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 F├╝hrer, 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~

1!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Day Three Hundred and Sixty-three - Samurai Champloo: Episode 15, "Ow, my back!"

Samurai Champloo was an intriguing experiment. I mentioned, way back when I reviewed its pilot, that it was a tremendously good mix of style, music, and action... and its English dub was fairly superior to most other anime. That recommendation still holds most of its water, I think, though it's a little shaky this time around.

I say that because this particular episode, Bogus Booty, has a sing-song intro that doesn't translate well in the English dub. The style that they try and emulate from the original just can't be done with our sentence structure and pronunciation, so it ends up being a somewhat sad and definitely pale imitation. Luckily, it's only the first minute or so of the episode, so its quickly dismissed, but I can see where someone just randomly coming to it might be turned off from the whole thing. Not high odds that it would happen that way as Bogus Booty is the fifteenth episode of the series, but it might happen.

Anyways, once that terrible intro is over, the plot for this stand-alone episode kicks into immediate gear as a lone figure tries to escape his ninja pursuers but ends up captured. He throws a bundle into a pond to save it from the ninja and the scene fades... directly into the series' main characters Jin, Mugen, and Fuu fishing the very next day at that same spot. In a fit of fishing-related frustration, Jin finds the bundle and the three discover its full of gold koban coins, which they take directly to the next town and live it up. Fuu gets fat on vittles and the boys ditch her to visit a brothel, where Mugen wins a game of Jan-Ken-Pon (Rock-Paper-Scissors) and gets to spend the night with the cute Yatsuha, who is more than she seems.

The plot of the episode mostly revolves around a counterfeiting operation that Yatsuha and her compatriots (including the runner from the beginning) have been sniffing out, and she uses Mugen's sex drive to convince him to beat the crap out of the rebels using the brothel as a hideout for their illegal deeds. While it's true that Mugen gets the majority of screen time, with short little asides for Fuu and Jin as chapter bookends, there's little to no character development for anyone. This is just a stand-alone action quickie that can be watched by anyone unfamiliar with the series. It's quick, comedic, and fun... though, perhaps a little too sexist.

I like the quirks of history that can be gleaned from the plotline like the yukaku (pleasure) district that Fuu is prevented from entering, the references to the Sengoku (Warring States) grudges, and koban (gold coin) smithing. Almost every episode of Samurai Champloo has little details like these that are hilarious and interesting, and I just love it.

My one regret, though, is that Yatsuha is a one-off character, especially considering her confession to her subordinate that Mugen is the man she wants to marry. It would've been nice, had the series continued past one season (technically two in Japan as their seasons run in lots of 13 and often continue one right after the other) to have Yatsuha and Fuu competing for Mugen's affections... or just nice to see Yatsuha show up again at all. I found her much more compelling in her fifteen or so minutes of screen time than Fuu had across almost the entire series, but that's just because Fuu isn't all that dynamic a character save for when the series arc chapters focus on her "search for the sunflower samurai" woes.

As always with this series, there's fun action, great music, and excellent animation. Worth the watch if you're any sort of fan of anime, samurai films, or hip hop.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

2!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Day Three Hundred and Sixty-two - Dr.Who: Series 6, Episodes 1-7, "At last, River Song's origins are explained."

I want to say something immediately and highly critical of Series 6... it has a stupid intro sequence. For some reason that has yet to be explained to me, there's an introduction in front of every episode that is narrated from Amy Pond's perspective explaining her life with The Doctor.

Why... oh, WHY... was this deemed necessary or expedient?

After successfully (via deus ex) rebooting the universe at the end of Series 5, and apparently having dropped Rory and Amy back off to live their lives separate for a while, the newlyweds plus River Song receive invitations from The Doctor to visit America, which they do... only to witness him being murdered by someone in an Apollo-era spacesuit.

With The Doctor dead, they meet up with a younger version of himself and find themselves unable to tell him about it but vow to investigate with him and their only clue, the name of the fifth party invited to the soiree which turns out to be that of an ex-FBI agent. This leads them on a mad quest which includes Richard Nixon, creepy Men-in-Black called The Silence, and a little girl running from said spacemen.

This is a pretty sweet two-parter, even despite the weird MacGuffins and convenient saves. For one thing, it has Mark Sheppard playing the FBI agent, and that's just grand as I miss his Badger in Firefly. Hell, I miss Firefly. For another, there's the great opening device of half a dozen quick moments in The Doctor's history. From Charles II to a POW camp to Laurel and Hardy, it's a great series of gags. Oddly enough, I also like the gimmick of The Silence, who can erase every thought of them from your consciousness when you look away. It's a great enemy with an interesting solution that is seeded rather well throughout both episodes.

Moving on, there's a bit of a throwaway episode where the trio get stranded on a becalmed pirate ship that is being haunted by a mermaid who seemingly destroys any crew member who is the least bit sick or injured.

The pirate storyline, couple with the stowaway son, isn't really interesting at all. I can say that Karen Gillan looks great as an Elizabeth Swann impersonator... but then, both she and Keira look good in pretty much any get up.

Following that, The Doctor gets a message from an old friend called The Corsair which leads the adventurers outside the universe to be stranded on a living asteroid called The House which toys with them long enough to drain the TARDIS' soul and begin consuming its energy but, finding out that it's the last TARDIS, decides to abscond with it instead, heading back to the universe proper with Amy and Rory inside, leaving The Doctor and the newly human TARDIS to catch up and save the day.

The episode is more than a little bit crazy, but that can be attributed to its writer, one of my personal favorite authors, Neil Gaiman. You can definitely see more than a little bit of Delirium in the human iteration of the TARDIS and the episode definitely shows Gaiman's tendency to mix tragedy and sentiment into one big ball of happy/sad. I can't say that I was all that impressed with his villain, The House, but there's enough of everything else to keep me fat and relatively happy.

Episodes 5 & 6 for the night are a two parter about homunculi who are turned human by a solar storm, with the full memories of their human drivers, that are trapped in an island acid-factory with their twins, both sides becoming hostile to one another.

It's a simple tale of human nature and prejudice, both for the one-off humans and Amy and Rory, themselves. I like the device of the two Doctors and their silly game with the shoes even if it's horribly telegraphed and hamfisted in the writing. I wasn't too impressed with the progression of madness back and forth between the two sets of factory workers. Yes, they're under a lot of stress and, yes, suffering an extreme existential crisis, but I'd like to think humanity would act better than just Rory and The Doctors. Oh well.

Last for the night, but not least, is A Good Man Goes To War... which has The Doctor and Rory racing to save Amy from her mysterious captors after the revelation that her consciousness has been inhabiting a flesh clone like the ones from the previous episodes. Somewhere off in the future there is a cabal of humans, aliens, and other... things... that wish to entrap and destroy The Doctor, using Amy Pond's child somehow. In order to save them, The Doctor and Rory enlist the help of many folks that owe him favors, taking out squadrons of Cybermen in the process and all but winning, only to be shown in the last moments that they were outsmarted yet again.

I think this episode shows the culmination of a lot of the strengths that the show has gathered over the past couple of seasons in terms of writing and seeding hints... particularly when it comes to River Song and Amy's captivity. Sure, there's still plenty of things that will need explaining in a later episode, such as The Doctor's death at the hands of the Astronaut, but it's all sufficiently hinted at via out of sequence clues. I also like the side characters introduced here, like Vastra and Jenny. Something about women with katanas makes me happy.

It's weird to think of how much the modern series has evolved over the years from its humble beginnings in the mid-2000's. True, I'd still prefer Farscape to Doctor Who as the former handles its MacGuffins with much more aplomb and tact, but Tennant was a definite improvement over Eccleston and Smith the same over Tennant. Series 5 and 6 have so far been better examples of writing, as well. There's still cheese, to be sure, but it's far more engaging that it has ever been before. We'll see if the last seven episodes prove the same, day after next.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

3!


Friday, December 27, 2013

Day Three Hundred and Sixty-one - The Shipping News, "Magical Realism... in Newfoundland?"

Even when he makes bad movies (like, say, Father of Invention), I'm willing to give him the benefit of his years, cause he's made tremendous films, played tremendous characters... and he's sort of doing that here.

For the first thirty or so years of his life, Spacey's character Quoyle didn't do much at all, living a failed life and being a disappointment to his abusive father. Then Cate Blanchett comes along. She's a free spirit (or manipulative whore) who works her way into his life, has a daughter with him, and abandons them both.

To recover, Quoyle and his daughter Bunny go with their long lost aunt Agnis (Judi Dench) to their homeland, Newfoundland, where Quoyle sort of falls into a job as a writer at the local newspaper. Oh, let's not forget that Julianne Moore is there as well, tempting Quoyle with a real romance/friendship. And Scott Glenn and Peter Postlethwaite and Rhys Ifans.

Running in the background is a story of the almost magical things that happen to and around the people of town. Bunny is a bit psychic, Scott Glenn is a little immortal, there's a curse, and flashbacks, and thin ghosts, oh my. The house moans and that's important, from a metaphorical standpoint, and it makes for emotive filmmaking. All of it does, really... and while I enjoy it, I can't exactly say it's great.

It's all the little tricks, I think. The small, spiteful things along with all of the tiny, beautiful ones. It feels human, it feels familiar, but it also feels artificial. I do like Lasse Hallstr├Âm's filmography, but he's always this way. Nothing ever feels natural in his pictures, there's always this gremlin sitting on your shoulder when you watch them telling you it's all real when it's clear to see that in never is, no matter how poetic or quaint or funny is, my suspension of disbelief is always shaky.

Still, despite that fact, I find it a much more enjoyable watch than most movies available on the Instant Stream. Watching Judi Dench piss on her brother's ashes is a delight and seeing Quoyle develop as a writer, no matter how artificial, is still like seeing my own wish fulfilled. I'd expound on that, but really not in the mood for tears.

It's shaky, this film... and I wouldn't give it the Oscar, but I'd probably be pretty close to giving it a nomination.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

4!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Day Three Hundred and Sixty - Dr.Who: Series 5, Episodes 8-13, "It's the End of the Universe... AGAIN! Wait. 'Again' again? Or just 'Again?'"

As the first of Matt Smith's seasons draws to a close, it's relatively fun (and sometimes mildly annoying) to watch he and Karen Gillan (and Arthur Darvill) fend off beasties and cease to exist only to come back from the brink in typical Deus Ex Whovian fashion. There's something so much more appealing about Smith's goofy charisma and Gillan's self-assured rawr-factor. Of the spread, as much as nostalgia dictates I should pick Baker or angsty aggression says I should pick Tennant, Matt Smith's run has definitely been the most pleasing to me so far.

Anyways, onwards through the episodes... gotta chug away if I'm going to make the end of Series 6 by New Year's.

Tonight starts with the two parter The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood where The Doctor, Amy, and Rory get trapped in a small English town where miners have accidentally broken into an ancient civilization of dinosaur peoples' hibernation creche and have managed to piss off it's overly aggressive war leader. Tensions mount as each side takes hostages and inflict casualties, leading to Rory's heroic death to save The Doctor from a Homo Reptilia firehose weapon (seriously, that prop looked ridiculous). Still, peace may be possible yet, in a thousand years, thanks to the cooler heads of the diplomatic and science castes of reptiloids helping The Doctor, et al., save the day.

The monsters of the week (or two weeks, really) are rather boring, with their inevitable conflicts and betrayals being telegraphed too obviously, but there are still some strong points to the episode. For one, there's the time paradox device of Rory and Amy standing on a hilly overlook at a far distance waving at themselves. It's not explained this season, but there's a moment where present Amy and The Doctor have to rationalize why Future Rory has disappeared from the hill. Mysteries for some future date... as it's certainly not explained THIS season.

Moving on, now Rory-less as he, the love of Amy's life, is no more, eaten by the time crack (important season arc plot point that) and she has forgotten him, The Doctor and Amy go to the aid of Vincent Van Gogh (pronounced "gouggghf?" I never knew that) thanks to spotting a possible alien in one of his paintings. Along they way they bond with the moody painter and thwart the strange, invisible monster of the week while managing to inspire the doomed artist to his greatness.

The conflict, like with most episodes, is boring and convenient dreck, but the interpersonal relations between Vincent and the time travelers is emotive enough to be pleasing. While I think it's the height of irresponsibility to take someone into the future just to show them they haven't been forgotten, I'm not a Time Lord so I don't get to decide. I should point out that I really enjoyed Bill Nighy's cameo as the museum director. While he doesn't have much screen time, his back and forth with Matt Smith over bow ties is delightful.

Quick shoutout to the imagination sequence that has Starry Night playing out in fully CGI glory in the night sky for Vincent, The Doctor, and Amy. Beautiful.

Next is "The Lodger" where Amy gets trapped in a time jumping TARDIS and The Doctor gets stranded in modern England, forced via hints to take up lodging with a shy man who is secretly in love with his best friend and whose upstairs tenant is a mystery that The Doctor needs to solve in order to save both local lives and the TARDIS, itself.

Like the others, I find the threat an afterthought and the small bits of The Doctor interacting with humans to be genius. I love the way he inserts himself into the life of young Craig and manages to both help and threaten the man's existence. Sure, the romance is a little bit of nerd wish-fulfillment, a la Chuck, but it's cute nevertheless. This episode also helps to set up the time travel device of leaving notes to help oneself in the future/past that will be of paramount importance in the next couple of episodes.

Said device is immediately apparent at the beginning of The Pandorica Opens where River Song leaves a message for The Doctor that takes him and Amy back to Roman era Britannia where she delivers a message from Vincent Van Gough that was relayed through Winston Churchill to her (look at all of the Seasonal Continuity). It's a warning for the near future about the destruction of the TARDIS and leads them to a giant plot MacGuffin called the Pandorica, which all the hostile aliens in existence are swarming to 100AD Earth to deal with.

This is another two-parter, combined with The Big Bang, in which The Doctor tries to stave off the combined forces of all his old enemies... Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen, Judoon, etc., plus the dinosaur people from "The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood" for some reason (my guess is "because the costumes were available")... but it turns out the whole thing was a trap to seal off The Doctor from the universe in order to save it from the cracks in time. Weird, twisted, Whovian logic that should piss me off but instead just washes over me. I accept things like this now, but that doesn't mean I enjoy it.

I do like having River back, of course. She'll always flip my switch as the concept of her character is just so damned intriguing. Plus, it's hard not to enjoy Karen Gillan. I think she's the perfect companion. Adventurous and direct, aggressive, but not violent... emotive and loyal. Just an all around well written personality played by a beautiful actress.

I can't say that I was all that impressed with the return of Rory (more Deus Ex drivel) or the saving of the universe. I actually could've been behind the whole "Big Bang Two" bit if they'd followed through and NOT kept the series going. If that had been the end of Doctor Who, I probably would've been satisfied with it. Instead, more Deus Ex nonsense and fan pandering. At least they'll explain River's backstory next season, which we'll start on Saturday. Still, feels like false drama looking back.

That being said, the "Crack in Time" story-arcing that they did this season was much more effective than the whole of the Bad Wolf seeding that the showrunners did during Eccleston's and Tennant's runs. Much tighter and entertaining, and oddly more believable. Can't believe I'm saying that in concert with Doctor Who.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

5!

Uh-oh, Netflix is DOWN at the moment. Luckily I had finished today's binge before the crash, but I hope it resolves before tomorrow. Wouldn't do to not be able to finish Couchbound this late in the game!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Day Three Hundred and Fifty-nine - Phineas and Ferb: Season 2, Episode 21, "It's CHRISTMAS! But where's Vanessa?"

Yup, Phineas and Ferb's Christmas Vacation special (a whopping eleven minutes longer than their regular episodes) is one of my favorite holiday episodes along with Futurama's "Xmas Story." It and a third completely awesome episode from another series... that I will talk about in a bit... make up my Triumvirate of Holiday Cheer!

Set atypically for the series during Winter Vacation, Phineas and his step-brother Ferb set out to organize the town of Danville in a giant undertaking to thank Santa for all the cool presents he's given them over the years. In a giant montage of industriousness, the whole town (minus Candace) decorate the Tri-State area with all the trimmings and the boys, themselves, create a full-service rest stop for Santa to enjoy up on their roof.

Meanwhile, Agent P is snooping after Dr.Doofenshmirtz in the B-story. It seems Doof just can't get up enough apathy to ruin Christmas with his brand new Naughty-inator and has a grand musical number to relay that fact to the typically entrapped Perry. Some annoyingly persistent carolers push him over the edge, though, and he turns on the Naughty-inator, which tells the elves at the North Pole that the entire city shouldn't get any prezzies.

Booooo.

The third act of the special is all about Phineas and the gang rallying together with the help of two elves to save Christmas by creating, wrapping, and delivering every present... in a giant rocket sleigh! In the end, everybody's happy, even Doof, and things return to normal just in time for the kids' parents to arrive home with the grandparents who were flying in.

First, I should acknowledge that Phineas and Ferb is always, always cheesy, but it's a forgivable cheese. Their universe of flexible physics and convenient plot devices is so earnest and innocent, something that can't really be said in other, more Whovian universes that I've become familiar with. There's also really good comedic timing with all of the bits and musical sequences. Even if they stretch and break their own rules, it all snaps back in the end and is done in a spirit that makes the breaks not only forgivable, but hilarious.

Second, while I like the special, I do have to admit that it's not the strongest episode of Phineas and Ferb ever. For one thing, there's no Vanessa, and if you remember our previous visits to P&F for Couchbound, Vanessa is one of the main draws for me (played by Olivia Olsen who also voices Marceline on Adventure Time). For another, both the Doof story and Candace's freakouts over gifting for her boyfriend are boring as all get out, even if some of the accompanying gags (like Candace's metaphor explanations and the carolers) are fun.

I want to give a quick shoutout to Clancy Brown, who guests as Santa Claus and another hearty "I miss you" to Olivia Olsen whom was absent from this episode. Almost everyone else makes an appearance, though, from from Meep to P&F's stalker. I just wish I could've heard Olsen's beguiling tones. Oh, well. Make sure you stick around for the credits. Like Futurama before them, the P&F crew homages A Charlie Brown Christmas in a very cute way.

Now, since it's not on Netflix (at least, this year), I think I should mention what my favorite Christmas Special of all... Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas from Community. A stop-motion favorite reminiscent of Rankin and Bass animated classics like Rudolf. It's hilarious, but also poignant, as it covers a major character's holiday nervous breakdown and his friends' attempts to snap him out of his partial psychotic break with reality. It's cute, it's funny, it's animated... and darn near perfect. Too bad I have to rely on my DVDs and can't share it with you. Still, I have all my ornaments from the episode sitting next to my TV, so it sort of works.

Happy Holidays, Potatoes~

6!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Day Three Hundred and Fifty-eight - Dr.Who: Series 5, Episodes 1-7, "And it's Matt Smith and Karen Gillan for the win... sortof! Win-ish? Win-ny? Win-like? Win-adjacent?"

With David Tennant bowing out of his role as the Tenth Doctor and Matt Smith tagging in, it's a whole new Doctor, TARDIS, and companion as the fifth series of modern Doctor Who visits old enemies and new, all with a brand new face.

The first episode of the series picks up where the poignant finale of the last left off, with Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor crashing the TARDIS post regeneration. He winds up landing in a small English village where a young Scottish girl (the difference is important) is praying for help dealing with a strange crack in her wall. This crack is the series arc dilemma for this season, but we'll get to that. The main thing is new Doctor, new companion, new everything!

Getting his face on The Doctor briefly (from his perspective) leaves young Amy Pond to rough in his new TARDIS and meets her again in the same spot twelve years later where she has become a fetching lass with a humdrum life... and is still in danger from what escaped the crack in her wall, a multiform alien who is being chased by jailers who have no problem razing the Earth to get it.

This is a very fun episode mostly due to the cooking scene at the beginning where child-Amy fixes the brand new Doctor almost everything she has in her cupboard one after another while he rejects them comically. It drags on a good five minutes or so and is cute and funny. The alien menace itself is rather boring, be it Prisoner Zero or the Atraxi. There is one moment, though, at the end, where The Doctor rolls a natural 20 on his intimidation roll against the Atraxi that almost gives me chills and references all of the Doctors through the ages on up to him.

The world saved once more, The Doctor and Amy travel to a far-flung future where the United Kingdom is a ship soaring through space, but something sinister lurks in the shadows (and has an appropriately creepy series of faces). Along the way, they meet Queen Elizabeth the Tenth, who is very fetching, and managed to save both the last Space Whale and the entire United Kingdom.

The memory gimmick in this episode is by far the most interesting aspect, though I do love the Winders' plastic heads. There's something very Bioshock about this episode that really appeals to my aesthetic sensibilities. Plus, Karen Gillan in PJs... even chaste-cover-everything-PJs... rawr!

From there they go back in time to World War 2 where Winston Churchill (played by Ian McNeice, whom I last saw in Doc Martin) is fighting off the Nazi Blitz with the help of one of The Doctor's oldest enemies... of course, The Daleks. I suppose it could've been The Cybermen, but seriously? Did we need more Daleks? Isn't it so convenient that ANOTHER set of Daleks survived the apocalypse that supposedly destroyed them all the previous season?

Ugh.

Honestly, the only thing to like about this episode is McNeice's Churchhill, which is surprising less grumpier than I ever imagined him, and Amy's bouncy attitude, despite being in the middle of the Second World War.

Moving on, we get to something I really liked... a two-parter that features both my favorite villain, The Weeping Angels, and my favorite companion, River Song. Set in the future, The Doctor comes to River's rescue and joins a team of religious soldiers who are tasked with neutralizing a single Angel but find themselves facing an army of them.

River (Alex Kingston) is a delight, as always, but I do find myself disappointed a bit with the Angels. While the device of "Angel Bob" is pretty catchy, one of the things I really liked about the Angels is that they never moved in our sight because the act of observing them turned them to stone. This was a device that applied to the Fourth Wall as well! They never moved in the VIEWER'S sight... which was a brilliant nod to quantum mechanics. Sadly, this device is betrayed late in the second half of the two-parter when the Angels start moving to chase Amy. So disappointing.

Still... River Song. Love her sooooooo much.

Two more episodes for the day and the first is a trip to historical Venice after picking up Rory, Amy's fiance. Seems that Amy's a little confused thanks to all the adventuring and has a bit of a jones for The Doctor, now, that he is eager to nip in the bud with a romantic trip for the young couple to Venice... which is being dominated by not-vampires.

For the most part, this episode is a throwaway. The villains are boring (and occasionally CGI) and the problems/solutions are your typical Whovian nonsense. I do, however, like the competition between Rory and The Doctor. The pseudo-love triangle at play here is the only real fun to be had.

Lastly for the night, The Doctor, Amy, and Rory are trapped in dreamworlds being tormented by a Dream Lord who has it in for them for some reason. In one world, Rory and Amy are married with a bun in the oven and in the other they're falling into a "cold star." The trick is only one world is real and they have to choose which one to abandon via death. Choose right, they die in one world and wake in the real one. Choose wrong? Well, I think you get the idea.

It's a silly premise that is supposed to add emotional weight to the characters, but I don't think we've had enough time with them for the sort of deep, personal epiphanies that Amy and Rory are having here. That said, the Dream Lord is being played by Toby Jones, an actor whom I quite like (check out Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and his other works when you get a chance).

All in all, an uneven start, I think, for Matt Smith's Doctor... but he's still better than Eccleston and has almost as much charisma and pluck as David Tennant. Speaking of, The Tenth seemed to have more fire and wrath to him that The Eleventh just doesn't seem to engender just yet. I do like the sexier TARDIS and opening theme song, though, so there's that.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

7!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Day Three Hundred and Fifty-seven - Futurama: Season 2, Episode 8, "He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you're on the can!"

I may grouse that Futurama has fallen far over the years, basically turning into a somewhat better version of Family Guy that is set in the third millenium A.D.,  but I will always owe a debt to Matt, Billy, John, Katey, et al. for all the good work they did... especially in those early seasons.

Once such example of the sweet, yet insane, adventures of the Planet Express Crew was their first Christmas episode, "Xmas Story," which starts them off on a ski trip in the first act but quickly turns into a race for survival against Robot Santa in acts two and three.

This episode happens pre-Leela's Homeworld and still predicates on the notion that she is the last of her kind, a single cyclops alien with no one to love during the holidays, a fact that Fry agitates by deciding to mope over being a man out of time, alone himself. There's never much in the way that shows things from Leela's side, and Fry's realizations concerning how he hurt her with his careless words are a little too quick, but there's only so much you can do in 22 minutes. At least, that's the excuse I want to use, but I've seen quite a few examples of better characterization from the series that would serve as a counterpoint (Luck of the Fryish, Jurassic Bark).

I think the strength of this episode lies in its many gags. The future ski vacation allows pretty much everyone to shine, from "Trees Down!" to Amy's thinly-veiled cast fetish to the Professor sleep slaloming, that first act is packed full of great one-off jokes. I think my favorite is when Hermes goes bobsledding and fails, first with Zoidberg accidentally following suit and Fry saying 'the heck with it' and doing it a third time. Great stuff.

Acts two and three lose a little bit of that momentum, thanks to the Fry/Leela melodrama, but manages to stay somewhat strong despite that. It helps that Robot Santa is voiced by John Goodman and Bender is off fleecing the poor and destitute. Tinny Tim is so cute in his misfortune and the digital clock gag is just beautiful.

This was also back before Zoidberg was the butt of every joke and even got to be the hero now and then. The fact he's the only one of the crew (possibly the world) whom Robot Santa hasn't deemed "naughty" is deliciously funny. I'm rather glad he was able to find the love of his life in the last season. Plus, I love his Apology Dance!

Xmas Story is one of my favorite Christmas episodes of any series... ranking pretty darn high up there. One of my others will be my pick for the twenty-fifth, which shall remain a mystery until then. Sadly, my absolute favorite isn't available on Netflix in the US (though, I think it is in Canada), but I'll save that for the twenty-fifth as well.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

8!