Sunday, March 31, 2013

Day Ninety - Adventure Time: Season 1, Episodes 1 and 2, "Oh... mah... GLOB!"

Alright, if you're on the internet and you haven't heard about Adventure Time somewhere, somehow, I shudder to think of your cultural awareness.

Adventure Time isn't just a cartoon... it's a bonafide creative phenom!

Set in a plastic future where humans have all but completely died out (really, there's only one left) thanks to "the mushroom war," Adventure Time is a journey through surreal landscapes filled with the impossible and populated by the so highly improbable that you'd think Candy People and Lumpy Space People and Breakfast People would stretch your suspension of disbelief.

...But they NEVER DO.

Adventure Time is cute, irreverent, and just plain awesome.

Each episode lasts fifteen minutes and, even if it they don't continue a solid story arc in an obvious fashion, there are always details that filter through between episodes and build the mythology. Everything from the Enchiridion to the waving/shaking-fist snail has some connection to either the past or the future in Adventure Time.

The first episode dumps you right in the universe with little to no explanation... and you really don't need any. Everything about its fantasy nature just falls into place in your mind naturally.

The first thing you see is the Candy Kingdom where Jake the Dog and his girlfriend Lady Rainicorn are play-flirting outside the city walls. From there we're introduced to the spastic Finn the Human and Princess Bubblegum who are randomly trying to raise the dead Candy Folk. Something, of course, goes wrong and it's up to Finn and PB to race back to the castle and protect those still alive both from the Return of the Candy Dead and from themselves (when Candy Folk get scared, they explode).

The second episode introduces Lumpy Space Princess (yes, it seems like there's a Prince or Princess for every wacked out species in the future). At a bouncing tea party, she accidentally bites Jake and gives him Lumpy Space Sickness all werewolf style (RAWRG-RAWRG-RAWRG). If he doesn't get the antidote, which is in Lumpy Space, he'll turn all apathetic, lumpy, and (most frighteningly) VALLEY. See, the Lumpy Space Folk all seem to act like they're Californian suburbanites obsessed with weekly Prom-Coming Dances, make-out point, and acting like they don't care.

Freaking BRILLIANT satire.

It's weird, it's silly, and it feels like something a ten year old would write, but it's soooooo much more than that. You can feel the love and attention that goes into Adventure Time. All the details, all the light-hearted devotion from every single character.

From Manfred the Talking Piñata to the Keepers of the Royal Promise, I can't help but laugh and love all at the same time. Even Starchy the Janitor (who looks suspiciously like Scruffy from Futurama), when his sole purpose in the first episode is to be a deus ex'd victim, pleases with his too on the nose vulnerability and exit line ("Don't squeeze me! I'll fart!").

And the character depth... even as Finn is single-minded in his quest for Adventure and Awesome Times, we see he's struggles and cognitive dissonance along the way. We can tell he's got a desperate crush on Princess Bubblegum (the older woman at 18 years of age), but always wants to do the right thing, even as he makes mistakes as he goes.

THIS is how we're supposed to teach our children morality... and it has the added bonus of being funny and endearing as hell even if you don't need to learn the lesson of the day (be it "keeping promises" or "cutting a misguided friend some slack").

I am SO... FREAKING... HAPPY that Adventure Time is finally on Netflix. It's just a pity that it's only the first season. I look forward to the rest showing up and will chomp at the bit till they do.

Also, how freaking awesome is it that Lady Rainicorn only speaks in Korean?!

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Leaving the Queue: Goodbye, So Long...

It always annoys me when a movie that I really want to watch (just not right at this moment) gets the dreaded "Red Date of Departure." Usually it's something that I can live without. Well, it's always something that I can live without, but it's still a shame to me that these licenses do sometimes expire.

Sometimes they come back when their catalog is renegotiated, but you're never sure if and when that will happen.

In order to combat my ennui from losing access to some of these titles, here are a brief few that are sitting in my queue for one more day. Hopefully, by giving them wordcount, I can stave off those depressed feelings as I countdown the moments until they are gone.

Code 46

This one really bugs me. I've wanted to watch it for quite some time, but I've just never been in the right mood.

Set in a dystopian near future, Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton headline as star-crossed lovers embroiled in a scandal over genetics, memory, and health care. At least, that's what I've been able to glean from the description.

I really love doomed future love stories like 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and such. I'm going to try and fit it in before it's time expires, but I can't guarantee it.


I always try and make make a point of watching animated titles before they drop off the wire. This one, I don't know if I can. Just the idea about taking care of your dead porn star sister's daughter is both intriguing and off-putting.

To be honest, I don't know if I can handle any soul crushing right now, so it may slide off the queue with little mourning on my part, but the art on the cover does look appealing.

Unfortunately, looks can be deceiving and I'm feeling less than optimistic at the moment.


Aw, now this is a shame.

Any gamer worth his salt has seen Peter MacNichol face the dragon with his ridiculous spear and find true love with the blacksmith's hidden daughter.

This is one of my favorite fantasy movies of all time, even despite its lackluster 80's special effects. It just has that right amount of Dark Ages grit and grime coupled with eminently believable courage through fear and corrupt bastions of authority.

Life is dim, smoke-filled, and unfair in Dragonslayer and that's just the way I like it. Seeing it leave the queue makes be sad on several levels. While I love him dearly for his work in Radioland Murders and Ghostbusters 2 (where most folks know him from), Dragonslayer will always be my favorite Peter MacNicol film.

The Warriors

Another cult fave, The Warriors is one of those movies that appeals both for its weird camaraderie and its surreal sense of youth culture.

I mean, seriously... the sheer creativity and imagination that went into the variety of gangs is both laughably ridiculous and oddly awesome at the same time.

C'mon, a Mime gang? Who would possibly not want to see that?

Combine that with some of the most iconic cheese lines in existence ("Caaaan yooooouuu  diiiiggg iiitttttttttt?" and "Waaaaaariorrrrrrrs, come out to plAAAAaaayyyiyyy!") and a smokey-voiced DJ passing notes to both the gangs and the audience via her late night radio show and I cannot believe more people haven't seen this film.

I remember catching it once a year on TNT. Nowadays, I thought I'd have forever since it's in the queue. Well, sadly, not for long.


No real loss here other than John Turturro's comic brilliance as the butler. Seriously, while there are worse Adam Sandler movies, there are certainly better ones.

I wish I could say more positive things about it, but it's your typical Happy Madison film filled with a few one-timers (like Turturro and Ryder) and his regular stable of friends who need work.
You're MUCH better off with the original which starred Gary Cooper and was directed by Frank Capra.

And those are the titles that are leaving my queue as of April 1st, 2013. Maybe they'll be reupped at some point in the future, but you never know. The two I haven't seen, I will try and catch between the time of writing and midnight on the 1st. The two I love dearly? Well, I'll just have to get them on disc or in the cloud at some point. Sadly, they're great films but I just can't justify purchasing them at list price.

Day Eighty-nine - Classic Albums: Lou Reed - Transformer, "Let's TALK... instead of having an actual album concert."

Boy, did I not know I was heading into a documentary with the Classic Albums series.

Honestly, when Netflix suggested all of this musical content a while back, I assumed it was all concert and video footage. This assumption was reinforced when I watched the Jamiroquai travesty a few weeks back... but, even with the bad taste still in my mouth from Montreux, I had high hopes because this was Lou-freaking-Reed.

Now, a bit of history... I only know the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, and the like from the periphery. Sure, I'd heard "Take a Walk on the Wild Side" like anybody else with a radio the past thirty years, but my main exposure to Reed came from his tremendous cover of "This Magic Moment" on the Lost Highway soundtrack.

I have NEVER owned a copy of Transformer, which is apparently a crime of enormous proportions to the music literati, and consider myself an outsider when it comes to his brand of glam or pop or whatever you might quantify it as.

Still, going in I was expecting a nice bit of concert and studio footage... and was disappointed. The Classic Albums set is actual a documentary series that takes a hard look at the creation of an album from the perspective of its artists, collaborators, and the critics most familiar with the work.

The start of the episode gives the back story of Lou Reed from his days in Andy Warhol's Factory with the Velvet Underground and how several of the songs on the Transformer album were lyrical character pieces of the unusual characters that Warhol attracted. "Take a Walk on the Wild Side" literally was a sort of bio piece of several male to female transexuals who found a place and, occasionally, their center in the avant garde lifestyle of the Factory.

As the doc progresses, we see how stars like David Bowie, session musicians, and producers attached themselves to the creation of the album and the thing became an actual transformative piece that has influenced music for several generations.

It is a bit interesting, but I was never so bored as when the famous critics gave their interpretations or Lou just sat there at the mixing board and exclaimed how awesome various individual tracks would sound and the like.

I mean, really, I wanted to hear the MUSIC... but, unfortunately, all that came were ten to twenty second snippets of songs played under the interviews or brief live bits with present day Lou on an acoustic throwing out a line or two.

Such is life, I guess.

Still, there are a few brilliant moments concerning the creation of the album that provide both knowing winks and a few ironic laughs that make it an alright doc. It's not a terrible piece, but I probably wouldn't watch it again.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Friday, March 29, 2013

Day Eighty-eight - Pucca: Kung Fu Kisses, Episodes 1, 2, and 3, "This almost feels like cheating."

Based on a Korean design campaign, Pucca is a series of short episodes that feature the eponymous Pucca, a boycrazy preteen of little words (she only seems to laugh and emote, only communicating via thought bubbles and actions), whose sole purpose in life seems to be to torment a would-be ninja named Geru with her unwanted affections.

Each episode is seven minutes long and is just a quick vignette that somehow involves Pucca and her one-sided, but often sucessful, relationship with the unwilling Geru.

The first of the three I watched was entitled "Dance, Pucca, Dance" and consisted of a costume ball that Pucca forces Geru to go with her wrapped up as a sunflower so that he cannot escape. Her own costume is that of Geru's normal wear so that, when Geru's sworn ninja enemy shows up, she gets attacked instead of Geru.

The second was Soap Opera in which the lowly dishboy, Dada, is shown to be in love with the mean siren with a Queens accent, Ring Ring. While crying in his kitchen, he meets a magic dish soap fairy who makes him look and act suave, but only if he stays squeeky clean.

Prince Not So Charming was the third and followed a rich playboy as he tries to court Pucca, who only has eyes for Geru. Of course, Geru finds out about this and agrees to help him, dressing the slavic accented trust-fund baby in his outfit so Pucca mistakes the two. Once she sees through the outfit, though, she'll have none of it, so the playboy ships Geru off to a desert island solving both their problems, happily... or so they think.

Due to its length, I really did feel like I was cheating when I sat down to watch Pucca, which is why I decided to watch three episodes into order to consume a comparable block of time as a regular television series. It showed up on my queue and piqued my interest by looking cute in a weird Hello Kitty kind of way, so I decided to give it a shot. I had no idea it would be so vapid... let alone so short.

I suppose that its brevity is a blessing in disguise, as there's no real content to be had aside from its style. There's very little in the way of visual gags, but the few that are there (like the DEVO band hats and the Zoolander references) are mildly clever. Unfortunately, they really are few... and so far between. Coupled with a lack of substance, no real story, and a single-track mind when it comes to character, pretty much every episode is an exercise in crass boredom.

There's also that undercurrent of sexual harassment that just bothers the heck out of me.

I'm sure it's supposed to be cute in a Sally and Linus kind of way, but Geru obviously wants no part of Pucca's affections, having to be physically restrained while she pummels him with kisses and cuddles and going out of his way to avoid and misdirect her only to be foiled at some point during each seven minute-episode.

I think, if the sexes were reversed, folks wouldn't find it nearly as cute and I'd just point and yell at their hypocrisy.

The kawaii art is literally all the show has going for it and that's not enough. The only application that I can see for this show is playing in the background of an anime store... on mute... behind a display selling the Korean company Vooz's (who created Pucca) kitsch accessories and stuffed dolls.

I can't recommend this show unless you're an uber-fan of the recent trends of kawaii design.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Day Eighty-seven - Dr.Who: Series 1, Episodes 12 and 13, or "I MADE IT! I FINALLY MADE IT!"

Wow... it's been a longish, very boring trip to slog through the first season of the modern Dr.Who.

Yes, it's no surprise by now that I hate the pedantic, deus ex ridden adventures of Christopher Eccleston and Billy Piper. While the first series has given us probably one of the better companions in all Whovian History, Captain Jack Harkness, it's also brought me to tears at just how stupid a scifi show can be.

The first of this sortof two-parter is Bad Wolf, which brings everyone back to Satellite 5, the orbital media platform from back in episode 7, only something's wrong again.

Set many years after The Doctor shut down the weird shuggoth looking alien running the news, Satellite 5 is now a Gamestation where the game shows of the ancient BBC (see: modern day BBC game shows like Big Brother and Weakest Link) have been turned into death matches where only one (and sometimes NONE) survive for the entertainment of the Earthican masses.

Bleh. It's a pop culture Running Man. Boring.

The twist, of course, is that some nefarious entity has done this to human society from the shadows, and it's up to The Doctor and co. to find out who and why.

I think what pisses me off about this (and other episodes) is just how much utter crap the deus ex devices and macguffins are. At least with other scifi shows (like Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Fringe) they try to make their technobabble fit and be, well, believable. Here we've got a "transmat" beam that conveniently pulls the Time Warp Trio out of the supposedly impenetrable TARDIS and a "disintegrator" that doesn't disintegrate.

Really, the only saving grace of episode 12 (titled Bad Wolf), is the fashion game show with Captain Jack... who no only rock's the segment, but pulls a laser pistol out of *ahem* his arse to save himself when the robo-fashionistas turn homicidal.

Go, Cap'n Jack!

Anyways, Rose is supposedly killed by The Weakest Link's Anne-droid, but is really sent to... DUN DUN DUNNNNN... the Dalek fleet! It seems the one found in the vault in episode 6 wasn't the last. The Dalek Emperor managed to survive with his flagship and has been slowly building a new army of Daleks by harvesting humanity... one cell at a time.

Lord, that must've taken forever... also, @#$#*(@%Y&^$()$!@!!

And that brings us to The Parting of the Ways, episode 13, where The Doctor rushes in and somehow manages to materialize the TARDIS around Rose (and a token Dalek who is quickly dispatched by Cap'n Jack)... and then pops onto the command bridge to speak to the Daleks without fear of EXTERMINATION thanks to yet another deus ex, a hyper force field.


Then we cut to over a half-freaking-hour of the trio "getting ready" for the Dalek invasion of Earth. Cap'n Jack organizes the leftovers of Satellite 5 into a delaying action force, The Doctor begins building another deus ex, a "Delta Wave" generator that will fry all brains in its path, and Rose is... well, sent home to modern day England where she spends all her scenes dithering then trying to break into the Heart of the Tardis so she can gain its mystical time warp mojo (seen in episode 11) for herself so she can save The Doctor.

Seriously... they waste a half hour on this crap.

BUT... to make it worse... the climax occurs with the Doctor refusing to wipe out the entire solar system to save the universe from the Daleks (you bloody coward) just in time for Rose to pop in and use her brand new TIME GODDESS powers to revive the recently Exterminated Cap'n Jack, save The Doctor, and turn all the Daleks (including the Emperor) into dust with her fancy glowy eyes.

OoooooOOOOOOooooooo~! Save us with your Special Eyes, Rose!

Of course, so much power would melt her brains, so The Doctor kisses Rose to draw the glowy bits out of her ocular cavities, thereby dooming him to regeneration and semi-quick actor switchification.

Gag me with a freaking spoon.

I hate... Hate... HATE this crap. HATE IT! How in the world did it get made? Why in the world is it SO freaking popular? Why am I tearing my hair out in sheer frustration?!

But it's done.

I made it through the season. Barely.

David Tennant in is the hiz-zouse and is making quips about his new teeth. I can only hope it will get better from here. Please, please, pleaaaaaase, let it get better from here. I have the strangest feeling that it won't for a while, but the hope is there. It's a tiny inkling of hope, ready to be crushed under the malevolent boot of reality, but it's there... squirming around in the darkness of my soul.

Too melodramatic?

Time for another Dr.Who sabbatical for me. I've ruined my palate for quite some time, I think... but with Adventure Time being added to the instant queue just around the corner? There's that, at least.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Day Eighty-six - After Porn Ends, "Can the degraded find normalcy... and learn to love themselves again."

Netflix has a habit of throwing every documentary under the sun into its suggestion queue because I've watched things like Jiro Dreams of Sushi and People Are Strange. One such title was the somewhat depressing look at former porn stars called, you guessed it, After Porn Ends.

Interviewing a few recognizable names from porn over several generations (including Asia Carrera, Richard Pacheco, Raylene, and Tiffany Million), After Porn Ends is a sort of confessional-style documentary that takes down first hand accounts from these folks who often enough have suffered quite a bit due to the lifestyle they traversed filming sex for money.

It's a side of the story you were never going to see without a documentary being done.

Even when former porn stars make the leap to the mainstream and non-sexual niche markets, they're often still playing a character and that character doesn't often speak of their real selves.

Here there are quite a few very non-flattering testimonials of just how harsh the porn life is, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Several of the interviewees turned to religion to pull themselves back up while others used drugs to dampen their pain.

I was particularly taken with Asia Carrera's story as she was hit with the tragedy of losing her husband and has to raise her children alone. To hear a longitudinal view of her life going from geeky girl to centerfold to retirement and beyond really hits you in the emotions, especially since her story isn't ending all that well.

Quite a few of the people the doc follows struggle with their lives after their stars have faded and you can see it on their faces and in their tears (some obvious, some hidden... wicked away quickly in an attempt to shield them from the camera).

That's not to say that all of the stories are harsh.

In a few there are stories of hope, redemption, and a well-lived life, despite the stigma that porn leaves on one's record.

Seka, in particular, seemed to have ridden the wave quite well and Nina Hartley is frank and seems quite centered and at peace with both her porn career and her life in general... but then there's Raylene, who you think is finally back on track, but is shown in the denouement as being back in the life... and Mary Carey, who ran for California's governorship and just seems... off.

Maybe that's just her character as she still has an image to maintain, doing her best to sell that image for as much as she can as long as she can, but nothing gives me hope for her future. And this feeling carries over to the majority of the doc's subjects.

Overall, the doc makes several salient points concerning what we as a society do to these folks in exchange for using them for our masturbatory fantasies... and you can't help but agree with said points, but you also can't help but shake your head and feel ashamed as well.

I can't say I recommend the doc, but I don't hate it either.

It's not exactly groundbreaking, but it is interesting to take a peek behind the curtain of the porn industry and see just how much of a toll it can actually take on a person.

Fair warning, the doc doesn't pull a lot of punches when it comes to archived footage. While the majority of the film is the interviews, several segments from the performers' sex scenes are shown with nudity and the like. The doc is definitely not for children unless you're using it to start a frank discussion about the state and history of pornography in our culture... and the price it exacts on its performers.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Day Eighty-five - My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: Season 1, Episode 6, "What NOT to do when you're Awesome!"

Time for some more Brony action.

Episode six of the surprisingly quality and well-balanced series that is MLP:FiM is the second in as many episodes that features a visitor to Ponyville (The Great and Powerful Trixie, Pony Magician Extraordinaire) stirring up some trouble, the first being the unblogged episode 5 with Gilda who bullys Fluttershy.

This is yet another example of rotating the cast of the Mane 6 to keep things fresh as both Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie are absent for unknown reasons, despite the fact that the second act crisis seems to involve both wildlife (Fluttershy's specialty) and the entirety of town (you'd think Pinkie would hear the noise of Ursa roars over whatever party she has going on).

That's pretty much okay, though, as this is another Twilight centric episode and it makes sense that the three prideful/competitive ponies of the Mane 6 (Applejack, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash), would care more about Trixie's boasts than the timid and accepting Fluttershy and utterly oblivious Pinkie Pie.

Plus, Pinkie's preternatural powers for breaking the fourth wall (and the universe) would mess with the inevitable confrontation between Twilight, who doesn't want her friends to hate her because she's awesome at magic, and Trixie, who is a show-pony to be sure, but not all that magical in comparison.

I like the contrast this episode has with the one previous.

Where Glinda is all physicality, Trixie is mostly sarcasm, cunning, and finesse. Plus, it helps that Trixie almost always refers to herself in the third person. A nice little bit of egotism to both set her apart and, coupled with her general attitude and mannerisms towards the Ponyville folks, establishs a negative impression towards her.

While is was kind of odd to have the Mane 6 trio of neigh-sayers (don't look at me, it's a direct quote from the episode) be instantly critical of Trixie just to force some self-conscious denial from Twilight Sparkle, I'm willing to suffer the cliched delivery in exchange for the fun Trixie snark and other side jokes of the epi.

I mean, there's a freaking mustache spell for crying out loud (and Rarity not being impressed loses points for her in my book)... not to mention Trixie's smoke bomb/run away gag and the Snips and Snails pun.

Actually, I'm a little divided when it comes to Snips and Snails. They're a bit of cheesy fun in the vein of Pinky and the Brain if both characters had the mental capacity of Pinky instead of the Brain, but they're also not the greatest male role models for kids watching the show. Aside from Spike (who's just a baby, even if he acts like a preteen) Big McIntosh is pretty much the closest thing to a positive male role in the series so far... and he doesn't talk much.

 It would be nice to have one or two more positive Colt characters showing up more often, but oh well.

Overall, at this point in the show, the series is still just pleasing it's target demographic. The stories are mostly simple morality plays and there aren't nearly enough inside jokes for the adult fanbase yet. That will, of course, change... but while the first few episodes are definitely enjoyable and quality, they aren't quite to the level I want in all aspects.

Still, fun stuff. This is a series that both children and their parents (and even a few thousand childless adults, like me) can really get into. It's not quite up to Phineas and Ferb levels of self-reference and crossover appeal, yet, but I imagine it'll get there. You know, if Hasbro doesn't kill the magic to push more toy sales, but that may just be me being cynical.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Monday, March 25, 2013

Day Eighty-four - Squid Girl, Episode 1, or "Is it weird that one of the better Anime on Netflix is a cheap gag title?"

If you've read any of the previous Anime entries on Couchbound, you know that I'm really rather bitter that they only have the crap American dubs of pretty much every title. Even what should be good titles, like xxxHolic, have been butchered by the fact that they've been given subpar English renditions... and decent titles are few and far between.

Oh a whim, though, I decided to try a series that didn't really appeal to me in its original language... Squid Girl (or "Ika Musume" in nihongo).

Based on the ludicrous premise that an anthropomorphic squid that looks like a little blue-haired girl has come to the surface world to punish humanity for all the pollution and overfishing, only to wind up as a live-in mascot/waitress for a beach cafe, Squid Girl is a gag anime that reminds me of those old sitcoms that do just as ludicrous.

Mr.Ed, I Dream of Genie, Small Wonder, Alf... they all share quite a lot with Squid Girl.

For one thing, every gag show needs a straight man, and SG definitely has that... but there's also the overly enthusiastic little brother type who think's everything Squiddy-related is a game... the quiet, but creepy older sister who takes full advantage of the situation... the stalker... the buff jock... etc, etc..

It's a silly show.

I mean, the entire thing is just about an ambitious preteen with designs on world domination who happens to have prehensile tentacles for hair. She's as threatening as a puppy even with the extreme strength and dexterity that her tentacles afford her.

Then there are the squid puns.

Pretty much every sentence Squid Girl utters has at least one squid or sea-related play on words replacing or transposing what she's actually trying to say... be it "ten-tacular" instead of "spectacular" or something similar. From what I've heard in its original language track, the squid puns are more distracting in Japanese than in English. There's just something about Christine Marie Cabanos' delivery that feels oddly more endearing in English than Hisako Kanemoto's Japanese version.

Granted you can only GET the English version on Netflix so you'd have to go searching to compare the two, but still.

As far as Anime goes, it's pretty harmless. It's definitely not a great show, but it's a fairly entertaining and innocent throwaway... something that is oddly endearing even as it has no other real value. There's no story, no progression other than character memory, just silly fish-out-of-water jokes.

Or, perhaps that should be mollusc-out-of-water?

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Day Eighty-three - Wallander: Sidetracked, or "What is it with this trend of Swedish murder mysteries?"

Alright, truth be told, this is a BBC mystery starring Kenneth Branagh, so it's not exactly following the current trend of quality crime dramas coming DIRECTLY from Sweden, like The Millenium Trilogy or Annika Bengtzon: Crime Reporter, but it is based on Henning Mankell's Swedish detective novels which revolve around the cases of the eponymous Kurt Wallander.

While the series has been done in its native tongue over the years, Branagh's version is the first in English and starts right in the middle of the books with a sensational series of murders of high profile men of means, all killed with at hatchet... and scalped.

That's not the first death that we see in Sidetracked, though... no, the first death we're a party to is the apparent suicide of a fifteen year old girl who immolates herself in the middle of a rapeseed field as Wallander approaches, trying to help.

He (and we) see the entire desperate act.

Well, of course this shakes him, but as much as he dedicates himself to laying the young girl to rest, a directive questioned by his callous underling Magnus (played by up and comer Tom Hiddleston of Marvel 2.0 fame), he must press on and deal with a series of grisly murders of prominent and formerly prominent men of Ystad, where the series takes place.

Branagh, as always, is a powerful actor. There isn't a scene that goes by where I do not believe he's Kurt Wallander.

I want to say the same about Hiddleston's Magnus or Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies, X-men: First Class), who plays the son of an abusive fence in Sidetracked, but I sort of can't, as both are more of a distraction in their roles.

That's not to say that they're incompetent, as they're pretty decent actors, actually, it's just that their stars are currently rising and they've had several very visible roles lately that make their faces too... too... obvious.

David Warner, is also a distraction, but it's nice to see him again. It has been a while for me. In fact, the last role I recall him in was almost a decade ago with the Horatio Hornblower series in which he played a senile Captain. Here, he plays a going-senile painter, so I suppose there's symmetry.

To be honest, I don't quite feel the family drama between Wallander, his daughter, and father. It doesn't quite mesh with the mood of the episode, nor does it really contrast with his professional life. It's too prominent to serve as background info for the character and not impactful enough to have much of anything to do with the main story. It just sort of seems tacked on.

Still, it's a quality production filmed on location in Sweden. Thank you, BBC, for not just heading to Vancouver or Wales to try and replicate Ystad. I just wish it weren't so much an obvious thing what the villains of the story were up to. I think, from the moment I saw the daughter's overzealous reactions and the painting, I knew just what was going on. There really were no surprises to be had, but such is fiction, sometimes.

If you're a fan of crime dramas, particularly those that don't follow the American rubric of the high-tech procedural and, instead, prefer the sedate, thoughtful dramas from Europe, this series will be right up your alley. Not as much tension as Annika or Lisbeth/Mikael's stories... at least, not so far... but still high quality and pleasing.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Day Eighty-two - The Hunt for Red October, or "Ford might be a better Jack Ryan, but he cannot beat this ensemble."

Both the books that Tom Clancy writes and the movies made out of said books have one thing in common (you know, aside from the fact that they tell the same stories)... the earlier, the better. Patriot Games was good, Clear and Present Danger not so much, and The Sum of All Fears... yikes! The Hunt for Red October was, and still is, the definite cream of the crop when it comes to Tom Clancy films.

While I do love Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, as he has much more charisma and believability for the character than Alec Baldwin, The Hunt for Red October is, by far, the best of all the Clancy movies. There are several reasons for this, but it is primarily due to Sean Connery, Sam Neill, and the rest of the Red October's crew.

Set during the height of the Cold War, The Hunt for Red October tells the tale of the defection of the command crew of a state of the art nuclear missile submarine build for the exclusive purpose of a devastating first strike. Both the book and the film bank heavily on Cold War paranoia and brinksmanship, and play it up seriously, without all the laughable ham-fisted BS you'd usually see out of an 80's war flick (think Red Dawn or Miracle Mile).

I really like the feel of every moment in the subs, whether it was in the Red October itself (where we spend most of our time), the sonar room and main deck of the Dallas, or the tight confines of the bridge of Stellan Skarsgård's attack boat, each feels claustrophobic and genuine. This is especially true when you take in all of the props and set dressings. The Russian subs all have this air of old world class mixed with stark utilitarianism while the Dallas feels high tech and open. Even the lighting is used to great effect, the Russians all reds and yellows, the Americans all blues and tans.

What really sells the movie, though, are the actors. 

Like I said, I preferred Harrison Ford's Jack Ryan, but Alec Baldwin does a pretty good job. While I cannot believe Gates McFadden as his doctor wife (luckily, she's only there for a scene), Alec and his interactions with his American compatriots (James Earl Jones, Scott Glenn, Jeffery Jones, Senator Fred Thompson) all ring true.

Sean Connery, though, dominates this movie. He is every inch a command officer and acts it. Proud, stoic, decisive. In his opening minutes, he is mysterious... then, when he deals with his Political Officer, we see he can be brutal even as he is calm and thoughtful. As the movie progresses, we can definitely see the character that leads men and earns their devotion.

I also like both Sam Neill and Tim Curry as counterpoints for Connery, the former a true first officer and the latter duty-bound doctor. Both play their roles tremendously well. You don't feel a hint of deception from Curry even as his character wrestles with the conflicts of his orders and duty (granted, it's a small role, but he does it so well) and Sam's portrayal of Borodin makes me believe it... especially as the screws begin to turn and he starts losing his composure.

To be honest, this is how Cold War films... or any war film... should be done. John McTiernan and his crew put together an excellent piece that had great acting, fine attention to detail, and only one or two hiccups (which came in the form of a few awkward ADR moments). 

Yes, it's very pro-USA, but it didn't shy away from portraying both our military and our government as human and fallible... nor does it make the Russians out to be your stereotypical Red Menace. The closest we get to a commentary on the evils of Communism comes in the form of the political officer and his blasé invasiveness and the general purpose of a boat like Red October. Everything substantive about the film is just the cat and mouse game, not the politics.

I can definitely recommend The Hunt for Red October to just about everyone. It's solid filmmaking and storytelling and was an impeccable first entry for the franchise. A pity the follow up films didn't have the same oomph (even if Ford was a better Ryan).

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Friday, March 22, 2013

Day Eighty-one - High Anxiety, or "I don't know if Hitch would be proud... but I am."

The Seventies were the golden era of Brooks films... Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, and High Anxiety.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love History of the World, Spaceballs, and Robin Hood:Men in Tights, but there's just something about the Seventies' ensembles and rough sets that made the films feel more like grand stage productions. There was just something about them that tickles the nostalgia bone as well as the funny one.

High Anxiety, when compared to Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, is probably a little weaker, but is still pretty funny... especially if you're a fan of Hitchcock's thrillers.

Me? I love'em.

To Catch a Thief is probably one of my favorite classic films of all time and there's a special place in my heart for Vertigo, Psycho, Rear Window, and Dial M for Murder.

Set in a mental institution that eminent psychologist Dr.Richard Thorndike (Brooks) is just taking over, the movie follows a murderous conspiracy that Thorndike eventually uncovers and becomes the target of over the course of the film.

Cloris Leachman plays the villainess, Nurse Diesel, who pulls the strings of her fellow conspirators with a stiff countenance and iron will... especially Harvey Korman's Dr.Montague who is under her S&M sexual spell. It's a familiar role for Korman as he plays it similarly in Blazing Saddles and History of the World, just with varying degrees of perversity. I find that funny considering how he's also associated with the only mildly subversive Carol Burnett Show.

Madeline Kahn is here as well, playing the Hitchcock damsel in distress, her father being held against his will at the Institute while Diesel and Montague charge outrageous fees from his estate. Eventually she stumbles into Thorndike's arms and the two proceed to hatch a plan of action to save her paterfamilias and manage to fall in love, cinema style (without much effort).

Though the premise of High Anxiety is silly and its implementation is slow and clunky, nevertheless there are dozens of really good bits in the film.

I particularly love Harvey Korman's routine where he acts like a werewolf behind Brooks' back to drive a patient, who used to have nightmares that the monsters were coming to get him, stark raving mad in order to justify his institutionalization.

There's also a really funny "old jewish couple" routine with Brooks and Kahn as they try and sneak past airport security. Sure, it stretches credulity something fierce, but it's still fun in that sort of standup act fashion that Brooks is known for.

The sendups to classic Hitchcock films, like the shower scene in Psycho, The Birds recreation in Golden Gate Park, and the Vertigo climax (set in the Institution's tower instead of an old Spanish Mission's belfry) are all relatively faithful without being too heavy handed. I especially liked the shower scene... despite it getting a sloppy setup, it delivers pretty well with the high pitched screams of the bellboy and the final joke about his tip.

While not a laughfest, per se, thanks to the pacing issues, High Anxiety is certainly enjoyable. I'd rank it higher than Dracula Dead and Loving It, The Twelve Chairs, and Silent Movie, but lower than most of the rest of Brooks' catalog.

It's definitely worth having in the Netflix queue and is good to revisit whenever you're in the mood for that classic Brooks' comedic fun.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Day Eighty - Atlantis: The Lost Empire, or "How I want Disney movies to be."

You know, I was actually shocked when I saw Atlantis in theaters over a decade ago.

Even though the animation was familiar and the fantastical plot a bit rote, from its opening moments, Atlantis was nothing at all what I expected coming from Disney Animation. Not a minute in and you're witnessing the deaths of thousands, tens of thousands as a tidal wave, instigated by what looked to be a nuclear explosion, bears down on the Atlantean paradise and spared only those behind the MacGuffiny energy shield surrounding the central palace of the civilization.

Everything we really need to know about Atlantis is spoiled in those brief minutes of disaster. The city sinks, they have high technology, and that technology's use requires sacrifice.

Even though there's no blood or obvious death, you know the people outside the shield are doomed... and, what's more, they knew it, too. My favorite shot of that sequence is a couple, who just missed getting behind the protective blue dome of the capital, looking back on the approaching wave in despair and taking solace in each others' arms.

Heavy, beautiful fragility.

Not the stuff of your typical Disney movie where death is typically reserved for key supporting figures like the hero or damsel's parents or, almost exclusively, to the villains once they've been thwarted.

That's not to say the pattern is completely broken. Once the evil-doers of the film are unmasked and there's a large, tumultuous fight scene in the climax, they get what they deserve, have no doubt, but Disney is usually much more generous with the bit players. Here, they drop like flies, and it fits.

Aside from my apparent obsession with death, I also love how it's a grand old tomb adventure in the style of Indiana Jones or Allan Quartermain. Almost the entirety of the first act centers on the expedition under the sea and deep in the bowels of the Earth. There's a quirky party of specialists that are cliche as much as they are delightful. Each is unique with backstories fitting of the most pulpy of comic books or role playing games, all laid out with fantastic pacing and sporting the most amusing of idiosyncrasies.

Once Atlantis is rediscovered, we are also treated to more MacGuffiny explanations and rationalizations concerning language, technology, and culture. It's great popcorn fun.

I especially like the chemistry between Milo and Kida. Usually Disney films try to rush an onscreen romance with montages or forced emotion. Not so much here, as Milo and Kida have definite sparks, but are often pushed in other directions as the second and third acts move briskly along. Sure, it's heavily implied that they will eventually get together, especially at the end when they hold hands with interlocking fingers (a trope that signals heavy trust and intimacy), but there's nary a kiss to be seen and barely a hug that passes between them.

And I LIKE it that way!

Too often film romance is trite, boring, and too cliche and quick. This is just right with not an ounce more than is necessary to sow the seeds of an eventual relationship... and barely any pandering (I'm looking at YOU Claudia Christian... or, at least, your character design... great way to work in the noir femme fatale... and excellent voice work, too).

Overall, this is pretty much everything that I want from a pulp adventure and Disney actually delivered. It's a pity that so many folks dismiss it because it's not your typical crap kid's movie with comic relief monkeys... though, the argument could be made using Mole.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~