Sunday, November 22, 2020

Why Watch Foreign Films: A Man Called Ove

This was a Netflix DVD viewing. Back when I was still on Facebook, this was suggested as a good foreign film for my project. Having read another book the same author Fredrik Backman had done, I actually have this novel on a list somewhere as a to-be-read and recognized the title. I was a bit annoyed with at first, to be honest. How many stories are there already about crabby old white men, and do we really need another one? The early half of this film was very sour, very depressing (if you do end up watching, TW: suicide[s]), and overall didn't do much to engage me other than to remind me of a very similar crabby old dude, Norwegian not Swedish, who used to come into the Blockbuster Video I worked at in Uptown apparently just to leave his car directly in the through area of the parking lot and to yell at everyone. However. The film definitely shifted in mood and depth once Ove's younger years were explained, and I ended up in a puddle of tears by the end of it. 


A Man Called Ove
, 2015
. d. Hannes Holm

Written by Hannes Holm (screenplay) and Fredrik Backman (novel)

Starring: Rolf Lassgård, Bahar Pars, Filip Berg

Summary: Ove, an ill-tempered, isolated retiree who spends his days enforcing block association rules and visiting his wife's grave, has finally given up on life just as an unlikely friendship develops with his boisterous new neighbors. (via IMDB)

Like I said, we've all experienced stories of crabby old people being crabby, having crabby interactions with other people who just sort of tolerate the crabby person's crabbiness as some sort of endearing quirk, and honestly, I do feel like it's overdone (see: All Clint Eastwood). The bigger picture here of course is that many people also live lives that have been ripe with disappointment and loss, and that while we (as viewers) may not agree with someone's constant crabbiness and mistreatment of others, we are able to understand that disappointment and loss will shape someone's worldview and learn not to judge so quickly. Hand-in-hand with this, we also see the negative effects of isolationism, learning that while we may never be able to stop the disappointment and loss that is inevitable in the human experience, we can embrace togetherness through relationships in order to help each other through these events. 

Shorter reaction: Ove (Rolf Lassgard) is unpleasant and treats people badly, but we eventually forgive him for this once we understand him better. Our getting to empathize with him coincides with Ove's own gradual thawing through his relationship with his neighbor, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars). 

The story itself isn't necessarily rooted in Swedish culture, it could well have taken place anywhere, really, but there are little bits of time and place that do stick out, adding to the viewing experience. The Swedish countryside is beautiful, shown several times during young Ove's car trips with his father, and the obsession over Saabs (NOT VOLVOS) is relatable for car folks, I'm guessing. The time and place makes a big difference when considering Ove's wife Sonja (Ida Engvoll), and her experiences as a special education teacher. There weren't any ramps for those who needed them and it was difficult for children to get their needs met before medicine and education recognized what those needs really were. It's good to see attention brought to the struggles of people who are disabled, just as it's good to see some visibility on immigration and homosexuality (despite his many other issues with people in his residence community, Ove praises Parvaneh for her strength and resiliency in having fled her native country and provides shelter for a young gay man whose father has kicked him out). It seems Ove's heart is good, he just would rather not show anyone. 

It's a wholesome, emotional story, perfect for a quarantined Thanksgiving. Give it a try. 



Wednesday, November 11, 2020

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, Season 2, Episode 11, The Hunting Party

On-Island Events: Jack awakens in the hatch to find Locke knocked out on the floor. Michael, having assaulted Locke, holds Jack at gunpoint and informs him he's going out after Walt, alone. Jack, Locke, Sawyer, and Kate take off on Michael's trail but Jack is adamant that Kate not accompany them. Locke tries to engage Sawyer in a conversation about his alias, stating he discovered his legal name "James Ford," on the airline manifest, but Sawyer refuses to comment on the matter.

While following Michael's trail into the jungle, the men hear gunshots ring out. Against Locke's advice, Jack pursues the sound. As darkness falls and the men discuss their next options, an unfamiliar voice calls Jack out by name. When the man emerges from the jungle, Sawyer recognizes him as the bearded man who took Walt off the raft. The man lectures Jack, Sawyer, and Locke about their disrespectful curiosity toward his home, stating, "This is not your island. This is our island. And the only reason you're living on it is because we let you live on it." When Jack refuses to treat peacefully with the bearded man, the man orders his people to show their presence by lighting up a ring of torches around the group. The bearded man demands the group's weapons, Jack again refuses. In response, the bearded man reveals a bound and gagged Kate, who his people have captured as she followed the men (against Jack's wishes). The men surrender their weapons and return to the beach. 

Kate attempts to make peace with Jack but he remains aloof and standoffish. He later meets Ana Lucia on the beach and asks her advice about training an army.

Flashbacks: As Jack reviews a patient's spinal x-rays with Christian, the patient's daughter suggests Jack might be able to perform a miracle in fixing her father. Jack agrees to try. Later, Jack and Sarah have a polite conversation about Jack's schedule. Sarah reveals she took a pregnancy test that was negative. Jack's surgical patient dies; Jack comforts the patient's daughter, Gabriella. 

Later, Jack returns home and admits what happened to Sarah but expresses a desire to fix their relationship. Sarah announces she's been cheating on Jack and that she's leaving him. "You will always need something to fix," she says in parting.

Greater Meaning: Locke's inability to sway Jack toward a more rational line of thinking early in the episode sets up an ongoing examination of the problems with Jack's leadership: his feelings of responsibility toward the survivors cloud his judgement and often result in stubborn, misguided decisions. As shown in the flashback (and going on what we know about Jack's actions with Sarah and later Boone), Jack won't back down from these challenges or seeks them out, even. Michael left the beach in search of Walt, why can't Jack let it lie? As a father whose son has been taken from him, Michael is not only well within his rights (there are no island laws, are there?) but within rationality itself to try to recover his abducted son. Does Jack feel the same sense of urgency in recovering Walt? Of course not. Michael's his father. Michael wants his son back.

Is Jack's problem with Michael leaving one of control (I'm in charge and I didn't authorize you to leave!) or more of a personal guilt trip (I allowed you and Walt to leave on the raft way back when and shouldn't have therefore I was unable to keep Walt safe and it's my fault he was taken)? Jack has already shown many times just how seriously he takes his position as leader (Boone, Charlie, Claire, Ana Lucia); the philosophy at work in his actions truly seems to value not only the group, but each individual person within it. This is at odds with a utilitarian approach (do what's best for the greatest number of people within the group) which would be fitting for anyone in a leadership position, island or not. Jack doesn't seem to have any awareness at all about why he does what he does, shown in his refusal to consider Locke's point of view in allowing Michael to do as he pleases without intervention. Overall we see a drive in Jack, a near obsession, in saving or in fixing, which seems to be leading the survivors into a dangerous situation with the bearded man and his people. What if they don't want to be in an army? What if they just want to chill on the beach and stay out of trouble? 


Further Questions: 

1. Will Jack trespass the line in the jungle and start a war with "the others?"

2. Who are "the others?" Where do they live?

3. Why did they take Walt?

4. Is Michael safe?


Saturday, October 31, 2020

Netflix Disk in Quarantine: The Animatrix part 2



7. Beyond, written and directed by Kōji Morimoto. 

While looking for her cat, Yoko follows a group of children to an abandoned warehouse where several glitches in the matrix make for very interesting play. Yoko finds her cat, and experiences some of the amazing features of these glitches, but is disappointed to return the next day to find the warehouse gone.

This was a very light-hearted, almost wholesome story. I worried a lot about the cat being hurt or killed (needlessly, it's fine), and some of the stunts the kids have learned within the glitches---bottles breaking and reassembling, falling from heights, and so on---could have easily gone wrong, but the overall story was a good one with a full, if slightly awwww, resolution. The bigger picture here is that we get a look at the day-to-day headaches in running the matrix for the machines, but also the strangeness and confusion that results for the people plugged into it. Where we got only a few explanations of glitches or changes happening in the films---the repeated black cat, Neo's displacement from Merovingian's mansion to a mountain castle, or agents' abilities to just take over random bodies---this examines how such events are experienced by oblivious humans, unaware that they're in a computer program but somehow in touch with how things don't exactly make sense. I liked it a lot.



8. A Detective Story, written and directed by Shinichiro Watanabe.  

In this noir-inspired story, influenced (as Neo was) by elements from Alice in Wonderland, Ash seeks a hacker known as "Trinity." 

This was short, sweet, and enjoyable. The style is a very well-done noir: black and white, voice-over narration by protagonist Ash, with the strong feel of a gritty graphic novel come to life. Not to say Ash is uninteresting or unimportant, but really the excitement and anticipation of Trinity (will we get to see her? will Carrie-Anne Moss reprise her voice? Yes and Yes) drove this story. The agents were somewhat slow and sluggish here, as with Kid's Story, and this seemed a little unrealistic when compared with how they were portrayed in the film, but whatever. If you're a fan of film noir or graphic novels in the style of Sin City, you'll likely enjoy this story.


9. Matriculated, written and directed by Peter Chung.

A group of rebels operating in the real world lure machines into their version of the matrix in order to reprogram them. 

I loved this story. I loved everything about it. I almost don't want to say anything more because seeing it without any advance knowledge is, I think, the best way to experience it. I'll just say that the colors are lovely, the idea is beautiful, and it's a fantastic way to end the series of stories because of what it leaves us with, as both an audience and problem-solving humans capable of empathy. It's not too late. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, Season 2, Episode 10, The Twenty-Third Psalm

On-Island Events: Claire introduces Aaron to Eko, who speaks to her about Moses and his brother. When Claire inadvertently discloses that Charlie has been carrying a Virgin Mary statue around with him on the island and shows Eko, Eko breaks open the statue, revealing the heroin inside. Eko finds Charlie and demands he show him where he found the statue.

Michael shows interest in weapons; Locke takes him into the jungle for target practice. Later, Michael offers to take Kate's shift in the hatch and she agrees. 

On their way to the site where the Beechcraft airplane crashed, Eko sees the black smoke flicker through the jungle but pass them by. Charlie tries to explain his experiences with addiction to Eko, but for naught. They find a parachute and the skeleton of a priest in the jungle, whom Eko says he knows. Later, as Charlie climbs a tree to get a better view, the smoke monster creeps right up to Eko, hovers there, clicking and snapping, then flickers away back into the jungle. Charlie demands to know why Eko didn't run from the smoke; Eko states he was not afraid of it and continues on his way to the airplane.

In the hatch, Michael is again contacted by Walt on the computer. Walt assures Michael he's okay, he's alone, and that he can't talk for long as "they" were coming back soon. Jack interrupts the chat and offers Michael his sympathy, but soon leaves. 

Eko finds Yemi's body inside the Beechcraft and weeps for his brother. As the plane burns, Charlie asks Eko, "Are you a priest, or aren't you?" Eko answers he is, and recites The Lord's Prayer (Psalm 23), which Charlie joins.

Ana Lucia and Libby are greeted warmly by the beach camp; Claire kicks Charlie out of her tent. Charlie retreats to an area in the jungle where he has hidden several Virgin Mary statues of heroin.


Flashbacks: Opening the episode, a group of Nigerian boys play soccer near a village marketplace. When a truck of armed men pulls up and begins pulling children out of the group, a little boy clings to an older one. The leader of the armed men seizes the boy, puts a gun in his hand, and implores him to shoot an older gentleman. When the little boy refuses, the boy he earlier clung to, which turns out to be Eko, intervenes, shoots the man himself, and is taken by the truck of armed men. 

When Eko returns to the village as an adult, he oversees a drug deal with some men who speak in Arabic, one of which who tells Eko he has no soul. Eko ends up killing the men but spares the life of a child who witnesses the act. 

Eko returns to the village again and visits his brother Yemi, the boy who was left when Eko was taken. Yemi has become a priest, and Eko asks to use the church's protection to move the drugs out of Nigeria by plane; Yemi stresses that while he still loves Eko, he cannot be involved in drug-running. Eko comes back again, demanding that Yemi help, this time suggesting he sign papers ordaining Eko and his friend as priests so they can fly the drugs out of Nigeria. Yemi refuses at first, but then agrees when Eko threatens to burn down the church. 

As Eko and his crew load the Beechcraft, Yemi pleads with his brother to abandon the drug deal and to confess. Eko refuses, the military shows up, and Yemi is killed by their gunfire. Eko's partner takes Yemi's body into the plane, kicks Eko out of it, and departs. 


Greater Meaning: The easy connection to make in this episode is that Eko and Charlie's journeys are related through heroin, which is true. Both have been involved in drugs, Eko trafficking, Charlie using, and both have experienced severe and abrupt life changes due at least in part to the events that shaped or resulted from these involvements. Eko's life changed in two ways: he was made into a criminal when he was taken from his village, and he fashioned himself into a proper priest after Yemi's death (more on this in The Cost of Living, season 3). Charlie was forced into a sudden detoxification soon after crashing on the island and since then has been devoted to Claire and Aaron as a sort of father figure. Both men are religious, each in his own way, but where Eko seems to be heading toward salvation, Charlie, after this episode, seems to be heading in the opposite direction. Had Charlie been able to resist heroin, both off and on the island, things may well have gone very differently for him. 

Similarly, brotherhood factors strongly into Eko's and Charlie's actions; both tried to "save" a brother and failed (Yemi was killed; Liam continued to use heroin) but Eko, in his guilt, turned to God's work whereas Charlie simply joined Liam in his pain. Eko was shown to have been a ruthless warlord, but on the island is seen as a strong ally to Ana Lucia (a former cop!), a man of God, and a sort of silent leader. Charlie does not yet possess this kind of strength, but in their joint recitation of The Lord's Prayer, the two men are seen if not as equals, then at least kindred spirits. Perhaps Eko senses what lies ahead for Charlie or has some appreciation for the struggles he might be facing. 


Further Questions: 

1. Will Charlie start using heroin again?

2. What is Michael planning to do about Walt?

3. Will Ana Lucia be accepted by the rest of the group?

4. Where is Walt? Who has him?

5. Will Claire forgive Charlie?



Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Netflix Disk in Quarantine: The Animatrix, part one

Back in 2003, I was a film student at the University of Minnesota. During a May-term American Studies class I made friends with another younger student who noticed a Matrix book I was carrying with me; we had many conversations about the film trilogy and she told me about this animated series, The Animatrix. I had not seen any anime before, renting this disk (probably at Hollywood on Hennepin Ave) was my first experience with it. I definitely enjoyed some of the following shorts more than others at the time, but I have never forgotten two very specific scenes from the first and second parts of The Second Renaissance. My two older kids were watching with me this time around; they were both equally disturbed by the seriousness of what they saw in these episodes, too. I think the order of the sequences is a good one; I had forgotten about what goes down in Matriculated, but after seeing it again, agree with its placement as the last story. It's not outwardly hopeful, exactly, but the idea it explores plants a pretty important problem-solving seed in terms of humanity fixing its destructive choices. I wish this didn't seem as timely or as relevant as it currently does, but here we are. 

The Animatrix, 2003. 

"The Animatrix is a 2003 American–Japanese animated science fiction anthology film produced by the Wachowskis. It is a compilation of nine animated short films based on The Matrix trilogy, which was written and produced by the Wachowskis. Four of the shorts were also written by the Wachowskis. The film details the backstory of The Matrix series, including the original war between humankind and machines which led to the creation of the titular Matrix." (Wikipedia)

1. Final Flight of the Osirus, written by The Wachowskis, directed by Andy Jones.

Beginning with a sexually-tense spar between the captain of the Osirus hovercraft, Thaddeus, and his first mate, Jue, inside the contructs of The Matrix, must unplug quickly when the story escalates into a chase between Thaddeus and sentinel machines through the sewers. The crew of the Osirus soon discover more sentinels directly above Zion with drilling equipment poised to dig straight down. While the Osirus and its crew is ultimately destroyed, a message sent by Jue to warn Zion is successful (and is referenced verbally by Niobe in The Matrix Reloaded). 

A sweet, short little tale about love among soldiers in battle. Good use of color in the opening spar scene; characters very attractive. If you've seen The Matrix trilogy, which chances are, you will have if you're watching these, or even if you're just paying close attention, it's clear pretty early on (and considering the title) this will not end well. Unfortunate, but it's short, sweet, and full of action.



2. The Second Renaissance part 1, based on material written by The Wachowskis, directed by Mahiro Maeda.

How did The Matrix become? Better yet, what events led to its creation? This story and its follow-up (below) explain. To summarize, mankind's greed, vanity, and corruption led to the creation of a race of computers to serve as domestic slaves and general lower working class. Made in man's image, these machines saw themselves as equals to human beings, or "real." When a domestic machine, BI66-ER (in a reference to Native Son's Bigger Thomas) was threatened with destruction by its human master, BI66-ER commits murder. This act and the subsequent lawsuit and ruling inspires the mass destruction of the machines, who resist and beg for mercy. Human beings, unwilling to acknowledge the machines' "realness" or right to exist among them, banish the remaining machines to an area in the Middle East, where they create their own civilization named 0-1. In contrast to humankind, the machines prosper well together. 

There are some very disturbing scenes in this piece together with its second part (the photo I used below is actually from one of the end scenes of this story but I felt it set the stage well for what was to come in part two). The bottom line in both stories is an upsetting one, one that I see unfolding today in 2020 American culture: the greed, vanity, and corruption that everyone wrote off as "individualism" or "the free market at work" has created a culture of hateful people who have no capacity for empathy. Now, someone might rightly accuse me of taking a bleeding heart liberal approach in trying to tie this into a fictional story about ROBOTS of all things, but I'll stand firm. You have to be a certain kind of person to abuse an animal just like you have to be a certain kind of person to see another human (or in this case, humanoid-looking being) as a thing, a mean to your own selfish end. Dehumanization of the enemy was used as a tactic in more than one war, after all, but unfortunately for us, it didn't stop there. Groups of people dehumanize each other every day.

While the animation and storyboards used here are quite skillful (think Metropolis with more color and violence) I think this story overall is a very cerebral one. It showcases the dehumanization concept in multiple ways, but most clearly in the scene (pictured above) that shows the gleeful kicking, bludgeoning, and ripping of clothes from a humanoid (done by a group of men to a female-featured machine) as the victim pleads with her assailants to stop, crying out, "I'm real!" This is very upsetting, I know, but the point here is to show us behaviors and assumptions that hurt because these things matter and because we, as humans, sometimes need a mirror held up to our own shittiness. Empathy, whether it's toward human beings, animals, or any other sentient or non-sentient elements, matters. Clearly (looking around and gesturing vaguely at everything happening) it's an idea that needs more emphasis.



3. The Second Renaissance part 2, based on material written by The Wachowskis, directed by Mahiro Maeda. 

Human beings unfortunately do not learn anything from the aforementioned unwillingness to coexist peacefully with the machines, despite the machines' desire (pictured left) to join the United Nations and to teach humans better, stronger methods in technology and economic advances. A war between the two sides begins, and Operation Dark Sky explains in detail what Morpheus meant back when he told Neo in The Matrix that the humans had "scorched the sky." The machines outwit the humans by creating the matrix and by using fields of people, not the sun's energy, as their power sources.

Everything being explored in part one is just as present here, but with the added bonus of a resolution: These are the illustrated failures of diplomacy as spurred by human ignorance and lack of empathy. How relevant. The two Renaissance pieces are in my opinion, the very best in this collection.


4. Kid's Story, based on material written by The Wachowskis, directed by Shinichiro Watanabe.

Story of "Kid," the eager would-be soldier from The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, who despite crediting Neo with his salvation from the matrix, actually saved himself.

This story reads a lot differently now that it did, initially. Teenagers on computers, depressed and alone, are a lot more common now than twenty years ago. My heart aches for them, then and now. Skateboarding scenes a little overblown, but tension well done among Kid, the teacher bucky about the ringing cell phone, and eventually, the agents (who like in A Detective Story, which I'll write up in a second installment), seem way slower and much more dense than in the films). Leaving us with a positive message on the computer screen---"You are not alone,"---was a balm to my soul. I feel like even then, we (as in Americans) should have been taking better care of the kids . . . 


5. Program, written and directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri.

Cis, a highly skilled swordswoman battles her mentor (and lover?) Duo inside a construct program of the matrix but after learning Duo is no longer interested in "red pill honesty" must choose whether to join him in leaving the real world or fight to the death in the artificial one.

This story is pretty short and to the point, but the style and aesthetic is pretty breathtaking throughout. If you've seen The Twilight Zone you'll appreciate the ending, very "Where is Everybody?", but with a successful resolution and a badass female protagonist. Another short and effective little story that captivates with its images.



6. World Record, written by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, directed by Takeshi Koike.

After having his Olympic gold medal revoked due to drug use, world record-holding track star Dan Davis attempts to return to competition. The intensity of the race causes Davis to rupture muscles in his legs, drawing the attention of three agents within the stadium, but Davis continues his frantic pace, coming in just under his previous world record. During the race, a sentinel in the real world senses irregularities in the pod where Davis is plugged into the matrix. When Davis returns to consciousness he is confined to a wheelchair but despite the machines' best efforts, still manages to surpass expectations.  

A very visceral story; the running, the exertion, the bursting muscles (colors, illustration, sound) . . . all were quite tense. The introductory narration spoke of truly exceptional people having the ability to become aware of the confines of the matrix; this is a great story that describes such exceptionalism in a sort of unexpected way. I don't typically flock to stories about sport or sports people, but I did enjoy this as it was a unique insight. 


This got very long-winded, sorry for that, so the final three stories I'll write up in a separate post. Stay tuned! 

Friday, October 23, 2020

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, Season 2, Episode 9, What Kate Did

On-island events: Jin and Sun wake up happily reunited; Sayid digs a grave for Shannon. In the hatch, Sawyer asks Jack about Kate and then mumbles twice that he loves her. Kate sees a black horse in the jungle. The group has a service for Shannon on the beach; Sayid says an emotional goodbye. As Kate watches over Sawyer in the hatch, he wakes up suddenly, grabs her, and asks, "Why did you kill me?" Jack and Locke return to the hatch to find the countdown alarm blaring, Sawyer on the ground, and Kate missing.

Locke cuts off Jin's handcuffs; Michael notices the hatch's blast doors. Jack confronts Kate for leaving the hatch, she becomes defensive but then kisses him and walks off. Locke shows Michael and Eko the Dharma Initiative film explaining the hatch; Michael asks about the missing filmstrip segments but Eko abruptly leaves the hatch without comment. Eko returns to the hatch with a book, which he said he found in the hatch on the other side of the island. Inside the book is the missing section of the filmstrip from the Dharma film. 

Kate speaks to Sawyer as if he was Wayne, and after explaining why she hates him, admits she sees him in Sawyer. After he wakes from his fever, Kate helps him out of the hatch. In the jungle, they both see the dark horse. After Locke and Eko reassemble the film, they watch it again and learn the section that had been cut out consisted of a strict warning not to use the computer for any purpose other than entering the code. As Michael examines the equipment, the computer beeps twice, drawing him closer. On the screen is the word, "hello?" Michael, who has not seen the reassembled Dharma footage, types "hello?" back. After revealing who he was on the screen when asked, the word, "DAD?" appears back.

Flashbacks: After flicking a lighter open and closed as she waits on a step, Kate helps a drunken man into bed. As she takes off on a motorcycle, the house explodes in flames. Later, at a diner, Kate speaks to Diane, her mother, hands her an insurance policy for the house, and leaves. 

Later, in a bus station, Kate is arrested for murder by the agent who originally accompanied her on Oceanic Flight 815. As he puts handcuffs on her, the agent informs Kate that her mother gave her up. As he drives her back for her arraignment, the agent asks Kate what motivated her to kill Wayne, her mother's husband. Before she can answer, a light-colored horse darts out in front of the vehicle, causing it to crash into a pole. Kate shoves the agent out of the car and attempts to drive off, but sees a dark-colored horse on the side of the road, staring at her. 

Kate visits her father, who has been informed about her crime. Kate demands to know why he never told her he wasn't really her father; he answers that he knew she would kill Wayne once she found out the truth. He agrees to give Kate one hour before reporting her to the police and she leaves. 

Greater Meaning: As we are directed by the title to focus on what Kate did, we are led to acknowledge a few things about Kate. 1., She loved her mother (and resented Wayne) enough to kill her father, 2., She suffers trust and abandonment issues due to her mother's reaction to her choice, 3. Kate's self-esteem is poor, due to her lineage and what she did, and 4., Jack and Sawyer exacerbate these feelings in Kate on the island. When Jack confronts Kate's irresponsibility over leaving Sawyer unattended and not pushing the button in the hatch, Kate becomes hostile, stating she knows she is not as good as Jack, then kisses him. Is she trying to direct her affection to Jack because it's honest or because doing so might elevate her to Jack (and not Sawyer's) level? Kate fights her feelings for Sawyer, as she explains, because she sees Wayne in him. On the island, Kate seems to be good enough in every regard; she delivered Claire's baby, kept Sun's secrets, and is now, helping nurse Sawyer back to health. The issue doesn't seem to be guilt over her having murdered her father (she seems to have justified it to herself well enough to let it lie) but rather the fact that Kate herself was damaged by the time spent with Wayne, her link to his "badness," and secondarily, her mother's repeated rejection of her as a result. 

If Kate is seeking redemption from Wayne's (symbolic) mark on her, what will deliver it?

Further Questions: 

1. Is Kate in love with Sawyer?

2. Is Kate trying to be in love with Jack?

3. Was the dark horse real or a hallucination?

4. Does Eko's story of Josiah rebuilding the temple relate to John Locke personally?

5. Is Walt really sending messages to Michael through the computer (or is it a trick?)?

6. Is Walt alive? Where is he?

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, Season 2, Episode 8, Collision

On-Island Events: The survivors' experiences during Ana Lucia's shooting of Shannon are replayed. Sayid attempts to charge Ana Lucia but Eko intervenes and stops him. Ana Lucia threatens the group; the survivors are confused by her overreaction. After she demands Sayid be tied to the tree, she agrees to let him go if Michael brings her ammunition and other supplies from the beach camp. Eko defies Ana Lucia and insists on returning Sawyer to the group on the beach.


As Hurley, Charlie, and Kate play golf on the beach, Jack joins in the game and offers advice. Later, as Jack and Kate search for Jack's ball in the jungle they come across Eko carrying Sawyer. In the hatch, Jack tends to Sawyer while Locke and Eko get to know each other.

Jack determines that Sawyer's infection has spread to his bloodstream; Kate helps administer antibiotics. The rest of the tail section admits to Ana Lucia they no longer trust her judgement and leave her with Sayid as they continue to the beach. Michael eventually makes it back to the hatch and explains to Locke and Jack what has happened. Eko intervenes and offers to take Jack to Ana Lucia, whose name Jack instantly recognizes. 

While waiting in the jungle, Ana Lucia confesses to Sayid that she was shot while serving as a police officer before the plane crashed on the island. Sayid appears interested and asks questions but Ana Lucia refuses to discuss anything further and decides instead to release him. Jin leads the tail section to the beach camp where he reunites with Sun and Bernard reunites with Rose. Eko leads Jack to the jungle where he finds Ana Lucia and appears to be sympathetic.

Flashbacks: Ana Lucia speaks with a therapist who reinstates her as a police officer. When she returns, her captain who is also her mother, assigns her to an evidence position behind a desk but relents when Ana Lucia demands a vehicle assignment. After responding to a domestic abuse call with her partner, Ana Lucia overreacts and threatens the suspect with her firearm. 

Later, Ana Lucia's mother asks her to identify a man in custody who the team believes is the man who shot her; she refuses. Instead, Ana Lucia tracks the man to a bar where she follows him to his car and shoots him after announcing, "I was pregnant."

Greater Meaning: There's something familiar yet troubling about Ana Lucia and the way she goes about problem-solving, both on and off the island. Early in the episode when Libby and Bernard are asking her about her plan, Sayid (from the tree) explains that she has no plan, only her guilt. After demanding that Michael provide her with survival gear, Libby argues with Ana Lucia, insisting that she can't just live in the jungle, all alone. Ana Lucia replies, "I'm already alone." 

After being shot, Ana Lucia is alone in her grief over losing her baby (Danny, the boyfriend has since split), she chooses to seek revenge, alone, and is presumably repeating the process in the aftermath of her accidental shooting of Shannon despite having the support of the people she's been leading on the island. She expects Sayid to be unable to forgive her, as she herself would be unable to forgive in a similar situation. In a lot of ways, Ana Lucia seems to be using the shooting to rid herself of the support and sense of community she had with Eko, Bernard, and Libby just as she shunned the support of her fellow police officers and mother after she was shot and lost her baby. Was being a leader too much for her? Or did the issues from her past finally become too much, spurred by an accidental act of violence that came from a place of desire to protect the vulnerable (just like the overreaction with the woman/baby/domestic abuser on the first police call after her reinstatement)?

Who else has experienced a combination of guilt and stubborn solitude in a leadership role? Jack still carries the guilt of Christian Shephard's death, which has presented sometimes as sadness, other times as obsessive-compulsive anger, and he often rejects the support of the group when dealing with his own issues. For these reasons, Jack's acceptance of Ana Lucia suggests at most, a desire to help someone similar to himself (symbolically helping himself or "fathering" Ana Lucia in a way he needed to be fathered by Christian) and at the very least, the acknowledgement that he agrees that he and Ana Lucia are similar or perhaps kindred spirits on the island.

Further Questions:

1. Will Jack allow Ana Lucia to join the beach camp?
2. Will Sayid ever forgive Ana Lucia?
3. Will Michael find Walt?
4. Will Sawyer be okay?





Wednesday, June 10, 2020

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, Season 2, Episode 7, The Other 48 Days


As we don't yet know a lot about the tail section other than Ana Lucia having met Jack in the airport bar before the flight, there's not a ton of discussion about this episode. The characters and events are interesting but we do not get any flashbacks.



On-Island Events: A retrospective look at what happened when the tail section crashed onto the beach. Ana Lucia, Eko, Libby, and Cindy scramble to help survivors onto the beach as the wreckage from Oceanic flight 815 sinks into the ocean. Soon after the crash, a man runs out of the jungle in seek of help for a man stuck in a tree, which turns out to be Bernard. Ana Lucia talks Bernard down from the tree and later learns that the man who sought her help is named Goodwin. When the group goes to sleep on the beach the first night, they are awakened by disturbing sounds---Eko has beaten a group of attackers to death with a rock. While the rest of the group tries to determine who the attackers were, Eko has stopped speaking and begins carving things into a long stick.

Days later, others return and snatch the children; Ana Lucia kills one and finds a list with nine names on it. A survivor, Nathan, is gone for more than two hours on his own, Ana Lucia and Libby are suspicious. Eventually Ana Lucia digs a pit which she throws Nathan into, believing he is a spy for the others, feeding them information on the survivors. Some of the survivors sneak Nathan food, and later, Goodwin lets him out, letting him believe he is releasing him, but snaps his neck, killing him. Eventually the group finds the Dharma hatch and inside it, a trunk full of blankets, a glass eye, a bible, and a radio. When Goodwin offers to go to higher ground alone to get a better signal for the radio, Ana Lucia insists on accompanying him. On the way, Ana Lucia asks Goodwin why he thinks the others are attack them and he provides a somewhat alternative perspective on what the others are doing but soon begins to act peculiar under Ana Lucia's questioning.

When Ana Lucia eventually confronts Goodwin about being an "other," he admits Nathan was not one of them and that the children were better off. In a struggle, Ana Lucia stabs Goodwin with a wooden stick, killing him. Later back at the hatch, Bernard fumbles with the radio and hears Boone's transmission. Even after Boone's voice states, "We're the survivors of Oceanic flight 815," Ana Lucia insists it's the others on the radio, trying to draw them out. Near a river, Ana Lucia breaks down crying and Eko comforts her, forty days after he first stopped speaking. A few days later as Cindy and Libby are fishing on the beach, Jin washes up on shore and a replay of events already seen commences, culminating in Ana Lucia shooting Shannon in the jungle.


Further Questions:

1. Why did the others send Goodwin to this camp and not to the other?
2. Would Ethan have eventually taken others besides Claire?
3. What was the purpose of the Dharma station they found?

Television in Quarantine

Sorry this got so long. Since I really don't know when I'll be able to go back to work again, my personal quarantine may indeed be extended into the summer, so I'll keep posting my "in quarantine" series. So many shows . . . so many rants. Funny I haven't started anything new but just rewatched old favorites or got myself caught up on seasons I was behind on, and my kids did this, too. I think we're clinging to times and experiences that reminded us of being safe, or just reminded us of happier times altogether. I still maintain that for the best possible escapism, LOST (which I'm still reviewing one episode at a time) fits the bill better than anything. It's the one show I recommend to everyone who asks.

These are the shows I completed from start to finish:

1. The Handmaid's Tale

In Gilead, women called "handmaids" are forced to submit to ritual rape and humiliation in order to conceive and carry babies for wealthy couples unable to procreate.

I'd read Atwood's novel years ago and then just this year, The Testaments, but seeing it all in action really disgusted me in a way the novels couldn't. This was one of the first series I watched after the shelter-at-home order, and given everything happening in the world under the current administration, it's safe to say I was extra anger-prone sitting through all this ridiculous male bullshit in the name of religion. Most nights I would just fill up my wine glass and scowl, especially those early episodes where there seemed to be little hope and the events were more or less controlled by the commanders of Gilead. I hated those men, I hated seeing their stupid little system, and obviously, I was enraged by all the rape and baby-stealing.

About midway through the first season there comes a shift when the handmaids begin to organize their revolt and begin resisting, and these are the moments that make the show amazing and scary as it may seem to us now, relevant. All three seasons were deeply disturbing, yet not without their moments of hope and tenderness (June's friendships with Moira and eventually Janine, as well as her relationship with Nick, to name a few), but as upsetting as it all was, I did feel like the show validated my anger and served as a somewhat cathartic experience toward everything I've come to detest about men in power who hurt and demean women.


2. Sons of Anarchy

In a twisted, modern-day homage to Hamlet, Sons of Anarchy, a northern California motorcycle club and its vice president, Jax Teller, weather the ups and downs of organized crime in the close-knit community of Charming.

The first season is a little clunky, the last two off-the-rails violent, but for my money, there are no two better characters in television than our two prime movers, the Claudius and Gertrude of Charming, Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) and Gemma Teller (Katey Sagal). I'll give an honorable mention to Nero Padilla (Jimmy Smits), as well as the amazing supporting cast throughout the seasons and a ton of excellent guest stars. If I'm honest I need to say that Charlie Hunnam as Jax Teller, the hero, the Hamlet, definitely looks the part, but his accent, the cringe-y swagger he does, and those ridiculous white shoes he wears, were . . . poor choices, but whatever, it's Hunnam! He didn't need to do much with a cast like this, we were always gonna pay more attention to Perlman and Sagal (who stole every scene), anyway.

I did some thinking about the subject matter of the show, which is heavy into selling guns and prostitution, and shows many instances of violence against women, and admittedly, it's disturbing. A different type of disturbing than what happens in The Handmaid's Tale to be sure, but significantly disturbing, nonetheless. There's a fair amount in diversity in these episodes, but also a fair amount of racism, mostly in the form of epitaphs and stereotyping. Throughout every season, there are rapes, beatings, murders, and infidelities. In this way, SOA is not unlike a mafia film or series; it's about a group of male criminals who, at their best are hyper-masculine, at their worst, toxic and violent, and who live and work within a system where there are differing morals and constantly changing rules among crews and the law. Kind of like politics, when you think about it. If no one plays by the same rules, there effectively are no rules. If everyone is making underhanded dealings behind allies' backs, you effectively encourage your ally to do the same to you. Jax has good intentions but they're not enough, and like all good mafia pictures, we meet him on an upswing but then spend seven years watching it all crash and burn and this is sad, because like Hamlet, Jax Teller is a great character.

There is a moment early on in the first season I'll never forget: the crew is gathered around the table at Gemma and Clay's place, passing food around and bullshitting. The camera lingers on Gemma watching her family and we see her happy, in her element. Would that such experiences lasted . . .


3. Mrs. America

Phyllis Schlafly, conservative mother of six and opponent of the ERA movement, battles celebrated feminists like Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan, and Shirley Chisholm as the women's movement gains traction in the seventies.

I grew up in the eighties in a tiny farm community in rural Minnesota, and the first thing I ever heard about any of this was when I took a women's studies class IN COLLEGE, in the year 2001. In elementary and high school, our extremely conservative social studies curriculum focused around civics/law, the big wars, and the evils of communism (without breaching the actual wars that were fought over it); if it didn't cast the white American male in a heroic spotlight, we did not learn about it.

I thought I'd immediately hate Schlafly, I wrote about her with more than a little venom in one of my American Studies classes at the U of M, but considering Cate Blanchett's portrayal and the fact that Schlafly is basically mansplained to by everyone for the first two straight episodes, I first felt sorry for her, and then came to somewhat agree with Bella Abzug's assessment, "Phyllis Schlafly is a f*cking feminist." She's not a good feminist, but she wanted all the same freedoms the real feminists were fighting for. I loved how Bella set a little trap for Schlafly's underlings to walk into, admitting basically the same, and how the idea that they might have more in common with each other than not (shown by Alice's experience with the Christian woman at the bar). In order to be engaging, I feel like many stylistic and dramatic liberties were probably taken by the show, especially with Schlafly (her posthumous publication, The Conservative Case for Trump suggests to me that in the end maybe she wasn't all that intelligent but just good at mobilizing and shouting), but whatever. The show was brilliant, more relevant than ever  (hello, MANAFORT AND ROGER STONE!) and material that young people should encounter before college level electives. Watch it.

4. LOST

After 10 years of writing about it do I really need to make up a synopsis? Fine, here it is:

After surviving a plane crash, a group of people discover connections among themselves and the unique properties of the island they've crashed onto, which was Absolutely. Not. Purgatory.

While it's true that I am watching each episode, taking notes in detail, and writing each one up separately (see LOST), I watched the entire series with my son, ending with the finale on the 10 year anniversary on May 23. The first and final seasons are pretty familiar to me, but many of the middle episodes I'd only seen once or twice, so it was nice experiencing these all over again. I've told the story about how I came to the series many times, but it's such a great one I'm telling it again: In 2006, I was working at a Starbucks on 50th and France in Edina, and many of my coworkers were film and television people. I was in the height of a serious 24 obsession (getting these either through Blockbuster online or eventually Netflix), and was watching The Sopranos and Six Feet Under weekly on HBO. Several of my coworkers assumed I was watching LOST, and when I said I hadn't heard of it, pressured me to start. My sister and brother and law said the same thing, but I always answered that I had too many shows going to start another. Only when my brother told me what he thought ("It's like The Twilight Zone on an island. You need to watch this.") did I actually become interested, but I didn't actually start watching for at least another year, possibly two as I was busy having many babies during this time.

When I did eventually begin watching, I was mesmerized from the very beginning; it was like The Twilight Zone on an island, a series of different episodes and experiences that were strangely ALL CONNECTED. The unidentifiable "monster" (which turns out to be THE DEVIL). Ben Linus as a sort of stand-in "Howling Man" (not the devil, but a dangerous man). Keeping Jack in the cage on Hydra Island and the turnaround scene where he later catches Friendly's football having presumably joined the others. The entire "Expose" episode. The explanation of keeping the smoke monster on the island as illustrated by the corked bottle of wine (straight from "The Howling Man"). It was very much its own story, different than anything we'd ever seen before but still a TZ fan's dream come true. One line that's stayed with me since the finale is when Jack says to Desmond, "trust me, all of this matters." This is something I've come to learn from life, more so in the last few years than any other time, there is a play between good and evil, it never stops, but we really are all connected and everything we do matters. Everything.

Now. I've never really been comfortable enough in the past to just lay out my take on LOST, but after ten years, I'm willing to be blunt about a few things. The island on LOST was meant to be creation. Life began on the island and then through its electromagnetic properties, once it was discovered and manipulated, continued through the donkey wheel exit point into Tunisia, flourishing all over the Middle East. Each protector of the island (Island Mother, Jacob, Jack, Hugo, Walt) is a Jesus/savior figure, human and flawed, the unnamed man in black was a human who became the devil at the hands of Jacob, and the light and energy of the physical island is God/The Universe through which all things are possible. Island Mother and Jacob clearly served the longest tenures as island protectors, but in his wisdom and maybe due to his desire to pass on the position in a timely factor with a gift for planning and unique foresight, Jacob assigned meaning to the numbers 4 8 15 16 23 42 even before the candidates were born, but then, when it was clear that they would eventually factor into his own replacement, linked each number to a candidate. The numbers, the candidates, and the people they connected became united by the island's energy (via Jacob's interest in them) which influenced everything from the relationships they made, the jobs they took, and the internal struggles they faced even before coming together on Oceanic Flight 815 and crashing onto the island.
This, as said by "A Scientist
Explains LOST" about a decade
ago, IS FRECKLES, JUNIOR.

David Shephard was not a dummy character or flash sideways stand-in for Jack's guilt over abandoning Aaron or having daddy issues but a real, live person, and the son of Jack and Kate (not Jack and Juliet). Being in the flash sideways, David has also died but was not instrumental to the entire island group's moving on, only Jack's, as if the God or the Universe perhaps wanted to give him a chance to meet his son, which is a very Hugo Reyes, empathetic thing to consider. It's the only thing that makes any sort of sense.

After Juliet Burke detonates a nuclear device in the pit of the then-in-process Swan station, the split narrative known as the "flash sideways" was presented in a way that, to viewers, suggested Farraday's idea of sending everyone back in time before Oceanic 815 crashed, worked. In reality, the flash sideways was its own, legitimate series of events experienced by every character after they died in whatever various methods befell them in a common place (I'm okay with using "pre-afterlife" for this) that, according to Christian Shephard during his explanation in front of the stained glass window in the final moments of the finale, they, the survivors had created for themselves. Also not purgatory. Michael and Walt are notably absent from this gathering, Michael having been relegated to the island whisperers to work off his punishment for murdering Ana Lucia and Libby and Walt being busy with island leadership duties after Hugo's unseen death, in whatever form it took. The rest of the survivors moved on together, presumably to the afterlife, proper. The end.

Questions? Let's have a drink and talk. I'm here all night.




Sunday, June 7, 2020

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, Season 2, Episode 6, Abandoned

The Tail Section: Michael returns to the group as they continue their journey back to the beach camp; Sawyer bullet injury continues to worsen. Eko is sympathetic toward Sawyer but Ana Lucia is not. When Michael challenges Ana Lucia about her attitude, she explains that the others took several members of their group and that the people are smart but "animals." Eventually Sawyer collapses with fever from his infected wound and the group make a stretcher to carry him forward. As they are working together to lift the stretcher to higher ground, Ana Lucia discovers that Cindy is missing. Soon Michael hears whispering and Ana Lucia commands everyone to run.

On-Island Events: At night inside her tent, Shannon sees Walt, soaking wet and whispering, but no one believes her. After digging through Michael and Walt's remaining clothing, Shannon sends Vincent off in search of Walt's scent, convinced she hadn't been dreaming. When Aaron won't stop crying, Locke helps Claire by swaddling the baby and Claire inadvertently lets slip the fact that Charlie has one of the virgin Mary statues leading to awkwardness between Locke and Charlie. Later Shannon admits to Sayid that the reason she needs him to believe her is that she's convinced he will eventually leave her; he assures her he won't leave and tells her he loves her. Just afterward, during a downpour in the jungle, Sayid and Shannon both see Walt. When Shannon runs after Walt, a gunshot rings out and she collapses in Sayid's arms, having been accidentally shot by Ana Lucia, who with the rest of the group, has finally arrived at their camp.

Flashbacks: Shannon's experiences with her stepmother after her father's death were rife with tension and frustration but Boone is supportive. Shannon looks forward to a ballet internship but her stepmother refuses to give her any of her late father's money or estate. Boone attempts to get the money from his mother himself, but is also denied. He offers to give Shannon money once his trust fund kicks in but she decides she'd rather find a way to support herself rather than remaining dependent on him or his mother any longer.

Greater Meaning: Clearly Shannon has shown that she has the skills to manipulate others to her will, and if Locke's advice ("everyone gets a new life here,") is true, Shannon's relationship with Sayid could indeed be a positive thing built on honesty instead of manipulation. Sayid's unwillingness to believe that Shannon has seen Walt does seem a little paternalistic and man-splainy, Sayid after all must know by now that stranger things have happened on the island, but seeing Shannon show her vulnerable side with legitimate emotion instead of spite is kind of nice. Why Walt chose to reveal himself to Shannon is a mystery, maybe her caretaking of Vincent and Walt's acknowledgement of her pain over Boone before leaving on the raft bonded them, but it could also have been a sort of premonition of her eventual downfall (which Ana Lucia may or may not have instigated had Shannon and Sayid not been chasing Walt through the jungle). It's not yet proven if this was actually Walt or just a vision of Walt (ala Christian Shephard in White Rabbit). If only a vision, how is Walt able to appear to people like that? Walt's episode in season 1 was entitled "Special," is this just evidence of his specialness? And if it's only a vision, does this mean that Walt has died?

Further Questions:

1. What are the whispers in the jungle?
2. Is Walt just hanging out in the jungle by himself?
3. Will Charlie begin using heroin again?
4. Will Sawyer be okay?
5. What will Sayid do to Ana Lucia?
6. Is Shannon dead?

Reading in Quarantine: The Second 7

This stack went considerably faster than the first one. They were shorter in length but also very engaging---I tore through these because I thoroughly enjoyed each one and always looked forward to picking them up when it was time to read. I don't think I've ever felt that way about an entire group of 7 before. 


The Poet, Michael Connelly, 1996. 492 pages.

In effort to uncover the truth surrounding his twin brother's supposed suicide, a journalist finds a string of serial crimes linked to a murderer and child abuser with a penchant for the work of Edgar Allen Poe.

I had read only The Lincoln Lawyer from Connelly, which I liked a lot, but I picked this up for fifty cents at a thrift shop in my hometown last year. It was a little slow at first for maybe two chapters, a lot of journalism and cop talk as the main character, Jack McEvoy, deals with the aftermath of his brother Sean's suicide, but once it gets going, it really goes. Details that don't add up, the arrival of the FBI to the story, and the POV chapters from the murderer himself, not to mention Poe and the poetry, all make for very interesting scenes and a compelling mystery, overall. As with any story that deals with child abuse, the subject matter here was dark and disturbing, but it was a very well-done, interesting novel.

The Great American Read project (which I'm still in the first pages of) lists all of Patterson's Alex Cross mysteries on their list, and while I do enjoy the character of Alex Cross, I feel like Connelly does a better, more authentic job laying out the mystery. Written in 1996, this was Connelly's fifth novel, but on the strength of this one I'd really like to start at the beginning of his work like I did with Patterson and CJ Box's Joe Pickett series. Good thing I have all this time on my hands.


Esperanza Rising, Pamela Munoz Ryan, 2000. 312 pages.

After the death of her father, a young girl must leave Mexico with her mother to escape an abusive uncle and find work in California.

I needed a YA novel and one of my kids recommended this one. I really ended up enjoying it, there's so much going on to process. It makes me really happy they give this to kids in elementary school, because on top of being a great story about a girl and her family, there are class issues at play (Esperanza is from a upper class family), labor union issues (many of the workers want to strike for better working conditions), and racial issues (white workers from Oklahoma are given better homes and more pay per hour than the immigrant workers from Mexico). Each chapter heading is a Spanish word for whatever fruit or vegetable the crew is currently picking or prepping, so by the end you've learned the Spanish words for twelve nouns (grapes, papayas, figs, guavas, cantaloupes, onions, almonds, plums, potatoes, avocados, asparagus, and peaches), which is cool, too.

The story itself is told through the main character Esperanza's perspective, and while it does focus on common YA topics such as friendship, material things, and bullying---which I happen to think everyone should read more about anyway, no matter age or gender---the bigger topics described above make it an important story about immigrations experiences with labor and the struggles these workers face. I daresay we as Americans could stand with a bit more empathy for situations like these, and would recommend this book as an introduction on learning about topics that require understanding and compassion for humankind.


The Wild Things, Dave Eggers, 2009. 306 pages.

In a novelization of Maurice Sendak's children's book, Where the Wild Things Are (and also a novelization of the screenplay of the same name), Eggers tells the story of Max, the boy in the wolf suit who escapes his family life to and island of beasts to become their king.

Silly me, I bought this only because Eggers did it, had no idea it was based on Sendak, no idea Eggers had done the screenplay. Only after the wolf suit came into play did I realize what was happening, but even so, the story was wonderful and engaging from the very first page. I don't think you even need to have read or enjoyed the first book or film to enjoy this story, Eggers is a brilliant enough writer to have carried it totally on his own, filling in those back stories of why Max was naughty, what was going on in his family, the unique personalities of each of the beasts he spends time with, and how Max inadvertently learns a lot about himself in the process. It's a great story, and should you already be a fan of its original subject material, you will likely enjoy this, too.


Watership Down, Richard Adams, 1972. 496 pages.

After their warren becomes unsafe, a group of rabbit bucks forge an escape and relocation plan encountering several threats and challenges along the way.

I never really had any interest in rabbits; as a writer and more importantly, a reader, I'm a solid cat person, although I do sprinkle our throwaway produce ends under our deck for the baby buns that hang around the yard. It doesn't matter if you like rabbits or have even thought about them in regard to fiction, this book is really about adventure and relationships, and it's very well done. I really enjoyed it.

As with The Stand, I read most of this about ten years ago when looking for clues about LOST ---people said it might hold clues to the survivors' fate (it was also one of Sawyer's "beach books"). The premise is sort of similar, a group needs to survive and evade enemies, but that's really it. At its heart, this is a sweet story that explores a lot of how wild creatures experience other species and the natural world. I enjoyed all the rabbits' names and personalities (Dandelion, the storyteller, was easily my favorite), the mythology and history of rabbitkind showcased in the stories of old they passed around, and as these were British rabbits, I enjoyed many of their words such as "shan't," "Old Chap," and other traditional phrases. It's a lovely story, and I daresay, one that eventually addresses bigger, relevant-to-humans themes such as trust, bravery, and control. It's pretty long, but well worth the time, and the ending had me in full waterworks.


The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead, 2016. 338 pages. **SPOILERS BELOW**

A woman escapes from the plantation owner who enslaved her through an underground railroad but soon discovers, escaped or free, there are no safe places in America.

This was on a list of novels of supplemental reading for one of my grad classes at Augsburg, the third one from the list that I've finished, and by far the best. I didn't know anything about it before reading, only that it was said to be very good and that it would go on to win many, many awards. I assumed it was about The Underground Railroad as I've grown to know it from history and I was very excited when I discovered the motivation was the same, but this story was about an actual railroad that allowed people to escape. I don't want to say too much, because reading and learning about the railroad, where it goes, how it's made and hidden, should be experienced as it's written, I think the less known in advance, the better.

Cora, the book's main character, is interesting, very headstrong, and written, I think, in a way that details the evils of slavery she experienced while giving equal attention the concept of the long-lasting trauma these experiences caused. I don't know that I've ever read it described so fully (since Toni Morrison, at least)---the idea that these terrible things that have been done to a person, beatings, rapes, humiliations, stalkings, murders, and the memories of these things can and will stay with them, affecting every aspect of their lives. The effects of slavery didn't just stop when those enslaved escaped or obtained freedom.

Everyone should read this.


Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, Ronan Farrow, 2019. 464 pages.

Farrow investigates the countless sexual assault and harassment charges against Harvey Weinstein over the years; many people, including his production team at NBC and Weinstein himself, try to kill the investigation but in the end, The New Yorker publishes the story.

I was curious at first, and I knew quite a bit going in, but after "The White Whale," a section about 90 pages in, this became an anger read to the end as I learned about the number of victims, specifics of how they were raped/assaulted/stalked (and not only by Weinstein, Matt Lauer has a section and he's just as disgusting and criminal), and just how deep this coverup really went. It was infuriating, but an important read, and (as with War on Peace) really good insight into the importance of competent journalism. The one happy moment, if there can be one in a story like this, is Farrow's little "okay, bitch ass," (my words, not his) treatment of his producer Noah Oppenheim's pleads for Farrow to make a statement that he, Oppenheim, wasn't the villain in all this. I'll allow that in a story this evil, he wasn't THE villain, but he was definitely A villain. Reminds me of Isaac from Children of the Corn, strapped to the corn cross, crying, because he knew his ass would soon be grass. With any luck, Weinstein is making similar sounds in prison these days.

Unsound Variations, George R. R. Martin, 1982.

A former chess captain and two friends agree to meet the teammate that lost an important chess match decades earlier; the loss has consumed every aspect of the teammate's life, and as it turns out, all of theirs, as well.

This is a short story in the Dreamsongs, Volume 2 collection, and one of my favorites of all GRRM's short fiction. I'm a pretty basic chess player so I knew and understood most of the terms, but honestly, it didn't really matter. Chess is important in the story, yes, but overall, it's a story about bitterness and strategy (both on and off the chess board). I think it would make for a very nice new Twilight Zone episode, if Peele might be looking for material for his third season. I really, really dug this, very clever with a brilliant ending.

Friday, June 5, 2020

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, Season 2, Episode 5, . . . and found

On-Island Events: Sun realizes she's lost her wedding ring and tries to retrace her steps in finding it; she later destroys her garden in frustration. After Kate begins sorting through the messages in the bottle Claire gave to Sun, she finds her ring inside.

The Raft Crew/Tail Section: Michael reassures Jin that he'll be reunited with Sun soon; Ana announces the group will be hiking back to the beach group's camp. Jin impresses Bernard and Ana with his fishing skills while Michael gets to know about the survivors from the tail section; Libby explains the group's "trust issues." As Sawyer learns that the large man who initially snatched them and threw them in the pit is named Mr. Eko, Michael bolts from the group, taking off into the jungle. After Mr. Eko offers to help Jin find Michael, they happen upon a dead body, which Eko identifies as Goodwin. Soon they find Michael's tracks but Eko senses danger; as they hide among bushes a group of dirty, barefoot "others" make their way through the jungle just in front of them, including a child holding a teddy bear. Eventually, Michael emerges from the jungle and demands Jin go back to the others.

Flashbacks: Sun and Jin share flashbacks of before they met during which Sun is set up through a matchmaker and Jin's friend implores him to wear orange in order to meet the woman of his dreams. Jin interviews at a hotel and lands the job despite being belittled for his poverty by his new boss. Jin happens to open the door for Sun and her mother where Sun connects with the man her matchmaker has paired her with but she soon learns this man plans to marry an American woman. When Jin allows a young boy to use the hotel's bathroom against his boss's guidelines, his boss confronts him for it and Jin quits. Later, while crossing a bridge, Jin sees a woman wearing an orange dress, but when he turns around to follow her, he bumps into Sun.

Greater Meaning: While the events in the episode are broad and pretty scattered, the overall theme seems to be Jin's superior moral character and Sun's concern for his well-being. Despite begin shown as a punch-happy control freak in the early episodes of the first season, Jin has shown nothing but bravery and loyalty during the events of the raft and toward Michael and Sawyer. Showing Jin's sympathy for a poor man and his son in the flashbacks suggest that second-season Jin is the true Jin, that he's always been a good man. While Sun doesn't seem to have Rose's level of connection when it comes to the fate of her husband, Sun seems to be rightly concerned about Jin, she just has no way of knowing what the real threat is (she assumes peril by ocean or perhaps sharks, the tail section knows better of course). Beside Ethan, the beach survivors have not seen any "others," but with Eko, Jin got a good look. One has to assume that these others, whoever they are, are able to reach the beach group (as Ethan did with Claire), are still out there, and are still a threat. Whether or not Jin or any of the tail section will still encounter them is a serious concern. Ana Lucia's strict authoritarian manner as leader of the tail section and the frantic way they all carry themselves about the jungle suggests these others are not to be taken lightly.

Further Questions:

1. Will Michael find Walt?
2. Who are the others?
3. Who was Goodwin?
4. Will the two groups of survivors meet?

Why Watch Foreign Films? Pain and Glory

Pain and Glory, d. Pedro Almodovar, 2019.

This felt a lot like a modern-day Fellini film. Everything looked very beautiful, the moments of pain and light-heartedness went hand in hand, and every scene shouted art. I often wonder what items or experiences other people have from their childhood or coming-of-age years that they look back on and enjoy remembering; this film is a lovely reminder that we should do that, if we can.

Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is a gifted film director with several health issues that have kept him from exploring new work or interacting with the public. When one of his popular films gets remastered, he agrees to meet with the film's lead, Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), who he'd shunned for years after a falling out over the actor's heroin use. The two men connect over the exact act Mallo had judged Crespo for decades earlier (which Crespo calls, "chasing the dragon"), and under influence of the drug, Mallo begins a sort of retrospective review of his life and work. He not only begins writing again, but through Crespo's stage performance of his autobiographical essay, Mallo reunites with the love of his life, who inspires him even more. While many of his physical pains persist, Mallo continues his work honoring the people and experiences that shaped him as an artist.

The technical and thematic elements present in this film are equal parts skillful aesthetic and sentimentality. The colors, the landscapes, the interactions between characters, and even the graphics used early on in the film are all engaging and beautiful. The nostalgia and heartbreak shown in the film is best seen and not so much spoken of; this is such a writer's film, one that those of us who spend time wrapped up in our thoughts, reactions, and longing for past experiences will easily recognize. It was truly lovely to behold.

Pain and Glory is rated R for nudity and drug use and runs 1 hour 53 minutes. I got this as a recommendation via Twitter (thanks, LOSTie Laura!) and got the film itself through Netflix disk.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, Season 2, Episode 4, Everybody Hates Hugo

The Raft Crew: The large man who threw the group into the pit returns and assists Jin and Michael out; Sawyer refuses. Eventually, Sawyer agrees and joins the others, who have come to accept that they were on the same crash. Ana Lucia is heavy-handed with the three men, but some of the other survivors begin making conversation and asking questions. After leading them into a bunker with a Dharma Initiative logo on the concrete wall, a woman named Libby explains there had initially been 23 of them but their numbers were now drastically reduced. One survivor turns out to be Bernard, Rose's husband, who asks after her well-being and rejoices in hearing she's okay.

On-Island Events: In the hatch, Hugo falls asleep and dreams of Jin, speaking English, and a man in a chicken suit in the food supply room. After conversing with Hugo (who speaks Korean in the dream), Jin insists "everything is going to change." Kate wakes him up and references Hugo's new job. After his button-pushing shift is over, Hugo attempts to share the news of the hatch with Charlie, who refuses to believe him, so he brings Rose instead, again referencing the job he's been assigned. Jack has tasked Hugo with inventorying the contents of the supply room and devising a plan for making distributing it. As Hugo is lamenting how everyone will hate him for policing the supplies, Kate ignores his protests when he tries to explain the new policy.

Claire walks on the beach where the bottle of messages sent with the raft washes up and Jack and Sayid investigate the hatch's magnetic properties, learning that the hatch is surrounded by eight to ten feet of concrete. Locke tells Charlie the truth about Desmond and the hatch, who says it all sounds a bit "nutty," but brightens upon hearing about the record player inside it and the possibility of peanut butter. Proving Hugo's worries again, Charlie becomes upset when Hugo doesn't give him what he wants. With Shannon's help, Claire presents Sun with the bottle of messages while Hugo tries to get out of his assigned job. When he attempts to rig the supply room with dynamite, Hugo explains to Rose what he believes will happen when word gets out that he's in charge of the food, as flashbacks to his lottery winning and his friend's reaction to it are edited in.

Hugo eventually comes to Jack with a plan he devised, which is to hand out the food, outright and immediately to all the survivors; Jack agrees and everyone enjoys an evening of Dharma-logoed meal items.

Flashbacks: Hugo's lottery win is revisited, where his mother berates him for falling down and eating basura. Hugo hides the winning ticket from her and insists he likes his life the way it is. After getting busted eating on camera by his boss at Mr. Cluck's Chicken, Hugo and his best friend quit their jobs and later Hugo asks his crush from the record store out on a date. Later, the two decorate their former boss's lawn with garden gnomes and in their euphoria, Hugo demands an assurance from his friend that things between them will always stay the same. As news crews gather to report on the lottery winning ticket, Hugo's friend's expression suggests that he is upset with Hugo over the ticket and that things indeed will change.

Greater Meaning: The episode carries on the idea (initiated from the Exodus episodes in Season 1 when Hugo joins the group in search of dynamite) of Hugo as a leader as well how his attributes and experiences have uniquely shaped him. Given his involvement with the dynamite, the loss of Arzt, and the hatch, it's natural that Hugo would be involved in the pushing of the button and later the division of the food and supplies. He was there, he was involved, and he seems willing to remain involved and to do his part in helping out where he's needed. What's interesting about Hugo as a member of the island leaders is his ongoing empathy and honesty, which is at odds with pretty much everyone else on the island. Hugo noticed when everyone needed a distraction and created the golf course. When everyone was busy celebrating Claire as she introduced baby Aaron on the beach, Hugo acknowledged Shannon's return and made sure Jack reached out to her. He takes Arzt's death the hardest and needs time to process, just as he admitted to his psychiatrist that the accidental deaths of the partygoers during the collapse of the deck was something for which he felt personally responsible.

Hugo has committed no crimes and he refuses to lie. Hugo's morals and dedication to doing the right thing make him a perfect candidate for leadership.

Further Questions:

1. Where did all that food come from, anyway?
2. Will the two groups of survivors ever meet each other?
3. How did Rose know Bernard was alive all this time?
4. Where did Desmond go?


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