Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lost "The Last Recruit"

The best episodes of Lost, and of any TV show for that matter, are the ones that contain heavily emotional stories that resonate with all viewers and leave a lasting impression. Still, an episode with no true focus can still be compelling, and that's exactly what happens in "The Last Recruit."

With no true centricity, this episode follows the characters as they come into one group on the island, and split from there. Claire, Sun, Sawyer, Hurley, Kate, and Frank go on a boat to Hydra Island to attempt to go to the submarine. Jack ends up returning to Flocke after deciding he can't leave the island. And all of the Others are with Flocke, preparing to attack Hydra Island.

In X Land, the characters continue to bounce around and meet each other through coincidences (coincidences named Desmond Hume). But we see more evidence of bleed-over. Sun is afraid of Locke when being wheeled into the hospital. Where this will lead, though, we don't know for sure.

With all of those chess pieces moving, we are provided with some answers to biting questions. The biggest bomb of the night: Flocke/Man In Black was Christian on the third day after the plane crash (See S1E5, White Rabbit). This doesn't necessarily mean Flocke has been Christian every instance we've seen him, but some clarification would be nice.

We also got some great moments. Jack and Claire's reunion was very cool, and continued to show us how twisted Claire is. At the same time, Jack being befuddled at finding Claire to be his sister in the alternate timeline was interesting. Desmond talking to Sayid was great, and it's possible Sayid has been turned back from the "Dark Side." Jack and Sawyer on the boat was amazing. It shows in one small scene just how far Jack has come as a character over only a couple weeks in the world of Lost. Continuing my love for Jack, his conversations with his son throughout the episode and then his beginning of the surgery were acted well and cleverly written. And to top it off, Jin and Sun finally reunited. It was very touching, and exemplified one of the core elements of the show: love.

And of course, ACTUAL bombs going off around Flocke without him so much as flinching was, to put it bluntly, badass.

All of these moments wouldn't have been as great as they were without the technical side of the show being as good as it was. The music in this episode was especially noticeable. The best cues were in scenes like Jack and Locke's conversation, Desmond's well advice, and Jin and Suns' reunion. The camera work was also involving. I loved the shot pulling out from Suns' hospital room to show us Jack and David just in the hall. I also loved the shot of Jack realizing in the mirror who Locke was. The special effects, while not hugely important here, were great during the explosion scenes. All of this really drew me in, and gave weight to the moves being made to set up the end game of this show.

I had high expectations for this episode, and to be quite honest they weren't met. But seeing as this turned out to be only set up for what should be a compelling and touching final stretch, I'm pleased that the episode could be packed with this many great moments.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Music: "xx" by The xx

I don't normally finish listening to an album and have the thought, "that was a little depressing. I want to listen again." But that's exactly how I feel about xx, the debut from The xx.

The vocals are moody and sad, coming from both a guy and girl. They often go back-and-forth in a song before coming together to hit the emotional climax of a song, and it creates a sense of a real relationship that the listener can't help but empathize with.

The bass and guitar are mellow. They're paced perfectly to relax the listener and allow them to take in the calming songs. While everything is calming, it's still catchy, and I frequently finding myself hoping a song will keep going, or that the hook will escalate once more to an even more intense track.

The songs are, overall, slow yet exciting. xx illustrates that sometimes the silence contained within a song is just as important as the music in evoking certain emotions. The heavyhearted indie pop on this record is catchy and emotionally connective, and is certainly worth a listen.


Fringe "White Tulip"

Image from the Fringe Files Gallery

Fringe has been a problematic show since its very beginning. I was extremely excited for a procedural show from some of the creators of Lost that had an overarching mythology. But season 1 was shaky, with runs of good episodes, runs of bad episodes, and some really great episodes. Season 2 seemed to up the quality some early on, but the cycle of Mythology-Monster of the Week-Monster of the Week-repeat got tiring. The seasons winter finale, Jacksonville, was a promise to the viewers that the spring segment of the season would be the best Fringe has to offer: episodes that masterfully blend the elements of the overarching mythology and self-contained stories that, combined, make the show something special. And with the three episodes after Jacksonville, that promise has not been broken. This weeks episode, White Tulip, was the high point.

The episode centers around a man named Alistair Peck, the only man to walk from a train car where fifteen people seem to have died suddenly. All the energy seems to have been sucked from the bodies and electronics on that car. Before the Fringe team is called to the scene, Walter writes a letter to his son telling him how and why he took him from the other universe. Peter knows Walter is distressed, and Olivia knows he plans to make the move soon.

Their investigation goes on to reveal that Peck is time traveling in order to stop his wife from dying in a car crash. Peck can travel back to points in his own timeline and essentially re-do them, at the cost of killing those around him at his landing point.

It's in the final act that this episode becomes a classic. In a conversation with Alistair, Walter discusses how he, too, took his knowledge too far. He admits to pushing the boundaries to dangerous extents and says he regrets his actions. John Noble's excellent portrayal of Dr. Bishop steals the show yet again, thanks to this scene. Early in the episode, he uses the child-like defense mechanism of the cold shoulder to avoid a confrontation with Peter. But Walter is no child. In his conversation with Alistair, Walter gives us an insight into the mind of Dr. Bishop and the immense moral struggle he is dealing with. His view on God and science therein is inspiring. And with his cautionary tale delivered, Walter is dragged away as Peck flashes back to the day of his wifes accident. The sound direction here is great. We hear next to nothing, but we see Peck rush to say his last "I Love You" to his wife before letting himself die in the car crash. The fulfillment of Walter's goal to prevent another man from threatening the health of the universe to save one person is his Karmic retribution for his theft of Peter. And Peck makes sure Walter knows this. After Walter burns this timelines copy of the letter to Peter, he finds the mail and a letter addressed to him containing a paper with a drawing of a tulip. The emotional range Noble covers in this small scene is astounding.

That's not to say the rest of the cast does a necessarily bad job. While I've seen others criticize Josh Jackson's Peter, I very much enjoy the character. Olivia, as portrayed by Anna Torv, continues to be decent enough to not bring the show down, but she's not helping a whole lot either. The same can be said for Lance Reddick's Broyles, who has been focused on less and less as this season has gone on. Jasika Nicole's Astrid begs for more screen time, but she fills her role now well enough that I am satisfied. As long as Noble has something to do, the rest of the cast can't drag the show through the mud.

As I discussed above, the sound design in this episode was perfectly impactful. The music was also wonderful. I've loved the score to Fringe all along. There are some exciting cues, but at the same time it's not too overbearing. The music doesn't beat us over the head with the reactions we're supposed to be having, but it clues us in.

"White Tulip" succeeds at being an example of what to expect in a grade-A episode of Fringe. There are elements of serial nature, where the show assumes ahead of time that we know what the cast is going through. But the procedural elements create a tightly-woven, self-contained, highly-emotional story using gripping science-fiction narrative devices that resonates with all television fans. As long as the program continues this balancing act, we can expect a quality show. Let us hope Fringe keeps walking the tightrope with precision.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Film: "Kick-Ass"

Here I go, contradicting the description of the blog in my very first real post.
I was able to see a 10:00 P.M. screening of Kick-Ass tonight. I throughly enjoyed it.
For those who don't know the premise, the film follows an awkward high-schooler by the name of Dave (played by Aaron Johnson, who feels like a pleasing mix of Michael Cera and Jonah Hill). Dave is the kid in school who nobody notices. He's a comic-book geek and is bad with girls. Getting mugged is a common occurrence in his neighborhood, but Dave hates the fact that others can watch as scum like the men shaking him down break into cars and steal peoples cash at knife-point. So Dave attempts to become a comic-book superhero. His antics in a street fight garner him Internet fame, as he adopts the name of Kick Ass and promises to continue fighting crime. Along the way, he meets the purple-wigged Hit Girl and the gun-toting Big Daddy. These two true heroes are trying to take down Frank D'Amico's crime ring, and Dave gets caught in the middle of the conflict.

Now, the trailers are extremely misleading for Kick Ass. It appears to be Superbad with superheroes, when it's actually a graphic novel adaption, with emphasis on the word graphic. Just like a comic book, the colors in the film are varied and exciting, and they draw attention to and highlight the action in the film. Blood is a vivid red, grenades are bright yellow, and Daves costume itself is a teal green with yellow highlights. The characters are colorful too. Big Daddy, portrayed by Nicholas Cage, delivers his in-costume lines with a peculiar rhythm of pauses and quick bursts of words, which I found very amusing. Hit Girl is cocky and profane, all while being eleven years old. The superhero side of the movie leads naturally to the gore and bloodshed contained within the film.

It's the combination of the superhero elements with the real world that makes parts of the film feel overly graphic or immoral. As the movie shows Dave in his life outside of the costume, we get a very realistic portrayal of teenage life. Dave's conversations with his buddies Todd and Marty feel genuine, and Clark Duke's delivery is the main reason for that. Dave's interaction with the beautiful Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca) attribute to his motivation for becoming Kick Ass: his need to be noticed.

Big Daddy and Hit Girl also have their motives spelled out, but Chloe Moretz's Hit Girl isn't as expressive of her loss, and there is where the moral conundrum lies. In a particularly graphic scene taking place in the apartment of one of Frank's dealers, Kick Ass is saved by the blade-wielding Hit Girl. After taking out goons threatening her with butterfly knives and more, she continues to kill the girl who was with them and the addict in the corner, who tries to protect himself with a lamp. The characters of Hit Girl and Big Daddy are so willing (and able) to kill, that they do so without remorse. In most scenes, I was too busy watching the excellently choreographed action to worry about the choices the characters were making, but in the scene above I got pretty caught up. These gray areas of morality lead to Hit Girl and Big Daddy being harder to sympathize with. By the end, you might agree with what those characters are doing, but the awkward middle drags the movie down just a bit.

Still, Dave's character saves the film by being the only clear good guy. His motivation as a hormone-crazy teenager under a single parent make his story easily understood. So when Kick Ass jumps into the action, you're sure as hell rooting for him. And that's not to say you won't cheer for Big Daddy or Hit Girl, either. But if you're like me, you might question doing so for a good portion of the film. But by the time the climax comes around, the film returns from the real world and becomes more of a comic book, with everything in absolutes. The final two action scenes are so crazily awesome, with definite good guys and bad guys, that you'll be on the edge of your seat as the heroes attempt to take on the crime syndicate in a bloody rampage.

Beside the moral gray areas the film expects us to relate to, the other glaring problem to me was Christopher Mintz-Plasse's Red Mist/Chris D'Amico. As the son of Frank, Chris wants to become a crime boss like his father. While we're given his motivation, we're never shown it very well. I found Mintz-Plasse unconvincing throughout the whole film.

But these are relatively small problems compared to the enjoyment that the target audience of Kick Ass will get from the visceral action sequences and uneasy but hilarious teenage humor. When you view the movie as you would its source material, as a comic book, the viewer gets a film with breathtaking action and memorable jokes led with a message to take life into your own hands and to never give in to the world and its pressures.



I'm Andrew. I like to watch TV, watch movies, and listen to some music.
This is where I write about those subjects. But beware: my writing isn't great. Which is why I've created this blog: to improve on my writing. So that my criticism can be, you know, coherent.
Hopefully I'll improve as I go.
I'll also come along with random musings every once in a while.