Monday, January 21, 2008

Another week at the Office, Dance into the FIRE!, and Marvelous comics.

Over roughly a week and a half, Sarah and I managed to blaze our way through the first three seasons of the Office. This probably set some sort of new land speed record for us when it comes to watching TV on DVD. Actually, the majority of episodes we watched through the Netflix View-On-Demand, but toward the end of the third season, we finally got fed up with it buffering and crashing on us, and I made the two block hike to rent the final couple disks from the neighborhood video store. So, by accident, we ended up supporting a local small business, I suppose.

At least that's how I'm validating spending close to $8 on DVD rentals when we already have a Netflix subscription.

As far as the actual show goes, I feel it actually probably peaked somewhere toward the end of the second season, or beginning of the third. But, even at its weakest, it managed to be more entertaining that most TV fair. Oh, and it actually worth renting the DVDs because there is an amazing number of deleted scenes for each episode. Like, five to 15 minutes of deleted scenes. And most of them are as entertaining as what made the final cut, so its like getting several bonus episodes per disk.

In addition to our Office-athon, we also continued our long running Bond-athon (a name which sounds a lot kinkier that it actually is). This weeks Bond film was probably the flabbiest of the franchises history, in more ways than one: View to Kill.

NOTE: The woman on the right it the better actress.

In it, an aging Roger Moore snowboards, demolishes a tiny French car, gets it on with Grace Jones and tries to stop an ex-Soviet super-soldier from flooding Silicon Valley to corner the market on microchips. If you want to see old men engage in slow-motion fisticuffs this is your Bond film. And, probably the two only truly redeeming aspects of this film are Christopher Walken's scene stealing performance as Max "Raht ahn shed-jehw-ahl" Zorin, and Duran Duran's kick-ass theme song:

Dance into the FIRE!!
The fatal sounds of broken dreams!
Dance into the Fire!
It's a view... to a kill!!

I'll probably be singing that song to myself for the next few weeks.

Significantly less flabby was the film we saw at Belltown's Big Picture. First it has to be noted that the Big Picture is one of Seattle's fine smaller cinemas, which is notable for both its atmospheric lobby, and the fact that you can bring a beer, glass of wine or mixed drink into the theater with you.

Juno: In which George Micheal get's Kitty Pryde pregnant.

The film we saw, Juno, was a movie that -going in- I knew that I would enjoy it, since it fell into the category of "quirky indie picture" and that's generally a fairly safe bet for me. That said, I was actually still pleasantly surprised by it. I think, as much as I like quirky and whimsical pictures of the Wes Anderson variety, I do have to admit that part of me is starting to get frustrated with their reluctance to embrace what seems like a true emotion... instead relying on cute gimmicks and coy gestures. Luckily, I think this is a case where the director and actors weren't afraid to see beyond the wittier-than-thou script, and allow the characters to breath and feel a bit. All in all, it ended up being an excellent picture.

The following morning it was off to my parents to work on making our batch of 2007 wine. Last year, before departing on our trip, Sarah and I started making wine with a family friend. And, this year, my dad got in on the scene too, setting up a small wine making room in the crawlspace below my parent’s house. This weekend’s task involved constructing a stand for our new oak wine barrel, and transferring the wine into it.

...And having four people packed into a tiny room trying to give each other directions.

...And cleaning out carboys with a hose in the backyard in near freezing weather.

...And sipping a lot of young wine from small mason jars.

Ah, the romance of winemaking.

Speaking of romance, I read the comic book Marvels last night, which allowed me to romantize my roll as a comic book collector. Marvels, produced not surprisingly by Marvel Comics, is the ultimate love letter to their superhero universe. Written by Kurt Busiek and painted by the much-lauded (and almost equally derided) Alex Ross, tells the story of the early Marvel universe from the standpoint of an everyday man on the street, photographer Phil Sheldon.

Though Sheldon's eyes we see the arrival of the first "Marvels": Namor the Submariner and the original Human Torch, the proliferation of heroes through WWII and beyond, the rise of the "mutant menace" (as depicted in the various X-titles), the threat of the world coming to an end with the arrival of Galactus and finally the life and death Spiderman's first love, Gwen Stacy.

Possibly the most realistic depiction of a giant, purple-helmeted man attempting to eat New York.

And, while its entertaining just to see this famous comic book events depicted from the viewpoint of a normal person living in New York, in their photorealistic glory; the main appeal of this book was something that I wasn't expecting: The entire tale works as a analogy for a comic fans relationship with superhero comics. Sheldon's opinion on the Marvels mirrors the average comic fans progression from youthful optimism and wonder, to broadening exploration of social themes and ideas, to frustration with the entire "establishment" and never-ending nature of superhero stories... to finally a personal sort of resignation and finale.

It might sound geeky to the lay person, but to someone who has been reading comics for more years than I can count, it's pretty cool.

And, speaking of comics, I might as well quickly mention what I picked up this week from Zanadu.

New X-men #46 - This was the second to last issue of the Messiah CompleX storyline, and the last issue of New X-men (although, supposedly, the title will be reborn as "Young X-men"). This issue definitely didn't drop the ball in either department, offering up some pretty whole sale carnage and chaos. In addition, there was a plot twist about halfway through this issue that tied one of the subplots into the main storyline and managed to entertain me. If I had one complaint it was that there are 40 or more characters involved in the final battle, and while artist Humberto Ramos tries to keep up... he can't quite manage it.

New Exiles - While I only really had one complaint about this weeks New X-men, I have to say that New Exiles gave me plenty to complain about. In fact, I'm not even really sure why I even gave it a try. The writer, Chris Claremont, helped define the X-Universe back in the day, but these days seems to be fixated on exploring his pet themes of strong women, mild bondage, mind control and "focusing the sum totality of our power" in the most incoherent and uninteresting manners possible. To this end, he's gutted the old Exiles title (which was basically the X-version of Quantum Leap) and turning it into a book about (you guessed it) strong women, mild bondage, mind control and "focusing the sum totality of our power." Ugh.

The Order #6 and The Immortal Iron Fist #12 - Neither of these are titles I usually pick up, but decided to check out because their writer, Matt Fraction, is going to be the writer of the new Young X-men series I mentioned above. In addition, he also writes the Image series Casanova which -if I haven't already mentioned on this blog- I'll definitely have to ramble about next time a new issue is released. Fraction seems to have a mind chock-full of entertainingly out-there concepts, and I was interested in seeing how he handled the Marvel Universe. Of the two titles, the kung-fu series Iron Fist is probably the more entertaining. I wasn't always able to follow up what was going on (the story was in part 5 of 6), but it had the right level of energy and quirky details. The Order, while also a strong title involving the formation of a new California based superhero team, was entertaining but probably drug down a bit by the solid by not particularly dynamic art of Barry Kitson.

Finally, in addition to all that, I also finished reading MW by Osamu Tezuka. Tezuka's Buddha series is one of my all time favorite mangas. So, when Vertical started releasing other comics by Tezuka, I figured it was worth picking them up. MW, the first of the titles I read, was... how should I say it... interesting. The story is about two young boys who are the only survivors when a biological weapon called MW is leaked on an island killing the entire population. When they grow up, one becomes a Catholic priest, and the other becomes an amoral killer obsessed with tracking down the people responsible for the cover up. And the priest and killer are secretly lovers. And the priest wants to stop the killer from trying to wipe out mankind. And the killer is from a family of kabuki dancers and tends to dress up like the women he's recently killed.

So, yeah, definitely different and at times fairly surreal. Probably the thing that makes it the most unnerving is the Tezuka's cartoony art. Tezuka is the creator of the cult series Astro Boy, and his characters look like 1940's cartoon characters, which puts the style at odds with the themes and storyline. But, not in a bad way. I'll be interested to read his other two book (which I also got as Christmas presents) and see how they compare to this and Buddha.

Pop Quiz! Is this a picture of A) The cross-dressing, sociopathic lead character of MW who is attempting to aquire a biological weapon to wipe out mankind or B) Astro Boy?

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