Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lost: The New Man in Charge

The New Man in Charge

Well, hallelujah and slap me sideways. It must be a good day if I get to recap and review Lost one more time! I just got the DVD of Season Six, and it includes a nice little tidbit: a short film entitled “The New Man in Charge” that acts as a sort of coda to the show. It’s only about twelve minutes long, but they’re pretty awesome minutes. No, it’s not terribly helpful in terms of answering any of the questions that the show left us with. But for a Lost fanboy, it’s one more morsel to happily devour and digest.

“New Man” was apparently cobbled together from scenes that were intended to be in the finale, but dropped because they took up too much time and didn’t fit into the narrative flow of things. It takes place off the Island and focuses on Ben, running errands for the titular new man in charge, who is, of course, Hurley. Ben’s first stop is a massive warehouse in Guam where two rubes -- a somewhat twiggy one and a somewhat hairy one -- have been dutifully loading Dharma-brand food onto pallets for twenty years, without knowing or caring where it goes. Helloooooo, mythology! Now, of all the unsolved mysteries in this show, I was perhaps most annoyed by the Season Two pallet drop, which was never mentioned again after it happened. Where’d that huge mound of people chow come from? If it was dropped from an aircraft, how come nobody saw or heard said craft? Well, now we know part of where it came from, and I guess that’ll have to do. We still don’t know HOW the pallet drops occur, but I’m guessing that zapping Dharma grub to the Island is similar to zapping people and polar bears into the Tunisian desert. Mysterious metaphysical forces and all that. Oh, those naughty metaphysical forces!

So, Ben arrived and promptly sacked the bewildered Dharma workers, who were clearly pretty dim. It takes a distinct lack of brain power to work a drudge of a job for twenty freakin’ years, apparently never leaving the warehouse, and not wonder why. But Dharma clearly loves the dimwits and their lack of questions. I loved that Ben is still as shifty and cryptic as ever, even now that he’s a good guy. As is his wont, he dangled vague information like carrots for the poor pallet-pushers to grab at, then showed them the Hydra Station orientation video. Or should I say, showed us the video, as it was clearly paying lip service to the fans. Sadly, the video told us little we didn’t already know. Yes, they were tinkering with the genes of live polar bears. Now can you please stop asking about them??!! Nice touches, though. I liked Pierre Chang’s reference to using aliases, and loved the cameo from the infamous Hurley Bird, hidden inside a cage (and revealed by Chang to be some kind of hybrid species. Nerdgasm!). Also, it was intriguing to learn that Room 23 with its trippy video was used on captive Others whose memories were then wiped. Wow, good thing Alpert and the Widmore siblings never found out about that, or the Purge would’ve happened waaaaaayyyyyyy sooner.

By the way, hats off to actor François Chau for playing Pierre Chang with such wit and gusto over the course of the show! Yeah, I know, the character was never all that complex, but Chau gave such a wonderfully deadpan, tongue-in-cheek performance that made all the orientation vids as entertaining as they were mysterious. Bravo!

So, with that loose end more or less tied up, Ben moved on to the good old Santa Rosa clinic, there to meet with another legendary Lost entity. Let’s all say it together, one more time:


I totally called it in advance, and was so damn happy to see I was right. Poor haunted, psychic Walt, unable to be happy or normal in a post-Island life. His appearance underlined the strange power the Island has over the people it deems important. Walt was suspicious of Ben, of course (it’s hard to be buddies with sketchy weasel-men who do experiments on you in rusty old labs), but so deep was his longing that he accepted Ben’s invitation. Now, we kinda have to suspend disbelief here. How likely is it that a random man can walk into a mental health clinic and be admitted to see an underage patient he’s not related to, and then just up and LEAVE with him? I mean, doesn’t Walt have a legal guardian? Well, maybe Hurley did some Island magic from the back of Ben’s van, where he was waiting to welcome Walt...and offer him a job. Hell, yeah! It’s so appropriate that Walt becomes part of the New Island Order. What could his job title be? Astral Projection Coordinator? Bird Control Officer? Official Dead Person Liaison? Whatever he does, it will be where he belongs.

I loved how Hurley was dressed all in black. Rather different from Jacob, no? Lest we forget, Jacob’s ill-fated brother was always meant to be in charge. If this little epilogue told us anything, it was that things are balanced now, on track. Not perfect, but then, the world ain’t. And neither is Lost. But it’s still damn good, and it’s still damn wonderful to see one last hurrah from these characters. Personally, I feel quite confident knowing that the new man in charge is so laid-back about things, and that he has such interesting sidekicks!


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Top 10 Movie Monsters

This particular list doesn’t need much of an introduction, except to say that I love monsters. If I had TV, I’d probably spend way too much time watching certain movies on the Sci-Fi (uh, sorry...SyFy) channel, in which somebody like Casper van Dien goes mano a mano with giant crayfish. I like the classic, plus-size critters. I like werewolves and mummies and demons and such, though I’m kinda sick of vampires and zombies. I’m not sure why these Things That Go Bump in the Night hold such appeal, but monsters have been prowling through the human imagination since we wore mammoth-fur undies, and they’re fun. Especially when conjured up by a special effects crew. Here are my favorite beasties ever to grace the big screen!

(Okay, one’s a TV monster. So sue me.)

The Beast of Gévaudan (Brotherhood of the Wolf)
Some of the best monsters are based on half-truth and local legend. Such is the case with the Beast of Gévaudan, the bizarre and tragic predator at the heart of one of my favorite films, Brotherhood of the Wolf. Based on a real-life series of killings that took place in rural France during the 17th century, this monster is one of the most unique creatures I’ve ever seen on film, which earns it tons of points. For much of the movie, it remains unseen, suggested. When we do see it, it elicits a “Whoa!” A hulking quadruped bound in leather and daggers, razor-sharp and vicious and enraged....yet strangely pitiable. This monster was made by man, you see, and serves as a hapless tool for human evil. There’s more to the Beast’s story that I won’t give away (Brotherhood of the Wolf is an absolutely nutso movie, bless its heart), but its death scene is really good. Kind of beautiful, really, with a neat revelation thrown in. Watch it and see! There’s nothing else quite like the Beast of Gévaudan out there.

Demon Boars (Princess Mononoke)
I dunno if these monsters have some basis in Japanese legend or if they sprang purely from the boundless imagination of Hayao Miyazaki, but they’re scary as hell and they rock. Using the power of classic animation, Miyazaki creates a truly nightmarish foe for the besieged humans in Princess Mononoke: giant boars, once noble gods of the forest, now warped and infected. Their flesh transforms into a new form of unholy life, a skin of writhing tendrils than can attack, infect, and absorb, leaving blight in its wake. Cursing all they touch, the demon boars are the opposite of growth and nature, so vile and unnatural that the feuding humans must put aside their differences to defeat this distilled embodiment of evil. These monsters aren’t only scary and unique, but so much is invested in their defeat. Godzilla must be toppled to save Tokyo, but if the demon boars are allowed to run wild, the balance of nature itself will be thrown off kilter, and the consequences could be too devastating to imagine. The scariest monsters are good things turned foul.

Elemental (Hellboy II: The Golden Army)
The Hellboy movies are bursting with cool monsters; Guillermo del Toro has a major fetish for them, and we love him for it. I think my favorite is the Elemental, a pissed-off forest deity that sprouts from a magic bean inside a clockwork egg (isn’t that freaking cool?!) to wreak havoc on the city streets in the faerie-centric second film. This beastie is like the world’s most terrifying chia pet, covered in leaves and tendrils with a head that opens like a flower; it’s beautiful and terrible, and gives Hellboy ample opportunities to be a badass while battling it. Ah, but behind the smackdown is sadness, for the Elemental is the last of its kind, and its extinction is inevitable in the midst of the cold, harsh urban hellscape. Here’s another really poignant monster who gets a really good death scene, which I won’t spoil, except to say that it’s lovely and poetic. Yes, monsters can sometimes be poetic, and they’re sad more often than you’d think. The Elemental fits perfectly in with the themes of alienation and loneliness that form the backbone of the Hellboy adventures, while still being one awesome, car-flinging, concrete-crushing behemoth.

The Han River Monster (The Host)
How does a monster flick get rave reviews from highbrow critics? By redefining monster-hood! The slithery, acrobatic critter that somersaults through this Korean horror/comedy like a hellish Cirque du Soleil performer is everything you don’t except a movie monster to be, and boy is it refreshing! Movie monsters are huge; this one is no bigger than a rhino. Movie monsters lurk in the shadows; this one prances about in broad daylight, charging through crowds of screaming picnickers like it’s having the time of its froggy life. And, in a delightfully pointed twist, this (relatively) pint-sized pest throws Korea into a panic and leads to lockdowns, quarantines, paranoia, and human rights violations that make the humans into the real monsters. The Han River Monster is quite the metaphor for the straw that breaks society’s back, and a sobering sign of our times. But it’s also gross, freaky, and funny. Funnier than you’d think, especially when it’s treating a bridge like its own personal Gold’s Gym. Rarely has toxic waste produced a more interesting specimen.

Judas Breed (Mimic)
Entry number two from Guillermo del Toro, because no monster list is complete without giant bugs. And these are no ordinary giant bug. The Judas Breed is a hybrid insect intended to infiltrate and kill cockroach populations, in order to stop a roach-spread epidemic. Created with good intentions, the “sterile” bugs evolve like crazy, growing to human size and...human shape. We become their prey and they learn to mimic us by folding their wings and standing on their asses, and if that sounds goofy, it’s actually fucking horrifying. That tall, shadowy “person” in the subway tunnel? It’s a bug, and it’s about to eat your face. When an autistic kid starts talking to the bugs by mimicking their own clicking sounds, it’s like a psychotic symbiosis that blurs the line between man and monster. Meanwhile, the bugs are spreading out, their population growing. Soon we really will be prey. Out of all the cautionary parables about playing God, this one makes my skin crawl more than most. Because we have met the enemy and he is us...just with wings, mandibles, and extra limbs.

Mbwun (The Relic)
This one’s kinda goofy, but belongs on this list for the sheer nostalgia factor. The Relic was the first true, bloody, rip-roaring monster flick I saw, at the tender age of thirteen (my parents were a tad film-prudish). What could be better to an adolescent than watching a big, hulking reptile/bear/kangaroo/beetle rip people’s heads off to feast on their brains? NOTHING. I couldn’t care less about the bad ’90s special effects or the silly premise that the thing was some sort of hyper-evolving mutant brought about by a type of fungus, or a South American curse, or something. What mattered was that hapless extras were running around the Chicago Museum of Natural History like corn dogs with legs, tasty SWAT team guys were rappelling through the skylights, and the monster was having a gory ball. Mbwun (also known as Kothoga) wins bonus points for originally hailing from a cool horror/thriller novel (Relic, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child), and being done great justice in the cinematic version for once! I guess you could say this monster ate my brain too, ’cause I’ve been into film monsters ever since.

Scottish Werewolves (Dog Soldiers)
I can’t quite overstate how much I love werewolves. I’d even consider watching Twilight just for the werewolf scenes. Sadly, movie werewolves tend to be generic hairy lumps that look like neither wolves nor men. Not so in Dog Soldiers! Leave it to an indie Euro flick with a teeny-weeny budget to produce the gnarliest, most badass furry lycanthropes I’ve seen onscreen. These werewolves are literally just muscular guys with fancy wolf masks on, but damn if they don’t look like the real deal, and when they besiege a squad of equally macho soldiers deep within the Scottish woodland, all kinds of red plasma and beastly hijinks go down. It’s not just that they look legit, it’s that they’re actually scary and intense as they prowl through the trees and break down doors. These critters aren’t mindless animals; they’re people under an unspeakable curse who will do anything to satisfy their bloodlust. That makes them formidable foes indeed. Also, kinda sexy. But don’t tell them I said that, because werewolf rape isn’t as fun as the furries want you to believe.

Smoke Monster (Lost)
So, it’s bad enough being stranded on a desert island with a lot of whiny, dysfunctional hotties. There’s also something large and unseen crashing through the trees, making sounds like a New York taxicab, and occasionally turning some hapless victim into person jerky. It looks like a black, sentient mass of smoke, lives in old Egyptian temples, and can peer into your soul to determine if you are a good person. Oh, Lost, why do I love you so much? Maybe because you gave us (among many other things) a very distinct and intriguing monster with which to torment your whiny hotties. For most of the show’s run, the Smoke Monster remained a thing of mystery, a shape-shifting antagonist that could be onscreen at any time, when you least expected it. Is that really your dead brother, or is Smokey about to bash you to death? Who can say? Late in the series, the Monster got an identity and backstory, but everyone liked it better when it was that faceless, formless nightmare beyond the torchlight, implacable and inscrutable. The Unknown we all fear. Jaws would be proud.

The Thing
I’m usually more scared by ghosts and psycho killers than monsters, but The Thing terrified the everlasting fuck out of me and kept me up at night. It’s not that the premise is plausible -- shape-shifting alien lifeform in an Antarctic base, riiiight -- it’s that John Carpenter uses every trick of suspense and anticipation to milk his monster for all it’s worth. Because the Thing can be anyone, the characters and the viewers are sent into a maelstrom of paranoia, waiting for the next gooey, icky, fucked-up manifestation. The severed head with legs. The flesh like melting wax. And the dog...Jesus, that fucking dog! The big, quiet husky that the alien initially impersonates is seriously the scariest dog I’ve ever seen, especially when accompanied by Ennio Morricone’s flesh-crawling double bass chord on the soundtrack. When the dog turns into a snarling, greasy mound of meat and starts murdering the other dogs with barbed-wire tentacles, I may have whimpered and clutched someone. Maybe. The Thing is everything scary, wrong, and unnatural rolled into one horribly adaptable package, and the terror continues up to the very end, when the last two survivors ponder if they’re both still human -- and whether freezing to death might be the preferable option. The Thing put me through the wringer and invaded my fucking dreams. THAT is what I call a horror movie monster.

Xenomorphs (Alien series)
You may have noticed that my favorite monsters tend to be liminal in nature, things that change shape or have no obvious shape at all. So is it really a surprise that I love the ultimate adaptable movie monster, the Xenomorph? These predatory extraterrestrials are so hardcore that geekdom and moviedom alike can’t get enough of them. Are they reptilian? Insectoid? Or just a deadly mass of teeth, acid, and muscle driven by pure hunger? You decide. But over the course of six films, not to mention countless comics, video games, and trashy novels, they have racked up an unbeatable human body count and cemented their place on the altar of monstrosity. Whether it’s one alien duking it out with an undie-clad Sigourney Weaver, a hive of aliens chewing up space marines, or an army of aliens going tooth-to-mandible with the equally hardcore Predators, you just know that the shit is going to hit the fan. Lest we forget, the Xenomorphs procreate by literally raping your face. And then popping out of your ribcage like a hideous second phallus. Maybe they’re a twisted sexual metaphor, maybe not, but what matters is that Xenomorphs freak us out, gross us out, and make us squirm in the best of ways. And yet....when it’s them vs. dumb humans with guns, I root for the aliens! Everyone does! A good movie monster knows how to entertain, and these greasy, gristly guys just love the spotlight. And we love them for it. Hats off to the king...or should I say, the Queen.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Box

So, a husband and wife are given a box by a stranger. On the box is a button. They are told that if they press the button, they will receive a large sum of money, and someone they don’t know will die. After much skepticism, debate, and nervous pontification, they agree not to push the button.....but the next day, the wife pushes it anyway. Moments later, she receives a call informing her that her husband has died in a tragic workplace accident and she is being offered a widow’s comp identical to the amount promised by the stranger. Anguished, she calls him up and accuses him of lying. He tells her: “How well did you really know your husband?”

It’s like a weird joke with a ghoulish punchline, and it’s the plot of Richard Matheson’s short story, “Button, Button.” Good story. But I’m here to talk about The Box, Richard Kelly’s film adaptation of said story, which starts out the same but then takes a gleeful sideways serve into utter weirdness. Lest we forget, Richard Kelly made Donnie Darko, a film in which a giant demon bunny tells Jake Gyllenhaal to travel back in time and cause his own death, or something like that; a film that sits upon its own golden throne in Dante’s ninth sphere of Cult Movie Paradise. Richard Kelly makes weird, open-ended movies that force you to think, which means they have unforgiving niche appeal. I really liked Donnie Darko and I really like The Box, which got generally bad reviews and was scoffed at for being utterly preposterous. Well, of course it sodding is, people. But at the risk of sounding like a film-student douchebag (I’m not, by the way; my BA is in anthropology), I think y’all are just scared of a film you can’t explain.

Make that a film with multiple explanations and some sobering insights into human nature. The Box heavily references Sartre, who famously wrote that Hell is other people. By golly, he may have been on to something! The victimized couple are played by Cameron Diaz and James Marsden, two very attractive actors who are really good at playing nice. Boy, are they nice. You want to be their neighbors and get invited over for Thanksgiving. And since the film is set in the 1970s, our protagonists come equipped with awesome retro wardrobes, hair, and interior decorating that renders them sitcom-perfect -- except for her mutilated foot, and the fact that he’s a NASA employee who designed the camera for the Viking spacecraft. How intriguing. Into this sort-of-pristine household comes Arlington Steward, a charming and sinister man with grotesque burn scars, played by Frank Langella, who must be engaged in some sort of “charming and sinister” contest with Ben Kingsley. Steward gives the nice couple a box with a button, tells them that if they push it, they’ll get money and someone dies and blah blah. They debate, they’re skeptical, then the wife pushes the button, blah blah mcblah. Then they start getting stalked by zombie-people and uncover elements of a vast conspiracy involving NASA and the NSA and mind control and floating boxes made of water and BBBWWWWWUUUHHH?

I’d better not get into the plot because it contains many trippy surprises and is impossible to briefly summarize anyway. It has a great deal of ambiguity, which may explain the movie’s poor reception. When you sit down to watch a mind-bending thriller, the last thing you want is to be told, “Eh, figure it out for yourself.” The thing is, The Box doesn’t really withhold information. It gives us what we need to know. It just refuses to draw definite conclusions. There are two possible explanations for all the weird shit that goes down. The movie characters, being people of science and rationality, automatically go with the option that makes the most sense to them. But I wonder. Yes, it’s Faith vs. Reason, that ancient debate that fuels so many sci-fi plots these days, including Lost and the Matrix movies, both of which arguably fell victim to the “Figure it out for yourself” virus I mentioned. I was also reminded of The Taking, a sci-fi/horror/thriller novel by Dean Koontz (don’t laugh; he doesn’t always suck), which seems to be about an alien invasion but may actually be about....well, call it the alternative to an alien invasion. I am carefully circling the revelations that The Box has in store, because anyone who hasn’t seen the movie should have the chance to draw their own conclusions. It’s...more fulfilling that way.

So, it’s a well-made movie that, I feel, rises above its preposterousness. But besides that, I’m fascinated by the moral dilemma presented to the viewer, the one Matheson originally gave us in his story. I mean, what would you do if you could push a button and kill a stranger for money? How badly do you need that money? What exactly defines a “stranger”? If you never know who you just killed, how can you know whether to feel guilty, satisfied, paranoid, or anything? The original story implies that we build walls around ourselves, effectively rendering us a stranger to all, including perhaps ourselves. The movie isn’t quite that pessimistic, but it does carry a message about the responsibilites that come with free will. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should, especially when talking about the human race as a whole. But the “human race” is a faceless, generic entity to most people. Even good human beings have an inherent selfishness, a personal bubble to which they assign greater importance than all those strangers out there. It takes real courage to think and act.....outside the box.

You’d push that button, wouldn’t you. I think I would.

I almost wish that Kelly’s Box was more about the ethical struggle and less about sci-fi conspiracies and trippy special effects. Not that I didn’t enjoy the conspiracies and special effects; I totally dig that kind of stuff. But if the movie had devoted more time to the unspoken ramifications, the ethical paradox of the box and its deadly promise, then maybe it would have gotten better reviews, at the very least. It’s not quite ballsy enough to really explore its own themes. But, hey, just touching upon such profound brouhaha is better than nothing. I think if just one viewer is inspired to be a better person by the tale of the box, then that proves this movie has more merit than people seem willing to give it.

Or maybe I’m just talking out of my ass. I do that a lot. What I’m saying is, you should watch this movie. Watch it for the sci-fi, watch it for the groovy ’70s fashions, watch it for James Marsden’s gorgeous cheekbones, watch it because you’re a Hot Topic Goth who masturbates to Donnie Darko every Wednesday night. Watch it for whatever reason you see fit. And then, even if you hated the movie....just think about it a little. Just think about it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dahl Goes Hollywood

Roald Dahl is awesome. Can we all agree on this? No matter what he may have been like as a person, one cannot argue with the fact that A) he was a badass pilot and spy during WWII, and B) he wrote wonderfully grotesque children’s books that were free of cloying, sentimental bullshit. Roald Dahl knew that kids are smart enough to enjoy a story with dark themes, loathsome villains, and just desserts. Hollywood, on the other hand, has difficulty grasping this concept, and so the film adaptations of Dahl’s books are a mixed bag. Let’s take a look!

By the way, this idea came from a magazine I read once as a kid...Muse, I believe it was called. Credit where it’s due!

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Plot of the Book:

Charlie Bucket is desperately poor and lives with his parents and grandparents in a tiny shack. Nearby is a huge chocolate factory, owned by the eccentric and reclusive Willy Wonka, whom no one has seen in years. When Wonka announces that he’s hidden five Golden Tickets inside chocolate bars, and that the recipients of these tickets will win a tour of his factory, there’s a worldwide rush to find them. The first four are claimed by bratty little shitheads; Charlie finds the fifth. Together with his Grandpa Joe, he enters the factory and meets Wonka. The inside of the factory is a limitless place filled with wonders and staffed by a society of jungle pygmies called Oompa-Loompas. During the tour, the other four kids meet amusing and appropriate fates: fat Augustus Gloop falls in a chocolate river and is sucked up a pipe, gum-addicted Violet Beauregard turns into a giant blueberry, spoiled Veruca Salt is tossed down a garbage chute by squirrels, and entertainment junkie Mike Teavee is shrunk in a teleporter. Charlie then learns that, as the one non-awful child, he gets to inherit the factory from Willy Wonka. No more abject poverty!
What the Movie Does:
Well, for starters, the action is moved to America (this happens a lot). Charlie’s father is dead in the film, apparently to generate more pathos. Gene Wilder memorably portrays Wonka as a quiet psychopath as opposed to the hyper, jolly little guy he is in the book. The four brats are about the same, though Veruca Salt’s squirrels are replaced by geese (easier to render with ’70s special effects), and we never see the kids emerge from the factory at the end, so I guess they all died?
A couple “dynamic” plot twists are stuck in: the fifth Golden Ticket is allegedly found by someone else, then turns out to be a hoax. Also, all five kids are approached by Wonka’s rival, Slugworth, who asks them to steal one of Wonka’s new everlasting gobstoppers. At the end, Wonka angrily dismisses Charlie at first (because he and Grandpa Joe drank Fizzy Lifting Drinks without permission earlier), but changes his mind when Charlie returns the gobstopper. Turns out “Slugworth” is working for Wonka and it was all a big test of character.
Oh, and the movie’s a musical. Yep. Plenty of lame songs are inserted, the most infamous of which is the Oompa-Loompa Song, performed by midgets with orange skin and green hair. True, they also sing in the book, but it’s not nearly as insipid. I’m guessing that the song is stuck in your head now that I’ve mentioned it. You’re welcome!
Is It Any Good?
Yeah, I suppose. I mean, it’s become a cult classic. It’s incredibly campy and often slips into cheese-and-syrup territory, which Roald Dahl would not have approved of. Apart from Gene Wilder’s bug-eyed performance, the movie’s missing a lot of the menace that’s prevalent in Dahl’s books; I find it a tad too cute, colorful, and non-threatening. Still, it has its charms and is a good product of its era, for better or for worse. But, seriously, what is UP with that fucking creepy tunnel scene?

The Witches (1990)
Plot of the Book:

A young British boy (whose name we never learn) narrates. After his parents are killed in a crash, he goes to live with his awesome Norwegian grandmother, who teaches him about witches. A real witch, it turns out, is a loathsome creature who disguises herself as a lady in order to kill children. When the boy and his grandmother vacation at a seaside resort, he accidentally eavesdrops on a meeting of all the witches in England, led by the dreaded Grand High Witch. She outlines a plan to snuff all the kids in England by turning them into mice with a magic potion. Our hero is discovered by the witches and turned into a mouse, along with a fat brat named Bruno Jenkins. They escape, and then the boy-turned-mouse and his grandmother plot to steal the potion and sneak it into the witches’ food, turning them into mice as well. The plan works, and all the witches are presumably killed by hotel staff. The narrator is stuck as a mouse, but as the book ends, he and his grandmother are excitedly planning to infiltrate the Grand High Witch’s castle, make more mouse-juice, and get rid of all the witches in the world. Sorry, there’s no sequel.
What the Movie Does:
The movie does some really weird shit. The hero is turned American and given a name (Luke), which makes sense in a cinematic context. The plot’s about the same, with minor changes and a lot of odd editing to hide how bad most of the special effects are. The Grand High Witch is played by Anjelica Huston (an odd choice, since in the book, she’s very tiny), and the Jim Henson folks provide witchy make-up and freaky human/mouse puppets.
Back to the editing. It’s....weird. Off somehow, like a bunch of stuff got left on the cutting room floor. There is, for instance, a bizarre sequence where Luke gets chased around the hotel by witches, and then saves a baby in a carriage after the Grand High Witch tries to push it off a cliff, which makes NO sense as witches are supposedly really careful not to give themselves away. Also, wouldn’t the hotel guests wonder why a kid was being chased by a bunch of women? Just saying. This and other scenes often end abruptly or with an awkward transition. It’s weird.
And then there’s the ending. Don’t fucking get me started on how lame, saccharine, and condescending it is. In the book, the two boys are stuck as mice forever (it’s even implied that Bruno is done in by his unloving parents), and the protagonist realizes he won’t live very long -- but that’s okay with him and his grandmother, because neither wants to outlive the other. They agree to die together. It’s very sad and touching.....and way too downbeat for Hollywood. So in the movie, one of the witches survives, TURNS GOOD (after it’s been established that witches are evil by nature), and changes Luke and Bruno back into boys. I’m usually too busy puking to watch the end credits.
Is It Any Good?
Nope. It has some nice squirmy moments, but for the most part it’s ruined by lousy effects and choppy editing. They got the grotesqueries in there, more or less, but that doesn’t help if the story is dumbed down, which it seriously is. And I despise the ending...did I mention that? I hate it when Hollywood insists on tacking an awkward happy ending onto a story that works much better without it. Dahl was brave to avoid a textbook Happily Ever After, but some studio head was too moronic to honor his decision. Fail.

James and the Giant Peach (1996)
Plot of the Book:

When James’s parents are eaten by a rhino (???), he’s sent to live with his two cruel aunts, who treat him like a slave. One day, a weird old man gives James a bag of magical crocodile tongues, which will totally bring him fame and fortune. He promptly spills them. Then a peach the size of a house sprouts from the aunts’ tree. James ventures through a hole in the peach and finds a group of human-sized talking insects, who are fortunately friendly types. They cut the peach loose and it rolls away (squishing the two aunts to death in the process) and lands in the ocean. When sharks attack, James and the bugs use spider and silkworm silk to lasso a bunch of seagulls and lift the peach into the sky. After drifting a bit and encountering manlike creatures who live in the clouds and make the weather, they wind up over NYC. An airplane cuts the seagulls’ tethers and the peach falls onto the spire of the Empire State Building. James and the bugs become instant celebrities; the giant peach is eaten by children and its pit is installed in Central Park as James’s home.
What the Movie Does:
Actually, the movie is surprisingly faithful; it mostly just adds stuff to the story, and the stuff is mostly cool. The bugs are rendered in stop-motion animation, as is James after he enters the peach. The script gives the bugs more varied personalities (the spider is a femme fatale, the centipede is a brash Yankee, etc.) and eliminates one bug, the silkworm, who wasn’t really necessary anyway. New sequences include an attack from a robot shark (???), a visit to a sunken, skeleton-infested pirate ship to retrieve a compass, and a showdown with a giant rhino made of thunderclouds, which symbolizes James having to face his childhood fears and so forth. Also, the two aunts don’t die, but show up in NYC at the end, having apparently driven across the Atlantic Ocean. They try to get the peach back and even attack James with fire axes (!!!), but are wrapped up by the bugs and hauled off to jail.
Again, it’s a musical, but there are only like three songs and they aren’t too hard on the ears. In fact, the peach-eating song (in which the bugs sing about all the weird foods they’ve eaten and how the peach trumps all for deliciousness) is copied verbatim from the book, with Dahl’s original lyrics put to music. How cool is that?
Is It Any Good?
Yes! It was conceived and directed by the folks behind The Nightmare Before Christmas, and the stop-motion works great with such a bizarre fable. More importantly, it stays true to Roald Dahl and captures his offbeat sense of humor and dark, sometimes nightmarish images. The acting and voices are top-notch (featuring Susan Sarandon, Richard Dreyfuss, and Pete Postlethwaite, among others), and the kid who plays James is just too adorable. I totally recommend this for families with bright children!

Matilda (1996)
Plot of the Book:

Matilda Wormwood is a brilliant, well-read little girl whose loutish parents neglect and ridicule her. She also has a streak of mischief, and “punishes” her folks by playing pranks on them. They eventually send her to Crunchem Hall Academy, ruled over by a vile and sadistic headmistress named Agatha Trunchbull. Matilda makes new friends there, including her sweet but impoverished teacher, Miss Honey. Along the way, Matilda discovers she can move objects with her mind. That’s telekinesis, Kyle! She learns that Trunchbull is Miss Honey’s aunt and has stolen her inheritance -- and, quite possibly, murdered her father. To set things right, Matilda uses her strange power to convince Trunchbull that her murdered brother has returned from the grave. Trunchbull flees forever, as do Matilda’s parents (her dad is a crooked car salesman and the cops finally catch up with him). Miss Honey adopts Matilda and they live happily in a beautiful old mansion.
What the Movie Does:
The book is quite low on action, so the movie “corrects” that by twisting Matilda’s story into a lively “Kid Power” romp. It’s set in America, and Matilda is turned from a quiet introvert to an overly precocious and perky moppet. Her parents are way nastier (in the book, they display occasional affection), but the hilarious/monstrous Trunchbull remains much the same....nothing extra needed for such a pitch-perfect villain.
Overall, the film ups the action and slapstick and dials down the pathos. In the book, Matilda could barely master her psychic power and only used it a couple times, in fairly small ways. In the movie...hoo boy. She flings people and furniture around. She causes playing cards and poker chips to swarm in the air. She singlehandedly reenacts Poltergeist just to fuck with Trunchbull’s head. It is, quite literally, Home Alone meets Carrie. There’s also a random scene where Matilda and Miss Honey sneak around Trunchbull’s mansion, and a pointless subplot in which FBI agents spy on Matilda’s dad. Thanks, Hollywood!
In the midst of all this nonsense, most of the major scenes from the book remain intact. What’s missing is the tragedy. I mean, Matilda is an abused child in a broken home! The book understands that this is a sad thing for a small girl; the movie plays her parents’ awfulness purely for yuks. The book also places Miss Honey in a dire situation: she lives in a bare shack, cooks food on a camp stove, and is basically starving. In the movie she has a picture-perfect cottage that looks way cozier than the creaky mansion she’s supposed to inherit. Anything that might disturb or sadden is carefully stripped away.
Is It Any Good?
Meh. It’s definitely aimed at young viewers who love to watch smart kids triumph over dumb adults. It’s sometimes funny, often exciting, always upbeat. But it’s dumb, really dumb, and it utterly misses the point of the book, which is that A) children have more to say than you think, and B) there are bad people in the world and it’s up to good people to keep each other safe from them. The movie is ultimately condescending and too precocious for its own good. So I can’t endorse it much.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Plot of the Book:

See above.
What the Movie Does:
Hear me out before you crucify Tim Burton’s version. This movie strives to avoid being a “remake” of the 1971 film, and in terms of faithfulness to the source, actually comes out on top. The location of Wonka’s factory is unspecified, but Charlie and his family are British and his dad is alive and well and working in a toothpaste factory, just like in the book. His parents and grandparents are better defined, and the other four ticket winners are wonderfully unpleasant (the kid actors are having a ball, you can tell). Even the brats’ parents are pretty funny.
Again, we get a unique spin on Willy Wonka; Johnny Depp plays him as a deeply neurotic and socially incompetent weirdo who has no idea how to interact with human beings and is literally paralyzed by daddy issues. The factory is all CGI fireworks and the Oompa-Loompas are played by one single guy, digitally copypasted a million times. Oooookay. They perform quirky musical numbers that probably made Danny Elfman jerk off as he was writing the music, but the lyrics are once again taken straight from the book. Everything proceeds along faithful routes, the squirrels are in there, and there are even hints of Dahl’s original undercurrent of menace. But just hints.
Is stuff added? Of course! Again, the fifth ticket is found and then debunked as a hoax (why would both films add this? Dunno), and Wonka himself gets lots of flashbacks; we see the origins of his factory, the chocolate palace he builds for an Indian ruler (also from the book), his first jungle encounter with the Oompa-Loompas, and -- most prominent -- his troubled childhood under an overbearing dentist father. There’s another false crisis at the end, only this time it’s Charlie who turns down factory ownership after learning that his family isn’t invited along. Wonka sulks for a bit, then manages to reconcile with his own dad and all is well. The movie has a tidy ending with the Bucket family moving into the factory, whereas the book ended with all of them flying around in Wonka’s glass elevator, thereby setting up the sequel that Dahl eventually wrote, in which they go to outer space and fight evil aliens. Seriously. Look it up.
Is It Any Good?
I think it’s okay, though some will disagree. People seem affronted that this movie exists at all, as if the cult appeal of the 1971 film is being spat upon. But, dammit, Burton’s movie is not based on the 1971 film. It’s based on the book, and it does a fine job of adapting it. Burton’s signature goth/quirky/candy-coated aesthetic does get a little tiresome, but I found his Chocolate Factory to be entertaining, with a streak of cynicism that Dahl might have liked. So there!

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Plot of the Book:

Mr. Fox lives in a cozy hole with his wife and four children. Every night, he steals from three loathsome local farmers: Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. When the farmers discover the Foxes’ home, they first try to shoot Mr. Fox (he escapes, but loses his tail), then attempt to dig the hole up (the Foxes outdig them), then put all the local animals under siege. Starvation seems imminent, but the clever Mr. Fox enlists his kids and his friend, Badger, and they dig a tunnel system all the way to the three farms, stealing food from under the farmers’ noses. All the animals have a huge feast and plan to dig a whole underground township and use the tunnels to steal all the food they can eat. Meanwhile, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean are sitting stupidly around on the surface, waiting.....
What the Movie Does:
I don’t even think this is a film for kids. It’s directed by another master of quirk, Wes Anderson, and he pretty much tosses out everything but the bones of the plot. In his world, the animals are the middle-class bourgeoisie: Badger runs a law firm and Mr. Fox is a frustrated newspaper columnist in a tie and slacks. The animals have a comfy middle-class world that’s far removed from the rustic humans, who are clodpoles and buffoons to a man. All this is depicted in Autumn-tinted, old-fashioned stop-motion animation that looks crude but is oddly endearing and gives our furry heroes an impressive level of expressiveness.
The book was very short and the movie has to add a ton of material. Mr. Fox rouses the ire of the farmers after returning to his old, thieving ways; Mrs. Fox deeply disapproves; they lock horns affectionately; etc. There’s only one Fox kid, Ash, who’s going through a massive crisis of adolescent angst and is jealous of his overachiever cousin, Kristofferson. The movie continues the plot past the book’s ending, with the animals’ victory feast being interrupted as the farmers flood the tunnels with hard cider and wash everyone into the sewers. Kristofferson gets captured and the critters mount a surreal, Ocean’s 11-style caper to get him back. In the end, the animals are living in the sewer system, Mr. Fox has found his way into a supermarket, and everyone is embracing cozy, materialist, middle-class bliss, just like you and me. Only, you know, with talking animals. I honestly can’t tell if Anderson and co. are trying to make some kind of statement, or if they’re just faffing about. There’s also music by Burl Ives.
Is It Any Good?
I confess to loving this movie, though I can’t defend it as a faithful Roald Dahl adaptation. It basically has nothing to do with the book other than the basic concept (humans dumb, woodland creatures rock), and is more an experiment in subversive social and cinematic satire. Or something. Like I said, I have no idea what goes through Wes Anderson’s little mind. But the animation is way too cool, the voice cast includes George Clooney, Meryl Streep, and Michael Gambon, and the overall visual aesthetic makes me very happy. If you’re a scholar of Dahl (or would that be a “Roald’s Scholar,” ba-dum tish!), you’ll be pissed. If you hate Wes Anderson, sorry. Everyone else, watch this movie because it rocks.

Bonus Feature: Make This Dahl Movie!
Not all of Dahl’s books have made it to the big screen. As long as Hollywood insists on adapting everything in sight, they really should take advantage of the author’s oeuvre. I would totally support the following film adaptations, assuming they don’t fuck them up.
The BFG: A little girl is kidnapped by a Big Friendly Giant and they team up to stop all the other, nastier giants from snacking on people. They do this by enlisting Queen Elizabeth and sending out the Royal Air Force. Seriously. Doesn’t that sound cool? This was actually made into an animated TV movie, but fuck that noise; give it an epic, big-screen treatment! Get somebody like Andy Serkis to play the BFG and have Helen Mirren play Her Majesty again. Helen Mirren would be all over this; you know she would.
Danny the Champion of the World: A boy lives with his awesome dad in an old gypsy caravan. He discovers that his dad is a poacher, and they hatch a plan to steal all the pheasants from a nasty, arrogant local lord. This one’s free of the fantastical but still pretty neat and would work as an indie production. Find a perky British newcomer to play Danny, and for his kindly and mischievous dad....a cool and somewhat strapping character actor. David Thewlis? Viggo Mortensen? Ewan MacGregor if he were a little taller? Hell, even Gerard Butler has dabbled in kiddie films. The director should be whoever made Waking Ned Devine.
The Twits: Monkeys vs. evil old people. That alone should be an awesome selling point. I can think of plenty Actors of a Certain Age who’d totally don makeup and prosthetics to play the ghastly Mr. and Mrs. Twit (Meryl Streep again?), or you could make this one an animated film. Dreamworks would do it....though I’m not sure we should let them, since they’d cast fucking Jack Black as the monkey. Ugh.
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator: Make the sequel, Tim Burton! Blast Willy Wonka and the Bucket family into outer space! You can do a little rewriting to get around your tacked-on happy ending in the first film (maybe Wonka and the Buckets test-drive a brand-new glass elevator and it goes awry?), and just think of who you could get to sign on as the goofy U.S. President and his cabinet, who freak out when the elevator docks at the world’s first space hotel. Clooney? Penn? De Niro? Walken? The mind boggles! How can you go wrong? Quick, before Freddie Highmore gets any older!
The Witches: Remake it, and fucking get it right. Spend more than five minutes on the special effects. Restore the proper, bittersweet ending. Judi Dench as the grandmother. Are you writing this down, Hollywood?

Saturday, July 31, 2010


I fear it’s going to be difficult to write a review of Inception...not just because the movie is hard to describe and analyze (although there is that), but because it’s going to wind up sounding like every other review of Inception. To whit: this movie is awesome, it’s 2010’s first good summer movie for grown-ups, it perfectly balances action and brains, Christopher Nolan’s new name is Jesus McGhandiPope, etc. Okay, not all reviews have been that gushing or positive, but they all seem to consist of A) a sort-of synopsis, and B) an analysis, either of why the movie was amazing or why it was confusing and pretentious. Which I guess is the structure of all movie reviews anyway. Sigh. So, yeah, Inception.

I really, really enjoyed this film. I love movies that play around with my expectations of what a movie can do, and I find hope when a gem like this rises to the top of the lake of gray sludge and turds. All this silliness about making a parade of interconnected Marvel superhero movies doesn’t interest me, because it’s a gimmick that’ll only work if the movies are good, and what if they’re not? Story and characters come first, dammit! Movies are getting more and more gimmicky at the expense of quality (3D....ugh. I may disagree with Roger Ebert on video games, but I agree with him 100% on fucking 3D), so I appreciate a movie that actually cares about the often-neglected part of the human body that lies within the cranium. It’s called a brain; look it up! And if the film’s also a bloody good action thriller, hooray! Cherry on the sundae! Inception is an action flick that holds your attention from start to finish, thanks to riveting set pieces that overlap and interweave brilliantly. Because much of the plot takes place inside layers of the subconscious rather than the physical world, events in one dream-structure affect the deeper architecture like ripples in a pond. Reality becomes a malleable as wet sand. It’s beautiful and intensely entertaining.

Basically, the second half of the film is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen on the big screen. I won’t spoil it too much, but I love how it borrows from the ghosts of action movies past, creating something wholly new. Everything is cool again! We’ve got the zero-G shenanigans from The Matrix, the crazy alpine chases from the James Bond universe, car stunts and smackdowns from the Jason Bourne school....and they’re all happening AT THE SAME TIME, on varying levels of dream-reality, each one stretching time out further and further, so that ten seconds for one dreamer is an hour for another. The way in which this is constructed and presented, and the way in which eight or nine characters are juggled within this puzzlebox of action and narrative, made me want to applaud. Now I’m finally going to mention the story and say that it’s about a group of mental hackers who are infiltrating a man’s mind in order to plant a very important idea. That’s the “inception” of the title, and trust me, I’m not even skimming the surface. Coiling beneath everything is the guilt and anguish of the lead character, Cobb, whose dead wife prowls through his and other’s dreams like a vengeful ghost -- which she is, in a way. These two people, played expertly by Leonardo DiCaprio and Marion Cotillard, are a stabilizing bolt driven painfully through the movie’s heart. It’s not about the inception mission, it’s about the most agonizing spiritual journey a man can make, and what’s waiting from him on the other end.

The supporting cast (Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, and Dileep Rao) are all really good, but their characters are basically tools to push and pull Cobb through the layers of dream, reality, and illusion. There’s an epic climax and a seemingly happy resolution, but the movie doesn’t let us off as easy as we hope, thank God. It seems inevitable that a film about shifting reality and dreams-within-dreams must end on a really, really, really ambiguous note. Boy, does it ever. The final shot is a sublime visual metaphor and it leaves you thinking that this might just be one of those films that wasn’t about what you thought it was. A lot of people will leave the movie going, “Wait, but wasn’t....and is he.....and how did.....and why is that......I DON”T GET IIITTTTT!!!” Well, first of all, if you weren’t paying attention to the dialogue, you’re fucked, because they actually describe the rules of the movie quite well. Secondly, this movie is meant to leave you uncertain of what you just saw. You have to do what the characters do and take it at face value. Be subjective! Inception makes us all dreamers, asking us what we think we saw, how we define what’s before our eyes. And it’s kind of wonderful. When the Ellen Page character learns how to control the dream realm and folds the city of Paris up like massive origami, she’s standing in for the audience, us viewers who have been handed something awesome and given the chance to play with it. The special effects are stunning, but for the most part they suggest possibilities rather than laying everything out bare. We can fill in the blanks.

I deeply respect Christopher Nolan, not just because he makes great action movies, but because his action movies are so....enlightened. They have a point and purpose beyond mindless fodder for the senses, but they’re not so pretentious that they abandon all the clichés and fireworks that we expect in a summer blockbuster. Memento, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and now Inception. They all cry out to be watched and digested over and over. If that scares people off, fuck ’em. They can watch Michael Bay with the rest of the sheep. I’ll take my action Nolan-style, always. Watch Inception. It is a great movie.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Top 10 Gay Cartoon Characters

Have you ever noticed how subversive cartoons can be? Beneath the colorful, innocent hijinks of talking animals and slapstick hide some rather serious issues. Recently, this has become more obvious (three cheers for Pixar!), but it’s always been there, and there’s always been an unspoken acknowledgment of it. Cartoons and comics are “allowed” to deal with issues that the mass entertainment industry can’t explicitly talk about. Like, for instance, homosexuality. What’s that? You can’t think of any gay cartoon characters? Well, my friend, you need to read between the lines. As an openly gay man myself, I try to keep a sense of humor about the entire issue, and it tickles me to spot or at least imagine the secret gays in children’s entertainment. So....at the risk of offending people and/or destroying your childhood (hah, as if I give a shit!), here are my own picks for secretly or not-so-secretly gay characters in cartoons and comic strips.


DISCLAIMER: I’m avoiding openly gay characters because it’d be too obvious a list. Anyway, it’s more fun to speculate and form dumb theories than to have it spelled out. Sorry, Jasper from Family Guy, but I’m rooting around in the closet and you’re so far out of it that you’re in a whole ’nother house.

AND ANOTHER TIRESOME DISCLAIMER: You may notice some seemingly obvious names missing from the list. This is because I’m sticking with cartoons and comics that I myself watch, or have watched in the past. My upbringing lacked certain staples of children’s entertainment (no Cartoon Network, for instance), and I can’t speculate on characters I’ve never seen. So if you’re angered by the absence of, say, Snagglepuss, or Ren and Stimpy, write your own damn list.

Bugs Bunny (Looney Tunes)
We’re going in alphabetical order here, so what luck to begin with the king of queens (snicker)! Yeah, let’s just get this out of the way: Bugs Bunny is gayer than strawberry cheesecake. You know it’s true, people. No one flirts like Bugs. The whole time he was outwitting folks like Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, or Gossamer the big orange monster (yes, that thing’s name was Gossamer for some reason), the bunny was totally playing the vixen. Lest we forget, that long-eared cocktease was prone to dressing up in women’s clothing and seducing his antagonist. He did that....a whole lot. A whoooooole lot. And from a 21st-century perspective, it’s a pretty clear calling card. Plus, for such a cool customer, Bugs never had a girlfriend. You say: what about Lola Bunny from Space Jam? I say: FUCK YOU, THAT MOVIE IS NOT CANON. I’m talking about old-school Bugs, the way he was before he had a big corporate hand jammed up his ass. Although he might have enjoyed that, because he’s gay, gay, gay. And not even subtle about it!

Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
I see you scratching your heads. Gaston? But he was the most manly, macho, misogynist, male-chauvenist douchebag Disney has ever cranked out! There’s a whole musical number devoted to his crude, rude masculinity! Yeah, but look at the guy. Isn’t he the prettiest, most spotless and well-groomed lout you’ve ever seen? Aren’t his pants weirdly tight? And as for that hairy chest, well, I imagine plenty of Bears out there would swoon. Yeah, Gaston is constantly trying to get his hands on Belle, but it’s clear he wants her as a trophy above all else, another attractive trinket he can stick in his living room along with all the dead animal scalps. Is he even sexually interested? I smell repression! How many right-wing creeps are currently getting caught in public with rent boys? In 18th-century France (or whenever the hell Beauty and the Beast takes place), people didn’t even know what homosexuality was, so if you were male and liked manflesh, you damn well stayed mum about it. And maybe....overcompensated by being extra-masculine? Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm, Gaston. I’m looking at you and your perfectly plucked eyebrows.

“Itchy” Itchiford (All Dogs Go to Heaven)
I recently had one of those revelations you get when re-watching something for the first time since childhood. In this case, I saw All Dogs Go to Heaven and couldn’t help but think: Is Itchy the dachshund totally gay for his best friend, Charlie the German shepherd, or is it just me? To be fair, Charlie is voiced by Burt Reynolds, who I suspect a lot of straight guys would go gay for. And Itchy is the quintessential faithful sidekick, always at Charlie’s side. But he also spends the entire film trying to convince Charlie that the two of them should run off together and start a new life in some quiet, picturesque hideaway. Uh....wow, Itchy, why don’t you just whip out an engagement ring? I personally think it’s adorable and kind of touching. Late in the film, Itchy has this big, angry “Because I’m your friend!” speech, and if you just replace “I’m your friend” with a different three-word phrase, well, it sounds way too right. Ahhh, unrealized love. Also, note Charlie’s line at the end, after he dies: “Take care of Itchy. Ya know, just while I’m gone....he doesn’t have anybody.” Wow, I’m crying for reasons Don Bluth probably never intended. Someone find Itchy a new boyfriend, pronto!

Jughead Jones (Archie)
The Archie comics have changed their image as the decades have passed, but they’ve always tried to maintain that sense of innocence from way back in the 1940s and ’50s. One such product of a more naive time is Archie’s best buddy, Jughead Jones, and his mysterious aversion to girls. Jughead is literally phobic of his female peers, and goes to extreme measures to avoid contact. Now, I realize that he’s hardly your typical gay guy: he dresses like a slob, gobbles hamburgers, cares nothing for his own image, etc. But, hey, we’re supposedly enlightened folks trying to move beyond cultural stereotypes, aren’t we? Who says Jughead can’t be gay and also look like something the cat dragged in? Some might argue that he cultivates a beatnik image and is simply too cool for romance, but I’m pretty sure that his fear of breasts and vaginas is deeply ingrained. Also, know what his real name is? Forsythe. No man named Forsythe can be straight. It’s like a law or something. So I wish Jughead well in life, and hope he matures enough to become the Cool Gay Friend to a bunch of lovely ladies.

Lexington (Gargoyles)
You know something’s gotta give when you’re dealing with a cartoon show starring a group of well-muscled men (well, manlike creatures) in loincloths. To be fair, the ladies of Gargoyles were smoking hot as well, but not all our Y-chromosomed heroes were paying attention. Hi, Lexington! Although he was never overly flamboyant, there was always a fey quality to the smallest gargoyle’s personality; his reedy voice and puppy-like body language conveyed both an intense need to please and a streak of insolence. In other words, Lex was a total Bottom, if you know what I mean. I’ll not melt your minds too much by debating the possibilities of sexual experimentation among immature gargoyles, but I’m wondering what little Lexington was made to do for his larger rookery brothers, and how much it might have secretly intrigued him. Think I’m sick? Well, guess what, bitch, Lexington is the one character on this list who’s confirmed. As Gargoyles fans know, series creator Greg Weisman revealed that Lex is indeed gay, but due to his relative youth, he hasn’t realized it yet. Oh, he is gonna be fun when he comes out. He even has a potential future boyfriend, Staghart of the British gargoyles. I picture them sitting atop Big Ben, cuddling. D’awwwww. And all this in a freakin’ Disney product!

Marcie (Peanuts)
I know, I know, this one’s way too easy. But I had to put a woman on this list somewhere! As everyone knows, Marcie is the spacey sidekick to Peppermint Patty, a wallflower who never leaves PP’s side and calls her “sir” all the time. Now, I doubt that Charles Schulz ever imagined Marcie as having a crush on PP; the whole “sir” thing was merely intended to be a weird idiosyncrasy of a character who seemed to be living in her own little universe. But Marcie’s zoned-out demeanor makes her very appealing, and it’s easy to place her as the third peg in a triangle along with Peppermint Patty and Charlie Brown. There’s an awful lot of unrequited love in Peanuts, so it is that much of a stretch to believe that Marcie feels an innocent, childlike attraction to the tomboyish Peppermint Patty? I doubt PP feels the same way -- she’s too obsessed with Charlie Brown -- but maybe one day, Marcie will come to terms with her Sapphic urges and find a true girlfriend, probably at Sarah Lawrence or some such place. A woman she can love and cherish and address as “sir” without being blown off....

Opus (Bloom County, etc.)
Our next character holds the unique distinction of being the star of three different newspaper comics over the years. Opus the penguin first appeared in the early 1980s and was featured in Bloom County, Outland, and Opus, all created by cartoonist Berkeley Breathed. He (Opus, that is) is a humble fellow who enjoys fish heads, long walks, philosophy, and wearing hats with fruit on them. In short, suspiciously effete. Opus’s mannerisms and thoughtful, poetic personality make him lovable, but you gotta admit, he’s hardly macho. I do feel like he’s become a bit more heterosexual in recent years, but back in his Bloom County days, well....he broke off an engagement to a hot chick once, and another time, he was actually suspected of being a female in disguise. And, let’s see, he’s obsessed with self-image, polite to a fault, adored by women without being desired by them, a mommy’s boy, carries an umbrella when it’s not raining, and has a crush on Diane Sawyer. See? Every single clue points to Opus being a man’s man! Well....except for the fish heads.

Scar (The Lion King)
This guy’s the reason I started this list in the first place. I dunno when I first realized that Scar was gay, but once I saw, I could not unsee. LOOK at him, for crying out loud! He’s clearly more interested in being queen than king! Everything about him is flamboyant, from his stylishly emaciated frame to his mincing walk to his flowing black ’do. In fact, I swear he’s wearing makeup. Jeremy Irons voices the fratricidal feline with a delicious drawl, and totally gets into the vampy mood; just listen to him utter the word “Sen-SAY-tional!” as Scar gives his mane a sexy toss during his big musical number. Said musical number (“Be Prepared”) is choreographed like Busby Berkeley from hell, and I’m sure Scar wouldn’t have it any other way. His resentment towards his brother and nephew take on a new twist when you imagine him as the ostracized queer of the family. Not that I’m advocating sympathy for Scar; he’s evil through and through. But he can take his place alongside the great bitches of cinema. Move over, Tim Curry; you’ve been out-vamped by a guyliner-sporting quadruped. It was my revelation about Scar’s fabulousness that led me to start spotting other cartoon gays, and so I owe him one.

Timon (The Lion King)
Good lord, another character from The Lion King?! Well, you gotta admit, the movie’s a bit of a sausage-fest. So while all the lionesses are busy being unimportant, Simba is chilling in a three-way bromance with Pumbaa the warthog and Timon the meerkat, the latter of whom sends my gaydar a-bleeping. It’s not just that he’s voiced by the gloriously gay Nathan Lane. It’s not just that, like Bugs Bunny, he performs best in drag. It’s that he is so obviously crushing on the handsome hunk of lion who becomes his surrogate kid brother. Like Itchy, Timon gets way too jealous when someone else, especially someone female, enters the picture. His dismay and resentment when Simba and Nala went romping romantically through the dewdrops was rich enough to spread on toast. Poor Timon; after years of just the well-meaning but malodorous Pumbaa for company, he gets someone as dreamy as Simba, only to lose him. Yeah, it’s more comic than tragic, but still. Come to think of it, there’s a lot of adult subtext to The Lion King, isn’t there. All these themes of alienation and not knowing your place in the world. I mean, meerkats are among the most social of creatures, and yet Timon has absolutely no interaction with his own species. What would drive a charismatic young male to leave his home and family, totally severing contact and.....................oh.

Wally (Dilbert)
I’m a tad dubious about this last one, but since Scott Adams’ comic strip skewers pretty much every aspect of humanity, why not gays as well? Wally is the coworker of Dilbert (“friend” is too strong a word in the übercynical universe of this comic), and something about him makes me wonder. He’s been married, is now single, and seems to view sexuality with dry, apathetic amusement. Sometimes he drops hints that he’s bicurious, and it’s impossible to tell if he’s just fucking with Dilbert’s head or not. Overall, Wally acts like he’s in on some big joke that everyone else isn’t, and is having fun at their expense. If he seems too small, ugly, and bland to be gay, keep in mind that Dilbert is all about being crushed by a faceless corporate behemoth and fighting back in small yet satisfying ways. If Wally’s gay, he didn’t realize it until he was already trapped in cubicle hell, so now he’s treating his closeted sexuality like a big prank played on the world. It’s what keeps him sane. I suspect he has an absolutely nutso fantasy life at home (which could partially explain his divorce), and is just waiting to retire and turn into a shorter, more potbellied Ian McKellen. Only then will the true Wally emerge...and when he does, we’d better cover our asses....literally. Oh, snap!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Whimsical Games You Can Play During Your Lunch Break

The dictionary defines “Whimsy” as “anything odd or fanciful; a product of playful or capricious fancy.” This objective definition sort of hints at the general reaction of people to whimsical things. Kids love whimsy; adults, on the other hand, may either love it or want to bash it to death with a shovel and bury it forever beneath a rendering plant. Me, I find whimsy to be quite amusing and enjoyable, to a point. When it comes to video games, a dose of whimsy can make a good game even better (see: Psychonauts), but a full-length game drenched in whimsy might be a little much to take. Fortunately, the digital realm has room for small, indie programmers who make small, indie games in which whimsy is the whole point of the venture. Here are a couple such games, both of which I enjoyed a lot. If you’re looking to beat your boredom for an hour or so and the endless expanse of the internet just isn’t doing it today, you could do worse.

Samorost is the first game by Jakub Dvorsky, the main mind behind the Czech game company, Amanita Design. If you haven’t heard of these folks, shame on you; they just made their first mainstream release, Machinarium, an awesome point-and-click adventure that everyone should play and be charmed by. I may review it later. But before there was a city of robots, there was a small gnome in a white jumpsuit, kind of a spiritual brother to Saint-Exupéry’s little prince, drifting through the endless cosmos on an asteroid that looks like he made it out of stuff he found on the Jersey Shore. In the original Samorost game, the gnome notices that another asteroid -- this one resembling an aerodynamic chunk of driftwood -- is about to crash into his. So he flies over to the offending satellite, and the game consists of you exploring six different screens, solving puzzles to advance and ultimately divert the driftwood’s course. Yes, only six screens; the game is really, really short and goes by in a flash, but it leaves quite the impression. I absolutely love the graphics; they consist of little animated figures superimposed over surreal pre-rendered backdrops that are literally a photo collage come to life. It’s like Dvorsky cut pictures from magazines and scanned them; maybe that’s exactly what he did. The result is vivid, charming....and oh so whimsical. This teeny-weeny little game stays in your mind, not because of its puzzles (which are fun but simple, mainly involving you clicking on stuff in the proper order), but because of its cool and unique visual flair.

There’s a sequel, Samorost 2, in which the gnome’s dog is kidnapped by some sleazy aliens and he flies to the rescue. It’s a bit longer (just a bit), and continues the trend of quirky pre-rendered landscapes. The puzzles are also a little more complex, and require you to look closely at what’s on the screen; they have a fun Rube Goldberg quality that would later be put to awesome use in Machinarium. I feel like the sequel is paced kind of weird; it doesn’t end when you think it will, and although a longer game is never a bad thing, this one seems either too long or not long enough, I dunno. I’d love it if Amanita would make a Samorost 3, maybe one that takes advantage of their new mainstream cred and is actually a full-length game with more than two worlds to explore. Hell, if they win enough acclaim, they could turn this whimsical idea into the next Myst! Or maybe not. But Samorost and its sequel are totally worth checking out just for their visual charm and sense of eccentric humor. Check out Amanita’s site -- you can play the first Samorost and part of the sequel for free, though you’ve gotta dish out five bucks for the full Samorost 2. It’s worth it!


Windosill is a game I spotted on Steam, and as it was only $2.99, I tried it out. It’s very different than Samorost, but has the same kind of whimsical mindset. I don’t like it quite as much, mainly because it lacks any kind of story or narrative. Remember what I said about too much whimsy? Windosill almost crosses the line, but is saved because of its innocence and (again) extremely short play time. The goal of the game is to guide a small toy car through ten “windows.” The car stays on the sill at the bottom of the screen, and in order to unlock the door to the next screen, you must interact with the creatures, structures, objects, and landscapes before you. I’m being vague because it’s hard to describe what you see in this game; everything has an abstract feel, like you’re inside a child’s mind or a housepet’s idea of the world. This effect is enhanced by solid colors, simple geometric forms, and smooth surfaces on everything. The graphics aren’t as cool as in Samorost, but they have their own soothing charm. The puzzles are pretty easy, once again revolving around clicking on stuff in the right order, but they do encourage you to think and experiment. Windosill would be a good game for a child in the 6-9 age range, but these days, most six-year-olds are probably busy playing Modern Warfare, or kicking your ass in L4D2. God, I feel old.

Anyway, Windosill isn’t for everyone, especially not those who want their video games to have a purpose beyond killing time for twenty minutes or so. Also, Samorost and Windosill both have limited replay value because of their incredibly short length and relative ease. I’m still gonna play them again, though, because playing through a game like this once you know how to solve all the puzzles is almost a zen-like experience. And, dammit, these games are so bloody lovable. If you loathe the idea of a lovable video game, sorry. You’re probably a true gamer. I, on the other hand, am a shameless artfag, probably the textbook definition of the dreaded Casual Gamer. So I find these whimsical little games to be pretty awesome.

Sorry, Roger Ebert, but you and I must agree to disagree. Games can be art. The games I just reviewed, for instance. If you like seeing indie-minded creativity in action, play ’em. Despite their miniscule length, you won’t be disappointed.

Here’s the official site for Windosill; you can play the first half of the game for free, and purchase the complete game if you want:


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lost: The End (2/2)

The End

In our past, we were broken.
In our present, we were lost.
In our future, we were healed.
In our church, we were whole.

Part Two: Leaving

--All right, time to wrap it up. Or at least, wrap up this particular chapter of a long and timeless story. Just because Lost ended doesn’t mean the story of the Island is done. It will never end; that’s the point. Every time and place is a waypoint to somewhere else. And death, well, death may be the end of the line if that’s what you want to believe. Or it could be just another transition, a way of moving.....sideways. Yes, in a final twist that will doubtlessly be debated long into the future, the sideways world, the place I’ve been calling Timeline LAX, turned out to be....a waystation. A stopping place for a select group of people who came together to do something extraordinary. They found each other in life, and they found each other again after life. Because what they did was important enough to earn them the right to go out together.

--Some people are mad, I know. With a TV show like this, the riskiest thing you can do is pull a twist that cancels out what’s come before. It Was All a Dream! It’s All Going On In Someone’s Head! Or, in this case, They’ve Been Dead the Whole Time! I’ll admit that my first reaction was, “Oh, come on!” Then I thought about it, and found that I didn’t mind so much. See, the sideways world is more complex than your usual idea of Purgatory. After all, it came into being simply because of our heroes, and within its confines, as they unwittingly waited to move on, they had a chance to give life another try, to make things different, for better or for worse. Think about it -- if you had the chance to examine your life from a different angle or scenario, wouldn’t you do it, just to see? The Lostaways did not consciously realize what was going on; they had to be clued in, activated to the truth by contact with one another. And, over the course of the finale, that’s exactly what happened. It’d be a long and pointless chore to break down the entire sequence of events, so I’m going to go character-to-character, describing their revelation and why their sideways story mattered.

DESMOND: As always, our time-unstuck Scot had a unique role to play. He’d already found happiness in life, but due to his special mind, it seemed right that he had to be the first to reawaken and take action. Sideways Desmond had the life that living Desmond used to think he wanted, but he learned that some things are more important than respect and influence. Of course, he found Penny again, because if any two people were fated to be together, it’s them, by golly. It was easy for Desmond to let go; in some ways, he was very lucky to find happiness in life before anyone else. Damn if he hasn’t earned it!

SAYID: Ahhh, one of the biggest fan complaints. Why the HELL did sideways Sayid wind up with Shannon and not Nadia? It’s a little disturbing, that whole triangle; it’s like, whenever Shannon’s around, we’re supposed to pretend Sayid’s original love doesn’t exist. But (and I know this is a controversial thing to say) maybe Nadia was never quite right for Sayid. As Kate has proved with her two men, you can love different people but still acknowledge that they’re not the one to spend your life with. Sayid’s past is dark, violent, and angry; Nadia, sweet and nurturing though she may be, is part of that past. Remember how he literally had to torture her? Sideways Sayid sadly rejected Nadia because Sayid’s personal journey involves forgiving himself. In a scene that I found really sweet, Hurley and Boone conspired to put Sayid and Shannon back together. Why? Because the Island gave everyone a chance at a fresh start, and for Sayid, that included a new love not mired in the tragedies and guilt of yesterday. He will always love Nadia. But your first love should never be your last, people. You move on. As Sayid did.

CLAIRE: What was the biggest question on Claire’s mind the whole way through? It was, Can I be a mother? Yes, Claire, you can. Despite loss and tragedy and abandonment, you can be a mother. Kate told her that when she didn’t want to leave the Island. Kate, despite all her flaws, knows how to nurture. Sideways Claire was once again pregnant and abandoned, dumped by everyone.....at first. But then came Kate, and the Shepherd family, and Charlie. People to help. People to care. Claire wound up birthing Aaron all over again, backstage at the fateful concert, and it acted as a confirmation: Yes, you did it right. This is your son; see how alive he is! You never, ever failed him! That moment was what reawakened both Claire and Kate, the secret bond that mothers see in each other’s eyes. But a father is always needed at some point, and so Charlie got to be there as well. For his own personal journey involved learning to nurture rather than destroy, and with his own death, he succeeded gloriously.

HURLEY: Well, we already saw Hurley’s reawakening with Libby. Wasn’t it adorable? Seems appropriate that Hurley was the first one to have his revelation after Desmond. Because Hurley, remember, is the caregiver. So who better? I loved Hurley’s look of joy when he kidnapped Charlie, and the way he conspired with Boone, who is apparently way, way cooler than his Island exploits made him out to be. Maybe it’s because he’s spent some time as a vampire. But in all seriousness, let’s remember that the “activated” sideways Hurley also has all the wisdom from his time as Island keeper, which could have been even longer than Jacob’s reign for all we know. He’s practically a Jesus figure! Though he’d hate to be called that, the big sweetheart.

SUN AND JIN: Pretty easy to interpret. In life, they were kept apart by many people and forces, including their own doubt. So now, they get a do-over in which their love never wavers and they overcome all obstacles. I don’t think the bad guys, Keamy and Omar and Mikhail, were “real” in the same sense that our heroes were. They weren’t the actual souls of the men, but were conjured up by the sideways world to serve as proof that devotion conquers evil. The overcoming of evil serves as a reconfirmation of good. See how happy Sun and Jin were upon their reawakening, even knowing how they’d died? What was important, what made them smile, was that they died together, in love and loyalty. And little unborn Ji Yeon appearing on the ultrasound? A gentle reminder that they made a life before they lost theirs. A triumph.

MILES: Heh, I’m not sure. Was that the “real” Miles we saw in the sideways world, or another virtual person designed to interact with Sawyer? For that matter, what about Daniel and Charlotte? Okay, I think the two of them were real; their meet-cute at the concert suggested that they’re themselves. They just aren’t ready to move on yet. Not everyone was. I feel like they’ll get their moment; we won’t see it, but it’ll happen. As for Miles, well, maybe he has to make a kind of final peace with his father, Pierre Chang. Maybe then he’ll get his turn.

ELOISE: Yeah, she was real. When she asked Desmond if he was going to take her son away, that gave her away as real. But because Eloise Widmore/Hawking is the Grande Dame of Time Travel, she was perfectly aware that she was in a virtual pseudo-afterlife. And she took full advantage of that, creating a life where she could hold onto those she’d loved: her husband, Charles Widmore, and her son, Daniel. A life where she did not have to push Daniel or dominate him....or kill him. A life where she could be happy, even knowing it was only a temporary waystation. So she’ll be staying there until she’s quite satisfied, thank you very much.

SAWYER: Interesting that sideways Sawyer seemed just as flawed as living Sawyer. A cop rather than a con man, but still haunted by the same guilt and rage. Why would he subconsciously create this for himself, rather than some ideal, drama-free sideways existence? Well, letting go is harder for some people. Sawyer not only had to let go of his baggage, he had to let go of Kate, who appeared to him as a temptation. Should he help her escape? Throw in his lot with this woman whom he desired so deeply? No. Because, though they loved each other in life, they didn’t really heal each other. Sawyer found someone else to heal him, someone whose presence in the sideways world soothed all wounds. And that someone, bless her heart, is.....

JULIET: Took you long enough, show! Yeah, so...to my annoyance, she was indeed Jack’s ex-wife. But, to my relief, they only shared one scene together and it was clear they’d stayed friends rather than stewing in awkward resentment. To Jack, Juliet was the flawed ideal, the “We could have, if only....” But to Sawyer, she was life and love itself. Of all the reawakening scenes, my favorite was between Sawyer and Juliet. I loved the vending machine business, which cheekily mirrored the Island and its Core. And then, when they remembered, when Juliet broke down and Sawyer held her, held onto her like he’d failed to do in life....holy shit. “Kiss me, James.” “You got it, blondie.” And I cried. That was the one moment where I actually cried. That’s how perfect this couple was.

BEN: Oh, how I cheered. I’ve been hoping for a full-blown Ben redemption, and boy did I get it. It was really neat and appropriate how Ben wasn’t ready to move on yet. Not just because he was reluctant to leave his cozy new sideways life with Danielle and Alex, but because he wanted to...think about some things. Well, that’s very wise of him. Passing out of life is not something you should ever do lightly, and the complexity of Ben’s life surely required some self-reflection. He was a bad man once. He killed people, lied, manipulated, stole a leadership that was never meant to be his. But was he evil in the same way that the Man in Black was evil? Of course not. No human being is all good or all evil. Ben wanted to think about his own duality, and so he’s outside, waiting. He’ll always be the outsider in many ways, but that no longer bothers him.

KATE: So, after all this, who did Kate choose? Jack or Sawyer....or neither? Well, that’s interesting, because I honestly don’t know. It’s important to note that, while many of her fellow castaways were reawakened upon contact with a lover, Kate had her moment as Aaron was born. It was not brought about by Jack or Sawyer. It think this may be linked to Kate’s much-debated absence from Jacob’s final list of candidates. He realized, and she eventually realized, that her place in life isn’t what she thought. It’s not being a lover, or a killer, or a shaker and mover. She always tagged along and got on our nerves because she wanted someone to depend on her, but that dependance took a form she didn’t see coming. “You became a mother,” Jacob said. Yes, and that’s what mattered in the end. She couldn’t be with Sawyer because they just exacerbated each other’s flaws. She couldn’t be with Jack because each wanted the other to depend upon them. What Kate needed was to stop playing the bad girl. Note that sideways Kate was innocent. Yeah, we just have her word on that, but I believe her for once. Innocence heals; guilt deepens the wounds. As she learned.

LOCKE: In life, he failed. He strove to do something and be something that was so, so important, and he failed, and became a pawn of an evil being. He lost his life, his dignity, and even his face. But sideways Locke? He got another chance to learn what matters, what happiness is and how to find it in the face of adversity and tragedy. At first, he took the self-indulgent route and accepted the wheelchair, even welcomed it. Punishing himself. But sometimes, you need to accept that you make mistakes and can’t do everything. Basically, Locke told himself what he couldn’t do. No one can tell you what you can’t do; you have to decide for yourself. Try to do everything, and you’ll get nowhere. Try to be a martyr and you may wind up on a pedestal, but it’s cold and lonely up there and you’re too high to hear people’s voices. Locke finally listened, both to himself and to others, and wound up winning back the use of his legs. He learned the humility to allow someone else to fix you, and as a result, he got to leave this life with grace and poise, on good terms with his former antagonists. He went out with a bang, not a whimper.

JACK: Yes, Jack. The hero, the fixer, the man who had the most trouble letting go. But let go he did. In the sideways world, he had a son, and although David was not real in the sense that you and I are real, he was real in the ways that mattered. He allowed Jack to avoid the mistakes he’d already made in life, the daddy issues, the resentment and misplaced sense of responsibility. Jack had to let someone else go before he could let himself go, and that someone was the son he’d never had. Letting David go, fixing Locke, coming to terms with his father’s death -- these were the steps Jack needed to take before he could be reminded of how he’d died, the great and noble sacrifice he had made. The finale really made Jack into a Christ figure, complete with bleeding stigmata, but don’t panic; it’s a metaphor. Jesus Christ was literally made to help others, and could never help himself. God wasn’t interested in Christ’s own welfare, because God (or Fate, or the Island’s Source, or whatever you call it) has to be cruel a lot of the time. It was cruel that Jack was always meant to die, but cruelty and comfort go hand in hand. Another duality. Balancing the two halves of a whole leads to grace.

Some people didn’t make it. Some people weren’t there in that church, and didn’t even appear in the sideways world. Let’s briefly discuss why...
EKO: Okay, yeah, the real reason is because they couldn’t get AAA to come back as Eko. Which makes me sad. But Eko was always a loner, defiantly resistant to redemption. The Monster killed him for this very reason. Eko never wanted to forgive and let go, so why should he be here? He walked his own lonely path by choice.
MICHAEL AND WALT: Michael failed. Yeah, his last living act was redemptive, but it wasn’t enough. His story is one of the most tragic on Lost, because although he was a good person, he did one thing so bad that it broke his chances. He was trapped. He became a Whisper, unable to move on. Poor, poor Michael. As for Walt....well, I do wish we’d seen him in the church at the end. I think leaving Walt out was a mistake on the show’s part. Oh, well.
ANA-LUCIA: Not ready yet. Desmond said as much. She was a deeply flawed and troubled woman, and it’s gonna take her awhile to work through the shell she built around herself. Doesn’t mean she won’t do it eventually, though.
FRANK AND ILANA: I’m putting them together because I feel both of them would be equally resistant to all this romantic, symbolic nonsense. Frank and Ilana were practical functionaries who happily did what they’d signed up to do because they knew it was what they were meant for. They had it much simpler than all our Lostaways with their endless baggage. In a way, both of these folks made the necessary peace with themselves ages ago, because there was so little to forgive! Ilana did appear in the sideways world, and....do you think that Ilana the lawyer knew the truth and was quietly helping Jack and Claire find their way? I think she just might have.
RICHARD: A man who had a long, long, long life. A life in which he was never truly happy or content. I can’t imagine he would have wanted to linger in some dreamy afterlife, even if it meant generating a sideways copy of his love to snuggle with. He was ready to move on a long time ago.

--So, that about sums it up. In a beautiful church of no single religion, all the friends and lovers came together for one last hurrah. Jack was the last to arrive, and he found his father waiting for him. His real father, not a sham. Christian Shepherd was there to play, well, the shepherd, opening the doorway for our beloved gang. Why a church? Because, all religions aside, a church is universally a place of quiet comfort, serenity, and community. A place where you can spend time with those you care about, without all the hassle and stress of the outside world. A place where no one will complain if you just sit and rest and think awhile, no matter what your faith. I mean, I personally follow no religion, and yet I have never felt awkward or unwelcome in a church. This was their place, the final space they chose to make. And it was where they sat together while the way to....whatever came next....was opened for them. At the same time, we saw Jack die peacefully, good old Vincent keeping him company, his final seconds perfectly mirroring the opening seconds of the entire show. A cycle. A transition.

--And that’s the end. Some people were a little confused and thought that we were supposed to infer that everyone had died in the initial plane crash. This wasn’t helped by the shots of the Oceanic 815 wreckage that ABC chose to insert over the end credits; people thought those images were meant to be important somehow. (They weren’t.) No worries, folks, Lost wouldn’t be so lame as to go with the “They’ve Been Dead the Whole Time” ending. Yeah, in the sideways world, they’ve been dead the whole time. But they all arrived at different times, some earlier, some later. The sideways world has nothing to do with real space and time; it was there for everyone exactly when they needed it. Because, hell, these people saved the world. Each of them helped in their own way, so they’ve earned this. And so have we. And while I would have loved to see a snapshot of the surviving characters’ post-Island lives....well, that’d just be copying Six Feet Under, and it probably wouldn’t be as good as I can imagine it in my mind.

--Lost is over. I fell in love with the show after hearing the very first promo for it. I thought it was going to be cool and unique, and I was right. It exceeded so many expectations. Parts of it sucked, I will admit. There are mysteries left unsolved (the food drop in Season Two...where the fuck did that come from??!!), characters I wish they’d handled better (why hire Lance Reddick if you’re not gonna do anything interesting with him?), backstories that were insufferable time-filler (Michael’s custody woes, Charlie’s puke-a-thon, and Jack’s whacky Thailand adventure can all go fuck right off), and a lot of other frustrations. But there were also brilliant and complex characters, gorgeous visuals, top-notch acting, mind-melting revelations, fun comic relief, deep tragedy, and a plot that delighted me with each new, intricate little cog and spring and hidden chamber. Lost took us backward, forward, sideways, and beyond in a roller coaster of fascination and enjoyment, and I will always treasure it. As I will treasure my DVD collections of each season. I never want to stop watching, because I know that each new viewing will bring new surprises and insights. The show will just keep on giving. And, hopefully, it will go down in history as a work of collective genius.

--Thanks for reading. What a long, strange trip it’s been. I’m signing off now. And, though it’s hard to do that final sound effect as an onomatopoeia, here you go: