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

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss (2010)

A three-part TV documentary in which author/actor Mark Gatiss explores the evolution of Horror in cinema from a biased perspective. I don't mean that in a poisonous way; he's upfront about the focus, admitting that it's "unashamedly selective". I was personally disappointed that the German Expressionist movement was completely overlooked, but I found myself agreeing with his choices the rest of the time. There's only one film that I'd not seen, so I had to skip it. Why skip it? Because there's MASSIVE spoilers every time, mostly by showing the ending of each film. If you're comfortable with that, then there's much to enjoy.

Pt 1: Universal Studios: The golden era of American horror, Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, et al. The 'Universal Monsters', as they've come to be collectively known, reflected society's needs at the time. It examines the stories in a social context, exploring why scares that stopped when credits rolled were both thrilling and calming for different reasons. The episode contains mini-biopics of each actor, interviews with surviving cast members or their descendants, and an occasional rummage through the archives and props of the day.

Pt 2: Horror Europa: The second episode crosses the waters to focus primarily on the British horror industry, of which Hammer Productions were the most prolific. After Universal had run their Monsters into the ground with increasingly-weakening sequels and diminishing returns they allowed Hammer to have a go, expecting them to fail just as hard. But Hammer dug up the sleeping corpses and gave them new life in glorious Technicolor. It was within that framework that Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing emerged as genre greats.
The X Certificate promised danger and cleavage, so Hammer delivered. For a time, at least. The same waning of interest happened to them years later, but they carved out a well-deserved place in history right alongside Universal.

Pt 3: New Wave USA: Episode three returns to the States for a look at films by the likes of George Romero, Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter, men who pushed the genre further than ever before into realms of dubious acceptability. It gives the Independent films the credit they deserve while acknowledging that the Majors were also doing their bit to herald change with films like The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976) hitting mainstream theatres.

3 episodes, approx 60 minutes each.

4 suggestive shadows out of 5

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Kamen Rider W (2009-10)

To borrow Riderman’s phrasing, Riders carry with them their sins, always, often fighting alone, until the end. Even though they will typically have noble intentions, Riders’ greatest enemies are decidedly themselves. There’s a bit of a twist on that, present here. Kamen Rider W is notable in that while Rider systems have previously been used by two or more individuals, a singular system has never been used by two human protagonists simultaneously. Hidari Shoutarou’s body becomes a shared host to Philip’s consciousness when they pair up two of their six base Gaia Memories. Gaia Memories are flash drives containing the Earth’s data on things ranging from the elements to beasts to concepts such as terror and speed. Monsters known as Dopants spring from the general populace of Fuuto, as unpurified memories are pedaled to individuals seeking power for their own purposes by an organization known as Museum.

Fuuto is crucial to W’s very being, and success as a Rider, as the two detectives composing him stake their lives on protecting it and its people. It’s brought to glorious life via a sea of establishing shots that litter every single episode and inform much of W’s mythos. In the course of their journey, they’re joined by a second Rider known as Accel, who starts on his own path but becomes seamlessly enmeshed into W’s own on his way to becoming a Kamen Rider—the name given by the city to those who selflessly defend it.

The purple and green of W’s base form speaks to the fundamental theme of the series: one does not exist without the other, because they exist within one another. Philip’s sins mirror Shoutarou’s and their strengths and weaknesses complement and compensate for one another’s. The concepts of compassion, justice, human frailty, fear, loss, and community are examined, but far eclipsing of those is the exploration of the true nature of family.

Kamen Rider W is an engaging and equally heartbreaking and joyous ride that should be taken by anyone who’s interested in entering the world of Rider. One should know, however, that its story-structure, plot-points, form conventions, and even merchandizing have been copied by every single subsequent series, save one. W’s legacy cannot be forgotten because it is being ceaselessly thrown into the faces of Rider’s fans. However, to allow Toei’s lack of integrity and shameful profit maximizing to taint one’s perceptions of W itself and Rider as a whole is the greatest crime of all. Heisei Rider was largely astounding and it ‘ended,’ for me, at an all-time high.

49 episodes, approx. 24 minutes each.
Its supplemental materials are listed below the cut.

5 Hearts Beating as One out of 5

Nutted by NEG (with a little help from his friends)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2015)

(exasperated) Yes, there was weird sex stuff in the bunker.
Kimmy Schmidt was forced into a cult and locked in an underground bunker for 15 years with 3 other women and the cult leader who told them that an apocalypse had destroyed the surface. When they are rescued by the police, they gain instant celebrity status. This doesn't sit well with Kimmy who just wants to live a normal life and decides to stay in New York where she can blend in easier than back home. She is very upbeat and unlike other fish-out-of-water tales isn't stupid or incredibly naive(only a little), just out of touch. She will attempt to overcome this with the help of her new roommate Titus, a gay black man with aspirations to sing, but who instead passes out flyers while in costume and her landlord, a seemingly sweet older lady who still slings drugs and is not quite all there either because of age or aforementioned drugs. Kimmy's uplifting enthusiasm is a perfect role for Ellie Kemper and there is a surprise in Jane Krakowski who expertly plays a rich trophy wife who meshes pretty well with Kimmy as they are both out of touch. Kimmy because of kidnapping and Mrs. Voorhees because she is super rich and has long forgotten how to take care of herself.

The show was originally made for NBC who passed on it probably because it was just too weird and oblique for a mainstream audience, but it has all the trappings of a broadcast sitcom until it eventually doesn't have to be. This works both for and against it as the jokes can flow much more freely without fear of censors, but the pacing gets off track and disjointed. There isn't a whole lot of focus on the various plotlines and either because of budget and/or writing, characters and stories come and go haphazardly. Krakowski especially disappears mostly in the middle and only reappears for the final storyline in the end which is a shame since her and Kimmy's dynamic was among the funnier bits. While there are clever jokes and the random naive outbursts from Kimmy (like unknowingly using "urethra" instead of "Eureka") are funny and plentiful, there is just as much humor drawn from the well of bland and offensive stereotypes whether it be Titus flipping through all the tropes of a stereotypical gay man or an immigrant friend with an unconvincing asian accent (intentional or not it is just annoying). It is still very watchable and since the Netflix deal guarantees a 2nd season, here's hoping any problems can be ironed out.

Buyer's Guide:
Available now streaming on Netflix.

viral video remixes out of 5