Thursday, March 26, 2009

3/31/09 - March Madness and the NBA race for #8

I love college basketball, I love March Madness, and, even it seems like a sort of too-easy sporting event to love (since the team I am loyal to, the Tar Heels of North Carolina, are perennial Goliaths/contenders), nonetheless, I do love it even when there aren't really a great deal of opening round upsets to speak of. The reason being is that when upsets are expected, they're not really upsets at all. To know that the higher seeds are capable of steamrolling the entire tournament may make this year's (and last year's) tournament seem dull, but it lays the seeds for future tournaments, when we don't expect a George Mason or W. Kentucky to do anything but roll over and die an then lo! We are shocked again anew. I've heard a lot about how this might be a really boring tournament, but I don't find a lot boring about close games and desperation basketball, even if Goliath winds up eating David alive. And again, to reiterate, I'm biased, because UNC is one of the 800-pound gorillas here, and I would love to see them win every game by 20 and cruise to the title.

But it brings me to one of my favorite subjects, which is the bad rap that the NBA suffers in comparison to the college game. Having come to the NBA late, and not having a team to swear blind loyalty to gives me a little bit of the freedom to freelance, fandom wise, and I once again find myself following the plight of that NBA Sisyphus of franchises, the Phoenix Suns. They played the Jazz last week to fight for the right to enter the playoffs, and the atmosphere of the game was absolutely electric - far more so than any of the opening round games of the NCAAs. I don't know where the idea comes from that pro athletes don't care, or don't try, but it seems particular to the NBA. Nobody ascribes sloth and non-motivation to the NFL as a league, so why the NBA? Especially since the Suns-Jazz game I saw featured neck and neck lead changes, dives for loose balls, and all players going all-out 110 percent while playing some of the best basketball in the world. I love the NCAA tournament, but if basketball gives you pleasure it's sheer madness to write off the entire NBA just because of received wisdom that the games don't matter and the players don't care. When a 35 year old point guard is sacrificing his body by stepping in front of Carlos Boozer on the way to the rim, hitting the deck to ensure postseason games, well; the dichomoty falls apart.

Best of luck to the Suns in their quest, even if it looks like post-Sacramento all hopes are dead in the water until next year.

Friday, March 20, 2009

3/20/09 - Lost: Season 5, Episode 8 - 9

Thoughts on Lost, Season 5, Episode 8:

- WTF. So Sayid is part of Ben's origin story? That both makes a lot of sense, and no sense at all. The writers of Lost have been playing with fire all season with the time travel paradoxes, and they just ratcheted up the stakes with Sayid's action at the end of this episode. That said, I think that it's not really as much of a game-changer as it seems. Doubtful that Ben will die; much more likely that he will be resurrected by the island and conclude that he should be the leader of its people and maniupulate a man named Sayid into attempting to murder his own self in the past, since he has always known it has happened. Even writing that sentence made my brain hurt.

- I like the suggestion that Sayid had a hand in creating the Monster (The Monster That Is Ben, that is). Over the course of the show we've seen time and again that Sayid's judgments and decisions are the correct ones. He was the one that believed that Ben was not "Henry Gale", and in conflicts among the castaways he historically has had his judgment borne out by the events of the show. I wonder if his decision to shoot will also be borne out by the events of the show.

- Although in the following episode, it looks like the writers are positioning Ben as a flawed but redeemable character ultimately. At some point they have to get off the fence with Ben and with the ghost of Alex giving him his new marching orders it looks like he may yet work his way toward some sort of salvation. Seeing him forced to use his manipulations to serve Locke instead of torment him will make for some interesting new wrinkle's in Ben's method of operations.

- It's easy to forget now, but Lost's whole first season had no Ben at all. It's amazing how primary and elemental he now seems to the central narrative. Although narratively I see no way for him to make it out of the show alive, I have to admit that if they do wind up killing him off I'll be sad to see him go.

- Locke & Ben are a cut above, acting-wise. The contrast between the poorly written and decently acted Kate scenes previously in the season and Locke and Ben's charged tete-a-tete's really bring it home. I don't think the writers do Evangeline Lilly any favors, but it's kind of unavoidably noticable how far above the bar Michael Emerson and Terry O'Quinn consistently reach.

- I love the temple scenes. Straight out of the Indiana Jones school of kinda-hokey-but-actually-really awesome. There's a real sense of place and power in that temple - it's a strength of Lost that it slowly reveals the layers beneath its most narratively important locations. Similar to the way that we first saw the hatch exterior, and then gradually saw what was underneath (ultimately leading to the 'charged electromagnetic deposit' or whatever it is), we've been slowly led to see the temple fence, the exterior, and now the underground layer where the smoke emerges.

- Watching things fall apart around Sawyer is amazing. LaFleur as wielder of authority is great, LaFleur as cover-up artists really tests Sawyer's ability to think on his feet in an amazing way.

Friday, March 13, 2009

3/13/09 - Lost: Season 5, Episodes 5-7

Thoughts on Episodes 5-6

1. 2 episodes without Jack and Kate. Glory glory hallelujah! Watching two episodes back to back without those two just reinforced my opinion that they have become the least compelling characters on the show. Especially in contrast with Locke, whose adventures and struggles are much more dramatic (as opposed to melodramatic) and whose character arc resonates much more strongly with the overriding themes of the show. I really wish that they would just leave Jack and Kate off-island with a happy ending so that I don't have to witness high-strung Jack making asinine arguments and moony Kate biting her lip in confusion over which man to string along. Blech.

2. One of the things I like most about Locke is that he is very different in demeanor depending on which other character he is dealing with. Like in real life, where one's persona/personality comes through differently depending on who you are with (subtly in some cases, dramatically in others), Locke's persona shifts depending on who is he is with. So, when he's talking to Jack, who has such a poorly defined sense of self/comfort in his beliefs, Locke comes off as calm, certain, and at peace with himself and his choices, because compared to Jack, he is. But when he's talking to Ben, Locke comes across as fearful and uncertain, because Ben's strategy of manipulating people is predicated on a kind of titanic certainty in whatever Ben is saying at any given moment. In the face of that kind of certainty, Locke's self-doubt flowers. So you have two dramatically different scenes: a calm Locke attempting to talk Jack into returning, and a frantic Locke flailing suicidally and questioning everything in his dealings with Ben. Both scenes make sense based on the way Locke is written and portrayed, which speaks to the breadth of scenes Lost is capable of bringing off.

3. Why did Ben have to kill Locke? Why not let him kill himself. My 2 theories: 1) he didn't know about Eloise Hawking before Locke told him, and once he found that out Locke became redundant for Ben's purposes; or 2) Somehow Ben thought that if he killed Locke, if Locke did not die of his own free will, that the island wouldn't bring him back. Ben wants the leadership position that the island wants Locke for, that much is clear.

4. I'm really glad that all the off-island nonsense is over. Who wants to hang around LA when you can be on the Freak Island?

5. Similarly, although the time jumping was fun, I'm glad that we've stabilized in the '70s Dharma era. The building time paradoxes were starting to make my brain hurt, and now things are stabilized I'm looking forward to the writers using the deposit of our heroes in the Dharma era to flesh out a lot of the exposition/mysteries of all of the leftover Dharma relics that have provided so many questions over the first 4 seasons.

6. So happy to see Juliet and Sawyer as a pair. They work together quite well. Although it was annoying to see the suggestion that Sawyer hasn't gotten over Kate. Really? They were only sporadically together over the course of a couple of months, and now Sawyer and Juliet have a 3-year (!) relationship. I would think that would be plenty of time to get over a not-worth-it Kate.

7. It seems clear that Ben is revealed to be more unequivocally evil. Amazing how many predicaments he's been able to talk his way out of so far, but how is he going to talk his way out of killing Locke to Locke's face?