Friday, 30 April 2010

The Guild: Felicia Day Gives Good Geekitude

Felicia Day,The Guild,Cyd

Okay, I’m pretty late coming to this party. And I’m not sure why. I mean, how did I miss out on this little gem when it is written by and stars a Whedon favourite and has gained a huge fan following and won awards for over a couple of years now? Um…er…[looking around sheepishly]

Sooo anyway…

Similar to Joss Whedon’s awesome Dr Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, The Guild is a quirky live-action comedy web series (though not a musical like Dr H) following the misadventures of a group of online gamers who play together in a fantasy world similar to World of Warcraft. The Guild web series has been running for three seasons now with each individual episode being only four to six minutes in length. The main cast is:

Felicia Day (Cyd Sherman/Codex)
Amy Okuda (Tinkerballa)
Jeff Lewis (Vork)
Robin Thorsen (Clara)
Sandeep Parikh (Zaboo)
Vincent Caso (Bladezz)

I gotta say that The Guild reminded me somewhat of Spaced. For like that classic series, this one’s also about a group of motley, maladjusted, geeky characters coming together to help each other fight life’s daily battles, battles which are often surreally magnified for comic effect. Unlike Spaced, though, the backbone for The Guild is the fairly recent world of online gaming. Now I’m not a gamer, online or otherwise, so I don't get the many gaming community in-jokes at play here. But it doesn’t really matter, as that is only one aspect of the show. The wider, more general geekitude of The Guild is something I do understand and do get. It is something common to us geeks in all our many tribes – be we gamers, comic book geeks, Trekkers, Whedonites…whatever!

So, now, lets talk Felicia Day, the creator, writer and star of The Guild. Ah…the lovely and talented Felicia Day. And who pray tell is Felicia Day I hear you ask? She’s not a household name for sure. But within certain online and fandom communities she is a very big name indeed. Prior to The Guild, Felicia co-starred in Joss Whedon’s afore mentioned multi-award winning and hugely popular Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog alongside Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion where she played love interest Penny. But Felicia is probably best known (to us geeks anyway) for playing Vi, one of the surviving potential Slayers in the final season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She also had a small role in Joss Whedon’s recent Dollhouse, appearing in what was by far its best episode: Epitaph One. In The Guild, as leading lady Cyd Sherman aka Codex, Felicia is spot on. She has a genuinely geeky, gawky, insecure, innocence about her that you just can’t help but find adorable. Each episode of The Guild begins with a brief pre-title of Cyd/Codex talking directly in to her webcam as a way of expressing her innermost thoughts and fears, a kind of personal video blog/confessional. It is a fun framing device, one she will occasionally dip back in to throughout an episode. And Felicia’s deliveries of these little web blogs are masterful. As previously stated, Felicia is also the creator and writer of The Guild. And a great job she does of it too. The characters are well realised and distinctive. And her sharp, witty, sometimes surreal dialogue is often laugh out loud funny. As are the many comedic set pieces she creates with Tinkerballa’s rather…er…dubious babysitting skills being a hilariously bizarre bad taste example. Minding Clara’s twins for an afternoon, the antisocial Tinkerballa basically locks the two toddlers in a small wire cage with a fan aimed directly at them so as to blow the smell of poop away from her. “What? Change them?” she cries in horror while talking online to the rest of the Guild posse about the horrible poop smell. “She never told me I’d have to touch them!”
One of the charming things about Felicia is that, like the character she plays in The Guild, in real life she really, genuinely is an honest-to-god geek. She’s in to computers and online gaming in a big way. She also loves writing and reading – especially sci fi and fantasy. Oh, and did I mention that she’s also a major league hottie? No? Well, she is.

So, in summary, The Guild is great fun. It is witty, sharp, surreal and very geeky. The comedy is perfectly timed and delivered. The rest of the cast is pretty good with a couple of them recognisable from other things. But basically this is Felicia’s show, quite literally. The Guild is her baby and she is the star. She is very funny and very cute and very talented. And The Guild is way better than a lot of the alleged comedies I see on TV. Yes Big Bang Theory I’m looking at you. You have no geekitude you shallow laughter-tracked impostor you. Felicia has geekitude. She has geekitude to spare. Viva la Guild!

A tip. If you want to watch the show then go to the YouTube channel and watch it. For some reason The Guild website edits out all the bad language. The YouTube ones are unedited.

YouTube - Watch The Guild

Monday, 26 April 2010

Swedish Zombies Go For The Heart

I recently finished Handling the Undead, Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist’s acclaimed follow up to Let The Right One In. Handling the Undead is actually several years old now and has only recently been published in the UK (on the back of the LTROI movie success.) It first saw light in Sweden back in 2005 but it took four years for the English translation to appear. Never mind. Better late than never I guess.

The story goes something like this:

For some inexplicable reason the recently deceased of Stockholm (those dead for up to six months) have come back to life. This includes all those who have been buried as well as those previously undiscovered bodies including, in one memorable incident, a man who had drowned in a lake and whose body had been hidden beneath the water for weeks. Needless to say he is not in a good state when he wakes up. But these ‘reliving’ are not quite the people they once were. There are aspects that are familiar but they seem to be more robotic and instinctual. And they also appear to have a strange psychic effect on regular living people whenever they come together in any number. The book focuses equally on several main characters and how they each deal with the reappearance of their recently departed. There is David, a stand up comic, whose wife was killed in a car crash the same night as the mass resurrection and who has been left to care for his young son. Meanwhile, teenage metaller, Flora, and her Catholic grandmother, Elvy, are horrified when the reanimated corpse of Flora’s granddad, Elvy’s husband, arrives at their front door. And then there’s middle-aged journalist Mahler who, upon discovering what has happened, goes to the local cemetery and digs up the reliving body of his young grandson Elias who recently died in a tragic accident.

Now, a lot of this is pretty grim stuff, especially everything to do with little Elias. The little boy is a dried up corpse, yet he is also reliving. Mahler and his grief-struck daughter’s continual and rather hopeless attempts to help Elias appear and to act more human by bathing him, moistening his desiccated skin with lotion and training him to react to simple things, is difficult stuff to read. Lindqvist’s prose is simple but very descriptive and highly emotional. He doesn’t shy away from intense imagery that will make you feel rather queasy. But even so, Handling the Undead is not really a horror story. Rather it is a grim, sad fable about life and the meaning of death. It is about how people deal with death, how they rationalise it, live with it, make it in to something else through the use of religion or even make it in to entertainment using more modern cultural outlets like movies and video games. The novel’s reliving are quite similar to the classic Romero zombie in that they shuffle around and many are in a very bad way, but they don’t eat people as their Hollywood cousins do. Lindqvist uses zombie films and video games such as Resident Evil (which shows up a lot in the story) as the touchstone for how people, mostly younger people, relate to the reliving, how they dehumanise them even though there is still a spark of their humanity remaining. The book follows several groups of characters and the emotional, psychological and actual physical journeys they go on in dealing with the return of their loved ones and of the wider event. This is not a story about plot twists and turns. It is a story about people, their emotions and how they deal. Or don’t deal. It is a journey of grief, faith and eventual acceptance. There is no big climax, no big revelations. The ending is like the rest of the book: quiet, sad and emotional.

There is no doubt that Handling the Undead is a good book. It is well written, atmospheric and quite disturbing in places. However, as with Lindqvist’s Let The Right One In, I found that the story, though compelling, meandered a little too much for my taste. There are many scenes where nothing much really happens, scenes that seem to just go off to places I wasn't really that interested in them going, wishing Lindqvist would just cut back to the central idea and perhaps focus more on some fewer characters. The wonderful thing about the film of Let The Right One In is how Lindqvist (who also wrote its screenplay) pared down his book to the core story and theme. He jettisoned the subplots and the excess fat from the book with the result being that the film was a superior telling of the story than the book it was based on. Don’t get me wrong, Handling the Undead is certainly a good book with an interesting and thought provoking approach to the zombie genre. I did like it. But if only it had been rather more focussed then it could have been a classic.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Everything Dies: RIP Peter Steele

Peter Steele, singer, songwriter and bassist for Type O Negative, has passed away at the age of 48. As a long-time Type O fan, this is a very sad day for me and for their many fans worldwide.

It’s no secret that for a long time Peter (born 1962 as Petrus Ratajczyk in Brooklyn, New York) had been fighting depression and various substance abuse issues for a long time. Rumours started circulating on the web earlier this morning that Peter had died but I didn’t really buy it. Back in 2005 the big guy pulled a hoax by posting his picture and the years “1962-2005″ on the group’s website leading the world to think he had died suddenly. So, this morning, I hoped this was yet another twisted gag by the dark and brooding but humorous Goliath (he was 6ft 7 tall you know.) Sadly, it was not to be. In an e-mail to CBS News, the band’s manager Mike Renault later confirmed Peter’s death. He wrote, “Peter passed away last night. As of now it appears to have been heart failure. That’s all the details we have right now.”

I’ve adored Type O Negative’s dark, heavy-yet-melodic and blackly humorous music since the early 90’s when I first heard their classic epic song Black Number 1 taken from their 1993 breakthrough album Bloody Kisses, an album which also spawned the classic track Christian Woman. Bloody Kisses became the first album released by Roadrunner Records to go platinum. At that time there was simply nothing else quite like Type O Negative around. And there never has been since. They rocked out hard, their music usually doused in overblown goth/horror-style atmosphere mixing romance, sex, death, religion, doom and depression but always accompanied by a massive dose of irony that couldn’t help make you giggle. Type O Negative were one of the most unlikely bands ever to break in to mainstream music. And yet they did. Although mostly dark and heavy and doomy (leading to their nickname of 'The Drab Four') Type O’s tunes could also be infectiously melodic, catchy and most chucklesome. They made some immensly cool and unforgettable songs on their seven produced albums.

Slow, Deep and Hard (1991)
The Origin of the Faeces (1992)
Bloody Kisses (1993)
October Rust (1996)
World Coming Down (1999)
Life Is Killing Me (2003)
Dead Again (2007)

It is an understatement to say that Peter Steele was central to Type O Negative’s success and enduring popularity. His unmistakably deep, scary, brooding voice, his song writing talent as well as his imposing physical presence were utterly integral in making Type O what they were. His was a (literally) towering presence in the world of rock and metal music, an icon of the scene for the past two decades. And he will be greatly missed.

Sleep well, big guy. :(

Black No. 1 (Bloody Kisses, 1993)

Christian Woman (Bloody Kisses, 1993)

Everything Dies (World Coming Down, 1996)

My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend (October Rust, 1996)

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Trust Him. He's The Doctor.

doctor who,matt smith,karen gillan,tv,sci fi

Matt Smith's debut as The Doctor has now aired in the UK.

And I gotta was brilliant!

Steven Moffat's rejuvenated Who is (pardon the pun) just what The Doctor ordered. The tone is indeed like Moffat’s promised dark fairytale - especially the first ten minutes or so of this Moffat written story titled The Eleventh Hour. This episode charts the first and then second meeting between the new Doctor and his new companion Amy Pond. And this meeting is quite special, clever and touching.

So, most importantly, how is our new Doctor?

He's great.

Being still in the grip of his regeneration cycle Smith's Doctor is rather confused, manic, and still a bit Tennant-y in his ways. But as the episode goes on he slowly becomes more of his own man. Eccentric in a young-yet-old professor-ish way, he is also effortlessly witty, a bit goofy, a bit reckless and quite a lot charming. Smith's Doctor makes an instantly great impression. The food tasting scene with the little girl in the kitchen is simply brilliant. “Fish Custard.” LOL. You can see why Smith leapt out at Moffat and co. during auditions. He genuinely does have an odd, otherworldly quality to him. And as new companion Amy Pond, Karen Gillan is very good too. In this episode she is all (lovely) legs, fiery red hair and cynical attitude. She’s a bit messed up, a bit of a bad girl and doesn’t really trust The Doctor and isn’t afraid to give him what for. She is also very, very easy on the eye. Amy and The Doctor should prove for an interesting and fiery dynamic with their relationship having been set up in a very cool and intriguing way.

And the story? It’s fine. It does the job. An escaped intergalactic shape-shifting alien prisoner is hiding out on Earth while the Prison Guards (giant flying eyeballs) arrive to give the world only twenty minutes to hand the prisoner over before they destroy the whole planet. As a story it’s not as good as what Mr Moffat has given us before (we’ve been spoiled) and he uses it mostly as a hanger for introducing the new Doctor and the new feel to the series as well as reminding us of its mythical heritage. And in that way it works spot on. But Moffat still manages to do what he always does so brilliantly. He layers his script with smart precision plotting and intensely creative ideas while also inventing scary images and creepy concepts based around things an audience (especially kids) can relate to as being odd and kinda disturbing at a very basic level. At night a big crack in the wall of a child’s bedroom becomes sinister and so very creepy with whispered voices leaking out. A bleak phrase is repeated over and over through every piece of electronic communications equipment everywhere. Extra rooms in a house seem to appear but are only visible glimpsed through the corner of the eye. An alien changes itself to appear as regular people but gets it a bit wrong, appearing as a mother walking hand in hand with twin little girls, except the children speak with the mothers voice and vice versa. And it also appears as a man walking a dog, but the man barks and growls, not the dog. Weird and properly creepy. And Moffat being Moffat he also laces his script with some great quips and one liners. “You’re Scottish. Fry something!” The direction of the episode is excellent too. There are two stand out moments: a glimpse in to The Doctors mind as he recalls an event that has just occurred, looking for a clue in his own memory. Then, later on, glimpses of all past ten Doctors ending with the heroic emergence of Doctor number eleven to confront the bad guys. Also, the first ten or so minutes of the Doctor crashing the TARDIS and meeting a little girl left alone in her house and scared by the sinister crack in her wall is just all-round superlative. A very special shout out goes to young Caitlin Blackwood who plays said little girl. She is wonderful and does a quite brilliant job opposite Matt Smith.

As well as a regenerated Doctor, the rest of the show has had a ground up regeneration too. There’s a new title sequence with a dark and scary time tunnel complete with lightening bolts striking the TARDIS. And there’s a new, more electronic and choral version of the iconic theme. The TARDIS has also regenerated after being almost wrecked at the episode’s start. It looks newer and brighter outside while inside the console room is twice as big and on multiple levels with curved and odd-angled walls and with stairs going off in many directions. It looks weird and very, very cool.

So colour me impressed. I could tell within the first ten minutes that I loved this new take on our favourite Timelord, it being much closer to my own personal tastes than that of RTD’s version. Not to take anything away from the awesome job Russell T did, but I just love the whole dark fairytale vibe, the more sinister-yet-playful feel. And I can see a whole new generation of kids properly hiding behind their couch come Saturday evenings as a result. And their parents might just be joining them.

So bring it on. And like the man says: “Trust me. I’m the Doctor.”

Indeed you are, sir.