“X-MEN” Movies Ranking

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Below is my ranking of the movies I have seen from the “X-MEN” film franchise.  Warning: many may not agree with it:

“X-MEN” MOVIES RANKING

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1. “X2: X-Men United” (2003) – Bryan Singer directed this film about Army colonel William Stryker’s plans to use Professor Charles Xavier to destroy the world’s mutant population once and for all. As you can see, this is my favorite in the franchise.

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3. “X-Men: First-Class” (2011) – Matthew Vaughn directed this tale set in 1962 about the first meeting between Charles Xavier “Professor X” and Erik Lensherr “Magneto”, their creation of the X-Men and their efforts to prevent mutant villain Sebastian Shaw from using the Cuban Missile Crisis to acquire world domination. Despite the questionable costumes and a few plot holes, this was a big favorite of mine.

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3. “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006) – Brett Ratner directed this tale about the X-Men overcoming tragedy to deal with the resurrected and more powerful Jean Grey and Magneto’s continuing war on non-mutant humans. Many fans hated this film. I enjoyed it, although I found the pacing a bit too rushed. Enough said.

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4. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009) – Gavin Hood directed this movie about the origins of James Howlett aka the Wolverine and his relationship with his murderous half-brother Victor Creed aka Sabertooth and his first class with William Stryker in the 1970s. Another movie hated by the fans. And again, I enjoyed it, although I consider it lesser than the 2006 movie.

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5. “X-Men: Days of Future Days” (2014) – Directed by Bryan Singer, this movie is a time-travel adventure for Wolverine, who must convince a younger Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr to prevent Mystique from murdering a anti-mutant scientist, whose work will prove deadly for mutants within a half century. Great premise, but shaky execution. Too many plot holes, but still enjoyable.

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6. “The Wolverine” (2013) – James Mangold directed this atmospheric tale about Wolverine, still grieving over a recent tragedy, traveling to Japan to meet the Wolverine heading to Japan for a reunion with a soldier named Ichirō Yashida whose life he saved during the Nagasaki bombing at the end of World War II. He ends up defending Yashida’s granddaughter from the Yakuza and her avaricious father. Great Japanese atmosphere and interesting beginning, but it nearly fell to pieces in the last half hour.

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7. “X-Men” (2000) – Bryan Singer directed this first movie in the franchise about Wolverine and a young Marie aka “Rogue”’s introduction to the X-Men and their efforts to defeat Magneto’s plans to transform the entire population into mutants against their will. Enjoyable, but it felt like a B-movie trying to disguise itself as an A-lister. Also, too many plot holes.

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8. “Deadpool” (2016) – Ryan Reynolds starred in this reboot of the Deadpool character about the comic book hero’s origins and his hunt for the man who gave him an accelerated healing factor, but also a scarred physical appearance. Despite the sharp humor and fourth wall cinematic device, the narrative struck me as sloppily written and mediocre.

“STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS” (2015) Review

“STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS” (2015) Review

During the fall of 2012, the media and many film fans were stunned by news of filmmaker George Lucas’ sale of his production company, Lucasfilm, to the Walt Disney Company. I was flabbergasted. However, this sale led to Disney’s plans to continue Lucas’ “STAR WARS” movie saga with future releases, television shows, novels and comic stories.

One result of this sale proved to be Disney’s new film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS”. The first of three movies for the franchise’ “Sequel Trilogy”, “THE FORCE AWAKENS” is set some thirty years after the 1983 film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI”. Some time after the Galactic Empire’s major defeat at the Battle of Endor, remnants of this political force formed a new galactic power known as the First Order under the mysterious leadership of Snoke, a Force user. Within less than thirty years, the First Order has managed to take possession of new worlds and become a powerful force within the galaxy. Although appalled by the First Order’s development, the New Republic government decided to do nothing.

Former Rebel Alliance leader, Leia Organa, managed to form a military organization from the rank and file of the New Republic’s armed forces called the Resistance. Believing that the Resistance need more help, Leia recruited a pilot named Commander Poe Dameron to acquire find a segment of a star map that was in the possession of the legendary explorer Lor San Tekka on Jakku. This map would lead to the whereabouts of her brother, Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, who had disappeared into exile following the destruction of a new generation of Jedi under his tutelage. Unfortunately, the village where Tekka lived was captured by a force of First Order stormtroopers under the command of one of Supreme Leader Snoke’s enforcers, a Force user named Kylo Ren. Ren ordered his troops to kill Tekka and the other villagers, while he took Dameron captive. Fortunately, the Resistance pilot had hidden the map inside his astromech droid, BB-8, which managed to escape. Even more fortunately, Dameron was rescued by a stormtrooper designated FN-2187, who wanted to use Dameron to help him defect from the First Order.

Finn and Dameron stole a TIE fighter plane and returned to Jakku to find BB-8. However, the plane crashed. FN-2187 – renamed “Finn” – by the pilot, encountered a desert scavenger named Rey, who had already found BB-8. Realizing that the First Order was after the droid, the pair made their escape from Jakku aboard the old freighter, the Millenium Falcon, and set out to find the Resistance forces. Along the way, Finn and Rey attempted to evade the pursuing Kylo Ren and met the Falcon’s former owner, Han Solo and the latter’s companion Chewbacca; who ended up helping them with their goal.

Many critics and moviegoers hailed “THE FORCE AWAKENS” as a return to what the franchise used to be back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. And not surprisingly, it became the top earning movie released in 2015. Lucasfilm, now headed by producer Kathleen Kennedy (who had worked with Lucas and Steven Spielberg for years), turned to producer-director J.J. Abrams to helm this first film. Screenwriter Michael Arndt was originally hired to write the movie’s script, following Lucas’ treatment. But Lucasfilm and Abrams decided to scrap both him and the treatment. Then Abrams and filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan created their own screenplay . . . one that obviously pleased a lot of people. How do I feel about the movie? Well, like many films, “THE FORCE AWAKENS” has both good and bad qualities. I am going to start what I liked about it.

For me, the stars of “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS” are actors John Boyega, who portrayed Finn; and Harrison Ford, who reprised his role as Han Solo. Their performances gave this movie an energy that could not be matched by the rest of cast. In the case of Ford, this movie featured his best performance in the four “STAR WARS” he has appeared in. And of the new cast members for the Sequel Trilogy, I feel that Boyega has quickly emerged as the best of the bunch, thanks to his energetic and humorous portrayal of a very complex character. Actually, Finn reminded me of a younger Han Solo. Perhaps that is why he clicked so well with the veteran actor. Come to think of it, he also managed to click well with the other two new leads – Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac. I find it unsurprising that John Boyega managed to win the BAFTA Rising Star Award. My only problem with Finn is that his character sometimes came off as some doofus who seemed to stumble his way through life. Two other performances in “THE FORCE AWAKENS” that really impressed me came from Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, who served as the voice and movements behind a new character called Maz Kanata. She should have received an award for her work. And Peter Mayhew, like Ford, was marvelous as always as the aging Wookie, Chewbacca. In a way, I found this miraculous for both Ford and Mayhew, considering that both suffered health issues during the movie’s production. What else did I like about “THE FORCE AWAKENS”? Well to my utter surprise, I enjoyed the new astromech droid, BB-8. When I had first saw it in some of the movie’s trailers, I had dismissed it as a second-rate version of R2-D2 and C3-P0. I was very surprised at how quickly I grew fond of the character.

There were other aspects of “THE FORCE AWAKENS” that I enjoyed, as well. If I have to brutally frank, I did not find most of Dan Mindel’s photography that impressive. But there were a few scenes that did impress me. I found Britain’s Lake District, which served as Takodana, very beautiful, thanks to Mindel’s photography. I was also impressed by his photography of United Arab Emirates and New Mexico, which served as the planet of Jakku. Mandel even managed to include an iconic shot, as shown below:

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One last aspect of the movie that impressed me was Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey’s editing. I thought they did a pretty damn good job in the sequence that featured Finn and Rey’s escape from Jakku aboard the stolen Millennium Falcon. But I found their work in the sequence in which the pair, Han Solo and Chewbacca get into conflict with pirates gangs who want to settle a score with Han, while three Rathtar creatures run rampant throughout the Falcon and Han’s other ship . . . to be very impressive. And it lacked the taint of confusion which has hampered many action scenes in the past.

Did I have any problems with “THE FORCE AWAKENS”? Unfortunately, yes. A lot of problems. I read somewhere that Lucasfilm/Disney had originally hired Michael Arndt to write the movie’s screenplay, but in the end, Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. Abrams rejected it. Abrams recruited Lawrence Kasdan, an old Lucasfilm veteran to rewrite the script and the result is what ended on the movie screens. And honestly . . . I was not impressed. Not by a long shot. The main problem I had with “THE FORCE AWAKENS” is that it shared too many plot points and characterizations with the first film in the franchise, 1977’s “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE”. Hell, Abrams and Kasdan managed to borrow a bit from 1980’s “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” and the Prequel movies. It is one thing to lift certain aspects of from other works of art and even history – especially in the science-fiction/fantasy genre. It is another to literally borrow from another movie . . . within the same movie franchise. Just to verify my complaint, I had come across an Entertainment Weekly article that listed eighteen similarties between “THE FORCE AWAKENS” and “A NEW HOPE”that included:

*A droid carrying valuable information who finds himself on a desolate desert planet
*A Force-sensitive, masked, and darkly clothed antagonist who arrives on the scene shortly after the information is handed off, looking for the droid
*A lonely, Force-strong desert dweller who dreams of more
*A cruel military officer who holds a comparable level of authority to his Force-sensitive, masked, and darkly clothed colleague
*A massive spherical weapon that’s used to destroy a planet
*A coordinated aerial attack on the massive spherical weapon that’s monitored from a control room by Leia

Six similarities between the two movies strike me as disturbing. Eighteen similarities seem utterly ridiculous to me. Even worse, I managed to come up with four similarities between this movie and “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”. The masked enforcer is revealed to be a member of the Skywalker family, the heroes end up on an ice planet, the roguish protagonist is left in dire straits by the end of the movie and the potential Force user meets an aging Jedi master for new lessons. J.J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy and the Disney Studios might as well stop protesting and admit that their new blockbuster reeks of unoriginality and plagiarism.

Another problem I had with “THE FORCE AWAKENS” proved to be characterization. I had no problem with the idea of characters from the saga’s previous trilogies making an appearance. I had a problem with the new characters being a rehash of other characters – like our desert future acolyte Rey being a remake of the young Luke Skywalker; the First One enforcer Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo being another Anakin Skywalker; Resistance pilot Poe Dameron being another Leia Organa (but without the caustic wit); former stormtrooper Finn being another Han Solo; Supreme Leader Snoke is another Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine; and General Hux is another Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin (without the presence). Actually, this video clip from You Tube/Dorkly.com pretty much said it all. The similarities between the saga’s characters strikes me as another example of the lack of originality in this movie.

But some of the characters proved to be very problematic for the movie’s plot. One of the biggest problems proved to be the character of Rey. As a woman, I found it satisfying that a leading STAR WARS character is not only a Force user, but a young woman. Unfortunately, Abrams and Kasdan took this too far by nearly portraying Rey as a borderline Mary Sue. Well, Lucas nearly transformed Luke Skywalker into a Gary Stu (same thing, male version) – especially in the last half hour of “A NEW HOPE” and the first hour of “RETURN OF THE JEDI”. But with Rey, Abrams and Kasdan took it too far. Using her strong connection to the Force as an excuse, they allowed Rey to become a talented pilot who could rival Han Solo and Anakin Skywalker, easily learn how to utilize the Jedi Mind Trick and defeat an experienced Force user with a lightsaber without any training. Without real any experience or training whatsoever. By the way, that last achievement really rubbed me the wrong way. I mean . . . what the hell? What is she going to do in the franchise’s next movie? Walk on water? Now . . . Daisy Ridley gave a nice performance as Rey. But she failed to knock my socks off. Her performance was not enough for me to overlook the ridiculous level of skills that her character had accomplished.

Equally problematic for me proved to be the Kylo Ren character, who turned out to be Han and Leia’s only son, Ben Solo. According to the movie, he was one of Luke’s padawan learners, before he made the decision to embrace evil, kill of Luke’s other padawans and become an enforcer for the First Order. Why? I have not the foggiest idea. “THE FORCE AWAKENS” made it clear that he seemed to worship his grandfather’s role as a Sith Lord. I can only assume that either the next movie or “EPISODE IX” will reveal the reason behind young Ben’s embrace of evil. I hope so. Because the reasoning presented in this film really sucks. It sucks just as much as Ren’s man child behavior. You know, I could have stomach this behavior if he had been around the same age as his grandfather in the Prequel Trilogy’s second and third movies. But Kylo Ren is pushing thirty in this film. He strikes me as too old to be engaging in childish temper tantrums. I can only assume that contrary to Han’s “He has a bit of Vader in him” comment, Kylo Ren is more a chip off the old block – namely his dad, who had behaved like a man child in the 1977-83 films. And why did Han and Leia name their son after Obi-Wan Kenobi, who used the name “Ben” during his years of exile on Tatooine? Leia never knew him . . . not personally. And Han never really clicked with Obi-Wan on an emotional level. So, why did they name him after the long deceased Jedi Master? As for Adam Driver, he gave a decent performance, but honestly . . . it was not enough for me to be fascinated by his character. It was just . . . decent.

Leia Organa seemed to be a ghost of her former self, thanks to Carrie Fisher. God bless Fisher, she tried. She really did. Abrams and Kasdan even gave her a few witty lines. But . . . Fisher’s performance reminded me of the one she gave in “RETURN OF THE JEDI” . . . lacking in any real fire. And I was disturbed by one scene in which Leia rushed forward to hug Rey, following the latter’s return from the First One’s Starkiller Base. Why did Leia ignore Chewbacca, who must have been torn up over Han’s death? Why did Chewie ignore her? Poe Dameron proved to be a real problem. One, he was not an interesting character to me. Frankly, I found him rather bland. And considering that Oscar Isaac portrayed the character, I found myself feeling very disappointed. A talented actor like him deserved a better role than this. Also, why did Poe leave Jakku and returned to the Resistance’s base? His mission was to acquire information leading to Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts . . . information that he had stored in his BB-8 droid before the First Force appeared at that Jakku village. After Finn had rescued him from Kylo Ren and the First Force warship, Poe insisted that they return to Jakku, so he could find BB-8. What did he do after his and Finn’s TIE fighter crashed on the planet? Poe walked away from the crash, found transport off the planet and returned to his Resistance base. Not once did he bother to finish his mission by searching for BB-8. What the fuck? He went through all that bother to drag Finn back to Jakku and failed to hang around long enough to find BB-8? SLOPPY!! As for Mark Hamill . . . why was he even in this movie? He appeared in the movie’s last scene without speaking one word of dialogue. What a waste of time!

There were other scenes that rubbed me the wrong way. Critics made a big deal over the Nazi-like speech that General Hux gave the First Order troops on the Starkiller Base, swooning over the idea of Nazi metaphors in a “STAR WARS”movie. Big deal. There have been Nazi metaphors in the franchise’s movies since the first movie in 1977. Only Lucas did not resort to a ham fisted speech, similar to the one given by actor Domhnall Gleeson. I also found Leia’s little military conference rather laughable. She did not confer with a handful of military leaders. Instead, she seemed to be conferring with anyone – commanders, pilots, etc. – who seemed to have made their way to her table. It was like watching a STAR WARS version of a town meeting. What the hell? And what was the big deal over the First Order’s search for Luke Skywalker? So what if he was the last Jedi? According to the Lor San Tekka character portrayed by Max von Sydow, there can be no balance in the Force without the Jedi. Really? Since when is the balance of the Force depended on the presence of a religious order that had not been in its prime for over half a century? With Tekka’s comment, Abrams and Kasdan regressed the saga back to the Sunday School morality of “A NEW HOPE”. And could someone please tell me how the lightsaber that Anakin had first constructed following the loss of his first on Geonosis and which Luke had lost during his duel against the former on Bespin, end up in the possession of Maz Kanata on Takodona? How? And why on earth did Abrams and Kasdan thought it necessary to re-introduce it into the saga? Why? It was nothing more than a lightsaber . . . a weapon. There was no need to transform it into some kind of mythologized artifact.

Aside from the colorful photography and editing, I was not that impressed by the movie’s other technical aspects. One, Lucasfilm and Disney allowed both the Resistance and the First Order to use military technology that was last scene in the 1977-83 trilogy. Why? Why did the Resistance and First Order characters wear the uniforms that members of the Rebel Alliance and the Imperial Fleet wore? How cheap is that? And why have the Resistance and the First Order use technology from the same groups? The only new technology I had spotted was the two-seater TIE fighter for the First Order and the lumbering desert vehicle that Rey used on Jakka. Were Kathleen Kennedy and the Disney Studios too cheap to hire someone to create new designs for the military in this film? Or was this another over-the-top attempt to re-create the past of the first trilogy? As for John Williams’ score . . . uh . . . not really impressed. Mind you, I had nothing against it. The score served the movie’s plot rather well. But there was nothing memorable or iconic about it.

I can see why many critics and moviegoers praised “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS” as a return to the “magic” of the Original Trilogy. The movie not only utilized many technical aspects of that first trilogy, but also characterization and plot. To be brutally honest, I believe that this new movie had more or less plagiarized the first trilogy – especially “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE”. Many might regard this as something to celebrate. I do not. I regard this “celebration” of the first trilogy as an artistic travesty and a sign of the lack of originality that now seemed to plague Hollywood. From an artistic point of view, I do not believe the Force was with this movie.

The Celebration of Mediocrity and Unoriginality in “STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS”

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“THE CELEBRATION OF MEDIOCRITY AND UNORIGINALITY IN “STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS”

Look … I liked the new “STAR WARS” movie, “THE FORCE AWAKENS”.  I honestly do.  Heck, I feel it is better than J.J. Abrams’ two “STAR TREK” films.  But I am astounded that this film has garnered so much acclaim.  It has won the AFI Award for Best Picture.  It has been nominated by the Critics Choice Award for Best Picture.

“THE FORCE AWAKENS”???  Really?  It did not take long for certain fans to point out that the movie’s plot bore a strong resemblance to the first “STAR WARS” movie, “A NEW HOPE”.  In fact, I am beginning to suspect that J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan had more or less plagiarized the 1977 film, along with aspects from other movies in the franchise.  Worse, it has some plot holes that Abrams has managed to ineffectively explain to the media.  In other words, his explanations seemed like shit in the wind and the plot holes remained obvious.

Then I found myself thinking about “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.”, Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of the 1964-1968 television series.  I will not deny that the movie had some flaws.  Just about every movie I have seen throughout my life had some flaws.  But instead of attempting a carbon copy of the television series, Ritchie put his own, original spin of the show for his movie.  And personally, I had left the movie theater feeling impressed.  And entertained.  It is not that Ritchie had created a perfect movie.  But he did managed to create an original one, based upon an old source.  Now that was impressive.

But instead of having his movie appreciated, a good deal of the public stayed away in droves.  Warner Brothers barely publicized the film.  Worse, the studio released in August, the summer movie season’s graveyard.  And for those who did see the movie, the complained that it was not like the television show.  Ritchie had made changes for his film.  In other words, Ritchie was criticized for being original with a movie based upon an old television series.

This is incredibly pathetic.  One director is criticized giving an original spin to his movie adaptation.  Another director is hailed as the savior of a movie franchise for committing outright plagiarism.  This is what Western culture has devolved into, ladies and gentlemen.  We now live in a world in which the only movies that are box office hits are those that form part of a franchise.  We live in a society in which glossy and mediocre shows like “DOWNTON ABBEY” are celebrated.  We live in a world in which a crowd pleasing, yet standard movie biopic like “THE KING’S SPEECH”can receive more acclaim than an original film like “INCEPTION”.

In regard to culture or even pop culture, this society is rushing toward conformity, familiarity and mediocrity.  God help us.

Top Ten Favorite TIME TRAVEL Television Episodes

Below is a list of my top favorite television episodes that feature time travel:

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE TIME TRAVEL TELEVISION EPISODES

1. “Future’s End” (“Star Trek Voyager”; 1996) – A 29th century timeship causes a time paradox when it accidentally sends itself and Voyager to two different periods in 20th century Earth.

2. “Tempus Fugitive” (“Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”; 1995) – Lois Lane and Clark Kent are brought back to the past by H. G. Wells, in an attempt to stop the time-travelling villain Tempus from killing the infant Superman.

3. “Endgame” (“Star Trek Voyager; 2001) – Admiral Kathryn Janeway comes from the future to try and shorten Voyager’s trip home.

4. “War Without End” (Babylon Five; 1996) – Former Babylon 5 commander, Jeffrey Sinclair, returns with a mission vital to the survival of the station – travelling back in time to steal Babylon 4.

5. “LaFleur” (“Lost”; 2009) – The remaining survivors of Flight 815 and the freighter find themselves permanently in the 1970s and become part of the Dharma Initiative, following John Locke’s disappearance.

6. “The City on the Edge of Forever” (“Star Trek”; 1967) – After accidentally overdosing on a powerful stimulant, Dr. McCoy acts erratically and disappears through the Guardian of Forever, a newly-discovered time portal on a remote planet. Captain Kirk and Commander Spock follow after learning that McCoy somehow changed history. Arriving in the 1930s, the duo meet Edith Keeler, a New York social worker who gives them a place to stay. As the days pass, and McCoy is nowhere to be seen, Kirk finds himself falling in love with Keeler… but Spock discovers that Keeler must die to restore the timeline.

7. “Déjà Vu All Over Again” (“Charmed”; 1999) – As a demon makes plans for his attempt to kill the Charmed Ones, he receives a visit from another demon named Tempus, who will turn back time until the demon succeeds in killing all the sisters.

8. “Babylon Squared” (“Babylon Five”; 1994) – A previous station, Babylon 4, reappears at the same place it disappeared four years before; and Jeffrey Sinclair and Michael Garibaldi lead an expedition to evacuate its crew.

9. “Chris-Crossed” (“Charmed”; 2003) – A mysterious woman from the future named Bianca arrives to take Chris Halliwell’s powers and bring him back forcefully to the future.

10. “D.O.A.” (“Timecop”; 1998) – After Jack Logan and his boss, Gene Matuzek are murdered, Claire Hemmings takes an unauthorized trip back to the past to warn Logan.

“LOST” RETROSPECT: (4.10) “Something Nice Back Home”

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Nearly seven years ago, (4.10) “Something Nice Back Home”, a Season Four episode of “LOST” aired for the first time and I wrote a review of the episode nearly two years after it first aired.  However, after a recent viewing, I decided to write another article on the episode:

 

“LOST” RETROSPECT: (4.10) “Something Nice Back Home”

I am beginning to wonder if (4.10) “Something Nice Back Home”, a Season Four episode from “LOST”, might be one of the most misunderstood episodes of the series. When I recently viewed it for a second time in four years, I came to a realization that I may have misunderstood it.

“Something Nice Back Home” is basically a Jack Shephard episode that featured three main subplots – two of them about the very intense Dr. Shephard. One of them centered on James “Sawyer” Ford, Claire Littleton and Miles Straume’s efforts to reach the Oceanic 815 survivors’ beach camp, after surviving the near massacre at the Others’ compound by mercenary Martin Keamy and his merry band of killers. The second subplot was about Dr. Juliet Burke’s efforts to save Jack’s life after he had been struck down by appendicitis. And the final subplot turned out to be a flash forward about Jack’s time with fellow castaways Kate Austen and Aaron Littleton in Los Angeles, three years in the future.

During the first subplot, Sawyer, Claire and Miles’ jungle trek to the beach camp proved to be a tense little adventure that obviously appealed to many viewers. Ever since Sawyer had rescued Claire during Keamy’s attack upon the Others’ compound in (4.09) “The Shape of Things to Come”, fans began labeling him as the series’ “hero”. After my second viewing of the two episodes, I found this odd. Aside from his rescue of Claire, I cannot recall Sawyer doing anything worth noticing. Former Others leader Ben Linus had saved the survivors of Keamy’s attack and the Smoke Monster by leading them out of the besieged compound in “The Shape of Things to Come”. And in “Something Nice Back Home”, pilot Frank Lapidus saved Sawyer, Claire, Miles and Aaron with a warning and prevented them from encountering a very angry Keamy and his surviving men. Frank also convinced Keamy to use another jungle trail in order to distract the latter from the castaways’ hiding place.

One might view Sawyer’s protective attitude toward Claire as an example of his heroism. People are entitled to do so . . . even if I have trouble accepting this. Mind you, I found the exchanges between Sawyer and Miles rather amusing. But when Sawyer caught Miles shooting odd stares at Claire, the former decided to go into a belligerent protective mode and warn Miles to keep his distance. This incident, along with Miles’ detection of Danielle Rousseau and Karl’s bodies were signs of Miles’ psychic ability, but Sawyer was unaware of it. Eventually, Sawyer regretted his warning, when Claire disappeared into the jungle with the Smoke Monster, who was in the form of Christian Shephard – hers and Jack’s father. Like I said, this subplot provided plenty of suspense, adventure and snark. But “LOST” never answered some of the questions that it raised. Why did Claire leave with the Man in Black (Smoke Monster)? Why did she leave Aaron behind? What happened to her during those three years before her reunion with her fellow castaways in Season Six? And was Claire’s disappearance nothing more than a plot device for Kate’s story line featuring those years with baby Aaron?

The second plot line focused on Jack’s appendicitis. In fact, this episode began with this subplot, using the trademark shot of Jack’s eye opening. Not much came from this particular subplot. While gathering surgical instruments and medical supplies at the Staff Station, both Jin and Sun Kwon discovered that one of the freighter newcomers, Charlotte Lewis, spoke Korean. Jin informed Charlotte that he will harm her fellow freighter passenger, Daniel Faraday, if she did not secure a place for the pregnant Sun aboard the Kahuna freighter. The subplot also revealed Juliet’s talent for leadership. She also realized that Jack still loved Kate and that her romantic friendship with him was nothing more than an illusion.

In the end, Charlotte did not ensure Sun’s departure from the island. Juliet did in the Season Four finale, (4.12) “There’s No Place Like Home, Part I”. Knowledge of Charlotte’s ability to speak Korean only allowed her to issue a warning to Jin about the dangers of the island before her death in Season Five’s (5.05) “This Place is Death”. And Juliet’s leadership abilities were never explored in future episodes. Adhering to Hollywood’s sexist codes, John Locke ended up acting as leader of the castaways left behind during the island’s time jumps. Sawyer assumed the role of “leader” following Locke’s departure from the island, via the Orchid Station’s donkey wheel.

And to this day, “LOST fans have no idea on what led to Jack’s attack of appendicitis. Many have speculated, claiming that either it was a sign of the Island’s displeasure over Jack’s eagerness to leave or a symbol of his subconscious reacting to Jack’s desire. Who knows? Fellow castaway Rose Nadler expressed her belief to husband Bernard that Jack’s illness was an ominous warning. In her view, everyone “gets better” on the Island. Naturally, she could only speak from her personal experiences and knowledge of what happened to Locke’s legs. I have decided not to view Jack’s appendicitis from any metaphoric point of view and see it as nothing more than an opportunity for “LOST” writers to end the burgeoning Jack/Juliet romance. When Jack made it clear that he wanted Kate to participate in his operation, Juliet realized that Jack was not in love with her and told Kate. What made this whole mystery surrounding Jack’s infirmity ridiculous is that three years and two seasons later, island guru Jacob told Jack and a few others that staying or leaving the island (and accepting the role as island leader) was a matter of choice.

The episode’s last episode – the 2007 flash forward featuring Jack and Kate’s romance in Los Angeles – seemed to have generated the greatest amount of contempt from the fans and the media. Many fans blamed Jack’s personal flaws for his meltdown and break-up with Kate, complaining about his alcohol and drug dependence, his jealousy toward Kate’s feelings for Sawyer (who had remained on the island), and his controlling nature. They believed if Jack had kept these flaws in check, he could have enjoyed a happy life with Kate and Aaron. Others believed that Jack’s visit to Hurley at the Santa Rosa Mental Health Institute triggered a realization that he needed to return to the Island in order to meet his “destiny”.

I have a different views on the subplot featuring Jack’s meltdown. One, I believe it was the best subplot in “Something Nice Back Home”. It was the only subplot that helped drive the series’ main narrative. And unlike the Sawyer/Claire/Miles and the appendicitis subplots, it did not end with unanswered questions. More importantly, the episode raised a question that many fans, including myself, had failed to notice. What really led to Jack’s post-Island meltdown and break-up with Kate? In my previous review, I had expressed an opinion that Jack’s perfect life with Kate and Aaron was too superficial to last. I never realized the extent of how shallow and false his life was. After viewing “Something Nice Back Home” for the second time, I realized that this question was answered in (4.04) “Eggtown” and in future episodes such as (4.12) “There’s No Place Like Home”, (5.02) “The Lie”, (5.04) “The Little Prince” and (5.11) “Whatever Happened, Happened”.

What am I trying to say? Simple. Jack and the other members of the Oceanic Six had created lives filled with unnecessary and/or selfish lies, deceit, illusions and grief. Audiences had already experienced Hugo “Hurley” Reyes’ crash and burn in flashbacks featured in the Season Four premiere, (4.01) “The Beginning of the End”. In this episode, audiences finally witnessed Jack’s future meltdown. In a flash forward from “Eggtown”, Jack revealed the Oceanic Six’s major lie about the crash of Oceanic Flight 815 during Kate’s criminal trial:

DUNCAN: Were you aware that Ms. Austen was a fugitive being transported by a United States marshal on that flight to Los Angeles for trial?

JACK: I did learn that eventually, yes.

DUNCAN: From the U.S. Marshal?

JACK: No, the marshal died in the crash. I never spoke to him. Ms. Austen told me.

DUNCAN: Did you ever ask her if she was guilty?

JACK: No. Never.

DUNCAN: Well, that seems like a reasonable question. Why not?

JACK: I just assumed that there had been some kind of mistake.

DUNCAN: And why would you think that?

JACK: Only eight of us survived the crash. We landed in the water. I was hurt, pretty badly. In fact, if it weren’t for her, I would have never made it to the shore. She took care of me. She took care of all of us. She — she gave us first aid, water, found food, made shelter. She tried to save the other two, but they didn’t—

As we all know, this is a load of horseshit. But what led Jack to tell all of these lies. The episode (4.14) “There’s No Place Like Home”featured a scene in which Locke asked Jack to lie about the Island and their their experiences during the past three months . . . to protect the Island. Jack had announced his intentions to follow Locke’s instructions in (5.02) “The Lie”. Kate, Sun and Sayid agreed to support his lies. Hurley did not, claiming that they were unnecessary. Eventually, Hurley capitulated to Jack’s demands. I never understood why Jack had created such unnecessary lies about the island. It had disappeared after Ben had pushed the Orchid Station’s donkey wheel. By the time the Oceanic Six were “rescued”, they had traveled many miles away from the island, thanks to Kahuna freighter’s helicopter, floating in the ocean for several days and Penny Widmore’s yacht, which conveyed them to the Java Trench, where a fake Oceanic 815 airplane was planted by Penny’s father, Charles Widmore and near the island of Sumba. The only person who could have found the Island was Widmore. Being a former resident of the Island, he knew how to acquire information on the Island’s locations. And once he did, Widmore dispatched Martin Keamy and his thugs there to collect Ben Linus. The authorities would have never found the Island, and the lie did not prevente Widmore from finding it again, as Season Six eventually proved. Leaving behind so many castaways and pretending they were dead did not serve a damn thing.

There was another lie that proved to be even more destructive . . . namely the lie about fugitive Kate Austen being the mother of Aaron Littleton, Claire’s son. When “Something Nice Back Home” first aired, many viewers believed that Jack had coerced Kate into pretending to be Aaron’s mother in order to protect him from the foster care system or Charles Widmore. In “There’s No Place Like Home, Part I”, both Jack and Kate learned that Claire’s mother, Carole Littleton, was alive and well. Both realized they were keeping Aaron from his grandmother via the lie, but both continued the deception. A flashback in “The Little Prince” revealed that it was Kate who had suggested she pretend to be Aaron’s mother, due to her selfish desire to use Aaron as an emotional comfort blanket:

KATE: I’ve been thinking a lot about him. Did you know that Claire was flying to L.A. to give him up for adoption?

JACK: No. No, I didn’t.

KATE: I think we should say he’s mine.

JACK: What?

KATE: We could say that I was six months pregnant when I was arrested and that I gave birth to him on the Island. No one would ever know.

JACK: Kate, no. You don’t have to… [sighs] There’s other ways too this.

KATE: After everyone we’ve lost–Michael, Jin, Sawyer… I can’t lose him, too.

JACK: Sawyer’s not dead.

KATE: No. But he’s gone. Good night, Jack.

JACK: Kate… If we’re gonna be safe, if we’re gonna protect the people that we left behind, tomorrow morning, I’m gonna have to convince everyone to lie. If it’s just me, they’re never gonna go for it. So I’m gonna turn to you first. Are you with me?

KATE: I have always been with you.

Wow. I find it interesting that so many fans have complained about Jack’s controlling nature. Yet, it is also easy to see that he can be very susceptible to Kate’s manipulations. Yet, very few people have commented on this. By the way, Kate’s suggestion was confirmed in a confession that she had made to Cassidy Phillips, Sawyer’s ex-girlfriend and fellow grifter, in “Whatever Happened, Happened”. And Jack . . . due to his selfish desire to earn or maintain Kate’s love, agreed to support her lie. I suspect his encounter with Carole Littleton at his father’s funeral service dealt two major blows to Jack’s psyche. He learned that Claire Littleton was his half-sister, due to an affair between Christian Shephard and Carole. And two, he had allowed Kate to use his nephew as an emotional blanket, while keeping said nephew from the latter’s very healthy grandmother. I suspect that this discovery had led Jack to stay away from Kate for a while. But after seeing her at her trial, he realized he could not stay away and caved in to her demand that he need to accept Aaron as hers in order for them to have a relationship.

But Jack’s conversation with Hurley at the mental hospital only proved something that Jack could not face – he was living a life based upon lies about the Island, the survivors of the crash and especially Aaron. And I also suspect that his discovery of Kate’s deception about the favor she did for Sawyer made him realized that he was maintaining lies for the love of a woman who was lying to him. No wonder he freaked out in the end with booze, pills and anger. I suspect that Jack’s outburst about Kate not being related to Aaron was a hint of her own meltdown and realization, a few months later.

“Something Nice Back Home” was not perfect. The episode featured one entertaining and suspenseful subplot that brought up questions behind Claire Littleton’s disappearance – questions that were never really explored after Claire’s reappearance in Season Six. It featured another subplot regarding Jack’s appendicitis that raised both questions and minor subplots that were never dealt with any satisfaction. The only subplot I believe that had any meat or merit was the flash forward featuring Jack Shephard’s meltdown regarding the Island, Kate Austen and his nephew Aaron Littleton. So in the end, all was not lost for “Something Nice Back Home”.

“LOST”: Things That Make Me Go . . . Hmmm?

The following is a list of questions I have regarding subplots that have been featured in past episodes of “LOST”. If you have an answer to any of my questions, please feel free to reply:

 

“LOST”: THINGS THAT MAKE ME GO . . . HMMM?

1. Who gave the original order for Walt Lloyd to be kidnapped?

 

2. Why did the Others kidnap some of the surviving Tail Section passengers of Oceanic 815?

 

3. Why did Ben Linus and the Others scheme to keep Jack Shephard, Kate Austen, and James “Sawyer” Ford as prisoners on Hydra Island?

 

4. Why did Michael Dawson confess his murder of Ana-Lucia Cortez and accidental killing of Libby to his ten year-old son, Walt Lloyd, following their departure from the island?

 

5. Why did Tom Friendly claim that no one was able to leave the island, following the explosion of the Swan Station, despite the fact that he, Michael and Walt were able to do so?

 

6. Why did the prosecuting attorney blindly believe Jack’s false testimony that Kate gave birth to Aaron Littleton, during their three-month stay on the island?

 

7. Why did the prosecuting attorney fail to continue her prosecution of Kate for the charges of bank robbery, assaulting a Federal peace officer, after the murder charges were dropped?

 

8. Why were the Losties, the Freighter people and Juliet the only ones who time traveled on the island and not the Others or Danielle Rousseau?

 

9. Why did Ben kill John Locke in “The Death of Jeremy Bentham”?

 

10. What happened to Claire Littleton during her three-year stay on the island, following the departure of the Oceanic Six?

 

11. Who killed some of the surviving Ajira 316 passengers at their beach camp and why?

 

Favorite Movies Set in LAS VEGAS

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Below is a list of my favorite movies set in Las Vegas, Nevada: 

 

FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN LAS VEGAS

1 - Ocean Thirteen

1. “Ocean’s Thirteen” (2007) – In this third entry of Steven Soderbergh’s OCEAN’S TRILOGY, Danny Ocean and his co-horts plot a heist against casino owner Willy Bank, after he double-crosses one of the original eleven, Reuben Tishkoff. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Al Pacino starred.

2 - Casino

2. “Casino” (1995) – Martin Scorsese directed this adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi’s non-fiction book about the clash between a professional gambler and a mobster sent to operate a mob-controlled Las Vegas casino. Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone starred.

3 - The Hangover

3. “The Hangover” (2009) – Todd Phillips produced and directed this hilarious comedy about four friends who to Las Vegas for a bachelor party. The groom-to-be ends up missing the following morning, and the three remaining friends search all over town to find him, despite having no memories of the previous night. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha and Heather Graham starred.

4 - Bugsy

4. “Bugsy” (1991) – Warren Beatty and Annette Bening starred in this biography of mobster Ben Siegal during his time in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Directed by Barry Levinson, the movie co-starred Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley.

5 - Ocean Eleven

5. “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001) – This remake of the 1960 movie also served as the first entry of Steven Soderbergh’sOCEAN TRILOGY. In it, Danny Ocean and a group of thieves plot the heist of three Las Vegas casinos owned the current boyfriend of Ocean’s ex-wife. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts and Andy Garcia starred.

6 - Rush Hour 2

6. “Rush Hour 2” (2001) – Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker re-teamed in this sequel to their 1998 hit, in which they go up against a counterfeit ring that takes them from Hong Kong to Los Angeles and finally Las Vegas. Brett Ratner directed.

7 - Diamonds Are Forever

7. “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971) – Sean Connery starred as James Bond in this adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1956 novel. The British agent investigates a diamond smuggling operation that leads him to the crime organization SPECTRE and arch nemesis Ernst Stravos Blofeld. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie co-starred Jill St. John and Charles Gray.

8 - Viva Las Vegas

8. “Viva Las Vegas” (1964) – Elvis Presley and Ann-Margaret lit up the screen in this musical about a race car driver forced to find a way to raise money to enter a race in Las Vegas, while romancing a hotel swim instructor. George Sidney directed.

9 - Miss Congeniality Armed and Fabulous

9. “Miss Congeniality: Armed and Fabulous” (2005) – Sandra Bullock stars in this sequel to 2001’s “MISS CONGENIALITY”, as the now famous F.B.I. agent Gracie Hart. When two of her friends – Miss United States and pageant commentator Stan Fields – are kidnapped, she recruits the help of fellow agent Sam Fuller to help her. Directed by John Pasquin, Regina King and William Shatner co-starred.

10 - Honeymoon in Vegas

10. “Honeymoon in Vegas” (1992) – Nicholas Cage starred in this comedy about a man who loses a great deal of money to a professional gambler, while in Vegas to marry his girlfriend. The gambler agrees to clear the debt in exchange for a weekend with the girlfriend, who reminds him of his late wife. Directed by Andrew Bergman, the movie co-starred Sarah Jessica Parker and James Caan.

“LOST” RETROSPECT: (5.09) “Namaste”

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Below is an article I had written about the Season Five episode of “LOST” (2004-2010) called (5.09) “Namaste”

 

“LOST” RETROSPECT: (5.09) Namaste”

“Namaste” is a term used commonly on the Indian subcontinent that is used as a greeting and a parting valediction between individuals. I suppose that this word might be the proper title for this ninth episode from Season Five from ABC’s “LOST”(5.09) “Namaste” served as a crossroad for the series’ fifth season. It served as a closure for some of the season’s story arcs and a beginning for others.

The episode opened where the sixth episode, (5.06) “316” ended, with former castaways Dr. Jack Shephard, Kate Austen and Hugo “Hurley” Reyes disappearing from Ajira Flight 316 (destination – Guam) and reappearing on the Island. Following their harrowing reappearance, they are spotted by one their former castaways, who had remained on the island, Jin-Soo Kwon. The season’s eighth episode, (5.08) “La Fleur”, revealed that Jin; along with James “Sawyer” Ford (“Jim La Fleur”), Dr. Juliet Burke, Miles Straume, and Daniel Faraday; had ceased their time skipping and landed in the year 1974. They spent the next three years as members of the Dharma Initiative. When Jin informed Sawyer of Jack, Kate and Hurley’s arrival in 1977, Saywer races from the Dharma compound to greet his former castaways.

Sawyer explains to the three newcomers that they had ended up in the 1970s. And in order to remain at the Dharma compound, he lied to the organization’s leaders that he was captain of a research vessel, whose crew was searching the wrecked slave ship, the Black Rock. He then arranges for the trio to join the Dharma Initiative as new recruits. Jack becomes a janitor, Kate joins the motor pool, where Juliet works. And Hurley becomes a cook. Sawyer manages to achieve this after Juliet forges their necessary documentation.

Back in the 21st century, pilot Frank Lapidus manages to land the Ajira 316 airliner on the runway constructed by members of the Others, Kate and Sawyer (who were prisoners) back on Season Three, on the Hydra Station island. Along with Frank, Sun-Kwa Kwon and Benjamin Linus (former Others leader), other survivors include a man named Caesar, who assumes leadership of the surviving Ajira passengers and a bounty hunter named Ilana Verdansky, who had been escorting former Oceanic castaway Sayid Jarrah into custody. Ben sets out for the main island to reunite with the Others. Sun decides to join him in order to find Jin. And Frank accompanies them in order to protect Sun from Ben. However, she knocks Ben out, leaving him behind on the Hydra island. Sun and Frank encounter a figure in Christian Shephard’s image, who informs them that Jack, Kate and Hurley have time traveled back to 1977. He also informs Sun that Jin is with them.

I found nothing particularly unique about “Namaste”. But I must admit that I still found it interesting and solid entertainment. I found the present day sequences featuring Sun, Ben and Frank less interesting. Ben’s intention to leave the Hydra island in order to reunite with Richard Alpert and the rest of the Others did not seem very interesting to me. Even Ben’s attitude regarding his intention seemed like the logical conclusion. Which is why I found Sun’s reaction to him rather over-the-top. One, she did not have insist upon joining him. If she really wanted to leave Hydra island for the main one, she could have made the trip on her own. Instead, she insisted upon joining Ben, before whacking him over the head with a paddle. Many “LOST” fans cheered. I simply rolled my eyes at the ridiculousness of it all and a confirmation of her vindictive nature. When she and Frank later discovered that Jack, Kate, Hurley and Jin were all in 1977, I found the scene . . . well, uninteresting. The only interesting aspect of this story line was that it explained the finale of (3.07) “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham” – with the Man in Black (in John Locke’s form) looking down at his unconscious form.

The scenes set in 1977 managed to rouse my interest. The interactions between the main characters seemed filled with a great deal of emotions – overt or otherwise. Much of that emotion was centered around James “Sawyer” Ford. Ever since the Season Four episode, (4.09) “The Shape of Things to Come”, many “LOST” fans have been pushing him as the series’ hero. Sawyer’s “hero” status was solidified – as far as many were concerned – in “La Fleur”, when he found a way to ensure that he and his fellow castaways would become part of the Dharma Initiative and became romantically involved with Juliet Burke. Within three years, Sawyer became the Dharma Initiative’s Head of Security. In a way, I can see why many fans had put Sawyer on a pedestal by mid-Season Five. Yet, I found some of his interactions with the other characters and his own decisions rather questionable. I am not accusing screenwriters Paul Zbyszewski and Brian K. Vaughan of bad writing. On the contrary, I thought they handled Sawyer’s role in this episode very well. But I suspect that so many fans were viewing Sawyer through rose-colored glasses that they failed to see the warts behind the heroic image. Not even Jack Shephard during the series’ first season was regarded in such a high light.

Many fans anticipated the reunion between Sawyer and his former bed partner, Kate Austen; believing that the latter was over Jack. Mind you, not all fans believed this, but a good number did. The episode’s last five to ten minutes featured a moment in which the two exchanged subtle looks. That look would prove to be the beginning of the end of Sawyer’s romance with Juliet . . . but in a way he did not anticipate or liked. Even worse, Kate’s little moment of flirtation was a return to an old habit of hers – using Sawyer to erase her romantic problems with Jack. Fans marveled at how he and Juliet had arranged for Jack, Kate and Hurley’s initiation into the Dharma Initiative. And many cheered at his criticism, near the end of the episode, of Jack’s earlier leadership of the Oceanic 815 castaways. I felt impressed by the former and unimpressed by the latter. My recent viewing of this episode led me to realize a few things. One, three years as the “Sheriff of Dharma Land” had allowed Sawyer to develop an ego the size of a basketball. Note some of his criticism directed at Jack:

SAWYER: [Chuckles] I heard once Winston Churchill read a book every night, even during the Blitz. He said it made him think better. It’s how I like to run things. I think. I’m sure that doesn’t mean that much to you, ’cause back when you were calling the shots, you pretty much just reacted. See, you didn’t think, Jack, and as I recall, a lot of people ended up dead.

JACK: I got us off the Island.

SAWYER: But here you are… [sighs] right back where you started. So I’m gonna go back to reading my book, and I’m gonna think, ’cause that’s how I saved your ass today. And that’s how I’m gonna save Sayid’s tomorrow. All you gotta do is go home, get a good night’s rest. Let me do what I do.

One, Sawyer had forgotten that not all of Jack’s decisions were bad . . . and not all of his decisions were good. He also seemed unaware that his decision to include himself, Miles, Juliet, Jin and Daniel into the Dharma Initiative was a bad idea. And he should have never given Jack, Kate and Hurley the opportunity to become part of the Dharma Initiative. Sawyer did not save Jack, Kate and Hurley’s lives. He merely dragged them into his own deception. And his decisions will prove to be bad ones by the end of Season Five. His belief in his own leadership skills proved to be nothing more than a reflection of his skills as a con artist. Like the Oceanic Six, he and his four companions had been living a lie for the past three years . . . a lie that would eventually catch up to them. I also suspect that Sawyer (and Juliet) were responsible for the newcomers’ new positions. Sawyer’s rant and his arrangement of Jack’s new position as a janitor only convinced me that despite his words, his insecurities regarding the spinal surgeon have not abated.

However, Sawyer was not the only one who made bad decisions. Hurley decided that he wanted the comforts of the Dharma Initiative, instead of the discomforts of the jungle. It was a bad decision on his part. And both Jack and Kate made the mistake of agreeing with Hurley’s decision. I could not help but wonder if Juliet had regretted assisting Amy Goodspeed through a difficult birth. The Goodspeeds’ new child turned out to be Ethan Rom, a future follower of Ben Linus in 2004. I feel that Juliet had made the right choice. But . . . I have great difficulty in believing that Ethan was 27 years old in 2004 (the first season), especially since the actor who had portrayed him, William Mapother, was 39 to 40 years old during the series’ first season . . . and looked it.

The episode ended with the revelation of Sayid Jarrah’s whereabouts. He did not appear on the island with Jack, Hurley and Kate. And he was not seen among the Ajira survivors in 2007. Instead, he also ended up in 1977, discovered by Jin Kwon seconds before they encountered the Dharma Initiative’s borderline psychotic head researcher, Stuart Radzinsky. Jin had no choice but to place Sayid under arrest for being a possible Hostile (the Others), the enemies of the Dharma Initiative and longtime island residents. At the end of the episode, Sayid met the 14 year-old version of Benjamin Linus, the man who manipulated him into becoming a hired gun in the latter’s war against rival Charles Widmore. This meeting will prove to have grave consequences for the Losties. So much for Sawyer saving Sayid’s ass. “Ain’t life a bitch?”

Thanks to screenwriters Paul Zbyszewski and Brian K. Vaughan, “Namaste” is a pretty good episode that brought a great deal of closure to the first half of Season Five and initiated the story arcs for the rest of that season and the sixth and final season. The emotional complexities – especially in regard to James “Sawyer” Ford – proved to be very interesting in the 1977 sequences. But I was not that particularly impressed by the 2007 scenes. Despite my disappointment in the latter, I managed to enjoy the episode in the end.

“LOST” – (5.08) “LaFleur” Review

Below is an article I had written on my opinion and observations of the latest episode of “LOST” – (5.08) “LaFleur”:

 

”LOST” – (5.08) “LaFleur” Review

Many fans of ”LOST” have claimed that its Season Five has been the series’ best since the first season. I have to be honest. I do not think I can agree with that sentiment. At least not for Season Five’s first five episodes. I have mixed feelings for it, just as I had for Seasons Two to Four. But there are elements of the fifth season that I have enjoyed so far. And many of those elements had a lot to do with the story arcs surrounding the island castaways left behind when the Oceanic Six departed the island at the end of Season Four.

”LaFleur”, the eighth episode of Season Five, picked up where (5.05) “This Place Is Death” left off – when John Locke turned the Frozen Donkey Wheel from ”(4.13) “There’s No Place Like Home, Part II” and vanished from the island and into the future. Following Locke’s departure, Sawyer, Juliet, Jin, Miles and Daniel are relieved to discover that they no longer have to endure the constant time jumps that have threatened their existence and ended Charlotte Lewis’ in ”This Place Is Death”. However, they are surprised to discover that the time jumps have stopped in 1974, when the Dharma Initiative has been in existence for at least four years. The five survivors decide to return to the beach and make camp, when they comes across a pair of Dharma Initiative members who have been captured by some of the island’s native inhabitants, known as the Others. Juliet and Sawyer kill the two Others and free Amy (Reiko Aylesworth), but her husband has been killed. The group returns to the Barracks, where Amy resides; however, she tricks them into walking through the sonic fence which surrounds the Barracks, knocking them unconscious. The rest of the episode focused upon how the five survivors ended up joining the Dharma Initiative in 1974 and the state of their lives, three years later in 1977.

Remember when I had stated that I had mixed feelings about the series’ Season Five? Well, some of those reasons had a lot to do with how Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindehof’s writers handled the story arcs surrounding the two groups of characters during this season. Of course, there are the members of the Oceanic Six who made it off the island – Jack Shephard, Kate Austen, Sayid Jarrah, Sun Kwon, Hugo “Hurley” Reyes and the infant Aaron Littleton. And there are the members of those left behind on the island, included James “Sawyer” Ford, Juliet Burke, John Locke, Jin Kwon, Miles Straume, Charlotte Lewis, Daniel Faraday, Bernard Nadler and his wife, Rose Henderson. Quite frankly, I did not care for the episodes that heavily featured the Oceanic Six. One, I never cared for their lie that left the infant Aaron in the hands of fugitive Kate Austen for nearly three years. Two, I simply did not care for their story arc in the first half of Season Five. I found it contrived, trite and a waste of my time. On the other hand, the story arc featuring those survivors left behind turned out to be a different kettle of fish.

I found myself enjoying the segments surrounding the ‘Left Behinders’ in episodes like (5.01) “Because You Left”(5.02) “The Lie” and ”This Place Is Death”. So, it is no surprise that after eight episodes, my favorite Season Five episodes turned out to be both (5.03) “The Jughead” and ”LaFleur”, which heavily featured Sawyer, Juliet and the gang. But . . . I am not here to discuss both episodes. Only ”LaFleur”.

What can I say? I loved the episode. I love it so much that I now consider it to be one of my ten favorite episodes of the entire series. And I never thought I would be saying this about a Sawyer-centric episode. Five days after it first aired, I found myself still thinking about it. I am sitting in front of my computer, trying to think of something meaningful or witty to say about this episode. But the words continue to elude me. I have a deep suspicion that my high opinion of ”LaFleur” had more to do with how this episode had such an emotional impact upon me.

Like the Left Behinders, I felt the relief they must have felt over the end of the time jumps, following Locke’s departure. Or the confusion and they had felt upon stumbling across Amy, her dead husband Paul and the two Others. I felt Daniel’s continuing grief over Charlotte’s death . . . or Amy’s grief over Paul’s death. I felt Richard’s curiosity during his conversation with Sawyer (from now on . . . James) about Locke’s appearance twenty years earlier. I felt Horace’s despair over his suspicions that his new wife, Amy, had yet to get over her grief for her husband now dead for three years. I felt James’ desperation to find help for Amy, who was in labor with Horace’s child . . . and Juliet’s reluctance to deal with another childbirth. I certainly felt James’ relief and happiness over the successful birth of Amy’s child and Juliet’s tearful joy. I felt James’ relief and disbelief in discovering that some of the Oceanic Six – Jack, Kate and Hurley – had made it back to the island. And I especially felt the friendship and love both James and Juliet had for one another.

But the above paragraph strikes me as being too simple a way to describe my enjoyment of ”LaFleur”. Foremost, I have to commend writers Elizabeth Sarnoff and Kyle Pennington for penning a well-written episode that revealed the Left Behinders’ experiences with the Dharma Initiative in two time periods without disintegrating into a big mess. The fact that Sarnoff and Pennington also managed to inject some character development – mainly James and Juliet – into a complicated plot has raised my admiration toward their work. Another thing that I liked about ”LaFleur” is that for some reason, it strongly reminded me of my favorite ”LOST” episode of all time – (2.07) “The Other 48 Days”.

This episode is not an exact replica of the Season Two episode that revealed the backstory of the Tail Section passengers’ first 48 days on the island. But I feel that both “The Other 48 Days” and “LaFleur” allowed viewers to experience the interactions of a small group – in the case of the Season Five episode, the Left Behinders – developing a close relationship through shared experiences. Mind you, most of James, Juliet, Miles, Jin and Daniel’s worst experiences occurred in previous Season Five episodes like “Jughead” and “This Place Is Death”. Still, we got to see how they became part of the Dharma Initiative in 1974. And how they had managed to settle into their new lives in 1977.

Josh Holloway literally owned this episode with a performance that nearly knocked my socks off. His James Ford aka James LaFleur has come a long way that rough-hewed Southern con man who had irritated just about everyone back in Season One. This transformation did not happen overnight. In fact, I suspect that it had its origins during late Season Three, when Hugo Reyes forced him to take the mantle of leadership of the Losties during Jack, Sayid, Kate and Locke’s absence during that period. The Southern accent has remained intact and so did the snarky sense of humor and talent for pulling a con job. Not only did he managed to convince one of the Dharma Initiative leaders – Horace Goodspeed – that he and his fellow castaways were survivors of a wrecked salvage vessel looking for the Black Rock. Within three years, James had become Head of Security for the Initiative and found a new love, namely one Dr. Juliet Burke.

When I had earlier stated that Hollowy had owned this episode, perhaps I should have said almost. After all, Elizabeth Mitchell (who has become one of my favorite actors on this series) was just as good as Juliet Burke. After three years, she has forgone her profession as a fertility doctor by becoming an auto mechanic for the Dharma Initiative. At first, I was surprised that she would choose to become a mechanic, instead of continuing her role as a doctor. But considering her past heartaches in dealing with previously pregnant Others, I eventually understood. But the premature labor of one of the Dharma members, Amy Goodspeed (portrayed by Reiko Aylesworth of “24” fame), led James to convince Juliet to act as midwife for the new Goodspeed baby. The result of Amy’s labor led to one of the most beautifully acted moments in the series’ entire history, when Mitchell and Holloway expressed Juliet and James’ relief and happiness over the baby’s successful delivery. I could go on about the strong screen chemistry between the two actors. But I have been aware of that chemistry ever since the Season Three finale – (3.22) “Through the Looking Glass”. The interesting thing about James and Juliet’s relationship is that the series used their growing friendship in the previous six or seven episodes to show how they eventually became a couple. They seemed to have become the first romantic pairing, whose relationship started out as a mature friendship. Perhaps that is the reason why I find it so appealing.

The other cast members in this episode also did a fine job – especially Jeremy Davies, as the grieving Daniel Farady, Doug Hutchison as the Dharma Initiative mathematician who came off as less self-assured than he did in past episodes, Nestor Campbell as the Others’ ageless second-in-command, Richard Alpert and Reiko Aylesworth’s sly performance as Amy, another Dharma member, whose life James and Juliet save. Daniel Dae Kim had a nice moment when Jin witnessed Juliet’s news about the successful birth of Amy and Horace’s baby.

There were many moments in “LaFleur” that have remained stuck in my mind . . . even after five days. Here are a few that I consider truly memorable:

*James, Juliet, Miles and Jin spot a giant, Egyptian-style statue following Locke’s disappearance.
*The brief look on James’ face after Juliet saves him from being shot by one of the Others.
*Amy tricks the Left Behinders into walking past the sonic fence.
*James mentions Richard’s encounter with Locke and the ‘Jughead’ bomb in 1954 to the very surprised Other.
*James convinces Juliet to remain on the island for a while.
*Juliet and James’ happy reaction to the successful birth of Amy and Horace’s child.
*James’ conversation with Horace about dealing with past loves.
*The sight of James and Juliet in bed, with her body spooning his. She really ‘had his back’ in that scene.
*Jin delivers three of the Oceanic Six members – Jack, Kate and Hurley – to an awaiting James.

Even thought that last scene was memorable, I must admit that I found myself comparing it to the sight of a roach crawling across a white rug. It also made me wonder how the Oceanic Six’s arrival will affect the Left Behinders – now members of the Dharma Initiative. Both Kate and Jack’s presence might prove to be a trial for the James/Juliet romance. Right now, I am beginning to wonder if it will survive. And will the Oceanic Six’s presence threaten the Left Behinders’ standing with the Dharma Initiative? Or will another threat emerge – mainly in the form of the still grieving Daniel Faraday? I guess that in the remaining eight episodes, we will find out.

“LOST” – Musing on Season Four and the Finale

“LOST” – MUSINGS ON SEASON FOUR AND THE FINALE

ABC’s megahit series, ”LOST’ is considered among the best television series on the air during this past decade. The magazine,”Entertainment Weekly” considers it to be the fifth best series in television history. I have to admit that it is one of the most original series I have ever seen. But after watching its Season Four finale – (4.13-4.14) “There’s No Place Like Home (Parts 2 and 3)”, I cannot help but wonder if the series’ reputation might be a little exaggerated. 

To put it bluntly, ”There’s No Place Like Home (Parts 2 and 3)” left me with mixed feelings. Mind you, it had its virtues. One of the best moments during that two hour broadcast was watching Yunjin Kim’s performance as the complex Korean wife who may or may not have witnessed the death of her husband, portrayed by the equally talented Daniel Dae Kim. Her performance was fantastic, whether she was expressing Sun Kwon’s horror and grief over witnessing her husband being blown up, while trying to escape a freighter that had been set up to explode. Whether he is dead or not, will be revealed in Season Five. But she believes he is dead. Which would explain the cold, avenging angel she has become in the months following the birth of her fatherless infant daughter.

There were other virtues in this episode:

*Evangeline Lily’s performance in a scene in which Sawyer (Josh Holloway) says good-bye to Kate. Yes, I am actually complimenting Lily’s performance. She is no Yunjin Kim, but I think that she managed to rise up to the occasion in that scene and in the episode’s opening scene that featured a continuation of Jack (Matthew Fox) and Kate’s meeting at the L.A. airport in the flash forward, carried over from Season Three’s (3.22-3.23) “Through the Looking Glass”. However, I still dislike the Kate Austen character.

*The Two Kisses – For me, I was impressed not only by Sawyer’s good-bye kiss to Kate, but Desmond and Penny’s reunion kiss. Actually, I would say that the last one was more spectacular.

*The fight scene between Sayid (Naveen Andrews) and Keamy (Kevin Durand). It seemed fitting for two men-of-action characters, such as themselves.

*I also liked the moment when Jack, Sawyer, Kate and Sayid joined Frank Lapidus for the first time, aboard his helicopter. There was nothing particularly special about it, but it seemed to have its own sense of magic.

*And there was Sawyer’s return to the island, where he meets Juliet on the beach. The scene started out light-hearted, until Juliet points out to the former con man of the freighter’s (and possibly the passengers on Lapidus’ helicopter) fate.

Unfortunately for ”There’s No Place Like Home (II & III)”, the flaws seemed to outweigh the virtues. Flaws that had a lot to do with contrived writing. First example? The bomb on the freighter. What was the purpose of that bomb? Why did Keamy even bothered to plant C4 explosions on that freighter, ‘The Kahana’? Even worse, why bother to wear a remote trigger linked to a heart-rate monitor in order to blow up the boat? What was the point of this plot twist . . . other than to kill Michael Dawson and place anyone aboard the freighter in danger? Did Keamy assume that the castaways would start making their way to the Kahana? What? It all seemed so contrived.

Speaking of contrivance, there is the object dubbed by ”LOST” viewers as ’The Frozen Donkey Wheel’. Apparently, this is the wheel that Ben (Michael Emerson) had turned to move the island or make it invisible. According to a ”Popular Mechanics” article, the wheel changed the island’s space-time connection to the rest of the Earth. Yeah. Whatever. Let’s just say that it did not impress me.

Another problem I had with this episode was the fate of Claire’s infant son, Aaron. Yes, I know that the fourth episode of this season – (4.04) “Eggtown” – made it clear that Kate ends up as Aaron’s guardian back in the States. Even after seeing how Aaron ended up in her custody . . . it still does not make any sense to me. I keep thinking of that scene near the end of the episode, when Jack, Kate, Sayid, Sun and Hurley part from Desmond and Penny, so that they could complete their rescue with a nine hour voyage to some nearby island. Why would Penny hand Aaron over to Kate? Why would Kate take custody of Aaron? Surely, she should have considered the possibility that her chances of keeping Aaron was not that hot, considering her fugitive status. Or why did Kate fail to ask Penny for cash and place where she and Aaron could hide out? The moment when Penny handed Aaron over to Kate seemed so contrived and stupid.

*And can someone please explain how a two-month old child was able to survive so many hours without his mother’s milk or food, along with a helicopter crash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and nine hours of exposure to the sun, while in lifeboat with other castaways? I suppose one could say that ”the island” protected him. Yeah. Whatever. God, who wrote this shit?

Returning back to the Kahana, I have this question to ask – why didn’t Michael, Desmond and Jin warned the other Losties and crew members on the freighter to abandon ship, when they first discovered the C4? Why in the hell did they keep the matter a secret from the others? Why? What was the point? Drama? Another contrived reason to bump off Michael? This has to be one of the most stupid moments I have ever seen on television. To make matters even more idiotic, Jin hesitated to jump ship at the end, so that he could drag Michael along. ”Jin . . . darling, you have a wife and unborn child waiting for you. Why didn’t you get your ass up to the deck when Michael first told you?” Dammit, I hate such stupidity! I especially hate it when writers drum up this mess.

Finally, we come to the biggest pile of horseshit of the episode . . . namely, Michael Dawson’s death. After watching this episode, I can only say that Harold Perrineau’s return to ”LOST” was the biggest waste of his time and the time of his fans. What in the fuck were Cuse and Lindehof thinking? In a TV Guide interview, Perrineau had accused the two producers of bringing him back so that they could appease the bloodlust of the fans who hated Michael for his Season Two actions. I am beginning to believe that he might be right. Cuse and Lindehof could have kept Michael on the show for a while and allow him to deal with the consequences of his actions by facing the Losties. The only castaways who saw him were Sayid, the Kwons and Desmond, who did not even know him. And nothing much really came from his reunion with him. Sayid did expose him to the captain of the Kahana as Ben’s spy. But Michael did not really suffer from the betrayal, aside from one or two beatings. Sun seemed more upset about him being Ben’s spy on the Kahana than over what he had done in Season 2. And with the immediate discovery of the bomb, Jin and Michael immediately resumed their old friendship. After Cuse and Lindehof’s big announcement of Perrineau’s return, the actor managed to appear in at least five or six episodes out of fourteen, before his character was blown sky high in the Kahana’s destruction. All I can say is – ”What in the fuck?”

But the mixed quality of ”There’s No Place Like Home (II &III)” seemed a reflection of the entire Season Four. Some are claiming that this was the show’s best season. I wish I could agree. Season Four had started out as very promising. But in the end, it has not usurped my belief that Season One remains the best. Like its finale, Season Four turned out to be a curious mixture of the good and the bad.

There were plenty of good episodes during this season. Episodes like (4.01) ”The Beginning of the End” and (4.02) ”Confirmed Dead” not only led to the Losties being split into two camps, but it also introduced four new characters to the show – Daniel Faraday, Miles Straume, Charlotte Lewis and Frank Lapidus. Then came (4.03) ”The Economist”, which turned out to be my favorite Sayid-centric episode. Its flash forward eventually revealed Sayid as Ben’s troubleshooter – or hitman – who was killing colleagues of Ben’s enemy, Charles Widmore. Another standout episode turned out to be (4.05) ”The Constant”, a Desmond-centric episode. In it, the Scotsman encounters time traveling side effects from his exposure to an EMP discharge. Mind you, I found it a little confusing at times, but the emotional payoff was worth the confusion. Two other outstanding episodes – at least for me – were (4.08) ”Meet Kevin Johnson”, which revealed what happened to Michael Dawson and his son Walt, following their departure at the end of Season Two; and (4.09) ”The Shape of Things to Come”, in which the group of Losties under Locke, encountered Charles Widmore’s murderous henchman, Martin Keamy, and his band of killers.

There were also episodes that I found . . . decent, but not exactly mind blowing. There were (4.07) “Ji Yeon”, (4.11) ”Cabin Fever” and (4.12) ”There’s No Place Like Home (Part I)”. I take it back. The revelation that Jin did not make it off the island with Sun had taken me by surprise. And so did the appearance of Claire inside Jacob’s cabin with Christian also shocked me. Like the finale that aired on May 29, I have mixed feelings about (4.10) “Something Nice Back Home”. I found the circumstances surrounding Jack’s appendectomy rather pointless. In fact, I am still a little confused over how it was supposed to add to the story. But I must admit that the events that led to Jack and Kate’s breakup in that episode’s flash forward was fascinating. This episode also provided another glimpse at Matthew Fox’s superb acting skills.

There were three episodes – out of fourteen – that I found troubling. One was (4.06) “The Other Woman”, a Juliet-centric episode. In this, we learned that Juliet had an affair with Goodwin – the Other who had been killed by Ana-Lucia Cortez in Season Two. We also learned that Goodwin had been married. The episode also revealed that Ben harbored an obsession of Juliet. And it also featured a knock-out, dragged out fight between Juliet and one of the Freighter passengers – Charlotte. But this is an episode that belonged to Season Three. Even worse, there was no real follow-up over Daniel and Charlotte’s presence at the Tempest Station and their actions with the gas. Frankly, I found the ending to be rather vague. Still . . . it provided another outstanding performance by Elizabeth Mitchell as Juliet.

The second episode I had trouble with was the season’s last one – ”There’s No Place Like Home” (Part III)”. Since I have said all that I could about that episode and its predecessor, I might as well focus on what I consider to be THE WORST episode of Season Four – the Kate-centric ”Eggtown”. In this episode, Kate joins Locke’s group at the abandoned Otherville quarters, so she could find out if the quartet from the Kahana and the outside world knew about her status as a fugitive. The episode’s flash forwards revealed her trial, how she avoided jail time and ended up serving ten years’ probation. It also revealed that she became the guardian of Claire’s son, Aaron. Frankly, that last reveal proved to be the only interesting thing about this episode. Everything else struck me as a joke. One that left a bad taste in my mouth. And although I had praised Evangeline Lily’s performance in the finale, ”Eggtown” proved that on the whole, she has remained, at best, a mediocre actress during the show’s four seasons. The biggest travesty proved to be the trial, in which the defense called its witness – namely a lying Jack – first; the prosecution’s only witness was allowed to see the defendant in private; and because of this, the prosecution gave Kate a plea deal, because the witness (Kate’s mom) refused to testify against . . . conveniently forgetting the former castaway’s other crimes. One that includes attempted bank robbery. And what really annoyed me about ”Eggtown” is that it served as the beginning of a series of contrived events that led to Kate’s possession of Aaron. For me, Kate’s story arc proved to be the season’s biggest weakness.

Watching the finale made me realize something about ”LOST” that has made me reluctant to dub it as one of the finest shows in television history. Even some of the best shows I have seen – ”BABYLON FIVE” and ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” had its share of weak episodes or storylines that were dumped at the wayside. But those two shows and a few others have been consistently top-notch. I wish I could say the same about ”LOST”, but I cannot. I will admit that it is one of the most original television series I have ever watched. But that originality has been sabotaged every now and then by contrived writing and some pretty bad characterization. This has especially been obvious to me during the last half of Season Two – including the badly written (2.20) “Two For the Road”. Like ”Eggtown”, it was partially saved by a surprise ending. At least two-thirds of Season Three had left a bad taste in my mouth, including the contrived departure of Mr. Eko in (3.05) “The Cost of Living” and the atrocious ( 3.06) “I Do” and (3.09) “Stranger in a Strange Land”.

Aside from Season One, the series’ quality for each season always seemed to flip-flop. This show has yet to maintain a consistently top-notch season since the first one.