“LOST” RETROSPECT: (1.01-1.02) “The Pilot”

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“LOST” RETROSPECT: (1.01-1.02) “The Pilot”

The pilot episode of some of my favorite television series have rarely impressed me . . . if not at all. There are a few exceptions to the rule. And one of those exceptions happened to the be pilot episode for ABC-TV’s “LOST”

Created by J.J. Abrams, Jeffrey Leiber and Damon Lindelof, “LOST” aired on television for six seasons, between 2004 and 2010. As many fans know, “LOST” told about the survivors of a commercial passenger plane crash on a mysterious South Pacific island, while flying between Sydney and Los Angeles. While television viewers got to know these survivors during their time on the island, but also through flashbacks revealing their past. The series’ first episode aired in two parts on September 22, 2004.

(1.01) “Pilot (Part 1)” introduced the series’ leading character, a spinal surgeon named Dr. Jack Shephard, who wakes up in the middle of the jungle following the crash of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815. He stumbles onto the beach and finds the chaos left behind from Oceanic 815’s crash. As everyone knows, the plane broke into three pieces before crashing on the island. Jack and most of the survivors ended upon with the fuselage. The cockpit and the plane’s first-class section ended deep into the jungle with no survivors, save the pilot. And the tail section fell into the ocean on the other side of the island. Jack and some of the survivors like John Locke and Hugo “Hurley” Reyes help other passengers with injuries or dodging burning pieces. After helping some of the passengers, Jack goes to another part of the beach to tend to his own injury, when he meets Kate Austen. She sews up his injury, while the two bond. Many other things occur during the episode. Survivors either form friendships or get on each others’ nerves. During their first night on the beach, everyone becomes unnerved by sounds of a monster deep in the jungle. The following day, Jack heads toward the cockpit to retrieve the plane’s transceiver and is accompanied by Kate and musician Charlie Pace. They retrieve the transceiver and encounter the badly injured pilot, who informs them that the plane had lost radio contact six hours into the flight and veered off course. Before he can share any further information, he is seized by a strange being and killed. Jack, Kate and Charlie make a run for it.

(1.02) “Pilot (Part 2)” continue Jack, Kate and Charlie’s flight from the monster that killed the pilot. During their absence, the dog of 10 year-old survivor Walt Lloyd finds a pair of handcuffs. A Middle Eastern survivor name Sayid Jarrah comes under suspicion from a Southern-born passenger named “Sawyer”. Jack and his two companions make it back to the beach with the transceiver. Sayid, Kate, “Sawyer”, Charlie and a step-brother-sister team named Boone Carlyle and Shannon Rutherford trek to the high ground to use the transceiver. Instead of contacting help, they manage to interpret a message sent earlier by a French woman on the island. One of the badly wounded survivors on the beach turn out to be a U.S. marshal demanding the whereabouts of his prisoner, a woman. Flashbacks reveal that the prisoner is Kate.

I will not deny that “LOST” is one of my favorite television series. It is not on my list of the top ten favorite shows. But it is on my list of top twenty favorites. Despite my favoritism toward “LOST”, I cannot deny that it also possessed some seriously flawed writing. But it was not on display in the two-part pilot. Well . . . somewhat. A few of the occurrences in this episode ended up contradicting the series’ future narrative.

It is ironic that the first villainous character to make his/her appearance in the series turned out to be the main villain – the Smoke Monster aka the Man in Black. The survivors heard its “roar” during their first night on the island. And he killed the Oceanic 815’s pilot while the latter discussed the plane’s location with Jack and Kate. In fact, the Smoke Monster killed another survivor in an early Season Three episode – Mr. Eko. While many fans are still debating the reason behind the MIB’s murder of Mr. Eko, no one has figured out why the pilot was killed. Especially after Season Six revealed the list of candidates for the island’s new caretaker. I suspect that the MIB was simply being portrayed as a supernatural monster before the writers had decided to portray him as a villain with a purpose.

I have two more complaints about the episode. Some of the characterizations struck me as one-dimensional. This was especially the case for Shannon Rutherford, who was portrayed as some bitchy Valley Girl; Jin Kwon, who was written as a cliché of the oppressive Asian husband; Sun Kwon, who was portrayed as the typically oppressed Asian wife; and James “Sawyer” Ford, who was not only unlikable, but also the one-dimensional Southern white male. In Sawyer’s case, not only was his character portrayed in the worst clichéd manner possible, poor Josh Holloway was stuck with some pretty bad dialogue – especially in Part 2. He fared a lot better as the series progressed. Speaking of dialogue – yeech! Yes, I thought it was pretty bad. It was more than bad. I found it somewhat infantile and unmemorable.

Fortunately, the good outweighed the bad. Despite some of the one-dimensional characterization and bad dialogue, there were some pretty good performances. For me, one of the best performances came from Matthew Fox, who dove right into the role as the series’ lead character, Dr. Jack Shephard. Fox gave early hints of the complicated and deeply flawed character later revealed in future episodes. Fox’s early revelation of Jack’s flaws must have been subtle, for the later revelation of his flaws seemed to have taken many by surprise. Dominic Monaghan gave a funny and charming performance as the drug-addicted musician, Charlie Pace. And yet, his performance was skillfully shaded with hints of his character’s drug addiction. Thanks to Naveen Andrews’ subtle, yet intense performance and good writing, the character of Sayid Jarrah rose above the usual clichés featuring Middle Eastern characters. Emilie de Ravin was a delight as the pregnant Australian survivor, Claire Littleton. As for Evangeline Lilly, she did a pretty good job as Kate Austen, the survivor trying to hide her status as a Federal prisoner. However, I had some difficulty accepting her as the take charge type, as the script tried to portray her in Part 2. Terry O’Quinn was perfectly mysterious as John Locke, but viewers had to wait for another two episodes before he began to shine in the role. And Harold Perrineau gave a skillful performance as Michael Dawson, the inexperienced father of 10 year-old survivor, Walt Lloyd.

I felt that the narrative for “The Pilot”, which was written by Abrams and Lindelof, proved to be a well-written adventure. The story covered all of the elements for a story about survivors on a tropical island. The addition of the Smoke Monster injected a little horror and a great deal of mystery that would become the series’ hallmark. One of the aspects of “The Pilot” that I found particularly interesting was that it started with a close-up of Jack Shephard’s eye – post crash. In other words, this story did not start with the crash. Audiences were not treated to scenes aboard Oceanic Flight 815 and the actual crash, except during flashbacks. Very unusual. There were other scenes that I still find fascinating after nine years. My God! Has it been nine years?Those scenes include Jack, Kate and Charlie’s escape from the cockpit, following the pilot’s death; the discovery of Danielle Rousseau’s message in Part 2; the encounter with the polar bear; and the survivors’ first awareness of the Smoke Monster’s existence. But the one scene that many consider outstanding – including myself – is that opening shot of the fuselage wreckage on the beach and the chaos that surrounded it. I must admit that not only did J.J. Abrams really outdid himself in this particular scene, it is probably one of his best directed sequences in his entire career.

Despite a few hiccups regarding dialogue and some one-dimensional characterizations, “LOST” provided one of the best series openings I have ever viewed on television, thanks to some superb direction by J.J. Abrams, a damn fine cast and a well written teleplay. It is a pity that the series has never been able to maintain such excellent consistency during the rest of its six seasons on the air.

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“VANTAGE POINT” (2008) Review

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“VANTAGE POINT” (2008) Review

“VANTAGE POINT” is a tightly woven thriller about eight strangers with eight different points of view of an assassination attempt on the President of the United States, during an anti-terrorism summit in Salamanca, Spain. Directed by Pete Travis and written by Barry Levy, the movie starred Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt.

When I had first saw the trailer for “VANTAGE POINT” four years ago, I had assumed it would be one of those remakes of the Japanese film, “RASHOMON” (1950). I figured there would be an assassination attempt on the President and the film would follow with various points of view on the incident. This is what actually happened in “VANTAGE POINT” . . . but not quite.“VANTAGE POINT” did reveal the assassination attempt from various points of view. In “RASHOMON” and other versions of the film, those views are shown as flashbacks. But in “VANTAGE POINT” each point of view is not a flashback. Instead, each POV merely gives a certain view of the story, while the story moves forward. For example, the movie started out with the point of view of a news producer (Sigourney Weaver), before ending at a particular point in the story. The next point of view belongs to Secret Service agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), which ends a little further in the story than the news producer’s POV. And so on. The movie ends with an exciting action sequence told from the various viewpoints of the major characters – heroes and villains.

The more I think about “VANTAGE POINT”, the more I realize how much I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the tight setting of Salamanca, Spain (actually the film was shot in Mexico). I must add that one of the things I enjoyed about this movie was that Levy’s script had a way of putting a twist on any assumptions anyone might form about the plot. I loved how Travis handled the film’s action, making it well-paced. I enjoyed the performances of the major cast members. I was especially impressed by the performances of Dennis Quaid as the emotionally uncertain Barnes, who eventually pieced together the real plot. I also enjoyed the performances of Matthew Fox as his fellow Secret Service agent, Forest Whitaker as an American tourist and Edgar Ramirez (“THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”) as a Spanish Special Forces soldier involved in the plot against the President. But more importantly, I loved Barry Levy’s script, which put a twist on any assumptions the moviegoer may have formed about the story’s plotlines and characters. My only quibble with “VANTAGE POINT” was the interaction between Whitaker’s character and a Spanish girl, which I found slightly contrived near the end of the movie.

“VANTAGE POINT” did pretty well at the box office. Unfortunately, most critics compared it unfavorably to “RASHOMON”. Personally, I do care about the critics’ opinion. “VANTAGE POINT” was the type of movie that forced the audience to think. And I suspect that many moviegoers and critics would have preferred a film that laid everything out in the open. And since I have a history of liking movies that are not popular with the public or film critics, all I can say is that I am personally glad that I had purchased the DVD for this movie. It ended up becoming one of my favorite 2008 movies.

 

“LOST” Fans Illusions About Kate Austen

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“LOST” FANS ILLUSIONS ABOUT KATE AUSTEN

I just discovered that six years after ABC’s “LOST” left the air, many fans are still harboring illusions about the Kate Austen character.  Why?  Because she was portrayed by Evangeline Lilly, the show’s leading lady?  Did Kate being the leading female character was a reason why so many made excuses for her mistakes and crimes?

What exactly did Kate do?  Well . . . let’s see:

*Murdered her stepfather Wayne Jensen, when she discovered that he was her real father.  Apparently, she could not deal with the reality that she shared blood with him.

*In order to murder Wayne, she blew up his house, which also belonged to her mother, Diane Jensen.

*Kate dragged her mother into a false insurance claim over the destroyed house, so that Diane could profit from it and she could pretend to herself that she had murdered Wayne to protect her mother from his drunken abuse.

*Recruited former boyfriend Tom Brennan to help her gain access to Diane, while the latter was in the hospital and she was a fugitive.  This led him to be shot and killed by the police, while Kate was trying to make her escape from the hospital.

*Planned a bank robbery in New Mexico that endangered the lives of innocent employees and customers, so that she could gain access to the suitcase left behind by U.S. Marshal Edward Mars, which contained a toy airplane that Tom had given to her when they were kids.

*Married a cop named Kevin Callis, using a false identity.  When she thought she might be pregnant, she panicked, drugged Kevin and went on the run again.

*While on the island, she tried to manipulate and trick both Jack Shephard and James “Sawyer” Ford into giving her Marshal Mars’ suitcase, which she and Sawyer found, while swimming in a lagoon.

*She gave Sun Kwon the idea to poison the latter’s husband, Jin Kwon, so that he would remain on the island and not join Michael Dawson’s attempt to leave.  Kate did this, because she wanted a spot on Michael’s raft in order to leave herself.

*Convinced Jack to create a story that she was Aaron Littleton’s mother, so that she could use the infant as an emotional comforter, following the trauma they had faced leaving the island . . .and not bother making any effort to find any of Aaron’s living relatives.

*Met Carole Littleton (Aaron’s grandmother) at the funeral of Christian Shephard, six months after returning to the States and never told the latter than she was a grandmother.  Kate kept Aaron away from his grandmother for another two-and-a-half years, before she finally had the decency to finally hand the toddler over to his true guardian.

I noticed during the series’ run that Kate had a habit of resorting to violence (physical or verbal) whenever someone shatters her illusions.  She had resorted to anger when both Jack and fellow castaway John Locke tried to tell her that they all needed to return to the island.  She had resorted to physical abuse when former member of the Others, Juliet Burke, revealed that Jack had seen her have sex with Sawyer.  And she did the same to Sawyer, when he accused her of using him for sex, whenever she had relationship problems with Jack.

Many fans have accused Kate’s parents of being monsters.  Wayne Jensen was a drunk and wife abuser.  Well . . . this is true.  They also accused Diane Jensen of being a terrible mother by preferring Wayne over her daughter.  Diane was merely guilty of having bad taste in men, preferring the alcoholic Wayne over her upstanding Army sergeant husband, Sam Austen.  Otherwise, she was a pretty decent mother.  Yes, she did expose Kate’s murder of Wayne to the police.  But Kate had murdered him . . . her husband.  When Kate tried to claim that she was trying to save Diane from Wayne’s abuse, the latter made it clear that she knew Kate was lying.  Kate’s soliloquy in (2.09) “What Kate Did” confirmed that she was not even thinking of her mother when she murdered Wayne.  And Sergeant Austen was not that surprised that Kate had murdered Wayne.  He figured she would do it once she learned that Wayne was her real father, she would kill the latter.

Yes, Kate was not perfect.  Yes, Kate made mistakes and committed crimes.  Yes, many other “LOST” characters were guilty of mistakes and crimes.  But why did so many fans make excuses for her lapses in morality?  Not only did they make excuses for her murder of Wayne Jensen, they also made excuses for her kidnapping of Aaron Littleton, upon leaving the island for the first time.  Yes, Kate had kidnapped Aaron.  And Jack Shephard, along with Sun Kwon, Sayid Jarrah and Hugo “Hurley” Reyes were accessories to her crime.  Both (5.11) “Whatever Happened, Happened” and (6.13) “The Last Recruit” made it clear that Kate had pretended to be Aaron’s blood mother for selfish reasons.  Yet, some people are still claiming that she had merely “adopted” Aaron.

As I had earlier stated, it has been six years since “LOST” went off the air.  And although there are some fans who are willing to openly admit that Kate had made mistakes and committed crimes, I have noticed that other fans – many of them, as a matter of fact – still continue to make excuses for her.  Only one other “LOST” character has received such a large amount of excuses and that is “Sawyer” Ford.  And I do not know whether to find this pathetic, funny or both.