Archive for the ‘TV and Film’ Category

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Louie: An appreciation

August 28, 2010

Since I entered this world, I have been a fan of television.

To paraphrase the immortal words of Alan Thicke, I’d take the good, I’d take the bad, I’d take them both, and what have you. There was nothing I wouldn’t watch: CBC’s The Edison Twins, Sledge Hammer, Kid Street, ALF (both live action and cartoon form). I even remember the show before Degrassi TNG, before Degrassi High, even before Degrassi Jr. HighDegrassi Street. Awful, awful stuff.

But somewhere along the way, I lost my connection with the old cathode ray tube. I grew up a little, or so I thought, putting aside childish televised amusement for books and social activities. I became one of those ‘I don’t even own a TV’ guys, though I wasn’t the obnoxious kind that advertises it loudly.

I blame TV too. TV didn’t hold up its end of the bargain: The Simpsons stopped being funny. The fourth wall of Larry Sanders and the Newsroom came tumbling down. Futurama was cancelled, and I was left with virtually nothing worth watching.

But something has recently happened. TV came back.

Witness comedian Louie C.K.’s brilliant anti-comedy, Louie. And no, it’s not to be mistaken for Lucky Louie, his slightly unfortunate short lived sitcom. Louie is kind of like Seinfeld, if Seinfeld was on HBO and in desperate need of anti-depressants. Or if Curb Your Enthusiasm mated with the Sarah Silverman Program.

In this clip, Louie is cast against his will in a remake of the Godfather, starring and directed by Matthew Broderick:

That’s pretty much the only clip I can screen in good conscience on this site. And if that clip doesn’t scare or mystify you, you should check it out.

Louie is the best comedy show I’ve seen in ages. It’s dark. It’s edgy. It’s entirely uncomfortable. It’s decidedly not family viewing. But man, is it good television.

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The Fantastic Karamazovi

April 11, 2010

Many people feel a deep, personal connection to a particular book.

Maybe it’s a memorable piece of children’s fiction which resonates throughout life. For others, it’s an Austen, Dickens, or a Bronte. It could even be a graphic novel or an Oprah book (she does pick good books).

My book is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. I first plucked a wrinkly purple softcover version from a bookshelf in high school. The classic tale of patricide fascinated me with its complexity, offbeat humour, compelling, rich characters, and equal infusions of faith and unbelief.

Only recently did I decide to check out TBK on film. People say movies are never as good as books. It seems that would go double for a 700-page philosophical detective drama. And I’m obviously not the only one (picture at right based on a hilarious Onion article). But nevertheless, I proceeded.

Lo and behold, look up Karamazov on IMDB and you’ll find no less than 10 film versions of the Brothers (only three of which are in English). Two intrigued me: the Yul Brynner vehicle The Brothers Karamazov (1958), and Karamazovi aka “The Karamazovs” (2008), a recent Czech adaptation. The first is an overly long vehicle for featuring Brynner (as Dmitri) opposite a 27-year-old William Shatner (as Alyosha). Skip it.

But the second is an absolutely compelling piece of film.

It begins on a bus. A Czech theatre company (from the actual Dejvicke Theatre) is on its way to a Polish foundry to put on a production of The Brothers Karamazov. They’ve received a grant to bring art into industrial settings.

Upon arrival, the crew also learns a disturbing fact about the foundry: a small son of one of the workers recently fell off a platform and is in critical condition in the hospital. The worker is nervously hanging around as he awaits news of his son, a foil of the story of Ilyusha Snegiryov.

The bulk of the film is the theatre group’s rehearsal of TBK (the Evald Schorm adaptation) in front of a skeleton crew at the foundry. In this adaptation, the patricide is a fait accompli at the beginning and is followed by a series of austerely staged flashbacks starring the passionate Dmitri, the contemplative Alyosha, the cynical Ivan, and that obsequious, wily bastard, Smerdyakov.

Having staged the play for nearly a decade, the actors’ performances are flawless. The modern story amplifies the themes of the play. Why is that worker watching a play and not at the hospital with his family? The cast whispers offstage that the story is a construct of the director determined to get the most out of the cohort.Family photo: Dad's in black!

The Polish foundry setting lends the play a cold, desperate feeling. A picture of Karol Wojtyla – Polish pope John Paul II – substitutes for an Orthodox icon. Enormous industrial hooks tie the play to the present; the worker identifies them as hooks mentioned by Fyodor Karamazov as he mocks the faith of his son, Alyosha.

“These are the hooks,” he calmly tells the actor playing Ivan. “This is hell.”

It all makes for a deeply moving rendering.

In every era of my life, I’ve returned to The Brothers Karamazov and always found it rich and rewarding. When I first picked up the book, I was a novice in the big questions of life. Ivan’s Grand Inquisitor struck me with the haunting idea of freedom and the nature of religion, and Father Zossima offered a living, contemplative faith. To venture with Alyosha into the messy world seemed my calling as well.

Critics may deem the novel too long, convoluted, and replete with too many characters. Still it is undeniably a masterpiece. I own several copies and frequently evangelize on its behalf. I will now do so for the considerably shorter film as well.

Karamazovi is no substitute for The Brothers Karamazov, but it is a joyous discovery.

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A Lost Question: Did DHARMA develop compact fluorescent bulbs?

April 5, 2010

Earlier this weekend, I was re-watching the last week’s episode of Lost (S6E10) – “The Package.”

When Jin is in Room 23 on Hydra Island, he watches the DHARMA brainwashing video and sees this image. A COMPACT FLUORESCENT LIGHT BULB??? From looking it up on the interwebs, I discovered this was already old info seen before and included in DVD extras.

Unlike everything else in the video, this looks post 90s and therefore NOT the DHARMA era. Weird, no? Does this mean some tampering with a little help from the Others?

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Lost and Proud of it

January 27, 2010

In a photo from the early 1990s, my sister is dressed as a stubbly-faced fleece-wearin’ man with her arm around Lost cast member Evangeline Lilly.

It’s quite the picture. I wish I had it to display here.

Long before she became pouty ne’er-do-well Kate Austen, Lilly was a teenage camper at Green Bay Bible Camp near Kelowna, BC. My sister spent a summer as a ne’er-do-well camp counsellor. On a costume-themed night, my sister went to great effort to make her 120 pound frame look remotely mannish. It didn’t hurt the appearance of faux-masculinity to have her arm around the petite, feminine Lilly.

Granted, it’s a tad tenuous for a connection, but it’s my Kevin-Baconesque tie to one of the most popular dramas of recent memory. After 8 months off the air, Lost is beginning again on February 2nd (NEXT TUESDAY!!).

For the last couple of months, I’ve been watching old episodes, making up for years of inattentiveness to television drama. At first it was casually viewing as I did chores or cooked supper. But as the show went down the hatch and through time, I progressively became hypnotized by the enigmatic clues the show routinely serves up.

Lost is eminently loyal to its fans, offering complex characters while confounding plot expectations. As I got into season 5, I began perusing the AV club’s lost page after each episode. With its hundreds of comments, it’s not for the faint of heart.  Since then, I’ve pored through the mobisodes, podcasts, and DHARMA orientation films. Yeah. Obsessed.

It got so bad I can appreciate this hilarious video from the Onion: Final Season Of ‘Lost’ Promises To Make Fans More Annoying Than Ever

Hopefully I’m marginally less annoying than the worst fans, but I have a theory why the island inspires such irritating levels of loyalty:

1. Our brains crave the challenge of mystery. Given a bunch of unconnected details (polar bears, mysterious numbers, and dreams of axe-wielding hippies), we’re naturally inclined to search for pattern and meaning. I have my own theories for the way things work (such as Ben Linus’s tantalizing claim of a box which contains whatever you want). But check the AV club comment boards or a few of the nearly 6,000 articles on the lostpedia wiki page, and you’ll know there’s theorizing aplenty. Usually, I’m just resigned to let it all wash over me and not sweat it.

2. Losties bring the devout together, religious or unaffiliated. And like the world of spirituality, I’m sure there are casual viewers out there. But nobody really notices them, do they? Aside from those who just drift away because they can’t make a lick of sense of it, there are recent converts and loyal followers. After five seasons, they are the chosen remnant: there’s something to be said for a shared experience of 12 million viewers in a fragmented media market.

3. Lost is full of iconic moments. I’ll never see backgammon, nosebleeds, or hieroglyphics the same way. From the opening dilating eye to the fade to black (or white!), Lost makes amazing use of curiosity, repetition (and variation). I, for one, love the craziness of DHARMA and Egyptology on the same show. Genre-defiance of the best possible type.

4. Lost raises all the questions of meaning in a non-parochial way. The Island itself is philosophically intriguing. Beyond the fact that half the people have recognizable names and nobody seems to be remotely hungry or malnourished, islanders are always asking key questions most of us are too damn sleepy to raise aloud: Am I in it alone or living together? Am I free or confounded by destiny? Am I a leader or a follower? Am I being lied to? No wonder the Oceanic 6 were lured back after returning to boring old everyday life.

So, in summary, isn’t life just a matter of piecing some pretty weird stuff together and trying your damnedest to live together and not die alone? Consider me among the losties, and try not to roll your eyes.