Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Lost Summary

So, what have we learned tonight?

- In Locke's crossword puzzle, both "Gilgamesh," and "Somas" are visible.

Gilgamesh was 2/3's god, 1/3 man, and was known as "He who saw the deep" (deep meaning "unknown mysteries"). Gilgamesh's rival was Enkidu, a "wild-man." Locke and Eko appear to mirror these two characters, though to what extent, and to what degree of literalness, we don't know. It's also unclear whether Locke would be Gilgamesh or Enkidu, and we don't know enough about Eko to decide. It's also possible that "Gilgamesh" is in the crossword because the writers are mythology geeks.

Of more obvious seeming significance is that "Somas" is also in the puzzle. Thomas Hanna created the word "somatics" in 1976 to name the approaches to mind/body integration. "Soma" is a Greek word for the living body, which Hanna re-defined as the body experienced from within, where we experience mind/body integration.

Hanna Somatics is an approach to renewed control of the muscles through use of the voluntary motor system. Given Locke's former "condition," this seems pretty damn relevant. Though, again, we just don't know.

Other than that, we don't learn much, island-wise. And if Ana Lucia has somehow crossed paths with the other survivors (as so many of the front-end castaways appear to have), it wasn't clear from this episode's flashbacks.

This is good Tv.

Giving Thanks

As Thanksgiving rolls around, and I prepare to enter a Tryptophan-induced hibernation that will help to complete my transformation from mortal blogger to ageless global conqueror, my thoughts turn to Africa, and to the massive poverty and famine there.

In a season where we routinely stuff ourselves to the point of belt-expansion, I can't help but feel a little...excessive. Maybe we can't solve the world's problems, but we can do our tiny part in the Great Scheme of Things. We can take small steps toward Good Works, taking them because it is right to do so. I'm asking my family to make donations to any of the following organizations in lieu of spending twenty bucks on something else. Is it a lot of money? No. But it's a step in the right direction.

I don't pretend to know much about charities or relief organizations, but the following groups strike me as being non-partisan, noble, and sincere.

Oxfam

www.oxfam.org

UNICEF

www.unicef.org

International Federation of the Red Cross

www.ifrc.org

Why not donate this week's coffee money to a worthy cause? We can't solve problems by throwing money at them, but we can help to ease the suffering of people who don't deserve the hand they're dealt.

Lost Update


Over at Dark Horizons, they've posted episode summaries for the next few weeks, and being a bear of very little brain, let alone self-control, I took a peek at them.

Jumpin' Jehosophats, that's some exciting stuff.

Admit it, you have no self-control, either. Go ahead, gorge yourself on vaguely-spoilerish details right HERE.

Not In My Back Yard

CRAWFORD, Texas - A dozen war protesters were arrested Wednesday for setting up camp near President Bush’s ranch in defiance of new local bans on roadside camping and parking....In August, hundreds of demonstrators camped off the road during a 26-day protest led by Sheehan, whose 24-year-old soldier son Casey was killed in Iraq last year. But a month later, county commissioners banned camping in any county ditch and parking within 7 miles of the ranch, citing safety and traffic congestion issues.

Good Morning, and Good Luck

Good Night and Good Luck is good cinema. I had, at most, a passing familiarity with Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joseph R. McCarthy when I saw the film. Since watching it, I've done some reading up. What struck me most about the film was how little both the media and politics have changed since Murrow's and McCarthy's time. In the past week, both Cheney and Bush have backpeddled away from their statements claiming those who criticize the administration are being unpatriotic. This is in marked contrast to the hard-line they've been toeing so far on the issue.

I've long argued that critical opinion on politics, especially during a time of war or crisis, is a necessary component to the successful functioning of democracy. After all, if a particular approach is defensible, you should be able to defend it without any amount of detractors "weakening" the image of the country.

In Good Night and Good Luck, the threat is the stain of communism. McCarthy, and many others like him, were apparently fans of the "if you aren't with me, you're my enemy" approach favored by the current administration and the post-Sithesizied Anakin Skywalker. Murrow's words (while not as short and snappy as "Only a Sith deals in absolutes") ring true and applicable in our world to this day.

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men -- not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.

The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn't create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it -- and rather successfully. Cassius was right. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

Good night, and good luck.

(courtesy of wikipedia)

President's Daily Bulls**t?

Not very long ago I commented that "the dems" ought to produce evidence that they (and we, the people) were misled into war, and stop making generalized accusations. Well, obviously, someone was listening (not, of course, to me, but to the ever-persuasive siren-song of common sense).

From the National Journal:

Ten days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda, according to government records and current and former officials with firsthand knowledge of the matter.

The information was provided to Bush on September 21, 2001 during the "President's Daily Brief..." The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the White House for the CIA assessment, the PDB of September 21, 2001, and dozens of other PDBs as part of the committee's ongoing investigation into whether the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence information in the run-up to war with Iraq. The Bush administration has refused to turn over these documents.

Now, I've got no clue whether the National Journal knows what it's talking about, but if this PDB does exist, it's exactly the sort of smoking gun that would show, without the ability to resort to claims of partisan sniping, that indeed, we were misled - willfully. The administration does not help its case by refusing to release their PDB's. Although, in a sense, its a smart thing to do. Whether or not the September 21st document exists, the administration can claim that this is just another effort from unpatriotic, partisan, paranoid, Area 51-ish lefties who want so badly to see this noble war effort destroyed that they will create the political equivalent to a "magic bullet."

Of course, that strategy would backfire pretty damn severely if anyone actually got their hands on the thing.

(courtesy of Booman Tribune)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Harry Potter and the Billion-Dollar Franchise

Has there ever been a film series as illustrative of the fact that “the book was better” than Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter?

While entertaining, none of the films – including the deservedly praised Prisoner of Azkaban – have come close to capturing the feel of Rowling’s world. Part of this is simply the fault of the imagination. What our minds can concieve is always going to trump whatever special-effects wizardry Hollywood conjures up (no more bad magic puns, I promise). It’s a credit to Mike Newell, director of such effects-free films as Donnie Brasco and Four Weddings and a Funeral, that Goblet of Fire comes the closest so far to doing just that.

That the movie inevitably pales in comparison to its source material is forgivable here, because what Newell creates is the first Potter film that feels like a movie, and a really good movie, at that.

Goblet of Fire is, by and large, the most popular Potter book among adults, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s the first of the series to break away from the Scooby-Dooish plots of the the first three books. It’s the first to begin expanding Rowling’s world away from Hogwarts. While I’d argue that Order of the Phoenix is the Empire Strikes Back of the Potter books, you could probably make the same case for Goblet of Fire. It’s damn good.

And it’s dark. There’s death, confusion, the fallibility of adult role-models, and the long-promised return of He-who-must-not-be-named.

What’s great about Goblet of Fire, the film, is that it doesn’t shy away from any of that stuff. GOF is a dark film, a decidedly adult film, even as it offers enough to the kiddies to keep it safely in family land. While there are a handful of people out there who haven’t succumbed to reading the Potter books (I’m looking at you, Adam), I’m writing this review under the assumption that you’ll know the plot before hitting the theater. If you’re not familiar with the books, there are a few spoilers here. I’ll do my best to mark them, but you’ve been warned.

What’s great about the film is how it flows. The first two Potter films were marked by a dogged reverence to Rowling that ultimately hindered the films. They were nice to look at, and solidly made, but somehow uninspiring. I own them both, and they’ve gotten virtually no play since I saw them in the theater. Alfonso Cuaron’s Azkaban was a marked improvement, but the sense of the movie as a Disney-like theme park ride that whisks you past various well-made tableaus remained. What Newell manages to do is wrest his adaptation from the jaws of slavish recreation, hacking vast sections of story out and focusing in on the core of the thing.

The result is a movie that breathes, and that allows the audience to finally connect on an emotional level with the characters in this medium. The slight remoteness of the first three films has been replaced with a textured realism that makes the magic seem, well, magical, and the characters more human.

GOF the novel contained an in-depth subplot on Harry’s fame, and the heretofore-unexplored price of it. GOF the film recognizes that, entertaining as it was, that section of the book doesn’t contribute much of anything to the essential story of Harry’s journey, and the character of Skeeter (played gamely by Miranda Richardson) is given a glorified cameo in the film. Hermione’s house-elf sub-plot is tossed as well, and both these excisions give the central story-line of the Tri-wizard cup room to breathe.

It also allows Newell to focus on a clear strength of his – relationships. There’s an authenticity to the emotions of the characters in GOF that the previous films made slightly more forced. While Azkaban went a long way toward remedying that, GOF goes a little further. The movie’s far better for it, because when characters are put in danger during the course of the film you’ve invested in them to the point of worrying for their safety. I give enormous credit to the filmmakers for making me worry about the characters when they’re placed into danger. Despite knowing exactly how it all ends up, I found myself wishing that things would turn out differently this time, and that’s entirely due to my feeling “closer” to the emotions and relationships of the characters.

The cast (with one notable exception) appears to be growing into these roles with each subsequent film, and its been fascinating to watch as Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint (Harry and Ron, respectively) age along with their characters. No other film series has attempted to film a series this long with the same group of actors. Both do a fine job with their roles, and as usual, the supporting cast is stellar. By the time this series concludes, they’ll have employed virtually every single notable British thespian alive, and the sheer collective firepower of these people is a joy to behold. There’s rarely a false note struck in the character work for these films, a surprising, pleasant rarity.

Sadly, Emma Watson fumbles the ball pretty damn badly here. Her Hermione is an over-acted, twitchy-eyebrowed mess, and not in a good way. She’s been perfectly fine before in each previous film, so I can’t help but to lay the blame at Newell’s feet. He’s an actor’s director, and for him to have let Watson go the way he does here is poor direction on his part.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

While we’ve steered into the realm of criticism, let’s also spend a moment discussing what is the movie’s biggest misstep – namely, the telegraphing of Mad Eye Moody’s true identity. Throughout the film, Newell drops elephant-sized hints about this, and to anyone who’s familiar with the books (which is, safely estimated, probably about 90% of the audience) it’s jarringly in-your-face, ruining the final reveal.

Entertainment Weekly’s review of the film criticized the look and performance of Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort, but I disagree entirely with their opinion. Fiennes (strangely recognizable under some very effective make-up) gives a performance that, especially in light of the revelations given to us by Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, feels right. Voldemort is not some spooky, unknowable cosmic baddie. He is, or was, very human in his evil. There have been a lot of comparisons between Rowling’s Voldemort and history’s Adolph Hitler, and Fiennes’ performance reinforces that. What makes Voldemort such a chilling villain is ultimately not the children’s book style pure-evil of his first appearance. It’s his philosophy, and that philosophy’s power over others. He is the Alpha-dog of a belief-system that embraces thinly-veiled, allegorical racial purity. If he did not exist in Rowling’s world, those who follow him would still harbor the same thoughts of superiority. Like any form of racism, or evil, it exists outside of any one person’s control. Fiennes nails the creepily-charismatic allure of leaders like Hitler in the herky-jerky movements of his new-born body, and most especially in his line delivery. It’s a terrifically realized performance in a movie that’s chock full of them.

GOF will be the first Potter flick that I see myself popping in at home just for the heck of it. It’s accomplished in the way that truly classic cinema always is. It works well as a kiddie flick (though it’s dark enough that if my child was under, say, seven years old I wouldn’t take them), but equally well as an adultish, Star Wars-esque coming-of-age tale. It’s done gangbuster’s business so far , and it deserves its success. At this point, Warner Brothers could slap together a Harry Potter flick with the Olsen Twins and a Super-8 camera and still make millions. It’s a real pleasure to see them continually improving their franchise.

While you’re at the theater, do yourself a favor and see Good Night, and Good Luck as well. Clooney’s film is a well-shot, well-acted piece that, despite its flaws, gives you a sense of just how much the world has changed, and how its stayed the same.