Thursday, May 27, 2010

Music Artist Rankings

In the tradition of my recent film director rankings, here's a similar list, this time for bands! You'll notice it's tilted more towards older bands, that's because I only did bands with at least four or five albums in their catalogue. One day the best current bands will be part of a similar list, but not yet!

1.The Album
3.Super Trouper
4.The Visitors

Aimee Man
1.Lost in Space
2.Bachelor No. 2
3.The Forgotten Arm
5.Fing Smilers

1.10,000 Hz Legend
2.Talkie Walkie
3.Moon Safari
4.Love 2
5.Pocket Symphony

Belle and Sebastian
1. Dear Catastrophe Waitress
2. The Life Pursuit
3. If You're Feeling Sinister
4. Fold Your Hands Child...
5. The Boy with the Arab Strap
6. Tigermilk

Bruce Springsteen
1.Born to the Run
2.Darkness on the Edge of Town
4.The River
5.Tunnel of Love
6.The Rising
7.We Shall Overcome
8.Born in the USA
9.The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle
10.Human Touch
11.Greetings from Asbury Park
12.Working on a Dream

1.A Rush of Blood to the Head
2.Viva La Vida

David Bowie
1.Ziggy Stardust
2.Aladdin Sane
4.Scary Monsters
6.Hunky Dory
8.Young Americans
9.Diamond Dogs
10.Station to Station

1.The Last Broadcast
2.Lost Souls
3.Some Cities
4.Kingdom of Rust

Electric Light Orchestra
1.A New World Record
2.Out of the Blue
4.Face the Music
7.El Dorado
9.On the Third Day

Elton John
1.Madman Across the Water
2.Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
3.Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy
4.Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player
5.Honky Chateau

Elysian Fields
1.Queen of the Meadow
2.Bum Raps and Love Taps
3.Bleed Your Cedar
4.Dreams that Breathe Your Name

Fleetwood Mac
3.Fleetwood Mac
4.Tango in the Night
6.Heroes are Hard to Find
7.Behind the Mask

1.Head First
3.Black Cherry
4.Seventh Tree
5.Felt Mountain

1.The Blueprint
2.Black Album
3.American Gangster
4.The Blueprint 3
5.Reasonable Doubt

Kanye West
1.808s & Heartbreaks
2.Late Registration
3.The College Dropout

Led Zeppelin
1.Houses of the Holy
2.Led Zeppelin IV
3.Led Zeppelin II
4.Physical Graffiti
5.Led Zeppelin
6.Led Zeppelin III
8.In Through the Out Door

1.Like a Prayer
2.Confessions on a Dance Floor
4.Ray of Light
5.Like a Virgin
6.American Life
7.Hard Candy
8.True Blue

Michael Jackson
3.Off the Wall

4.Wait for Me
5.Everything is Wrong
6.I Like to Score
7.Last Night

1.Black Holes and Revelations
2.The Resistance
4.Origin of Symmetry

New Order
1.Low Life
3.Power, Corruption and Lies
5.Waiting for the Siren's Call

New Pornographers
1.Twin Cinema
2.Electric Version
3.Mass Romantic

Nine Inch Nails
1.The Downward Spiral
2.Pretty Hate Machine
3.With Teeth
4.The Fragile
5.The Slip
6.Year Zero

Pet Shop Boys

2.Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
4.It's Never Been Like That

Pink Floyd
1.Dark Side of the Moon
2.The Wall
3.Wish You Were Here
5.The Final Cut
7.Atom Heart Mother
8.Piper at the Gates of Dawn
9.Saucerful of Secrets

1.Purple Rain
4.Around the World in a Day
5.Sign O' The Times
9.Planet Earth

1.OK Computer
2.The Bends
3.Kid A
4.Hail to the Thief
5.In Rainbows
7.Pablo Honey

Rilo Kiley
1.More Adventurous
2.Under the Blacklight
3.Take Offs and Landings
4.The Execution of All Things

Super Furry Animals
1.Phantom Power
2.Love Kraft
3.Hey Venus
4.Rings Around the World

The Beatles
1.Magical Mystery Tour
2.Abbey Road
3.The Beatles (White Album)
5.Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
6.Let It Be
7.Rubber Soul

The Flaming Lips
1.Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
2.At War With the Mystics
4.The Soft Bulletin
5.Clouds Taste Metallic
6.Transmissions from the Satellite Heart

The Smashing Pumpkins
1.Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
3.Machina: The Machines of God
4.Siamese Dream

The Smiths
1.The Queen is Dead
2.Meat is Murder
3.Strangeways, Here We Come
4.The Smiths

The Who
1.Who's Next
4.Who Are You
5.The Who By Numbers

Tori Amos
1.Under the Pink
2.From the Choirgirl Hotel
3.Little Earthquakes
4.Boys for Pele
5.American Doll Posse
6.To Venus and Back
7.Scarlet's Walk
8.Abnormally Attracted to Sin
9.The Beekeper
1.Achtung Baby
4.How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
5.The Joshua Tree
6.All That You Can't Leave Behind
8.No Line on the Horizon
10.The Unforgettable Fire

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost - 'The End' (6x17)

Let me start off by saying that just because the series finale was somewhere between weak and a total debacle, that doesn't invalidate the greatness of many moments throughout the history of Lost. I wrote up my ten favorite episodes, and the troubles in the finale, and the final season in general, don't invalidate the amazing things about those episodes. But, it also doesn't redeem the many mistakes that this episode makes, both in the final moments and throughout the hour. This is an episode that tries to use emotional moments from the show's past to mask the fact that it essentially abandons the narrative we've been following throughout the entire series.

I said in the first review of this season that the notion of going back to the supposedly 'character based' first season, and “bringing things full circle” doesn't appeal to me at all since the start of the circle was a pretty weak show. And yet, this episode hinges almost entirely on our fond memories of a show that was nowhere near as strong as it came to be. For me, Claire and Kate delivering the baby is an insignificant moment in the show's history, and Claire in general is a character who could walk off frame and not appear for a season without anyone caring. To just show us something we saw before, with flashbacks to remind us what was going on, is like a glorified clip show. Even if there was emotion in that moment, it's not that exciting to see it again.

That said, those reunions did work on an emotional level from time to time, mainly because of Giacchino's score and some canny editing. As you're mourning the loss of Lost the show, even the lamest couplings, like Sayid and Shanon, can gain a bit of emotion. When the characters actually did matter, as in the case of Charlie and Claire, it was great to see them come together again.

And, the episode's strongest scene was Sawyer and Juliet's reunion. That relationship was the emotional core of the series' final season and there was a cathartic pleasure in seeing them reunited. Juliet remains one of the series' strongest characters, and particularly in contrast to non-entity female characters like Kate and Claire, she's a strong, real person. It was a huge mistake to kill her since it took the show's heart away.

The problematic thing about those reunions is that even though they work on an immediate emotional level, they compromise the stakes of the concurrent island storyline. The problem this entire season has been how can people invest in two different versions of a character? When the prime-verse Sawyer has been going for five years, why should we care about alt-verse Sawyer? It's a question the show was never truly able to reconcile, most of the exciting moments in the alt-verse come from either powerhouse acting from the show's best cast members, or the thrill of seeing all the characters gradually coming together. It wasn't from me really caring about what would happen to alt-verse Jack or something like that. The only character who totally worked was Desmond, who was aware of the nature of the universe and acting with agency.

In this episode, the emotional stakes flip and I became more invested in what was going on in the alt-verse. That's partially because all the characters were remembering, tying the two universes together, but it's also because of what Desmond said, that they could all escape to the alt-verse by moving into the light. It implied that the alt-verse was 'real' and the island world was going to cease to exist. By doing that, it did a great job of making the alt-verse work emotionally, but it essentially short cut any emotional impact of the actual on island material. By choosing to reduce the on island story to just action with no emotional beats, it undercut the story that had been in the work for six years, and made for an utterly underwhelming conclusion to such an epic story.

One of the biggest problems with sci-fi stories is that they have no existing set of rules. In certain genre stories people can fly, sometimes people can read minds, sometimes bullets bounce off them. Part of creating a genre show is defining the rules, and though Lost mentioned the rules a lot, it never really established what was going on with the Smoke Monster. So, his death here ultimately feels arbitrary and the character we see here doesn't fit with the more sympathetic character from “Across the Sea.” The Titus Welliver Man in Black from “Ab Aeterno” and “Across the Sea” feelings like a totally different character with different motivations than the Locke version we've seen this year, and our lack of understanding of the island's rules means that his motivations throughout the season make no sense.

Based on this episode, it seems like Locke's plan was wait two thousand years for the right set of circumstances to come along so that he could kill Jacob, kill Jacob, then ask Sawyer to leave the island with him even though he can't leave the island, wait for Desmond to come to him then throw him in a well, decide to kill Desmond but not care enough to follow up, wait for the rest of candidates to come to him, trick them into leaving on a sub and kill them, reveal that killing them doesn't matter and that all he really needed was Desmond, also reveal that he doesn't want to leave the island but instead wants to destroy it, find Desmond again, destroy the island, and then leave on the same boat he had the whole time, irregardless of whether any candidates are alive.

Why didn't he just take Desmond to the cave when he first showed up? Did killing the candidates actually mean anything? Why couldn't he leave the island in the first place? Specifics of the rules, like why he was stuck in Locke's form, are nitpicky, but when your whole season hinges on the idea that Locke wants to kill the candidates so he could leave the island, why reveal at the end that that doesn't matter. This is basic storytelling, and it's a great example of the creators manipulating the “rules” of the island to serve whatever story they come up with, and extend the narrative in a way that doesn't actually add anything to the story. Smoke Locke's plan was so absurdly elaborate, it makes no sense, and we weren't given the understanding of the island's rules that we need to make sense of it.

Similarly, what kind of terrible plotting is it that the hero's big plan to defeat the villain is do exactly what the villain wants and hope that it works out good instead of bad. Maybe it's some kind of science vs. faith riff that evil and good will do the same thing, but good hopes that it will have a positive result and evil a negative, but typically stories benefit from conflict, and it's not too exciting for Jack and Locke to be talking about stuff while doing exactly what Locke wants. I liked the moment where Jack tells Locke that he doesn't deserve to wear Locke's face, but it doesn't make up for a failure on a very basic plotting level.

Similarly, why was Locke all of a sudden vulnerable at the end? Did it have something to do with the light of the island going out? Maybe, but it felt arbitrary and not earned. Why did he not turn into smoke form when fighting Jack? That fight was awesome, but you can't all of a sudden switch up the rules for no apparent reason and have it feel emotionally true. I liked that fight quite a bit on a visceral level, and visually it was epic and amazing, but it didn't feel appropriate to defeat this incarnation of epic evil by shooting him once then kicking him over a cliff.

Now, you may say, you can nitpick any story to death. There's similar plotting illogic in “The Incident,” but it's one of my favorite episodes. When an episode works in general, it's easier to elide weak plotting and focus on the positive. But, when the overall story isn't working, the flaws along the way stick out more and more.

And, the biggest flaw of this episode is abandoning the prime-verse as a space for emotional experience. There's no moment in the series where we mourn for the loss of the real John Locke. This is arguably the show's central character, but by bringing him back in Smoke Monster form, and then in the alt-verse, we never really miss him. The reason that death is emotional is because of its finality. You will never see this person again, their story is over and you have to move on. Normally, Jack's death would be an emotional moment, as would Jack and Kate's final parting, but any emotion felt by Jack and Kate parting on the island is killed by the fact that in the very next scene we see them together in the alt-verse.

The alt-verse seemed to be an attempt to give the viewers what they wanted, to bring back all the old characters who'd died and give us one last moment with them. The thing is, as Joss Whedon once said, you have to give people what they need, not what they want. We may want to see Juliet and Sawyer together again, but it kind of compromises the power of their parting to see them reunited. The same goes for Sun and Jin's death, if you want us to engage in the emotion of them dying, don't show them together and happy two episodes later. It removes any sense of consequence from the narrative if everybody gets a happy ending.

The end of the episode reveals that the entire alt-verse is about people coming to terms with their own death and rediscovering the people they were on the path to a higher plane. You could argue the entire alt-verse is a Mulholland Dr. like passage into death, with iconic moments from the various characters' lives presented in different, reconfigured ways.

My interpretation is that the characters we see in the church have a kind of pooled vision of the world, their own “table” in heaven so to speak, and that they're the only ones who “really exist” in the alt-verse. People like Miles, Charlotte, Pierre Chang, etc. are not really there, they just exist as the memories that people have of them. That makes the most sense to me, but it could also be that they have their own different “tables” in heaven, that's why Desmond tells Eloise that Daniel won't be coming with them.

I don't necessarily have a problem with this conceptually, but it doesn't do anything to redeem to explain the many terrible alt-verse stories we see over the course of the season. I feel like, if the point of these stories was supposed to be the characters coming to terms with and accepting death, you could have told some really powerful allegorical stories before revealing the true nature of the universe in the final episode and tying everything together.

But, in practice, the stories were all over the place, ranging from positive to tragic. You could read it as the characters having to go through the process of awakening and realizing that they're going to die, as in Donnie Darko, but the first ten episodes of the season did not deal with that at all. Technically, they brought the characters together and made them deal with certain traumas, but not in a way that feels any more than arbitrary for the final revelation. I don't think the idea of the alt-verse, in light of what's revealed here, is inherently flawed, but I think as executed, it was a total debacle and structured so as to provide cheap emotional punches in the finale after fifteen episodes of stuff that didn't really work.

And, I think centering so much of the emotion in the alt-verse really deprived the island story of a satisfying resolution. Yes, the people get to leave and that's fine, but we have no idea what really happened to the characters beyond dying. It felt like the mysteries of the island were back burnered, to the point that I wonder why they even developed the Jacob mythology at all. As I said after “Across the Sea,” there's nothing we learned about Jacob this season that really added to our understanding of his mission, it only muddied it. The scenario set up in “The Incident” was so simple and elegant, and this season has convoluted without complexifying it.

The story choices made with the Jacob character, or with Richard in “Ab Aeterno” just don't work. They take epic mysterious characters and reduce them to boring motivations of “my wife died” or “my mom doesn't love me.” And, the problem with Richard is that after that episode he did nothing. He could clearly leave the island when he wanted, so it wasn't a great satisfaction for him to depart here. I suppose there's the beat of him starting to age, but wanting to live. But, I think he's a character who would have been better left dead at the end of season five and remained something of an enigma.

Ben is another character ill served by this season, and his arc this year makes no sense. Last episode he killed Widmore in cold blood and said he was going to kill more people, but that wasn't touched on at all this episode. His arc makes sense if you remove last episode, it's just boring. But, the sudden swerve here doesn't make sense. You could argue that he wanted revenge on Widmore then gave up his killing ways, but that's not how it played last week. Maybe he was tricking Locke, who knows? Why did he wander into the castaways' camp to begin with and pretend to be Henry Gale? Unknown.

The creators love to talk about how the show is really “character centered,” but unfortunately this finale confirms their worst tendency in character creation, the notion that all we are is a product of past traumas/experiences, and we can't grow and change in the present. We watched fifteen episodes of alt-verse stuff just to find out that none of it mattered, it was all a path for people to remember who they really were, go to a church and disappear. That means that anything they do in the present doesn't matter, it's just about finding out who they were. That's all too often the case on the island as well, they assume that developing Richard is showing who he was, not turning him into who he will be. That was the flaw with the flashbacks from the beginning. It should be character development, not character excavation, and this finale is way too much about the latter.

We have no idea how people are resolved in the real world, no moment of reunion between Desmond and Penny, no catharsis for Kate losing Jack, who's apparently her true love. Presumably she lives for many years afterward, but what kind of life? Why would any of these people be happier now than they were before going to the island, or during the flash forward era? Maybe they weren't, maybe that's why they all go to the church and think back to the island years, since they were always unhappy otherwise, but I want to see that, I want to feel the desire to reconnect, I want to miss the characters and have the church be a great catharsis.

It didn't feel that way for me, and the frustrating thing is, I think it could have been amazing conceptually. The beauty of the fifth season for me is the fact that the characters finally seemed to realize that they belonged on the island, that being on the island was better, and the ending reinforces that, but it's a message that's obscured by the whole alt-verse storyline, which I will reiterate does nothing at all and is pointless because it's resolved by all the characters realizing that the world we've spent so much time in is NOT REAL!

I also think it's incredibly reductive to have almost every character be returned to a moment of romantic love, when relationships were never the center of the show. Were Sayid and Shanon soul mates? I don't think so, he wasn't begging the Smoke Monster to go to a world where he could with Shanon. Maybe the whole thing was just Jack's fantasy, who knows, but that detail didn't make much sense.

Ultimately, I wanted the finale to do something a bit more unexpected. There were no real twists until the final moments, everything played out as you'd expect. The Smoke Monster got killed, the characters in the alt-verse remembered who they were and everyone died happily ever after. I wanted to see something crazy and audacious and that just wasn't here. It was sappy at times, emotional at times, but never surprising or particularly exciting. I wanted more.

In the end, the show was always a mixed experience, with two amazing seasons, two seasons that ranged from amazing to terrible and two weak seasons. This was one of the weak ones, and to be honest, I think the show would have been better off with it never existing. But, what happened happened and at least we got the great moment of Jack being weirdly electrocuted in the island bathtub cave. That was one to remember.

Lost - 'The End' (6x17) Placeholder

It had a few moments, but on the whole, one of the weakest finales of a sometimes great show I've ever seen. Full review tomorrow!