Archive for the ‘spotlight’ category

Spotlight on Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost

August 16, 2008

It took years, but Spaced, the greatest sitcom ever, has finally been released in the US.  This masterpiece from the trio +1 of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) and Jessica Stevenson (now Hynes) is probably the most geek friendly show of all time.  Imagine what Friends would be like if the characters played Resident Evil and Paintball instead of hanging around a coffee shop all the time, and if all the direction referenced some other piece of pop culture history.

The show lasted two seasons on the BBC before Wright, Pegg and Frost moved on to produce two of the greatest comedic films since Monty Python split up.  Shaun of the Dead is their tribute to zombie films, and contains one of the best punchlines ever to appear in a horror film (namely that the presence of zombies doesn’t change anything).

This was followed with their skewed take on cop movies, Hot Fuzz, which I rank as the best comedy of the decade, I truly cannot remember a time I’ve laughed harder than during my first viewing of this, and it’s one of the few comedys that doesn’t diminish in the slightest upon repeated viewings.

As of now the group has split up temporarily to work on other projects, with Pegg appearing in a few American films (including the upcoming Star Trek revival) , Frost working on the BBC show Hyperdrive, and Wright working on a couple comic adaptations (Ant-Man, Scott Pilgrim).  But I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of this collaboration, especially since Pegg and Frost are currently working on a screenplay together.

Spotlight On Jonathan Coulton

August 9, 2008

Jonathan Coulton is the best thing to come along in geek music in ages.  Coulton is a Yale educated, ex computer programer turned geek rocker who play about a dozen instruments and has mastered the art of self-promotion.  His entire catalog is available online (many for free and everything comes with creative commons liscenses), his tour dates are partially based upon fans who have contacted him through his website, and he’s joined Daily Show regular John Hodgman on a book tour and on the show (twice I believe).

His music borrows from all aspects of geek culture.  He’s written songs about zombies, mad scientists, Flickr, engineering, math, and astronomy.  As if that didn’t cement the claim enough he also writes music for Popular Science and wrote the best piece of video game music in history, the ending credits song to Portal, “Still Alive”.

Oh, and lest it go unsaid he’s also really really good.  A lot of geek music gets by on the gimmick at worst, or clever lyrics without much musical talent at best.  But Coulton is a real musician who constantly pushes himself.  His Thing A Week Project was a particular standout, in which he tried to write a new song each week for a year, and managed to produce some of his best work in the process (I’m Your Moon, Code Monkey, Shop Vac).  And the live shows are pretty great too.

Spotlight on Joss Whedon

July 26, 2008

This post is probably a bit unnecessary since you’d pretty much have to be living under a rock not to have heard of Whedon by now.  The man created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and the upcoming Dollhouse.  He earned an Oscar nod for Toy Story.  He wrote what is one of the only two seminal X-Men runs since Chris Claremont left the book back in ’91.  He recently created a web based phenomenon, Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, in an effort to prove that the writers strike was justified in wanting a cut of online profits, only to have the server overloaded by all the traffic it got on its first day.  And just yesterday he won two Eisner awards, one for best new series with Buffy: Season 8, and one for best webcomic with Sugarshock (found on MySpace Dark Horse Presents).

The man is talented, prolific, and fully understands his fan base.  He’s one of the most prototypical geeks out there really, and he truly embraces that part of himself and injects it into all the stories he comes out with.  He routinely creates characters based on the X-Men’s Shadowcat and only recently pulled off a love song revolving around a freeze ray.  Now if only he could find a way to bring back Firefly.

Spotlight On: Charles Stross

July 12, 2008

The last few years have been a particularly good time to be a fan of hard s.f.  The latest crop of writers have been the strongest to hit the scene since the Golden Age, and the most prolific of these writers by far is Charles Stross.

Stross’ early works put him at the forefront of Singularity (the rapture of the geeks) stories and set him apart as a writer of incredible ambition.  Accelerando in particular was a novel with some lofty goals, which was doomed to failure.  The story is a generational saga that begins in a future that is at the outer reaches of human comprehension and then leaps forward from there, making it nearly impossible to read although worth the effort of trying.

His more recent novels have been far more controlled, and all the better for it.  Glasshouse, which was up for the Hugo last year but lost to Rainbow’s End, was one of the most enjoyable and imaginative reads I’ve encountered in years, combining the Singularity with Desperate Housewives and game theory.

In addition, Stross is also notable in that his stories tend to be focused largely on the economic aspects of the worlds he creates.  He’s not unique in this regard (Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom springs to mind), but he may be the first major s.f. writer to make it such a reoccuring theme of nearly all his novels.  Besides the economics 2.0 of Accelerando he’s also written of a bank heist in a virtual world (Halting State) and an entire series on Mercantilism (The Merchant Princes), all of which are well worth reading.

Stross has become a key part of any modern s.f. collection, and he’s only getting better.

Spotlight On Doctor Who

July 5, 2008

Tonight marks the end of an era.  For four years Russel T. Davies has masterminded the greatest revival in television history, Doctor Who.  Under his guidance the show has become what is to my mind the best piece of speculative fiction to ever grace a video camera.

What sets this show apart is the sense of wonder, something that I often find lacking in SF productions.  I think writers/directors have a tendency to think that merely showing something incredible on the screen is enough.  But Russel Davies and company know better, you need some joy infused into the story as well.  What they have come up with is a Doctor who is constantly awestruck by his travels.  He explores time and space simply because it’s there to be explored, and to quote he finds nearly everything he sees “brilliant”.

Granted even without the Doctor’s point of view the show would be pretty damn good.  Anytime you have back to back episodes in which one features an electric light orchestra tribute band and the next focuses on a planet orbiting a black hole in order to imprison the devil you’re doing something right.  This is a show with a real sense of scale, anything can happen in any given episode, and it’s not affraid to have a little fun along the way.  It’s also fortunate enough to have the pick of the BBC when it comes to casting, Derek Jakobi, Anthony Stewart Head, and Simon Pegg among others have all made guest appearances (and all as villains actually).

I cannot recommend this show highly enough.  Simply put, every single episode has left me grinning ear to ear, and that still happens on repeat viewings.

Spotlight On Futurama

June 28, 2008

In honor of the new dvd release this past week, the Beast With a Billion Backs, this weeks spotlight is on the most geek friendly show of all time, Futurama (an indespensible part of any dvd collection).  The show is of course Matt Groening’s failed follow-up to the Simpsons.  Failed because it never found much of an audience when it was on Fox (which might have had something to do with their erratic scheduling for it).  However, it has since gone on to huge cult status, revivals on both the Cartoon Network and Comedy Central, and now a series of straight-to-dvd films.

Now the reason Futurama is worth mentioning here is that it has what is perhaps the most highly educated writing staff for a show in television history.  Amongst the writers are:

David X. Cohen who studied physics at Harvard and computer science at Berkley.

Ken Keeler who has a PhD in applied mathematics from Harvard University and who spent time at Bell Labs.

Jeff Westbrook a former professor of computer science at Yale.

Kristin Gore, novelist and the daughter of the former Vice-President.

The end result is one of the best pieces of science-fiction television has ever seen.  The show pokes almost equal fun at society and advanced physics.  The previous dvd release even had a math lecture as a special feature!  This is a show that just understands all the unexplainable aspects of geekdom (like our love of fight pits, killer robots, and penguins with shotguns).  It’s also perhaps the most environmentally conscious show ever, with regular environmental themed episodes (often featuring guest appearances by Al Gore) and carbon-neutral dvd packaging.

Spotlight On Jack Kirby

June 21, 2008

The collection development bug has bitten me thanks to my getting to help spend down the last of our yearly book budget.  I loved that I was actually asked to help because of of geek credentials.  In the end I orderd a ton of graphic novels, filled in the significant f&sf books from the last year, put together a small collection of noir classics on dvd, and even got to order a bunch of art books.  And now it’s time to share my expertise in what I think is going to be a regular feature here.

There’s only one person I could think of to start off a creator spotlight, and that is Jack “the King” Kirby.  Kirby is probably the single most important artist in the history of American comics.  He’s credited with co-creating Captain America, Thor, The X-Men, the Fantastic Four and too many others to bother naming here.  As an artist he revolutionized the field, as a writer he was decades ahead of his time (just not his dialogue).

The reason Kirby’s been on my mind recently is that DC has been releasing his 70’s works for them in some beautiful new editions, with meticulously restored art.  The Fourth World, OMAC, and the Demon are major works of pop art.  The only problem with them is that they were all cancelled and so they all remain unfinished.  OMAC is probably the worst for this, considering that at the end of issue 8 everyone explodes in order to tie up the loose ends.  But the imagination on display in all of these puts every writer to have come since to shame.

However, I would only recommend these to a library with a sizable graphic novel collection.  For more modest ones I would stick with Kirby’s work at Marvel in the 60’s, particularly his runs on the Fantastic Four and Thor.  I actually really like the black and white essential editions Marvel has put out of these, Kirby’s pencils look really good uncolored, just be warned that these copies are cheaply made so you can expect to reglue pages periodically.  Full color, hardcover editions exist as well, but they are marketed as collector’s items, and carry much higher price tags because of that.