Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Badgerman's 2005 lists

Mes Amis

Oh dear, it’s the best of 2005 by the Badgerman.

Really, ninety percent of this isn’t going to shock people. In fact if anyone’s surprised by much of anything I’ll eat my hat. Which is a good thing to say. I don’t wear hats. So therefore I don’t have to eat anything foul or tasting of fabric if you are surprised.

And I’m sorry Jen but I wasn’t paying much attention to music in 2005 so no best of there. Although I did go and see the Quireboys play in the Cat House at the beginning of the year (What a great night; good ol’ Rock n’ Roll and lots of jumping about) and the Blind Boys of Alabama played a stormer at the end. The Alabama 3 met That Girl when they were in Glasgow but I was stuck at work here in Dundee and couldn’t go see em live, but I did go and buy of their fantastic new album, Outlaw.

Anyway, on to the things I was paying attention to:

The Badgerman’s Best of 2005

BOOKS

Its been a good year for me especially for the ol’ crime thrillers. Read a lot of good British books (unusual for me to find some I liked!) including MacBride’s debut, Simon Kernick’s entire back catalogue, the king of Edinburgh Noir Al Guthrie and many more besides. The Americans didn’t sit on their asses, either. The James Deans Reed Farrell Coleman was a pleasure to read, Pavia’s Dutch Uncle gave me a good time and JD Rhoades is a man to watch out for judging by his debut, The Devil’s Right Hand. Other books were thin on the ground. No new SF appealed and if I have to read another book telling me Bush and his cronies are assholes (We know this already) I think I could cry. And what was up with the strange obsession over books that on grammar (Eats, Shoots and Leaves stole the punch line from a joke I’ve been telling since my mid teens) and Su Doku is like a crossword but (somehow, and I never thought it was possible) even more shite.

In any case, the following stood out for me this year:

In First place:

THE BIG BLIND: Dear God, if you haven’t read this BUY A COPY NOW, YOU BASTARDS! Ray Banks is more than a writer of crime fiction although he’s damn good at that, too. This is one of those that makes the age old argument for crime fiction being better than most of so-called literature. The darkest kind of humour, the bleakest kind of outlook and an amazing psychological sharpness combine with a razor sharp and effortless prose (something very unusual for the brits) to make this hands down one of the best of the year.

Tied with

FAGS AND LAGER: Which is not only the funniest book I read this year but also the most distressing. It picks apart the darker side of modern Britain with a bleakly absurdist scalpel and shows us up for what we have become. I think I said it best in the Crime Scene Scotland review with the following comment: Mangel may appear be west of reality, but if you look hard enough you might find it’s just up the end of your street

Then there are the runners up:

CHEAPSKATES: Charlie Stella is, frankly, Da Man. And if you argue that point I will get physical about it. Cheapskates shows us why he’s the natural successor to the great crime writers like Leonard, Willeford and Higgins. Cheapskates showcases not only some of the best characters but some of the best damn dialogue going right now. If you haven’t read it, order this book now, damn you! In fact just order all of his damn books!

DON’T EAT THIS BOOK: Yes, its telling us nothing we don’t already know and maybe its over militant (like fun it is; we’ve been too kind to the fast food and corporate assholes for too long) but this book is required reading. Even if you don’t agree with his conclusions you need to read and understand that Spurlock isn’t just talking McD’s, he’s talking about a whole culture that’s turning us into fat consumer zombies. What shocks me is not the food but the way the food is sold to us and the terrifying ways in which companies often rise to the top of their game.

IN MILTON LUMKY TERRITORY: Just re-released in Paperback this is one of PKD’s mainstream novels and is rather beautiful, confronting all his usual themes in a real world setting that is often more uncomfortable and unreal than his fantasy constructs. All Dick’s usual themes are dealt with here in a manner that is quite, meditative and possibly more uplifting depending on how you take the book’s ending to be.

FILM

Didn’t see as many movies as usual this year but saw a lot I liked which is good. There were a lot of so-so’s including Keanus actually-nowhere-near-the-turd-it-could-have-been Constantine (Just lie to yourself and say its not related to Hellblazer) and the passable-but-only-cos-Bruce-Willis-is-watchable Hostage. But luckily very few actually so-bad-I-hated-em movies. Although I did have to sit through Mr and Mrs Smith which was so bad it made me think Herbie Reloaded was okay. But at least there was no equivalent to Forty Days and Forty Nights this year. So let’s dive in to the stuff that was actually decent:

In first place:

BATMAN BEGINS: Hands down my favourite film this year. I mean everything about this was just perfect. From the cast (Katie Holmes was a waste of space but did well with what she had) to the editing (I loved the shaky cam fight sequences) and the spectacularly adult script (although a bit over ponderous on the nature of fear this was the first superhero film that has really treated us like adult movigoers) everything just clicked into place making this an experience on a par with some of the best Batman comic books. Just perfection. Let’s hope the sequel (continuation?) can deliver…

And the runners up:

LORD OF WAR: Nic Cage comes back into my good graces with an amazing performance in this mismarketed but bleakly funny (and ultimately terrifying) movie about arms dealers. There’s no Nic Cage in gunfights malarkey but that only serves to prove the point: that Nic Cage’s Orlov can only do what he does when he doesn’t have to see the terror his weapons create... And the scary thing is: as the film goes on you start to sympathise with this amoral arms dealer…. You want him to evade the law. You need him to make the next deal. Even when he’s in the wrong his smooth charm pulls you into his way of thinking until you take a moment to reflect on what he’s saying. This is a clever, sharp and quietly vicious movie that will hopefully prove to be a cult sleeper hit. And love that opening sequence…

THE CONSTANT GARDENER: Far better than it should have been, this deals with some of the same paranoia as Lord of War but in a more sober, reflective and ultimately real way. Ralph Fiennes pulls in a restrained and affecting performance and even Rachel Weisz makes you feel deeply for her character, as you understand just why Feinnes falls for her in the way he does. It’s spoilt by over egging the pudding towards the end when everyone makes big and obvious speeches (where one image – and you’ll know it when you see it – does all the talking for them) but this is definitely one worth watching.

DOWNFALL: Horrendous, jaw dropping and so real you’ll think you’re there with Hitler in his bunker for the final hours. Bruno Ganz turns in the performance of the year and, by making Hitler human, serves to make the dictator even more of a monster than he’s ever been before. Even if you’re Dave White, watch this with the subtitles because no amount of dubbing can substitute for the sound of Ganz’s terrifying, lunatic and deadly performance here. A sober and terrifying vision of delusion and the horror of war.

And I know there’s no Sin City but I missed it. I promise I shall make up for it and get the DVD at some point.

TV

A pretty shitey year for TV. No new Sopranos, lots of shit reality shows and as ever, CH4 managed to hide The West Wing from me (and they still haven’t picked up a new series of NYPD Blue – I need my fix from Sipowicz and co, dammit!). On the plus side, a lot of comedies caught my attention, which is unusual. And there were one or two ace shows among the crop. Here’s my pick of the year:

DOCTOR WHO: Started weak (with the appalling pilot episode “Rose”) so that I almost believed it was nothing but an exercise in nostalgia. But slowly and surely my faith was restored. This is perfect Saturday teatime entertainment. It has some unexpected teeth sometimes, some great performances, a rather beautiful look and above all two compelling leads in (how odd to admit she can act) Billie Piper and Christopher Ecclestone. It helps that they got real actors on board and had a real writer at the helm. Maybe it wasn’t the strongest show of the year but it was the one that surprised me by being actually really, really good fun. Stand outs include the WWII two-parter with the creepy child, the final two part climax which started off flippant (The Doctor stuck in the Big Brother house) and quickly took a turn for the apocalyptic and my favourite episode where Rose goes back in time to stop her Dad being run over. All that and the Christmas Special with David Tennant taking the role of the Doctor… “No, wait… that’s the Lion King…” If you don’t buy into the concept at all you won’t like it, but if you can accept the resurgence of a family teatime show that manages to appeal to both adults and kids without insulting either and you can stomach the kind of fun sci-fi this has to offer then you’ve gotta love it. Makes top of the list because it was the most surprisingly entertaining (and somewhat addictive) show of the year when it should have probably been a bit of an embarrassment.

And the rest:

DEADWOOD: Not as strong a start as the first series, but fuck me if Ian McShane isn’t the most horrendous bastard on TV just now. Sky One don’t know how to market it but I’d rather they have it than CH4 who wouldn’t know how to market good drama (they got lucky with Lost) if it came with a five hundred page manual titled “How to Market Decent fucking drama”. The swearing is unnerving for a while if you’re new to the show but once you settle into the language this is top notch stuff and made all the more compelling when Ian “Who the fuck was Lovejoy again?” McShane is on screen. (Sorry for the excessive swearing, but it is Deadwood. Just be glad I didn't call y'all Cocksuckers...)

PEEP SHOW: Oh God, I can’t watch an episode all the way through – and that’s a good thing! This is watch-through-your-fingers TV. Jeremy and Mark are the worst losers on the TV and the fact that they both fail to see this is what gives this show the horrendous creeping horror of watching someone make a complete ass of themselves. The conceit of seeing through their eyes and hearing their thoughts only adds to the either-laugh-or-cry atmosphere that makes this compulsive viewing for me.

THE MIGHTY BOOSH: Just a beautiful and bizarre show, the Boosh is hard to describe. But let’s try. Vince Noir (King of the Mods) and Howard Moon (Rennaissance Jazz Man) are ex zoo keepers who fancy themselves as top musicians. They share a flat with Bollo (a talking gorilla) and Naboo (A mystic type chap) and are continuously trying to make it to the big time. Along the way they meet odd characters such as Old Greg (half man, half fish, just looking for love and someone with whom to share his Baileys), Milky Joe (the coconut), The Cockney Hitcher and other strange characters. The show is interspersed with inspired musical interludes and an amazing sense of humour. Someone once described it as “Morecambe and Wise by way of Lewis Carroll” and that’s as good a description as any. Required viewing.

OH, WHAT A DISAPPOINTMENT: THINGS THAT DIDN’T BRING A SMILE TO MY FACE

Not the worst of anything but just those things that really didn’t live up to my expectations .

THE COLORADO KID/THE CONFESSION: Both from my favourite small publishers, Hard Case Crime, these two books disappointed me because, well, they felt out of place. Their prose was often more dated than some of HCC’s reprints and frankly they built expectations up in the initial stages before ultimately failing to deliver. Neither was a bad book, per-se. Just somewhat disappointing especially considering how amazing the rest of HCC’s line up is. THE CONFESSION is especially disappointing considering the hype following its win of the Edgar. Whatever judge was offended by this book really needs to get out more. COLORADO KID was disappointing in typical King fashion; aspiring to something great and missing its target with the best of intentions.

LAND OF THE DEAD: Dear God, can Romero make his “allegory” any less subtle? It’s not a bad film to sit through if you like a bit of gore, but the script is so leaden and Romero’s so determined to make sure we know he’s being “intelligent” that you ultimately feel so patronised that any enjoyment of the rather fun gore is diluted. File under “must try harder” and “must stop believing in own intelligence”. The second film this year to make me doubt the Flick Filosopher who seemed to buy into Romero’s alleged “message”.

STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH: It looks good. But everything else (story, dialogue, acting) is bollocks. Throw in the Monty Python creation of Darth Vader (I could have sworn he asked Obi Wan to “come back, I’ll bite your legs off!”) through finally unmasking of Sam Jackson as “I used to be cool but now I’m pretty shit and I’ll do anything to get my hands on a purple Lightsaber” this is just an exercise in eye candy CGI. They were so intent on making the computer stuff look good they even managed the tough task of making Natalie Portman look really ugly for the majority of the movie. At least Ian McDermid looks like he’s having fun. And James Earl Jones, I hope you got a fuckin’ nice paycheck for delivering the one line in movie history that undid a pretty cool bad guy. I mean the original films aren’t great but at least they have a sense of fun about them and Darth Vader was rather frightening in an “asthmatic wearing a bucket” kind of way. This is cynical, crappily executed turd that only serves to further dull the memories of when Star Wars might have been good. Again, this film made me doubt the sanity of the Flick Filosopher. But then she’s a proper X-er and I guess they have to try and forgive this film for the sake of their own sanity. Doesn’t make em right, though.

SPACE CADETS: Johnny Vaughn. Fuck off. Reality wannabes. Fuck off. ‘Nuff said. (Like Deadwood Johnny Vaughn makes me swear a lot)

LITTLE BRITAIN: Lou and Andy were funny enough for a while (and can still raise the occasional chuckle; I did like the Richard and Judy skit). But now the whole thing is just getting stale. Sketch shows that repeat themselves every week should have gone out in 1995, right? If this had been a one off special once yearly thing, I might not have listed it here. But the whole Little Britain phenomenon is fast wearing thin. And this series more than ever: three piss jokes in one show? And the exact same joke at that? For shame. I suppose it’s a good thing this is the last series. What’s worse is that so many great comedy shows have come out over the past few years and it’s this hit and miss sketch show that gets all the attention. Although it does have Tom Baker and I guess that’s a surefire trump card.

So there we go, a rambling assesment of entertainments that came out way in 2005. Courtesy of Badgerman. Hopefully 2006 will give me even more cool stuff to while away the hours and maybe TV execs might start giving us good shows at decent times. But I'm beginning to doubt it.

Au revoir

Russel

7 comments:

Gary Smith said...

Consider your Peep show appreciation seconded! Ditto for your comments on Little Britain - it's always been hit and miss (as most sketch shows are) but I can't summon any enthusiasm nowadays.

Now the Goodies (which I managed to catch on TV the other day) - that was a comedy show!

Ray said...

Didn't see the last series of Little Britain - got a bit bored and disgusted with the second one, to be honest. But seconded on The Mighty Boosh. The Morecambe and Wise description is dead on, and if anyone hasn't managed to see 'em live (especially the bizarro Noel Fielding with his "slightly-staring-backwards-moooonkeey" bit), they should make it high on the to-do list.

As for the books, well... I think we all know how I feel about some of them on there.

Russel said...

I know that all these books are gonna be obliterated by the I'm sure imminent release of the first Tits McGee novel.

The Mighty Boosh is just my favourite comedy show of the last year; an absolutely wonderful and loopy show. Just got the first season on DVD. The thing that really cracks me up is when they're all going on about Howard bumming Colin the Fox. Just the shot of the fox speaking in that Scottish accent "Get away from me!" sends me into paroxysms of laughter. That and Charlie - he's your hubba-bubba nightmare!

Little Britain should have been a one season wonder. And while I can see the humour in some of it, just the fact of so many awards being lauded on it seems over the top.

Stuart MacBride said...

Damn - Stinky Banks wins again.

Going to have to disagree with you on the DEADWOOD front Russel, series two sucked a dead horse's cock about 60% of the time. Series one was brilliant but series two - pants. Some nice bits, but mostly it are being pants.

So there.

Ray said...

Ah, but this is one small battle, Senor MacMeatandvegetablepasty. The May Cage Match will prove to be most decisive indeed.

Oh yes.

Definitely.

Um, is it too late to re-write my book?

JD Rhoades said...

Thanks for the good words, Russel!

Russel said...

JD

Thanks for a good read! Looking forward to the next one (as, I've just discovered, is my Dad who just finished the book as well).