Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Couchbound/Continued #370 - Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet: Episode 1, "Some people say 'Déjà Vu.' Others, 'SS;DD.'"

I might be suffering some form of entertainment burnout.

There comes a point in time in any rabid couch potato's life, make that several times, when they (namely me) reach a saturation point and begin to feel like they've seen everything a soap or procedural or genre series can offer, that it's all been done before with only minor variations in era, themes, or conceptualization.

Gargantia is kind of like that.

From the very moment I started watching this first episode, I instantly had visions of Martian Successor Nadesico, Vandread, and so many others. Giant robots piloted by teens in space, fighting an alien menace that has a vaguely familiar look but is definitely non-human until, oh no, maybe that's just a misdirect and they're really human after all. Gasp!

I have no idea if that's the case here, as I have no clue to the overall plot of the series, but it would not at all surprise me, based on the space combat shenanigans that take up the first half of this series opener. It just bears all the hallmarks of a generic mech actioner. Extremely dedicated child soldier amping up his heroics but thrust into an unwinnable situation, incomprehensible technobabble jargon thrown out left and right, the sacrifice of a superior for the greater good and a cliffhanger that leads directly into part B.

And, from there, it just gets even more generic. Insert landing in a salvage yard on Earth that is populated by buxom stereotypes, dudes with pompadours, and a cute flying squirrel pet with obvious intelligence. Seriously it's like watching Nadia crossed with Eureka 7. The squirrel even chirps like it's talking (I'm having Samurai Champloo flashbacks here, just without the cool music and style). Oiy.

Still, that said, it's pretty gorgeous, so far. While I'm not a huge fan of the mech design, the human ships and their strange weapons (especially that pinwheel thing) and the vague references we get to their space-faring society are engaging, once you get past the jargon and obvious jingoism. Plus, the one glimpse we get of the floating salvage yard at the end of the episode is pretty tantalizing. I just wish the character designs weren't so clean and Ghibli-riffic.

Honestly, I think I would prefer to have seen a full episode establishing Avalon instead of having its sole mentions be those of propaganda and the like... but I understand that the point of the episode is to establish a fish out of water story on Earth, not go into depth on a place we'll probably never see. I also really like that, even though main character Ledo comes from an obviously fascist society, he cares quite a bit about both his comrades and the potential innocent humans of this strange place he's trapped in. Sure, he takes a girl hostage to put off direct attacks against him, but no one is ever in any real danger as he uses avoidance and intimidation instead of force to get these humans he cannot communicate with to back off, however temporarily.

I think I'm going to give Gargantia a couple of episodes to prove itself, despite my initial reservations concerning its predictability. One of my favorite authors has very blatantly pointed out in his own works that there are no new stories under the sun. The least I can do is see which particular rabbit hole this one will lead me down, especially since it has some decent merits right out of the gate.

Until later, Potatoes~


Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, Season 1 is available on Netflix as of this posting.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Couchbound/Continued #369 - M*A*S*H: Season 1, Episode 23, "For Auld Lang Syne."

There's something about MASH that is simultaneously both infuriating and comforting.

Running eleven years, much longer than the war that inspired the novel that inspired the movie that inspired the television series, MASH is probably one of the best examples of the sitcom that most telephiles remember fondly to this day. It can also be infuriatingly dull and predictable. We forgive that though, thanks to the suave charm of Alan Alda's Hawkeye and how comically easy it is to hate perpetual heel Frank Burns (at least in those early seasons).

This particular episode is doomed from the start. Everyone and their mother knows that the rumored ceasefire is a wash, if for no other reason than there's more show to be had. There are moments of overly-saccharine honesty from pretty much everyone... and even a lot of prevarication... but overall it just feels like a filler episode because there is no possible way that Trapper is wrong and the whole thing is a wash.

It just feels anticlimactic to watch Hawkeye run through his string of nurses, giving each the brush-off (or vice versa) like the womanizing cad he is, claiming to be married when he's anything but so as to remain single... and it's really rather boring to see Frank and Hoolihan commiserate over his very real marriage and the fact that they would necessarily be over.

Honestly, there isn't a tender moment for any of them... except, maybe, for a brief second between Radar and Henry. While they never really play it up too much in the rest of the show, having Radar being more the overly competent and underappreciated aide-de-camp than anything else, in this one scene over his going away scrapbook, Gary Burghoff emotes a softness that is really rather heartbreaking, especially when Blake quickly backs off the whole father/son angle when he realizes how series Radar takes the bond.

And that's the paradox of MASH, I think. There are these wonderfully heartbreaking moments peppered through the series that keep you coming back despite the rote writing and lack of proper character arc. There are tiny messages of humanity sprinkled throughout the series. Often enough, they come through in the artsy episodes, but every once in a while, one of the 9-to-5 jobbers like this one can really kick you in the gut. Making fun of Burns and Hotlips and watching Hawkeye crash and burn is a dime-a-dozen affair, but Radar and Henry having a moment? Kinda priceless.

Until later, Potatoes~

Monday, May 11, 2015

Couchbound/Continued #368 - Ore Monogatari/My Love Story, Episode 4, "Through the Fire and Flames!"

I'm going to get this out of the way right now... not all anime is deep. In fact, the grand majority of anime is LCD fluff. Everything from Naruto to GoLion to Fate/stay night is pretty shallow fare. Sure, there might be some feels and pseudo-philosophical ranting at some point, but for the most part, it's all about the widest spread of merchandising appeal.

Ore Monogatari/My Love Story isn't really an exception. Where OM/MLS stands out from the crowd is that it's telling an atypical story using a familiar rubric... or, rather, it's telling the same old anime love story with an atypical lead.

Most romance anime which focus on a boy falling in love usually fall into one of two sub-genres, a harem anime where one less-than-ideal guy (an otaku or loner of some stripe) somehow inexplicably garners the attention of a bevy of beautiful ladies... or a sappy coming of age romance where a seemingly unobtrusive but unique character leads a rose-colored life. OM/MLS is the latter.

A big, brutish, somewhat dim guy with a heart of gold constantly gets crushes on girls who are only interested in his handsome but standoffish friend... until one day he saves a cute girl who goes to a neighboring all girls school from a molester on the train. She falls for him, he can't believe it, cue  a plethora of moe feels.

It should be boring. It should be a one and done affair, but I can't stop watching. There's no complexity, the message is hammy and the delivery is predictable as all get out, but it has just the right amount of schmaltz to reel me in. It's manga was the same way... and I can't help but wondering if I'm biased towards the anime because I enjoyed its print version, because I honestly can't say if there's enough to the anime to justify a recommendation.

Ninety percent of the time, the art is cheap and shoddy. To pad their shots, MADHOUSE makes use of gratuitous pans every chance they get. Instead of being an homage to the framing of the comic panels, most of the time it looks like a budget piece from the 90's. Only a few shots really shine when it comes to dynamic movement, framing, and color... and one of those shots is the climax moment of this episode, where Takeo makes an insane leap from a burning building. Very reminiscent of the buff guy action archetype that he's a send-up to. Additionally, MADHOUSE skimps on detail at key moments while overcompensating on background art at the wrong times. Very distracting.

Still... watching Takeo waffle between falling in love with a cute girl and trying to do what he thinks is the right thing (Takeo encouraging his love interest to go after his friend since he cannot fathom her liking an ogre like him) is oddly endearing. Sure, it's not a series I'm going to return to all that often. It doesn't have the graphical excellence or emotional resonance of top shelf productions like Hyouka or the like, but it also isn't necessarily a guilty pleasure anime either.

In this episode, we get to watch two young (and innocent) lovers be cutesy, suffer backlash from friends, and weather the very real (but so conveniently staged) threat of possible tragedy. It's predictable, it's corny, it's... okay. I'd say stay for the sappiness and put it in the back of your mind never to need visiting again.

Until later, Potatoes~

Monday, May 4, 2015

Couchbound/Continued #367 - Supernatural: Season 1, Episode 17, "What Would Buffy Do?"

Before a few weeks ago, I'd only ever caught Supernatural occasionally on a whim while traveling. As regular Couchbound readers will know, I cut the cord a long time ago and never looked back. As such, even shows that find their way to Netflix can breeze right on by me if I don't get a nudge from friends. Honestly, I knew more about the show from internet memes than anything else before this spring. While I'm not going to say that my friend telling me to pop it in my queue has been a life-changing experience, I must admit, it's a cute show.

I picked this particular episode to comment on first (granted, I'm still only on the first season) because I think this is the point where the writers decided to say "to hell with it" and really go meta. There had been hints before, one-liner throwaway jokes about aliases or pop culture tidbits, but to straight up name-drop Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Oh yeah, it's on.

Set in yet another small town that looks oddly like British Columbia, the Hell House episode shows us what the power of the internet combined with Tibetan "concentration symbols" can do, which is apparently bring a horror meme to life.

Thank GOD that Slenderman hadn't been invented back when this episode first aired a decade ago.

Of course the standouts for the episode are the brash geeks who stumble into (and pretty much single handedly create) the evil internet tulpa story to the consternation of the Brothers Winchester. They very much remind me of Andrew and Johnathan from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, two lonely nerds trying to make their way in the ghost world. The fact that they pull a "WWBD" dialogue filled with sad cliches is both the icing on the cake and the poison hidden inside of it.

Like the Sherlock Groupies lampooned in Series 3 of that show, Supernatural doesn't really pull any punches when it comes to making fun of what is probably a largish segment of their fanbase. Of course, we can laugh and say it's all in good fun and they deserve the fish and false flag optioning because the two geeks are arrogant pricks who DON'T do the right thing (which plays exactly into Sam and Dean's hands via reverse psychology), but still, it seems a little mean-spirited to me.

I'm also not a huge fan of the random prank war that broke out between Sam and Dean. It just sort of sprang out of nowhere and, while I could get behind the idea if it played out over a series of several episodes, having them trying to one up each other every seen just felt a bit too much, too soon.

And where does one even find itching powder in rural Vancouver... I mean, Texas? 

That said, I still liked the episode. Not my favorite, so far... but I've been told the series gets quite a bit better once it hits its stride around season 3 or so, with the introduction of Castiel.

We'll see.

Probably in a few weeks to a month as, despite my ci comme ça feeling for this one, I'm invested enough in its routines, quirks, and strengths that I want to give it more of a chance.

Until later, Potatoes~

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Couchbound/Continued #366 - The Blacklist, "James Spader's Ultron Audition."

Ever since it was added to Netflix's stream a few months ago after its first season finished, I've been watching the Blacklist in sporadic bursts of morbid fascination and am always pushed away again by its extreme cheesiness and melodrama.

Like a bad Ludlum or Patterson novel, The Blacklist is a geopolitical procedural that features James Spader (Stargate, Secretary) as its main draw, the anti-hero criminal mastermind Raymond Reddington who, for reasons always hinted at but never outright said, is paternally obsessed with rookie FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone, who previously cut her teeth on the ill-fated Blue Bloods and Law & Order:LA).

Honestly, Spader is the only thing that has managed to keep me coming back for these three to four episode bursts that I go through before the sheer ridiculousness over the overarching spy plot and revolving door of supporting character deaths. While not quite up to the levels of 24, there are still a lot of compelling characters who are burdened with rather pointless kills.

But... that's kind of the beauty of it.

No one is really safe, whether you're a new love interest introduced just an episode before or an active and helpful ally to one of the leads who has been a background figure hour after hour... unless you're Red or Elizabeth, you're just a waiting victim of the capriciousness of fate (or the writer's room or your agent's negotiating power).

Still, it wears after a while, which is why Spader is the only element of The Blacklist that is truly interesting and, oddly, redeeming. Red is often cold, calculating, and mercenary, but he exhibits a streak of honor and warmth, particularly when it comes to his immediate cohorts and Elizabeth, that makes him the catchiest character on television in recent years. Despite the great work that folks like Mikkelsen, Spacey, and even McConaughey have done of late, it's James Spader in this schlock drek that has me watching.

Of the regular characters that are still going at my current episode count (which I will NOT disclose in order to avoid kill spoilers), I have to say that Elizabeth's often suspected husband is a bland storyline that I can't wait to see quickly finished.

Also her "by the book" partner who has a "dark side" is more than a little annoying as well. I'd rather have more from Psych's Parminder Nagra. Her often secretive CIA agent is primed for more intrigue, but they barely use her (at least, so far) in any interesting capacity. If the current trend of writing goes, she'll be outed and offed as a double (no, triple... NO! QUADRUPLE!) agent here in a single episode sometime in the near future. Oh well.

Can I recommend The Blacklist?

Hmm... that's a tough one. I enjoy it (in small doses), but it really isn't all that great a show overall. It does feature several decent recurring roles, most of whom die off with shocking regularity, my favorite being Lance Reddick (who I loved on Fringe). If you're a big fan of faux-actiony procedurals like NCIS or Bones, The Blacklist is a lot more fun and darker, but despite James Spader's charisma, there are much better shows out there... and more than a few of them are on Netflix.

Until later, Potatoes~

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Day Three Hundred and Sixty-five - The Cabin in the Woods, "THIS... IS... IT!"

I had absolutely no idea what to expect the first time I saw The Cabin in the Woods. I knew it was done by Drew Goddard and Mutant Enemy (see: Joss Whedon, et al.) so I had high hopes, but never was I expecting to be as blown away by its complete and utter subversion of the horror genre.

To put it simply, The Cabin in the Woods is the perfect homage to all of what encompasses Horror Films... and is a damned hilarious comedy as well. It's so good that it's supplanted every other Horror movie in existence to become my favorite of all time.

The story is fairly straight-forward, but is told in an unusual manner. In fact, just based on the cold open (which features key antagonists Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, as well as Whedonverse alum Amy Acker), you wouldn't think it a horror film at all... until the title card gives you a screaming jump scare and the stereotypical victims are all introduced.

As the college kid weekend getaway progresses and is contrasted with the bunker scenes, the film's strange conspiracy begins to reveal itself and the audience gleans that the whole shebang is a very carefully choreographed human sacrifice to ancient eldritch horrors. The victims choose their doom and the bureaucrats do their damnedest to make sure said doom comes to pass, for the survival of our entire species.

Of course, things go wrong and even as the pretty young things die one by one, the survivors manage to stumble on the inner workings of the sacrifice and throw a giant monkey-wrench into the works, dooming both themselves and us all to Hell on Earth at the hands of the ancient ones... and you're not quite sure they're wrong for doing so.

While I like how pretty much every one of the victims inverts their stereotypes in entertaining ways, the real stars of the show for me are Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. While I love both of them for the tremendous character actors that they are (see them in films/series like Killing Them Softly, The West Wing, and The Good Guys... Rich in the first and Brad in the latter two), it's here that their humor and presence really shines. From the laughter they inspire picking on The Harbinger (Tim de Zarn) and their cute dance routine to the serious moments like the quiet prayer Jenkins intones after the first death, these two "puppetmasters" really make the movie for me.

Cabin also bears the distinction of having Chris Hemsworth pre-Thor as Cabin was filmed just after Star Trek, but was shelved for several years, first due to 3D post conversion and then MGM's bankruptcy. Thank the Old Gods that it eventually came out (the 3D wasn't necessary at all), but I'm sort of glad Thor was released to theaters first as it provides fodder for a hilarious riff of Hemsworth during the keg scene ("ANOTHER!") that I always say no matter how many times I watch the film. Not that the film deserves riffing, as it's pretty close to perfection in my opinion, but is one of those movies that can take it (and take it well) even though riffing is not required.

Quick shoutout to Sigourney Weaver who makes a late game cameo not unlike her role in Pegg and Frost's Paul. It's a last minute treat that sends the movie over the top, I think.

And... that's pretty much it.

An entire year of Netflix: movies, series, documentaries, three hundred and sixty-five days of media all delivered over the internet at, what, nine bucks a month? I spent a hundred and eight dollars (plus electricity) for my daily doses of television and film. Sure, there was plenty of content that I wanted to see which never hit the Stream or dropped off before I could get to it, but there were also tooooons of episodes and movies that I never blogged about... usually binges of MLP:FiM or Phineas & Ferb, Cosmos (before it left) or MacGyver.

Good times.

I think I'll do a retrospective of some sort tomorrow... but, tonight? It's time to party. A full YEAR of Netflix. Wow. Kind of tearing up a little.

Thanks for reading, Potatoes~

Monday, December 30, 2013

Day Three Hundred and Sixty-four - Dr.Who: Series 6, Episodes 8-14, "You just can't kill this SOB, can you? Even when you try."

Yes, I know about the hand off from Eleven to Twelve and, yes, it was the most watched thing in BBC history for its timeslot, apparently, but THAT season isn't on Netflix at the moment, is it? No, it most certainly is not. So no Fields of Trenzalore or John Hurt or Peter Capaldi or Clara Oswald.

No, no, no.

Instead, these last seven episodes currently available on Netflix encompass the much anticipated climax of River Song's much hinted marriage/murder of The Doctor. In fact, the beginning of the season was us watching The Impossible Astronaut actually doing so... and it's taken this long for everything else to catch up.

We start with Let's Kill Hitler, where a childhood friend of Amy and Rory's, whom we've never heard or seen before today but apparently was close enough that they named their daughter Melody after, forces our trio of time travelers to go to Berlin at gunpoint. Of course, it turns out that this Melody is actually their daughter Melody, in a regeneration she got after we last saw her dying on the streets... and she actually does manage to kill The Doctor after regenerating into the face we know so well before her better nature is appealed to and she spends all her regenerations (she can do that, apparently) to bring him back.

This is a fun episode for several reasons. For one, Hitler's in it for all of five minutes before he's shoved into a closet at gunpoint. Humiliating der Führer, then relegating him to a footnote in his own episode? Priceless. It's also great because it shows River before she's even River. I actually wish we had a bit more on that front, not to deny Alex Kingston screentime, but to not have everything be in such a rush, but oh well.

Next is a trip to a housing estate where a young boy is being tormented by his fears and manages to trap Amy, Rory, The Doctor, and his own father in a dimensional dollhouse where his fears live to torment him.

It's a sort of creepy episode, but never really gets beyond its own novelty. The whole "turning into dolls" device is boring as all get out, though I do like how The Doctor fast talks his way first into the apartment and then to the root of the problem, using his powers of persuasion to squeeze out answers from both father and son using only his words.

After that is a sort of "what if" episode that has Amy caught in a different time stream than The Doctor and Rory such that she is trapped for 30+ years in a quarantine facility in the future and her boys only catch up to her very, very late, leaving a possible paradox in that Old Amy doesn't want to die but that would mean leaving Young Amy to suffer through what her older self calls Hell.

I understand that Rory is the humanity anchor for the trio and his decisions all revolve around doing what is for the best and preserving life at any cost, but it feels like a simple decision both for him and for Old Amy to make. She's been living in her own private Hell for decades and has a chance to render it all moot. Sure, "rage, rage against the dying of the light" and all, but I can't see myself not making the choice to save my previous self all the trouble. I guess it's one of those impossible thought puzzles as I'll almost certainly never have to deal with anything similar, but my own feelings on the paradox spoiled the episode for me. That and the pancake makeup on Karen Gillan wearing thin in the closeups.

Moving on, we come to God Complex where the trio get caught in a spooky hotel where your worst nightmare is waiting for you to convert you to brainfood for a strange, hulking minotaur.

This is a silly as all get out episode, what with the Sad-faced Clown, the crap tons of ventriloquist dummies, and The Doctor seeing his fear but not having it revealed to the audience (personally, I think it's just Toby Jones again, or possibly just an empty universe). Still, the moment where he has to break Amy's faith in him is a pretty revealing one, even if he half-dials it back a bit after the fact. It just feels like ground we've already covered. For a bottle episode, it's not that bad, but could've been much better.

After dropping the Ponds off back at home, The Doctor starts making his last minute rounds to old friends and we get to see Closing Time where he reunites with Craig from The Lodger who is a new father now to Stormaggedon (at least, that's what the baby calls himself) and whose local department store is being targeted by damaged Cybermen. Cue The Doctor, male bonding, same-sex couple miscommunication, and plenty of comedy.

This is actually a fairly fun episode, almost purely due to The Doctor's non-adventure related antics and Stormaggedon. Having asides coming from the baby through The Doctor (because he speaks baby, remember) is cute as all get out, especially as Craig waffles between believing and not. I can always do without The Cybermen (and Daleks and so on), but since they're not the main focus of the episode, I can safely say that they don't annoy me here like they do elsewhere (same for their cameo a few nights back in A Good Man Goes to War).

I can safely say I was surprised, though, with The Wedding of River Song, which did NOT turn into the giant multipart episode that I was expecting and, instead, was merely the penultimate episode of the season since (by Netflix's reckoning and maybe the BBC's as I don't own the DVDs and haven't checked) the series ended on the Christmas special.

The episode throws us right into the middle of all of Time (with a capital "T") mashing Earth's history together and The Doctor explaining to old friend Winston Churchill, Caesar of the Holy Roman Empire, why it's always two minutes after five on the same day... forever. This leads us to a sort of frame story where The Doctor explains how River managed to circumvent the fixed moment in Time that was The Doctor's death and is blowing up reality. From there it's just a hop, skip, and a jump to Amy, Rory, and River leading a revolution and only River and The Doctor knowing why.

Of course everything turns out alright in the end as the heavily hinted at solution to the whole thing (from Let's Kill Hitler) just happens to have shown up earlier in the episode. Well, at least the writers managed to seed their solution earlier than the ABSOLUTE last minute like so many other episodes of Doctor Who, but still. Could've been a little more elegant.

The last episode that is currently available on Netflix's Instant Stream, The Doctor, The Widow, And The Wardrobe, is a little bittersweet... both for me, personally, and in general. There's no River, barely a moment for Rory and Amy, and features a whole cast of one-off characters that are just entirely too sweet to occupy a single episode. But that's the way of it, I guess.

For some reason, during the cold open, The Doctor is on an exploding ship in orbit over Earth just before the Second World War and manages to get help from a mother who takes his spacesuit and alien-ness right in stride. After that brief intro sequence, time shifts forward a few years where that same mother is spending Christmas with her two children in the country to be safe from The Blitz and she's dreading telling them that her husband is MIA, presumed dead. The Doctor shows up as The Caretaker of the estate they're staying in and has souped up the place with gadgets and gizmos and extraplanar doors, oh my. This leads to an almost deadly adventure, concerning the entire family, where it's up to the mom to save the day.

This one really pulls at the heart-strings thanks to all of The Doctor's "child of wonder" antics and repeated "I know"'s. The trio of future forestry engineers are really rather precious as well, played as they are by Bill Bailey, Arabella Weir, and Paul Bazely. I do think the best moment, though, was at the end when The Doctor goes to visit Amy and Rory for Christmas dinner. Sure, it would've been nice for River to have been there as well, but you can't always get what you want.

And... I think that about does it. For my time with Doctor Who on Netflix anyways, at least until they put Series 7 on the Instant Stream.

It's been a weird couple of weeks and a very long year for me in terms of Whovian consumption. Yes, I will admit that the series has grown on me as time has worn on. Not those first few seasons, of course, but definitely during David Tennant's later episodes and most certainly during Matt Smith's run. I think Smith and Gillan made Doctor Who infinitely more palatable for me with their charm, wit, and charisma... not to mention their (and Darvill's) chemistry. And River... oh, River Song, even though I think you got shortchanged by all the rushing towards the end, you are by far my favorite character. Kudos, Alex Kingston.

Welp, just one more day before I'm done for the year. Any guesses as to how I'm going to finish out the Couchbound Project? My Year With Netflix? Place your bets now, because tomorrow is coming right quick!

Until that tomorrow, Potatoes~