Monday, October 17, 2005

About Damned Time

Unicef bombs the Smurfs in fund-raising campaign for ex-child soldiers.

I never liked those little blue bastards anyway.

Shiny Happy Column

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You know, looking back over the past few weeks’ columns, it occurs to me that some might consider me a tad gloomy, even, dare I say it, a bit negative in my outlook. As our snail-eating friends across the pond are fond of saying, “au contraire” (“Nuh-uh!”).

Oh, sure, there are plenty of things I see around that I don’t like, and quite a few that make me nuts. But there are plenty of things I do like. Herewith, a few of the things I’ve seen in the media recently that have made me smile:

Favorite recent movie: “Serenity.”

The sci-fi TV series “Firefly” came and went so fast that I never had a chance to see it in primetime. I eventually checked it out on DVD and immediately got hooked. Created by “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” director Joss Wheedon, “Firefly” chronicled the adventures of the crew of the space freighter Serenity, a scruffy bunch of misfits barely eking out a shady and often illegal living on the edges of an oppressive galactic empire called the Alliance.

Along the way, they pick up another pair of fugitives, a formerly well-to-do young doctor named Simon and his spookily pretty younger sister River. River has apparently been put through some Really Bad Stuff by the Alliance, and they want her back, because she has all sorts of freakish talents, including but not limited to psychic abilities.

The show, in typical TV fashion, revealed bits and pieces of River’s big secret, leaving tantalizing hints with each episode. When the show was canceled, all those threads were left hanging, much to the consternation of the show’s small but vocal group of hard-core fans. The feature film version answers all the questions and then some.

Every good adventure needs a good villain, and Serenity’s pursuer, known only as “The Operative,” is one of the scariest. After murdering an entire settlement, including the children, for giving refuge to Serenity, The Operative gravely explains to the crew that he does what he does because he truly believes that the end product will be a better world — a world that will have no place for him, because, he sadly admits, he’s a monster. Few things are scarier than that kind of True Believer.

What really made the show great was the interaction between the show’s characters, who fight, crack wise, and insult one another, but whose affection for each other and for their eternally harried captain comes through when the chips are down, which they are most of the time. I’m happy to say the show’s excellent ensemble cast brings that feeling to the big screen.

Favorite Recent Book(s): Barry Eisler’s John Rain series. John Rain is the James Bond for the new millennium, and Barry Eisler is its Ian Fleming.

Rain, a half-Japanese, half-American assassin living in Tokyo, is a master of killing people and making the death look like the result of natural causes. He has a few inflexible rules: No women or children. He’ll kill only a “principal,” a boss bad guy. And he works alone, with no backup teams, a rule he enforces by simply breaking the neck of anyone he thinks violates it.

Eisler, a former CIA agent himself who holds a Black Belt in Judo from Japan’s prestigious Kodokan, writes great action sequences, but he also gives the deeply conflicted John Rain a lot of soul. Add to the mix Eisler’s encyclopedic knowledge of some of the world’s exotic places and his gift for describing them, and you’ve got a great, fun read.

The books are “Rain Fall,” “Hard Rain,” “Rain Storm,” and the recently released “Killing Rain.” Eisler’s about to break out hugely with these books, and he deserves it.

Favorite TV Show: This one was a tough choice. I considered CBS’ sitcom “Two and a Half Men,” which is a sort of updated “Odd Couple,” as well as HBO’s wonderfully wicked drama series “Rome.” But I’ve still got to go with my old favorite, “The Daily Show.” It just keeps getting better and better.

Some of the best bits are when host Jon Stewart doesn’t even respond to some boneheaded videotaped quote from some politician. He just stares into the camera with this expression that says, “I cannot freaking believe this.” Neither can we, Jon, neither can we.

So there it is, folks, My shiny happy column for the year. Enjoy it while it lasts.