I’ve had a slight change of heart since the last post (all of what… four hours ago), as it occurred to me that I don’t really watch any shows that could be described as the ‘worst’. I try and watch shows that have at least something that catches my attention, for all their faults. So, instead, here’s the Top 5 Most Disappointing. Spoiler warning, for those in the back.
1 - Battlestar Galactica did the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the unprecedented - it jumped the shark in its final episode. It didn’t just jump the shark, it fired all boosters, obliterated the shark and roared off into the sunset waving two fingers at everybody left behind choking on the sour and acrid fumes of its passing.
Despite a directionless lull during season three (still head and shoulders above most TV, both in the genre and without), Galactica had a vision and a mission, and - even if the makers claimed (or disclaimed, depending on whom you believed) it was being made up as they went along - it had a solid background of society and religion and friction and all the things that make for good solid drama. So, to literally and deliberately - smilingly, even - present a Deus Ex Machina in the final episode seems to me to betray everything they’d worked towards.
To say, after the drama, loss, sacrifice, heartbreak, betrayal, death and love was suffered through, that everything that had happened was orchestrated by ‘God’; that two characters who acted almost entirely in self-interest and perniciousness were emissaries of such a being; that a character who was too important to destiny to be allowed to die (and, by extension, that any other such character whose safety we may have worried and cared about was never in any real danger); that everything the remaining members of the human race had suffered through was to end in a listless cultural suicide on a hostile world that would never mark their passing - to say all that, and expect the audience to swallow it, that’s the sort of smug betrayal I can’t forgive.
In the end, Battlestar Galactica ended on such a sour note that it rippled back across every previous season, rendering it all pointless and hollow. “It was God’s plan,” they claimed. And I thought it was about the people…
2 - Dollhouse was a mystifying show. Marking Joss Whedon’s return to Fox, it had few, if any, of his trademarks. It wasn’t funny, or clever; it was vaguely misogynistic, and directionless. It was… well, it was dull.
If there’s one problem with a show that has its protagonist Echo supposed to change personality with every episode, it’s in casting Eliza Dushku who can barely change personality at all. It’s like she enjoyed playing Faith so much she never came back.
There was one high point in season one, with a mid-season format-breaking episode that wasn’t shown at all in America and tacked on to the end of the season in the UK. Surprisingly, the show was given a second season, and - rather than taking up the challenge - the show carried on as normal, with episode after episode of ‘personality-of-the-week’ dullness. We’re not at the end of the second - and, ultimately, final - season yet, but the highlight appears to be the origin story of Sierra, played with such brio and frailty by Dichen Lachman that it’s a wonder she wasn’t cast as Echo from the get-go.
3 - Heroes. Typically, given the opportunity to vent, I’m writing more about the shows I don’t like than I did about my supposed favourites. Let’s condense this one a bit - Heroes is just shit, isn’t it?
4 - FlashForward is a show I really want to like. It’s based (loosely, as it turns out) on a fine novel by Robert J. Sawyer and it has so, so much potential. But it’s just broken. Someone’s broke it and it just doesn’t work.
5 - Doctor Who is a show with such unlimited potential that to mess it up should be impossible. Russell T. Davies, however, is a miracle worker. So we have a show that can range the length and breadth of time and space, but remains stuck in recent history and Wales, for our sins. It’s a children’s show that talks down to children, serving them fart gags and pratfalls, silly faces and loud voices without understanding what makes children tick - and it’s largely the same as adults, all told. Perhaps new producer Steven Moffat will bring a more balanced, mature vision to the show.
Elsewhere, what do we have?
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was uneven viewing, treading water for episodes at a time, and then soaring way above expectations just when the attention wandered. Unfortunately, it’s only the lows that count against a show, and it was cancelled on a doozy of a second season cliffhanger. While it had excellent production values, and another fine ‘emotionless’ character study from Summer Glau, Terminator also suffered some aimless storytelling and an almost deadening acting debut from Shirley Manson.
Chuck, I like, but it’s time-passing telly that doesn’t have any meat to it. Having said that, a show that doesn’t raise expectation doesn’t disappoint them either, so there’s that to be said for it.
Dexter is brilliantly made, and genuinely surprising at times, but there’s a smugness that comes through the narrative voiceover that just annoys me, however good the writing, acting and directing may be.
How I Met Your Mother is simply well made, formulaic sitcom material, enlivened by some good performances and the chance to have a few minutes of Alyson Hannigan on my telly once a week.
Being Human makes everyone go silly with praise, but it’s cliched and predictable - however well-played - and the second series could benefit from forging its own path in the genre.
Harper’s Island is somehow down here in the depths of the gripes, despite the fact that I enjoyed the hell out of every episode. The idea of making a stalk-and-slash television series is so ingenious I can’t see why it hasn’t happened before. But, like all such movies, it’s a simple thrill ride and little more. Also, the denouement was idiotic.
The Mentalist is the sort of show I should avoid, as it’s completely ‘mumsy telly’. But its murder mystery plots are cleverly constructed, and the central role played by Simon Baker is so affable and deceptively deep that I enjoy it a great deal.
Eastwick is another such show, and we’re too early into the first season to say if it has legs, but at the moment it’s running on a fantastically sexy, nerdy, adorable performance from Lindsay Price who lights up the screen every time she’s on it.
Pushing Daisies I missed out on completely due to the idiots in charge of ITV dropping one of its early episodes so that the series would finish its run in time for some bloody football season or other. They did it again when they repeated the series, and then had the gall to show the missing episode after the series finished and
promote it as some sort of bloody bonus. This, coupled with advert breaks in the wrong places (Hey, TV bosses - that bit in the programme where the beat ends and the screen fades to black? That’s where the Americans designed to adverts to go, you planks!) have made me despair that television drama will ever again attain any sort of respect, and will continue to play second fiddle to ad revenue, channel idents and trailers for upcoming programmes ruining your enjoyment of the one you’re trying to watch.
5 - Curb Your Enthusiasm is the veteran of this year’s list, most of whom have barely a season to their credit. But Larry David’s improvised comedy powerhouse just keeps
on going, with the latest season containing an oblique look at the Seinfeld reunion that will never happen - aided by the Seinfeld regulars prepared to send themselves up mercilessly (most especially a wonderfully setup scene with Michael Richards). There’s an element in recent seasons where I’m seeing that Larry is often causing aggravation for himself, or at least making it worse - not sure if that’s the writing, or my interpretation. Doesn’t stop it being funny, though.
4 - In Treatment is an HBO show most people won’t have seen, as it’s only showing in the UK on Sky Arts, which is a channel most people won’t have seen, even those who
have Sky. It’s a psychiatrist show, five half-hour episodes per week, each one featuring a different patient. Gabriel Byrne plays the shrink, supported variously by Michelle Forbes, Dianne Wiest, Melissa George, Blair Underwood and Embeth Davidtz, although it’s newcomer Mia Wasikowska (currently playing Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland) who is the surprise, with a difficult and delicate role that she inhabits utterly and completely. The best aspect of the series is how the writing cleverly and subtly interweaves the separate stories together into a whole. Fingers crossed that we get the second season over here.
3 - Defying Gravity was a tough sell, and has obviously been cancelled - which is what happens now to most shows that don’t instantly change the universal zeitgeist before the first ad break of the pilot episode. Which I think is a shame, as Defying
Gravity was about the closest we’ve come to literary science fiction on the small screen - concerned with the journey of the characters rather than the technology. That perhaps was its downfall. But the story of a mission to visit each planet in our solar system - plus the mystery of an unknown entity called ‘beta’ hidden in an inaccessible storage pod - was interesting and well-played, and had some lovely special effects. Ron Livingston and Laura Harris headed up a good cast, and the writing, for good or bad, seemed intent on focusing on character and relationship - something that would usually be a recipe for success. I, for one, regret the fact that we’ll not see a second season.
2 - True Blood was a popular show, trading on the ground settled by Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and surfing the current vogue of the Twilight novels and their
movie adaptations. I had mixed feelings before seeing it, not overly impressed with Charlaine Harris’s first Sookie Stackhouse novel (on which the series is based), but keen to see Six Feet Under’s Alan Ball take on an adult vampire show. And he did a good job, in general. Anna Paquin’s character needed a more solid grounding, and the vampires can often seem a bit fey and, well, silly, but the supporting cast is excellent, the plot zips along and the production values are first rate. Plus, you know, it’s gory and sexy, which is what we all want from a vampire show.
1 - Lost repaid its faithful viewers - those who didn’t quit in exasperation during the second and, especially, third season - with a show that finally answered some of its
mysteries while setting up still further questions and providing some superbly conceived rug-pulling moments. It’s now at a place where literally anything could happen, and should, and very possibly will. At heart, they’ve created the biggest, silliest sandbox in the current television climate, peopled it with - mostly - a cast of sympathetic and rounded characters, and generated a momentum that we can only hope will see it through to a satisfying and apt conclusion.
Next, the surprise non-contenders for Best TV Shows of the year, the contenders for Worst, and other ramblers on the waysides…
Television is the category that’s way more expansive than any other. Maybe because I pick carefully what books, music, films and comics I buy, but TV gets beamed magically into my living room. Anyway, here’s the first half of my TV Top Ten for 2009…
10 - Cast-Offs may have seemed - to the cynically-minded - as if its idea of a group of physically disabled volunteers marooned Survivor-style on a remote island were
pitched as an actual reality show, rather than the mockumentary it is. Having the small cast portrayed by actual disabled players was a brave move that paid off in dividends. Each episode featured a Lost-style flashback story for each character, delving into their home lives and reasons for being part of the show. Cast-Offs seemed to pass almost unnoticed, which is a great shame.
9 - Misfits was a show I nearly missed, as its ‘Chav-tastic Four’ trailers made it look goofy and intolerable. Instead, it turned out to be a thoroughly watchable series, filled
with some memorable and believable character storylines and moments, and a grounded understanding of comic book inter-dynamics. Although each episode was hung on cliched genre ideas, the very modern approach and setting made it stand on its own.
8 - Batman: The Brave & The Bold came out of the blue, eschewing the current ‘grim and gritty’ portrayal of superheroes for a four-colour homage to the ’50s comic
stylings of artist Dick Sprang. Each episode paired Batman with another - usually second-string - DC hero, pitted them against such bizarre villains as Gorilla Grodd and Black Manta and simply had a hell of a time. The Paul Reubens-voiced Bat-Mite episode written by Paul Dini was one of the TV highlights of the year, for my money.
7 - Modern Family took a traditional American sitcom family and exposed them to a The Office style documentary camera, and with great results. The cast seemed to have
been especially designed with eclecticism in mind, so we get all ages, both white and Latin cultures, a gay couple and the various dysfunctional tropes that the crazy white folk suffer so well. Mixing the general situation comedy format with asides and looks to the camera (both mugging to the camera and looking for sympathy) and some excellently sharp writing made for one of the funniest shows of the year.
6 - Stargate: Universe. It might be a bit early to tell, given the mid-season hiatus the show is on, but early impressions look good for this, at least as far as I’m concerned. Casting Robert Carlyle in a lead role showed an intent on the part of the show’s
creators that most other TV shows lack. I presume I’m the demographic for this Stargate revamp, as I’m new to the franchise and looking for something a little different. The stripped down, realistic approach, flawed character interactions and believable tech (aided by SF author John Scalzi in a consultant capacity) makes this stand out from the ‘sci-fi’ dreck we’re normally exposed to.
Next: the Top Five TV Shows Of 2009 (plus a roundup of the nearly-rans, the disappointments and the just plain worst TV of the year).
1 - Stardeath And White Dwarfs - The Birth. This is a surprise late entry, even though it comes straight in at number one. The band are fronted by a relative of Wayne Coyne, and they supported The Flaming Lips on their recent tour. I was initially surprised because I thought they were two separate bands. In truth, they’re very similar to the Lips, but they have a fuzzy, industrial grind to their sound and a wonderful sense of psychedelic jam that sets them apart. I’ve possibly played this album more in the couple of months I’ve had it than any other CD this year.
2 - Polly Scattergood is another new name, one I came across while web-surfing for possible local gigs to attend. About two songs later on her MySpace and I was buying tickets to see her live. Sadly, the gig was marred by over-heavy bass that really diminished Scattergood’s sweet high voice, a voice that seems that it will almost crack - and, sometimes, beautifully, it does. Her songs have that young, not-yet-mature naivety that Lily Allen makes much of, but Polly Scattergood gets away with it because she seems much more sincere and exposed.
3 - Tom Waits - Glitter & Doom Live. This wouldn’t be my Top 3 of any year without a new Tom Waits album featured. Unfortunately, this one comes with a condition attached: the live album is superb, but the decision to extract Waits’ spoken interludes - rambling jokes and observations between songs - from the live album and lump them all together on a second disc is absurd. Having been lucky enough to see Waits in Edinburgh last year, I can attest that these form an integral part of his live stage act. Removing them to a separate disc is not only pointless in itself (I haven’t even played it once) but it detracts from the flow of the live music experience. I’d have much rather had two discs of music interspersed with “Tom’s Tales” like nature intended. As good as the live part of this two-disc set is, the NPR podcast of the Atlanta, Georgia gig of the Glitter & Doom tour is a better representation and is also free.
This year was one in which I finally weaned myself off comic books - or rather, the habit of buying comics month in and month out irrespective of whether I enjoyed them or not. Most of them I just dumped, and some of them I stopped buying monthly, planning to pick up the trades later… but never did.
(I’m also well behind on my UK small press comics as well, because I’ve not attended any of the conventions and shows as I’m fed up of attending without anything to show for myself.)
Of the few comics I did buy: Wednesday Comics charmed me with its first issue, but then it became apparent that the one-page serial format wasn’t suited to most modern writers, so I bought the run planning to read them all in one go… but didn’t get around to it; Powers relaunched with a new series, which came as a surprise because, in my purge, I hadn’t even noticed that the previous series had vanished; and Planetary 27 finally appeared - but, unless I find the time and energy to reread the previous issues, it won’t mean a bloody thing to me, as Planetary 26 came out about fourteen years ago…
Therefore, by a strange and lacklustre system of default, my Top 3 Comics of 2009 are:
1 - Parker: The Hunter. Joking and laissez-faire aside, this book would have won in
any year, even if I’d bought every other comic published. Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of Richard Stark’s first Parker novel is superlative in every department. The deceptively simple black-and-white artwork, superbly augmented by equally adept colour washes, made this the best-looking book by a country mile. Cooke’s economy of line and motion, his peerless pacing and knowledge of page layout and design make this a pleasure to read, to savour, to admire and learn from.
2 - SugarShock was a Dark Horse Presents webcomic from Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon, later collected into this full length comic with a few pages of sketches. It’s funnier than all of Dr Horrible and Dollhouse put together - silly, unpretentious fun, and it utilises - and mocks, and breaks - the comic book format with such a sense of abandon that it’s hard not to love. Fabio Moon’s artwork is perfect, looking like Sonny Liew inked by Paul Pope, and the colours by Dave Stewart are simply beautiful.
3 - Doctor Who: The Time Machination. Due to the vastly reduced numbers of comics
bought this year, I was able to treat myself to a couple of works just for the artwork, something I had previous tried to resist doing (the other such comic this year being Jonah Hex 50, drawn by, again, Darwyn Cooke). The artist in question here is Paul Grist, creator of Jack Staff. His work on this issue (ably coloured by long-time associate Phil Elliott) is typical of his craft - simple, uncluttered panels, beautifully designed pages, excellent balance of light and dark, and effortlessly expressive characters are all in evidence.
And that’s it. Pretty much every comic I bought published this year. And my wife didn’t believe I could cut my £20 a week habit…
Quite simply a dark delight of fantasy filmmaking, crammed with moments of beauty, black comedy, horror, romance and unexpected violence. Daniel Waters’ script simply bristles with dark - often subversive - one-liners and otherwise clever lines; the villains have solid - if bizarre - motivations; and every role is played to the hilt by one of the most impressively assembled casts ever. And, while the plot is completely bizarre and off-the-wall, none of it detriments the joy of the gleeful chaos at all.
Keaton does all he can with Batman, but this movie belongs to Danny DeVito’s perverse and freakish Penguin, a character that, while vile, is also allowed moments of sympathy. That DeVito is plainly channelling Burgess Meredith’s TV version of the character (interjecting bird-like ‘wach’ exclamations into many lines) is only one of many charms.
Michelle Pfeiffer’s fantastic portrayal of the put-upon and lonely Selina Kyle and the magnificently sexy Catwoman is also worthy of note. She not only plays each side of the personality as distinct, but also allows elements of one to creep into the other. Her home-made, stitch-scarred costume has the obvious erotic intention, but it’s also an ingeniously designed representation of her character as broken, barely held-together and risen - like the Bride Of Frankenstein - from the grave.
Batman Returns is not perfect - as a comic purist, I’m not at all comfortable with the people that Batman kills in this film, and there are irritating visual continuity glitches throughout - but this is easily the best of the pre-Nolan Bat-films, and by some considerable margin.
Once again, a year in which I read a ton of books, but very few that were newly published. Luckily I have (just) enough for a Top 3 Best & Worst. Best books first:
1 - The Gone-Away World is the debut novel of Nick Harkaway, and it was the best such book I’ve read for some years, putting me very much in mind of Michael Marshall Smith’s Only Forward. Set in a world devastated by a scientific experiment gone wrong, Harkaway mixes genres and styles in a way that defies expectation and belief. It’s a high-wire act of a book, and one that should bode well for whatever follow-up we can expect.
2 - Farewell Summer was Ray Bradbury’s belated sequel to his classic Dandelion Wine,
and though it came out very late in 2008, I’m including it here otherwise I won’t have a Top 3 at all. Much of this book was written decades ago, and - in typical Bradbury style - it reads like it. I count this as a good thing, but the author’s steadfast refusal to move out of the 1950s makes even his latest work read like a long-lost discovery. This is a short novel - little more than a novella, really - but it’s beautifully and heartbreakingly written and shouldn’t disappoint any fans of Bradbury or Dandelion Wine.
3 - Mr Toppit is another debut novel, and one that seems to have divided readers, if not the critics. Charles Elton’s novel concerns the after-effects on the relatives of a children’s author after his death, and it’s a book I plan to reread, as it seems not to give all its meaning up on the first pass. Tiny connections seemed to occur throughout the text, and it’s possibly a cleverer book than an initial reading might show. This might not be the recommended approach for a first-time novelist, but you have to admire the bravado.
Of all the older books I read in 2009, by far the best would have to be Shirley Jackson’s 1962 classic We Have Always Lived In The Castle. Concerning the lives of an rich outsider family living on the outskirts of a traditionalist town, this is a beautiful and melancholic novel filled with wonderful, funny and grim touches. Stephen King once praised Jackson as a writer “who never had to raise her voice”, and that’s about as accurate and informative a comment of praise as anyone could give.
On the other end of the scale this year were a couple of really awful books:
1 - Under The Dome, by Stephen King. It pains me to put my all-time favourite author in the prime position here, but he’s been churning out some crud over the last few years, and Under The Dome didn’t even have the benefits of King’s usual saving graces - characterisation and dialogue. This huge novel was a trial, and I wouldn’t have persevered for any other writer. The good guy/bad guy stereotypes were painful to read, and the plot simply served up obviousness after obviousness. Easily King’s worst novel.
2 - Pride And Prejudice And Zombies was a mash-up novel by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, and it sounded like a real treat. And, as much as I love the silly zombie genre, simply interjecting undead attacks into the dry and prissy world of Austen wasn’t enough to help me stomach her stultifying and witless prose. That modern women read and worship the woman’s work beggars belief. That some modern men also do is frankly a bloody disgrace. Pride And Prejudice And Zombies also seems to have borne a slew of imitations, so we’ll have that dreck clogging up the shelves next to the ‘paranormal romance’ twaddle for the next couple of years.
3 - Slights was another debut novel, this time from Kaaron Warren. Despite the over-designed ad-copy of new publishers Angry Robot, this really wasn’t the haunted serial killer novel promised by the blurb, but a more mainstream novel that might have benefited from more astute and less histrionic marketing. It’s at number three on this list because I only read this many new books this year, and this wasn’t one of the better ones, being rather too slow, over-detailed and obtuse, though Warren’s ability and style makes her a name worth watching.
1 - Where The Wild Things Are was easily my favourite film of the year, one which had me from the first scene and didn’t let go. Criticism that it isn’t a children’s film seems misguided - I’m not sure I’ve seen a single piece of advertising for the film that as much as implied it was ever meant to be. I think the filmmakers made exactly the film they wanted to, one that was more about celebrating Maurice Sendak’s book and the wilds of childhood than it was about the impossible task of adapting a few dozen words into a 90-minute movie.
2 - Star Trek managed the feat of being a sequel, a prequel and a reboot, and managed all with aplomb, rarely putting a foot wrong. It brought pace, gravitas and a sense of fun and adventure to the Star Trek movie, something that has been missing for far too long.
3 - Zombieland essentially boiled the zombie movie into a first-person-shooter with gags, and was all the better for it. It was funny, gory and action-packed, with a fine set of lead actors topped off with a central performance from Woody Harrelson that held it all together. The only part I didn’t enjoy was the star cameo; if an actor appears playing themselves, then I start seeing Woody Harrelson as Woody Harrelson and the illusion is lost.
Of the other films seen this year, District 9 was grotesquely overrated, ripping elements from V, Alien Nation, The Quatermass Experiment, and The Fly, while adopting such an uneven tone that it never seemed to find its feet. A shoddy, first-draft script full of holes didn’t help matters, and the entire production fell over completely in its final act.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine was X-Men 4 in all but name, rushing through the character’s actual origin stories (Origins and Weapon X) perfunctorily, before settling on a film-making approach most generously described as throwing mud at a wall to see what would stick. Not much of it did.
Terminator: Salvation doesn’t even bear talking about.
Watchmen, I’m probably going to need to see a second time, although the urge to do so isn’t particularly strong at the moment. It will probably stand as a testament to the folly of a film-maker being too in love with the source material. While it was marvellous to see the comic up on the big screen, doing so so lavishly and faithfully is certainly not the way to go about it.
Auster has an easy, sometimes lyrical, prose style and an eye for character moments that, while memorable, never really add up to what you’d recognise as a living, breathing character. As August Brill, the protagonist of Man In The Dark, lies awake in bed with only his thoughts, it’s through these ruminations that we are forced to build up a picture of the man, and it’s a bitty, fragile thing.
The structure of the book is made up of ideas, anecdotes, fears and regrets which express themselves primarily as a planned novel, an alternate history tale of an America which never existed (in this aspect, Man In The Dark resembles Philip K. Dick’s seminal SF classic The Man In The High Castle). This forms the bulk of the first half of the novel, but Auster abandons it, preferring to have Brill relive familial anecdotes with his granddaughter; it’s an unsatisfying authorial choice, leaving the possibility of commentary and insight dead in the water in favour of some belated character background that comes too late and itself fails to offer anything to say.
Ultimately, the book feels unfinished and fragmented, no single thread formed fully enough to enjoy on its own or as part of a reflective narrative. It’s almost like a scrapbook of ideas, rather than a finished work. It’s perhaps telling that Auster utilises the irritating, modern trend for omitting speech marks in this book (Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is another recent offender). This is an affectation that irritates,
because it only confuses the narrative, but reading Man In The Dark it strikes me why authors (or, at least, Auster) do it: every so often, when the lack of proper punctuation means that the flow of dialogue becomes confused, the reader becomes reminded that they are in the charge of the author - at this point the author is reintroducing themselves to the audience, pulling back the curtain so no one is uncertain who’s in control. It’s a strange method, to deliberately spoil the illusion to make the point that one is in control of the illusion, but I can’t honestly think of any other function of this style.
It’s also perhaps worth noting that this is another attempt by a ‘literary’ writer to co-opt traits of genre fiction and attempt to elevate them by association. Plainly, Auster fails in this just as much as the aforementioned McCarthy did with The Road. Neither author understands that the foremost concerns of science fiction are in world-building
and the presentation of ideas - through this the characters and plot are designed to work. Both Auster and McCarthy attempt to write, respectively, alternate history and post-apocalypse novels, and while both are worthy and interesting reads, they fail in the important regard of creating that world down to the nuts and bolts. To bring Philip Dick back into the argument, we can make an analogy of the two books’ titles - where Auster’s is a Man In The Dark, unable to see the world around him, a world which he knows to consist of one unlit room, Dick’s Man In The High Castle sees everything, from a vantage point of complete superiority and clarity - given a choice between two such protagonists, I know which I prefer.
Another Pixar movie. So, the stuff everyone raves about is, on examination, only slightly better than standard. It’s a better standard than most animated movies, but the adulation handed out to every Pixar effort is getting a bit much.
The problem with Ratatouille is the plot - it’s obvious from every character introduction what their story arc is going to be. Villains look nothing less than utterly villainous, the girl who looks like the girl turns out to be The Girl. Really, it’s just a matter of watching everything play out predictably until the schmaltz accumulates enough for there to be an ending. The only reason to watch is for some beautiful animation, but even here Pixar still haven’t balanced the photorealistic (the water effects are astonishing) with the cartoony, and it’s a bit of a mish-mash, to be honest.
The whole thing isn’t helped by some over-exuberant faux-French accents that are largely impossible to follow - although, of course, the predictable plot means you don’t need to understand the dialogue, so there’s that.
Now, I’m not a fan of Def Leppard. I don’t know anyone who is a fan of Def Leppard. I have just - in the course of this post - written the words Def Leppard more times than I have in the last, say, twenty years. Which is, coincidentally, the last time I heard of Def Leppard - two decades ago. But they are developing themselves as a TV cartoon show. I suppose we must assume that they know what they are about.
Reading between the lines here, but this looks to me like an attempt to remove His Holiness The Pope from being the subject of satirical lampooning. Surely, if his name and image is copyrighted, and that copyright rests with the Vatican, then they can refuse all manner of requests, especially from the makers of South Park and the like.
Will we even be able to use the phrase, “Does the Pope shit in the woods?” in the future? The answer to that might be, “Does the Pope shit in the woods?” Or, no.
Britney Spears’s website has a ‘Year In BS’ (not sure if that stands for Britney Spears or BullShit - maybe both) featuring the story of her dating an Indian choreographer at number one, fifty five places above the story that her family were so poor they ate squirrels.
Two points: firstly, this list doesn’t include X-Men Origins: Wolverine or Terminator: Salvation, and therefore is fundamentally flawed; secondly, the ‘last decade’ isn’t over until the end of next year.
Just realised today - outside in the freezing rain and the elbowing crowds -that noticing the particular way a woman carrying a shoulder bag and getting into the driver’s seat of her car is just enough of moment to make the aggravation go away. It’s the most graceful and easy motion, and it lasts just a second, but the way they do it is just beautiful to watch.
Pretty much a thesis on the current state of Kevin Smith’s career, this is the film where he plainly, and quite painfully, attempts to claw his audience back from the superior Judd Apatow. The truth is that there’s nothing more to Smith’s work than sex jokes, geek references, and the sort of sophomoric wish-fulfillment fantasies that most men lose by the time they hit twenty, much less put on such obvious public show.
Rogen has charm, but Elizabeth Banks is far too attractive for the role she is given - in fact the majority of the casting is compromised by Smith’s inability to pick people for the role, instead using his stock entourage and pop culture icons, irrespective of their talent or suitability. The whole thing is a circle jerk and, frankly, I’m bored of wasting my time watching Smith’s infantile output.
The first of Tiptree’s few novels, this deviates from the earlier, acclaimed short stories but develops something quite different, both in the author’s own works and in the mainstream science fiction of the time.
The earthbound narrative is quite plain and, while people with rounded and interesting characters, is perhaps overpopulated for the novel’s needs. But it’s the sequences set on the alien world of Tyree that really shine - the planet is a gas giant, populated by flying squid/manta ray creatures who communicate using visible telepathic auras, which means that not only is all thought and desire obvious, but physical contact is almost unheard of. The alien chapters are by far the highlight of the early part of the book.
However, when the two worlds collide and consciousnesses swap between each race, then the plot really comes alive. It’s not a fast read - and some readers may find it simultaneously dull and incomprehensible - but the ideas and moments of ‘sense of wonder’ come thick and fast as the book gets more and more cosmically oriented.