Friday, June 01, 2007

Best of the Week - June 1, 2007 -- UPDATED

Best Movie: No movies this week. I only started watching one film (a Japanese film called The Red Spectacles, directed by Mamoru Oshii of Jin Roh fame), but to be quite honest, it was so bad I turned it off. Maybe it was really something special if one could give it the time, but I thought it was remarkably boring. I made it through the opening scene, which wasn't too bad for a low-budget, late eighties, action film, but after the credits rolled, the film turned into a sepia-toned exercise in trying my patience. One loooooong drawn out scene after the other triggered my "jump to the next chapter" impulse. I did find a fight scene later on that was so poorly choreographed and filmed that something my friends did on video in high school was as good.

Best TV: TV, on the other hand, had a couple of hot spots for me this week. Although they weren't for shows currently running on any cable network that I have access to. Trailer Park Boys is back, baby! After the last two seasons and the feature film, I was afraid that they'd lost their edge. Hell, My Name is Earl has captured more of the old TPB spirit lately than the actual show had. But season 7 is a return to form.

The first five episodes find Ricky unable to sell his dope at a decent price thanks to the dirt weed being sold at the mall; Julian is desperate for money before his trailer gets repossessed; Ray's hobby is drinking; Bubbles' new hobby is model trains; Randy is a pothead; Mr. Lahey is back on the force and allied with the boys; Lucy is pregnant and working for J-Rock; Cory and Trevor are out of the picture, locked up in a mental hospital after being driven into nervous breakdowns by Ricky; Phil Collins (not that one) has moved into the trailer park to start a "Dirty Burger" restaurant; Phil's son is missing after being recruited by Ricky, Julian, and Bubbles for a 3 day recon job into Maine. It's kicking all kinds of ass. Even the guest appearance by Skid Row's Sebastian Bach (as himself) was cool, and I can't stand that guy.

The season finishes up in 2 weeks (I think), so I'll get caught up on the rest then.

The other TV highlight has been Japan's Death Note anime series. I've just started watching the first season and it's excellent. I enjoyed the first film (haven't seen the second yet), and the first 8 episodes of the series cover the same amount of storyline, but with the additional time the format allows, expands on it in a much more effective way. I'm going to have to catch up on reading the manga now, too.

Best Reading Material: I finished Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End earlier this week. It was pretty good up until the end. The technology was very cool and I wanted every piece of it. Vinge's vision of a fully tagged environment and wearable computers providing a constant virtual access to information was believably realized and the characters were all interesting and well written. The climax was pretty exciting and a good tying together of the narrative threads throughout the earlier parts of the book, but then it just lost me. There seemed to be no repercussions to anything that took place, and no real resolution beyond a general sense of "everything's okay now". I'm still not sure who or what Rabbit was, but that could just be me.

In the end, I felt that things were being set up more for a sequel than as a satisfying conclusion.

I'm almost finished with Charles Stross' Accelerando and HOLY CRAP is it good! One of the ways that I tend to evaluate works is by comparing what's on the page to what I could possibly do on my own (with decent research). In that sense, Rainbows End was good, but nothing was too far beyond my comprehension and it was pretty easy to follow (except for where answers just weren't given). Accelerando is outside of my abilities. I have to think hard to follow certain conceptual lines and that's just fucking great! The last time this happened was in parts of Iain M. Bank's Culture series (particularly Excession -- good book -- read it!). I can't wait to finish it and read some more Stross.

I've read his Bob Howard stories (The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue) and they were excellent, especially if one likes Ian Fleming and H.P. Lovecraft. However, they were pretty grounded in spy/cthulhu tropes and fairly easy to follow (although sometimes the math or the IT stuff was a little foreign to me). Accelerando is pretty much straight science fiction, following a family as the Singularity approaches. It was originally a series of short stories, so each chapter is essentially a self contained story, and as such there is some repeating of information as characters are reintroduced, but it's not a very big distraction. Good stuff.

On the comics front, there wasn't much out this week. Countdown remains barely interesting, but holding on, even with some horrible dialog this week. Daredevil was still good, but nothing mind-blowing. New Avengers: Illuminati was okay, but again, pretty average overall. Barracuda was good and offensive, as usual. What can you say about an issue entitled "And a Warm Place to Shit"?

The highlights this week were the return of The Boys and Shaolin Cowboy. The Boys hasn't lost a step, despite having to switch publishers. What DC couldn't handle becomes Dynamite's gain. This issue (#7) starts a new storyline, in which a Batman variant named The Tek-Knight has a problem. As he puts it on the very first page: "Doctor -- I can't stop fucking things..."

However, it's not treated as just a running gag. Garth Ennis treats it pretty seriously, exploring the psychological damage Tek-Knight's uncontrollable urges are doing to him. Meanwhile, The Boys themselves get on the case of finding a friend's missing son, who may have ties to Tek-Knight's former teen sidekick. I highly recommend this series. If one is not easily offended, that is.

Shaolin Cowboy, published by the Wachowski Brothers and written and illustrated by Geofrey Darrow is another slice of highly detailed heaven. I'm not even going to try to describe it. Oh hell, why not? It's beautiful, it's ugly, it's immense, it's intimate, it's got it all. And there's an army of naked zombies heading for our hero on the final pages. Granted, new issues are few and far between, but every issue is worth the wait. And back issues are all available at the Burlyman website.

Best Music: No new music this week. Although as I write this I'm listening to Myths of the Near Future by Klaxons. I know nothing about them, except that I just saw a video by them and had to give the cd a listen. It's interesting, but I'm going to have to listen to it a couple of more times before I form a decision. It's interesting, though. I'll give it that. And fun.

UPDATE - How the hell could I have forgotten this week's Doctor Who? It was maybe the best episode of the relaunch. Part one of two and adapted (by the author) from a Doctor Who novel. Great character work, with the two-part format giving them time to really establish the scenario and provide a nice slow build-up of tension to the episode cliffhanger. It made me wish that every episode was at least a two-parter (and written by someone who knows what they're doing -- not whoever wrote that "Daleks in Manhattan" story - ugh).

I only hope part two lives up to the first half. Then in the next few weeks, Derek Jacobi and the return of Captain Jack! Not the pirate, the bisexual galactic con-artist turned hero and immortal defender of earth as it heads into the 21st century over in Torchwood.

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