Monday, September 21, 2009

Five years after the crash

It has already been five years.

Five years since a mysterious tragedy that led to a miraculous discovery, a global controversy and an even larger, more disturbing mystery.

On Sept. 22, 2004, Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 left Sydney for Los Angeles at 2:15 p.m., Australia time, carrying 324 passengers and crew. Six hours into the flight, all contact with the Boeing 777 was lost -- never to be re-established. Everyone on board was presumed to have died in a crash, likely into the Indian Ocean. This air tragedy, which claimed many American lives, came 3 years and 11 days after the horrifying 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Coming up empty, the airline called off the search for the fallen plane after a few weeks, angering many of the victims' families. One of Oceanic's own employees, an IT technician named Sam Thomas, gained notoriety with his own Web campaign urging the airline to resume the search; his girlfriend was among the passengers on the plane.

But Thomas wouldn't have to wait long for answers.

Two months after the crash, a salvage ship off the coast of Bali discovered the wreckage of Flight 815 in the Indian Ocean's Sunda Trench, 2,800 miles northwest of Sydney. Footage of the wreckage captured by ROV vehicles, not unlike those made famous in the opening scenes of James Cameron's "Titanic," was broadcast around the world. Some news outlets, perhaps emboldened in a way by the horrors of 9/11, went so far as to show the body of the plane's pilot, Seth Norris, frozen at the helm of the craft. We would later learn that among the plane's cargo was the body of a Los Angeles doctor who died in Sydney, granted a burial at sea along with the rest of the flight's unfortunate souls.

The discovery of the plane seemed to be the end of the story; surely, no one could have survived the impact, let alone the subsequent plunge down a 5-mile-deep trench. Families suffered through funerals for their loved ones, memorial funds were established, and President George W. Bush delivered a moving address at Los Angeles International Airport alongside John Howard, then the prime minister of Australia. Many credit that speech with delivering the final blow to John Kerry's unsuccessful bid for the presidency that November. One of the quirkier tributes to the victims came from, of all places, the Boston Red Sox: Among Oceanic 815's victims was Charlie Pace, bass player for British one-hit wonders DriveShaft. The team adopted "You All Everybody" as its victory song in a playoff run that ended with Boston's first World Series title in 86 years.

But then, inevitably, came the 815 "Truth" movement, an offshoot of the conspiracy theories that still threaten to defile our memories of the 9/11 attacks. An Oceanic pilot named Frank Lapidus made headlines for claiming the pilot shown at the bottom of the trench couldn't be Seth Norris -- the body wasn't wearing a wedding band, and Norris, he insisted, would never be caught dead without it. Many so-called experts said Oceanic's account of what happened made no sense, that the plane shouldn't have been that far off course when it crashed. A Manhattanite claimed his neighbor, mother to Oceanic 815 victim Michael Dawson and grandmother to victim Walt Lloyd, was visited by her "deceased" relatives in December of 2004. She, of course, denied this, and pundits like Bill O'Reilly and Michael Savage rushed to the woman's defense, painting the neighbor as a far-Left loon.

Then, on Jan. 7, 2005, the truly unthinkable happened: Six survivors of Oceanic 815 aboard an inflatable raft washed up on the shores of Sumba, an island in the Indian Ocean.

The tale of their survival begs credulity. The very identities of the survivors demand it. The Oceanic Six, as they came to be known, included Hugo Reyes, a mentally unstable multi-millionaire; Sayid Jarrah, a former member of the Iraqi Republican Guard; Jack Shephard, the son of the doctor whose coffin was in the cargo hold; Sun-Hwa Kwon, the daughter of a prominent South Korean industrialist; and, amazingly, a fugitive named Kate Austen and her infant son, Aaron, to whom she gave birth sometime during the 108 days between the crash and their rescue.

These six unlikely survivors asked us to believe the following narrative: Eight passengers swam out of the plane shortly after its crash, floating in the Indian Ocean on seat cushions. They were carried by ocean currents to the deserted island of Membata, where the allegedly pregnant Austen took care of her fellow survivors. (Shephard testified to this at Austen's trial for the murder of her father, several bank robberies, and assorted other crimes.) Three survivors, including the former rock star Pace, died on Membata. 75 days after the crash, Austen is said to have given birth to Aaron, whose father remains unknown. 103 days after the crash, an Indonesian fishing boat washed up on Membata's shore after a typhoon, and the six remaining survivors took the boat's raft to Sumba, where they were able to make contact with civilization.

The questions started at this press conference, and
never really stopped.

Practically no one believes this story, and the Oceanic Six became something of a laughingstock. Jarrah made an ill-advised appearance on Nancy Grace's cable show, in which the host grilled the Iraqi native at length about the narrative and expressed her disdain for Austen. Jarrah stormed off the set mid-interview. Reyes, already a celebrity in California before the crash thanks to his record-setting lottery win, had a breakdown of a different kind on "The Tonight Show," crying when Kevin Eubanks and the house band played "You All Everybody" as he was introduced to the crowd. Months later, Reyes would be re-committed to the Santa Rosa Mental Health Institute after leading L.A.'s finest on a high-speed chase for apparently no reason.

Kwon, who lost her husband Jin-Soo Kwon in the crash, distinguished herself after the rescue, using her settlement from Oceanic Airlines to buy a controlling interest in Paik Heavy Industries, her father's Seoul-based firm. But Kwon did give birth to a daughter, Ji Yeon, in July 2005 -- 10 months after the crash, a fact that reignited conspiracy theorists.

This cable documentary directly accused Oceanic
Airlines of a conspiracy.

Shephard's testimony helped acquit Austen, and the pair got married shortly after the trial concluded. Shephard resurfaced in the news when he saved the lives of a family involved in a car crash.

But the story took its most unbelievable turn in 2007, when five of the six survivors found themselves on an Ajira Airways flight from L.A. to Guam piloted by Lapidus, the former Oceanic pilot who came forward with conspiracy theories of his own. That plane -- which was almost empty, because Reyes bought 79 tickets just for himself -- disappeared over the Pacific Ocean.

Two years later, we still have no answers, and no sign that anyone aboard Ajira 316 survived. But the questions are many, and obvious: How the hell could these people have survived in the fashion they described? How the hell could they have all been in a second plane crash?

Many theories have captured the public's imagination; the most ridiculous came from a New York model-turned-prostitute named Arturo Mendoza, who wrote a book detailing a magical, moving island that was lorded over by one of his occasional clients. His story, which included submarines, time travel and a sentient cloud of black smoke, was treated by most as a great work of science fiction, and enjoyed some time on the New York Times best-seller's list.

But really, would that story be any stranger than the one the public has been asked to accept? We may never know what really happened to Oceanic 815 or Ajira 316, but we can honor those lost in these tragedies by continuing to fight for the truth.

• • •

Thanks to for the details of the Oceanic Six story, some of which are my invention for this admittedly silly exercise.

Watch Michael Emerson's masterpiece right here

Friday, September 18, 2009

"We're the good guys, Michael."

Benjamin Linus has been the de facto villain of "Lost" since he was introduced as "Henry Gale" in Season 2, but I have long believed that he will prove to be one of the show's true heroes, if not the hero.

The line that gives this entry its title is a fan favorite, ostensibly because it is taken ironically: How can The Others be the good guys? They kidnap children, threaten the lives of our Losties, keep people in cages, drive French women crazy and shake bunnies in cages.

But though the person that's been leading them since Charles Widmore's banishment is certainly devious and deadly, The Others are, more or less, good people. And Ben has only acted in their best interests, protecting the island and those he believes it belongs to. The Losties are our heroes because the show is primarily told from their point of view. Jack is the main protagonist, but felt more like a hindrance through most of seasons 3, 4 and 5, which only helped me empathize with Ben and his people.

This past season, Ben and his cosmic counterpart, John Locke, reached their respective low points. John was pulled from the brink of suicide from the last person he expected to call his friend -- who then turned around and killed him. Ben bared his inner struggle to his god, if you will, and was duped into killing that god by a man(?) posing as Locke. Each man has been a patsy for a force larger than they could have imagined, and only time will tell if Ben also has to suffer Locke's ultimate tragedy of finding even further indignity in death.

Season 6 is going to involve some form of "rebooting," most likely in the form of an alternate reality existing parallel to the 2007 existence in which Ben murders Jacob. I believe Ben will be key to uniting these two realities and determining the ultimate fate of the island, and he will redeem his rather sad existence.

It's quite a role, Benjamin Linus, and tonight Michael Emerson acknowledged as much when he won the Emmy for best supporting actor:

I was heavily invested in "Lost" after finishing the first season, but that investment didn't turn into obsession until Emerson showed up near the end of Season 2, a wildly uneven season that had more than its share of depressing and sometimes just plain bad episodes. (Remember "Fire + Water," in which Charlie has religious visions and gets punched out by Locke? That must be the worst episode of the series.) Emerson brought a totally different energy to "Lost" and gave it something it was lacking in the first season: a tangible antagonist. I no longer see him as "the enemy," but that cunning energy is still there, as is the sardonic wit. (Only Josh Holloway can match Emerson for bringing the funny.)

I wonder if Matthew Fox and Evangeline Lilly feel as if "their show" has been completely stolen by Emerson and Terry O'Quinn. Tough shit. Jack and Kate are still important, central characters, but they will never be as interesting as Ben and Locke, and I think Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse know this. How will they make us truly care for Jack and Kate again in the final season? Where will the journey end for Ben and Locke?

We won't know until May, but until then we can enjoy these great Season 5 moments from "Lost's" newest Emmy winner, Michael Emerson:

(The first clip, incidentally, also contains O'Quinn's best scene from his five years on the show.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Watch this while you can

This Goofy short ran with the mostly terrible "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" in 2007, and has been unavailable on home video to the best of my knowledge. Here it is in YouTube form, until Disney gets wise and pulls it. It's in the tradition of the best Goofy shorts of the past.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

My favorite albums of the decade

We're nearing the end of the '00s, and the inevitable deluge of decade-end best-lists has already begun. So I might as well join the fun now.

In thinking about my favorite albums of the last ten years, I realized there aren't many which I love in their entirety. This may be a natural part of growing up; the music we love in our teenage years will never be as important as what we discover afterwards. Nothing on this list rivals the Black Album, or "Jar of Flies," or "Ten" for pure pervasiveness; I feel like I know all of the songs on those albums, because they were integral to my adolescence.

So does that mean the music I've embraced since is more grown-up, more intricate? Not at all. I am admittedly a very superficial music listener nowadays; I value production and arrangement over lyrics and emotion. But at least I am aware of this.

So here are the ten albums that I think best represent my decade. One is a film score, one is a comedy album, and one is an obscurity from Finland. But I think they all kick a whole lot of ass.

• • •

Sean's Top 10 Albums of the '00s
(in alphabetical order)

• • •

"Dark Passion Play," Nightwish (2007)

This Finnish metal band fired operatic vocalist Tarja Turunen and hired the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which painted keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen's melodic songs on an epic canvas. The lyrics mostly deal with the emotional fallout from the firing, and the sounds are appropriately dark and romantic. Emppu Vuorinen's guitar holds its own against Holopainen's bigger-than-life orchestrations, and the result is a score for a film in your mind. Download these: "7 Days to the Wolves," "Amaranth," "The Islander"

• • •

"Death Magnetic," Metallica (2008)

The riffs sound like a rebirth, even if the muddy production sometimes sounds like afterbirth. Metallica fuses every stage of their career (save the "S&M" experiment) into a bruising collection of thrashers. A band on the edge of irrelevance crawled from the wreckage one last time. Download these: "All Nightmare Long," "Cyanide," "The End of the Line"

• • •

"Discovery," Daft Punk (2001)

The very definition of ear candy. The band that annoyed the hell out of me with "Around the World" gave us this unholy concoction of beats, samples, vocoders and kick-ass guitars. If you want to get totally lost in an album with nothing but a dark room and a pair of headphones, this is the way to go -- it almost becomes euphoric. Download these: "Aerodynamic," "Harder Better Faster Stronger," "Something About Us"

• • •

"Fallen," Evanescence (2003)

When I first heard this album, it was like someone was making music just for me. It's dark rock with female vocals, an orchestra, and cinematic sweep. This album led me to the European bands that preceded it, but few of those albums are as consistently entertaining as this one. (Credit that American pop sensibility. Oh, and Ben Moody's chops.) Download these: "Haunted," "Hello," "Imaginary"

• • •

"Gladiator," Hans Zimmer & Lisa Gerrard (2000)

This is the best score of the decade because it is the only one that acts as a main character in the film. Lisa Gerrard's wordless intonations beckon Maximus (Russell Crowe) to his wife's side in the afterlife, and Hans Zimmer accompanies them with a score that encapsulates everything that is best about his often-derided body of work. It lost the Oscar to Tan Dun's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," but it will be remembered long after wire-fu goes back to being a curiosity. Download these: "Now We Are Free," "The Battle," "The Might of Rome"

• • •

"Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death)," Marilyn Manson (2000)

The provocateur follows the drug-soaked "Mechanical Animals" with this indictment of guns, God and government that retains much of the previous album's melodic sensibilities while re-embracing the darkness of "Antichrist Superstar." Nothing Manson has done since can quite compete with the unholy trinity he completed here. Download these: "Valentine's Day," "The Fight Song," "Coma Black"

• • •

"A Matter of Life and Death," Iron Maiden (2006)

Maiden loved their war epic so much they played it in its entirety on their '06 tour. I think it's their most consistent album since 1985's "Powerslave," and proves once again that these 50-somethings have more skill and power than just about every band half their age. They are unquestionably the best live band I've ever seen, and I last saw them in June 2008. Download these: "Brighter Than a Thousand Suns," "The Longest Day," "These Colours Don't Run"

• • •

"Mitch All Together," Mitch Hedberg (2003)

This is the only comedy album I can listen to over and over and over again, like it's a great pop record. Mitch's delivery here has an almost musical cadence, and his brand of humor -- definitely influenced by Steven Wright and, uh, Mary Jane -- surprises me, even after 30-odd listens. Sometimes I don't know if I'm laughing at the jokes, or at myself for laughing at the jokes. But I know I love it. Download these: The whole goddamn thing

• • •

"Return of Saturn," No Doubt (2000)

Paste magazine recently asked the Twitterverse to name its favorite album of the decade, and I tweeted back with this. A few days on, I'm not sure if that's actually true, but it feels right, mostly because No Doubt encapsulates just about everything I love about music. "Return of Saturn" had its share of hits, but my favorite songs are the ones radio didn't play to death. No, it doesn't quite boast the murderer's row that "Tragic Kingdom" does, but it's still endlessly tasty. Download these: "New," "Artificial Sweetener," "Comfortable Lie"

• • •

"So Jealous," Tegan and Sara (2004)

The sisters Quin give us a heartbreaking album that goes down so smoothly -- it must be the sweetest bitter pill ever. I rarely listen to albums start to finish, but I almost always hear all of this one when I put it in. Download these: "I Know, I Know, I Know," "Walking With a Ghost," "You Wouldn't Like Me"

• • •

Those are my picks. What are yours?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

AWESOME doesn't begin to describe this.

BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD RETURN! (If for only the briefest of promotional videos. But man, is it sweet.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


This week's musical offerings:

Every few years, I "rediscover" FNM, and this time I am struck by how awesome their bass player, Bill Gould, is. This song's from "Angel Dust," which must be one of the most underrated albums of my lifetime.

This sister act makes music that tastes like Cherry Coke. (Does that make sense?)

This one-hit wonder was used as a bumper on the Bears broadcast Sunday night, and I was reminded how awesome it is. You might have heard it on the "Boogie Nights" soundtrack.

QT repurposes this bit from "Revolver," a forgotten Italian crime picture, for one of the best scenes in "Inglourious Basterds." Ennio Morricone's still alive, why doesn't QT commission a fresh score from him next time?

This "deep cut" from "Return of Saturn" is one of my favorite No Doubt songs. All things considered, "RoS" might be my favorite mainstream album of the decade.