Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Found Lost

Five years ago, I decided during May to watch Lost from beginning to end. I was bored, a bit stressed, and mildly depressed for a couple of reasons. I found an online streaming site and went through the entire first three seasons.

It was a crappy, free streaming site that used videos from multiple links. I didn't use Netflix at the time. I had no job to pay for it. So I went along with that until I got to season 4, which merely played the first episode of season 3 all over again. The second episode was correct, but I wasn't watching that without watching Episode 1 of the fourth season. So I stopped.

Three weeks ago, it occurred to me that Lost might be available on Netflix, which I now have and pay for, so I searched and immediately found it. From there, I picked up from where I left in late May of 2010.

It wasn't difficult to get into the series again, and it started a marathon binge-watch that helped me get through my first six-day workweek at Wal-Mart to offset the flying lesson costs. That was roughly how long it took me to watch seasons 4 to 6 entirely, staying up until almost 3am in the morning to get through several episodes after work.

Having watched it all in its entirety, it no longer seems complicated for me in any way at all. Seasons 1 to 3 all feature character backgrounds and presents mysterious science-fiction, sometimes supernatural mysteries of the island. This includes the convergence of the main and tail section survivors and the introduction of The Others, native inhabitants of the island that have their own mysterious, suspicious intentions.

Season 4 is all about the survivors' contact and dealings with a freight ship that has apparently been sent to rescue everyone (though it turns out its only real purpose was to remove The Others' leader Ben Linus). New characters are introduced. It also features "flash-forwards" of select characters after they've been rescued from the island, (with the character of Jack desperately wanting to return) and eventually how they were rescued. The character of Ben Linus manages to 'move' the island by turning a wheel, causing himself to be teleported to Tunisia.

Season 5 has everyone split up between those who stayed on the island and those who were rescued; on the island, Ben's action has caused the leftover survivors to time-jump back and forth to different time periods. Mid-way through, John Locke manages to turn the wheel himself, stopping the island from time-jumping, but stranding everyone in 1974 while he ends up in Tunisia in the present day. From there he is helped by Charles Widmore to persuade those that left to return, an intention of John's from the 4th season. When he largely fails, Ben Linus murders him and manages to round most of the six up (including John Locke's body) to take a flight certain to pass within the island's mysterious reach. Ultimately all six rescued end up on the flight and back on the island, but they're split up; some end up in 1977 where those that never left are living with the Dharma Initiative, and others end up crash-landing in the present day. The 1977 group are absorbed into the Initiative while the present-day group marvel at John Locke's sudden return to life. Jack ends up trying to detonate a hydrogen bomb in 1977 to prevent a certain plot element in time from happening, therefore eventually preventing the original plane crash, which he does.

Season 6 is simply an alternate look at all the survivors' lives had the plane not crashed on the island (now underwater due to the bomb). It also has an alternate storyline where instead of working, the bomb's detonation merely transported everyone to the present day. It turns out John Locke is a human form of one of the mysterious entities on the island known as the 'smoke monster' (which had taken previous dead human forms known to the survivors throughout the series) and has an agenda. Essentially, most of the island's mysteries are solved and certain character backgrounds are finally told, and in the end Jack prevents this entity from leaving the island (its intention the entire time). In the alternate storyline, everyone's story is revealed to be part of a means to bring them together to 'move on,' everyone having died individually already.

To put it as simple as possible, it's about people crashing on an island that's mysterious and haunting, etc., their dealings with the natives, their attempts to leave, their attempts to return, and their ultimate showdown with an evil entity in the end in an attempt to protect the island. With unusual elements, time-travel, and science-fiction thrown in.

I liked it right up to season six. Up to then, it mostly made sense to me. But at the same time, even halfway through season five, some things didn't add up. A big example of this is Jack's conflicting desperations. At first he's dedicated to leaving the island. Then he's dedicated to returning. Then, almost right after he's returned, he's dedicated to preventing himself and everyone else from ever coming in the first place. Then he's once again dedicated to staying on the island. He becomes Jacob's replacement, defeats the 'man in black,' and then dies peacefully where he wants to die.

I think the writers had good fun with the constant time-travelling in the fifth season. I certainly enjoyed Sawyer's reactions to the very random jumps. The character backstories were also pretty interesting. The first four and a half seasons were pretty cohesive, but after that point it just got kind of random and sudden, which threw it off a little for me. I wonder if the writers weren't quite sure what to do once they got everyone returned to the island successfully. It seemed like there was a great expectation of some sort of war or adventure or something great once everyone was back, considering it was constantly suggested that nothing could come together or work properly for the island's sake (or everyone on it) if the six that left hadn't promptly returned.

I'm pleased with the ending in terms of the select few (including Claire) that managed to fly off the island on the plane, but I'm puzzled at the seemingly random choices of characters and the unusual, overly sentimental meaning of the "flash-sideways" time-line as they call it. Some things are never explained and seem kind of hard to believe - that there's a woman on the island sometime during the middle ages that 'protects' it and raises two children to do the same, that the island has this seemingly magical light at its core, and has all this significance. It's almost treated like a character on its own.

There definitely are a lot of great positives. The storytelling in general, disregarding the randomness of the latter episodes, never really faltered within the episodes themselves. The writers manage to intertwine a lot of things at once. I highly enjoyed Richard Alpert's story, and how Jacob fits himself seemingly randomly into everyone's life. If this series was novelized into a series of books, it would make a great adventure story in terms of the characters and some of the plots - like Sayid working as a secret assassin for Ben, or Desmond's backstory.

There's a lot of great acting too. The best moments of the sixth season were Jacob's interactions with Titus Welliver's original version of the 'man in black' (it would have been so much easier if he had a name). Jacob is constantly quiet and serene and laid-back yet in charge, and the M-I-B is similarly quiet, yet insanely desperate, which shows, and almost hilariously. "All I want to do is leave, Jacob, why can't you let me leave?" "As long as I'm around you're not going anywhere." "Yeah, well, see, that's why I want to kill you, Jacob." "Even if you do, someone else will just take my place." "Yes, well, then I'll kill them too." Then he smashes a wine bottle on a log in slow-motion. Very dramatic. In a humorous, petty way. I also highly liked how, in some way, virtually every minor character save for a few were re-written into other parts just as minor but obvious and important. Like the radio person on the freight ship later turning up as Desmond's driver in the sideways time-line in the sixth season.

I congratulate the writers for handling a lot of backstory, intention, intertwining plot elements and time-travel specifics, and how they slowly reveal more and more of certain realities as the show advances. I also congratulate the actors on a very pleasing, highly plausible performance. But I will say I'm just a little put-off at how the last season was put together. It seems like a silly, slapped-together kind of ending that revealed some interesting things but largely didn't make much sense to me. The biggest issue that created this, while it provided a huge dramatic ending, was Jack's immediate eagerness to detonate a bomb.

One thing I should finally note is where everyone's been since. I can't think of anything I've seen any of the ensemble cast in since Lost finished, with an exception for Michael Emerson, who played Ben Linus; I've noticed him in Person of Interest, and I've seen Evangaline Lily in a shampoo commercial - but I can't think of anything since that I've seen Mathew Fox in, or Terry O'Quinn, or Jorge Garcia, etc. It's like the show brought together all these great actors for one performance, and then they all went their separate ways, just as minor or unknown as they were before. I have seen a few of them in films and TV before they showed up on Lost - I caught Nestor Carbonnell in The Laramie Project (2002) and Titus Welliver in Born to be Wild (1994) but otherwise that's about it.

Maybe I'm just not prone to enough pop culture to have noticed.

After five years, I've finally finished, and I can give a proper grade.

Overall: B+

It would have a higher mark if the last season and a half weren't kind of screwed up. Despite that, the writing was pretty high-end.

Red Cloud
"

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Santeria

Once again, Boom 99.7 has come forth with something great.


I've never heard of Sublime before, not really. Wikipedia told me they were a 90s outfit, and, completely characteristic of my tastes, their genre was Ska. With some punk.

This song makes me realize why I love Ska. The Police's 'One World' made me realize I will always love it and it will define my overall taste in music to no end, and this song makes me see exactly why I love it.

It's the bass.

In Ska the bass guitar is the instrument you hear the most in terms of constancy and melody. The guitar usually plays staccato chords and now and then full melodies via string plucking, but its sound is mostly as accompaniment, or at least it sounds that way to me. Everything plays around the bass line. Also, it's often played quickly at times, sounding fretful, which I find attractive.

Since I was very young I always tended to get the majority of my emotional response and synesthetic backdrop from the bass in music. I relate to that instrument the most and find it the main reason I like the majority of the songs I like. There are some in other genres where it's almost entirely the piano providing the reason I love the music, but 90% of the time it's the bass. Its notes are deep and rooted, which I feel aligned with in terms of my own personality, or how I see myself. I guess my ears are more tuned to the lower notes of a song, because I've always enjoyed and listened to and picked those up first and focused on them. My method for learning a song by ear is always to learn the bass line first, because it almost always uses root notes of the chords other instruments use in its progression. Bass plays a C, the guitar plays a C...major, or minor, or seventh, whatever.

It's the bass and, to a slightly lesser extent, the rhythm. The drums always keep a nice steady beat and rhythm in Ska songs, and this one is perfect in terms of the speed and rhythm of the hi-hat. Perhaps it's partly why I took up the drums eight years ago...I always drum my fingers to the beat of every instrument in a song almost every time, and I have a sense of time and beat. One thing I realized when I tried to play 'One World' on the drums for the first time, a song that's full of almost random flourishes and constant changes in beat (a Stewart Copeland masterclass type of thing) I surprised myself by very quickly adjusting to and keeping the rhythm and beat mostly correct while predictably screwing up every flourish, on hi-hat and toms. It comes naturally to me.

Focusing on this song, I heard it on the radio once and found the bass attractive due to its melody. Of course, I forgot to look it up, so I didn't hear it again until yesterday, when I remembered and located the song and listened to it completely for the first time.

As I wrote above, its low-end melody made me realize what I love about Ska, and I liked the hi-hat rhythm. Deeper down, though, the bass painted a personality that seemed kind of high and low, full of very human worries and faults, and for the first time, it came off as feminine to me. My natural response was to paint a picture of my type based on the bass melody: A dark-haired, mostly round-faced girl with those Sherry Kean eyes (green) feeling and coming off exactly as this bass does. The A flat the bass plays during the chorus sounds especially fretful and highly attractive to me, and later it plays that note an octave lower - or deeper.

Despite the melody sounding kind of complicated and as a result multi-faceted and deep, it's actually quite simple. In general the bassist follows a progression (during the verses) of E, A flat/G sharp, C sharp/D flat, and B. The choruses go A, B, E, and A flat with extra notes between E and A flat that bring it down (D sharp and C sharp). Four main notes per progression, like most (if not all) commercial pop music songs. The trick to its greatness and dynamic is the bassist's adding of secondary, extra notes during and between notes of each progression. The changing of the note's depth - up or down an octave - also contributes. Because you're already going at a quick, steady tempo, adding these extra notes requires you to be quick in fretting them, so they come off as sixteenth notes added in almost at the last second, giving that 'fretful' yet dynamic, melody. All the sharps involved around E makes me suspicious that it's in E major.

In sharp contrast with the music, the lyrics are quite dark and threatening. When I first heard it I didn't pay too much attention to them though the vocalist sounded wistful. Looking them up, and reading about the suggested meaning on Wikipedia to be sure, it's actually about someone's jealous anger over his loss of a girl to someone else, using Mexican words to describe the guilty parties. "Sancho" took his "Heina" from him. This anger develops into a threatening yet pathetic-sounding, wistful rage as the vocalist talks about shooting the other guy with his 'new forty-five.' All this is set to mostly happy, easy-going, reconciliatory-sounding music. The progression during the chorus literally sounds like it's saying "Hey now, we're all happy here, let's set this all aside and forget our negative feelings." Meanwhile the singer is sadly venting his anger against this.

Some notable details: The band came from Long Beach, California, and started going in 1988. They were modestly popular and had a few minor hits in the 90s, but immediately after recording their third album (which was their first on a mainstream label) lead singer and guitarist Bradley Nowell died of a heroine overdose (on May 25, 1996 - for me, one day after my 1996 aerial photo was taken). The band's mascot, Nowell's dog, took his place in the music video. The song was released on January 7th, 1997. It became a hit - though a posthumous one. The band broke up immediately after Nowell's death. I find it kind of unfortunate and sad that the voice I'm listening to doesn't exist anymore, that the singer died a long time ago. Also of note is that the bass line of this song, the reason I like it altogether, apparently comes from an earlier song of theirs called 'Lincoln Highway Dub' from their 1994 album Robbin' the Hood. I may go listen to that.

Song: A
Lyrics: B+

Sooner or later I'll be writing a review (a proper review, not a huge look at why I like a music genre -and then the review) on a Billy Joel song.

Red Cloud
"

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Take-Off

At the beginning of July, I mentioned my intention to start the flying school at the Rockcliffe Flying Club. I've actually already started.

It's a bit of a process. In July I started cost-cutting measures like saving the data on my phone, etc. Then I applied for membership at the club, starting me on a proper course that was given to me at a later orientation meeting. After doing some budgeting and working six days straight at Wal-Mart, I started my lessons while booking the required physical for the license. That was dealt with this past Monday.

I had my first lesson last Wednesday. It was largely teaching, and then time on a flight simulator to show plane attitudes in real-time. Today was my second lesson. It was in the air.

I'm considering it a milestone, and it's largely why I haven't talked about my progress on here up to now. Today, I did all the ground checks, the instrument checks, taxied the plane, and literally took off from the ground on my own with the instructor instructing.

Way better than trying to fly a silly little drone with a camera, from the ground.

The lesson was 90% fine. The last 10% was during the descent, where the instructor took over. For some reason, I experienced motion sickness for the first time, and the result ended up on my shirt after we landed. Despite that, I had the instructor take a picture of me with the plane afterwards, soiled shirt and all.

It was an extremely immersive, all-controlling experience. We flew around a designated practice area - Gatineau, essentially - where I banked, went straight, stayed level, increased and decreased speed, and maintained altitude. It was pretty good for a first time (I wasn't all over the place, changing altitude or yawing all the time) and in general the experience was almost kind of liberating. I did use a bit too much elevator during take off - I literally shot the plane into the sky - but that was the best part. Take off has always been the best part of a flight for me. It was just the unusually nauseous landing.

This wasn't a time for staring down at the ground through the windows of course, though I used landmarks ahead to help me gauge my use of the controls. The funny aspect of this was that we largely followed Autoroute 307, which is the main highway my father has always used since my childhood to go to the cabin. I rode with him as a child on that road, and today I flew along over it as an adult. We also encountered some rain, which streamed along the windshield without being much of an issue, and looking up at the clouds just above us was quite spectacular as we were literally moving along under them - they passed over pretty quickly.

The only real issues were the hot humidity. Before take-off, I was dripping under that bright windshield. That, combined with how tense my legs were on the rudder controls (I had my seat advanced as far as possible to reach them) and my general tenseness (at first) on the control column is what I believe helped me feel the way I did near the end.

It's been a very neat learning experience so far. As I mentioned before, I find it interesting, and in general how the plane moves and stays in the air is pretty fascinating. Not to mention just leaving the ground and being able to be high above, going where you want, no buildings or ground obstacles in your way.

I just need to bring a cushion for next time. You know those people who are so short in the car, they require a cushion to sit on to see over the dashboard? I need one at my back to get me close to those darn pedals. I'm so darn short. I was able to maintain the rudder in general, but only with tensed legs applying pressure all the time, and that's not comfort or the way to do it.
Now to work another five-day week.
Aug. 19th, 2015 - First flight lesson. I.e., the first time I flew a plane.

Red Cloud
"

Clustered

Ever since Canada Post decided to completely eliminate door-to-door delivery for older neighbourhoods that were built before the cluster-box method was implemented, a lot of reaction has come about, with (no doubt) protests about the change. And I get the point of view that says the placement of the clusters are bad. I can understand it if you don't like where Canada Post has decided to put their boxes - that is, if they're on your lawn or on a dangerous corner or somewhere far away, secluded. I just don't get the point of view that says, 'we don't like this, period.'

I'm speaking as someone who grew up in neighbourhoods that were built before mandatory boxes were added to them, where, until recently, I got door-to-door delivery. Despite that, I am strongly in favour of this change.

In this day and age, receiving mail is very rare. The only mail the average person likely gets are bills, credit card offers and junk mail. How often does one receive hand-written letters anymore? The last time I sent anything by mail was to my father and his family in Jordan - once, earlier this year. The time before that it was to my "girlfriend" in Calgary in December of 2011. The time before that...sometime in the early 2000s, to my paternal aunt when she lived in Montreal. And this was when we exchanged letters back and forth. Before that it was the 90s and earlier, when I received handwritten letters and drawings (and even a tape recording) from my father while he lived in Africa. Back then it was probably commonplace. I know my mother has old letters.

When I sent that package to my father, he didn't send anything back. He e-mailed me to acknowledge the gifts/letters. Everything he sent me he gave me in person during one of his visits. Otherwise, personal correspondence is all electronic and instant. You can choose to have all your bills and statements delivered to you online. Theoretically you could eliminate all paper mail except for the flyers and junk. Why would you rather pay tax dollars for the door-to-door delivery of junk?

Because change is so obviously difficult for people in general (I'm not much of an exception myself) Canada Post was quite generous with their boxes. There's one right in front of my house, one around the corner, another on the next street...you can stand at one cluster and look at another one on the other street not 100 metres away. Is that so difficult? Instead of opening the door and reaching out, I have to walk an extra forty feet across the street. Gee.

I like this change. It saves money and reflects how things have changed. All new neighbourhoods since the 90s have had these clusters, so it shouldn't be such a big deal for those older neighbourhoods that have to adapt. The only problems I foresee are lighting issues (some boxes are not in well-lit areas, including the ones on my street - winter days, after all, are short) and snow removal problems. I doubt people are going to enjoy having to hike over a huge snow bank to access their mail box once winter has truly arrived. I don't know if removal drivers take the boxes into account when they're clearing a street, but I hope they do.

Red Cloud
"

Monday, August 3, 2015

Three Men

I should have written a review on this film when I finally watched it almost two months ago. Back in May I decided to listen to a song that had come and gone in my head for over a decade, a song that turned out to be called 'Bad Boy' by Miami Sound Machine. In terms of that song, I haven't really come back and listened to it since. I guess it was just something to put a finger on considering it came and went all that time. Nothing about it shined to me other than the bright chorus.

The song did, however, really spur my interest in seeing the Three Men and a Baby film it opened, though. I wanted to see that introduction I'd remembered, as well as properly watch something I could only recall glimpses of and read about on Wikipedia. Plus my mother's convinced I somewhat look like Steve Guttenberg. I don't really look like anyone in my opinion. Unless you count both my parents.

Before I go into what I saw, I want to mention what I could remember and therefore take from what I thought of the film's plot beforehand. The only actual scene I remembered was of these two men putting the baby in a car at a busy street side. The two men were sinister in a way, but not necessarily bad (my mind didn't label them as bad because I thought they were the main characters, so if they were sinister or bad, it was a mild, good version of it, like bad guys who aren't that bad or turn truly good at the end). There really is such a scene in the film, but the two men actually are antagonists and not the main characters. And they're about to put the baby in their trunk.

The film was also a chance to see Tom Shelleck; all I'd seen were pictures and if I think I look even remotely like someone, we share a moustache. Interestingly, the film was directed by Leonard Nimoy, so that was also a neat element.

The opening scenes were more layered than I ever remembered them; they depict not just wall drawings but the Michael character (played by Guttenberg) painting those drawings, interspersed with an overall glimpse of how all three men live in the apartment. All three largely entertain women as they come and go, etc. It also shows their professions somewhat, with Peter's (Shelleck's) architect drawing equipment and Jack's (Danson's) acting. Michael's cartoons are the main subject.

The film was largely enjoyable. The plot played out very interestingly and ran smoothly. The only thing I didn't like too much was Michael's panicky care of the baby when it first shows up (it can't be that scary) and the mother Sylvia's almost childlike dependence at the end. The plot line is very simple: Three self-interested men who have a hedonistic lifestyle while living together wind up with a baby (well, two of them at first - the third is out of the country on a film set). Two drug dealers are mixed in thanks to a favour and a mix-up, but in the end all three fall in love with parenthood and become dedicated surrogate fathers until the mother shows up. Then she willingly joins the three in taking care of the baby girl.

I don't have too much to point out or note about the film's plot or action. It delivered on what I was hoping for and was interesting from beginning to end. There were some sweet moments I really liked. The scene where they're at an infant-oriented pool full of mothers, three men carrying a baby in the water together and filming it looked quite unusual in a funny way. I would watch it again. It even made me look up a song by the Young Rascals called 'Good Lovin' that plays near the beginning of the film.

What I also largely found was that I saw a lot of stuff I almost kind of envied in a materialistic sense. The nice spacious lofty apartment, the way each guy has his own personality and interests really displayed via material items, etc. They really seem to have it made. I'm not saying I want an expensive space with all the material wonders of my interests, but I can't wait to have my own style when I do ultimately get my own space.

Film: B+

One other thing I really noticed was the age difference between all three of them - Shelleck would have been 42, Ted Danson 40, and Guttenberg a mere 29. His youthfulness does show compared to the other two.

Update August 25, 2015: I recently watched it again and realized one of the drug dealing antagonists - the one that silently stands behind the one that does all the talking - is actually Earl Hindman, i.e. Wilson from Home Improvement. If anyone's interested in seeing his entire face, it's all over the first half of the film, often smiling. He doesn't say much though...I feel like he rarely said anything in any role prior to his eight-year stint as Wilson, who talks all the time, often eloquently.

I'd watch it again. I just need a DVD of it. The TV-recorded VHS is lying around somewhere, but the VHS itself doesn't work anymore and I'd rather watch a version that wasn't 'edited for time.'

Red Cloud
"