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Words as weaponry
26 August 2009
Note: this comment was edited to meet IMDb length guidelines.

I first saw "Inglourious Basterds" in late July and concluded that it would flop and Tarantino would never again be relevant. Needless to say, I didn't like it and didn't even expect to see it again. Late August and Tarantino certainly seems relevant again. His biggest opening at the box office, rapturous media reviews, and a surprising amount of hype. Word of mouth is excellent. It remains to be seen how steady the movie's box office performance will be, but after the tepid reception at Cannes, the movie proved an unlikely hit. Two viewings later and "Inglourious Basterds" is probably my favorite movie of the year.

Why I initially reacted the way I did is increasingly mysterious to me, was it expectations of a men-on-a-mission film unfulfilled, the then seemingly tedious and over-written verbal jousts? Consciously or subconsciously, I didn't want to like the movie. I tutted at the glee with which the movie portrayed the violence the basterds inflicted. I resisted the charm of the film's construct, acknowledging that it was more than I expected it to be while at the same time lamenting Tarantino's juvenile and silly handling of such serious subject matter.

The truth, which has been revealed to me by two further viewings of the film, is that "Inglourious Basterds" might very well be Tarantino's greatest film, eclipsing even his most mature work to date "Jackie Brown". This is a glorious subversion of the dreary holocaust drama, a Spaghetti Western with WWII iconography, a love letter to the movies, and it is, every step of the way, aware of exactly what it's doing. In the end it basically comes down to personal opinion on whether this was a success or not, but what seems plainly obvious to me is that there is absolutely nothing about this film that is clumsy. The time and care taken with the screenplay is obvious, as is the time taken to edit the film. The Cannes cut wasn't longer, but it was apparently different in construct and differently-woven. When we're talking about a movie which depends entirely on: a) tension built through dialogue and character interaction, and b) the pacing of those scenes and how the scenes fit together, this could explain the significant difference between the reception at Cannes and the critical reception upon actual release.

The performance of the cast collectively is probably the most obviously praise-worthy aspect of the film. The Basterds are lovable and humorous, but also portray just the right amount of savagery to make it clear that what they're doing isn't child's play, and Brad Pitt is a standout as Aldo Raine, giving a fun comic performance but also creating perhaps the most sympathetic character in the film outside Melanie Laurent, whose Shosanna Dreyfus is the emotional core of the film. She also feels more like a film character than a real person, something Tarantino is aware of, as she is written as a classical tragic hero, complete with a deliberately clichéd romance and a climax to her story which really sums up everything this movie is about in its self-aware artifice and theatrical grandeur. Diane Kruger impresses as Bridget von Hammersmark, despite being given the tricky job of playing an actress. Undoubtedly the performance of the film, of the year, is Christoph Waltz's Hans Landa. It's perfect. It's exactly what it needed to be, and the wrong actor in that role would have destroyed the film.

In Tarantino's own words, "Inglourious Basterds" is about the power of cinema bringing down the Third Reich. An even better description would be the power of words challenging the power of violence. Intentionally or not, that is one of the most interesting parallels drawn in "Inglourious Basterds". In more than one scene verbal battles turn into violence, but in as many scenes the threat of violence is kept at bay by the power of words and acting, a major component of cinema. Tarantino's wordplay here isn't just characters saying cool stuff to one another, it's the entire language of the movie, the weapon of choice for his characters. Many say Tarantino should write plays if he's just going to have characters talk to each other for ages, but that wouldn't make sense because he delights as much in the conversation and his actors' performance as he does in their context in his film, and his films always feature the cinematic, except for "Reservoir Dogs".

"Inglourious Basterds" is all about the cinema, and where the movie references in "Kill Bill" were part of a pastiche of B-movie cinema, "Inglourious Basterds" works the references seamlessly into a genuinely involving story, albeit one with a healthy dose of silliness and dark humor. Where I initially thought Tarantino failed most significantly was where he succeeded most greatly: in his attempt to create a grand love letter to the power of cinema. Tarantino proves literate in more than just junk film here- for all the allusions to macaroni combat films and spaghetti westerns, it's ultimately a gonzo celebration of high art. The entire film is burlesque in nature, best seen as a deliberately artificial cinematic recreation of WWII rather than straightforwardly as a WWII war film of any nature.

More than any of his other movies, "Inglourious Basterds" is about cinema. It's not just subtext, it's the reality of the film which is so tied to the world of cinema. The film may be total fantasy, and it has no qualms about depicting the cathartic power of violence, but it's ultimately taut, tense, entertaining, funny, and most importantly sort of beautiful in its own grandiose, bizarre manner. As Aldo declares his final act of brutality in the film his masterpiece, Tarantino seems to be declaring this film his own. Call it kosher porn, call it whatever you like, what I ultimately see this as is a tribute to cinephilia made with far more heart than I expected.
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Reservoir Dogs
26 August 2009
Was that as good for you as it was for me? Not really, Quentin. It launched your career and earned you a lot of fans well before "Pulp Fiction" came along, but it's not really all that great. Re-watching a film I'd seen once before in high school should prove interesting, but the movie was basically exactly what I remembered it as. Decent story, good characters, some superb dialogue, but nothing much to recommend as a film. This might have made a great theater production, but Tarantino doesn't create a lively atmosphere with his camera, he doesn't do enough to make this feel cinematic. He's no Mike Nichols on "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", that's for sure, but sadly I don't think he even does an okay job with it. The movie is dead, dull to look at. Cheap-looking even. But yeah, some great conversations, but that's pretty much it. I'm not a big fan, and certainly don't understand this one's rep.
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Moon (2009)
Impressive, intimate science fiction
16 August 2009
"Moon", for all the comparisons to cerebral SF films of the past, boils down to essential human drama, albeit with a neat twist. The feature debuts of director Duncan Jones and cinematographer Gary Shaw aren't always impressive, as what initially seems to be a deliberately grungy look is proved by awful use of slow-motion and some very clumsy transitions to be the result of inexperienced direction, while Shaw's work is consistently dull and plain. The effects work (model miniatures used) is not too impressive either, even considering the low budget for the film. However, the screenplay by Nathan Parker is absolutely excellent, with superb story development, dialogue, and characterization, and some very good ideas which are, contrary to what many critical reviews say, pretty well-explored (and subtly, too). Sam Rockwell's performance is sublime, and while the aesthetic does let the screenplay and performance down a bit, Jones does succeed at creating a great, suspenseful atmosphere and deserves credit for Rockwell's performance as well, surely, and the film is very nicely-paced. Very good score by Clint Mansell and voice work by Kevin Spacey help the film succeed. A minor gem.
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District 9 (2009)
The power of the unexpected
16 August 2009
I'm getting to be really sick of reading review after review of "District 9" praising it as a revelatory masterwork of great depth with superb social commentary to boot. It's not, and if this is what cerebral science fiction now is, that's very sad news for those of us who have devoted hours and hours and hours of our life to that great genre. "District 9", however, is an example of what action SF should aspire to. The content is substantial enough for the film to earn its desired emotional weight, the satire clever and incisive, the action very well-executed, the story fairly well though-out, and the delivery and construction of the film clever and powerful.

In short, this is what you'd want from an expensive genre production. It's a smart crowd-pleaser but also a fairly smart narrative in its own right. Criticisms of the movie's action-packed final act make little sense, as the entire film is paced as a thriller, and while there's no question the first two thirds are less chaotic and probably a great deal more focused than the last third, the transition is quite seamless and fits in perfectly. It's enough to sell the movie as 'cool' to sell tickets, but also part of the story and if not totally necessary that the scenes drag on for as long as they do (and that's really the movie's only major fault, there are too many contrivances leading up to explosions and badass weaponry), then at least they fit somewhat organically into the narrative. Sharlto Copley plays the lead extremely well, and he's apparently never acted in a movie before! Not bad, not bad.

The characters are pretty well-drawn overall, which is important in selling this sort of film. For once praising the effects is praising character, as the 'prawns' here become very sympathetic and convincing, convincing enough that in the crucial scenes you're not really always thinking 'that's fake' in the back of your head. The story is simple (Aliens come to earth. Aliens are forced into slums and camps and an apartheid system. The rest of the narrative isn't really worth spoiling), but is delivered in an interesting style which mixes faux-documentary and fiction narrative.

Neill Blomkamp's debut as feature film director is extremely impressive. His handling of tone is remarkable, the ugly, bleak, and totally miserable mixes seamlessly with vicious satire and even some sillier comedic moments, and exciting, coherent action. He is destined for a great future in the film industry, and based on the overwhelming reaction to this film over the weekend, this might come to be known as one of the great mainstream debut features. It's not totally flawless, not at all, and one gets the nagging feeling that concessions to the mainstream derail the film a bit, but overall it's just a great roller-coaster ride, and a damned good effort from everyone involved from the director to the actors to the effects folk. It also possibly makes more of its relatively small budget than any other film I can think of. Very impressive film.
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A few complaints...
14 August 2009
-the tonality is a bit awkward. The comedy, even the 'highbrow' stuff, is really, really silly, and while that's not a problem at all, that the next scene is supposed to have a strong dramatic impact on the audience comes across as jarring and not in a good way because the transition is so clumsily handled much of the time.

-the movie thinks it has more gravity than it does. The Henry Miller quote ("the best way to get over a woman is to turn her into literature") explains this to me. Clearly that's what the screenwriters have done with their past relationships, but as a result, as I suspect such an attempt by most writers including myself would, the movie attaches a little too much gravity to what is really another office-born half-romance. The movie treats the subject matter with a sense of irony and there are scenes which plainly show the reality of the matter, but I really found it hard to care that much when watching it again. They never seemed all that compatible. They had just met and had some fun times. Tom got too attached. Why Tom's obsession should make for earth-shattering drama I don't understand. I couldn't help but think about the relationship I'm in and think how trivial this 500 days of events seemed next to the years invested mutually in a friendship then romance, the incredibly tumultuous events we've weathered together. Then I think back to "Annie Hall" and recognize that relative to my experience, that relationship can be seen as trivial as well. That I can, for the length of "Annie Hall", feel like that relationship is the summation of humanity's history of existence, says something about the quality of execution in that movie relative to this. The awkward dramatics (I RLY HOPE U R HAPPY SUMMAR, and the godawful Big Speech about how bad greeting cards are, wow, writers, feel good about writing what millions of bitter anti-mainstream sorts are talking about at this very moment... I've never heard that before!) and cheesy narration don't really help much at all, and betray at times the superb performances from basically all the actors in the film, but especially Gordon-Levitt. Even "Adventureland" from earlier this year, with its summer fling at an amusement park, feels more important somehow than this portrayal of half a billion corporate office 'romances' going on right now, maybe because it's predicated on the smoldering sexual energy of the leads instead of attempting to deal (and clumsily) with stuff like fate and true love and that.

-the characters really, really are lacking in depth. Summer can be read as an interesting subversion of the manic pixie dream girl character, but Tom is a cultured version of a sitcom character and everyone else in the movie a caricature. The screenwriters appear to be cultured themselves, but only manage to loan this characteristic to their characters on a temporary basis, turning them right back into regular, plain, dull corporate annoyances who shop at IKEA (but go to cool-looking record stores and to see The Graduate!) in a matter of seconds. They're all too reminiscent of people I meet every day with the pretense of cultural interest and all the snobbery attached to it (including instant dismissal of sports culture, to my great annoyance), but very little actual knowledge of anything beyond the absolute mainstream of the underground (Smiths and Bergman references galore, but try talking to them about The Trash Can Sinatras or Jacques Rivette).

-that final scene. Oh god, that final scene. Oh god, that final scene.

All that said, I still liked it, just because it's a tremendous, very quotable comedy and genuinely clever at times, unlike Juno and such, and has some great movie scenes like the split-screen one and the musical montage and what follows, the art movie/Bergman parody/homage etc. etc. The comedy's great, too bad the drama's so clumsy.
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Cashback (2006)
Cashback
30 July 2009
One of the biggest movie surprises of my life. Aside from three scenes: a fart joke near the start of the film, a poorly-done montage of the characters getting ready for a party, and a striptease at the aforementioned party, Sean Ellis' debut feature "Cashback" is almost entirely excellent. A lot of the criticisms are totally off-base as accusations of pretension and half-assed college student philosophy don't make much sense when the movie is from the perspective of, and narrated by, a first year art college student obsessed with the female form.

Accusations of chauvinism or sexism make even less sense. In the film, Ben can 'freeze time', allowing him to literally undress women without their consent and gaze at their bodies, draw them. We see the origins of his obsession with naked women in his youth. Standard male fantasy stuff, yeah? True enough, I suppose, but I think the film is smarter than that. The film is a portrayal of the male tendency to objectify women, think of them as their bodies and not as personalities, if the person doesn't know them. I worried a while ago if this was sexism on my part, that I was undressing women in my head and involving them in my fantasies, and was assured by more than one person that nothing could be more natural (indeed, I agree now, and the suggestion that women don't shallowly look at guys without an iota of thought for their personality is absurd, not to mention sexist in a way). It doesn't surprise me that accusations of sexism against this movie seem to come mostly from extra-sensitive men.

The director here depicts that exact tendency in the most literal fashion possible, then subtly suggests that Ben literally doing so is a transgression. There's a great scene which is never touched on again where Ben is walking around in his frozen world and then sees a moving figure which runs away. He's been caught looking. It's a fleeting moment but it is also probably the most important in the whole film. Ben's words right after he sees the figure are "it never occurred to me that there might be others who could stop time", or something to that general effect. That figure being where Ben was at that moment seems like a striking coincidence, I'd like to think the idea there is to suggest that maybe the figure (which was attempting to hide itself) had its own voyeuristic obsession with the other inhabitants of the frozen world. We encroach on each others' privacy so often without even thinking about it, and without thinking of what others do with our image in their heads, if they're even looking.

Ellis does this throughout the movie- it's not a particularly sophisticated piece of writing in that it's crass more often than not and that most of it is terribly blunt and literal- largely on purpose- but what's nice about this film is that while the ideas are unsophisticated and unsubtle, the actual conveyance of them is frequently quite subtle, or at least subtle enough that a staggering number of politically correct chumps manage to miss the point of the whole thing. What does bother me just a little bit is that the women Ben is actually involved with are never seen undressed. That is accurate to a degree with regard to how a man's way of thinking about a woman can change with getting to know them, but also seems to suggest the idea of a disconnect between love and sex in terms of 'purity' and such, an idea I'm somewhat uncomfortable with.

While my fiancée was ever so slightly offended by the writer/director waxing poetic through the narration about the incredible beauty of the female body, the truth is that the film is a true portrayal of the mindset of most (if not all) straight guys around that age, and if the man is an artist, as history shows, they will often work their sexual obsessions into their art. The film is a subjective, not objective portrayal of the character, which makes me appreciate more the small, thoughtful ways in which the director conveys the character's flaws. Actually, come to think of it, one of the scenes I disliked, the farting fat nude guy in the art class at the start of the film, doesn't seem so much like just a cheap laugh anymore, but seems totally in sync with the film's attitude. We never see his face, just his fat. He is a literal portrayal of the sort of person nobody wants to look at or think about, and his presence in the film, and the presence of satisfied smirks on the attractive young female students' faces (the only part of the film where the shallowness of the female psyche is explicitly portrayed) as soon as they set their eyes on him, is probably for a reason. Or maybe it's just a dumb fart joke I'm reading too much into? At its heart "Cashback" is just another romance/workplace comedy hybrid, but what sets it apart is the pure unflinching honesty with which it looks at the male psyche, the human psyche really, the bravura visual execution of the ideas with stunning photography and some superbly-staged scenes (the football match stands out), and the general confidence with which the whole thing is carried out by the excellent cast and crew. I'm definitely not giving it too much credit, but I'm almost certainly making it sound like a more demanding viewing than it actually is. It's also just funny and enjoyable, with well-drawn and entertaining characters and a good story. Loses its way a bit towards the end, but remains tremendously worthwhile.
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The Half-Blood Prince
30 July 2009
The latest installment in the Harry Potter series left me quite optimistic for the upcoming two-part ending to the film adaptation, but left me cold in its own right. My reasons for being hopeful for the future are mostly to do with the fact that Steve Kloves seems to have finally understood that the Harry Potter stories are hugely character-driven, and that adaptations should have that in mind instead of just rushing through the Major Plot Points (and his previous adaptations, which essentially crippled the film series and kept it from reaching its full potential, don't even cover the Small Plot Points which become Major Plot Points in later installments of Rowling's tightly-plotted fantasy saga).

Indeed, those bits really work here, it translates much of the charm of the sixth book, rooted in the characters dealing with their hormones, to film very well. David Yates and his editors prove excellent at capturing the comedic aspects of the film, which are plentiful, and the actors delight in performing them. The main three actors haven't just grown out of their young awkwardness, but have truly become their characters, so much so that everything they do here seems to be second nature. The presence of seemingly natural comedians and comediennes in the main and supporting cast really helps the film's teen comedy, which is genuinely sweet and good-natured and fun.

Where the film fails is in maintaining the right tone, which was always going to be tricky for this particular book in the series. The Big Action Set-Pieces are messily woven into the bigger picture, a fault of the screenplay probably but Yates doesn't help keep the film's tonality from wavering constantly. Credit to Yates for staging the Big Action Set-Pieces quite nicely, though, particularly the washroom battle between Harry and Malfoy, which is spatially coherent despite being quite hectic. The actors perform earnestly during the Big Dramatic Scenes, but the film has several scenes towards the end which drag on far too long for their own good, and the film does feel its length.

Steve Kloves harmed his own film with the quality of his earlier adaptations, but this was a superior effort when compared to his previous attempts, but still inferior, I thought, to the well-paced and enjoyable adaptation of the fifth book, penned by someone else whose name I'm too lazy to look up right now. In terms of tone, structure, and the strength of the performances, "The Half-Blood Prince" is a step in the right direction, and the movie does a lot right only to fall apart in the final half hour. For now, I'm willing to write this movie's failures off as a misfire and hope for the best for the future. I can't say I'm sorry to see that cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel isn't coming back either.
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Impressively photographed, slow but involving and never a bore
15 July 2009
Someone needs to tell Jarmusch and like-minded directors and writers that monotone conversations about the nature/meaning/origin of so-and-so are to art films what sweaty men walking away from explosions in slow motion are to big-budget post-Bruckheimer action flicks. For all of Jarmusch's talk in his interview with Gavin Smith in Film Comment about avoiding clichés he seemed to fall into that trap pretty easily. Much of the dialogue in the film is really quite horrible, shallow, miserable artsy nonsense. Then you have some conversations, particularly in the latter half of the film, which are absolutely wonderful. You also have to look at the fact that the 'horrible' dialogue in the previous conversations ultimately worked as they were necessary for the thematic aspects of the film to make sense in the beautifully confusing way they do. Glad to say I was wrong about Jarmusch being the emperor's new clothes and that "The Limits of Control" is a spectacular aesthetic achievement thanks to both Jarmusch and DP Chris Doyle's work. It's absolutely wonderful overall, leading up to an absolutely fantastic final thirty minutes. It has its flaws and certainly could've done without people approaching and leaving in slow motion which just seemed really cheesy but overall this is just a top-notch film, and the comparisons made to Rivette films like "Pont du nord", "Paris nous appartient", and "Out 1" in the aforementioned Film Comment interview by Gavin Smith and Jarmusch himself not only make sense, but are well-deserved. A cinematic enigma, and nothing is more attractive to me than that.
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Succeeds as a film adaptation with both dazzling visuals and (finally) good storytelling
15 July 2009
The actual events in "The Order of the Phoenix" are generally speaking outside of the explosive finale, the least interesting of those in any of the bigger Potter books (3-7), but the film version stands as, a week or so away from the release of the sixth film in the series, the best Potter film to date. I am absolutely flabbergasted at the criticism aimed at the film, particularly at director David Yates, whose TV work I enjoyed a great deal and who has made a pretty film here, and one which employs many cinematic techniques both new and old-fashioned in telling its story. While the narrative is again rushed I found the omissions and changes from the book made much more sense here than in "Goblet of Fire", and the storytelling to be overall superior to "Prisoner of Azkaban" (where I think Cuaron chose dazzling visuals over solid storytelling at times). Good acting from most of the cast and really I found Yates' work to be quite exceptional. I trust he will do a bang-up job with the far better source material for the final three films in the series.
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A solid film but nothing more
9 July 2009
Unlike its gorgeous predecessor "Goblet of Fire" is quite an ugly movie, with a very dull, plastic look to it. Surprising, considering it was shot by "Twelve Monkeys" and "Brazil" cinematographer Roger Pratt, who seemed to have been in his "102 Dalmatians" mode while shooting this. Mike Newell does an okay job directing the film I guess, he gets the tone right and the film is not boring at a gargantuan 157 minutes. The screenplay by Steve Kloves is again a rushed narrative jumping through as many of the big setpieces as possible. I suppose it must have been hard to adapt this lengthy book (which is my favorite or second favorite of the series), but Kloves didn't do a very good job of it as far as I'm concerned. It's basically setpiece-humorous coming of age aside-setpiece on repeat. The performances vary in quality but most of them are good-very good. With a prettier aesthetic I may have been able to forgive some of the flaws, but the film still entertains, staying at the level of the previous installment albeit with very different strengths and weaknesses. The overwhelmingly positive critical reviews at the time aren't hard to understand, it was the most human and emotional of the Potter films at the time and I recall the set-pieces dazzling on a theater screen, but it's just okay on second viewing at home, failing to capitalize on the huge jump in quality in both the source material and films from the second to the third installment and continue in that vein, instead leveling out.
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Visually dazzling, but lacking in some areas
8 July 2009
A very pretty movie indeed. Cuaron's biggest mistake was sometimes overemphasizing the wackiness. One of the most charming things about Rowling's writing is that she works so hard to immerse you in the world of magic, a lot of very odd things happen but they just sort of happen. Cuaron spends an inordinate amount of time on quirks (see talking heads among other things), time which could have been invested in better storytelling. Aesthetically aside from that complaint "Prisoner of Azkaban" is the most satisfying of the Potter films, as Cuaron does manage to pull off what he's clearly going for and wow the audience with great visuals. While this is a huge step up from the plainly weak Columbus films, Cuaron's sensibility doesn't really sync perfectly with Steve Kloves' screenplay which as per usual is alright but really saves very little room for character development and develops less of the mature confidence Rowling gained in writing "Prisoner of Azkaban", a clearly superior effort to the first two installments, instead it's really just more of the same. It seems like Kloves sat down, flipped through the book, picked out the 'most important bits', and converted them to screenplay format. It just whizzes through the story points and doesn't earn its Big Emotional Moments. Also difficult to know exactly how much of this rests on Kloves' shoulders and how much on Cuaron's, after all storytelling is the ultimate responsibility of the director, is it not? The film does grow stronger as it progresses, and the final 40-50 minutes is truly excellent, but the movie as a whole is more flawed than some will let on, although it's easy to see what impresses about it. The score is Williams at his cutesiest too, which is never good.
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Le violin rouge
22 June 2009
Offering both brilliance and disappointment, a second viewing of this still rather enchanting film proved that perhaps the film was after all too ambitious for its own good. I love Don McKellar, he is a big influence on my own writing and his sensibilities fairly close to mine, especially with our shared fascination with multiple intersecting stories, but with "Le violin rouge", the sheer scale of the film, spanning three centuries and five countries as we follow the titular red violin, a real thing of beauty, on its journey. Three of these stories are very good, particularly the violin's own 'origin story', the other two quite dull and occasionally painful (Oxford and Shanghai). The screenplay is still excellent despite the flaws, and plays out like an intriguing, particularly romantic "Twilight Zone" episode for music lovers, leaving almost everything up for interpretation. Perhaps those flaws would have gone down easier had the cinematography not been a pretty dull TV-level affair in general and Francois Girard's direction so flat much of the time, but unfortunately those aspects also hurt the film overall, though neither are incompetent. A generally strong cast with an unusual role for Samuel L. Jackson help keep the film involving.

It's a real charmer, a great idea and with many great scenes, a frame story that more than just does its job, and a truly epic, yet grounded, scope. I wish I could love this film like I used to, but some of it just doesn't hold up like it used to. I do want to read the screenplay at some point because I'm nearly entirely sure that this reads better than it plays out on screen. Despite my expressing disappointment in the film here, I do need to clarify that I still recommend this film, and quite strongly. If nothing else, it is very unique. Thankfully, there's more than that to recommend it. How about this for instance: one of cinema's great scores by John Corigliano, with the violin solos played by Joshua Bell?
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The Graduate (1967)
Mike Nichols
22 June 2009
why don't more people discuss Nichols' work on this? It alone, even if his multiple other good/great films never existed, puts him in the elite.

The screenplay and acting deserve a ton of credit and get it, but I've spoken to plenty of film buffs who couldn't tell you who directed The Graduate, something they'd obviously know about any number of other highly acclaimed movies.

To me it seems clearly one of the most phenomenally well-directed movies around. Not only is Nichols a master of tone and atmosphere, and the film brilliantly-paced with basically no dull bits, but it's such a technical tour-de-force. The photography is striking, not sure how much credit to give to Nichols and how much to the great Robert Surtees, but they seem to have had a great understanding of what they wanted to achieve. The use of flares (which I'm really fascinated by now, as sort of a by-product of seeing Elswit's work on "Punch Drunk Love") during that conversation between Ben and Elaine in the car outside the Taft hotel, or the flares caused by sunlight in the POV shots of Ben talking to his father from the pool, with his dad moving in and out of the way of sunlight. The whole movie just has great little visual touches like that.

Obviously the use of music and sound in general is wonderful, this movie popularized the music video-within-a-movie thing that Wes Anderson for example does so well, I love it personally, but I know a lot of people really don't. Just as silence is used so effectively a blank black screen is also used tremendously well at times. The use of camera throughout the film is fantastic IMO, there's rarely even a conversation that's boringly, conventionally filmed, something you can't say even about the work of many major directors like Scorsese etc. He also seems to have a great grasp of how much emotion can be conveyed in the distance between the camera and characters. When there are close-ups in "The Graduate" they are very affecting and beautiful, and the zoom-outs (and zoom-ins) are also striking and used to great effect several times in the movie. Don't even need to mention some of the great transitions and the editing. Also love how Nichols shows us several perspectives of the same thing in several scenes. The best part of the whole thing is that none of it feels like showboating, it's all in the greater service of the story and characters. One of my favorite screenplays this, by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry.

It just strikes me as a shame that Nichols isn't generally more recognized, it's partly his own doing for participating in as much Hollywood fluff as he has and never really matching the brilliance of his first two films (though it's a misconception that he hasn't made other great films), but his work here is the work of a master.
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Titanic (1997)
The sheer spectacle makes it good, but flawed entertainment
14 June 2009
It's not too hard to figure out what kept audiences flocking to "Titanic" when it came out. The sheer spectacle of it as well as the sweeping sense of romance which Cameron succeeds in evoking made this a 'must-see' theatrical experience. At the time and even for a while after, "Titanic" seemed like it would go down as an epic for the ages, a masterpiece with the overwhelming reputation of classic epics like "Gone With the Wind". The Oscar wins seemed to cement that.

Then came the backlash, which was inevitable for any film with this sort of popularity. The thing is, "Titanic", to some extent, deserved its backlash. It is obviously nowhere near as bad as some say, but viewed today, 12 years later, in a home setting away from the 'theatrical experience' many enjoyed back then, the movie's flaws are easily exposed. The screenplay is really not strong at all, the characters are more like caricatures, and the romance not particularly convincing. At most, during the excruciatingly long hour and some spent on set-up, this romance which Cameron seems to think is the epitome of romantic cinema, a love affair to match the scope of the film, seems like a cute fling. Jim Cameron's knack for writing some truly execrable dialogue is not gone just yet, and while I can knock back a beer or two (or seven) and watch Ripley lay waste to xenomorph after xenomorph in "Aliens" while cracking one-liners, it's a little hard to take in this setting. Still, most of the dialogue is solid or average, and there are some good lines. The narrative structure and momentum is nothing special at all- poor dude meets rich girl, they 'fall in love', Titanic hits the iceberg and then there's an hour of running here and there and special effects.

So the film was over-hyped, yes. Jim Cameron's previous films were all better, bar "True Lies" and his cheap debut feature "Piranha 2", but that doesn't mean "Titanic" doesn't have its positive points. It is obviously a wonderful technical achievement that still stands tall, is very nicely-shot, and there are a number of excellent scenes. Indeed, the sheer spectacle of the final hour and some, from the moment the ship hits that iceberg, is still easy to get carried away by, and Cameron proves that he is more than capable as a popcorn entertainer. DiCaprio is very charming and proves himself as a dramatic actor in the latter stages while Winslet does her typically annoying nonsense, but on the negative side Horner's score is pretty mediocre.

It's a good enough film, over-hyped yes but that is the fault of the public, not the film, which remains flawed but ultimately fairly enjoyable, on par or better than most big budget flicks and disaster movies, but it's no masterpiece, and now excuse me, I'm going to watch "Aliens" again.
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Slap Shot (1977)
The ultimate hockey film, a resounding success as both drama and comedy
13 June 2009
Despite a dismissive response from critics on release, "Slap Shot" has become THE hockey film everyone knows and loves, and it's easy to see why. It's also easy to understand its initial reception. The film is perhaps excessively profane, it doesn't really seem so today but taken in the context of the time one could easily see it as straining for shock value. Paul Newman's least classy role for sure, and George Roy Hill had made some big movies before this one.

Of course there are still plenty of people who accuse this of being vulgar, crass, cartoony trash. The comedy is, sure. But it's also good at being what it is in that regard. Kevin Smith is making a hockey movie about the goon era of hockey based on the Warren Zevon song "Hit Somebody!". If that isn't a rehash of "Slap Shot" I'll eat my hat. The humor is pretty much exactly Smith's style. I expect far more sentimentality from him than "Slap Shot" offers, though. Still, it's GOOD lowbrow humor, with the occasional clever bit that keeps it afloat. Incredibly sharp, memorable dialogue as well.

But what really sets "Slap Shot" apart from most sports flicks to me isn't the comedy, it's the drama. The characters are convincingly-drawn, even the ones which exist purely for comic relief. Nancy Dowd was a good writer and George Roy Hill was a great director. Together they found a perfect balance. Sure, you can watch this movie and laugh and get wasted with your buddies after a hockey game one night, but there's so much more to it. I find it works remarkably well as an examination of the society and community which the sport creates, and which lives around it. The portrayal of marital strife and a town in the midst of economic meltdown is tremendously affecting, the character's relationships and Reggie's story being the film's greatest achievement.

It's also a great examination of hockey, a sophisticated debate over what hockey is or should be. A recent survey found 99.5% of NHL players were in favor of keeping fighting in the game, but that's to the extent that it exists today. How many would want the goon era back? There are still people who 'watch hockey for the fights', "Slap Shot" seems to acknowledge that the goon era reduced hockey to nothing more than a freakshow. The WWE on ice. Don't get me wrong, I'll jump out of my seat with the rest of the crowd if a fight breaks out, but never have cared for hockey as played during the 70's in the US, with violence as the main attraction. The movie does away with the verbal arguments about the nobility of the sport for a comic finale, but even that makes its point quite clear. The very last scene of the film, the ambiguous ending, is even greater.

Great director, great cast, great writing. That's the recipe for a great movie. "Slap Shot" most certainly is one. Gene Siskel's biggest regret as a film critic was giving this a mediocre review on release, as he came to absolutely adore the film on repeat viewings. I think it's easy to mistake this for just another sports comedy, but there's so much more to it, and if you can't see that... well, I feel sorry for you, but to each their own.
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Undertow (2004)
Southern Gothic
11 June 2009
A Southern Gothic fairytale directed by David Gordon Green and shot by his regular DP Tim Orr and scored by Phillip Glass with a cast of superb actors young and old. Doesn't that sound too good to be true? The critical consensus when the film was originally released, bar raves from Jonathan Rosenbaum and Roger Ebert and positive notices from other reputable sources such as the New York Times, Village Voice, AV Club, and Chicago Tribune, seemed to suggest, basically, that it was. Lots of talk about David Gordon Green and Southern Gothic being a clumsy fit (totally ludicrous suggestion), there being no real movie beneath the allusions and style (banal critic-speak), and more banal critic-speak dismissing the film as a derivative mess.

I suppose my opinion is no more valid than that of those who dismissed the film, but "Undertow" strikes me, with five viewings of it under my belt, as David Gordon Green's best and most interesting film. The characters are well-developed within the ideals and ideas of the story and film. My fiancée's biggest problem with the film was the characterization of the villain played by Josh Lucas. He shows up snarling and menacing and remains so for the movie, given clear motivation but hardly 'well-developed'. However, the movie seems to be perfectly content with following the traditional style of the Southern Gothic story, the chase movie, and the fairytale. This villain might not be the best-developed in film history, but he works within the story.

The screenwriters, director David Gordon Green and co-writer Joe Conway (an English teacher apparently, you can tell just by watching the movie), write their characters to fit within a certain ideal, and as such one could argue that most of the characters in "Undertow" are mythic figures more than characters, with the focus being largely on the two brothers at the core of the story, played by the immensely talented young actors Jamie Bell and Devon Alan.

The film's predictability appears to be an issue for many but I like how earnest Gordon Green and his cast and crew are in telling this story. I like that there's no cheap hipster irony. The reason it's predictable is that it's been done a thousand times before, but clearly nobody involved thinks there was a problem with doing it again. Where I disagree with several critics and IMDb reviewers is on the idea that "Undertow" doesn't distinguish itself from those which came before. I disagree. All a film needs to distinguish itself is quality, and "Undertow" has plenty of that. It's remarkably well-written, outside some narrative confusion, and Tim Orr's gloomy Southern Gothic imagery match perfectly with what is easily Phillip Glass' most underrated score, and one of his very best overall, creating a stark, beautiful atmosphere. David Gordon Green again focuses more on ambiance and character, but also seems more interested here than in his earlier films in telling a single story, but does so with a decisive preference for story over 'plot'.

Perhaps the victim of unfair and incorrect expectations, "Undertow" seems to have at least held on to a relatively high reputation, and hopefully will be remembered in the future for the masterpiece it is. Looked at for what it is, a fanciful tale of the bond between two brothers and their journey together, including numerous episodic encounters along the way (again the fairytale aspect comes into play) and not really the gritty chase film some critics seem to have mistaken it for, "Undertow" is a unique triumph. A tour-de-force from a director below the age of 30 blessed with class and sophistication and intelligence and a cinematographer and composer and cast who seemed destined to make this film.
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Détective (1985)
Detective (1985, Jean-Luc Godard)
10 June 2009
This is why I love Godard. He turned a 'commercial' project he did in order to get financing for "Hail Mary" into one of his most enthralling late works, a sleeker, leaner, funnier, lighter version of the sort of film Godard made after the 60's. The film follows four different 'stories' in the Hotel Concorde Saint-Lazare in Paris, where the entire film is set. Something of a deconstruction of the detective film or film-noir on paper, but the film is more formally interesting than it is story-wise (though its 'narrative' is often very amusing and overall very entertaining). Although critical reviews of "Detective" seem to be positive (all the ones I can find anyway, including Variety and the New York Times among others), the film is overall not too popular, and from my experience not too well-liked by Godard fans either. Shame as well because the fact that "Detective" combines some of the zip and light humor of Godard's early work with the more experimental sensibilities of later Godard films doesn't mean this is in any way lacking as a filmic experiment. It's gorgeously-shot with superb, intricate mise-en-scène, and features some of the most interesting and complex editing in any Godard film, but what really steals the show is the sound, which is an entire world all on its own. The visual splendor of the film is not only complimented, but overshadowed by the creative sound editing and mixing, genius use of music, and aural gags and puns. Dedicated to Edgar G. Ulmer, Clint Eastwood, and John Cassavetes, "Detective" is one of Godard's best, and likely his most criminally under-appreciated. It does ask for a patient, observant audience willing to listen carefully, but rewards that patience with great comic energy and some fascinating and beautiful aural experimentation. One of the best casts Godard ever worked with as well.
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Landspeed (2002)
Landspeed
9 June 2009
What an oddly endearing film. Added to my ZipQueue a while ago when I was obsessing over Ray Wise, I was taken by what I expected to be a dull, plodding, lifeless low budget piece of crap action movie (based on the plot and those involved in the production and financing areas), which turned out to be a warm, inviting, odd little humorous adventure with some decent 'action' bits. It's not a great film, its flaws plain to the eye, but it is really quite well-made for something of this sort, and many of the cast members are very charming and fun to watch, especially Zane and Wise. A movie which was probably fun to make and was definitely fun to watch, and something of a little hidden gem in that vast cinematic world, an unexpected surprise. I don't know if this is a full-on recommendation, but if you're looking for something light and fun and not-so-well-known, or if you're a fan of one of the actors, there are worse things to do with your time.
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If.... (1968)
When do we live? That's what I want to know.
9 June 2009
By far Lindsay Anderson's most popular film and one could argue deservedly so (though I personally like all his films other than the sad finale to the Mick Travis trilogy, "Britannia Hospital"), "If..." is an unforgettable, powerful rebel yell which I believe to be allegorical in nature but works perfectly fine if taken literally. Superb acting from the entire cast but particularly Malcolm McDowell in the lead, stylish direction and good photography, with a sly, effective screenplay which reveals more about its nature as the film moves on. For a film often accused of being very dated and 'of its time', a DVD-projected theater screening for twenty or so Canadian youth who had never seen the film before and knew nothing of public schools seemed to go extraordinarily well. The film doesn't seem to have lost any of its power to provoke or surprise.

When do we live? That's what I want to know.
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Glorious, triumphant, Godard's masterpiece
8 June 2009
"For latecomers arriving now, we offer a few words chosen at random... Three Weeks Earlier. A pile of money. An English class. A house by the river. A romantic girl."

The recipe for the most effortlessly cool movie ever made. It's the sort of thing Tarantino has been trying to make for what seems like an eternity, what "Pulp Fiction", in occasional bursts, comes close to being. But that movie is too self-conscious, tries too hard. That's not to suggest that Godard wasn't conscious of what he was doing when writing this film- all writers are, we have to be. But I don't think Godard was trying too be cool, I think he just was. It's a cheap crime flick, according to some nothing too interesting at all, a rehash of "Breathless", and even some of the other New Wave giant Truffaut's movies... "Jules and Jim" and "Shoot the Piano Player" have been mentioned.

But that's all part of this film's charm. Godard, a favorite of mine, can be awfully pretentious and HAS been awfully pretentious. If you're consistently making experimental movies you think are challenging, if you are always changing your mind on what constitutes good cinema, if you're obsessed with quotes and references and philosophy and philosophers, you're bound to be pretentious on occasion. "Band of Outsiders" is a pulpy crime flick with great wit, fun characters, good performances and a well-told story, and that's all it is. It's a great film because it's great at being what it is.

The screenplay is glorious. The dialogue is gold, the narrative momentum never slows down, we know all we need to know about these people and their goals, and the movie's irreverent, hip air is a thing to behold. Or experience, rather. Great photography by Raoul Coutard. Everyone knows the best bits: the minute of silence, the dance scene, the visit to the Louvre. Depth is not needed in this sort of movie, it's a romp, plain and simple (though one with some amount of complexity- you can read it as Godard examining the need for escapism, specifically in the form of cinema, among other things). A glorious delight from start to finish and one of my favorite films. Unforgettable, still Godard's best film.
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Toy Story (1995)
Toy Story
4 June 2009
Afraid this doesn't really hold up that well. You hear so much about great wit, but that comes only in short fits, a few good lines here and there. I know they're toys, but the characters in "Toy Story" largely suffer from the sort of super-quirk "Juno" and "Little Miss Sunshine" and the lot suffer from. It's basically really quirky toys talking to each other and facing acts of villainy and committing acts of heroism for an hour and a half. The animation is impressive considering when it was made but unlike hand-drawn animation from the old Disney films it HAS dated, and noticeably, often looking like a video game cutscene now. The voice work is fine, but there's just nothing truly interesting about this world or these characters. It's a pleasant enough movie and occasionally very fun, but the overwhelming affection for it seems to me the result of nostalgia and memory rather than any lasting value. Compared to the rip-roaring adventure of "The Incredibles", the spine-tingling melancholy tone and sophisticated ideas of "WALL-E", or the sense of longing and loss and adventure in "Up", "Toy Story" falls short. Very short. In fact, I'd much rather take the small-town nostalgia of "Cars" over this. A good starting point for Pixar but nothing even remotely approaching a classic.
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Punch-Drunk Love
4 June 2009
"Punch Drunk Love", in its own intimately tense manner, puts any of the famous scenes in "Magnolia" or "There Will Be Blood" to shame, and those two movies in their entirety as well. Far from any sort of lull in PTA's career, is a tight, compelling, fascinating film throughout, and the anamorphic cinematography by Robert Elswit is brilliant (with gorgeous, judicious use of lens flares- I like them to begin with but when you have a lens flare which expresses more emotion than almost anything else in the movie, THAT is something special), and Anderson's direction thoroughly assured, with a very interesting and controlled color palette. I hope to write a lengthy essay on this film at one point, there is certainly a lot of food for thought in both the visuals and the screenplay. It's just a formally fascinating film in every scene, and while I particularly loved the lighting of the film, the camera-work (including some extremely elaborate stuff which must have been very hard to pull off), and the sound design were incredible as well. Quite contrary to its reputation among some, this is a movie which is just phenomenal because it's so short and minimalistic and restrained in so many ways, which somehow isn't too much of a contrast with the rather bizarre story. Sandler's performance is terrific and he was given a great character, and the film is actually very emotionally compelling and mature (certainly far more so than something like "Magnolia"), and is made even more unique by (saving the best for last) Jon Brion's score.
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Deliciously pulpy return to horror for Raimi
29 May 2009
"Drag Me to Hell" might be the victim of unfair expectations, or just plain incorrect assumptions. This might partially be down to the advertising campaign, which could lead audiences to believing this is purely serious horror, when in fact it is pulp silliness in the vein of the old EC comics, and fully aware of it. Sam Raimi, for whom the childhood experience of reading those pulp tales served as an inspiration for his now-legendary "Evil Dead" movies, and hence gave him his career, has made his most fun and entertaining film since "Army of Darkness", and probably his best since then as well (although I do need to see "A Simple Plan" again) in "Drag Me to Hell", which feels like it could be an adaptation of one of those horror tales.

Hopefully audiences will be expecting something along the lines of "Evil Dead" mixed with its sequels when they go in, or they could leave disappointed. Unless you're scared by old women and supernatural mumbo jumbo, unless you're a superstitious person, "Drag Me to Hell" probably won't be giving you any nightmares. Then again, I'm not scared by anything really. Still, one can't help but feel that this sort of thing (if done seriously) doesn't belong in today's age of rationality and would work only in the 50's, or maybe even then would be too late to really pack a punch.

That's why this is, like the "Evil Dead" movies, a cartoon. It is one cartoony horror set-piece after the other, more often than not with an overt comedic edge, and always, always with its tongue firmly in cheek. The characters are well-realized enough for the movie to be endurable, and well-played too (Justin Long is perfect for the role regardless of how limited his range is and I can't imagine anyone but Lohman playing this particular role), but Raimi doesn't really care about them. He cares more about piling on the pulp gross-outs, resorting here to all sorts of unsavory things (including embalming fluid gushing out of a corpse into Lohman's mouth, one of a multitude of things Raimi takes pleasure in introducing to that particular orifice of Lohman's body), but not much blood at all. It isn't needed either, the PG-13 rating may sound like a limitation but it's hard to imagine this movie with much more gore, although there are a few things that happen off-screen that I would have LOVED to see on-screen, but that might be because I'm a horribly sick person.

Utilizing an active, expressive camera akin to the sort of thing we saw in the "Evil Dead" movies, Raimi stages these ridiculous scenes with gusto and passion. This is not going to terrify many people, but it is absolutely terrific at being what it sets out to be- a live action EC comic. As long as you go in expecting that, you'll probably leave satisfied. I'd like to leave you with the wise words of AV Club critic Scott Tobias: "He wants viewers to jump out of their chairs, to laugh and scream and cheer, and to nudge each other over the transcendent ridiculousness of what they're witnessing. This is junk film-making at its finest."
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Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks: Part One (1975)
Season 12, Episode 11
Genesis of the Daleks (story #78)
17 May 2009
"If someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that the child would grow up... to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill that child?... Do I have that right?"

The Daleks were always reminiscent of the Nazis, but while Nation's previous Dalek stories used this as subtext, it is made exceptionally blunt here and that's not a criticism. It's always surprised me, sort of, that "Genesis" had such a big mainstream fanbase (it and "The Five Doctors", I believe, have outsold and by far any other Doctor Who DVD release). I suppose it is very memorable, but it's also not REALLY what "Doctor Who" feels like much of the time. It lays on mythology and history rather heavily, is surprisingly violent and gruesome (the new show would never have anything approaching some of this in it, and if it did it would probably be ruined by hackneyed dramatics), and has a pretty dark, ominous tone, with only a few scenes of the sort of humor present in a lot of previous Who stories. While its popularity is more than understandable, it is a little odd to me that it is often referred to as the definitive Who story (unless you view "Doctor Who" as "The Dalek Show", a view Russell T. Davies has seemed rather eager to uphold).

Of course I have little to add to what has already been said many times about this story. Its reputation is well-deserved, its scale believable thanks to good direction even though there is nothing in the way of location shooting or elaborate sets, the writing consistently tight and smart. For the Who fan "Genesis" represents a stylish, relatively well thought-out revisionist take on the Dalek's history. The lack of consistency in the 'canon' of Who is understandable given how it was made (and the fact that before the late seventies/early eighties and even then and after they were making it for one-time viewing, basically, other than reruns home video was not really a part of the equation), but given that Terry Nation wrote most of the previous Dalek stories one can hardly see this as anything but a revision of past history, one which is 'explained' by some fans rather well. I prefer not to talk about 'canon' though and just assess the stories on their own merit.

The actors are all convincing and the story is consistently involving, moving from scene to scene with conviction and a fast (but not speedy) pace. It's rather heavy stuff, as previously mentioned, and quite intelligent in its handling of its themes, for "Doctor Who" anyway, and without the pretension and mawkish sentimentality which would inevitably be par for the course these days (though another Dalek story lends itself better to bitching about RTDWho, imagine the Doctor saying goodbye to Susan in "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" done in RTD's era... blech). Admittedly this could be an episode or even two shorter but it is such a legendary and well-done story all around that it's hard to knock it, and I really love Davros in this.
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Lost: The Incident: Part 1 (2009)
Season 5, Episode 16
An incredible piece of storytelling prowess
16 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
"The Incident" represents an incredible piece of storytelling prowess. The work of master storytellers who know their twists and turns, and with such an emotional foundation and rich mythology that the twists could not possibly feel less cheap.

The show is done with trying to satisfy a mainstream audience. If you don't know the ins and outs of "Lost" you would not have gotten everything out of "The Incident". If nothing else, you have to respect the fact that this is a major network show which rarely ever makes concessions to non-fans or casual, occasionally-tune-in viewers. It's almost a miracle it lasted this long, and with "The Incident" it could not be clearer that "Lost", during season 2 and the first few episodes of season 3 a clear example of dragged-out storytelling (as the network didn't set an end date, there was no way for the writers to properly plan the rest of the story). Once they got an end date for the show, they kicked into high gear and haven't slowed down since.

Season 5, overall, needs another viewing or maybe even two for me to make my mind up definitively about it. The entire thing definitely feels like an iffy whole, but looking back at specific episodes only a couple really disappointed. It also feels like a whole lot of setup for the final season, which at this point looks to be absolutely mind-blowing. They got a lot of clutter out of the way, which at times definitely got in the way of fluid storytelling, sometimes during episodes where that was an absolute necessity ("The Variable").

But with "The Incident" in mind season 5 seems much better. Usually a "Lost" finale is a payoff for the final few episodes of that season and setup for the next season. "There's No Place Like Home" felt especially like that, mainly concerned with tying up the loose ends of the season, and answering a big question from the previous finale. "The Incident", on the other hand, goes all the way back to season one for stuff to cover, and in fact doesn't tie up the major loose end introduced in the latter half of season 5. It's a different sort of finale, even deliberately slower-paced. It isn't just about tying up loose ends, it's about truly developing the story, pushing the complex (and I mean complex, not complicated) mythology of the series to new heights.

The obligatory action scenes are exceptional not only for their style but also for substance. Jack and Sawyer's fight has been expected for years, and nothing about the lead-up to it within this episode or the consequences feel unnecessary. The shootout at the Swan site is probably the best sustained action sequence of the series, and also serves a purpose. "The Incident" does fall slightly short of some of the show's high points in some of its sillier dramatics (mostly involving Sawyer, Juliet, and Kate), but the actors are so convincing and seemingly convinced by the material that the rare hackneyed moment really works.

Fortunately however, little about "The Incident" is hackneyed, especially nothing to do with the Jacob character. Mentioned first in season 2 (or was it just his list mentioned then? I forgot, but latest by season 3), and spoken of frequently since, he retains his mysteriousness here despite us being shown a lot of him. I am rather pleased that he is not some silly ghost, and am intrigued by the possibility which the first and penultimate scenes suggest of this being something reminiscent of the biblical Jacob & Esau. It would hardly be unfitting considering the many biblical allusions on the show.

"The Incident" is consistently intense and involving, with no scenes wasted on anything even remotely unnecessary. The closest to fluff filler here is Rose and Bernard's scene, but that was adorable and still necessary as a sort of closure. The drama in the final fifteen minutes is beyond thrilling, and the show returns in this episode to the days when a shocking reveal was really a shocking reveal. The penultimate scene contains a reveal so incredible I can't talk about it in a non-spoilery review. The fact that they did that, and that they ended this episode the way they do (the black-on-white thud-LOST at the end has to have significance, though I sincerely doubt it's anything as literal as some people think it is), along with pretty much every single narrative turn this episode took, suggests to me that these writers are among the best working at the moment in film or television. There is literally not the slightest indication at the end of this what next season will be like (hardly difficult to guess that season 4 would show us how they got off the island, for example), and that is frustrating. Frustrating, yet so exciting.

Not going to bother with recap or theorizing, but I can say that I'm on this ride and I like where it's going. Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse don't just play with grand concepts and ancient mythology, they have created their own grand concepts and their own grand mythology, and when all is said and done "Lost" will either stand as great entertainment with many high points and some sophistication, or as the high point of multi-season genre television, a truly complete and brilliant mythological epic. Right now it's on its way to being the latter.
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