for my rabid wild-eyed praise, I bent poor Canyon's ear about the movie for a loooong time, a filibuster she endured with much stoicism, and said she would watch it if we got in on DVD. And then, as usual, it turned up on Turner Classic Movies a couple of days ago. Huzzah! Last night we watched it, thinking it would be a pleasing experience after a week of watching some really crappy movies, some of which were misguided (Flags Of Our Fathers, Catch and Release), and some of which were just flat-out dreadful (Nell, Pearl Harbor).

For the most part, it was a great antidote to all of the nonsense we have been watching recently, filled with superb performances (especially Ed Harris as John Glenn), beautiful photography by the legendary Caleb Deschanel, and skillful writing and direction by Kaufman at the height of his powers. I loved it when I was young, and it was great seeing it again. At least, up to a point. It seems the movie's length was a problem for the culture-hating jerks at TCM, who removed several moments in order to shoehorn more adverts into it.

It's common knowledge that TCM was once in the habit of tinkering with recognised classics, such as colorising black and white films, a practise satirised by Joe Dante in Gremlins 2: The New Batch (in which Daniel Clamp's movie channel shows Casablanca "in colour, with new happy ending!"). I had hoped that with the cancellation of the colorisation project that that would mean the end of any future tinkering, but sadly not. While the US TCM has no adverts, UK TCM has a surfeit of the goddamn things (broadcast at a predictably earsplitting volume in comparison to the muted film), and as a result they think it's fine to hack away at the movies being shown. I honestly thought we had moved past this kind of behaviour, considering the success of the ad-free, uncut Sky Movies channels.

Sadly, no. While the meat of The Right Stuff remained in the film, an early shot of Yuri Gagarin's flight was hacked out, leaving behind a sliver of music in the next scene. Warning bells began to sound in my head. Later on, John Glenn's flight over Australia is truncated, missing out the moment where his arrival is heralded by sparks seemingly flying into space from a fire lit by Aboriginal magicians. While the movie doesn't seem damaged by that moment, the tone of the film shifts, something that is cemented by the appalling, ire-inducing decision to remove all of the cross-cutting from Chuck Yeager's final flight. In the original, while he risks his life and almost dies, we cut back and forth from his peril to scenes of the astronauts enjoying a reception meal to commemorate the opening if NASA's new HQ in Houston. While watching an ethereal dancer on stage, they seemingly become linked by a premonition that something important is happening elsewhere, that the man they most admire is still risking his life to push the envelope while they eat steak and shmooze. To have taken out every shot of the astronauts while leaving in the shots of Yeager's perilous flight must have taken a lot of effort and thought.

Or should I say lack of thought. When the movie ended and I began to calm down, Canyon asked me what I liked so much about the film (she enjoyed it, though she was as pissed as I was that it had been edited). Other than the sheer quality and intelligence of it, what I like most is that while it is a celebration of human spirit and courage, it is also a satire of such, puncturing the cockiness of the astronauts with broad comedic moments while never fully making them look like fools. There is still a nobility to them and their desire to become pioneers and explorers of a new frontier, even if there is, for a long period of the movie, a lot of egotistical behaviour and preening before the ever-present, chittering paparazzi. What helps get that across is the poetic nature of the movie, mostly conveyed during the two latter scenes that had been removed. By introducing a spiritual aspect to the movie (with the beautiful shots of Glenn's capsule being buzzed by mysterious embers being particularly important), the tone of the film is lightened of its machismo and broad comedy, becoming way more than the sum of its parts. Once those scenes are removed, it runs like a straight biopic about macho men trying to outdo each other with acts of derring-do and laddish one-up-manship.

So, basically, fuck Turner Classic Movies for wrecking one of my favorite movies. It's the very last time I will be watching anything on there, and now I'm wondering how many movies I've seen on there for the first time that might have been altered as well. I'm aware I'm probably a long way behind common knowledge of TCM's scissor-happy escapades, but I really thought these kinds of practises had been stopped by now, but apparently not. If you love movies, and want to ensure they are treated with respect as works of art, then you'll avoid the channel too. Bad TCM! Shades of Caruso most certainly doesn't approve.

Monday, May 26, 2008

RIP Tootsie's Agent / Michael Clayton's Boss

A little while ago Canyon and I were discussing Sydney Pollack, and if I recall correctly I went on at length about a documentary I had seen broadcast on BBC2 (it might have been an installment of Naked Hollywood, though that doesn't sound quite right). Sydney Pollack was interviewed about his directorial method, along with Joe Dante and John Sayles. I told Canyon about how I had come away from it with far more respect for Dante and Sayles, as the former was hilarious and unpretentious, and the latter was stoic even while seemingly exhausted by his attempts to create difficult and politically distinct movies outside a studio system that would never let his movies get released. They were inspiring, talking about low-budget filmmaking and how hard it was to get funding, but Pollack seemed to be a bad fit for that show, being part of the system that Dante and Sayles had railed against.

It was weird hearing the other two talk about their troubles while Pollack chatted amiably about how he had edited scenes in Havana, the boring, bloated, and pricey Robert Redford vehicle he had been working on at the time, seemingly taking for granted that he was in a position to make films that were expensive award-baiting prestige projects while other artists were struggling to get films made to the extent that Dante had to don scuba-diving gear for a shot in Piranha even though he had had no training with it. I came away thinking ill of Pollack.

It wasn't really fair of me to do that, and I feel pretty crappy for not giving him the benefit of the doubt already, and even more so now that he has sadly passed away. I doubted him for not having the political commitment of John Sayles, but even if I never could understand why something as slick and empty as Havana needed to be made, this is the guy who directed Three Days of the Condor, one of my favourite thrillers, which has a paranoid plot that, when I rewatched it recently, amazed me with its accidental topicality (CIA ineptitude, oil wars, assassinations, etc.). He also directed Absence of Malice, a terrific drama about journalistic ethics. I could only have thought of him as being a glossy Hollywood director if I decided to ignore the more challenging films in his filmography, instead focusing on his bland dramas, like Random Hearts and Sabrina.

That said, as a director I sometimes found his choices perplexing. Why make Havana? Why remake Sabrina? Why bother adapting The Firm? I remember the film critic for The Mirror once referring to that movie as "Two hours of Tom Cruise running towards the camera while looking worried", which sums it up perfectly. Also, why did he get Dave Grusin to do the soundtrack? It needed more than tinkly pianos to create tension in that most flaccid and uninvolving of legal dramas (I place the blame at John Grisham's feet, not Pollack's. He did his best with some dreadful material). It was all very peculiar.

Perhaps those movies are other reasons why I had my silly preconceptions, but I should have been more forgiving. While he was directing movies that seemed worlds away from his early, challenging work (e.g. Jeremiah Johnson, Castle Keep, They Shoot Horses, Don't They), he was also one of Hollywood's most interesting producers. Just this week HBO showed Recount, the dramatisation of the theft of an entire country (figuratively speaking) that he had produced. In recent years he had teamed up with Anthony Minghella to produce a series of interesting (or potentially interesting) films; Minghella's own post-English Patient movies, Philip Noyce's Catch A Fire and The Quiet American, Kenneth Lonergan's forthcoming Margaret, and Tom Tykwer's Heaven, not to mention his solo work on Ira Sachs' Forty Shades of Blue and George Clooney's Leatherheads. His support for outsider movies made within the studio system (or rather their "independent" production houses) was commendable. How many of these unorthodox projects would have been made without his clout behind them?

Even while being foolishly dismissive of his fascinating work as a producer, I still derived pleasure from his acting work, especially when playing seemingly approachable authority figures who have a sinister heart, as in Eyes Wide Shut, Changing Lanes, and Michael Clayton. As shown in those movies, his forte was the role of the pragmatic, seemingly down-to-earth managerial type who would eventually stab you in the front and then passionately explain why he was in no way responsible for your death, blaming it instead on your inability to understand the corporate line. That said, my favourite performance is from his most entertaining movie, Tootsie, which is one of those movies I would include on my "Perfect" list. Here is his funniest moment, tearing a strip off pre-drag Dustin Hoffman.

It's a testament to his gift for comedy that he had several guest roles on sitcoms to his name. So what am I saying here? That I feel really really bad for not giving the guy the benefit of the doubt while he was alive. Good director with a fascinating filmography, terrific and likeable actor, defender of offbeat "independent" cinema. It's a shame I'm only just realising that now. RIP, Sydney Pollack. You shall be missed.

Friday, May 23, 2008

End Of Season Review - CSI

A while back we got into the habit of reviewing the shows of the previous week, at first in depth, and then, when it became apparent that it was cutting into my eating and sleeping time, with a bunch of quick comments. I was enjoying doing it, before the strike came and threw everything into total disarray, thus making such a project untenable. When shows slowly dribbled back onto the screen, we barely even noticed. Ugly Betty returned with such little fanfare (in the UK, that is) that we have only just caught up with it. Same with Reaper. Some shows didn't bother coming back (Pushing Daisies, Heroes), the showrunners deciding to start afresh next year, and some will never come back at all (Bionical Woman, the unfairly cancelled Journeyman). Of those that came back, many of them had lost whatever momentum they had prior to the strike. A pity, but still, over the last couple of weeks, the season finales made up for some of those missteps. We intend to have a look at the state of these shows at the end of the season, but please bear in mind, the quality of the shows was damaged by the strike, and nothing managed to escape losing energy as a result (even my beloved Lost has struggled to cope with the disruption to its schedule). We accept that judging them too harshly would be unfair.

CSI returned with some not so great episodes, much to our disappointment. Though my love for the show remains, I think they've passed their high-water mark, which for me would be season six, which featured the aftermath of the amazing Tarantino-helmed season five finale, the introduction of the evil Hannah West, and the incredible two-parter A Bullet Runs Through It, which I maintain is better than almost all crime films I've seen in the past ten years. Season seven memorably featured the brilliant Miniature Killer arc (and my personal favourite CSI episode ever, Monster In The Box), and Greg's ongoing woes after killing a mugger, which fitted in perfectly with his growth as a CSI; everyone else on the team acted like his difficulties were just part of the job, and no worse than anything they had gone through themselves. It also featured the intriguing mid-season Liev Shrieber arc, which was marred only by the actual presence of Shrieber himself. However, on a week-to-week basis, I thought season six was stronger. Perhaps if I rewatch I will disagree with myself, but for now I'll rely on my memory of that slight deflation I felt as season seven progressed.

This season was weaker still, with some very strong episodes scattered throughout. The best was probably Sara's departure, Goodbye and Good Luck, which featured the return of Hannah West at her creepiest. Brilliantly directed by Kenneth Fink, it was moving and gripping in perfect balance, and since then hardly anything on the show has matched up (again, bear in mind we're aware the show was damaged by the strike, and are just glad it came back at all this year). Post-strike, we saw the return of Method Man as Drops, in his most entertaining episode yet, though that's not saying much as his previous appearances were in the horrible Big Shots and Poppin' Tags, memorable only because of the running joke with Brass ineptly talking like a rapper and not getting laughed off the screen by everyone around him. It's kind of embarrassing, and while I'm all for more Method Man, I wish his episodes were stronger.

There was also the classy A Thousand Days On Earth, which saw the team investigate a child death, with some of the team jumping to conclusions and investigating someone on the child sex register, only to find that every one of their assumptions was incorrect. By the time they realise their mistakes, lives have been destroyed everywhere, and Catherine ends up with a new enemy. It was a brilliant examination of how disparate facts do not count as evidence of guilt, no matter how completely those facts apply to the crime in question, and how assumptions make an "ass" out of "u" and "mption". (A non-Chim Chim Cookie to the firsts person who names the film I just quoted!)

Another highlight was the peculiar The Theory of Everything, with a teleplay from David Rambo and Buffy ace Douglas Petrie that felt like a semi-comedic X-Files episode. Only a tenuous grasp of physics let it down, trying to link the connectivity of a series of crimes with string theory, and including characters called Bohr and Planck. Other than that it was a well-paced head-scratcher, quirky but funny, and not "funny" as many comedy episodes end up being. Speaking of that, following on from the half-comedic/half-serious The Chick Chop Flick Shop, which I thought would be the low point of the season, CBS foolishly came up with a writers-swap plan, with Evan Dunsky, Sarah Goldfinger, Carol Mendelsohn, and Naren Shankar writing an episode of the nigh-unwatchable Two and a Half Men, and Chuck Lorre and Lee Aronsohn derailing a beautiful procedural just so they could settle some old scores with an underwritten parody poking fun at their time spent working on Roseanne, Grace Under Fire and Cybill.

Just to make things worse, they cast the awful Katey Sagal as the screeching, egotistical sitcom lead, and her yokel-voiced double, which was an early warning sign the episode was going to be full of silly trickery and ineptly handled nods at the more melodramatic end of the whodunnit spectrum. Sagal seems fine as a dramatic actress (though at the moment I think my only experience of her playing a role straight is in Lost, as Locke's lost love Helen, where she was terrific), but as a comedic actress she is appalling. Her flat, joke-killing line-readings in Futurama destroyed the show almost every week, and to see her continually cast in comedies amazes me. Why do people think she can do funny? She has no idea of how to tell a joke, and what's worse is that her crappy timing is matched with eye-rolling hammery that Zero Mostel would have envied. Dear God, I hated this episode so completely. When the Shades of Caruso End of Season Awards are handed out, this is gonna be high on the horror list.

Luckily, the season ended strongly with For Gedda, at the end of which we lost another CSI, as trouble-laden Warrick's involvement with the evil Lou Gedda came to a bloody head (literally!). Framed for Gedda's murder and suffering from amnesia (a device I could normally do without, and yet was used well in this finale and that of House), the CSI team work to clear their colleague, which happens with uncharacteristic ease (and with a little help from the usually officious Ecklie. Obviously getting killed on Lost made his mood-swings more manageable). Of course, this being a season finale, it wasn't going to end without a big event, and knowing that we were expecting something extra to happen, Warrick is cleared with several minutes of show left to go, and the pace slows right down so that we, the viewer, are left to agonise over what is going to happen. There's the moment he is cleared, and a discussion with Gil, and a bit of team bonding over dinner, and a farewell to Nick, and a walk to his car... By this point we were in pieces, knowing that he would be leaving the show in a much more dramatic fashion than we'd previously thought, our nerves stretched to breaking point. For Warrick, there was no decision to quit, no suspension over his recklessness. Instead he got a bullet in the neck from the under-sheriff, revealed to have been complicit in Gedda's criminal activity all along. It was a truly bleak and upsetting end to the season.

We've said it many times before; CSI is a rare show where we like every character, and it's always hard to see them go. Jorja Fox has her fans and detractors, but even if she was our least-favourite character, we liked her enough to be sad to see her go (and seeing her relationship with Gil suffer made us sad too). This was even worse, though Dustin Lee Abraham and Richard Catalani were smart to put Warrick's woes into perspective by referencing his gambling addiction and culpability in the death of Holly Griggs, who was killed in the very first episode. He's always been heading towards this final tragedy, which maybe is what made it so hard to watch. To be honest, the denouement of his arc needed a bit more time spent on it prior to the final episode, but as with many shows, having a truncated season meant some plots got given short-shrift (I gather that, in particular, the final episode of Bones has enraged people for rushing a big development with one of the cast). We can't hate on the show because of that.

Though it wasn't the best season finale ever, it did feature some of the best filmmaking. Director Kenneth Fink (having a good year) and director of photography Nelson Cragg pulled out all the stops. This episode some of the most luminous and beautiful visual work of the whole season, with some gorgeous backlighting and bounced light giving everything a soft edge when not filling the frame with stark colour contrasts. It was a joy to look at. Most movies don't look this good. Kudos to the crew and production staff for making such a gorgeous show.

So what next? According to Michael Ausiello, Jorja Fox and the real-life-naughty-man Dourdan will both be in the next season opener, though I doubt they'll be around for long after that. Though I'm sorry to see those characters go, this season hinted that the format has been going without changes for too long. Though the ambition of the show has increased, it has strayed too closely to gimmickry this year, what with the Two and a Half Men project, the Without A Trace crossover, Hodges and the murder game (an episode I liked, but still thought was a jokey episode too far), and the other shenanigans listed above. Next season will feature at least one new character, Bryce Adams, played by Lauren Lee Smith, an actress who is utterly alien to me. I'm still happy about it, as the first choice for that role was Katee Sackhoff, who is utterly alien to everyone on planet Earth. As a Starbuck hater who thought Sackhoff was beyond laughable on Bionical Woman, I'm thrilled she won't be stinking up this show.

The only other question is, will Ronnie Lake return? She got some screentime earlier this year and has yet to come back. Another Louise Lombard moment for the show? A quick IMDb check shows she's been jinxed by taking centre stage in The Chick Chop Flick Shop and is now appearing almost exclusively in slasher flicks. I guess we'll just have to hope the shake-up to the series extends to something more than just a cast change, and we'll see an intelligent continuation of this murder plot, now that we have a bona fide sneaky asshole villain on the show. As Jon Stewart would say, just as he reflexively does in almost every edition of The Daily Show, Damn you, Undersheriff McKeen! Damn you all to hell!!!!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Yes, Yes, I'm Aware I Never Shut Up About Guitar Hero...

...But Activision just announced that they're taking the fight to MTV and Harmonix with Guitar Hero World Tour.
Activision Inc (ATVI.O) is adding drums, bass guitar, and microphone to its popular "Guitar Hero" video game, a move aimed at winning away fans of MTV's rival musical title "Rock Band."

"Guitar Hero World Tour" will include the ability for two groups of four people each to compete online, as well as let players compose and play their own music.

That's just super-duper, and I love that they've done that. Okay, so it's derivative, and they remain in the shadow of Harmonix and their incredible innovations, but it's the only logical move they could make. Of course, this means nothing unless the music choices are incredible.

The game will feature songs from bands such as Van Halen, The Eagles, Linkin Park and Sublime...


Actually, that is something that can change over time, though I really do hope the song packs come down in price. I resented having to spend literally billions of Microsoft Points (this is a lie) to buy three songs in the fourth Guitar Hero II pack when all I wanted was I Wanna Be Sedated by The Ramones (and OMG, I got 100% on it third time I played it on Medium setting, which makes it the first song I've got 100% on! Bless you, you three-chord-playing heroes). Still, there could well be some great finds on there. I've been enjoying playing the bonus tracks Mr. Fix-It by The Amazing Crowns, Soy Bomb by Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives, and Thunderhorse by Dethklok, though worryingly they were all on Guitar Hero II (i.e. the Harmonix game). Guitar Hero III's bonus tracks are nowhere near as interesting, but then I was less impressed with the track listing on that game already.

What I really want from Activision is to make robust peripherals that don't cost the earth, thus crushing MTV Games and forcing them to bring the price of the game down so I can get that too. This is the dream, anyway. I have more faith in Harmonix and their skills, and suspect I would prefer Rock Band (especially as you can buy single songs instead of packs full of boring songs you don't want), but what do I know? I can't afford Rock Band. Because it is horribly overpriced. And I'm still pissed about it.

Even if Santa ignores my pleas and the price war doesn't materialise, Guitar Hero World Tour does a bunch of stuff I really like the sound of. Not only does the drum kit look awesome, it does cool things too.

In addition to a newly designed more responsive guitar controller and microphone, Guitar Hero World Tour will deliver the most realistic drum experience ever in a video game with an authentic electronic drum kit. Featuring three drum pads, two raised cymbals and a bass kick pedal, the drum controller combines larger and quieter, velocity-sensitive drum heads with soft rubber construction to deliver authentic bounce back and is easy to set up, move, break down and store.

Even better than that, Activision have responded to one of the pissiest complaints about Guitar Hero and Rock Band; that playing the game is a pale imitation of genuine creation, that mimicking the playing of music is no substitute for making something yourself. I don't think Guitar Hero and Rock Band stop people from branching out and doing that on their own, and in fact think it would inspire people to try playing instruments themselves (I've said this before; please forgive me). Anyway, it's slightly more moot now.
The game's innovative new Music Studio lets players express their musical creativity by giving them access to a full compliment [sic] of tools to create digital music from scratch, utilizing all of the instruments, and then play their compositions in the game. Music creators will also be able to share their recordings with their friends online through GHTunes where other gamers can download their unique compositions and play them.

I'm outrageously excited about that, even though I expect any compositions would be pretty unadventurous just because of the limitations of the soft/hardware, but it still appeals to me.

It links in to something I've been planning on blogging about for a while now, which touches on Be Kind Rewind, Video Sniffing, Rocky III, and Lewis Hyde's The Gift (a frustrating book that killed my enthusiasm 20 pages in, but still applies). In time I will, I'm sure. Before that, we hope to have a look at the various season finales that have been piling up over the last couple of weeks, if we can ever get this goddamn laptop to work long enough to write anything substantial. Apologies for any future Blog Slowdowns.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Good News For Whovians

Stephen Moffat has been named Doctor Who showrunner starting with the fifth series, following next year's short series of longer episodes, giving David Tennant a break from all the gurning, grinning, and relentless flappy-legged running (I say this with affection). Cheekily the BBC had been saying Piers Wenger (who produced Ballet Shoes and little else) was going to be Executive Producer, but he'll be sharing that job with Moffat. I've been going around the internet being a killjoy saying Moffat would never take on the job, as he never seemed interested in the job, and is currently working with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. Seems I was horribly horribly wrong, and not for the first time. Still, it's the best news possible. His Who episodes have been not just the best on that show, but possibly the best dramas on BBC One for years.

Of course, this means the fans will have to start hating him whenever the Doctor does anything that might contradict something that happened twenty-five years ago, or for maintaining the current tone instead of pretending Russell T. Davies' run never happened and returning the show to its Jon Pertwee/Tom Baker "glory days" (in quotes because even though I'm fond of that Who-era, I like this version of the show even more). RTD gets blamed for everything on the show that doesn't work and ignored for everything that does. If people realised how much work he does on the show, including major rewrites on episodes that fans love and use as ammunition in their war against his writing (a fact that makes me laugh and laugh and laugh), they'd back off. I'll be sad to see him go, as he's done an amazing job, but maybe now he'll get to write shows that will be praised as good drama and not just dismissed as bad fan-fic by Whovians (who, of course, think their fan-fic is superior).

As for the current season, I'm enjoying it (though we've yet to get a stone-classic episode), and liking Catherine Tate as Donna about a thousand times more than I thought I would, and not just because she doesn't worship the Doctor. Talkbacks about the show are almost unreadable as all that fans seem to want to say, other than "RTD is the worst thing to happen to this show since John Nathan-Turner even though without him the show would never have come back but I don't care because all I want are my Horror of Fang Rock DVDs!!!", is that Rose and (especially) MARTHA JONES are crap because they loved The Doctor. For crying out loud, if you're going to fall for someone, I think it's fair to say you're going to fall for someone who is handsome (apparently), sexy (equally apparently), brave, dashing, honourable, funny, intelligent, gallant, and has his own time machine. How is falling for that guy a bad thing? And didn't MARTHA turn her back on him in the end? (That's a rhetorical question, because she totally did, you haters!) Shut up, stupid talkbackers. Go away and re-read your Patrick Troughton-era novelisations.

Even more good news for us fans; the next two-parter is written by Moffat!

It could turn out to be poo, but I doubt it. The only bad thing about that is that Doctor Who is off for a week because of the fucking Eurovision Song Contest, now rendered utterly unwatchable with the removal of Ireland's entry, Dustin the Turkey.

I'm hypnotised by the revolving glitterboobs on the front of Dustin's trolley.

BBC Breakfast Watch! Wii Insults Child Shocker!

I've got to stop watching this show. Isn't the whole idea that it's supposed to be a mental Valium for people getting up and going to work? Forget it. It's like a dose of adrenaline to the heart muscle for me. Or having an electrode jammed into my brain like in the amazing season finale of House.

I'm skewing my complaints about it toward the treatment of technology, which goes along the lines of, "Oh teh noes! We don't understand what this gadget does but it will probably be deadly!" (if this show had its way, we'd all be sitting in swamps eating mud and grunting with animal-like terror every time the moon appears in the sky). As that means I'm also watching them deal with children (because technology will turn our children into cyborgs or corpses of mass-murderers), I'm also judging them on what could be called a Daily Mail Quotient (DMQ), which measures the volume of their terrified screams of, "What about the children? Please, think of the children?!?!?!". That almost means Marvin Gaye should be judged for his DMQ, but I'll give him a pass, because, you know, it's Marvin Gaye, people.

The recent Grand Theft Auto IV panic would get a DMQ score of about 89%, as it posited the end of civilisation if kids kept playing it (which they shouldn't be anyway). Their total misunderstanding of what texting is, and their worry that it will make all children everywhere forget how to speak the English language got about an 84% DMQ, and probably would have been higher if they hadn't been shown up by the level-headed fifteen year old in their midst. Funnily enough, the news piece that annoyed me today was covered by the Daily Mail last week; a ten year old girl used a Wii Fit machine belonging to her friends and was referred to as technically obese according to the BMI.

Breakfast had a mother, the daughter in question, and another daughter for no apparent reason, and the Street Doctor, the improbably named Dr. Jonty Heaversedge. It was your standard nonsense, with Bill asking the girl what had happened and terrifying her into silence, Dr. Jonty saying kids shouldn't be measured according to the BMI, and the mother agreeing with that and being mortified because her daughter (who is obviously not obese or overweight) wanted to go on a diet.

There are a few things about the feature that annoyed me. Firstly, Bill terrorising the young girl by asking how muscular she is. Bad Pervert Bill! Secondly, the possibility that the machine was just broken or calibrated wrong. This seemed so self-evident to me that I was shocked no one brought it up until halfway through the interview, when Bill suggested it might have been knackered. Good Perceptive Bill! Boing Boing came to the same conclusion. Of course, the mother had never considered that and wasn't there when her daughter got on the machine, so it's possible her friends messed it and got the set-up wrong, or even worse, manipulated it to make it seem like she was overweight. It's possible, but no one wanted to consider that, because if that was the case, no one gets to get their Righteous Outrage on, send complaint emails to Nintendo, and get interviewed on TV and by the Daily Mail.

Even if the machine was working correctly, I'm still pissed, as the whole point of this "campaign" seems to be caused more by the fact that the parents had complained to Nintendo, demanding a warning be placed on the game, and Nintendo refused, issuing this statement instead.

Nintendo would like to apologise to any customers offended by the in-game terminology used to classify a player's current BMI status, as part of the BMI measurement system integrated into Wii Fit.

Wii Fit is still capable of measuring the BMI for people aged between two and 20 but the resulting figures may not be entirely accurate for younger age groups due to varying levels of development.

The fact that it measures kids from the age of two seemed to drive Susannah Reid (subbing for Sian) into paroxysms of outraged disbelief, which amused me. However, Dr. Jonty dissed the use of BMI for kids, as kids change size so often it's hard to quantify it, and the mother was probably pissed she didn't get a free Wii for her troubles upset that there wasn't a warning on the machine saying that the machine might inaccurately judge a child's weight to be problematic.

Dr. Jonty is right that if we use standard BMI calculations for children we would be silly billies, but BMI for children and teens is calculated differently, and even though it takes into account as many different variables as it can, it must still be used in conjunction with common sense, and the guidance of professional medical expert and parents who spend enough time with their children to know what their dietary habits and daily exercise regimes are like (and by "regimes" I mean as little as running around or using a bike, not pumping iron and running mini-marathons). Also, I don't own a Wii Fit, and haven't seen the instruction manuals, but these things are often really exhaustive, as Nintendo know all it takes is one mistake on these things and they will get hit with a million lawsuits. I wonder if the possible inaccuracies of the BMI is mentioned in it. I'll do some digging, if possible. (Don't count on it. A knackered ankle has laid me out for the day.)

I understand that telling a child they are obese when they are obviously not might damage the child's self-image so badly they might develop an eating disorder, but as it is not a function of a child's internal assessment of what the world considers acceptable (which, it has been argued, can be distorted by exposure to images of size zero models and skinny actresses on TV and in film), surely it's easily caught. If a responsible parent (who should surely be around when their kids are playing an exercise-intensive game like Wii Fit anyway) notices that their child has been told by a game that they are obese, then they can tell their child this is not the case. And that's exactly what happened. The young girl was informed by her parents that the machine made a mistake, and Susannah, having questioned her with more tact than Buffalo-Mouth Bill, managed to glean from the girl that she's fine now and doesn't consider herself obese or overweight. Have there been more cases of this happening? None that we've heard. Crisis probably averted.

There are multiple interesting and crucial debates to be had about children, weight, and self-image to be had, and I'd be crazy to suggest that any of that was trivial, but the paranoia about the Wii Fit is missing the point and confusing people about a machine that will be far more beneficial in the long run than any number of angry letters and outraged newspaper articles. This is the same whenever there is a launch of new hardware or software. People wonder how it will negatively impact on their lives and kick up a stink.

Remember when the Wii came out and everyone broke their living rooms because they weren't putting the wrist-strap on? Everyone was pissed at the Wii for a fortnight, complaining to Nintendo instead of just putting the strap on (that's what she said). It's the same here. New technology arrives that could change the way the world lives, and journalists have been waiting for a reason to demonise it. And here it is. And it's wrong. The Wii Fit is a good thing, and this one glitch, which might have been caused by any number of things and is easily resolved using common sense, should not overshadow the good that it can do. Try telling that to journalists and the panicky parents they leave in their wake, though.

Anyway, it wasn't all technophobia this morning. They had Genesis on the show, as BBC Four are wasting a night of programming on the one-time prog heroes turned unadventurous noodlers. That meant they had a particularly aloof Phil Collins in the studio. Quick! Someone tax him before he gets away!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Hipster Douchebag Music Recommendation Of The Week: "When You Were Young" by The Killers

So this month's week's recommendation isn't exactly a sensitive, mopey up-and-coming indie outfit, I admit. I think you lose claim to that label when you're signed to Island in the US (though, admittedly, signed to an indie label in the UK), your albums have sold 12 million copies worldwide, and one of your songs has been lip-synched by Justin Timberlake in a mind-bendingly awful movie by a hipster director. And while the band may be too big to be liked by hipster douchebags anymore, they certainly are hipster douchebags -- Brandon Flowers (the lead singer) in particular. Though he's apparently a devout Mormon, he's got a tendency to boast, and the jury's out whether he's an asshole or not. Though Rufus Wainwright mentioned how much he loves him at the concert we went to last year (and even wrote "Tulsa" about him -- apparently he tastes like potato chips in the morning. Mm, potato chips), so he's already close to having a free pass. And he's right about Fall Out Boy. Fucking Fall Out Boy. Thanks for ruining that episode of The Simpsons for the rest of us, Wentz.

But really, none of that matters. I love The Killers. Many have pegged them as just another trendy It Band like the Arctic Monkeys or the Kaiser Chiefs (sorry, Masticator), but they are at least a step (perhaps half a flight, give or take) above their cohorts. (It's interesting to note that most of their sonic influences are British -- in fact for awhile I had a vague idea they were British -- but the band's actually from Vegas.)

The difference with the Killers is that they aren't all pose and flash, and their music isn't just of the era. They have a gift for melody -- what initially may tick along like a standard rock track suddenly swells into an irresistibly catchy, hummable tune with a hook that won't leave your brain for days. "Bones," from their second album, Sam's Town, is a kind of 80s synth-pop tune, complete with reverb-y vocals and grinding guitars, but it's the brass section's repeating arpeggio that wriggles into your mind like an earwig. "Change Your Mind," off Hot Fuss, begins with a sing-songy guitar hook that never lets up and backing vocals that push the song into a beautiful, ecstatic climax. What makes the song for me, though, is the moment 2 minutes and 46 seconds in, when Flowers' voice goes up on the word "no," and for that second the song is absolutely sublime. Sometimes it's enough for one note to make an entire song, and if I had any shred of musical knowledge, I would praise that note now. "Mr. Brightside" is a riff on the kind of glam-rock nonsense I hate, but the gorgeous hook of the chorus transcends the same-y muddiness of the genre and becomes something both propulsive and beautiful.

I'm hard-pressed to find much filler on either album. "Why Do I Keep Counting" is a bit of a silly one-off -- it's apparently about Flowers' fear of flying -- but for a throwaway song it is quirky but also big and anthemic and feels serious and playful at the same time. "This River Is Wild," besides being (I like to imagine) an homage to a movie I secretly love, starts out fairly conventional but becomes more lighthearted as it develops (particularly with Flowers' delivery of lines like "Sometimes I'm nervous / when I talk I shake a little"). With most albums, even if I really like the band, I usually only love about 3 or 4 songs. With The Killers, I love or at least really like at least 6 or 7 songs on both albums, which is a testament to how catchy most of them are.

One of the Killers' biggest hits has been the silly gender-bending tale "Somebody Told Me," which is one of their more conventional-sounding songs, but it's a good example of a tune that will most likely grab your internal iPod and set it to "endless repeat," at least until a Moonpig ad comes on TV. (Warning: I do not take responsibility for any lasting after-effects of Moonpig ads. Do not hold sharp instruments while watching.) "Smile Like You Mean It" is quite nice as well -- again, the "da-DAH-dah" through the chorus is musical heroin -- though it doesn't get really interesting until the last 20 seconds or so, with the funky drum-and-guitar thing that's over way too soon.

But to me, their best tracks are two of their biggest hits -- "All These Things That I've Done" and "When You Were Young." I'm surprising exactly no one with this analysis, and I'm not even championing songs that weren't released as singles. Everyone's heard these two songs. But that doesn't lessen their power one jot, and it provides a useful platform for the difference between the two albums.

Hot Fuss, as I mentioned, was The Killers' debut album, and critics fell over each other attempting to be the first to throw accolades at the hot new band and crown them the new kings of indie rock. Their take on glam-rock and 80s and 90s British sounds was a brilliant debut; I certainly won't dispute that. As I said, they're a cut above many other bands with a similar sound. But I can't help feeling that the fact that that sound is trendy is the reason they became critics' darlings in the first place. They did that sound, and they did it well, but deviation was not allowed. When Sam's Town came out two years later, suddenly critics were declaring a sophomore slump. The band had -- gasp! -- changed their sound so that they could grow musically. My God what did those little punks think they were playing at? They didn't even ask for permission! And who were they moving towards sonically? Bruce Springsteen! The nerve! Didn't they get the memo? Arcade Fire and The Hold Steady were already filling that slot! How dare The Killers move out of their allotted indie ghetto?

It really puzzles me why The Killers got so much shit for sounding more like intelligent arena rock when other bands were being slavishly praised for sounding like intelligent arena rock. Ugh. Well, if this flaw is what's keeping me away from reading more Pitchfork, then really it's a virtue in disguise.

All right, enough preamble. On to the good stuff. Amazingly, I managed to miss "When You Were Young"'s chart dominance, and I only noticed it because it was a song on Guitar Hero III. Obviously this means it's a rock classic already and doesn't need any defense from me, but I loved it so much that I kept playing it over and over, even though the song's pretty easy and I'd already gotten five stars on the first try (okay, on Medium, not Expert). Meet me after the somewhat bizarre video and I'll explain why.

The appeal of the shimmering guitar is obvious in the first few seconds -- and the first progression up the scale after the first verse is one of the most addictive hooks I've ever heard. I can't describe how satisfying it is to actually feel like you're playing those notes in the game, to feel as if you actually have a part in creating this stunning piece of pop perfection. The song's lyrics are full of sadness and longing, but it fills you with such joy that it's hard not to want to simply get lost in the music.

The song is definitely reminiscent of Springsteen, but for all the right reasons -- the propulsive, driving guitars, the swelling anthemic chorus, the emotional vocals, the shimmering little bells you can hear at the very top of the song that make the whole thing, make it feel big and magical and epic. Lines like "We're burning down the highway skyline on the back of a hurricane / that started turning when you were young" are very Springsteen-esque (Springsteinian?), but that's no flaw -- they too make the song feel epic and grand. They make the lives of a few small, ordinary people feel like the grand sweep of tragic and beautiful Americana.

It's a coin toss whether I prefer this one to "All These Things That I've Done" -- right now I think the latter is winning, but only because I haven't listened to it quite as much and I think it's a little fresher in my mind. But ask me another day and I'll have reconsidered. At any rate, here's the UK video, which was made earlier (the US one is here; it can't be embedded because of evil corporate grumblegrumble).

It's an accurate representation of the progression of a typical Saturday night in London, albeit with 50% less stabbing. It was obviously made on the cheap, and is meant to make the band seem like hip indie kids who are too cool to make a real video. Or it's incredibly lazy, as it was clearly made in a couple of hours before a concert. (I must mention, though, how nice it is to be writing about a band that's actually popular enough to have videos. The way forward.)

The standout section of this song is obvious -- the repetition of the line "I've got soul but I'm not a soldier" has already become iconic, and deservedly so. It's so iconic that, as I mentioned, Justin Timberlake somewhat creepily lip-synchs it here. I don't know whether to be impressed with Richard Kelly for such a bold move or disgusted with him for appropriating a popular song in a bizarre context -- but then I haven't seen what by all accounts is a hot mess of a movie, so I shouldn't judge (yet). [The lipsynch scene is the non-Rock highlight of that awful awful awful awful awful movie, but it's little more than a video slotted into the movie for no reason. - Neck] I am, however, pissed off with the crappy TV series Jericho for using this song over the first few minutes of its first episode, thus making me like it instantly, then hate it even more in subsequent minutes when I realized that The Killers were by far the best writers on the show.

The Hot Fuss post-punk glam-rock sound is evident in this track as it starts, with a wash of guitars and cymbals and distorted vocals. I love the initial lolloping flow of the lyrics -- the quick rhymes of "Another head aches / another heart breaks / I'm so / much ol / der than I can take" (I love the way Flowers places an odd emphasis on every other word -- "so" and "older," sliding the latter from one line to the next with an oddly syncopated rhythm), and then the relief of the chorus, with more odd rhythm in the line "Don't you put me on the back burner."

Then we have the bridge, which just begs to be sung by thousands of people yelling their lungs out in a concert. It's one of those electrifying moments that gives you chills when you're listening to it alone (it's one of my favorite songs to listen to as I'm walking around London) but would be absolutely transcendent when sung in a chorus with thousands of other people. This, I think, is the Killers' real talent -- creating songs that are at once personal and anthemic, songs that are just as much fun to listen to by yourself, even as they have such scope and power that you know seeing them performed live would be like seeing them achieve the musical equivalent of self-actualization.

I find it hard to believe that anyone could not like this song, though I'm sure there are plenty out there who can't stand it. But it's a galvanizing tune, and it's irresistibly danceable -- I defy you not to start dancing a little in your chair as you listen. The Killers are playing in England soon, but unfortunately only in festivals in Reading and Leeds and not in London (as much as I like the idea of hearing The Killers in concert, festivals are not my bag, baby). But I'm sure they'll be around soon enough, and then my hipster douchebag fantasies will be complete.

Friday, May 16, 2008

BBC Breakfast Watch! LOL = Laughing All Over

I really don't want to keep kicking BBC Breakfast whenever it does something stupid, as there aren't enough hours in the day to catalogue the horror, but when they go after ver yoof ov 2day, I feel compelled to bring it up. This morning the Z-team of Charlie Stayt and Susannah Reid reported on a study from the University of Toronto claiming that, contrary to popular belief (i.e. panicky, ill-thought-out guesswork), teenagers using text speak to communicate with each other are, get this, able to switch back and forth between normal English and the abbreviations they use in texts. I know! Crazy.

To discuss this they brought in the typical opposing viewpoints, a teenager, Lucy Van Amerongen, who has just written The A-Z of Teen Talk, and Marie Clair from the Plain English Society. After an embarrassing animation showing some text speak (containing such mind-bending arcane symbology as "cya 2nite"), Susannah claimed it was like a different language, and then asked Lucy if she started writing like it when not texting. Lucy, who seemed like a normal person and not a drooling imbecile, said that had never happened, pointing out that it's only used in texting because it's more efficient. Not to be dissuaded from her "different language" point, Susannah asked if she had to learn a new language, which Lucy pointed out was not necessary. Any abbreviation that got the point across was fine. I can't believe I'm writing a post about a news show that revealed this fact as if it was revelatory. Do these people live in a commune or something? I know White City is a bit far from civilisation, but it's not sealed off from the rest of the world.

Plain English Marie then joined in, stating she doesn't want to be seen as a fuddy-duddy, and then proceeded to say there was a problem with people using text speak in other contexts (Charlie seemed very worried that people would use the word "fink" instead of "think", poor guy). It was here that my ire rose, because again we were discussing a hypothetical idiot who would be compelled by the march of progress to ignore the English language entirely and revert to symbols and probably grunts to communicate, probably while mugging people with copies of Grand Theft Auto IV. The Hypothetical Idiot is a useful tool when getting into a panic over modernity. "But will this drive the Hypothetical Idiot I just imagined in my head to go crazy hotwiring cars and driving them into crowds of grandparents?" "Will Facebook make some Hypothetical Idiots I just conjured up in my imagination have sex with billions of people?" "Will the Wii make Hypothetical Idiots break nice vases while indulging in silly pastimes that have no educational value not unlike BBC Breakfast?"

If we're going to worry about what a Hypothetical Idiot might get up to, we might as well stop creating anything or doing anything that might inspire people to potentially harm themselves, providing that person has an IQ of -59. Who needs progress? We can just sit around listening to Test Match Special, drinking weak tea and making polite conversation about the weather. ::breaks object in anger:: Hey, here's a thought. Let's not worry about the Hypothetical Idiots, people. They only exist in your fear-encrusted mind! They are merely doing your bidding; you're the only ones making them jump off buildings after smoking a spliff or drinking Red Bull. Let my hypothetical people go!!!

A quick caveat. I'm sure kids have started to write text speak in exams, and the stories we hear about such things are not apocryphal. It would be crazy of me to think otherwise. I frequent talkbacks on the internet, for god's sake. I've seen spelling errors, grammatical foul-ups, syntactical snafus that would turn Marie Clair's hair white. The internet can often be a place where language goes to die, and it is shocking. But there are checks and balances in real life, and if people are growing up and still making mistakes like these in situations where they will be judged harshly for it, then there's a good chance they might have been incompetent anyway. People have had trouble with language before texting came along. It's not like we were all Kingsley Amis/Margaret Atwood until twelve years ago and now we're all grunting at each other, burning our dictionaries, and using numbers or letters instead of words (Prince and his fans are exempt from criticism on the last one). Idiocracy is one of my favourite movies of the past few years, but I don't think it's coming to pass. People can switch from lazy text speak and back to normal Plain English at will. If I can do it, anyone can.

Of course, none of this mattered to the BBC Breakfast guys. Susannah had already asked Lucy if she slipped into text speak while writing, but asked her again just a minute later, "I mean, Lucy, imagine an exam situation. Can you honestly say you've never written any of those abbreviations, or in fact had letters from friends or notes where they've started to let these words slip into their normal way of writing?" She was like a dog with a bone. Except stupider.

Sadly Lucy admitted she has used the abbreviation "cuz" instead of "because", but only in her revision notes (instead of saying, "No, in the imaginary exam you just asked me to create in my head, I didn't do that. And I got an A+. And then I left school and applied for your job. And got it. And did it better than you"). As a result of that admission all of the adults ganged up on her and started claiming it proved their point and it was a slippery slope and the next step was practically illiteracy. Dear God, it made me so mad.

Charlie won the stupidity trophy, though, by saying to Lucy (who I would, probably rudely, assume to be upper middle class) "you're very well spoken, and clearly have good use of language, and in a way you're not part of the problem as you have proved that you can do these two things, but the problem is what happens with other people." People from a different economic background, perhaps? Lucy looked suitably embarrassed by the whole thing. Marie then compounded the idiocy by proving she knew nothing about text abbreviations by saying LOL stood for Laughing All Over.

After that Susannah interrogated Lucy for a while about how many hours a day she texts (I wish she'd said "ALL DAY LONG AND YOU CAN'T STOP ME OR THE CODE THAT IS USED TO USURP YOUR AUTHORITY!!! LOL!!!!"), and Marie hilariously admitted she abbreviated in texts as well, but used that to prove that she was allowed to because she was a responsible adult who could switch between text speak and Plain English (which was the point of the Canadian study, not to mention what Lucy had been trying to explain earlier). Basically she was convinced, using Hypothetical Idiots as her study group, that young kids would grow up only knowing text speak. The only thing that could stop this, she said, is teaching them a standard version of English that everyone agrees on. A radical idea! I think we should have already been teaching people this universally agreed-upon standard of English all along. I have even invented a name for these places where children can learn this language. I shall call them "schools".

It was absolute nonsense, yet more of the oldsters panicking because their kids are developing a culture and mode of communication that they cannot possibly understand, thus bringing them closer to oblivion and obsolescence. I can imagine parents must be freaking out that their kids have developed a code that they use to confound authority, and so we hear horror stories about children and teenagers losing the ability to use syllables or words of more than four letters and probably starving as a result, so don't do it, kids!!! I remember a colleague commenting on how superb Pixar's Monsters Inc. was as it perfectly captured the fear and ambivalence parents have toward their children (mingled with much stronger love, obviously), either that they would hurt themselves or develop a life of their own, leaving them alone and confused. Well, Charlie and Susannah were Mike and Sully this morning, and Lucy was Boo. Best of all, she totally PWNed the adults. Kudos.

Oh, and if you check out the review of the book I linked to before, skater girl can get bent. She's obviously just a jellus hata. (And no, I'm not proud of myself for picking on a fifteen-year old.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Lost - Cabin Fever

It's hard out here for a Lost fan. For a start, we don't really have a name, like Star Trek fans are called Trekkers, X-Files fans are confusingly known as X-Philes, and Babylon 5 fans are called Babies. I think. Are we called Losties? It's not much of a tag, and it's already used to describe a lot of the characters on the show. I think we should be called Searchers For Truth, or Crusaders of Quality, because when this show is on form, it's better than everything else in the history of the cosmos.

Which brings me to my point. Last week I bitched about the Jack-centric episode Something Nice Back Home, saying it didn't really hold my attention. It felt like the kind of piece-moving episode needed every now and then before the real fireworks kick off, and though these episodes don't have much in the way of spectacle, they often have their incidental pleasures (Foxy's performance, Cort Fey's gorgeous photography).

I've also had a pop at Locke this season, finding many of his actions scarcely believable. He's my favourite of the original characters, but had started to irk since killing Naomi, an act I'm still not certain was a good move to make by the showrunners, though my traditional faith in their vision means I'm still waiting to pass final judgement on it.

This episode may have partially addressed that act, and that's one of the reasons I'm in such an apologetic mood. If Something Nice Back Home was a bit underwhelming, Cabin Fever was incredible, so filled with revelation, shock, humour, and obfuscation that my head spun throughout. I'll sit through any number of set-up episodes if they give the showrunners room to make something as entertaining and thought-provoking as this every so often.

One of the things I liked most about it was that it fulfilled my prediction that writer Elizabeth Sarnoff would bounce back from the disappointment of Eggtown. The script sparkled this week, which I attribute not just to her but to new writer Kyle Pennington, who has an almost totally empty IMDb page but has something now to point at and be proud of. Perhaps the dialogue was occasionally a little too light, but I still laughed when Hurley woke with the word, "Mallomars", and especially when Ben, Locke and Hurley realised they had been following each other in circles for a day, which was also a funny way of addressing the timeline issue, that a day/episode has passed but we didn't get to see them do anything last week.

I don't even know what my favourite moment was. Was it Locke digging around in the Dharma grave for a map?

Or Ben sitting on the edge of it like a kid dipping his feet in a swimming pool?

A lot of AICN talkbackers seem to agree that their best moment together was probably Hurley sharing an Apollo bar with Ben, proving that Hurley is capable of treating anyone with respect even after finding out they were involved in a mass murder. I love Hurley.

Maybe it was the dream featuring Horace Goodspeed, showing up to finally give some advice to poor Locke, much needed after a season of frustrating inactivity.

I love how the nature of the dream echoed some of the theories about the show, that they are all dead and in hell (chopping down the same tree for all eternity certainly qualifies), that they are stuck in a time-loop, that no one can die on the island, etc. It was a terrific, creepy moment, and great to see Doug "Tombs the Stretchy Man" Hutchinson back again. Cuselof had promised he would return, as he is a crucial character, but where's his wife Olivia? Did she somehow survive The Purge?

Though even that moment was treated lightly, there was plenty of drama and intrigue. The most perplexing events of the episode were Richard Alpert's appearances throughout Locke's life, signalling that just as he had suspected, Locke really was meant for greater things. Weirdest of all was the Dalai Lama test, with Alpert turning up at one of Locke's foster homes with a group of objects, asking the young boy which of them already belonged to him.

If my understanding of the Dalai Lama is correct, the next Lama candidate will know which objects are his as he has some memory of his previous life. So are we adding reincarnation to the list of theories? The fact that he already knows about the smoke monster tends to suggest he has somehow experienced life on the island before.

However, Alpert's line about the objects already belonging to Locke might have been a consequence of him time-travelling. If you're able to hop back and forth through time, you're going to think of time not as a line, but in the same way Doctor Manhattan does in Watchmen, as a crystal that can be observed as a whole from a position of omnipotence outside it. It's the same ability I suggested Ben had in The Shape Of Things To Come, and links to the Sirens of Titan theory I went on about there. Perhaps Alpert expects Locke to see time in the same way, and is asking him about the objects that will belong to him in what we mere mortals would think of as the future.

Even more intriguing, Locke gets it wrong and picks a knife, which many have taken to mean Locke decided to stupidly pick something he wanted and not something he was meant to have, which certainly ties into his continual avoidance of his destiny. It makes sense, but it could also have something to do with the future that he sees (hence the picture of Smokey), which is somehow different from the one Alpert expects to happen. The picture of Smokey, the vial of sand (which is either normal beach sand, or the powder found surrounding Jacob's shack), and the compass, tend to suggest they belong to someone who not only will turn up on the island but will be a leader and protector. However, it has to be a passive protector; someone who will take up arms against his enemies is not the right man. Perhaps the comic was the right choice, as it features enough comments about a lost world on the cover to be pretty significant.

So why does he pick wrongly, causing Alpert to have a little tantrum? Is it just his childhood sadness and wish to fight back against his circumstances? Or is it because his future is being manipulated by time agents trying to stop him coming to the island, or to come to the island and do something different than they had thought? It certainly seems like Abaddon is providing different ideas about Locke and the way of the knife, which might account for why he kills Naomi, which seems so out of character for him. Maybe he then chooses the knife because his future has been altered. Wouldn't it be great if it turns out Locke makes bad choices as a child because his future has been altered, thus throwing his entire timeline out of whack, leaving him vulnerable to manipulation by Abaddon. Perhaps he was always meant to go to the island as a child, but a change in the future influences him in the past, creating a need to choose the knife instead of another artifact, thus making him ineligible for messiah status?

::brain melts:: Of course, that is assuming Abaddon is evil and Alpert isn't. I only say that because even though Alpert seemed to be heavily involved in The Purge before, now that's been thrown into doubt by his actions in this episode. Maybe now he can be seen to be more of a pacifist, or at least concerned about bringing to the island a saviour who might end up with blood on his hands (too late, as he has already killed Naomi and several chickens and rabbits). Remember Ben's efforts to get Locke to kill his father? Now I wonder if he was trying to taint this potential messiah, only to be thwarted by Alpert, who showed Locke that Sawyer's life was also ruined by Anthony Cooper, thus giving Locke a way to off his father without having to do it himself. So why is Locke still in the island's good graces? Is even Alpert ignorant of the island's wishes?

The Sirens of Titan theory keeps coming to mind when watching these mythos-expanding episodes, and makes me wonder how much of Locke's life has been shaped in this way. It seems to have happened at birth, with his mother Emily being hit by a car. By now she's about the billionth person hit by a car (though not by the mysterious Golden Pontiac, due to it being the ancient past), and it's becoming clear these things aren't accidents. The future is being shaped, either by testing the unborn baby's ability to survive adversity (which tends to suggest Emily was knocked over by someone working for Alpert), or by someone trying to kill her and her baby (which means... something. It's hard to draw lines when you don't know who the good guys and bad guys are).

For all we know, Locke was pushed into a locker (surely the only place to store a Locke) by some time agent trying to ruin his life, making him hate himself and being a nerd, thus convincing him to shun the interest of Mittelos Biosciences, the big stupid fool. I have to say, the scene where his teacher ineptly tries to convince him that he is destined to be a nerd forever rang very true. I know I hated being a booky loser when I was young, and wished I was anything but. Thank Jacob for becoming older and wiser, and embracing my nerdiness. Now where's my Mittelos flyer?

Of course, Locke was also visited by Matthew Abaddon, played with muted intensity by Lance "Muted Intensity" Reddick, who managed to plant the seed that got Locke to the island. I think if I met Lance Reddick and he told me to go on a walkabout, I would with a quickness. That is one intense motherfucker, even when said intensity is muted.

But what is this? Okay, so he is pretending to be an orderly in order to get close to our hero, but his sneakers caught my eye, especially as Christian is seen later in hiking boots.

Which brings me nicely to the other crazy moment toward the end of the episode. The only other scene that really rivalled the Abaddon/Alpert time-moulding peculiarity was Locke's chat with Christian, now acting as a proxy for Jacob. Was this because it was important that Locke meet Christian instead of Jacob? Or is it because the actor who is Jacob is currently unavailable and this was a workaround?

Surprising as it was to see Christian without his trademark sneakers (and dressing like Locke, which is surely significant), even more amazing is Claire's appearance. Not that she's in the shack (and apparently "with him", which tends to suggest she really did die in the attack on the Barracks), but that she's smiling.

I don't think she's ever looked so relaxed on this show. It suits her. I will add here that the episode is directed by Paul Edwards, whose previous experience on Lost was helming Par Avion, the episode where Claire met her father for the first time. And now she's (probably) dead and hanging out with him in the Not-Love Shack. It's nicely symmetrical.

Of course, this led to possibly the best final line in the history of the show, as Locke reveals Christian has told him to move the island. There was a thundering cry of, "WTF?" in our house as the Lost logo came up at the end. While many are wondering if the island is going to be moved in time instead of in space, I'm thinking both will apply, and (bear with me on this), we've already seen past and future islands co-existing at the same time. Remember the prison island from the first six episodes of season three, and how Cuselof said those episodes were very important? I think they were a set up for this, and that all the characters were hopping back and forth from the present island to one from the future that had been sent back in time. For all we know, Room 23, the bear cages, the medical complex, and the Others camp (with hastily constructed runway) are just on the other side of the island from the beach (though nowhere near where the Tailies crashed), and those locations on the island from the future were being used by the Others as a base camp for some mysterious reason. If this is the case, I take my hat off to them all. If not, then I take my hat off to myself, because if that isn't the case, it damn well should be.

It wasn't all Locke-stuff this week. We got to see a couple of seconds of Jack and Juliet together, chatting about the hole in Jack's side, while he improbably ate some Dharma-cereal. Surely he should be nil-by-mouth for a while. I know the island tends to cure people, but this is ridiculous. Of course Jack manages to out-stupid even that decision, when the helicopter arrives bringing death, evil, Lawnmower men, and a bag with a time-travelling Sat phone in it. Yes, he thinks he should follow the helicopter, and we can only hope he has figured out that if he's going to do that, he should at least bring every gun possible. Still, in the midst of that daftness, I did like the shot of the beach-dwellers looking out over the ocean, barely visible in the moonlight, a single dot in the distance.

Compare that to the shot of Ben, Hurley and Locke facing Jacob's shack. Similar shot, but whereas the helicopter brings doom, the shack brings hope. For now at least, Locke's "group" has the upper hand.

Usually when writing these posts I like to talk about the visual theme of the episode, but this week I didn't get a sense of one. Perhaps it has a lot to with with how much was going on this week. It moved at such a pace that it seems like about two episodes had been condensed into one, which is probable considering the way the season has been sadly truncated. All we were left with, instead of a cohesive visual thread, was lots of pretty shots. I particularly liked this scary shot of Locke at the top of a flight of stairs.

What's great about this is that we have no idea what Abaddon's motive is, but we're getting a very strong hint (in that Locke is terrified of falling, and Abaddon seems not to be worried about it) that he's not connected to Alpert, who might have had a strop earlier but is nowhere near as ominous as Abaddon, with his talk of a Walkabout miracle changing him (which tends to suggest that, as Hurley said during their game of Risk, that Australia really is the key to everything), and how Locke will owe him a favour. Actually, Alpert did have one scary moment. Empty window...

...and scary window ZOMG!

I have no idea why this composition works so well, but it gave me the fear. Well done, Paul Edwards and cinematographer John Bartley. Another shot I really liked came when Omar received the morse code message from Faraday asking about the Doc, and in the background we see the man who is dead and not yet dead.

And yes, it bent my head out of shape. This week Keamy went apeshit, and the result was pure terror. The man is obviously a total maniac, threatening his captain (who doesn't seem in much of a mood to resist at first)...

...smacking him around (which at least spurs Gault into helping Sayid and Desmond out)...

...killing the Doc in order to crush Frank's rebellion...

...and then killing Gault after he tries to save the day.

Best thing about that? Keamy kills the Doc (and apologises, which was blackly funny), and then tells Frank he will kill someone every thirty seconds if he doesn't get in the helicopter. Gault turns up firing off warning shots in order to stop Keamy, but it doesn't change anything. Keamy gets a chance to take a shot, and kills the captain. Time elapsed between deaths: thirty-two seconds (I timed it). Coincidence? The man is a horrible psychopath, but a methodical one (and possibly also able to predict the future, even if it is unconsciously). My heart bleeds for lovely Frank, who may have gotten involved in something he has no hope of resolving happily.

Sayid wasn't around much this week, but even with not much screentime this most hectic of episodes found plenty of time to use him to maximum effect. First time we see him he's like the Angel of Death. If I was Desmond and got woken up by this fearsome sight I would have pooped my pants and started crying for Penny to come hold me.

But then, you want a badass on your side, and it amused me no end to see tiny Sayid holding his own against Keamy, who towers over him. Sayid's deadly ankles are more than a match for some guy who practises his shooting skills on clay pigeons.

He was also seen speeding from the Kahana, curly hair blowing in the ocean wind as he powers towards the island to save everyone single-handed. What a hero!

That said, I did think it amusing that Sayid suffered massive guilt pangs about outing Michael as Ben's mole, what with Keamy on the rampage. In an episode where Sayid came off pretty well, this was a bit of a low point for him. I'd suggest anger management classes, but I think it's too late for the guy.

Right, late as usual doing this. Tonight, we get the first part of the three part finale, and hopefully we'll get a few answers to some questions. Where is Frank going with Michael?

It's fair to say Keamy's device is connected to his heart, and is thus a way of ensuring his survival, but what else is it connected to? Is it like the nuke attached to Dmitri Ravinoff's brain in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash?

Will Desmond stop being so soppy over his chat with Penny and do something now that the Kahana is littered with dead bodies?

Will Locke's slow bonding with Ben fall apart when he realises he has been played again (because really, who is buying his lost prophet story)?

Seriously, I'm not buying it.