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Quicky

The microphone on the iPod Touch is better than I expected, actually.

Jonny Grave & The Tombstones at Ebeneezer’s

Bridge of Birds & Doctor Who

I reread The Bridge of Birds, by Barry Hughart, the other night. I read it many years ago, and remembered it being good, and then I was putting together an Amazon order and it popped up, and yeah. It’s awfully good. It’s sort of like the Princess Bride, in that it’s got a mix of fairy-tale inevitability and jokes for the grown-ups. And it’s sad and sweet and romantic. And there are sequels I’ve never read. So I should get on that. I feel like I’ve heard somewhere that the second book is less good, and the third book is good enough to make up for it. I have no idea where I heard this, or if it’s accurate. And while I view fantasy series with extreme disapproval, I’ll probably have to check those out.

Doctor Who. Yeah, you know… it’s fine. I found myself completely unable to watch the second episode, and have since been assured that it’s probably the worst episode of the season. I don’t know why I couldn’t sit through it, but I think part of it is that it seemed to be trying much too hard. It was like a weird Xerox copy of a pastiche of an imitation of Doctor Who, not an actual episode. The Dickens one was okay. I think a big part of it for me is that an hour is not enough time. I was talking to my brother about it, and he agreed that in the serialized version you’d go through four or five episodes before you even knew who the bad guy was. That gave you time to explore the world you were in — whether it was an alien world or a historical one or a contemporary one that happened to have mummies or whatever. So I guess the pacing feels off because when I watch Doctor Who, I expect that there’s going to be a half hour just to establish group A exists and have a wacky mix-up or two, then another half hour to establish a problem, then another to establish the reason for the problem, then another to explain why group B has created the problem… and then a couple more to solve everything. When you put it into a 1-hour format, it’s just like every other show. But I understand that there are mutli-part stories coming up later in the season, so I’m hoping that will improve things. I mean, it’s not a bad show. It’s fun and has the right amount of creepiness. I just feel like it’s missing some essential Who-ness. (Who-itude?) I have been enjoying the reviews & comments over at Behind The Sofa. After I watch an episode, I go look up their comments in the archive and their likes & dislikes are usually pretty close to mine. It was awfully nice to know that I wasn’t the only person who found Eccleston off-putting.

And a slight digression, but speaking of Eccleston, I finally finished the third series of League of Gentleman. Which is excellent, and indescribable, as usual. The format in the third series is more like the Christmas special — closer to short movies than sketches. After the second episode, when it becomes clear what they’re doing (I hate to give it away) I was really impressed. As usual there are some bits that are excruciating — I had to fast-forward through Geoff’s act the first time through. Also as usual, sometimes the wrong people die. Oh, and the commentaries are particularly interesting this time, since there’s a lot of conversation about things that worked and things that didn’t, and jokes that got ruined and I guess it’s that more of the conversation is about the structure, since this series is so much more complicated. And I find that kind of stuff interesting.

Anyway, this is relevant because Eccleston has a brief appearance in the last episode, and I was startled to realize that I liked him there. I mean, I don’t hate him on Doctor Who, but he grates a bit. And realizing that he was very appealing in this five-minute cameo makes me think it’s something about the character, and I think I’ve figured out what. He’s Fred, from Angel. He’s not a character, he’s a collection of one-liners and plot devices. I’m not sure if it’s because Rose interests Davies more than The Doctor does, or because the audience is expected to know who the Doctor is already, so more time is spent on her. But the end result is, she’s a person and he’s a device. And everything that’s supposed to make me thing, “Gee, he’s endearingly quirky” is actually kind of an annoying. I suppose that’s why “Dalek” worked better — in that episode he seems to express some genuine personality instead of spewing wacky patter all over everything. I’m still several episodes behind in the US airings, so it’s possible this’ll get sorted out, but I dunno.

Battlestar Galactica, Season 2

My friend Niels came to visit for a few days last week. He was passing through town during a month-long visit to various friends & family; he lives in Germany now. There were two goals for his time with me: to watch season 2 of Battlestar Galactica (I’d sent him season 1 last year), and to go to Fell’s Point for ice cream. I was excited about watching season 2 in one crazy marathon since I haven’t rewatched any of it since it aired. Well, apart from the ones I recapped, but that was six months ago. I was missing one episode, and had cut out the ads, so I figured we could easily watch 13+ hours of TV in a day. It actually wound up taking us 3 days and we still didn’t quite finish, partly because of scheduling issues and partly because I didn’t factor in how often we’d have to pause the show to chat for a while. Close enough, though. Here’s how it went.

Scattered: We started Tuesday night, after I rescued Niels from his relatives. There were quite a lot of comments about Apollo’s ridiculous arms. Niels was really irritated by the flashbacks with Tigh and Adama, and while I wasn’t too bothered by them originally, they really are pretty pointless so I understood his reaction. During the final flashback, when Tigh’s about to set fire to something, we had this conversation:

Strega: This is his Apocalypse Now moment.
Niels: Isn’t every moment his Apocalypse Now moment?

After seeing season 1, Niels had thought about paying to watch the season 2 premiere via iTunes, just to know how the cliffhangers wound up. I had cautioned him that the premiere wouldn’t help at all, because for the first few episodes the only thing that happens is, things get even worse. This, incidentally, is why I’m always surprised when people say that the show is dark and depressing. I mean, I do kind of understand, but I think ever since Boomer “rescued” Helo back in “33,” I usually view it as a black comedy. The point is, it was nice to watch this with him, just to prove that I wasn’t lying when I told him that getting the premiere would be a waste of time unless he was willing to buy half the season.

Valley of Darkness: We had an ongoing conversation about how funny it would be if, when they were looking for the magazines, they really were looking for magazines. Like, National Geographic or Octagons Monthly or whatever. This might be a good time to mention that we were drinking. Which is probably also why we decided that in 20 years, there should be another remake with all the sexes reversed, so this time someone like Apollo would play a character like Six. The idea of Jamie Bamber playing a, er, homme fatale? Too funny.

Niels’s thought for the hour: “You know what I would like? If Tigh made Apollo wear prison stripes all the time.” He doesn’t like Apollo any more than I do. He did keep jumping to Boomer’s defense, though. Yes, Park improved from season 1. Which made her barely passable, instead of actually embarrassing.

Fragged: We went to bed after “Valley of Darkness,” then got breakfast (and a fresh stockpile of beer) and started back in around noon. Just seeing the title on the DVD menu made Niels giggle. His expression of horror when Tigh & Ellen started arguing and then started kissing was something to see. I should have had a camera ready, but I was too busy laughing.

Resistance: Around this time I was reassured that yes, these really were good episodes of a good show. Part of the reason I wanted to rewatch them all was to remind myself that the slump at the end of season 2 was just a slump, and that most episodes still held up fine. I like Anders more on rewatch — I never hated him, but on review he seems kind of like Helo in that he’s a standup, dopey guy who has unfortunately fallen in with a pack of crazy people. Which is a dynamic I enjoy.

The Farm:

Niels: “So, at this point all of the main characters are shot, imprisoned, in exile, or imaginary?”
Strega: “Pretty much.”

This episode held up better than I expected — when it started I wasn’t too excited about seeing it again, but even knowing what’s coming it still moves along nicely. I will agree with Moore now, that the, uh, incubator room is kind of unimpressive visually. I remember that it seemed okay the first time, but now it  doesn’t really create the kind of visceral horror I think they were going for. Though if it worked once, that’s still not bad. I am still annoyed by the dopey “I didn’t tell him my name was Starbuck!” reveal, though. It’s just so cliched.

Home: When we got to the end, and Adama hears the Humming Theme Of Reunification, Niels observed that’d it’d have been funny if we’d panned over to reveal that Baltar was around a corner, doing the humming to manipulate Adama. Then, during part 2, he decided that he wanted to see an episode where Apollo, Tyrol, and Cottle were stuck on a planet somewhere and had to work together. I said that Cottle was perfect in small doses, but too much interaction would ruin the effect he has. Niels insisted that Cottle wouldn’t have to do or say much. Just react to Apollo and Tyrol. I conceded that there was some comedy gold in that idea.

Final Cut: I went to take a shower during this one, because meh. However, I was exceedingly amused to catch that in the ending, when we see Xena’s show, one of the things she talks about is that the Galacticans don’t “lay down their burdens and let someone else do their job.” Which is funny foreshadowing, so props for that.

Flight of the Phoenix: I remembered so little about this one before we watched it. And afterwards, I still don’t remember much. They build the stealth ship. And everyone actually learns to get along for a change. The end. It’s not a bad episode at all, it’s just that before we watched it I said that I didn’t remember much about it, and while we watched it I thought, “Oh, that happens in this? Okay.” and now it’s been a few days and it’s all murky again. Weird. Maybe they incorporated the stealth technology into the show.

After this, we went out to dinner with my friend Kelly, which is another thing that messed with the marathon. Kelly ruins everything!

Pegasus: So it was around 9 when we started the trifecta of Pegasus-related awesomeness. Early on, Niels said that he wanted someone to refer to Cain as “Natasha.” Actually, he specifically wanted Starbuck to call her “Natasha,” though I think he’d have accepted Adama doing it as well. Then we had an argument about whether or not Cain had a mullet. I won; she doesn’t. The highlight for me was when Niels said, “This would be such a different show if Baltar were president.” I giggled, and pretended I was giggling because that was a funny idea and not because yes, it is going to be a different show when that happens.

Resurrection Ship: During the opening teaser of part 2, this happened.

Niels: “At least nothing horrible happened to Tyrol and Helo.”
Strega: “That’s because –”
[cue the Pegasus soldiers storming into the brig]
Niels: “– it happens right this second! Eek!”

Epiphanies: She should have died, y’know. It was less annoying than the first time, because this time I wasn’t disappointed when the inevitable happened. Still, I like Roslin, and damnit, she should have died. Plus, the pacifist terrorists were just stupid. I don’t mean that it’s incomprehensible that pacifists can be terrorists, because, duh. I just mean that I didn’t buy that anyone, even on this show, is dumb enough to believe that the Cylons would leave them alone if the military would just stop picking a fight. Not after only six months These are all people who must have lost family & friends in the initial attack, and who have been right there as the Cylons chased them across the Galaxy. I think what I said at the time was that they should have been presented as religious loonies, who had decided that the Cylons were right and humanity deserved to be wiped out. Plus, that would have set up some fun as “Gina” presented herself as a messiah figure to rival Roslin.

After that episode was over, we had to have some negotiations about what to do next. Because it was getting pretty late, and we clearly weren’t going to finish everything that night. Niels wanted to just continue and watch the next episode, and finish the next night. But the next episode was “Black Market.” And while I did kind of want to watch it with Niels while we were intoxicated and could embrace the crapitude, I was skeptical that we’d be able to watch all of them before he left. Since time was limited I suggested that we watch the good episodes. We could just go straight to the finale without missing anything important, and then watch “Downloaded” the next night. But the finale was a two-parter, and Niels wasn’t sure he’d stay awake. Finally, I gave him a two minute recap of what we’d be skipping (“Apollo’s crazy and suicidal, and then Starbucks’ crazy and suicidal, and then Billy dies in the episode I don’t have, and then the Prez outlaws abortion so Baltar starts running for President”). I figured that it was cool to skip “Downloaded” since, while it sorta explains why the war ends in the finale, it’d be interesting to watch the finale only knowing what the Galacticans know. So we started the finale.

As it turned out, Niels did fall alseep during the teaser, so I woke him up and told him to go to bed, but the ten minute nap refreshed him enough that we wound up watching all of it. Even though I’d forgotten that the second half was extra-long. Oops.

Lay Down Your Burdens: What can one say? Except that skipping “Black Market” and “Scar” and all that makes the season so much better. It may be wishful thinking, but I’ve decided to hope that delaying the next season until October means that Moore & Eick have more time to plot out season 3, and so there won’t be the same, “Er, and now we have to fill four more episodes until we get to the finale, but we’re all kind of tired now” problem. I hope, I hope.  I totally understand how it would happen, I’m just saying that it’s not really worth extending the season to 20 episodes if five of them are going to suck. I’d rather have 12 or 15 good episodes and a longer interval between them.

So we went to bed, and then went to Baltimore the next day, and when we came back we puttered around and finally watched…

Downloaded: I still have problems with the metaphysics of Cylon personalities established in this one, but I’ll just file it next to “Angel’s soul” in the big box of things I’ll overlook in order to enjoy the story. There’s not much to say, except that I do hope Anders told someone about his odd encounter eventually. I did like him being a heroic terrorist, to balance out the pacifist terrorists. We watched the bit where Six takes out Xena four times, I think. Still funny. I think the best thing is that Six just rises up behind Xena like a shark. But the “God loves me!” bit is pretty brilliant, too.

We did not get to the crappy episodes, because Niels was wiped out. So I made a good call in insisting that we cut to the end. Hooray for me. I probably will watch them myself. Eventually. Maybe in the fall. The final total was 16 episodes within 48 hours, which isn’t too bad.

Oh, and one thing about next season: I really hope that they change the pre-teaser bit so that now it ends, “And they have a new plan.” That would amuse me.

Batman Begins

I saw Batman Begins.

Katie Holmes was pointless, but then she is the romantic interest in a Batman movie. Although amusingly, she was only the romantic interest because she was the only girl in the movie. At the inevitable break-up scene at the end, I kept waiting for Bruce to say, “Er, were we even interested in each other? I thought we had a Platonic relationship.” The good news was that she wasn’t even in the movie that much, but she was in it more than she needed to be. Because she didn’t need to be there at all. Really. i don’t know why they always have to have a romantic figure in a Batman movie. I assume they think, “There has to be a hint of romance, so that women will see the movie.” Note to Warner Bros.: keep putting pretty boys like Cillian Murphy in the movies, and we’ll be fine.

I really liked the concepts in the movie. Possibly more than the actual movie, where they were driven home five or six too many times. But I liked everyone talking about fear. I liked the idea that Batman was actually the moderate voice compared to the League of Shadows. I liked the prison-break-plus-fear-toxin explaining why Gotham is full of maniacs. There are some beautiful images. I really liked the lack-of-opening-title shot, with the bats, because I was sitting there thinking, “Hey, it’d be cool if they… oh, look, they did! Pretty.”

Things I was less keen on:

  • Those ideas being beaten to a pulp. I got it the first five times, really.

  • The movie’s kind of… obsessive. Like, we see Bruce get this high tech armor, and we understand that he’s going to use it to make a Batsuit. And then we see him painting it black. And then we see him in it. And then after that there’s this bit where he opens the wardrobe to reveal (dun dun DUNNN) the Batsuit, and it’s odd, because…. we know, already. We saw it just a few minutes ago. We understand. There’s a lot of stuff like that, where I really think the audience could make the leap from point A to point B without showing us every tiny in-between stage.
  • The big chase scene with the Batmobile did not need to be three hours long. Jesus. If you’re giving me time to wonder why the roofs in Gotham are built to support the weight of a half-ton vehicle dropping onto them, your action scene is too long. And the fight scenes were mostly incomprehensible, but that’s sort of traditional for Batman movies. I really wish it wasn’t, though. Grump.
  • I missed the Danny Elfman theme. I didn’t need a whole Elfman soundtrack, with the “Aaah-uuuh, aaah-uuuh”ing and all, even though I enjoy it, but I had no idea how strongly I associated his theme with Batman until I kept being disappointed when they didn’t use it.
  • The quipping. I understand why it was there, particularly since most of the quips were in the trailers and ads. Bruce testing the prototype Batmobile and saying, “Does it come in black?” and stuff like that. I know people expect that, but those lines are so jarring when you see them in context because this particular Bruce Wayne does not seem like a guy who makes self-conscious jokes. Alfred and the other sidekicks can joke, but oh, it was irritating when Bruce did it.

I did enjoy it, but I guess I’d give it a B and wish I could have given it an A. Oh, and my favorite unintentionally (?) funny line was “Don’t be frightened. [beat] You’ve been poisoned.” Yeah, that’s a calming sentence. Good job, Bruce.

  • Sapphire & Steel

    I finally finished watching this after it sat on my to-do list for ages. I think the second assignment (the train station) is the best, and the creepiest. Plus it’s got that downer of an ending. The fifth assignment is interesting as an inversion of murder-mysteries, even if it lacks the spookiness of the others. While dated, it was well worth seeing for the moments that work. The third assignment is probably why I didn’t finish the DVDs sooner, so I do advise skipping that one unless you’re hard-core. One of the things that made it interesting just as a demonstration of how much you can do with no money — provided you’ve got some interesting characters, anyway. There is a lot of padding and terrible FX, to be sure… but I think a lot of it is evidence that limits can force you to be more creative.

  • The Merry Gentleman

    Surprisingly charming for a quiet movie in which every single character is achingly lonely. Including the hitman played by Michael Keaton. Good for a rainy Sunday when you’re feeling a bit forlorn yourself.

  • Outnumbered

    A Brit-com sent to me by Mugga, about a family where the children behave like actual children instead of smart-alecky robots. (Their scenes are largely improvised.) As a result, actual parents may find it frighteningly realistic, while non-parents may be freshly relieved that they are not parents.