Friday, January 29, 2010

J.D. SALINGER 1919-2010. The reclusive author wrote one of my favourite books. And no, it's not THE CATCHER IN THE RYE (which happens to be my least favourite Salinger book). One of my favourite books, one which I haven't read in many moons and now I should reallyr revisit is FRANNY AND ZOOEY. There's just something about it that sticks with me through the years -- from the minute I read it. And promptly reread it. Salinger's three books (FRANNY & ZOOEY, RAISE HIGH THE ROOF BEAMS, CARPENTERS & SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION and NINE STORIES) all contain (to some degree) one family -- the Glass Family. The children had a tendency to be child geniuses. In fact, one of the reasons I probably love the film THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS so much is that is reminds me quite a lot of J.D. Salinger's writing. Strangely, CATCHER IN THE RYE is actually something of an aberration in the author's work since it stands alone among his books as totally unrelated to the others. For what it's worth, I do prefer the others. CATCHER was an OK book but, for all it's fame and notoriety, to me it remains a rather forgettable novel whereas FRANNY & ZOOEY still remains vivid in my memory even though I haven't read it in literally decades. But I'm think I shall dig out my copy once again. And in honour of the passing of the author, I shall read it while soaking in a bathtub -- a damp washcloth over my head to ward off the brimstone.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

AS WE ARE ABOUT TO EMBARK UPON THE FINAL SEASON OF LOST, I wouldn't be surprising a great many people by making the statement that LOST is very likely the greatest television drama ever made. This is no idle claim. Sure there have been classic TV dramas out the wahzoo but I really don't think they can hit all the bullseyes that LOST has in 5 seasons. THE TWILIGHT ZONE, for instance, is a stone classic; however, it is an anthology program which features episodes which vary dramatically in quality. OK, let's keep it in the "science fiction" vein for the moment and consider STAR TREK; certainly a classic but also containing wildly varying amounts of quality (remember the "Kirk turns into a woman" episode?!?) and also one that was abruptly cancelled and was prevented from providing a complete story arc. This is probably the most remarkable thing about LOST. Before the first scene of the pilot episode was shot, the creators of LOST had the entire story arc fixed and determined and there was a definite goal in sight. Always meant to be a "limited" series, LOST is in fact more Dickensian than Roddenberrian (to corn a phrase). Charles Dickens famously serialized many of his novels a chapter at a time in periodicals which the reading public devoured. Chuck knew where he was going too and GREAT EXPECTATIONS was never going to be an endlessly continuing series but a finite storyline. LOST shares this in common with Dickensian fiction: it is a TV series with a definite beginning and an end and the entire show has been working towards this final season. This is perhaps one of the major accomplishments of the series: the acknowledged successful return of true serialized fiction to television. Unlike 99% of TV dramas which start with a good premise and then expand upon it season after season meandering without an end point in sight, LOST is more novel-like in its use of serialized fiction in pursuit of a definite end.
At the risk of belabouring a point, another commonality between Dickens and LOST is the vast VAST array of incredibly complex characters populating the series. Practically every character on LOST, however small, is incredibly well-drawn with complex and sometimes contradictory sides providing internal battles which make for compelling viewing. This brings me to the flip side of the storytelling: the characterizations are equally as solid as the plot. This is no small feat because usually one or the other takes precedence: an incredibly intricate and entertaining plot featuring rather cardboard characters or an intensely detailed character study in which not much happens. Here on LOST we have the best of both worlds: an endlessly fascinating storyline populated by a host of character we care deeply about. The amount of emotionally wrenching moments are balanced by the amount of intellectually electrifying plot-twists and revelations. I honestly can't think of another TV drama which has ever managed to combine both aspects so monumentally well while still maintaining a series which has a definite final goal in sight. It's truly that impressive.
LOST is also extremely rewarding when watched and re-watched and re-re-watched. It never grows tired no matter how many times one watches the entire series. And trust me, I've rewatched everything up to now quite a few times. LOST always rewards continual revisits. An incident occurring in season 1 or 2 might go completely unnoticed until sometime in season 5 when it suddenly becomes significant. This is another of the strengths provided by a complete story arc which was worked out before the first episode went on the air. The tapestry of LOST in richly interwoven (even moreso than the one Jacob was weaving in his sanctum sanctorum) with a seemingly unending cache of riches. And this is another plus of the show. LOST takes the audience seriously and never talks down to it. LOST has a respect for its audience which, in this day and age of MTV editing and 5 second soundbites (apparently 15 second soundbites are too long, now), may be a little too optimistic but for which I am very grateful. If you feed the public pap, they will come to subsist on nothing else. Perhaps this tactic inevitably leads to the absolutely idiotic contention that LOST is somehow "confusing" or "too hard to understand". Nothing could be further from the truth. Each and every thing that happens in the show is perfectly intelligible and will always be fully explained -- sometimes you might have to wait a couple years, it's true, but do you really want ALL your mysteries served up to you on a paper plate?!? And since, from the moment I first became aware of LOST I was also aware that this was a finite series which would come to a complete conclusion, I have always been completely trusting of the writers. And that trust has never once been let down.
And so we come to the eve of the final season. Since every one of the 5 seasons so far has never varied in quality, I find myself immensely confident that LOST will arrive at a satisfactory conclusion; one in which all our questions will be answered and our emotional need for closure will be met. I am not one of those people who is sad at the series coming to an end. I in fact can't wait to have a complete LOST saga under my belt because the first thing I'm going to do when the last episode airs is watch the entire series all over again. For LOST is indeed an epic in the truest sense of that much overused and weathered word and, I believe, will lend itself to repeated viewings for the rest of my life. On a purely personal note, this final season itself will hold extra significance for me. I will be watching it for two because my dear friend Peg is no longer here to watch it with me. I was responsible for getting her into LOST and we had a ritual each winter, as the new season DVD was released. I would bring it over to her house and we would watch it together and prepare for the new season airing a month or so later. As a matter of fact, when my pre-ordered Season 5 DVD of LOST arrived in the mail this past December, I unwrapped the box set and found myself crying unexpectedly because, for the first time, I would not be bringing it over to Peg's for us to watch together. I had to watch it by myself. Peg didn't live to see the conclusion to the series so, as the final season begins on February 2, I will be watching for the both of us.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ha ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
What the hell was that shit?!?!!!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

AT LONG, LONG LAST! As a public service and to make all of our lives complete, I am hereby finally posting the epoch-making, the earth-shattering, the religous experience that is Philadelphia Flyers' Dave Schultz's mid-70's anthem THE PENALTY BOX!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

LETTING GO OF GOD is Julia Sweeney's one woman show which illustrates her "journey towards atheism" as someone once categorized the film. I haven't been a fan of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE since the original "Not Ready For Prime Time Players" left the show so I certainly wasn't a fan of Sweeney's "It's Pat" character (and it turns out, neither was she). However, I have been a great fan of her other one woman show "GOD SAID HA!" since the 90's: a dialogue relating her brother's battle with cancer and her own discovery that she had cancer too. Her brother died, she didn't. So regardless of the subject, I was already predisposed to be interested in any new one-woman-show Sweeney chose to undertake.


LETTING GO OF GOD is a refreshingly unrushed, funny and (most importantly) non-smug description of a few years in Sweeney's life during which she yearned to reconnect with her faith (she had been raised Roman Catholic) and went on a rather epic spiritual journey which ultimately culminated in her startling self-realization that she no longer believed there was a God. Through bible study classes and encounters with other Christian churches, a Buddhist pilgrimage and a new age drive-by from Deepak Choprah, Julia Sweeney's descriptions are always heart-felt, clear-eyed and follow a natural, unforced path which never seems predetermined until she finally reaches her destination. Perhaps the best thing about the one-woman-show, I think, is the aforementioned lack of smugness. No matter what your religious beliefs (or non-), and no matter what your sympathies towards atheistic beliefs (and I have some), atheists who gain a public forum tend to have an overbearing smugness (such as Bill Maher, for instance) that is off-putting; even if you're genuinely interested in what they have to say and they're making good points. Julia Sweeney never does that. In fact, her ultimate realization that she might well be an atheist is really a matter of her own personal journey (as these things SHOULD be) and she never pointedly puts down other people who happen to still believe. Instead, she opens a window on her own innermost struggles with faith and disbelief for two hours, lets us in on her final outcome and leaves us with a pretty clear picture of her openness, her intellect and her compassion for others. After all, if we all did a lot more of that and a little less beating each other over the heads with our own personal ideologies, wouldn't this be a much better world? Whatever personal beliefs each of us holds, it should be able to stand up to a little self-examination from a former SNL comedian. If that's all it takes to threaten one's faith then it surely must be a puny thing in the first place. As C.S. Lewis demonstrated in his own Christianity, he was not afraid to put it constantly to the test of critical and thoughtful examination. He emerged every time with an intact belief in Christianity. Julia Sweeney, through a similar process, emerged with a different belief system. That's what makes us all individual and . . . well, really interesting. We all, in the end, have to make up our own minds.
Julia Sweeney, at no time, comes across like she's trying to recruit for atheism. Instead, she comes across an an extremely entertaining raconteur who is interesting to listen to for a couple hours. It's the human quality and the personal search each and every one of us is on that makes LETTING GO OF GOD such a funny and uplifting experience. While some atheists use a sledgehammer and basically call anyone who believes in God an idiot, Julia Sweeney's approach is gentle and human; and her conclusions ultimately only apply to herself.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

I'M SORRY I DON'T MEAN TO SOUND PREDICTABLE BUT DOES ANYBODY IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE (LET ALONE ANYBODY IN SECTOR 2814) THINK THAT RYAN REYNOLDS IS A GOOD CHOICE TO PLAY GREEN LANTERN?!?!?!?! I mean, just because he has brown hair and the correct body type does not mean his personality or screen presence comes anywhere close to Hal Jordan. I would say, in fact, that he is about as far from Hal Jordan as it's possible to get. Tom Cruise as Lestat wasn't even this far a stretch. Next they'll be casting Nicolas Coppola as Ghost Rider or something.
Of course, no one would be happier than myself to be proven wrong and having GREEN LANTERN become an actually great movie.
But sorry, I just don't see it.