Friday, May 30, 2008

Lost Season Finale: So Where Did It Go Again?

After the mindblowing finale of Season 3, a finale that caused me to lose sleep as my brain was working overdrive, I kept more conservative expectations going into the Season 4 finale. Since really, how could Season 4 even come close to matching the complete "game changer" of a finale last year?

And, fortunately or unfortunately, I was correct. This did not blow my mind in the same way that last year's did and to attempt to compare the two is truly an exercise in futility.

The reason for this is abundantly clear: last year the question was centrally focused on "What Does This Mean?" We didn't know whether the flash-forwards were the last point in the series, whether this was only ONE possible future or a number of different possibilities, how the show was going to be structured in Season 4, what the meaning of the word "present" is. All of these speculations caused people to have months upon months of wondering until we finally got our definitive answer in the form of "The Beginning of the End."

This year, the question is more straight forward. Instead of "What Does This Mean?" it's more of a "What Happens Next?" My personal belief, and this could turn out to be 100% wrong as 100% of my predictions have been in the past, is that off-island is now the present. The crux of next year will be Jack getting the group back together which will finally culminate in them arriving back to the island. In the meantime, our flashbacks will show what led Locke to end up in that coffin. Therefore, in next year's season finale we will presumably see, in flashback, what killed Locke.

Unfortunately, I feel that Michael was rather wasted this year and particularly in this finale. Was he really fully redeemed to the point where it was worth it to finally kill him off? What purpose did he serve staring at the C4 instead of running upstairs with Jin? As it stands, he apparently never even made amends with his son, which was one of the primary reasons for his introduction in Season 1. Granted, as is always the case with Lost, just because you're dead doesn't necessarily mean you're off the show. And Christian Shepherd could certainly attest to that. Speaking of the old Dr. Shepherd, his appearance on the freighter was particularly interesting.

As for Jin, I would stake a week's pay on his being alive. The purpose that his "death" serves is to send Sun into the spiral of vengeance that she appears to be taking in attempting to conspire with Widmore. My concern though is that Sun will turn into her father, making a reunion with Jin somewhat bittersweet. While it will be great to see them together again, in what direction will Sun have gone that might make us root against her somewhat? Jack explicitly stated that "Sun blames me for Jin's death." (Which is slightly inaccurate, since it was kind of Lapidus who refused to go back to the boat, too.)

Season 5 by necessity seems as if it will be a completely different animal if the driving force is returning to the island. Of course, that in and of itself, raises some questions. When Ben says "everyone" has to go back, does that mean Lapidus and Desmond? Aaron? Taking a toddler on a cross country trip is hard enough, try bringing one along to find a mystical island.

Speaking of Desmond, I would have to say that his reunion with Penny was quite possibly the highlight of the finale. To think that this dynamic wasn't even part of the show until the very last episode of Season 2 is very difficult to believe since it resonates so much more than any of the other love stories on the island. The Jack/Sawyer/Kate triangle has been done to death and certainly doesn't seem to be nearing a TRUE resolution anytime soon.

And who would have thought even a year ago that they were going to TELEPORT THE ISLAND. Which is kind of a downer for Faraday and his band of merry meat socks floatin' away on the ocean. Yet, I'm sure we haven't seen the last of him. How far we've come from "Where are we going to find water?" to "How exactly does one move an entire isalnd?" The curious thing is where exactly did it go? And how can it get found again? Once again...more questions.

While I'm certainly looking forward to the Season 5 premiere, it's not the same sort of anticipation that I had last year, and really, how could it? Even so, Lost still excels at being one of the most quality shows on television and I certainly cannot wait until February to see what direction we will be taken next.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review

I must admit to the fact that I have never seen Indiana Jones on the big screen until now. Born in 1984, the year that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was released, the only opportunity I would have had would have been The Last Crusade five years later. And it wasn't exactly my parent's predilection at the time to take a 5 year old to a PG-13 movie.

Yet, that's not to say that I wasn't fond of Indy growing up. In fact, I was a HUGE fan of Temple of Doom, since it was on all the time when I was younger. Strangely, I didn't even end up seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark until my teen years because I was biased against the movie. First, there was the fact that it didn't have "Indiana Jones and the" in front of it. Secondly, I thought they were talking about Noah's Ark. And I didn't want to see a movie about Noah's Ark. (I ended up seeing one years later called "Evan Almighty." And it was crap.)

But throughout the years, I have become a bigger and bigger fan of Indiana Jones. Because really, what creature with a Y chromosome wouldn't want to be him? I certainly can't think of any.

Which is what makes this review so difficult to write. There is so much great about "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" but at the same time there is also so much that takes away from it.

Make no mistake about it, Indiana Jones is back. His wit, his abilities, his tenacity are all on full display for the world to see and being given the opportunity to experience this character on a 100 foot screen was rather thrilling.

The problems exist mainly regarding the plot. So many points in the movie, the momentum would stop dead in its tracks in order to explain what was happening and why. This overly complicated plot regarding what may or may not be aliens was distracting and didn't serve the movie very well. Maybe I'm misremembering, but the previous movies didn't have such convoluted plots. Although, I suppose the familiarity with the previous plots could have to do with the numerous times I've seen the movies throughout the years. Or at least when it was exposition time in the earlier films, it didn't feel so forced and unnatural.

Especially with the introduction of Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf). While I understand the reasons for Mutt's presence, the fact he is even there seems rather strange. He only serves to reintroduce Marion to the story who, while great to see return, seems like she was shoehorned into the story for little reason other than to see Marion back and to provide Indy with a sidekick. I don't have any issue with Shia LaBeouf on the whole, and have enjoyed him in other movies like "Disturbia", but here he feels out of place. Also a scene with him in the jungle with some monkeys is literally laugh-out-loud ludicrous. I mean, I know this is Indiana Jones and all, but that's just another moment when I'm immediately drawn out of the movie. And I'm not even going to get started with how dumb the monkey-men or spider-men were and what the hell they were even doing in this movie.

And as a last negative, the big finale and the events leading up to it do not fully seem to make much sense. The events that take place at the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull are ambiguous at best and nonsensical at worst. Maybe the whys and hows of it all will be better explained upon future viewings, but the results of the actions of the characters seem to be at odds with what the Crystal Skulls were apparently supposed to stand for.

If it seems I'm being overly negative, I'm not. The action is very cool and, with signature Spielberg style, is thoroughly entertaining and never boring. There were moments in this film that despite knowing that Indiana is going to survive, I felt real dread over what could potentially happen to him. The opening scene in Area 51 especially really felt like a return to form for the old archeologist. When the "Raider's March" kicks into high gear as Indy is doing his thing, you can't help but be filled with a childlike glee at the entire experience on screen. Even just that would have been enough to justify going to see this movie, but fortunately there was much more.

The character moments, when they weren't sitting around being conduits for exposition, were great. In fact, a huge complaint I have is that there was too much time explaining the plot and not enough time for character. More bickering between Marion and Indy would have been great, as would more reactions to various plot twists that exist throughout the movie. Certain moments seem to be accepted far too easily and there's no real struggle in that acceptance when one might expect there would be.

Ben Burtt's sound design is once again on full display with the over the top punches and whipcracks that seem to be unique to Indiana Jones. The sound effects are especially great and draw you in even more. But John Williams' new score seems to be a bit of a mixed bag. Much like the movie, it is sufficient but nowhere near the greatness of either the Raiders score or my personal favorite, The Last Crusade. I enjoy the new themes that were written but none seem to lend themselves to the emotional gravitas that existed in prior incarnations. The old themes were great as ever, especially the little nods here and there to the previous films, and I could certainly listen to those over and over again.

Make no mistake about it: this is a fun movie that's worth seeing more than once, if just to see Indiana Jones back in action one more time. The problem is that while it is in the same vein as its predecessors, the script is along a different track that prevents it from achieving true greatness. And if the rumors are true that they're setting up Shia LaBeouf for his own series, then I'll be incredibly annoyed by this. I can't say that I wouldn't see it (I see pretty much everything), but I think Harrison Ford IS Indiana Jones, and to attempt to replace him would be a tragedy.

Some people might be making the case that in today's movie-going environment, Indiana Jones has no place. But I would certainly argue with that. Indiana Jones is the everyman. You feel like you could put on that fedora and whip and become him, exploring the outer reaches of the world and getting into all sorts of adventures. Despite a few small missteps, Indy has most certainly returned and I have to say that I'm rather happy about it.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Movies in the 21st Century

The world of cinema has entered a totally new world in these last few years, particularly since the dawn of the internet. Now, I personally haven't been a fan of movies, at least like I am now, for my entire life. In fact, working at a movie theater for six years probably had quite a bit to do with my exponential interest in the workings of the world of the silver screen. But growing up in this time certainly has many pros and cons. Unfortunately, I will be looking at this issue through my admittedly narrow experience, given that I am only 24 years old and rarely experienced movies in the same way that many of those did before my time. So any input from those who have different perspectives would be highly appreciated.

The multiplex is now the preferred method of cinema delivery. Gone are the days of Drive-Ins and small, independent theaters with only one or two screens. Any less than 10 screens is seen to be exceedingly small and is rather rare these days. The intimate experience of going to the movies is now being somewhat diluted by this overwhelming sensory overload. The memories that people have of going to the movies is assuredly different than it must have been in the past.

This, unfortunately, leads to an increasing lack of control on the part of theater management. How is it possible to rodeo dozens of teenagers who seem to be everywhere at once? People who are disrupting the movie for others are becoming insanely difficult to track down and proof of wrongdoing on the part of the perpetrators can be nearly impossible to come by. Couple this with skyrocketing prices (a topic that will be exploited in a future entry) and one can only see why attendance is dropping so dramatically. Box office gurus continue to tout financial numbers like they are all that matter. "$100 Million in its first weekend! $300 million overall!" Yes, but how many people actually went to see these movies? How many people were you able to reach with them? These LEGITIMATE questions appear to be lost in the shuffle of the overwhelming "more is more" policy that Hollywood, and by extension theater exhibitors, seem to have these days.

That policy also extends to the marketing of movies. The way trailers are cut today, I cannot fathom them being cut the same way 20-30 years ago. With so many competing forms of entertainment out there ranging from just web browsing to video games, there seems to be the attitude that so much needs to be shown from the movies to get people interested. The downside is that it lessens the impact of the movie itself. Last year, essentially the entire plot of Spider-Man 3 was given away before the credits even began to roll. Multiple trailers, an 8-minute sequence given out a month before opening, TV spots, all led to a digestible version of the movie to the point where one did not even have to go see it to understand what was going to happen. I understand that anticipation needs to be built, but sometimes you give away too much. So many movies are guilty of this these days, I don't even know where I'd begin to start. (I guess I started with Spider-Man 3, a sub-par Spider-Man movie and a slightly above average action movie, and this is coming from a HUGE Spider-Man fan.)

Of course, not all is bad in this new world of cinema. When an event movie arrives, you are pretty much guaranteed to be able to go to the theater and catch it within a day or so. Gone are the days when people would have to line up seemingly weeks in advance in order to catch a glimpse of the new Star Wars movie. The saturation of theaters has gotten to a point where that isn't necessary. A Star Wars-caliber movie would have a showing almost every half-hour to avoid totally selling out. Granted, some may argue that this lessens the communal nature of movie-going but I think all would agree that it's nice to be able to see what you want when you want. The downside is that it gives crap movies almost an equal chance at success, therefore unintentionally raising the perceived quality of said movies. This could be a symptom throughout movie history though, since I have not researched the success of bad movies in the past.

The internet is also turning into a cesspool of leaks and spoilers and prejudgments on non-finished products. A piece of concept art could be released about a project and suddenly the internet comes out and jumps all over it. This in turn gives the impression that the entire world is against whatever it might be, when in fact I would argue that a tiny percentage of the movie-going public is active on the internet. But with the instant nature of the internet, the ending of a movie could get out, and suddenly it's available to anyone with a search engine. People could come across is accidentally and have the whole experience ruined for them. Granted, I'm sure that is a rare situation, but the fact is that it exists and it can be rather harmful.

On the other hand, the internet has so many wonderful things these days. The ubiquity of internet video and therefore trailers has allowed anyone to be able to find out about the newest movies. No longer do people have to wait in line for a movie they didn't want to see just to find out if a trailer to an anticipated movie will be on it. Just log on and check it out yourself. And for free. The access is unprecedented and I'm sure allows for some movies that wouldn't otherwise be seen to be given a chance at success that it otherwise would not have had.

Yet, when all is said and done, would I rather live now or then? If you take away DVDs and home theaters and the financial issues, and judge movie theaters on their merits between now and then alone, it becomes a difficult decision. Ultimately, I would probably say now because of the ability to see movies on my own schedule, but certain upsides to movie experiences from the past certainly hold water. The thing is, I think we can get to a place now where it becomes more enjoyable for everyone. It will just take a little hard work and some dedication. It's too bad I'm not in a position to help make that happen. Yet.