Monday, June 30, 2008

By Choice, Not By Chance

Superhero origins all pivot on circumstance. No self-destructing Krypton, no Superman on the Kent family farm. No radioactive arachnid, no Spider-Man. No misused gamma rays, no Hulk. And Batman's origin hinges on circumstance as well: no murder, no Batman. But Batman’s origin is not as simple as that.

What is noble about Batman/Bruce Wayne is that he chooses his path; he is a product of free will and determination, not chance. His parents may have been murdered, but he isn’t the only mourning son of slain parents. Unlike Superman, Spidey, or Hulk, the circumstance that grips Wayne’s world is shared by others. What differentiates the Dark Knight is that he embarks on his journey consciously. Spider-Man’s “great power” is thrust upon him by fate, forcing him to accept “great responsibility”. Wayne chooses the burden of great responsibility that sets him about a journey for establishing himself as a great power. Batman is a Horatio Alger-character – self-made and reliant, his effectiveness hinging upon cunning and ingenuity, not an inexhaustible supply of inherited power – while the others are more members of the Lucky Sperm Club. (This is particularly ironic because of massive wealth of the Wayne family.)

Very few other superheroes - and none of the big guns - choose their path. Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, and Logan all have no choice in their alter-egos. They are victims of fate, subservient to the surrounding world. And my guess is that if Clark, Peter, Bruce and Logan were asked whether they would give up their superpowers to become regular humans, each would do it in a moment for a chance at normalcy. Wayne had normalcy and willingly embarked on a different path. His genesis was conscious, not manipulated by the heavy-hand of fate.

While Kent and crew painfully embrace their alter-egos, Bruce Wayne is the only one who truly becomes his alter-ego without reservations and emotional hindrance. And in doing so, Batman becomes the man's true ego, while Bruce Wayne becomes his alter ego. I am wont to believe that any character or person who chooses to become "something else entirely" - as Ducard says at the beginning of "Batman Begins" - assumes that "new" identity as their ego, relegating their previous life to their alter-ego. That is why I was so thrilled with how "Batman Begins" ended, with Rachael Dawes acknowledging that, "your real face is the one that criminals now fear. The man I loved - the man who vanished - he never came back at all. But maybe he's still out there, somewhere. Maybe someday, when Gotham no longer needs Batman, I'll see him again." That is EXACTLY right. He has become something else entirely and in doing so, marginalized another part of his life. By choice, not by chance. And this is what differentiates himself in the crowded superhero canon. Since Wayne chooses to assume the Batman identity, Bruce Wayne becomes the alter-ego, not vice versa.

(A quick aside and perhaps a point of clarification - based on this standard, James Gatz is the alter ego to Jay Gatsby because Fitzgerald's protagonist willingly chooses to be Gatsby rather than Gatz. Although this is slightly complicated by the fact that Gatsby is never bound by dual identities like Batman/Bruce Wayne is.)

And Batman is clearly a man on a mission, but it's not pursuit of personal vengeance. His aim is much higher than that. He wants Gotham to be a better place, a city where a young Bruce Wayne would not become a victim. In a way, he's out to make himself obsolete (this will be a central thematic tension in the new film). Spider-man, Superman, and Batman are all heroes who wish they didn’t exist. The difference is that Spider-Man and Superman wish that fate had not dealt them these super cards, while Batman wishes he lived in a world where he was not needed.

The cumulative effect of this is that the world Batman inhabits – the world without flying men and purple-pants wearing angry monsters, but with crime, grit and corruption – is that much more believable to us, the audience. We can understand how a man became a cape-and-cowl-clad creature of the (k)night and in some small way relate to him in a way that others can never be relatable to those watching their exploits. We can understand and empathize with Peter Parker, but not with Spider-man. We can feel for Clark Kent, but not for Superman. But we can emphasize with both Batman and Bruce Wayne. Now as for the Joker…

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

And That Is Why He Sleeps With A Swedish Model On A Nightly Basis

Quite simply, Tiger Woods is amazing. Woods is completing his application for "Best Golfer Ever" at a time when we can honestly say we remember the greatest at their greatest. And for people my own age, this is the first time we have witnessed something like this. Gretzky - whose prime came before my age of sports fandom - and Jordan - who we were never able to fully appreciate because we didn't know any better - skirt the boundaries of our memory, but Woods is planted firmly in the middle of our consciousness. Federer comes close and there are countless would-be heirs that are great (LeBron, Kobe, Crosby, Peyton, etc.), but not atop their sport's Mt. Olympus like Woods is. It is almost unconscionable than a single athlete has dominated an individual sport with as many competitors as he has. He has extended the frontier of individual accomplishment farther than any other single athlete probably in the history of sport. And it is a marvel to watch.

But it isn't fun. And it isn't fun because Tiger isn't all that much fun. Nor does he seem to be having any of it.

We can respect and awe at Tiger without enjoying him. His clutch putt on 18 was thrilling, but his reaction wasn't. His reactions are almost exclusively loud releases of tension and competitive rage. And there's nothing wrong with that. He is the most competitive and mentally strong athlete that I remember seeing. But there seems to be so little joy in his triumph. From the reactions to the victory-interview platitudes, there seems to be a quota on his fun. And that quota apparently is zero. I just want one Tiger moment where he tosses his club out of glee and surprise or reacts Justin Leonard style out of childish joy. (His fist pump is nice and all, but he is one of the worst high-fivers in sports history.)

He knows he is going to make the putts...there is almost no surprise like Mickelson's reaction on the 18th green of Augusta in 2004 quite simply because I find it difficult to believe he is surprised by anything any more. And never was that more apparent than this past weekend when we witnessed Tiger's intensity with Rocco Mediate's infectious charisma. While I want to see greatness in its prime, I'd prefer that Tiger trounced the field or had to grind out a win against some loud mouth bozo - I'm looking at you Sergio and Rory. It's tough to watch Tiger beat someone like Rocco - a golfer on the back nine of his career, never having won a major, and knowing a single victory at the U.S. Open would make his career. To root for Tiger in these situations is to board a bullet train for history where none of the brief stops are any more meaningful than any other until you get to History Stop #19. Rocco is traveling on the path next to Tiger's bullet train rails in a covered wagon, enjoying the ride and appreciating the moments as they happen.

Tiger is the frat guy making his way through all the girls from the hottest sorority on campus not because he enjoys it, but because he can and it is expected of him. And Rocco is the slightly awkward, but ebulliently charming boy in the corner who starts to flirt with a remarkably attractive female way out of his league. And things are going perfectly well, until Tiger swoops in, takes another trophy home, and leaves the good guy empty handed.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Preview Review

Movie trailers are so damn sneaky. You go to the theater to plop down $10 to see some movie you are at least somewhat excited to experience in the theater, hopeful at the comedic or dramatic promise of the film, and interested in investing at least 120 minutes of your time. You get your popcorn, find a seat in the rocking chairs, and wait for the movie to start. And then comes some absolutely kick-ass trailer and you are awe-struck. And pumped. And excited. For an entirely different movie than the one you just paid to watch. No longer do you care about Indy's fedora or Scarlett's cleavage, but you want badly to see how gruesome the Joker's cut smile is and why exactly Dectective Gordon took an ax to the Bat-Signal. That's the power of trailers. (If I ran a movie theater, I would seriously consider running the trailer of the movie everyone was about to see, just to get them re-amped for what they are about to see.) Maybe it is part of the human psyche that enjoys being teased and wanting what we can't currently have. But many trailers are artful and entertaining on their own, often times more so than the movies they are born from and for. And so here is a list of some remarkable trailers - for one reason or a number.

Superman Returns

A pretty flat reinterpretation of the Man of Steel welcomed movie goers in the summer of 2006 and fans may have felt a tad disappointed both with the performances and the film after this rather remarkable and well-crafted teaser appeared a year before the film was released. The brief shots of a young Clark Kent on the family's farm, the enduring relationship with Lois Lane, and the amazingly fantastic voice over from Marlon Brando. The late Brando played Superman's late father Jor-El in the 1978 film starring Christopher Reeves. Jor-El sends his son to Earth from the dying Krypton, giving his son the marching orders used in the trailer. Not only are they beautifully written, they are perfectly delivered and provide the trailer's - and probably the movie's - best moment. Although, now thinking about it, maybe we shouldn't have been so surprised the movie was so dimensionless since best part of the trailer was, in fact, part of the original Superman film and nothing new. And Brandon Roth's performance isn't really showcased in this trailer, which was probably one of the smarter things they could have done. Although he does look exceptionally bored before he flashes back to Earth.

Two other quick things. Brando was paid $3.7 million and a percentage of the profits for his 12-days of work on the original film, ultimately getting upwards of $14 million for 10 minutes of screen time. Some extra footage shot for the Superman sequel that wasn't used in Superman II was incorporated into Superman Returns. And I know I don't have the proper perspective for this, but doesn't Lois Lane do a disservice to her gender, more so than any other woman in pop culture? She is always getting herself into trouble and the hot shot Daily Planet reporter can't even figure out that Clark Kent is Superman. That doesn't speak very well to her investigative prowess. He doesn't even wear a mask. He takes off his glasses and parts his hair on opposite's not that tough to figure out.


Another example of a film's buzz and trailer totally out-pacing the attention the film deserved on its actual merits. The audio on the video isn't fantastic, but the juxtaposition of the museum tour discussing the largest and most predatory dinosaurs just before one of their skeletons is crushed by the foot of Godzilla strikes me as pretty fantastic marketing. Especially behind its "Size Matters" tag line. Too bad the movie left much to be desired. All of Madison Square Garden teeming with impregnated eggs? We all know that was the work of Stephan Marbury or Shawn Kemp, not some Japanese monster.


Movie trailers sure have changed, even in the past 15 years. But a trailer from the 1960s is a sight to behold, oozing unintentional comedy and perhaps boredom. The trailer for Psycho is a great example. It doesn't actually show any footage. It's essentially a set walk through with the admittedly creepy Alfred Hitchcock with his curly enunciation and subtle command. Spoiler alert: Dire and horrible events took place in Norman Bates house and accompanying motel. Although the preview does pique interest with Hitchcock peaking into the closet and toilet, shuttering and closing it before the audience actually sees anything. Me thinks a similar marketing strategy would fall flat on its face today, but it apparently worked wonders in the late 50s and early 60s.

The Dark Knight

This should not be a surprise that it's here. And I can safely make the claim that the film's merit did not impact its landing on this list, mainly because no one has seen the film yet. But there is something fascinatingly awesome with this trailer. Equal amounts drama, action, and melancholy, the trailer is stronger than that of Godzilla or Superman Returns, mainly because the performances of the late Ledger and Bale are not hidden beneath a veneer of explosions and chase scenes. The trailer is grounded in the film itself and not in the superficial marketing that can be done to cover a film's huge deficiencies - see again Godzilla and Superman Returns.

Much more about The Dark Knight in the coming weeks, but I honestly could not be more excited for this film. A few more links. The trailer for Batman & Robin has to be one of the worst previews in cinematic history - it was also one of the worst films. And here is a Lego version of the first full Dark Knight trailer. Watch the real trailer first. Pretty amusing.

Finding Neverland

Quite simply, there is nothing I don't love about the trailer. The flowing music, gentle tone, the whimsical voice-over, well-explained plot, and cast of amazing characters. Pretty damn good.


Another incredible, solid piece of cinematic tease. The non-voice over works because the parallel structure of "The general who became a slave, the slave who became a gladiator, the gladiator who defied an empire" is so effective and well written. The spartan dialog intermixed in the trailer doesn't make it overly complicated or ambitious. The lines that are spoken are chilling tag lines - "At my signal unleash hell" and "Am I not merciful?!" - but what really drives the trailer's 500 levels of awesomeness is the ridiculously good score set against the striking battle scenes. The film delivered too - winning Crow a Best Actor Oscar while the film took home Best Picture.

A Clockwork Orange

A pretty good example of perspective by incongruity, with the playful music sounding like it dropped out of the Music Man, but with lyrics discussing blood while juxtaposed with indifferent Alex frolicking around clobbering people in the junk with his club. It is remarkably creepy, which shouldn't come as a surprise. It's sort of the trailer equivilent of seeing a clown with a gun.

And I have no words for either this one. Or this. No idea where they came from.

What can you add?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

It's Been A Fun Few Months

A few quick thoughts on the Detroit Red Wings Stanley Cup victory from this week and what the team's legacy will be. First off, it was nice that they went home with the equivalent of this and didn't get a repeat visit from this round and tumbly ass hat, like they did on Monday night. And that's may be this team's legacy. They simply never let anything bother them. Goalie changes. Disallowed goals. 3OT losses. Bad penalties. 5-on-3s. Road games. The President's Cup. Quick goals by opponents. They never lost their cool and always had a sufficient counter punch. They are the anti-Pistons in this regard. The Pistons seem to be distraught if Rip's face mask begins to fog and if Sheed's headband is slightly out of place so that it makes his bald spot look abnormally large. It's not as if the Pistons were never like this. Their response to the 3 OT loss at home to the Nets in Game 5 (which forever made me hate this man of all people), and after Kobe almost single-handedly won Game Two of the Finals when the Pistons had the Lakers on the ropes, was admirable and memorable. But the Pistons have gotten mentally weak as their ice-bound counterparts have bolstered their mental fortitude.

This version of the Red Wings - so technically sound and saavy, but also gritty tough and resilient - would let no such sideshows hijack their march. While Zetterberg rightly won the Conn Smythe, Datsyuk's play was equally amazing. Only a few years ago, people wondered aloud if the playoff pressure got to the young winger, but questions like that seem to have disappeared with memories of a hockey-less winter in Detroit. Datsyuk helped dominate play for periods on end, but it was his hitting that came as a welcome surprise and addition to his extensive quiver of tricks. This team seemed unwilling to bestow some undeserved title on a no-name goalie as had been their spring tradition for the past handful of years. There would be no Roloson, no Giguere, no Kiprusoff this year. Instead, they let their own unsung goalie do the stonewalling and get the recognition he so deserves, but fails to receive.

And so here's to the men in the Winged Wheel, who for almost as long as I can remember, have made spring hockey such a memorable and enjoyable staple in the life of some of my closest friends and in my own.

Time for a parade.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Super Bowl Will Air Before the Next Episode of LOST

The above is a pretty depressing sight, the thought of no more LOST for 8 months. The mark of every season finale is both an annus mirabilis (for it's a celebration of the past season) and annus horribles (the unnerving thought of our beloved showing going dark). And so no matter the fulfilling nature of the season finale, we are left with the television equivalent of rolling a Q in Scattergories - a perplexing and fruitless search for possible answers without having any where near enough ammunition to complete the terrible frustrating task while you pitifully wait for the time to expire and to move forward.

I have written a number of times before that LOST's individual episodes are like a single piece of a mosaic. And this single tile - aptly named "There's No Place Like Home" - was a sweeping epic, emotionally charged and cutting a wide swath across the show's meta-landscape. But it also left me with some questions and concerns as to how the show will evolve from here. I will dispense of my major criticism here before I get into what I though to be a throughly satisfying ending to the fourth season of LOST. Quite simply, I am not buying Jack's grief and burning passion to return to the Island. I just don't get it. Jack didn't broker a deal to get only a handful of the Oceanic Six off the Island. He didn't consciously chose the other five like an elementary school kickball game, leaving the dozens of other survivors on the Island fending for themselves. He - and his Oceanic Six compadres - was lucky to escape alive. There is no shame in not going back for Jin after the freighter exploded and he didn't have a choice to return to the Island for Claire and Sawyer. He did the best he could. Now one could make the argument that Jack's best will simply never be enough (thank you Dr. Christian Shepard for that), but beyond that, I'm not sold on his whole bearded island ambition. Now I suppose we may not have the entire story. Locke - moonlighting as Jeremy Bentham - may have told Jack that Jin has survived, Sawyer is bonking Juliet, and his father is making cameos in a dilapidating (and mobile) cabin, but if the season finale was supposed to convince of us that Jack truly has a good reason to return to the island, mission unaccomplished.

However the scene between Jack (Colonel Free Will) and Locke (Captain Fate) in the greenhouse may be the (symbolic) key to the central themes LOST has so carefully planted along its narrative path. Locke seemed to try and convince Jack that Jack was destined to arrive at the Island, that he was "supposed" to be there. Unsurprisingly, Jack was having none of it and essentially told Locke to shove all his fate sound-and-fury in his own Dharma Station. I wrote a few weeks ago that I thought the Island may be the one place where fate and free will exist simultaneously and with perfect balance - and with Locke/fate and Jack/free will playing out on different ends of the Island. Fate and free will are in mutual need of each other in order to keep the surrounding world orderly, with neither fate or free will having a preponderance of the power. But if Jack and free will depart from the Island, nothing will be there to counteract fate and everything will fall out of balance and into chaos. The chaos apparently ensued and Locke pinpoints Jack's departure from the Island as the seminal moment for these events. As we have seen a number of times on the show, fate/course correction ultimately trumps free will (Locke's arrival at the Island, Charlie's death, etc.), but the two must exist simultaneously - serving as checks and balances - for things to function in an effective, efficient manner. The absence of one throws the other into flux, thus the Island's apparent descent into chaos. One could make the argument that Jack's post-Island life - devoid of fate - has caused him his anguish. And what if Jack's fate truly lies in the Island? Christian's appearance both in Jacob's cabin (along with Jack's half-sister, Claire) and his exceptionally eerie dismissal of Michael suggests a higher communal relationship between the Island and the Shepard blood line that Jack blindingly rejects. Regardless, this is all WILD SPECULATION in an attempt to explain Jack's bearded future and instability.

Also Jack's reason for lying - to protect the ones who stayed seemed a little flimsy - doesn't make oodles of sense, especially if he believes those still on the Island will be in danger if the truth comes out. What makes him believe that they - the Oceanic Six - are going to be safe once they are off the Island and dealing with their pseudo-celebrity?

The other lingering concern that I have is the meta-structure for the show's penultimate season. The post-Island future is now the present and presumably we have yet to see a scene farther into the future than Jack and Ben's nocturnal chat at the funeral home. Which leads me to wonder whether we will see another narrative shift in the coming season. Will the flash forwards/backs be less common? Will we shift between post-Island moving action (in the past) and Oceanic Six present? Or will we again see well into the future early in the season and build backwards like we did in season four? And now that we know how they got off and are left to wonder why exactly Jack wants to get back, has the show lost some of its narrative momentum?

One final lingering concern is that last season ended with the audience knowing that Jack wanted to go back to the Island. This season ended only a few hours further into Jack's evening, leaving the audience with the single wrinkle that Jack needed to bring everyone else back along with him - including a dead Locke? (And Walt too? Does Walt know his dad is dead?). While it is true that the season worked to tie the post-Island future with the on-island present, I would have liked to see the plot's frontier extended a little more. But this may just be me being overly critical - a sort of Manifest Destiny for the plot from a fan's perspective.

Despite these qualms, I really enjoyed the season's conclusion and payoff, which amounted to the Oceanic Six's actual rescue (from Penny, no less) and the journey down to the Orchid in an attempt to move the Island. Starting with the latter, a number of people independent of me think the Island moved only in time and not in location. It wasn't too difficult to see that once Ben moved the frosted gears causing the Island to disappear, that he was relegated to the Sahara Desert. "The Shape of Things To Come" opened with a startled and wounded Ben awakening wearing a parka in the middle of the Sahara. We now know that only moments before Ben had been on the Island playing with the Island's subterranean mechanisms. In the episode's next flash forward scene, Ben is checking into a Tunisian hotel asking the date, which is late October 2005. Since we know the Island was moved in early January 2005 (Desmond called Penny on Christmas Eve), I think it is safe to assume Ben was sent to the same time the Island moved to, but was banished to a location far away. My guess is that the Island hasn't moved locations, but rather it has simply failed to exist between January 2005 and October 2005. Just as you wouldn't be able to find Ben in March of 2005, you wouldn't be able to find the Island during that same time. And just as Ben abruptly reappears in October, the Island does as well. And just so you don't think I am pilfering Doc Jensen's ideas as my own, I'll add further support to the argument he didn't pick up on. In the Dharma video Locke watched as Ben loaded the portal with metallic objects, Dr. Halliwax said that the rabbit would seemingly disappear for 100 milliseconds as he was being sent into the future, during which time he would not exist. The exact same principles apply to the Island's movement and its ability to be seen/located in the interim time period. The other thing about the Island's movement is the resulting light and sound was strikingly similar to the events that followed Desmond's turn of the failsafe key in the season two finale. I'm not going to get into any connection here, but I wouldn't be too surprised if a connection between the button, the release of the mounting electromagnetic energy and keeping the Island for moving forward in time was all related.

Which leads to questions about the scope of what was moved. Jin and Farraday almost have to be alive. They cannot keep killing core characters - especially if one (Jin) is a significant reason Jack would return to the Island. And they almost must have been moved with the Island. Otherwise Farraday would be left with a raft load of red shirts and less than ten gallons of gasoline while Jin would be floating at sea and both would have no where to go. The gaping hole in this theory is that the copter would have been within the radius of the Island's movement (albeit in the air) and it didn't go, so why would Jin (who was the furthers out) or the inflatable ferry? My initial guess is that Jin and Farraday got sent to October 2005 even though Sun believes Jin to be dead - and blames both her father and Jack for the fact.

The other interesting thing about the moving mechanism is to note that Ben had to break through a Dharma station to get at the Island's true power structures. Even Halliwax acknowledged in the above video it was the Island's unique properties that allowed for Dharma to do their thing, not something that the Dharma Initiative consciously and artificially created on the Island. This lends further support to the idea that the Island was discovered and not manufactured; that the Dharma Initiative built their infrastructure on what already existed on the Island and something unique and precious existed long before Alvar Honso set up the DI.

And Ben not being allowed back to the Island? I'm not buying that either. He is too calculating and overzealous when it comes to issues of the Island. I just can't imagine Ben permanently ceding that power to Locke. Maybe he can't return while the current leader of the Others is alive - giving Ben a reason to dispose of Locke. And a few of you (along with myself) have wondered aloud whether Locke got off the Island by moving the Island himself. While that's a possibility, we know there is a way to get off the Island without moving it (Richard, Ethan and Zeke left with apparent regularity) and my guess is that Locke did as well.

But that leaves the lingering and meaty question of what exactly did happen when the Oceanic Six left the Island. One thing that has bothered me in the past few weeks is why Richard Alpert capitulates to Ben and Locke when he has clearly been there longer and has a clear philosophy as to how the Island should be used. It is as if Ben and Locke are the Presidents of the Others while Alpert is the leader of the bureaucracy. I am still flummoxed about this, but my best guess is Alpert believes whole-heartedly in fate and is comfortable with his own fate that he is not to lead the Others, but to serve as Ben and Locke's right handed man. While leads us to more parallels between the Bugged-Eyes One and Mr. Clean.

Ben finally sheds his mensch facade as he killed Keamy out of rage and anguish over Alex's death, condemning the folks on the freighter to death without any remorse ("So?"). What was different here was Ben did not even attempt to keep his hands clean of the spilling blood - a sharp departure from his previous perspective. He reacted out of blind revenge and with a singular selfish goal, much in the same way Michael acted towards the end of season two - an interesting parallel considering Ben was in fine form blaming Michael for Libby and Ana Lucia's death while maintaining his moral high ground during "Meet Kevin Johnson". All of this draws striking similarities with Locke's disposition which I probably should have picked up earlier on. Locke doesn't want to do his own dirty work - he was never able to fully stand up to his father and duped Sawyer into killing him for Locke and then taking credit for it himself. He sabotaged Jack and Juliet's ride off the Island by blowing up the submarine but continued to maintain his moral innocence. This combined with his verbal stab at Jack ("If you lie to them half as well as you lie to yourself, they'll believe you") makes me believe he is the perfect replacement for Ben.

A few quick things. I think there is a reasonable chance that Charlotte is Annie - Ben's old Dharma friend - or related to her. I think Claire is dead and died during the night she, Sawyer and Miles camped - as Miles could sense the impending death on their jungle hike which would explain his increased interest in Aaron's ma. The reunion between Desmond and Penny was pretty spectacular, although it makes one wonder how much we will be seeing Desmond over the next two years. And that Sun and Widmore's common interest is finding the Island.

Depending of whether or not I feel like writing about LOST next week, I may have a season recap. But regardless, I am going to have to find something to blog about for the next 35 weeks. Any and all ideas are appreciated.