Thursday, April 30, 2020

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, Episode 22, Born to Run

Events: In flashbacks, Kate colors her hair from blond to brown and receives a letter that makes her cry. She surprises a doctor friend, Tom, and tells him that her mother Diane is dying of cancer. She visits Tom in his home, who arranges for her to see Diane the next day and together they dig up a time capsule. Tom's toy plane is inside, along with a recorded tape from 1989. On the recording, a young Tom predicts the two will be married but a young Kate suggests they run away. When Tom comments, "you always want to run away, Katie," Kate replies, "yeah, and you know why." When Kate visits her mother, Diane reacts fearfully, screaming for help. Kate and Tom leave in Tom's car but Tom is fatally shot by police in pursuit.

On the island, Dr. Arzt encourages Michael to finish the raft and leave the island quickly while Sayid and Locke introduce Jack to the hatch. Kate approaches Michael about getting on the raft, but Michael has promised the open spot to Sawyer. Without warning, Michael becomes violently ill, and Jack discovers someone drugged Michael's water. Michael suspects Sawyer, who in turn exposes Kate's fake passport. Kate admits she was in the marshal's custody and was headed for prison but insists that she didn't poison Michael. Jack confronts Sun and she admits that she attempted to poison
Jin to keep him on the island; later it's revealed that this had been Kate's idea all along. As John Locke encounters Walt at the caves, Walt places his hand on Locke's wrist and implores him not to open it (the hatch).

Greater Meaning:We see that Diane clearly has a problem with her daughter, so who wrote the letter? There was money inside it as well, was this from Kate's father, whoever he might be? When Kate said the toy airplane belonged to the man she killed, she obviously meant Tom, but technically, Kate didn't kill him. Kate's life is messy and has a lot of conflicting stuff going on. There's a case being made for Kate's untrustworthiness---can she be trusted? The previous episodes have shown her to be skilled in the outdoors, brave, and empathetic toward the other survivors, aligning her with Jack and Locke's variety of leadership, but her past is shady and she seems evasive, even standoffish, right down to her core, which is very much like Sawyer.

Further Questions:

1. Will they ever open the hatch?
2. Does Kate ever reconcile with her mother?
3. How many crimes has Kate committed?
4. Will they launch the raft on time?
5. What did Tom mean about Kate not ever wanting to go home?
6. Why does Walt not want Locke to open the hatch, does he know something about it?

Why Watch Foreign Films? Run Lola Run

I missed out on this film a few times, first in the theater (where it would no doubt have been amazing) and second, when my husband watched it on video. I was cross stitching something on the couch that was positioned to the immediate right of the television so I could hear what was going on as he watched but couldn't really see anything. I knew enough German to make out some of the things being said (was ist den los? was hat passiert? scheiss-Manni, hunderttausend, die Tasche, zwanzig Minuten) but by the time I realized I was interested in the film I had missed too much and I made him start it over from the beginning. It became one of my very favorites and to this day, still is.

It's difficult to put the first time viewing experience into words, but for me it was like taking a hit of a really euphoric kind of stimulant . . . everything looked, sounded, and felt amazing. Lola's Kool-Aid red hair. The energy of all the running. Manni's ink. The cleverness of how the story is told as a narrative and through its editing. And the music. This soundtrack (with Franka Potente herself performing many of the selections) is a techno masterpiece that perfectly embodies the energy and emotion of the film. It's what I listen to when I need to channel serious inspiration or motivate myself to exercise (lately the only place I've been able to find it is YouTube). Give it a listen if you like high energy German techno.

After Lola (Franka Potente) receives an upsetting phone call from her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), she has twenty minutes to pull together one hundred thousand dollars to cover his slip-up with his shady employer. As Manni plans to rob a nearby store, Lola thinks maybe her banker father might be good for the money so she runs. For nearly the entire film. Down stairs, over bridges, across streets, and into traffic. While she's running, she meets people who become . . . influenced by their interactions with her and whose narratives are also affected. Lola reaches her father, who happens to be dealing with his own troubling situation with a mistress, but things don't go well. She runs to Manni, who's gone ahead with his robbery plan, and things don't go well there, either, effectively ending the story. All those people, all those decisions, and yes, all that running affect Lola and the way she experienced the events, but don't assume this means that it's over. It's very much not.

The technical elements that went into making this film a success are interesting and easily noticed. Lola is filmed from many different positions, and these often shift with the beat of the music or repetition of lines of dialog. Images are quickly cut in to show thoughts or ideas; when Lola wonders who she can ask for money, each person's image flashes as she says his or her name just as different international postcards flicker with each suggestion Manni has of where the man from the train might have fled with the hundred thousand dollars. It's busy, but fun, and the style persists throughout.

Lola is also given the honor of having the scenes from her story largely shot on film; the supporting characters' scenes are shot on low-res/video and come off as lighter, grainier, and overall less sharp than anything that concerns Lola, alone. We don't need this difference in style to know Lola is the most important, but it makes for nice variety and keeps things moving along at a quick clip by giving us consistent styles for the changes in setting and characters. The music (composed by director Tom Tykwer), again, is vital to this story's impact. In a race against time, how better to remind us of a ticking clock than a collection of pounding techo beats that carries on throughout the film? Clocks are shown, buttons are pushed, canes are tapped, and all these things combine well with the beat of the music to show us that throughout all the running and all the human interactions, the percussion of the second hand (or its microbeat) tirelessly keeps going. Kinda like Lola. 

Honestly, there's no burning need to discuss deeper meaning in this film (although I'm gonna do it anyway), it's a great experience on its own completely as a take-it-as-it-is movie. However, the persistence of time and feelings of young energy do come up a lot and are worth mentioning. Lola and Manni are shown to be somewhat recklessly in love, living lives that contrast significantly with the troubles we see briefly in the older adult characters. Mama is at home in a bathrobe talking with who, some love interest? Papa spends his time working at the bank and has impregnated Jutta Hanson from the board of directors. Adult problems, yes, but boring ones! Notice the couple's tattoos, the row of Barbie dolls, and the turtle in Lola's room. Lola and Manni are vibrant and rebellious and they make us want to be, too. The music, the running---it's like pure adrenaline!

Is Tykwer suggesting anything to us in regard to love, energy, or the passage of time? I think he is. I left the girl-saves-the-boy theme alone (you're welcome, because I could have written the whole thing about that, entirely), but there's some classic girl power mixed in with all this that shouldn't be ignored. Certainly we can't all solve all of our problems by running, especially not now, today, but in taking action and refusing to yield when things seem hopeless? Lola's deeds still hold up.

Run Lola Run (Lola Rennt) is a German film and was released in 1998, directed by Tom Tykwer. Run Lola Run is rated R for some violence and language and runs 120 minutes.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, Episode 21, The Greater Good.

"I know when I'm being lied to,"
Events: Sayid tries to help Shannon in her grief over Boone's death but she is despondent. Jack, still sleep-deprived and enraged, looks for Locke in the jungle but returns to the beach for Boone's funeral. During the funeral, Locke returns, his clothes still stained with blood, and admits that the accident that caused Boone's death was his fault. Jack confronts and then attacks Locke but then collapses from exhaustion. In order to force Jack to rest, Kate puts crushed sleeping pills into his juice. While Jack is asleep, Sayid convinces Locke to bring him to the crashed airplane and Shannon steals the key to the gun case. While at the crashed plane site, Locke admits to Sayid he was the one who destroyed the radio when they first attempted to triangulate Rousseau's distress signal. While Locke honestly answers all of Sayid's questions, he falters when Sayid brings up the hatch, and Sayid catches it.

In flashbacks, Sayid remembers his friend, Essam Tazia, and the role the two of them played in an attempted terrorist attack in Sydney. Sayid was coerced into taking part by American and British intelligence officers after they promised to reunite him with his lost love, Nadia. Essam confesses that he doesn't want to go through with the attack and Sayid tries to convince the intelligence agents that Essam's superiors are the ones they should be targeting, but to no avail. Just before they are about to leave with explosives, Sayid tells Essam the truth; Essam dies moments later by suicide.

When Sayid realizes what Shannon has planned, he races with Jack and Kate to stop her from shooting Locke in the jungle. Shannon believes that Locke intentionally murdered Boone largely due to Jack's accusations, and attempts to kill him. Sayid tackles her; the bullet injures Locke but is not fatal. After everything calms down, Sayid demands that Locke bring him to the hatch.

Greater Meaning: Sayid's experiences manipulating Essam in order to reach Nadia seem to have made him cautious. He is not willing to simply eliminate Locke outright to please Shannon in her grief, but he does use his skills as an interrogator to attempt to learn the truth about what happened. Locke is honest about what happened, and although Sayid still doesn't trust Locke completely, he accepts that Boone's death was indeed an accident. Knowing it will damage his relationship with Shannon, Sayid does not kill Locke (as she requested) and attempts to stop her from killing him, basing his actions upon the greater good of the survivors and absolute terms of right and wrong (Locke committed no crime, so it would be wrong to kill him simply because Shannon requested it despite Sayid's feelings for her).

The greater good is also in question concerning Jack's actions in both this and the previous episode ("Do No Harm"). Jack was forced (directly by Boone and indirectly by Sun, Michael, and Hurley) to consider what was best for the entire group when his actions to save Boone became dangerous and reckless; he did not decide on his own to take the entire group's best interests into account. Sayid, a former soldier from a war-torn country, considers and applies this in a way a doctor should (but Jack does not). As Shannon attempted to kill Locke, she looked to Jack for validation, saying "You told me he was a liar!" Jack does not contradict her, and after Locke is shot, does not treat him or even check on him; he glares at him and walks away. Jack refuses to consider how his actions directly affect the group and doesn't seem to take any responsibility for any role he may have played in putting Shannon's attack on Locke into motion. Jack's focus always seems to be on the immediate, the personal, and the here-and-now, making him a unique but somewhat immature leader. Christian's previous words describing Jack, "You're just not good at letting go," ring true again and again with each situation both on and off the island, and seem to be important in understanding Jack's personal challenges and strengths. Why can't he let go?

Further Questions:
1. Will Shannon forgive Sayid?
2. Will Locke and Jack patch things up?
3. Is Nadia still in California?
4. Will Jack develop better awareness in his leadership?

Cinema in Quarantine: Extraction

Finally, the perfect remedy for my low blood pressure! I found this film quite enjoyable. And by enjoyable, I mean the same way something like Scarface or Game of Thrones is enjoyable in that it was sad, disturbing, and murderous but still a good time. This is a movie for a specific kind of action fan, namely the strong-stomached kind that's okay with dark narratives; it's a violent film, and not the super hero kind. The R rating is well-earned---the situations are very visceral and there are kids are involved---you will grimace and cringe. A lot. There's not a lot of happiness or personality to be found because the story is overall hopeless and negative. That said, film is put together well, moves at a fast pace, and shows Hemsworth as badass as he's ever been.

We meet Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) on a bridge, battered and bloody, in the middle of a shootout with enemies all around him. As he stumbles and looks off into space, we get a flashback of a little boy at a beach suggesting a previous loss or memory of happier times. It becomes clear, after some exposition, forward motion, and more flashbacks, that we've come in at the end of the story; whatever Tyler got himself into with the shooting and the bloodiness will end on that bridge.

Tyler is a for-hire mercenary whose job is to locate and extract the son of an incarcerated Indian crime boss from another crime boss in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The mission itself is not without challenges, but Tyler makes fast work of it, disposing of the team of enemy operatives (but leaving a child within their midst unharmed) and leaving a trail of bodies and exploded machinery behind in every scene. Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the fourteen-year-old son in question, is a kind and seemingly trusting young man who initially balks at Tyler's methods but comes to trust and depend on Tyler as the two make way through Dhaka. It doesn't take long for the first crime boss to realize Ovi's been taken, and thus every street, every truck, and every man in the city becomes a potential trap or assassin on the lookout for the pair, led secretively by the imprisoned crime bosses's right hand man and Ovi's former caretaker, Saju (Randeep Hooda), a special ops soldier charged with the responsibility of getting Ovi back.

The action sequences (car chases, stunts, fight choreography, and explosions) take center stage in terms of technical skill, and there are beautiful moments in cinematography: overhead shots of the close-quartered building tops of Dhaka, Ovi, alone in his house at the piano, and the images of Tyler on the bridge at sunset, but another likely under-appreciated aspect to the emotion of the film is the music. Scored by Henry Jackman and Alex Belcher, the accompanying orchestral selections do a great job of counteracting all the action with melancholy cello and piano instrumentals throughout the film. This element, together with Tyler's flashbacks of what we later learn are of his son, keep us from getting lost in too many gun or knife fights or in the darkness of what's really happening in the lives of the population of young boys in this story.

The film takes a chance in informing us about the unpleasantness of life for both rich and poor in these spaces. Ovi has grown up in privilege but has only a piano with which to communicate; the boys working on the streets of Dhaka work to win the pride and protection of a drug lord who would just as soon toss them over a rooftop. Crime and poverty have created a generation of young boys who long for father figures---lucky for us, Ovi and Tyler seem to be seeking the same thing (watch all the way to the end and pay attention). Would that Tyler could do more for the street boys than simply not kill them, but such is another story altogether.

Extraction is directed by Sam Hargrave, written by Joe Russo (based on his graphic novel "Ciudad") and is available now on Netflix. Extraction runs 1 hour, 56 minutes and is rated R for for strong bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use.

Friday, April 24, 2020

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, Episode 20, Do No Harm

Events: As Jack tries to triage Boone in the caves, the survivors scramble to assist where they can. Jack ends up donating his own blood to Boone and becomes exhausted from the effort. While this is happening, Claire goes into labor in the jungle with Kate.

Flashbacks show Jack preparing to marry Sarah, a woman who had formerly been his surgical patient, with some trepidations he discusses with Christian the night before the wedding. When Jack suggests that he asked Sarah to marry him simply because he saved her, Christian assures him that commitment is what makes him tick, he agrees that Jack is not good at letting go. Unable to write any of his own vows for the wedding, Jack counters Sarah's vows with what seems to be a heartfelt, honest explanation: "I didn't fix you, you fixed me."

On the island, Jack considers amputating Boone's leg but allows Boone to talk him out of it. As Boone breathes his last breaths, Kate assists Claire in delivering a healthy baby boy. Later, after giving Shannon the news about Boone's death, Jack tells Kate that Boone was murdered by John Locke and vows to find him.

Greater Meaning: As Jack has more or less been appointed leader of the survivors, it's concerning how he puts his own health at risk in order to save Boone. Jack's flashbacks seem at first to be simply backstory to his marriage (which he's already disclosed has ended) but as he continues caring for Boone and stubbornly trying to save him despite knowing his medical situation is hopeless, the flashbacks suggest Jack married Sarah because he continued to feel responsible for her and couldn't let go, just as he feels as Boone's doctor.

Putting this situation into philosophical terms, we'd expect a leader to operate as a utilitarian, basing decisions on what benefits the greatest number of people. This would also make sense for a doctor on a deserted island (saving or rationing medicine for the living, quarantining the sick to keep illness from spreading, delegating triage, etc.), and Jack does this to a point. Where his actions get ethically blurry are in refusing to let go, as he's done with both Sarah and Boone, he is in fact, doing harm. Jack believes in his ability to save others, to fix them, but seems unable to give up. This makes Jack a very unique doctor, and suggests he'd sacrifice pretty much anything for a patient's care--a very noble character trait but one that could also bring about exploitation and division moving forward. While it's true that Boone's death was facilitated by John's actions, John Locke did not murder Boone. Jack is so concerned about having based medical treatment on a mistake and blaming Locke that he doesn't take the time to consider what making such an accusation toward another of the island's most important people might do in the long run. Locke was reckless but not murderous; despite the suspicious way Locke behaved by leaving Boone in the caves, Jack is still starting a big issue before he has all the facts.

Hurley did not factor in as a major player in this episode but worth mentioning is the fact that as the entire beach is celebrating Claire and the new baby, it's Hurley who draws Jack's attention to Shannon as she returns with Sayid. Hurley's empathy continues to be a major presence among the survivors.

Further Questions:

1. What will Claire name her son?
2. How will Shannon cope with losing Boone?
3. Will Shannon's relationship with Sayid change?
4. What has Locke been doing all this time?
5. What eventually ended Jack and Sarah's marriage?

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Why Watch Foreign Films? Parasite

Welcome to the Why Watch Foreign Films project! The idea of reviewing foreign films came to me after observing several confusing twitter comments made by users who couldn't understand why Hulu was streaming Bong Joo-ho's multiple Oscar-winner, Parasite. I won't go into it, but the exchange was pretty ugly. In trying to understand why people might shy away from foreign films and going by what these comments stated outright I found that overall the issues are with subtitles and a general aversion to "otherness." Come on, people. We've got to be better than that.

While I'm not going to sit here and preach to you just how much we (as American adults!) are struggling with literacy and empathy in our nation right now, I will repackage the same message in a positive way and simply say that watching foreign films will make you a more intelligent, more compassionate human being and will expose you to a ton of unique stories you've been missing in life! If you enjoy history or travel, you also get the bonus of seeing international landscapes and cities while oftentimes learning about how wars, development, and current events have all shaped what's happening in these narratives. Our politics are not the only ones going on in the world. You'll hear languages other than English---this is a good thing (and so is reading). The music will be different, the food will be different, but not always; sometimes it will be familiar or nostalgic. Among difference there is also interconnectedness. No matter the country, the language, or the religion, many of these films also show just how far-reaching American influence can be, and how in a lot of ways, our struggles are very similar. Such is the case in Parasite. Meet our families:

THE KIMS (left to right): Ki-woo/Kevin, Ki-taek, Chung-sook, Ki-jung/Jessica

THE PARKS (top l-r to bottom l-r): Dong-ik, Da-hye, Yeon Kyo, Da-Song

The plot is quite simple. A poor family manages to manipulate a wealthy family into hiring them as domestic employees; things seem to go well until they don't. That's it! Many people I've spoken to about the film said that they enjoyed not knowing anything in advance about it, having little to no idea where it might lead (which is how I experienced it the first time). There's something to be said for that kind of experience, but I did find myself wishing I was a little clearer on everyone's names, which is why I included the two photos with labels above. The story itself doesn't ask much from its viewers, at least on the surface, but the technical elements that surround the narrative together with the subtle use of everyday objects and dialogs between characters speak very clearly to an underlying theme of violence or malevolence springing from social inequality. Don't worry about reasoning it all out while you're watching, chances are very good you'll be thinking about it quite a bit after the film's conclusion or even for days afterward. But, if you're interested, there's a lot of meaning and suggestion being thrown around in these scenes while the main events are happening. Consider:

Spaces: Contrast the enormity of the Park House with the Kim basement apartment. It's not just luxury in material possessions. Note the wide open spaces and who inhabits them compared with cramped quarters, clutter, and things like proximity to the waste (sewage) of others. It comes up a lot.
Music: Which family's experiences are shown as being worthy of accompaniment? What does the style of the music say about how they're portrayed as human beings?
Reveals: What (or who) comes out of the shadows? What are the lights showcasing? How are darks and lights used in general? What about blinking lights?
Objects: A scholar's rock, a pair of underwear, a peach, a birthday cake---how do they become evil or dangerous? Why is this not a typical horror film?
Dialogs: The Kims discuss whether or not they "fit in," which one of them fits in the easiest? How do casual comparisons to a cockroach or the association of smells contribute to the conclusion of the film? How do the characters themselves respond to not fitting in, are they sympathetic toward others down on their luck? Does the adaptability of fitting in or highly-developed street smarts carry any guarantees in the long run? Is the ending hopeful or cruel?

Very early on in the film there comes an exterminator that fumigates the outer area of the Kims' street but not the apartment itself. Because the bugs are also a problem inside the building, the Kims allow the fumes to come inside the windows as they themselves are blasted by the spray of chemical. To me, this spoke very clearly toward the title and how poor people are seen and portrayed before the sneaky stuff with the rich folks even got started. It's a smart and creepy film; give it a try, see what you think. Parasite is rated R for language, violence, and sexual content, runs 2 hours 12 minutes, and is currently available on Hulu.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, Episode 19, Deus ex Machina

Events: Beginning with a flashback, the episode shows toy store associate John Locke (thinner and with dark hair) explaining the game "Mouse Trap" to a young customer and then quickly transitions to Locke and Boone on the island preparing a trebuchet to open the hatch. The trebuchet fails, Locke becomes upset, and Boone notices that a piece of metal has lodged into Locke's leg.

More flashbacks show the history between John and his birth parents, Emily Locke and Anthony Cooper. John purchases information on the two from a private investigator who cautions "this stuff isn't always meant to be," and "it probably won't have a happy ending." John seeks out Cooper, who is revealed to be in kidney failure and the two forge what John believes to be a father-son relationship which ends in John donating one of his kidneys. Cooper is not interested in keeping John in his life and cuts off all contact with him after the operation.

On the island, John fears his paralysis is returning but stubbornly insists on trying to open the hatch. He dreams of a small aircraft, Boone covered in blood reciting "Teresa falls up the stairs, Teresa falls down the stairs", Emily Locke pointing in the direction the aircraft flew, and of himself once again in a wheelchair. The next day he wakes Boone and they set out into the jungle to find the airplane, which has indeed crashed onto the island and is hanging off the side of a cliff. Boone climbs up to investigate while John waits on the ground below, unable to participate as both of his legs have failed. Boone discovers statues filled with heroin inside the plane and attempts to communicate through the plane's radio but the plane pitches off the cliff, seriously injuring Boone. John somehow musters the strength to carry Boone back to the cave but vanishes when Jack tries to get the details of the injuries. After returning to the hatch, beating upon it, and shouting out, "Why did you do this to me?" John
sees a light shine out from inside the hatch's
We're the survivors of Oceanic Flight

Greater Meaning: There is a case being made for Locke not opening the hatch. The fact that it seems impossible to do so is only part of it, but the bigger and more personal worry is how Locke's own body is responding to his stubbornness. After the trebuchet fails, Locke is stabbed in his right leg by metal debris. The closer Locke and Boone get to the plane (which Locke assumes will hold some secret or tool to aid in the opening of the hatch), the worse Locke's condition gets with not just one but both legs affected. As the island seems to have healed Locke's paralysis it stands to reason that the island could also stop doing so as well, but why? The flashbacks show Locke refusing to listen to reason in regard to his parents (the investigator all but spelled it out for him) the same way Locke is refusing to be influenced by the systematic breakdown of his body as he insists they seek out the aircraft. As his interactions with Emily Locke led to heartbreak, his following of the airplane led to physical demise in both himself and Boone (which was foreshadowed in his dream of Emily pointing, Boone covered in blood, and his own position back in the wheelchair).

I've done everything you asked! 
Locke wants to believe he's doing the right thing, he has faith in what he's seeing, but he isn't interpreting things correctly and he's ignoring hard, logical facts. If the island cured him, why is it suddenly taking it all back? Locke has proven himself to be an able leader, skilled hunter, and quite intuitive when it comes to the island itself; what if the island is taking his legs away from him because he's simply on the wrong track? Why did he have the vision of the plane or Boone's experiences with his nanny falling down the stairs and how would he have known about either one of those two completely unrelated events? If something on the island planted these events into Locke's unconscious mind, why is another force on the island trying to keep him away from the very events these visions set in motion? Are there two forces at play in Locke's head or is he simply cracking up? Are all of the survivors subject to this kind of influence or only Locke? The title "Deus ex Machina" suggests the hand of God coming in to save everyone in the end with an unexpected resolution, but it remains to be seen what (if anything) was resolved or saved.

Further Questions: 

1. How did Locke become injured and require a wheelchair?
2. Did Locke and Anthony Cooper ever reconcile?
3. Did Emily Locke become part of Locke's life?
4. Are Locke's visions working against him?
5. Will Boone survive?
6. What is in the hatch, and will it ever be opened?
7. Who were the men dressed as priests?
8. Who was speaking on the radio to Boone?

Monday, April 20, 2020

Hulu in Quarantine: The Biggest Little Farm

Usually it's my husband who's pumping the documentaries around here. He just finished Ken Burns' series on the Vietnam war and is currently binging through Street Food Asia, another series.  While I truly enjoy documentary films and series, they're not what I'm seeking out during these strange days (most recently it's been the escapism of LOST).

It was during one of my LOST-binges that I actually learned about this documentary, The Biggest Little Farm, through an Earth-positive ad on Hulu and I thought the scenes looked really interesting. The story turned out to be one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen; I cried at least thrice, and I'm highly considering watching it again this afternoon with the kids. You do not need to be a farmer or an environmentalist to enjoy this film, but chances are it will inspire you to consider (or at least appreciate) both.

The film tracks the progress of sustainable farm-building by the Chesters, John and Molly, with the help of biodynamic consultant and expert, Alan York. Apricot Lane Farm, the property the Chesters purchase and hope to develop, is a huge expanse of workable farmland in southern California which holds a lot of promise for the couple and their rescue dog, Todd, but has been seriously damaged by years of drought and neglect. From the humble beginnings of finding investors, to the composting and planting of the crops and orchards, to the ins and outs of poultry and livestock care, each segment of the film chronicles a new challenge and a new opportunity to problem-solve.

As John Chester is also the documentary filmmaker behind the film, many of the images of the farm are beautifully aesthetic, clearly the work of an accomplished artist. The before-and-after images shown later in the film carry the most impact, but just as impressive are the wide landscape and from-above drone shots where the sheep run by, the owls take flight, or the crew loads boxes of fruit into the back of a truck. The colors are impressive in every shot, but the greens are the most memorable to the audience as we are the knowers of just how much work went into obtaining them. Animal lovers will appreciate the care put into each coop, hutch, and pasture, but there are a few heartbreaks along the way, too (be warned, these may be too much for sensitive or very young children).

This carries a bigger message that farm life is not all harvests and happy births---there are also pests, illnesses, and plenty of other disasters. The film opens with John and Molly frantically trying to decide how to best protect their farm from the approaching wildfires, always a threat in dry weather, but this storyline takes its time getting resolved. I spent the film with this in the back of my mind, hoping that after all the work that went into breathing life into the farm the ending deserved to be a happy one (spoiler alert: it was).

It's a wholesome, inspiring story; give it a watch if you have the time. The Biggest Little Farm is rated PG (for mild thematic elements), runs 91 minutes, and is currently available on Hulu. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 19, 2020

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory: Episode 18, Numbers

Events: Under the guise of procuring batteries for a signal for the raft, Hurley treks into the jungle to search for Rousseau against Jack and Sayid's protests. After flashbacks show Hurley winning a huge jackpot using the numbers 4 8 15 16 23 42 (which were also written in Rousseau's notes) and several instances of bad luck afterward, it becomes clear that Hurley isn't just seeking batteries, he's more concerned about speaking to Rousseau about the numbers. Sayid, Jack, and Charlie reluctantly follow. After avoiding several traps, a rickety bridge, and Rousseau's own gunshots, Hurley learns that the numbers had been a curse for her as well. He hugs Rousseau in gratitude and returns to the group with the battery they needed.

Greater Meaning: As with the island monster, the numbers are not defined in any concrete way. Are they a real threat or just some sort of misunderstanding that only applies to Hurley? Rousseau agreeing that the numbers are cursed validates it all somewhat, but several others have been "involved" with these numbers: Sam Toomey (and his wife), Hurley's friend Leonard, and whoever it was on the island who recited them for the radio transmission and carved them on the side of the hatch in the jungle. When Sam Toomey and Leonard were stationed in the South Pacific, they heard the numbers over a radio transmission; might it have been the same transmission Rousseau and her team heard, given they were also in the South Pacific?

Similar to what's been shown in the last few episodes, "Numbers," seems to be concentrating less on explaining things and more on paving the way for more mystery both in the here-and-now island events and how the characters' pasts are shaping those events. How coincidental that Sawyer and Christian Shephard had met before, that the lottery numbers should appear several times on the island the survivors crashed onto, and that Hurley should have such confidence in dealing with Rousseau and the island itself. Is it all destiny, as we've heard Locke speak about or just happenstance? Hurley somehow ends up running directly toward Rousseau as she's actively shooting at him in the jungle, gets what he needs and is allowed to carry on his way back. Despite sarcastically referring to himself as "good old fun-time Hurley," he is proving to be quite empathetic, motivated, and skilled in island

Further Questions: 

1. Where did Rousseau go after talking with Hurley?
2. Are the numbers really cursed?
3. Where did the number come from?
4. Is there someone else on the island who knows about the numbers?
5. Will Rousseau become friendly with the survivors now?
6. Does Hurley have special knowledge on the island like Locke?

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Cinema in Quarantine: The Straight Story

As with most things, I was late to the game in seeing David Lynch's 1999 film The Straight Story. When I finally got my hands on it I had heard enough about it to decide in advance that it was something I would like, knowing only that it was a story of a man who takes a long journey through the upper midwest on a lawnmower. I ended up enjoying it so much that I put it in the lineup of a "ten best indie films" list I wrote when I used to write reviews for Examiner, and brought it to one of the community ed film classes I taught (which the class also loved). A few days ago I sat down with Cameron Cloutier again (@bodian26) to do a rewatch and commentary.

What struck me most this time was how the film does such a great job of drawing out emotion for Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) through its simplicity without seeming too overly sentimental. Some of the things about getting older that hadn't occurred to me in previous viewings made a bigger impact this time around; declining health, family estrangements, remembering when you were young, all this becomes a lot more important in later years (and I've gotten plenty older since the last viewing). Slow moving camera, interactions with unique characters, and as always, a beautiful score by Angelo Badalementi make this film indeed a David Lynch masterpiece, but one unlike any of its fellows in the Lynch collection.

The Straight Story is 112 minutes, is rated G, and is currently available to stream on Disney+.

Friday, April 17, 2020

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, Episode 17 . . . In Translation

Events: Brought about by a disagreement over Sun's choice in swimwear, Jin alarms the survivors with his possessive behavior over his wife. Michael attempts to intervene on Sun's behalf, but is slapped by Sun. Later, Sun apologizes to Michael for her actions and tries to convince Kate that she's doing the right thing, that Jin wasn't always so controlling.

The flashbacks show this to be true; Jin was a kind and tender husband, very much in love with Sun. In order to win Sun's hand in marriage, Jin agreed to work for her father, Mr. Paik, as an enforcer in the negative and violent aspects of his business. Jin is not initially violent in nature, but the episode suggests that he became so over time in order to please Mr. Paik and to provide Sun the luxurious lifestyle she expected. Eventually Jin seeks the advice of his father, a poor fisherman, who tells him to escape with Sun to America and to cut ties with Mr. Paik in order to save the marriage.

With everyone already suspicious of Jin because of his interactions with both Sun and Michael, Jin is blamed with the raft is set on fire. Sawyer assaults Jin and brings him to the beach where everyone begins shouting at him. Sun stops Michael from assaulting Jin by screaming in English. John Locke tries to shift the aggression off of Jin onto the others on the island and later reveals that Walt was the one who burned the raft. Jin leaves Sun in the caves and shows up the next morning with harvest bamboo for Michael's second raft.

Greater Meaning: Until now there had not been very many opportunities to empathize with Jin.
We'd seen controlling behavior before and a violent overreaction with Michael over Mr. Paik's watch, which were negative situations, and a few happy moments in Sun's flashbacks of the early days of their engagement and marriage. Seeing Jin bend to Paik's will and become violent does spark empathy for his struggle, as does his apology to his own father for his shame and the on-island scene of the beach confrontation. Jin is innocent of the crime of which he's being accused, but cannot understand what anyone is yelling at him or defend himself. Sun's ability to speak English was another major blow in a long line of major blows, and for better or for worse, he decides to help Michael, someone who he'd had nothing but trouble with until then to presumably see his own way off the island. As we saw in House of the Rising Sun, Sun had been prepared to leave Jin just before the Oceanic flight took off and crashed, and here, with Jin's father, it's shown that Jin was also troubled over the relationship. There seems to be a great deal yet unsaid about the goings-on of the Kwon's marriage, Sun's English, and Jin's secrets of his own. Jin and his father were shown to be caring and interacted easily with one another. Although his actions in the recent past have been unpleasant, it's as if we're being told not to give up on Jin just yet.

Worth noting is the fact that Hurley twice shows his empathy toward Jin, first when he tries to invite Jin to play golf, and second, when Michael charges Jin on the beach Hurley (with Jack) tries to keep the peace. Sawyer instigates aggression while John Locke reasons out Jin's innocence and blames the island's "others." How does Locke know what he knows? He's wrong about who burned the raft (he later discusses this with Walt) but knew enough to convince the group that it wasn't Jin. Walt and Locke both admit they like it on the island, and we've seen insight into Locke's particular reasoning for this. Locke's knowledge of the island and his concern over the "others" seem to suggest Locke may be in this for more than the short-term, raft or no raft.

Further Questions:

1. Did something major happen between Jin and Mr. Paik?
2. Why did Sun learn English and hide it from Jin?
3. Are there bigger reasons for Walt's wanting to stay on the island?
4. Was Locke just deflecting blame away from Walt or is he really worried about others on the island?
5. Will Jin and Sun reconcile?
6. Did Mr. Paik ever find out about Jin's father?

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Cinema in Quarantine: Rear Window

Submitted to a nation of stir-crazy people confined to their homes I give you Rear Window, a story of a stir-crazy man, also confined to his home. This guy is crabby, he’s bored, and he’s sick of being in his apartment until one of his neighbors inadvertently provides him with something to do--solve a murder! Is this a simply a straight-forward suspense story? A cautionary tale of men versus women, the old school versus modernity? Nearly anything goes in terms of defining what it all means, but if anything positive is to come from our own sheltering at home it should be for all of us stir-crazies to unite in our love of film (and voyeurism). Let’s dig in.

Alfred Hitchcock’s films are a dream to review and discuss because like many auteur directors whose work carries a collection of recognizable properties (almost like a personal seal or thumbprint), Hitchcock puts a ton of interesting elements into every film he does. For example, the slowness of the moving camera commonly conveys suspense, the classic composition of shots can portray power or vulnerability, and all the little items that inhabit the setting (in this case, camera lenses, cigarettes, jewelry, and saws) together with the way these items are used go a long way in showing, not telling, some of the important things we need to know about the characters. L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) is a photographer confined to his apartment having been severely injured at a photo shoot. His days are scattered with visits from the insurance-appointed nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter) and his love interest, Lisa (Grace Kelly), but Jefferies seems to be preoccupied with the goings-on of the apartment dwellers across the courtyard, fully on display through open windows.

Notable tenants include Ms. Torso, a young, pliable ballerina, Ms. Lonely-Heart, a heavy drinker who imagines interactions with beaus, a party-throwing songwriter and pianist, and the Thorwalds, a man who lives with his wife, also confined to her room. Jefferies becomes suspicious when Mrs. Thorwald suddenly disappears, and after noticing several occasions of strange behavior from Mr. Thorwald, Jefferies decides the man must have murdered his wife.

Technically speaking, this film is easily an aesthetic masterpiece. A soundstage this massive (three separate apartment dwellings, courtyard, background street, and distant restaurant) is impressive on its own, but the filmmaking techniques, color, and music are all pleasantly memorable. The camera, which serves largely to stretch out scenes or reveal things slowly, is quick and sudden when it needs to be, usually in moments of fear, danger, or measuring Jeffries’ reactions to fear and danger. Lighting has a huge effect on the story: whose windows are illuminated, how shadows protect or hide Jefferies as he spies, or where Thorwald is and whether or not he’s watching as betrayed by the glow of his cigarette. Color explodes in the summer environment through the flower bed, the choices in paint inside the apartments, and the outfits of the female characters. The musical choices and sound design amplify the interconnectedness of the neighbors through an ongoing accompaniment of piano (courtesy of the musician), vocal scales, folk fiddle, and whistling while also giving way at crucial moments to more sinister elements such as breaking glass, a thunderstorm, and a woman’s scream.

So how does it all come together and what’s being said under the surface events of the story? Questions of impotence and inferiority have been raised (why does Jefferies keep rejecting Lisa, physically?) as well as the play between more traditionally-valued Stella and Detective Doyle who have a stated aversion to psychology versus Jefferies and Lisa, who take a more modern approach to thinking things out and analyzing their feelings. Jefferies speaks at length on what he considers to be barriers to a future marriage with Lisa that really only amount to differences in class and personal interests, but seems to put all his concerns to rest once Lisa begins to take his side in questioning Mrs. Thorwald’s disappearance.

The issue of voyeurism is not exactly subtle in this story; in a precursor to Ira Levin’s Silver as well as reality television proper Rear Window is about a man peeping in on others’ lives. How do we feel about this, and how does it translate to the things we watch today? At a bit of a reach yet still worth mentioning-- Jefferies' perception and treatment of Lisa changes pretty significantly once she leaves his apartment and becomes a player in the events across the courtyard.

After she becomes someone to be watched.

In school, one of my professors from the West Bank (photography and art history department) preferred to keep discussions on film contained to the narrative and technical arenas, whereas several others on the East Bank (comparative literature and film theory) lived for the discussions of the underlying themes and what it all meant in the scheme of the universe. This film was a top pick for both camps, but for decidedly different reasons. What are your thoughts? What bank are you on, and why?

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, Episode 16, Outlaws

Events: After a boar repeatedly harasses Sawyer, he and Kate trek into the jungle on a quest to find it. They learn much about each other during a game of "I Never," notably that they'd both killed someone, both have baggage from having done so, and that neither of them really fit in with the rest of the group. In flashbacks, Sawyer relives the violent death of his parents as well as the misleading con that led him to Australia. In his obsession to punish the man he felt was responsible for his parents' deaths and whose letter he'd been carrying around his entire life, Sawyer kills an American shrimp truck cook, proven in his final moments to be the wrong guy. Finally, in a bizarre turn of events, Sawyer is revealed to have met Christian Shephard in an Australian bar, which Sawyer later discovers while talking to Jack after the failed boar expedition.

Greater Meaning: The episode is centered around Sawyer in terms of flashbacks and major reveals, but the events on-island depend on Sawyer's connection with Kate (and is named "Outlaws," plural). Important also are the past and present connections between other characters, and this episode seems to delight in pointing them out: Kate is connected to Sawyer through both secret events and their own personal perceptions; Kate defends her decision to approach Sawyer to retrieve the gun Jack lent out saying, "I speak his language." Charlie is connected to both Locke and Sayid through unpleasant events, his detoxification from heroin and his ambivalence over having killed Ethan, which Sayid attempts to discuss with him. In addition to his connection with Kate, Sawyer is somewhat surprisingly also connected to Jack through his interactions with Christian at the bar, and as the knower of how Christian truly felt about the falling-out he had with his son. One gets the impression that these connections, both on and off the island, are becoming just as important as the threat of the island monster or the existence of others in the group's midst. These three puzzles (supernatural villain, the human threat, and the interrelationships between the survivors), together with the continued idea of rescue/escape from the island make for several further questions and possibilities moving forward.

Further Questions:
1. What were the whispers in the jungle, and why have only Sayid and Sawyer heart them?
2. Is Sawyer's name really James?
3. Is Charlie hiding PTSD?
4. Who did Kate kill?
5. What happened to the real Sawyer?

Monday, April 13, 2020

Cinema in Quarantine: Wild at Heart

Last week I got together with writer and filmmaker Cameron Cloutier (@bodian26) to watch and discuss David Lynch's Wild at Heart in a live stream video. Cameron is the director of Queen of Hearts, an intriguing Twin Peaks-inspired film that explores characters Caroline Earle and Annie Blackburn, and through all this we discovered that we both really favor Lynch's late 80s/early 90s period that includes Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, and Wild at Heart.

My own personal experience of seeing this film for the first time was kind of interesting, at 15 I had to shut it off about halfway, but about a year later I muscled my way through the Big Tuna scenes and ended up really enjoying it. Unfortunately I was not able to see this in a theater, which would have been an entirely different, very visceral event (which Cameron describes). For anyone trying this for the first time, just know it's very violent, very sexual, and filled with jarring, intense moments that you just have to be able to go with. If you can make it through the conclusion of the Johnny Farragut situation about midway through the film, you'll probably be fine to the end. IMDB's official description uses the phrase "variety of weirdos" to summarize the film and the people in it, and while it's true, these people are weird and violence is at the root of the story, the film is a lot more than just that. For more on plot summary or character details you can read this review, also pretty informal, that I did ten years ago on this blog.

Sometimes when you watch a film you've seen multiple times, the experience can feel a little like you're just going through the motions or just serves as a setting where you can recite all the lines and feel comforted by the familiarity. Relaxing. Validating. This never really happens to me during Lynch films or Twin Peaks for two reasons.

1. Everything on the screen is so rich with detail---dialogs, composition, music, effects---there's almost always something each time I view that I notice for the first time. For instance, this time Cameron brought my attention to the music during the film's opening: its interesting shift from Badalementi's score to "In the Mood," to the aggressive guitars of Powermad during the first murder. Very disorienting but very fitting for introducing Sailor and Lula (while Marietta lurks in the background). Also Marietta's cute little pink bathroom with floral wallpaper. The furniture in the hotel lobby in New Orleans. And a random longhorn (we decided it may have been a light or decal with a florescent bulb along the underside) leaned up against one side of the bed at the motel in Big Tuna that was only there for one scene at night and then disappeared (!) Always something to see, hear, or think about.

2. The uncanny, somewhat incongruent elements (usually in the form of characters, but sometimes entire scenes or musical numbers) that pop up Lynch's work and speak to his brilliance and individuality as an auteur. I'm always on high alert when waiting for these situations, things like Marietta's mishandling of the lipstick, the woman sidestepping across the stage with her fingers flickering up by her cheeks at one of the New Orleans musical venues, the story of Jingle Dell, or the old men loitering around the hotel lobby where Johnny is supposed to meet Marietta (but has gone "buffalo hunting").

I've already said too much, but it was a fun couple hours reminiscing and hearing another fan's experience of it, too. Take a look, if you want to see/hear more, or better yet, turn on the film and watch along with us. Let me know in the comments what you think!

Friday, April 10, 2020

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, episode 15, Homecoming

Events: On the island, Locke and Boone return Claire to the caves, having apparently just escaped from Ethan. Locke, Sayid, and Jack discuss what to do about Ethan and Charlie is suspicious of their abilities to protect Claire and the baby. Ethan assaults Jin and threatens Charlie, demanding that they return Claire to him. When the men decide to offer Claire up as bait to trap Ethan, Jack arms Locke and Sawyer from the cache of guns he'd been hiding; after Jack forbids Kate from getting involved, Sawyer offers her one of his guns and invites her along. Charlie, shown in flashbacks to have taken advantage of a young woman named Lucy during his post-Drive Shaft drug days, increasingly frustrated over the group's inability to protect Claire and refusal to listen to him, shoots and kills Ethan after he'd already surrendered to Jack and Sawyer.

Greater Meaning: Charlie and Claire's budding relationship becomes suspended after Claire loses
her memory of all events after the crash, so in order to maintain any sort of exchange with her, Charlie appoints himself Claire's protector. Charlie's decision to shoot Ethan technically makes sense when considered with the flashbacks of Charlie's humiliation and poor choices regarding Lucy ("you'll never take care of anyone"), but still seems a little forced and unnecessary unless the writers are laying the groundwork to develop Charlie further as an egotistical and unstable person. The episode title is "Homecoming," after all, and Claire is the person who's just come home, but the events largely concern Charlie, Charlie's decisions, and Charlie's reactions. The episode ultimately works as it is, but seems a little disjointed and unsatisfying compared with the neatness and balance of all the previous ones.

Further Questions: 
1. Are Claire and the baby really all right?
2. Where did Ethan come from?
3. Are there more people like Ethan?
4. Why does Ethan want Claire?
5. Is Charlie violent?

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Cinema in Quarantine: Dr. Strangelove

Director Stanley Kubrick lets us know immediately the type of film experience we’re getting into with his 1964 satirical comedy, Dr. Strangelove. First, a text crawler at the behest of the US Air Force explaining how the events depicted in the film couldn’t really happen, and second, an extended collection of scenes of an airplane refueling another midair with a decidedly sexual theme. The effect of this introduction is clear: we are about to see a crude, outlandish mockery of governmental situations.

The mockery goes on to take several forms throughout the film, playing often upon character names, generalities of hawks, doves, Russians, and Germans (among many others), and a stubborn obsession over bodily fluids. That said, Dr. Strangelove will not be every person’s kind of comedy. The Cold War was a very serious situation; not everyone will see the humor in making it ridiculous. Communism and Nazism aren’t light-hearted topics, nor are mutinies, hydrogen bombs, loss of life, or suicide. Kubrick is able to sidestep the seriousness of these issues by focusing not on the issues themselves but rather the poor decisions that led to them. The theme here isn’t necessarily about the evil men do, it’s about the stupid, the confusing, and the outlandish, and we can feel fine laughing about these things.

The narrative, driven by ongoing tension between American and Russia over nuclear weapons superiority (and any ‘gaps’ between the two nations’ perceived might over the other), is fairly straight-forward. An Air Force general goes rogue, sets in motion a nuclear attack on Russia, and the president’s cabinet bumble about trying to thwart the attack while maintaining diplomacy with the Russians. The character Strangelove (one of Peter Sellers’ three roles in the film) is minor but memorable as an advisor to American president, Merkin Muffley (also Sellers). Suggesting previous Nazi association, Strangelove’s behavior involving a maniacal right arm and constant verbal lapses into “Mein Fuhrer” provides not only comedy but tongue-in-cheek stylistic homage to German Expressionist cinema.

The Air Force Base, which sets the story in motion, is initially a very confused environment. General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) suddenly ordering a nuclear strike and blathering on about fluids; is this guy for real? Yes, he is, and no, he won’t recall the code he’s just authorized, so a retaliatory attack on his base commences. Here we see the newsreel look of active battle juxtaposed with extended scenes of the Royal Air Force executive officer Lionel Mandrake’s (also Sellers) uncomfortable reactions against the paranoia of General Ripper and later, a comically dim set of interactions with a Colonel “Bat” Guano, a phone booth, and a coke machine.
Arguably the most stylized setting in the film, the War Room is composed of a giant oval table which seats the president’s cabinet and dignitaries and over which hangs an enormous board map of Russia, complete with lights and other strategic features. Size is definitely key, and the board is often acknowledged as a powerful tool that should be kept secret at all costs. The comedic performances of the war room are dynamic and constant, fluctuating back and forth between the monotone President Muffley and General Buck Turgedson (George C. Scott). 

"He'll see the big map!"
Hawkish Turgedson’s character exists to egg on the entire attack, and comes off as both logically stoic
and giddy at the prospect of dropping a warhead on a Russian target, but Scott’s portrayal of the general-- tone of voice, facial expressions, and gestures-- steals virtually every scene until Strangelove arrives. It’s been noted that George C. Scott was not pleased with the performances of his that Kubrick chose to use in the film, but it’s no understatement to say that nonetheless, Scott as Turgedson is a huge part of the film’s success.

The B52 plane piloted by Major “King” Kong (Slim Pickens) is the most light-hearted of the settings, and relies on music (When Johnny Comes Marching Home), close shots of the technical aspects of the aircraft and its gear, and Pickens’ gentle western drawl to color the experience of  something serious that becomes funny. Bombs are not funny; dropping a bomb on a country is not funny, but Kong and his crew make it so. The film’s famous conclusion takes this concept a step further by returning sexual innuendo to the final act as Kong rides a warhead out of the plane and onto Russian soil. We are somehow left feeling satisfied with such a resolution simply because the bomb and the entirety of international diplomacy have been treated as jokes, mishandled by a crew of incompetents.

Should politicians and generals be mocked if they’re shown to be incompetent? Kubrick thought so. The book Red Alert upon which the film is based does not take a comic approach to any of the events depicted in the story, but posited two serious thoughts that Kubrick chose to include: “You say, ‘War is too important to be left to the generals?’ Well I say war is too important to be left to the politicians!” Despite such bravado, neither make a very convincing argument in the film, which is clearly what Kubrick set out to show us in the first place. How might Stanley see things today? I’m not sure I want to know . . . 

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Cinema in Quarantine: The Shawshank Redemption

In the two decades I’ve been writing about film, The Shawshank Redemption has come up frequently. Nominated for countless industry awards for acting, writing, cinematography, and sound, this film hasn’t just entertained audiences for the last twenty-five years but has served as a sort of gold standard to what cinematic storytelling can accomplish. Back in school, my professors always emphasized a criticism style that took into account a film’s narrative, technical, and thematic aspects, so my reviews always followed that format (often with a stubborn obsession on theme). It’s a rare joy to be able to write about a film that succeeds in all three areas the way this one so skillfully does. Well-written, expertly crafted, and still relevant to the human experience, this throwback is exactly what we all need in these uncertain times. It reminds us that hope is possible.

Based on Stephen King’s short story (Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption), the film follows former banker and convicted murderer Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) as he serves two life sentences in a New England state prison. Andy is initially a very distant protagonist who navigates the dangers of prison life in a practically removed fashion, but fellow inmate Ellis Redding (Morgan Freeman), or “Red,” as he’s known, befriends Andy, an unlikely relationship develops, and on it’s taken. The redemption piece emerges pretty clearly throughout the film and definitely at the film’s famous conclusion (which is among the most infamous and visceral-reaction-provoking in film history), but it’s important to not forget the little redemptions that take place throughout the story, too: music, books, baseball, and in a nice moment of self-reflexivity, the film-within-the-film Gilda (starring, you guessed it, Rita Hayworth, complete with the hair-toss moment and everything).

The little things that Shawshank’s prisoners took for granted on the outside become the very things that allow them to maintain their humanity on the inside. Screenwriter/director Frank Darabont added several such supplementary items not originally included in King’s original story but none as powerful as the prisoners’ responses to a Mozart opera when Andy illicitly broadcasts it on a record player over the prison yard. These moments do more than just keep the viewers from drowning in the appalling world of hazing (“Fresh Fish!”), assault (head guardsman Byron Hadley or even more distressing, The Sisters), maggoty meat, and corruption. Andy is showing his fellows (and us) that in a terrible situation, there are still things that matter, things that humans can share and enjoy, things that allow humans to hold onto hope.

Hope also shines through many of the technical aspects of the story. Fans of cinematographer Roger Deakins’ work will recognize his always “right-for-the-movie” composition, camera work, and emotional ties to the film’s subject matter in nearly every shot. Slow pans of the unflinching jurors in Andy’s trial give way to the same motion across prison bars. Eagle eye views and slow, moving camera approaches of the environment of the prison and beyond show the characters as masters of these spaces, slaves to them, or eventually, becoming redeemed by them. Music shifts in and out in varying forms: a staticky victrola, folk fiddle and guitar, Hank Williams, and rockabilly together with the aforementioned Mozart provide not only accompaniments but extension and depth to the actions of the characters and their responses to those actions.

How is hope achieved thematically, and why do we need this in our lives? Prison films are not always high on everyone’s must-see list, after all. For better or worse, friendship is shown to be an insulating factor for the prisoners and a band-of-brothers camaraderie develops and intensifies throughout the film, showing us positive belonging and loyalty. Rather than waiting out his time, sullen and alone in his cell, Andy creates a library and becomes a sort of mentor, teaching other inmates to read, and offering insight into music and literature. Insane optimism? Maybe, but the bigger message could simply be “find the good and share it with others,” (if you can).

The good versus evil aspect of this film (largely avoided in this review so as to be spoiler-free) factors into every action within the prison of course, and early on, one gets the feeling that Andy Dufresne, in his day-to-day activities and later his complacency within the corrupt prison system, is fighting an unwinnable fight against a giant (or in this case, a pious warden). We are not in Andy Dufresne’s situation, but many of us have been in touch with hopelessness, have tried to achieve something impossible, or have longed for resolution that just didn’t happen quickly enough. The fact that we crave Andy’s success and root for him (and Red) throughout the film drives the experience--we all have hope, that greatest of all things, inside us, we just want to see it realized. The first step is where we are now, the second is whatever we decide to get busy doing.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, episode 14, Special

"I think Walt should be allowed to realize his potential."
Events: Michael is challenged by the demands of parenting willful Walt, and resents Locke's connection with his son. After witnessing Michael's frustrated reactions to Walt running off, Hurley suggests that Michael hates being a father but through flashbacks, Michael is shown to have been very devoted during Walt's early years. Susan Lloyd, Walt's mother and Michael's ex, took a series of jobs that kept Walt away from Michael, and eventually persuades him to relinquish his custody over his son so her new husband, Brian, can adopt him. Later, when Walt is living in Australia with Susan and Brian, Susan dies from complications of a blood disorder and Brian discloses to Michael that he can't be the boy's father, that there's something different about him.

On the island, John Locke's interactions with Walt are respectful and kind but cross the line once Locke and Boone start involving him in knife-training exercises. Michael insists that Locke stay away from Walt and Locke agrees, but both men eventually put aside their differences and work together to save him once Walt runs off and gets cornered in a tree by a polar bear. After Walt is safe and back in the caves, Michael softens toward him and gives him a box of letters Susan had kept hidden from Walt over the years. At the episode's conclusion, Claire emerges from a thicket of trees and collapses in Locke's arms.

Greater Meaning: As Michael is the only parent on the island, he's the only one that has someone he's directly responsible for (as opposed to Jack or Locke, who are less directly responsible for others through medical care or providing food). The island carries its own risks for a commonsense adult, but for a child hell-bent on defying his father, the risks are even greater and unpredictable. On the surface Michael appears to be rigid and obtuse compared with the rest of the adults, but as a father, he's just trying to keep his son safe and under careful watch.

"A penguin with a sunburn?" 
Locke's connection with Walt isn't that of a father and a son; Locke has experienced ablism as shown through flashbacks where he was confined to a wheelchair, and with Boone, he seems to have an understanding of the island that no one else has. His interest in Walt seems less paternal and more specific, for all the referencing of Walt's "special" abilities that happens, Locke seems to realize more about it than anyone does and this realization (as with Charlie's drug detoxification, as with Boone's disentanglement from Shannon) seems linked to Locke's own role as a leader on the island.

Further Questions:

1. Will Walt and Michael become closer?
2. Will Michael continue building a raft with Walt?
3. Will John and Michael bond over Walt?
4. How many polar bears are on the island and why are they there?
5. What special abilities does Walt have?
6. Are Claire and the baby all right?