25 September 2006
Sopranos is absolutely magnificent at the moment, it really is. I was concerned that the whole supernatural/philosophical theme they were looking at with the coma episode would peter out once Tony was back in the real world, but thankfully that has turned out not to be the case.
Fortunately for me, this first episode of Full Tony Consciousness saw the introduction of a John Schwinn, who blew Tony’s mind with his deep talk about how we are all one consciousness, and duality like good-evil, and even one boxer vs. another, cannot really exist due to the universe being one big random gloop of molecules reassigning their form seemingly at random.
Between that, the mysterious Ojibwe saying, and anti-Evolutionist stance proffered by the Christians, it seems the central core of the show has been redefined, and more central to the show than ever before.
That ‘core’ is, of course, Tony Soprano, not as some ‘Analyze This!’ extended punch line, but more like the Silver Surfer of HBO drama. He goes about his business (fighting super-crime, maintaining organised crime – two sides of the same coin) with a level of professional detachment, but with various pauses for philosophical pondering.
I love how the emphasis has shifted from ‘he’s got issues!’ to a genuinely pretty deep look at the nature of existence, why we’re all here etc. While some may hate its being valued over the gangstery, I loved Tony’s look at the world after leaving hospital with fresh eyes, and remarking that every day would be a gift. Especially as it presumably foreshadows some hardcore action to come…
I caught the last half of what seemed to be a really bloody good hour-long episode of Emmerdale last week, too. Emmerdale. I’ve not really watched the programme too much since leaving there (as some of you are aware, I was in the story office for a while in 2005), and usually with good reason.
Occasionally, though, there is a really good story. More often than not, it involves Cain Dingle. Over Christmas, for example, we had the storyline where his daughter, Debbie, gave away her baby and he obviously went crazy when he found out. As maligned as the Dingles are for Chuckle Brothers-esque comedy, they routinely have the most emotionally affecting storylines on the show.
So I caught this most recent episode with Cain holding Sadie (Patsy Kensit) King and Tom King hostage, asking for two million quid. It was all a big swerve, as he made off with the money, I cahoots with Sadie, after convincing the King family that she’d got killed.
In a great villain move (and one of those few moments where he really lives up to his evil potential), Cain flies off on a seaplane with the money, leaving Sadie on her tod, after giving her a speech about how he’d end up killing her if they stayed together. Excellent.
To ramp up the emotional impact, though, there was a touching scene where Debbie caught up with Cain, as she turned up at the ransom drop and begged him not to leave her. As she has consistently been his weak spot, he was reduced to tears as he told her ‘I have always loved you – I’m just not good at it’.
Sentimental and schmaltzy as hell, but this was easily the most affecting moment in television drama in quite a while for me.
19 September 2006
In more dramatic fare than a couple of posts below, I have found much to enjoy in the current series of The Sopranos. It seems the powers that be on the show (most likely Exec Producers, as I doubt a writer would have that much power on the show) have decided to follow the current trend for TV by throwing us a swerve to begin the series.
This, of course, is nothing new in the last couple of small-screen years. The last season of 24 started with a number of major characters getting variously shot and blown up, including the ex-President (but 24 is a law unto itself, ending as it did with Jack being beaten bloody and hauled off to China), and the co-creators of Lost wanted to kill their own Jack in the pilot episode originally (they wanted a star like Michael Keaton back when they were going to kill him. It was going to be instead of the pilot, when he gets grabbed out of the plane).
So, after what was essentially an episode of exposition, with the audience catching up with the characters and meeting some new ones (the bloke who wanted out of the game was new to me, at least), Tony got shot by his increasingly psychologically deteriorating uncle, and was rendered comatose.
I don’t know why it is, but I am fascinated with the mind of the person in a coma. I mean, I’m into psychology in general, and dreams specifically, so a subject like that intrigues me; what goes on in the mind of someone nearly dead to the world?
This is one of the many reasons why I loved the Mars Volta debut so much. The dodgily monikered De-loused in the Comatorium concerned the coma dreams of one of the band’s friends, and the journey his mind took. It was dark and surreal, and really added to the uber-Proggy sound the band had been developing.
And so we return to this Sopranos story strand. Tony got shot at the climax of the season opener, and spent most of the next two episodes in a dream world where he was being mistaken for a ‘Kevin Finnerty’ (read that name aloud), with whom he had accidentally traded briefcases. He was trying to find Finnerty, while the latter’s enemies (Buddhist monks, mainly) hassled our protagonist.
So the execution was rather like Lost’s flashback structure, as the audience was sent between this hotel and the everyday life of the Family, only this flashback had never happened. Or at least, it wasn’t a flashback, as it was currently happening, just not in the physical world.
Before long, he arrived at a party in a mansion, but was afraid to go in, as he kept hearing his daughter’s voice in the distance, pleading with him not to go. Of course, that was him hearing her in the hospital, and he soon woke up. While I’m glad he’s back in the world of the living, I have to admit I was enamoured both with the execution of this aside, and with the fact that it was introduced for some variety.
I eagerly await the rest of this series. Especially as Lost is finishing next week…
And here are some pics of it. I love the rain so much; the heavier, the better, and this was a grand storm indeed.
I also got some music last week but, as I didn't do too much listening to it, it's going to happen on a future Week In Review. So look out for Mastodon, Mars Volta and probably the new DJ Shadow, which has gorgeous packaging.
16 September 2006
The first episode of series two of Extras aired tonight, and I was most pleased with it. Initially concerned about Keith Chegwin (seemed rather like a contrived attempt at Les Dennis mk. 2, on paper) and Orlando Bloom, they both worked out really well.
Bloom was on fine form as the narcissist obsessed with his imaginary feud with Johnny Depp (‘the prat’) – although I understood his motivation, Bloom’s fixation with Maggie was a bit of a stretch.
Anyway, Cheggers worked out really well. It helped that he was pretty much the polar opposite of Dennis’ character on the show; whereas Les was very wet and pathetic, in an endearing kinda way, Chegwin was a racist homophobe, with a disarmingly chilling delivery. His scene was also the funniest of the episode, where they were trying to get his one line of dialogue down. He failed so miserably that I was laughing so hard, I literally thought my neck was going to explode.
That Mitchell And Webb Look wasn’t as resounding a success. I loved Peep Show. I thought the first series was the best by a mile, but I loved Peep Show. I also don’t like sketch shows. I don’t like Little Britain, Bo Selecta! or The Fast Show. I liked bits of them, but there’s the rub with sketch shows – they tend to be hit and miss.
So with Bo!, you had stuff like Craig David and Michael Jackass, which were pretty damn hilarious (til the kind of idiots who wear short sleeved shirts while drinking outside pubs in the winter ran the catchphrases through the ground, past the Earth’s core and into Australia). Then you had other parts of the show, like Lorraine Kelly or whatever, where he just wanted to say rude words. And the less said about the Avid Merrion bits, the better.
Big Train was a good sketch show, though. Mainly because it didn’t tend to fall into the trap that too many programmes do in terms of catchphrases; the same characters saying the same thing week after week until laughing is less an expression of amusement than it is a Pavlovian reaction... Fast Show especially.
I’m completely nonplussed by the kind of comedy where everyone knows what the punch line is, and we’re all just waiting for it to come. Oh, that bloke on the Fast Show was talking about all this amazing stuff that happened to him, and then he just said ‘…which was nice’! Oh, the bathos!
Anyway, Mitchell And Webb. We know they’re really funny, but (as someone who doesn’t have digital and didn’t see whatever programme it was on BBC3530) how does that translate to sketches?
Well, I didn’t hate any of it, but if the drunken snooker commentators become a weekly thing I’ll be happy to change my mind. The crime fighting team of ‘Angel Summoner’ & BMX Bandit, wherein the latter would hatch a complex plot involving wheelies, and the former would just get a bunch of angels to do everything, was good stuff. Just not every week.
One thing that did completely make me laugh was ‘Numberwang’. A parody of those nonsensical daytime quiz shows that only the participants and presenter seem to understand, it was random and concise enough to have me rolling in the aisles. OK, just sitting down and laughing, but it was still good.
I guess the success of the series will hinge on how many good ideas they have – will it be different every week, or will it slide into Catchphrase Hell? Or will it just meander about, in rather clueless fashion, like Man Stroke Woman? Yeah, you forgot about that already.
And finally, season 5 of Curb Your Enthusiasm came out this week. I’ve wanted to ration myself, so have only seen about half of it thus far. I like it. I like it a lot.
The episode with the racist dog has been the best thus far, partly due to the fact that it is unbelievably awkward (being called a homophobe and a racist? Wait – that rings a bell…), and also because it features what have now become staples of the show.
And by that I mean two things. First off is the look Larry gives anyone he thinks is lying. He’ll go silent and squint into their eyes, moving his head slowly, as though in an attempt to pierce the falsehood and get to the truth within. I think it’s hilarious, especially when it comes to how the different defendants react.
The other is his ‘catchphrase’, which I think only I actually notice. And that is his ‘pretty good. Prettyyyy, prettyyyyy, prettyyyy, pretty good’ line. It always cracks me up. It reached its zenith when he used it (after subtly doing so for four seasons) in a wedding vow renewal (‘the marriage has been pretty good…’ when he has misplaced the vows he had written for the occasion), but it’s always gold.
And what’s the difference between this and the sketch show catchphrases I hate with such passion? Context. The Curb… lines are ensconced within excellent comedy scenarios, as opposed to being the sole reason for the existence of those scenarios. Now, roll on that Arrested Development Season 3 DVD set…
POSTSCRIPT: I finally got to reading some of last week’s Weekend Guardian, and it’s a comedy-focused issue. In it, among other luminaries, are Mitchell and Webb. Funny thing is, I never reconciled the fact that the writing pair and acting pair on Peep Show had different names and, because it was a writing duo, assumed the actors wrote it.
How wrong I was. Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain wrote it. They also wrote the hilarious The Thick Of It. While the pair wrote on That Mitchell And Webb Look, that also had a bunch of other writers working on it. I’ll just assume they wrote Numberwang and Angel Summoner & BMX Bandit, the rest of them wrote the other stuff, and we’ll have a tidy little solution.
10 September 2006
Hyper-caffeinated Pride Open-weight GP Finals Play by Play
Right, so I might not have mentioned this on the blog before, but I’m very into my MMA (mixed martial Arts or ‘fighting’, for the lay people out there). And Pride FC (Fighting Championship, as opposed to Football Club) has just, like literally this morning, had a big show.
The Open-weight Grand Prix (OWGP) is essentially a live Streetfighter II, where fighters from around the world, and of different shapes and sizes, get together to brawl in tournament format. The winner gets the chance to fight current Pride Heavyweight champion Fyodor Emelianenko. Or M. Bison, for the purposes of this analogy.
Anyway, as I have access to a live, though temperamental (so expect a lot of buffering and glitching, which is no real big deal), internet feed, I decided to do play-by-play commentary for people on some message boards.
Now, as this was on in Japan, I had to get up at 6 in the morning. Combine that with my being an idiot and waking up early yesterday, thinking it was then, and I am knackered. So, this post consists of the thoughts of a sleep deprived man who slowly gets more articulate as the coffees kick in.
I thought it might make for (semi-)interesting stream of consciousness writing, at least. In the words of the mighty Radiohead, I might be wrong. Anyway, here goes (be prepared for lunacy and random MMA terminology):
1. Yousuke Nishijima vs. Evangelista Santos
Didn't see the end of Nishijima-Cyborg, for some reason. I think that was when I was making the coffee. If it's any consolation the coffee turned out nice. Cyborg threw some nice knees in the clinch early. I'm not used to watching MMA at 6AM. Cyborg apparently won with a choke.
2. PRIDE GP 2006 Semi-Final: Vanderlei Silva vs. Mirko Filipovic
Silva-Mirko was pretty good and pretty bad. Mirko came out to WILD BOYS by Duran Duran, which amused me no end. Silva came out smiling. Anyway.
WAND aggressive to start, but Mirko fires back. CroCop really grabs the fight by the reins and has WAND in trouble. Knocks him down, WAND pulls guard after some Aleks E-killer GnP. Blood check for Silva. Eyes look bad, as does nose. They let him fight. Tough couple of mins for him.
Restart on ground, WAND decent guard, stood up, yellow card to Silva. He doesn't look like he's gonna last long and a Left High Kick seals the deal. Sad but pretty predictable in hindsight. WAND was proper knocked out.
3. PRIDE GP 2006 Semi-Final: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Josh Barnett
My connection sucks so this keeps cutting out. Missed the first few mins of Nog-Josh due to writing up this rubbish, but Josh got an early takedown and Nog ended up on top. Impressive, and nearly as impressive was Josh just throwing him off. They end up on the ground again, with Nog on top again, trying for stuff.
Within the last minute, Nog goes for a cross armbreaker. A juji-gatame, right? Am I right folks? But Josh gets himself over Nog and pulls out. Looks to get Nog's back, but bell rings.
ROUND 2! To the ground quickly, with Josh on top (he's not on fire though. Nor is Alan. That was for the old punk rock dudes). Nogueira gets on top after lots of purple blocks hit the screen. Maybe that's his special move, post anaconda choke. Tries for some ground and pound. Josh tries to get up, but Nog sorta gets his back. It's more like his side though. Josh goes for a leg dealy. That one where you hold onto the back of the ankle and try hyperextending the knee. Nog initially grabs Josh's leg, but lets go. Last half-minute. Man, he's cranking on it, and the ref breaks them up. I fear it was a tap, but it was just time running out.
Damn. I'd rather have seen Nog-Mirko II than this final...
4. PRIDE GP 2006 Reserve: Sergei Kharitonov vs. Aleksander (brother of champ) Emelianenko
Aleks now in the ring. Man I never get used to the size of his head. Sergei with the best music yet, til it goes Eurohouse. I thought he could be the Pride version of Ignashov, but apparently not. He doesn't drink enough for that anywway.
Totally brutal. They start out throwing down and Aleks with advantage. Sergei has to hug him. They go to ground, Sergei on top not doing too much. Lots of purple, buffering and pixellation. Long and short of it is they ended up back on the feet (looking at Khaz's face he wasn't relishing that), and it's cool stuff. Back onto ground, and Aleks is in control, with SK in all fours, a la Tim Sylvia-Andrei Arlovski II. Punches, then an insane knee that smashes Sergei's face in. He's out cold, but ref is sleeping on the job. More punches, two big knees and finally it gets stopped. Jebus.
Also, it's light now, which is a relief. You know the summer's over when you wake up in the morning and it's bloody dark. What a jip. Clip of Aleks killing Morais, which is prolly my cue to make another coffee. God I need a cuppajoe.
5. Lee Tae Hyun vs. Ricardo Morais
Hyun's theme tune sounds like Linkin Park to begin with. Then it goes house, and then horns break out and it goes really freaky. That's the best thing about this match. Toughman contest, I start writing something about Boris in the Music folder and I see Hyun looking hurt with concerned people around him. It gets stopped and he's not protesting. Whatevs. Also the girls in these ads are well cute.
6. Kazuhiro Nakamura vs. Yoshihiro Nakao
Best theme tune ever. We start with the Thunderbirds countdown and then it goes into BATTLE WITHOUT HONOUR OR HUMANITY from ‘Kill Bill vol. 1’. I want Nakao to win this. Nakamura counters with some 60s sounding pop and dancing blue penguins with Santa hats. I'm scared. Good thing this coffee rules. 'Arabica moulu' apparently.
Into the second round. Sorry, Kaznak is probably the best fighter in the world that I can't be arsed watching.
Wow, yeah. I think that fight just got automatically repressed. It went the distance anyway. God I can't wait for Aronareem. Oh shit, non-tourney. Third round it is, then. Hmm, for some reason my internet went weird. Nakamura gets the Unanimous Decision and crowd is shitting on something. Maybe they like Nakao. He was fiery, I'll give him that. Also, Battle Without Honour Or Humanity.
Intermission is fun. Some fighters have got in the ring for some laughs. Lightweight champion Takanori Gomi is such a cool bastard. Akihiro Gono, on the other hand, is laughing at his own jokes while wearing his red afro wig. What a butt face.
7. Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua vs. Cyrille Diabate
Sweet, fight time is back. This'll be Diabate then. TEAM BOON! Did the graphic call him 'The Shake'? If so, The American Athlete has some competition... And now it's goddamn Shogun. First few seconds of theme tune put me in mind of LFO (not the boy band) with the squelches. Proceedings hurtle downhill as sub-sub-sub-KoxBox trance comes on. Screaming Woman tells us that HE'S BA-ACK! Excellent; I'd have hated for it to be a swerve and some 'lost me smile' promo to commence. Sounded better than when Goldberg did it, at least. And it's The Snake. This should be punchy.
Staredown, and Diabate looks like the lankiest man in existence. Shogun with a quick takedown renders my theory most lame. Back up, then quickly back down. Rua on top. Still no fire, but that would have made for a surreal Jeff Lee Pierce song title. Shogun from mount to side control. Cyrille back up and the pink pixellation. Good shots from Sho and they're back down. Kidney elbow. Full mount. In other news, I am fully awake now. GnP attempt. Shogun to his feet, kicks, stompstompstomp. Shogun really putting out a fire, but it's a penalty kick that really wins this. Another stomp and Diabate is off for an early shower.
Shogun apparently is back.
8. Ricardo Arona vs. Alistair Overeem
Top notch. I think this is Metallica doing 'Stone Cold Crazy' on the video package and Arona has such pretty eyes. But can he win my heart from Overeem? Bloody hell. Overeem with the Eurohouse rubbish intro tune. Do I not like that. At least he has the excuse of being Dutch. Arona wins Round 0 with some entertaining Brazilian RnB-esque stuff.
Arona with his Silva strategy of looking slightly startled and throwing leg kicks. A minute in and he throws one that buckles Overeem's knee and sends him down. Overem with butterfly guard. Arona passes it, natch, into sorta side control. Bit low on his body though. Al scoots into corner - not wise? Arona goes for back while throwing grounded knees. Gets the back. Well, the waist. Alistair resists the temptation to enjoy this tender moment, though the reverie is shattered by some hammer fists from behind. Arona clubbing, though not in the Dutch Eurohouse sense to which Alistair is accustomed. And... it gets stopped? Arona with his first win since this time last year, OTOH, and Al with another slightly weird loss.
Oh, he tapped. Something in his eye?
And now it's the final. I almost don't want this show to end - we'll see what Josh and Mirko can acccomplish as regards the space-time continuum and my thirst for MMA entertainment. Vanderlei got proper battered.
9. PRIDE GP 2006 Final: Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic vs. Josh Barnett
Bloody 'Wild Boys'. He needs something more macho. Like an anime theme tune...
Hey, CroCop coming out to Sailor Moon or something would be entertainment personified. Croatian national anthem, and I always thought the dude with black hair was his dad. Apparently not. Anthem is stately enough, I suppose, and I actually want Josh to win this. See, I want Fyodor to make his body explode into a million new year's eve fireworks. Josh has Geraldo Rivera in his Dad role. Actually, I think it's the cut dude from off of UFC.
Also, breakfast part 2. After the cereal, it's the poached eggs. Sunday~! And Takada with the royal proclamations. As cool as he is, he's no Inoki when it comes to figureheads. Nogueira relegated to spectator breaks my heart. Staredown!
CrpCop leg kicks and Josh is dying for a takedown. Josh leg kick. Grabs a Cro Leg and no TD. Punches to head and Josh not a fan. Starts his own offence but ends up on his arse. Mirko in his guard, but time out for blood.
Josh elbows from bottom. CroCop no offence. Vague attempt at a triangle goes nowhere. Maybe Josh can win via bodyscissors? Not much happening, as I fantasise about Nogueira vs. Silva. Stood up. Fast and hard short punches from Josh. Syke! They're from Mirko. Bit of clinch, but a chest knee from Cop scares Josh off. Evil dirty boxing from Mirko and Josh goes down! Frenzied GnP with Josh rolling around in a frenzy of Babalu-inspired escaping! Josh able to pull guard and I am impressed with his courage in the face of adversity, brother. Pace understandably slows. Josh suddenly taps because of MY EYE!
Hmm, foreshadowing from the staredown? Mirko Cheats 2 Win and books himself into the role of next Fyodor victim. Should be good though. Wow, WAND can't collect his third place 'due to injuries'. Shogun with Big Cheque. Mirko with the biggest cheque in the world, and Josh is forced to watch the gloating. Maybe Mirko will hit him over the head with a guitar.
Josh noble in defeat; doles out props. He's gonna train, say his prayers and eat his vitamins and fight his way back, damnit! Credit where it's due, he hung and bung for longer than I thought after he got smacked. Shades of Liddell-Babalu from the last UFC. Show gets more surreal as they pipe in Stevie Wonder.
It's Mirko's birthday, apparently. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YA, HAPPY BIIIIRTHDAY! 32 today, I think he said, and it's the happiest day of his life. Happier even than the day he filmed that iced coffee ad where he punches the coffee beans during his talk show? I beg to differ. Mirko with arm round Josh for photo op, and I can see Bizzarnett dying on the inside just a little.
This should mean we get a rematch of the Filipovic-Emelianenko title fight from a year ago. Fyodor won a reasonably comfortable (if getting punched and kicked could ever be described as such) decision, but Filipovic remains the man who is most likely to knock him out. But will it happen? EH?