Saturday, August 31, 2013

Day Two Hundred and Forty-three - TEDTalks: Crime & Punishment, Episodes 1 and 2, "Cheating... and the New Mafia. Well, I'm depressed."

Owing to the fact that I've pretty much slept the entire day away, I've found myself in the precarious position of not really having the time to watch Greenberg like I wanted to for today's Couchbound entry.

Also, I just did an episode of Anime... and wasn't in the mood for any other thirty minute to an hour long shows that I typically watch (like Numb3rs or Call the Midwife). It seems as though my lethargy has infected not only my sleep patterns but my viewing habits as well, today.

So, facing a quickly diminishing window of time to get the blog done before the day was out, I decided to go the educational route and watch something from the ever intriguing TEDTalks, these particular episodes being from the Crime & Punishment series of egghead lectures. The two speeches that I viewed were by Dan Ariely and Misha Glenny... and, while they both talk about the darker natures of humanity, they're also concerning subjects that are only very thinly related... the capacity for people to commit crime and the growing surge of organized criminal activity, respectively.

Dan Ariely takes a very scholarly look at pain and cheating. Through his studies, he has managed to produce data that shows not only which situations humans find that it's okay to cheat, lie, and steal, but also those possible triggers that minimize the urge to cross that line and take from the candy jar.

I found it fascinating to hear about these sociological studies which set up various ways to help people in situations where they could take advantage, only to find that certain things made it easier or harder for folks to live with themselves after stealing. I was especially intrigued by the implications that he made concerning the stock market, Enron, and the convergence of triggers that might have allowed such massive fraud to be seen as acceptable to the perpetrators.

Misha Glenny's lecture, on the other hand, while still interesting, was much more depressing. It feels so because his entire talk is about the massive surge of organized crime that is thriving in the recession thanks to the fall of the Iron Curtain, the defeat of communism not only putting former KGB and other security experts out of jobs, but thrusting them into emerging globalized markets with ample incentives to play fast and loose with property... and lives.

Not so much as scholar as an expert whose journalistic experience over the past thirty years has allowed him deep analytical insight and personal connections with victims and the criminals themselves, Glenny paints a portrait from the destruction of the Berlin Wall all the way to the warlords in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Coltan is the resource du jour for organized crime.

His logical leaps can be a bit fuzzy at times, as he early on draws a line between Soviet Olympic athletes and the Russian Mob which doesn't exactly compute... but it's not hard to assume where he's going as he reveals the former to be the affluent class of their era, suddenly without the support and resources that they had previously been accustomed to. The problem is that said assumption is on shaky ground a best as the only evidence he presents to support this claim is a photograph with some of these supposed athletes in bathing suits with heavy gold chains.

It just seems like so much stereotyping. I would've preferred it if he'd actually shown some hard evidence instead of just saying, "look at how 'naughty, naughty,' these half-naked guys are!"

Still, he brings up quite a few salient points about the wide reach of organized crime in the modern era and how pretty much everything we touch, eat, buy, and consume has their fingers in it to some degree. He, too, takes a jab or three (not undeserved) at Wall Street and its robber-barons, pointing a huge, accusing finger at Bernie Madoff and outright saying that there are more like him in the hallowed halls of America's corporations (again, with no evidence... just his word)... and, while it's easy to want to believe, I find it hard to take seriously.

Of the two lectures, I much preferred Dan Ariely's. At least he had the science to back it up. Misha Glenny just spins a story... and while I do not doubt the veracity of his work, it's difficult to digest his comments as he's just so obsessed with the big picture and doesn't make it easy to relate with on a personal level.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Friday, August 30, 2013

Day Two Hundred and Forty-two - Ghost Hunt: Episode 1, "It's like Ghost Hunters/Adventurers... but as an Anime."

It's really hard to judge Ghost Hunt on this episode alone, I think... but I'm not sure if I want to continue the series just based on the tease of the Supernatural alone.

The problem is, there are absolutely NO ghosts in the opener.

That's kind of a dealbreaker if your show is a fictional fantasy piece about ghosthunters, I think.

Sure, there are dimly lit, creepy rooms complete with creaky floorboards and ceiling joists, and several moments where characters claim to be sensing spirits (or the opposite), but there are no actual events outside of the imaginations of the trio of young high schoolers telling ghost stories during the intro.

If the cover art and series description have any merit, it looks like the plot will revolve around the skeptical, but easily spooked Mai and the aloof Naru, who is manager of the Shibuya Psychic Research Team. They definitely look the part of your typical Seinen teen adventure, a bishy boy and moe girl.

Naru is called to Mai's school in this episode to investigate a condemned schoolhouse that is supposedly haunted. The two team up after Mai causes an accident that sidelines Naru's assistant, but find out that the school's principal has hired not one or two, but five separate exorcists/spiritual types to try and cleanse the schoolhouse of whatever curse might be hovering over it. Needless to say, not all of the paranormal investigators are thrilled to have been quintuply booked as the second half of the episode mostly consists of their bickering.

I like the concept of Ghost Hunt, even if it's lacking in actual ghosts, real or Scooby Doo-fake. I have friends and family on both sides of the fence when it comes to the IRL Ghost Hunters/Adventurers television phenom... enough that no matter who I'm watching them with, I get entertained (either by cynicism or true belief). Seeing the formula taken on in Anime with Japanese folklore constructs and practitioners tickles me on many levels, increasing my desire to see it through.

It's just, with the lack of spirits, the only promise in the episode is in the interpersonal drama that is invented by the conflicting personalities. I want to say that could be enough, but the spooky girl is more than a bit annoying in her occult zealotry... and we're barely introduced to the other exorcists and mediums before the episode is over. Too much in the way of characters and not enough development or action.

Production value-wise, Ghost Hunt is very high quality when it comes to background art and color design. In that it is a lot like Moonphase, which we took a look at here on Couchbound a little over a week ago. While it's true that the character animation sometimes leaves a bit to be desired, particularly during punchlines when the people become more stylized and simplified, it only distracts a little bit... though, I have to admit, it's not as smooth as it should be. If you want better examples of fantasy abstraction, look to series like Hyouka and xxxHolic.

Overall, I'd judge the first episode (I call it that as it's not quite a pilot) to be borderline. It has quite a number of positive points in its favor (design, mood, etc.), but only having squeeking wood panels and off-screen door pranks as its supernatural gimmicks is almost overwhelmingly annoying.

I definitely don't feel as guilty about watching Ghost Hunt as I do Moonphase (with all its pervy lolicon sensibilities), but it better improve next episode or I think I'll drop it. At least Moonphase establishes its concepts early and runs with them.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Day Two Hundred and Forty-one - Numb3rs: Season 2, Episode 24, "I think I have a problem."

You know, I think it's pretty safe to say that Numb3rs is a guilty pleasure of mine now.

It's so cheesy how they spring a new math concept on you every week in the form of Charlie or Larry or Amita shipping a silly metaphor to the relative dunces of the FBI. I do like how Megan (Dianne Farr) is sharp enough to see where the explanation is going while Colby and Sinclair play the role of jock meatheads.

Still, the regular routine of math, metaphor, joke isn't the focus of this particular episode, it being the finale of the second season. No, the main thrust of the episode, aside from the rather throwaway murder mystery, is Charlie's fixation with a series of dreams he has concerning the possible loss of his father and the actual loss of his mother... who died before the series started.

Mrs.Eppes (played by JoBeth Williams) shows up as a possible manifestation of Charlie's unresolved guilt for depriving his brother Don of her company and support while she took the younger Eppes to college at Princeton during his teen years. She also happens to show up, no doubt at Charlie's instigation, in Alan's (Judd Hirsch) dreams to reconnect and assuage his own issues.

I'm not exactly the most spiritual of people, but I do find it nice that, while Larry and Charlie wrestle with the meaning of dreams and the dearly departed showing up in them, there's an immediate acceptance from Alan that doesn't question... and also leaves the idea open (albeit unsaid) that it really is the ghost of Margaret Eppes visiting her boys from beyond the grave.

For sure, I'm a rationalist... but I also live in a state of semi-wonder that likes to take a small measure of solace at the mere possibility, however remote, of an afterlife. Scientifically, there's no evidence that the light at the end of the tunnel is more than a phenomena of an oxygen deprived brain, but the romantic in me likes to believe there's something more, and this episode leaves that possibility unmolested.

Getting back to the mystery? Blah. The only interesting part was Don's near repeat of the climax scene from Silence of the Lambs (what is it with FBI agents not waiting for backup)? The serial killer videotaping himself and his reasons for going on his spree are annoyingly stereotypical in their creepyness. Even Megan voicing her distaste at his antics and her desire to see him get the chair are way too "Crime Drama 101."

It's weird how the episode makes me happy and mad at the same time, but not that surprising... and is probably the main reason why Numb3rs shall ever be just a guilty pleasure for me.

One last note... Olympia Dukakis is thoroughly underutilized in this episode. What a terrible guest role for her. Shame on you guys, Numb3rs casting director and her agent.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Day Two Hundred and Forty - Kingdom: Series 1, Episode 5, "I knew there was a reason I was ambivalent."

It's been a while since I last watched Kingdom... well over a hundred days, in fact, and I find that the distance I've gained away from the series has left me forgetting why I stopped in the first place.

Then I said "what the hell" and tried it again. Didn't take long to remember why now, did it?

As much as I adore Stephen Fry, quite a lot of what I've seen of his that is available on Netflix just doesn't do it for me. Whether it's the 100 Greatest Gadgets or this subdued country law drama with your stereotypical quirky village characters, it's just not enough to have Stephen pulling them along with his quiet wit.

Several things are going on in this episode, including a divorcing couple whose marital woes are solely due to the husbands recent transvestism, a horse rustling, children gambling, and blatant, unapologetic racism.

I think most everything in the ep would've worked if not for that last glaring addition. That horrific, unabashed racism could exist without being instantly decried by all involved, especially the local constabulary, is utterly unbelievable.

Sure, at least both Fry's Kingdom and his often daft associate Lyle are against the overzealous racehorse owner who wants a group of convenient Romany off the pasture he intends to lease from the village council, I find it so hard to swallow that the man could round of a posse and get away from dehumanizing and threatening bodily harm on the Travelers without some comeuppance. I also find it difficult to see the excruciatingly stereotypical way that the Travelers are presented.

On a lighter note, for the most part, I actually did enjoy the other main plot of the ep, the divorcing couple. The gentleman involved presents such a confident and happy personage in his transvestism (and his wife so vehemently vitriolic) that you can't help but side with him immediately.

Now, yes, that might be a tad too convenient... just like with the Romany, but at least there's a happy end for the couple, whereas the horse breeder gets to harass the Travelers with impunity.

To be honest, I just can't justify this series anymore. Its storylines are trite and its overarching mystery concerning blackmail, suicide, and possible murder just has no oomp to it anymore, even as Peter Kingdom and his disturbed sister argue about it... or when a gun is flashed to scare them.


Yeah, I think I'm done... I just hope that next time I get the urge, someone or something will remind me just why I dropped the series in the first place.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Day Two Hundred and Thirty-nine - Doc Martin: Season 1, Episode 1, "Now THAT'S the Doc that I remember!"

It's been a little while since the last time I watched Doc Martin for Couchbound. If you'll recall, I was originally interested because the British production was one of several shows that I hoped to share with my mother, her tastes running a bit more dry and... well, British, in comparison to my own (I don't think she's ever enjoyed a movie that I've brought over).

Still, it was weird having the Doc be all goofy and generally amiable as opposed to the snippets of short antipathy that I'd become used to when visiting the folks over many weekends, catching a random episode or two of the series as opposed the the prequel movie that I saw on the Stream last time.

As mentioned before, the movie Doc Martin is much different in terms of personality (and last name) than the series Doc Martin, even though they're both played by the same man, Martin Clunes.

There he was escaping a failed marriage whilst inadvertently solving a village mystery. Here, in the first episode of the series, he's escaping a blood phobia (thought you'd only get that from the description as it's only mildly implied in the first episode) whilst exposing infidelity and leering at the town's schoolmarm.

I must say, I definitely like this version better, as he's much more succinct and terse... closer to Gregory House than Patch Adams and, being the grouchy American that I am, you can certainly tell which way I would lean.

I also like how the clues for the weekly mystery are laid out nicely but not thrown in your face. Sure, the quirky medical problem is a bit of a lark, but it's not bandied about across the screen in gratuitous fashion. Instead, there's a certain modicum of, well, tact... that I very much appreciate.

While, yes, you can immediately tell who Doc Martin's love interest is going to be as she is pretty much the only woman in town the right age and challenging and intelligent enough, the implied attraction and social awkwardness is subdued enough so as to be rather pleasant as opposed to the constant Moonlighting syndrome that most (American) television shows have.

Come to think, that's something that I believe most British shows have on their American counterparts, credit that I can even give to Rose Tyler and whichever Doctor she is on during her run as a Companion.

Quick shout out to Ian McNeice who plays a supporting role in the series. He's a funny guy and plays his well meaning jack of all trades with a keen sense of comedic timing that reminds me of John Goodman... or, maybe it's just that they're both large men? Either way, I love them both dearly, most especially McNeice here in Doc Martin, though I think that my favorite role of his was in the update of Dune where he was the Baron Harkonnen.

In any case, the first episode is a fairly decent start for the series and I look forward to seeing more from the characters. Sure, it's a bit awkward seeing the transition from the film version to the television one, and that's something that will probably never leave my mind, but even so the changes that were made work really quite well.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Monday, August 26, 2013

Day Two Hundred and Thirty-eight - Dredd, "Now THIS is what modern action movies should be."

Came down with a bit of the ague today, so I took a sick day... much to the annoyance of my boss, no doubt... and, while it was unfortunate for my daily routine it was rather fortunate for my Netflix queue as, thanks to the guy trimming the hedges around the apartments with a chainsaw, I wasn't able to sleep away my sickness.

So, on to today's Couchbound pick, which just happened to be newly released on the Instant Stream, and it was Karl Urban's take on Dredd.

No, not the 90's Stallone vehicle that was more comical farce than gritty scifi dystopia, this version of Dredd never takes off the mask and is all business, all "The Law," all of the time... and I find myself much happier for it, very glad there's no Sly or Rob Schneider.

Set in the vast urban sprawl of Megacity One after the fall of society thanks to nuclear war, Dredd follows the eponymous Judge, Jury, and Executioner on an assessment tour for rookie beat Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a powerful psychic who is being pushed into service despite failing her entrance exams.

The two of them are sent to a Megablock Tower called Peach Trees where three gangbangers were tossed off a ledge from hundreds of stories up. While investigating the murders, they happen upon a mid-level banger who could ruin his gang's whole operation and that sets into motion a total lockdown of the Tower on the orders of the gang's vicious leader, Ma-ma (Lena Headey).

From there, the movie is one blood-soaked battle after another as the two isolated Judges try to survive wave after wave of bullets, bangers, and even a few corrupt Judges called in during act three to fight fire with fire.

To say that I love this film is an understatement. It's brutal without being gratuitous, stylistic without being heavy-handed, and full of subtle little touches that cause the comic book geek in me to squeal in delight.

I mean, honestly, seeing Anderson pause at that "No Muties" graffiti for half a second before moving on with the mission is a tremendously well done nod to the status quo of Megacity One. Such a perfect little humanizing moment for her (ironic, considering) and one that isn't lost as her Mutant status is used to great effect during several key scenes.

It's not a perfect movie... as there are no leads or subtle hints to the corrupt judges at any point previous to the moment Ma-ma sends for them during the second to third act transition, but I'm willing to forgive a few oversights considering how well placed other running themes and clues were laid out... particularly concerning her mousey tech genius (Domhnall Gleeson).

When it comes to effects, pretty much all of the gunplay is spot on, with even the normally laughable CGI bloodspray being really quite believable. The same can be said for the high-speed camera effects that pop up several times during the movie as the visual high of the drug Slo-Mo that the Ma-ma clan is producing. While you can't see it as much on the Stream, the 3D version that I saw in theaters was just that much more dazzling.

Last, but not least, I really want to point out Urban's portrayal of Dredd. I think he very much embodied the spirit of the character. Whereas Stallone was always "Sly in Dredd's Uniform" (and, even then, only for a small portion of the movie before he's disgraced and defrocked), Urban most definitely wears the mantle so well that I never saw him as Karl Urban... only as the man, the monolith, Judge Dredd. Much kudos to him.

If you're any kind of fan of action, I'd very much recommend Dredd to you... especially over tongue-in-cheek, almost parody movies like The Expendables. Dredd gives you everything you want from an actioner and never lets up. I really hope that it's cult status and DVD sales will lead to a sequel, cause I'd rather have one from Urban, et al., than yet another Riddick.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Day Two Hundred and Thirty-seven - MST3K: Soultaker, "Your Mom is WEIRD!"

This has to be my favorite episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000... and my sister's too, I think.

During the tape circulating days, this was the one my sister and I watched the most, then it took forever to find it on DVD because Rhino was only barely putting box sets out and they did so in random order. When it did release, though, you can be sure that I was there as soon as the stores opened that Tuesday (which is when most new releases have their street date in America) and bought that box immediately.

I've forced my friends to watch Soultaker so much that I've literally burned them out on MST3K, such that I'm immediately shouted down whenever I suggest kicking back with Mike and the Bots on a Saturday night. Sure, it might have something to do with the fact that they're all in serious relationships and I'm sitting here alone with my Netflix, but the world (and my self-esteem) may never know.

And, now, it's on the Instant Stream. I think that my social life, what little there was left of it, is doomed.

Anyways, on to the movie, itself....

Soultaker is a b-movie from 1990 "starring" Joe Estevez (brother to Martin Sheen) as a Grim Reaper who must harvest the souls of the recently dead else they be lost to the void. To do so, he pulls their ectoplasm into tiny glowstick rings, all while doing a horrible Johnny Cash impersonation (not really, but the Guys point it out and it's hard not to laugh and nod).

He's just the villain, actually, as the true main characters are Zack and Natalie, a pair of low-rent star-crossed lovers who are more Saved by the Bell than Romeo and Juliet. It seems that their souls are up for the taking after getting into a car wreck thanks to their frenemy Brad's vehicular homicide. Their spirits ejected from their injured bodies, they're left confused when Joe Estevez begins stalking the pair and their friends... and re-killing each in turn.

I don't know how it works as Soultaker is so full of plotholes that it deserved to be given the MSTie treatment and, like any episode of the show, the glory isn't in the movie, itself, but the jokes Mike and the Bots lay on top of it. Lines like, "If I die, I'm going to die eating string cheese and Fruitopia," and, "I want the soul of that stuffed bunny in the window."

The jokes often revolve around the financial disparity between Zack and Natalie, as well as Vivian Schillings passing resemblance to Tonya Harding. Hearing Crow mock Natalie's frustration with a petulant "but my SKATE BROKE. WAA!" makes for instant, uncontrollable fits of laughter on my part... even watching it alone and sober.

Natalie is played by Vivian Schilling who wrote the film... which makes her awesome and terrible at the same time. It's an admirable effort for a straight to video b-movie, as it managed to pull it not one (Joe Estevez) but two (Robert Z'dar) terrible movie staples from the 80's and 90's. I think it only could've been better (or, perhaps, worse) if they'd gotten Traci Lords and Jeffrey Combs to come along for the ride.

I think I should make a quick mention of the elephant in the room of this film, Robert Z'dar. I know, it's mean, but the guy's face is ginormous! I don't feel quite so bad as Mike and the Bots waste no time riffing on that fact, but every time I laugh I still feel a bit guilty. Another of his appearances made MST3K as well, Future War, and he's just as huge.

It should also be noted that, during the inbetweeners, MST's original host (and creator) Joel Hodgson makes a cameo appearance (as his character Joel Robinson) along with old villain TV's Frank (played by Frank Coniff). This was the first episode of the LAST season of MST3K and it was nice to see them both after they split years ago. My only regret is that Trace Beaulieu didn't make an appearance as an alt-universe Crow/Dr.Clayton Forrester so the whole gang could be back together.

Ah, well....

Soultaker is one of the best terribad movies that MST3K has had the privilege of riffing and that I've had the privilege of watching... over and over and over again. I recommend it, certainly, but mileage may vary (as my friends would no doubt testify to).

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Day Two Hundred and Thirty-six - Daniel Tosh: Completely Serious, "But I don't know any older Samoans, so The Rock is my dad."

To say that I hate Daniel Tosh is a mistake. I don't hate Tosh. In fact, I think he can be a pretty funny guy. It's just that he's so damned random... all the freakin' time!

Take this hour long set, Completely Serious. You barely have enough time to catch your breath before he's on to something else entirely that has absolutely no connection to the joke previous. It's like one long string of ADHD rambling that occasionally is hilarious, as if James Joyce and Jackass had a love child.

I say occasionally because he's also hella offensive.

Racism, sexism, pedophilia, making fun of the handicapped. If there is something, anything out there that will push your buttons in the wrong way, Tosh is sure to find it, then call you on it immediately. It's a perplexing duality of discomfort and hypocrisy. When it comes to comedy, I think that's a good thing because it brings us all together at the bottom of the barrel. You don't have to worry about high brow or low brow jokes, intellectual versus frat humor, because by shaking the tree trunk, he sends us all tumbling down, no matter what our preferences.

In that, Tosh is pretty damn genius.

But the lengths he has to go to get us all there... and the constant skipping from one topic to another, it's all so annoyingly scattered.

There are a few jokes that definitely miss the mark, particularly when he (of course) randomly starts doing a silly voice that obviously goes nowhere, either with me or the recorded audience. But that never really stops him as he moves so briskly along that you've forgotten the duds in order to try and track where he currently is... which is usually several jokes down the line and way off that topic.

I think that the set is decent. It never comes close to "grand" or "perfect" thanks to his style... as the best comedy (at least, to me) has connection, an organic thread flowing through it, not just throwing darts at the wall... but it still managed to pull quite a few laughs (and more than a few of them guilty ones) through sheer force of numbers and variety.

I can see where people might be turned off by him... particularly as he has no qualms going after race, sex, misogyny, you name it... but it's probably worth at least a single viewing, if not more.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Friday, August 23, 2013

Day Two Hundred and Thirty-five - MST3K: Pod People, "'Chief?' 'McCloud?'"

Finally, for the first time in what seems like years, regular episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are showing back up on the stream. Don't get me wrong, I love MST3K:The Movie and its lambasting of cult scifi classic, This Island Earth, but you can only watch so many times in short order before it becomes stale.

This episode, Pod People, looks to be a cheap European horror flick that is miles away from Argento and more closer to Alf or Mac & Me. Set in "The Deep Woods" that conveniently become impossible to leave, thanks to a never seen avalanche, the Pod People (which neither come from pods nor are much in the way of people) set themselves upon several groups of folks out living the country life: some rough poachers, a family living in a fortress, and a group of musicians on vacation.

It seems that a meteor has crashed in the woods and laid some eggs. Don't ask why, just go with it. Anyways, one of the eggs hatches and gets its first contact with man at the end of a closed fist, which sends it on a rampage of killing. Another of the eggs is found and taken home by young Tommy, one of the fortress folk, who has a penchant for animals. He hatches the egg and teaches Trumpy (who looks like a cross between an Ewok and the Elephant Man) the power of kindness.

As the first alien's bodycount rises, it becomes harder and harder for Tommy to hide Trumpy, who grows from six inches to a full meter overnight. There's whimsy as Trumpy shows off his preternatural powers of telekinesis and mystery as Trumpy instantly becomes the suspect of murder when the first, unnamed alien infiltrates the fortress and kills young backup singers in the shower.

Eventually, everything comes to a head when Trumpy and Tommy try to escape to the woods but are confronted by the evil alien... who is then shot down like a dog while Trumpy and Tommy have their Yearling/White Fang moment of separation.

To me, the idea of a child in an Alf costume wandering the forests of Spain is at times comforting. For the most part, though, this is a tough movie to swallow... even with Joel and the bots riffing it. Honestly, the jokes only start picking up towards the second act when Trumpy has grown and the boys start giving him an internal monologue. My favorite scene has Trumpy going down the line of pets that Tommy keeps in cages calling everything some variation of "potatoe."

Seriously, it slays me.

I think the plot point that bothers me the most is the inexplicable Big Dipper constellation that shows up on all of the victims. It isn't explained in anyway other than through implication that the aliens come from its general direction. Why they mark their kills with it (and how they would even KNOW that constellation seeing as how they just GOT to Earth) is beyond me... and everyone, really.

The inbetweener skits are meh, but that's a problem with much of Joel's run as host for the show. He was a bit too laid back (and possibly high) to really bring the laughs... but it's still an okay episode, just not one of the best.

I can't wait till next time I review a Mystie epi as I think that I'll be doing Soultaker with Joe Estevez!

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Day Two Hundred and Thirty-four - Charade, "For crying out loud... Audrey, you slay me with my own desire."

Where the rest of the world is enamored with Breakfast at Tiffany's, I think I prefer this Audrey most of all. She's sophisticated, witty... of course, very lovely... and has the best lines that run contrary to what you would expect in conversations concerning stolen gold, murder, and espionage.

And there's Cary Grant, too! Double trouble!

Set in Paris of the 60's, Audrey is the jilted widow of a man who seems to have been both a spy and a thief. Of course, she didn't know that when she married him, and was about to divorce the cad when she managed to escape the marriage the old fashioned way... he died.

Or rather, he was murdered, by persons unknown.

Having just returned from a ski holiday with a friend, she finds her husband has been killed, her apartment shuttered and divested of all property, and a fortune she never knew she had twisting in the wind somewhere. She's not the only one curious as to what's going on, though, as not only does the Paris police have questions, but also the CIA (Walter Matthau) and quite a few ruffians (in the form of James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass).

If that's not enough, she's assisted and/or possibly hindered by a man of many names and trades, but who happens to be played by the always debonair Cary Grant. Within the confines of the film, the two of them alternately swoon and snap at each other for the duration as Grant's Peter (or Alexander or Adam or...) seems to be working for all parties, most especially himself.

I love this film for every scene but one.

From the moment we meet Audrey's Regina Lampert, we fall in love... which is standard procedure for anything she does... and watching her go from scared widow to giddy adventurer and back again is a delight. Of course she is a delight to watch, but she's not just an empty dress as her wit and good humor are almost always about her, even as her violent suitors begin to drop like so many flies.

And Grant? Well, Grant can carry just about any film as we've seen before. Sure, the one scene that I just cannot stand is his comical clothes-on shower scene as he tries to deflect Audrey's attempts at seduction... I mean, honestly, who wouldn't need a cold shower after any of her attentions? I could almost forgive him if it wasn't so ridiculous and terribly unfunny. He almost loses me again when he gives her a goofy face during the falling action (ugh!), but I survived... in part thanks to Audrey's reaction when she catches up in the conversation.

While the supporting cast isn't numerous, the names they got were great. Sure, James Coburn is a little hammy as Tex, but I really enjoyed Walter Matthau as Bartholomew, the CIA contact who keeps popping back up to warn Reggie. He does a great job of keeping her (and her romance with Peter... or Alexander... or Adam) off balance.

It's also fun to have George Kennedy in a much more malicious role than I'm used to seeing him in (like in is work in The Naked Gun series). While his fight with Grant on the Paris rooftops is silly, it's still a great scene between them.

The mystery itself needed a few more references so it didn't come as such a shock when the whereabouts of the fortune were revealed... especially since they emphasized the dental appointment a little too much, but it flows pretty naturally once it does start rolling. It just seems a bit too convenient a wrap up... especially considering other, better heist movies like To Catch A Thief.

Charade is also notable for its almost Hitchcockian shots, such as the shadowed dialogue scene just after Reggie returns from being interrogated the first time... and the morgue scene with the POV shot from the corpse's perspective.

When it comes down to it, though, Charade is a dazzingly film. Not quite up to the levels of perfection it probably could have been, but Audrey is in fine form and Grant only just below his normal levels of charm. I can't really blame him for that, though, as it seemed more an issue of writing than anything else. There are a few plot holes unfilled and character threads left dangling, but nothing too egregious.

Definitely worth the watch, I think... especially if you're a fan of classic suspense films.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Day Two Hundred and Thirty-three - Robot Chicken: Season 1, Episode 4, "A Behind the Music sketch with The Muppets? Sign me up! Again!"

Alright, I consider doing an episode of Robot Chicken for Couchbound to be almost as close to cheating as Pucca was, due to both of them having really short episodes, but at least Robot Chicken has actual content!

Produced by Seth Green and Matthew Senreich and featuring Emmy-winning stop-motion animation using, I kid you not, old action figures and toys, Robot Chicken is about as close to frat humor that geek society can get as a subculture.

Featuring quick cut, ADHD jokes that last as long as it takes to "change the channel" on the show, this particular episode features several bits with Ryan Seacrest (of American Idol fame) throwing out his trademark outro in several different contexts (my favorite being his revealing dress fetish), as well as a feature on the fall of Muppets house band The Electric Mayhem, an Armageddon parody featuring Harrison Ford (who is impersonated), and an improbable extreme pet sport.

On the whole, Robot Chicken is more crude than insightful, but manages to present lowbrow humor with enough geeky references and celebrity guest stars (not to mention impersonators) to keep things fresh and relatively funny. While it's sometimes a bit too obvious and on the nose, the writing waffling between puerile and clever, even the fart jokes manage to bring at least a smile.

While each episode is an exercise in hit or miss skits, it's hard not to find genius in this particular episode's Muppet sketch. Seeing Doctor Teeth, Floyd, Animal, and Janice (Zoot isn't really featured save as an aside about getting arrested) fall from grace is nothing short of brilliant... especially when Janice talks about getting Hep C from Tommy Lee with Howard Stern. That harsh, "F#$% you, Howard, I'm dah-ying!" is bloody hilarious!

Sure, the animal ski slalom is meh and the Armageddon sketch is more than a tad predictable, most everything else in the episode makes up for it and really evens out the show's rough spots.

I think that I only have two complaints, really.

First, the show is only ten minutes long... not that it would be much of a problem, as it's best in short spurts anyway, it's just that Netflix has that annoying "Are you still watching?" popup that triggers every two episodes. It gets to be a hassle, seeing that thing after only twenty minutes.

Second, like the rest of the Cartoon Network/Adult Swim shows currently running on the Stream, it only has the first season. I mean, really? These shows have been on for years, even well over a decade for some (like Dexter's Lab and Samurai Jack)... and have long since completed their runs for the most part (Robot Chicken is still slowly plugging away, last time I checked). Would it kill Williams Street, et al., to let all the seasons onto the Stream?

Overall, I don't think that Robot Chicken is for everyone. It's geeky, juvenile humor that probably only hits with the Gen Xers and Millennial set. That said, it's a fun ride full of dark humor.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~