Saturday, March 01, 2008

Television watchings:
Dancing On Ice
Obviously. It's looking ever more likely that the final will be a showdown between Chris Fountain and Suzanne Shaw, for truly theirs are the mightiest ice-dancing chops, but you couldn't pick either out as the obvious winner. To this we've added a further uncharacteristic dose of reality TV in the form of Masterchef, which ended this week, and you certainly could pick the winner out on that one, although all three finalists look like they've got a fine gastronomic future ahead of them. More The Lovely Jo's area of interest, although it has been strangely engaging watching three people prepare food each evening on the telly.
Has continued to be surprisingly good, with the gimmicky cross-over of Martha Jones utterly sidelined by the strange tale of Owen. Now I know I said last year that he was the character I'd most like to see dead, but... Slightly pretentious to pit the team against the actual figure of Death, but that's Matt The Satan Pit Jones for you. I'm actually tempted to say that this was better than his Who story, but I believe there's something in the Book of Revelation about that statement and trumpets. And seals, apparently. Some sort of apocalyptic circus? Anyway. It certainly was a fine episode. One small note on the directing: face shots filmed using a camera propped on the actor's chest are now indelibly linked in my mind with the tramp/adventurer sketches in That Mitchell and Webb Look, so I was unable to resist humming "The Devil's Galop" during the bar scene. Possibly not the director's intention.
Alas, I caught The One With A Nasty Case Of The Crabs, then missed a friend's episode and the season finale. Half marks, but probably not the right note on which to stop watching the series.

The Court of the Air, Stephen Hunt.
Christmas book #2. In defiance of my normal reading habits, this novel held me up for some three weeks in the same month that I went through a biographical work in less than a week. (Admittedly it was a Bill Bryson - more on that in a moment.) I like to think I was just savouring it.
Some might say (well, some have said, as a matter of fact) that this book is overfull, that it throws idea after idea after idea without pausing to pick one and focus on that. Hooray, say I. There's not much Mister Brain likes more than books that are overstuffed with imaginative ideas, and as long as I keep Mister Brain happy I'm hoping he won't shoot the puppy.
Dense is probably the word. It's quite a dense book.
It took me a couple of chapters to really start liking this book - I'd initially fixated on the idea that this was meant to be set in a parallel Dickensian London, but this proved wrong. (The Lovely Jo isn't having this problem and tells me I don't read enough fantasy novels, to which I can only reply "fie!".) In fact what Hunt's done is to remix familiar bits of history and culture in a way that is kind of exactly what every SF/fantasy writer does, but also kind of fresh and surprising.
I don't want to give away all the thinly disguised influences and satisfyingly bad puns, but the book ends up pitting its teenage superheroes against an enemy that's a combination of the Aztec empire, Revolutionary France and the Cybermen. How can you not love that?
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson.
Christmas book #3. Truly, as the critics say, it is laugh-out-loud funny.

They Might Be Giants, The Else.
And so begins my exploration of post-Flood TMBG. My, but they've changed. Apparently this album was produced by the Beastie Boys, Beck and Blur, and it's not too hard to spot their influence. Good, but a lot straighter and rockier than the early material that I'm used to. Fortunately I'd ordered the overseas version with the bonus disc of podcast material, and this is much more the TMBG that I know. Give it a few months for me to get properly used to it. Early front-runners: "The Cap'm", "Shadow Government", "The Mesopotamians", and perhaps as many of the bonus disc tracks.

Comic-book mayhem - slight return:
A few weeks ago the Bristol & Bath Venue magazine gave away a 200-page comic-book history of Bristol, The Bristol Story. Scoop! Touted as free with the magazine, but I preferred to think that I was buying it for the cover price of the magazine, with a free issue of Venue thrown in. A lovely little souvenir of Brizzle to take with us when we emigrate.
I'd go so far as to suggest it's a worthy rival to Bryan Talbot's Alice in Sunderland, with the enormous added bonus that it was a freebie, yet the huge disadvantage that there are only enough in circulation to cover the population of Bristol (or likely, some fraction of that number) and even then only those who noticed and bought that week's Venue. I only noticed on the last day before the next issue came out, otherwise I'd've bought a few copies for friends.
Off the back of this, discovered that the creators, Messrs Eugene Byrne (co-author of the Back in the USSA SF stories) and Simon Gurr, had produced a free 100-page comic-book biography of Brunel a couple of years earlier. I immediately went looking. Didn't take long. So now we have a couple of lovely pocket-sized, instructive, entertaining, definitively Bristolian comic books to take with us, hand down to hypothetical future kids, etc etc.

Gangsters - el verdict finale:
Definitely not as good as I was led to believe. It suddenly became a lot more self-aware in the last three episodes of the second season, then more self-aware again in the last episode and a half, and so on exponentially up to the show's one, solitary instance of a character walking off set on screen and the much hyped end scene of the writer throwing the script in the air. Not really enough to recommend it as a cornerstone of post-modern TV, although there is a certain appeal to the writer's ninja WC Fields impression. But still.
A good three-star drama, certainly ahead of its time, just not a blower-off of socks. Next TV series in the DVD rental dock: The Lost Room.

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