Mini reviews of Television seasons old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional bunnies.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena (2011)

A lifetime of blood.
The prequel mini-series to Blood and Sand takes what was great about that season and both expands and condenses it, specifically John Hannah and Lucy Lawless chewing the scenery along with bloody violence and Romans being deviant underhanded douche-bags. 

Set some time before the arrival of Spartacus, Batiatus has yet to actually inherit the ludus from his father and is crushed under the weight of his ambition while Gannicus starts as a nice counter to Andy Whitfield's (RIP dude) Spartacus who was all honor and reluctance while Gannicus is all about fleeting pleasure inbetween arena matches. We get the tale of how Batiatus and Lucretia became the ambitious powermongers they are in season 1 and Gannicus' transformation from arrogance to the titular god of the arena. Littered about are backstory to other returning characters such as the sneaky Ashur, and young, naive Naevia.

The show doesn't have the growing pains season 1 did as the producers have more or less gotten the hang of making the show. A lot is squeezed into just 6 episodes which might make it feel a bit rushed, but it feels part and parcel to what is becoming quite a hit franchise for Starz and the writing has been punched up from what was lacking a bit in Blood and Sand. Everything that was indulgent from Blood and Sand plus a little extra.

Episodes to See:
Episode 6 is a great finale with great arena matches and also sets up plots for further seasons.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on DVD and Blu Ray

Wine and Questionable Women out of 5

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Case Closed: Season 1 (2009)

The anime series Case Closed follows the teenage detective whiz Jimmy Kudo as he lands himself in trouble with a dangerous element, leaving his deductive mind in the body of Conan Edogawa, the child persona he conjured from two famous mystery authors, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edogawa Rampo.  As you proceed to the ending sequence you will notice the first credit as Reversioned by FUNimation Productions.  In the Americanized version, the series title, character names, locations, opening and ending theme music, and most things Japanese for that matter, have been altered.  The original title being 'Detective Conan' starring Shin'ichi Kudo in the title role.  As an anime purist, all these modifications would have bothered me had I not already become a fan of the show when this version aired on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim animation block a few years back.  The English-dubbed voices fit very well to the characters and the writing stays almost as true to the source material.  Though I immensely appreciate the original Japanese dialogue track with subtitles, as I can discover the show all over again.

After Kudo's big shrink he stays with Ran (Rachel), a former friend and love interest, and her father the famous yet bumbling private detective Kogoro Mori (Richard Moore).  This cements Conan's chance to tag along on cases, and while Moore jumps to the wrong conclusions the pint-sized detective foils the criminals' schemes.  Confined to the limitations of an adolescent, Conan utilizes various gadgets created by his personal friend Professor Agasa, such as a Voice-Altering Bow Tie, Power Kick Shoes and an Anesthetic Watch Gun, among others that conveniently come in handy for all his sleuthing needs.

Like most television shows, a formula is followed and with Case Closed, Conan always saves the day by the end of each episode.  While watching the anime on a nightly basis this formula became tiresome so I recommend viewing it on a more sporadic schedule to ensure the cases remain fresh and exciting.  With its cartoonish method of animation and comedy, I had trouble discerning its target audience as it also contains graphic death scenes and such content as suicide, murder, revenge and assassination.  So I find it more suitable for teenage and older age groups.  And I realize the story stays strong as Kudo remains a child but a hint at the organization which perpetrated the original crime would have been welcome towards the end of the first season.  Instead the episodes continue on the same formula which suggests a lengthy saga as Kudo plies his craft as the pint-sized detective Conan Edogawa, proving his doctrine of "One Truth Prevails."

Buyer's Guide:
Available as a 4 disc boxset containing episodes 1 - 28.

4 sleep-inducing needles to the back of poor Kogoro Mori's neck out of 5

Nutted by Borderline

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Children of the Stones (1977)

Young Matthew Brake and his astrophysicist father, Adam, arrive in Milbury, a small English village built inside a megalithic stone circle. Adam is there to examine the stones, as his job dictates. Matthew begins to carry out his own investigation into the townspeople, who resemble something from a pagan Village of the Damned.

It's over twenty years since I last saw Children of the Stones. It scared the living hell out of me as a kid, and watching the opening credits again a few days ago it was clear it was going to give me a dose of the wiggins even now. It sure did. It's uncomfortably eerie, and bleeds atmosphere from every twist and turn. It's like Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man (1973) for children, as wrong as that sounds.

It has similar production values to early Doctor Who episodes, so don't expect anything remarkable there or in the prop department.

On the plus side, the direction is surprisingly shrewd, the young actors rarely put a foot wrong, and the adults are similarly believable. In comparison to the interiors, the exterior scenes are shot on location at Avebury and, shitty British lighting notwithstanding, they've aged like a particularly fine wine.

The thing that'll likely remain in your mind the longest after viewing is the eerie music. Haunting doesn't even begin to describe it. It makes me shrink in my skin.

7 episodes, approx 28 mins long each.

4 pretty phantasmagorical things with an F out of 5

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

.hack//Liminality (2003)

A small but significant number of players have fallen into a coma while playing a game, an MMORPG titled 'The World'. While the bodies of the afflicted lie in a hospital bed, their online avatars have gone mysteriously missing. A group of player characters band together to find out if there's a connection, and how to reverse the process so they can get their friends back.

.hack// is a huge franchise. I've played games, read novels, manga, watched anime and own soundtracks. Sometimes the works are standalone and sometimes they aren't. The .hack//Liminality OVA requires knowledge of the larger universe, specifically the first four PS2 games (see below*), to understand its history fully. The events that occur in the games are happening concurrently with events that are happening in the real world, although the main characters aren't the same.

For those of you that played the games, the music and distinctive sound effects are recreated. When the tuning fork sound that heralds change, and the drip, drip, drip hit you it takes your mind back into that living, interactive space. For anyone not familiar with those feelings, the anime may seem a little empty.

The first episode was good, full of intrigue and potential that quickly fell away by episodes two and three. The fourth and final episode picks up the pace again, but not enough to make it an essential purchase for anyone who isn't a super-fan.

NOTE: a single episode was included on a DVD with each of the four parts of the first series of PS2 games, so you'll need all four games to complete the set.

4 episodes of varying lengths, 45 mins or 30 mins long -132 minutes in total.

2½ forks, A in C major, out of 5

*There's more .hack// at our sister sites, Nut Load (Games) and Nut Ink (Books).

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Ghost Adventures: Season 2 (2009)

The Ghost Adventures crew led by Zak Bagans returns in their second season to document the paranormal. Not only probing the dark corners of their native U.S. but also some of the most infamous sites in Europe. Process shots of skies moving quickly to night, unexpected video interference, and close-ups of rotten, dilapidated scenery conveying the muted horror of each location are sprinkled throughout each episode, adding to the already eerie mood of the show.

Fans of the first season will be happy to see the same formula return as the GA team strategically place their cameras before being locked down in a variety of ways to ensure an intimate investigation. The team utilizes a range of equipment including an EMF detector, EM pumps, digital thermometers, digital voice recorders, motion sensors, thermal imaging and an array of experimental devices which push the boundaries of paranormal documentation.

As each unexplained noise or disembodied voice is encountered, Zak's voice narrates a small scene of review but at times it feels as if the audience is being led to his conclusions. Ghost Adventures can be a lot of fun to watch with a friend during the daytime as you laugh at the crew's frightened reactions and sometimes bizarre behavior but for its full effect it should be viewed alone at night.

Buyer's Guide:
Available as 3 disc set containing all 8 episodes of S2.

4 mockings of the trinity out of 5

Nutted by Borderline

Sunday, April 1, 2012


When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.
There is no middle ground.”

Faithfully based on author George R.R. Martin's sweeping medieval fantasy novels Songs Of Fire & Ice, HBO's Game Of Thrones is without a doubt a monumental achievement in television productions.  I hate to be, yet another interwebs “critic” gushing over the series, but quite frankly I believe it deserves every single ounce of praise it's received.  It captivated the brain from the instant the hypnotizing main titles sequence spun into action, right up to the goosebump inducing final scene of the season finale. 

Games is set in the fictional Seven Kingdoms Of Westeros, where the throne is fought over between several different noble families inhabiting the lands.  Sean Bean, known primarily for his roles in The Lord Of The Rings and TV's Sharpe, takes center stage as the instantly engaging Lord Eddard Stark.  Newcomer Emilia Clarke joins the other spectrum of the series as  Daenerys Targaryen, an exiled child of the previous king who is determined to regain her family's rightful place in the kingdom.  Bean & Clarke are joined by a brilliant ensemble cast, including Lena Headey of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, as the resident bitch Queen Cersei Lannister.   There's newcomer Jack Gleeson as Joffrey, the Queen’s snotty coward of a son who you just love to hate.  A Knight's Tale's Mark Addy is finally granted a decent role as the good-willed King Robert Baratheon.  However it's The Station Agent's Peter Dinklage who chews up the scenery as the razor-sharp witted boor of a brother to the queen, Tyrion.  This colorful character is by far the best.  Give Tyrion the throne and be done with it.

What's interesting about Game Of Thrones is although it's set in a fantasy world, it rarely ever makes use of fantastical elements to push the story forward.   This series is all about character and that's what I love about this series.  The characters are so well fleshed out, you think you were watching a biographical piece.
Filmed primarily in Ireland, Games' mood and atmosphere is effectively bone-chilling and moody, particularly with composer Ramin Djawadi's ceremoniously subdued music to compliment the picture as a whole. 

It's not often a show deserves the buzz it's receiving but Game Of Thrones lives up to it's acclaim for a reason.  It's that damned good.

10 episodes. Approx 60 mins each.

Must See Episodes: 
All of them.  They’re all adapted from a single book and need to be seen as a whole.

Buyer’s Guide:
Widely available on DVD/Blu-ray in a complete season set or the pilot episode is sold seperately…but why just one when you will end up watching them all anyways.

5 deadly golden crowns out of 5