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

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

FILTHY, RICH & CATFLAP [1986]

There's something horrible on your trousers area.”

Coming off the massive success of The Young Ones, the BBC wasted no time recruiting the same team for another series of alternative comedy, resulting in Filthy, Rich & Catflap.

Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmonson and Nigel Planer return, with The Young Ones headwriter Ben Elton and director Paul Jackson.  Mayall plays a disgusting out of work “actor” who believes he's bigger than he really is, so he hires an alcoholic bodyguard (Edmonson) who could care less about protecting anybody much less himself, while Planer executes an impressive sleazy performance as a Polari speaking showbiz agent.

FRC might have the same actors, comedic elements and writers as The Young Ones but it sadly falls short in comparison.  The performances seemed strained and sloppy, the writing is aimless and at times feels like nothing more than a paycheque for all parties involved.  There are a few good chuckles throughout the series but they're spread so thin I can hardly recommend it to anybody other than a Mayall & Edmonson enthusiast like myself…

…and even then prepare for disappointment.

6 Episodes.  35 minutes each.

Must See Episodes:
1x01:  The pilot episode offers a healhy dose of comedic violence & mayhem and hilarious performances all around but things just completely fall apart afterwards.

Episodes To Avoid:
Everything else, unless you have the patience to wait for a few good chuckles here and there.

Buyer’s Guide: 
The complete series is widely available on DVD…save your money and youtube ‘em instead.

2 Blankety Blanks? out of 5

BAND OF BROTHERS [2001]

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

Like Roots, Shogun and I, Cladius before it, HBO's Band Of Brothers is essential viewing when it comes to television mini-series events.  Telling the historical events recorded in Stephen Ambrose's biographical World War II novel of the same name, this 10-part mini-series is an experience not easily forgotten. 
The series follows "Easy Company": the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army, from their paratrooper training in Georgia, U.S.A. right up to the taking of The Eagle's Nest in the mountains of Berchtesgaden, Germany.

While in most war films you really get a small idea of the different emotions a soldier will go through, BoB gives the viewer a more in-depth look over the 10-plus hours.  This allows for a more poignant experience than usual, that may or may not be welcome, depending on how emotionally drained you're prepared to be by the final moments.  Each episode mainly focuses on one particular soldier and unfolds like a short film in itself.  Evenly distributing out the history, military strategies, character development and intricate battle scenes gives a little something for everybody to be drawn into.  There might be a few historical inaccuracies, both intentional for dramatic purposes and some unintentional but as a whole you get the bigger picture that's intended with such subject matter.

Complimented with mind-blowing sound design, beautiful photography (both dreary and colorful), a career defining musical score from the late Michael Kamen, rich character development and an impressive ensemble cast of mostly unknowns (however keep an eye out for Simon Pegg, Jimmy Fallon, Michael Fassbender, James MacAvoy and Colin Hanks), Band Of Brothers is truly an unforgettable experience.

10 Episodes.  Roughly 60 minutes each.
Plus a 90 minute documentary follow-up.

Buyer’s Guide:
Available in both DVD and Blu-Ray sets on it’s own and packaged with it’s companion series The Pacific.

5 Stars out of 5

Monday, July 23, 2012

Chocky's Children (1985)

The second series picks up one year after the events of the first (see HERE). Young Matthew Gore is again the main focus but, like the title suggests, he’s not alone. Chocky has other children to whom she's been communicating. There was no John Wyndham source material to draw from this time, but the Wyndham estate did give its permission for the episodes to be made.

The story expands upon something that was mentioned but remained underdeveloped in the first series. It retains the mood and basic structures of before. However, the deep psychology of the previous work is absent, leaving an occasionally melodramatic tale of children from very different backgrounds forging an intimate friendship based on unusual foundations.

The protective father figure is also absent this time, leaving the majority of the adults to be either straightforward bad guys or single-minded, lacking faith or imagination. For a while things are good. The first four episodes are well-paced, the dramatic tension and contrasts show potential, and the young stars once again out-act the adults, but it descends into the realms of the ridiculous in the final episode. Ultimately, it's not as good as the first series but should still be enough to please fans who hold fond memories.

The methods Chocky employs to contact the hosts are glossed over; perhaps the writers feared they wouldn’t get away with that kind of implication a second time?

6 episodes, approx 25 mins each.

2½ brain fevers out of 5

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Case Closed: Season 3 (2010)

The prolific detective Jimmy Kudo returns in season 3 to work behind the adolescent mask of Conan Edogawa and behind the scenes of Richard Moore's detective agency, unraveling murderous plots in an effort to close the case on crime for good.  The show receives a bit of a facelift as the opening and closing title sequences and songs are revamped, adding suspense as Conan closes in and sentimentality as Jimmy and Rachel ponder their love for one another.

Through episodes 53-79 Kudo faces off against a wide array of adversaries including a black-hearted monk, a resentful artist, a phantasmal samurai, a costumed monster, and a washed up movie villain.  These criminals employ a number of cunning and lethal tricks to accomplish their goals though some seem far-fetched considering the small amount of time and materials each had within their means.  Begrudgingly Kudo remains in the dark concerning his big shrink but in the episode "Game Gone Bad" he literally runs headlong into a lead and in the series' first three part mystery he goes up against a living, breathing Knight Baron, the fictitious evildoer from the pages of his father's long running series of novels.  But the two-part season finale trumps even that as Conan encounters the infamous and flashy thief the Kaitou Kid, leading to a cat and mouse chase which leaves everyone, the audience included, breathless and wanting more.

While there are a few episodes that don't involve it, murder is the main dish but it would behoove the writers to add more variety to the stories.  It surprises me that Japan's population isn't dwindling with the number of killings portrayed on the series.  As Conan sets the record straight, each culprit instantly breaks down and reveals their motives but certain ones are flimsy at best and feel unworthy of the crime committed such as in the two-parter "Footsteps of a Hero".  While certain plots are derivative and some motives weak, you have to appreciate the writers level of creativity in hatching so many mysteries over the run of the show.  The stories are what keep Case Closed alive and the intrigue is not lost, even as Detective Conan ventures deeper into the criminal mind, proving the series' longevity and lasting spirit.

Buyer's Guide:
Available as a 4 disc boxset containing episodes 55 - 82.

4 devious means of fishing wire out of 5

Nutted by Borderline

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Breaking Bad Season 1 (2008)

This line of work doesn't suit you.
Walter White is a typical suburban family man living a bland existence teaching high school chemistry when a sudden diagnosis of cancer forces him to start cooking meth in the hopes of leaving his family some financial security when he is gone. With the help of a former student he makes a foray into the criminal underworld of New Mexico.

Bryan Cranston gives an award-winning and typecast-breaking  performance as most people know him as the goofy dad from Malcolm in the Middle, but here proves drama is well within his range as he portrays all of the moods of anger and frustration at the state of his life and still maintain a sympathetic family man with great believability and chemistry with the other actors. His intelligent, but amateur criminal Walt meshes very well with Aaron Paul's portrayal of the former student Jesse Pinkman who is the career criminal of the two despite being incredibly inept at it most of the time. The characters show great depth and development such as Walt's reluctance to do criminal acts at first, but proves he is actually very good at it while Jesse may be a criminal, but is shown to be somewhat of a softie especially when it comes to kids. They are both very alike and very different.

No show does suspense as well as Breaking Bad which can make even quiet scenes of characters talking over drinks that are layered with moral quandaries and violent subtext in addition to some action scenes involving great acts of violence involving crooks and cops alike (and at least one douchebag in a sporty car) with just a dash of comedy for flavor. Top-notch writing and cinematography round out what has been a major hit for AMC and creator Vince Gilligan despite the writer's strike truncation to just 7 episodes.

Episodes to See:
Ep. 3 - …And the Bag's in the River - at the center of Walter's moral dilemmas and reluctance to commit fully to the criminal lifestyle with an excellent guest star performance from Maximino Arciniega.
Ep. 6 - Crazy Handful of Nothin - Walt just being a badass.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in both DVD and Blu-Ray sets and on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon.

Acid-induced home repair projects out of 5

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - Season 2 (2009)

It's common for a second season to introduce new characters and explore new threats. Sometimes it falls flat. Fans reject the new faces and resent the disruption it causes. Sometimes it works. The new additions fill a gap that wasn't initially apparent, or create a triangle of conflict that heightens the drama. In this case it's neither of those things. Instead, it puts a face to an element that was already evident in Season One but remained unseen. It's a decent idea badly executed, in part because of the lack of originality and also because it's Shirley Manson of the band Garbage. Shirley is a great vocalist, but less successful as an actress; her character is two dimensional and she doesn't yet have the experience to make it any less flat. She improves as it progresses but not enough.

She's just one of a trio of new female faces. The other two are written in to tug apart the collective Connor 'family'. Again, it's good in theory, but it forces the series to return to the chase mechanic of the films, which is an element that's overused, predictable and contrary to the initial premise. It also doesn't help that the women are often written as being irritating and offensive.

Add a run of bad scripts that deviate drastically from the formula to explore some ridiculous conceits, some past/future filler that feels like padding in an already poorly stitched garment, and you have a season of huge disappointment. It falls to Cromartie and Agent Ellison to keep the show on track, but mostly TSCC turned into a bona fide damp squib.

The final episode is the opposite of everything I've said so far. It has edge of the seat excitement and captures (even surpasses) the greatness of Season One. It almost makes up for the chore that watching the previous twenty-one episodes felt like. It really was the FINAL episode. Fox didn't renew the it for a third Season.

22 episodes, approx 44 minutes each.

2½ shit-kicking boots out of 5

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Mortal Kombat: Legacy (2011)

MK:L is a prequel anthology mini-series giving a brief glimpse of the motivations behind some of the characters' eventual inclusion in the tournament of the first MK game. It helps if you're already familiar with their aesthetic and powers.

The opening episodes try to be gritty with moody lighting and an over-reliance on action clich├ęs, slow motion debris, blood on the camera lens, extreme post-production colour correction, lens flare, etc; all that boring shit that teenagers love. It feels like a scene from a generic Xbox game. MK is based on a game series but it's a fantasy/mystical tinged fighting game, not a Splinter Cell bedroom infiltrator wank-fantasy. It may sound like I'm hating on this pretty bad, but I'm not. I just like to have a rant before I get to the good stuff. If it was a movie I'd judge it as such, but it wasn't, it was a series of Webisodes and as such I make allowances for the budget and format. In that respect, it triumphs.

It's shot in 2.35:1. The majority of the individual episodes focus upon just one or two characters. The film style changes to suit their background and given attributes. That po-faced forced realism of the beginning two-parter isn't representative of the series as a whole. It grows more diverse in how it presents people and places, eventually finding a balance between exposition and intrigue.

Anthologies are nearly always hit and miss, but happily MK:L has enough hit moments to recommended it to fans of the series. I liked it.

9 episodes, approx 10 minutes each.

3 Samurai don’t sing out of 5

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - Season 1 (2008)

I'm not a Terminator fanatic. I enjoyed the first film, thought the second was okay, turned off the third halfway through the first time I tried to watch it and didn't bother with the fourth at all, so I wasn't expecting much from TSCC. It takes place after events in Terminator 2 (1991), so it's essential to have watched it. It also follows a similar template: the machines are hunting the teenage John Connor, so a modified one is sent back from the future to protect him. The biggest difference is in the perspective. In the films the protagonists were mostly on the run. In the series they're no longer running. They're taking the fight to Skynet. That new dynamic makes it a million times more interesting than the films ever were.

There are two strong female characters. Lena Headey plays the mother figure, Sarah Connor. She makes the character her own. She portrays a woman torn between duty and personal tragedy, giving a performance full of both strength and vulnerability without compromising one or the other. Beneath the hardened outer shell is a burden of desperation that fuels her; she thrives on it despite wishing with all her heart that the need for it be removed. She deserves all the praise I can heap upon her.

Similarly, Summer Glau brings a strength to her role as the machine tasked with protecting the young John. She has to be emotionless but engaging, which is a tall order. She does it well. Her character is saved from the one dimensionality of the Arnie model by having an ambiguity about her, one which the viewer is manipulated into not trusting one hundred percent. It keeps you on a precipice and gives the writers a fun toy to play with.

The aforementioned vulnerabilities of the characters make them endearing. The fight to survive and save the future is contrasted with the daily grind of their everyday life, within which the possibility of failure keeps it exciting.

9 episodes, approx 44 minutes each.

5 resistance fighters out of 5