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

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Magnificent Seven: Complete Series (1998–2000)

It doesn't take place before or after the existing films. It's its own thing in terms of both tone and continuity. And the men are all new, with the exception being Chris Larabee (Michael Biehn), clearly a small screen version of Chris Adams, the leader of the Seven as first portrayed by Yul Brynner in the films; although the TV version of Chris is rightfully his own man, too, not just a carbon copy of the movie Chris.

With it being an ongoing series it made sense to localise the group, to give them a single town from which to operate, with the added benefit that it would provide a place that we as viewers can also form an attachment to. Although not always operating within the parameters of established law, the Seven nevertheless become the town's unofficial protectors. The unique skills that each man has is put to good use for its betterment; e.g. one is a healer, one an ex-preacher, etc.

Most of the time they get on well with each other, but because they have such different temperaments and goals in life there are occasional internal conflicts. It's a credit to the writers that the men all remain likeable even when they're clearly doing something morally wrong (mostly that means Ezra Standish). In truth, there wasn't a single one of them that earned permanent derision, perhaps because collectively they represent feelings or failings that most of us will have experienced or struggled with at some point in our life - they're relatable.

A number of recurring secondary characters play an important role, often as a voice of conscience or a lure of the heart, deepening and/or complicating the determination to defend and preserve the town. Yes, that sometimes means romance, but it's not always as straightforward as that statement might imply.

Season Two introduces Robert Vaughn as a Judge; Vaughn was one of the actors in the first Magnificent Seven (1960) film, but he played a different character.

Ironically, every once in a while the only reason the townspeople were placed in danger was because the bad guy(s) had gone there in order to confront or kill the Seven! But that's just life, right? Even good deeds have consequences.

22 episodes, approx 60 mins each (the Pilot is 90 mins).

4 holes in the clouds out of 5

Monday, November 7, 2016

THE KIDS IN THE HALL [1989-1995]

An optimist says, "The drink is half full." 
A pessimist says, "The drink is half full
...but I might have bowel cancer."

For five seasons, Canada's cult-classic comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall shocked, offended and most definitely humored with it's contemptuous crackpot self-titled sketch show.  Made up of Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson, the five-man act were notorious for doing a damn-fine job at dressing in drag, crushing heads, testing the censors and most of all making sure they were guaranteed to always come up in comedy sketch show conversations.

Unlike most sketch comedies that depend on pop culture and political issues, The Kids cynically tackled several touchy subjects such as sexuality, bigoted stereotyping, mental illnesses, religion and dysfunctional living styles.  Quite often frighteningly clever, they weren't afraid to embrace their nonsensical stupid side either with overly horny chicken ladies or cigar-chomping dirtbags with cabbages for heads.  Some of the many highlights included Thompson's gay bar owner Buddy Cole's lengthy monologues, Foley's silent French-Canadian under-dog Mr. Heavyfoot, McKinney's foolishly "sophisticated" hipster Darill, McDonald's adorably evil stage-entertainer Simon (& Hecubus) and McCulloch's David Lynch style short films that are complimented with the audience's nervous laughter.  

Throughout their five seasons of 102 episodes, The Kids managed to keep a consistent quality that only started to show a bit of downslope in a few of the final episodes when they just got plain weird for the sake of being weird.  However, when most sketch comedians know their material isn't top-notch they wear it on their sleeve with embarrassment but The Kids stuck it out and gave it their all making even the weakest of bits worth your time.  

5 nutty bunnies out of 5

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sapphire and Steel (1979-82)

I saw it first when I was a kid. I don't remember what age exactly, but it blew my young mind. I saw some of it again in my twenties. It blew my mind once more. You can guess where this is going... yup, and again in my thirties, mind blown. During all that time I encountered nothing else quite like it, so in my experience it's unique.

Wikipedia notes that the show's creator, Peter J. Hammond, gave it the working title of The Time Menders; and while not as seductive or as pleasing to say as Sapphire and Steel, it does a better job at describing what the series is as a whole.

The enigmatic duo are 'operators' that fix time when it goes wrong or when parts of it leak or break through barriers into other parts. It's known that there are 127 operators in total, of which Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) and Steel (David McCallum) are two. Their full role is a mystery, but part of their job is to mend fractures that exist between temporal states; they're a line of defence, preventing the malicious side of past, present and future from destroying itself and everything within it. Time itself is described as a corridor that encompasses all things, so in a way the operators are like interdimensional hall monitors maintaining order.

Joanna Lumley is radiant and sympathetic as Sapphire, although she can paradoxically be sometimes cold and detached at the same time. David McCallum is austere and methodical as Steel. Yes, both are like their names, but I've often wondered if the names came first or if the personalities preceded them.

Stories (called 'assignments') are multi-part, so while there are 34 episodes in total there are only 6 assignments and it's best if you make time to watch all of one assignment in one sitting. Each assignment has a resolution but don't expect to have all questions answered. It's deliciously cryptic but not to the point of bafflement. The editing and use of sound are excellent, keeping events tense and flowing, always engaging and often eerie - at times even chilling.

I feel that the low budget actually works in the production's favour. The feeling that we're on a sound stage adds to the unsettling nature of the environments. It's almost as if for the duration of the assignment they've lost the intangible sense of safety that we unconsciously attribute to traditional notions of reality.

34 episodes, approx 25 minutes each.

5 side doors out of 5

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Net Edition: Kamen Rider Backwards-Kiva:
Queen of Hell's Castle (2008)

A rare moment of Sosuke being nice to Bomper.

If you’re going to watch these, you’re going to have to be okay with Yuri and Otoya coming to 2008 because they feel like it. Though, if you aren’t, that means you can’t possibly be down with the series. If you don’t like the show, why are you interested in watching its dedicated movie and related materials? You. Get out.

The production value is a little lacking, with Kivat’s vinyl figure mostly being puppeted from corners of the screen and Reykivat being reached for from offscreen. However, these do bleed into one another very satisfyingly and there’s a wealth of reaction gifs waiting to be mined from them all, most especially those of Jiro.

I’m not sure how someone as amazing as Nago-san can manage to get even better, but he does, by several magnitudes. I think it has something to do with the triumphant return of Deneb’s shopping music. Also, Taiga’s alternate universe character being an absolute boss. I’d love to say that Otoya steals the show, but everyone brings their A-game, to be honest. His shenanigans tie into Kiva’s Hyper Battle Video, which I also wholeheartedly recommend.

Yes, as is obvious from the art, these were released on DVD with the Go-Ongers' net movies. You should absolutely watch them before seeing the film they preface.

5 Tales of Trains, Hand-puppets and Bunny Girls Named Jennifer out of 5

Engine Sentai Go-Onger: Bom Bom! Bom Bom!
Net de Bong!! (2008)

The net movies for the Go-Ongers' dedicated cinematic excursion are a bit special amongst their peers, in that they are not all set prior to the film they accompany. The first three take place prior to its events, with the third concluding on them henshining and heading to the scene. The fourth takes place during it, and the fifth sees their return. The going ons are definitely silly, but they have a purpose, unlike those in their DVD special.

The main focus is predictably the main trio of villains and Bomper, the Go-Ongers' navigation robot. While it's nice that the starting points of the film's in medias res opening are shown, these still really aren't required viewing as everything on display there works perfectly fine as a cold opening.

From the end of the third short through to the fifth, the tone appropriately shifts with the events of the film. Regardless, given how sacred that is to me, I personally think that these should be watched some time after you've viewed it. Definitely not on the same day. The series is good at balancing its off-the-wall humor, but when it does go full-on serious, that needs to be respected. The film is unquestionably one of those times.

On some random day when you want to see a nice helping of Yogostein, Kitaneidas, and Kegareshia's shenanigans, this can be very much the ticket. You can watch them after Gran Prix 24.

3 Friends Who Raid Your Fridge While You're At Work out of 5

Monday, October 10, 2016

Running Scared (1986)

Not to be confused with the movies of the same name that came out in 1972, 1980, 1986, and 2006 (it's a popular title), this Running Scared is a British TV mini-series that was written by popular children's author Bernard Ashley. Around the same time he wrote a tie-in novel of the same name, but I haven't read it.

By chance, fourteen-year-old Paula Prescott's grandfather is in the wrong place at the wrong time, witness to a crime by local gangster Charlie Elkin (Christopher Ellison – yes, DCI Frank Burnside), a vicious type involved in car theft, jewellery heists, protection rackets, etc. Charlie and his moll (Hetty Baynes - the future Mrs Ken Russell) will do anything to prevent the old man from informing the Filth.

For reasons I won't spoil, Paula (Julia Millbank) gets involved. The young girl has a mystery to solve and a moral dilemma to overcome, so she enlists the help of her best friend, Narinder Sidhu (Amarjit Dhillon). Together the two girls uncover more than they bargained for, about both the wider world and their own families.

It's set in London's East End and more often than not resembles a soap opera of the era. It's even possible to imagine that in a Square not too far away Arthur Fowler is slowly going off his rocker while sitting alone in front of a blank TV screen.

While the mystery is what drives the story forward, it's equally a study of working class London and the racism that was rife within it. Because it's aimed at teens it doesn't get too violent, but anyone that's witnessed British racism in action knows that what is threatened and implied in the series was often actualised in real life.

It won't please everyone, but I don't recall many other kid's shows from the era being as open about such a subject matter, so for that it gets a thumbs up.

6 episodes, approx 25 minutes each.

3 cockney toe-rags out of 5

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Aqua Teen Hunger Force (2000-10)

Nothing I’ve personally experienced is a better representation of absurdist humor, as I understand the concept, than ATHF. This review is going to be intensely brief, because it’s the exact sort of thing that can only be appropriately discussed by quoting lines from it. Don’t let anyone on youtube tell you different, or get upset at you because of it. It’s genuinely the only manner of discourse that makes ANY sense, because this show makes NO sense. It’s not intended to. When you watch these ten to twelve minute episodes, expect the endings to be sudden, both in terms of narrative and logic. They follow an anthropomorphic group of fast food items and their sweatpants and wife-beater sporting neighbor. Master Shake is an ego-driven (essentially powerless) megalomaniac, Meatwad is an adorably naive weirdo, and Frylock mostly tries to ruin their fun, while still usually contributing to it in some fashion. Carl...Carl is god. Plenty of ancillary characters crop up repeatedly to fuel their timeless shenanigans, as well.

If you’ve never seen a second of the show, go watch a few clips. There are loose plot structures afoot, but you really won’t be missing anything in terms of context and being spoiled isn’t actually something that can happen, here. As long as you’ve seen the above four in action, you’ve seen enough to make a decision. Outside of the episode Robots Everywhere, I don’t personally feel that the quality drops noticeably or objectively over the course of the core show’s run. What I mean by that is that the last few seasons were actually given new names, which all still contained ‘Aqua.’ Those later seasons are not on DVD, and consequently, I do not have them and have not seen them. I’m not one for watching things on television as they air, so this is mostly how I’ve experienced the series. Know that the seasons don’t perfectly match up with what is included on each DVD volume. Two episodes of Season 1 are on Volume 2. Season 2 is spread across Volumes 2 and 3. Aqua Teen Hunger Force proper is available on seven dedicated releases and a shared volume branded as the season entitled Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1. There’s also one movie.

I said ‘objectively’ in the previous paragraph because, to me, the first few volumes FEEL more iconic. I believe this is simply because I’ve watched them enough for most of their lines to become permanent references in my cultural repertoire. The episodes on the fifth through eighth volumes are not any less creative or in any significant way lacking. I simply haven’t committed the same amount of time to them. I should fix that.

Guess this wasn’t so brief after all~

5 Unfathomable Scumbags out of 5

Friday, September 16, 2016

Engine Sentai Go-Onger:
It's a Seminar! Everyone Go-On!! (2008)

Goseiger's DVD special doesn't seem to exist outside the confines of the series' English wiki page. Aaaaand, I wish the same were true for this one. I remember now why I forgot that Go-Onger's existed, in the first place. It's horrendously unnecessary. It exists as an amalgam of a Rider's Hyper Battle Video and a Power Rangers clip-show. Those are admittedly similar, as is, depending on the HBV in question. Consequently, feel free to (not) watch this anytime after Gran Prix 37.

A gender-bent version of a notable villain pops up to no consequence whatsoever. Sure, chuckles can be eked out of Sosuke and Gunpei's shenanigans but Sosuke's fight is pointless. It's not even a Red bias thing, because for me Sosuke can do anything he pleases; it's all justified. You can kind of recreate the finisher with the help of the Go-Onger Ressha from ToQger's toyline, now, if you're inclined in that direction, at least. *shrug*

This pre-dates the specials I'm used to, which focus on Reds and Sixths, as all of the primary and both of the back-up Go-Ongers are present. Given its summary nature, the M.O. of the later specials, and that the Wings and their Engines actually appear in the stock-footage used, it's strange that they go completely M.I.A. for the seminar and fight.

Though, I wouldn't blame you for deciding to do the same.

0½ of a Demon Strawberry out of 5

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Kamen Rider W Forever: A to Z Net Movies
— 26 Rapid-Fire Laughs (2010)

Net Movies are almost exclusively used for comedic ends and typically only have tangential links to the movies they’re usually used to promote. This is appropriate as not everyone is going to have access to them in a timely manner, or at all. This is true even for those living in Japan.

Like W’s dedicated movie, these are themed around the Roman alphabet. They’re divided as equally as possible between 5 different segments:

1.) Shroud’s Kamen Rider Academy (w/pupil Narumi Akiko): Shroud tests Akiko’s knowledge of Kamen Rider minutiae and frankly this rides ENTIRELY on one’s taste for Akiko. It was fun to realize loopholes in Shroud’s own knowledge. Could we get a Blade or Kyoryuger crossover with W to prove her wrong, please?

2.) Professor Jinno and Assistant Makura’s Gaia Memory Laboratory: Exactly what it says on the tin. It’s nice to see Memories not fully explored in the show get a moment to shine, even if it is always in a completely ludicrous manner. That includes a glimpse at most of the rest of W’s Edo Period Memories!

3.) Kirihiko’s Room: Revenge By Talk Show: Hands down, the shining star of this insanity. Kirihiko sets out to be as troll-y as he can muster to everyone who ever screwed him over and succeeds every time. In terms of comedic effect, that is, as nearly all of them handily out-troll him.

4.) Dopant M.D.: Isaka Shinkuro: The creepiness is cranked up to 11, but so too is the bizarre hilarity. Riku Sanjo previewed the connection that exists between the ice age and viruses in Kyoryuger, here! If only a meteor had crashed into his office during that sketch! The final one may seem a step too far, but it’s previously deliberately made known that that Dopant was portrayed by his real life wife, so it actually seems strangely adorable, to me. 

Rest In Peace, Dan Tomoyuki.

5.) Drawing Battle at the Narumi Detective Agency: Shoutarou, Philip, Terui and Akiko compete to eat episode appropriate food from the series. Kiriyama Ren is an amazing talent (in general) and Yamamoto Hikaru goes out of her way to basically draw herself into every picture. Terui (Kinomoto Minehiro) is the decided underdog but it’s intensely squee-worthy to see him try and then be completely embarrassed. They’re all kind of half in-character and half out from moment to moment, but that only makes it better.

Absolutely worth your time if you can dig them up.

4 Glorious Self-Realizations out of 5

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Knights of God (1987)

The fists and crossed swords symbol used by the Knights is a simple but striking and highly evocative design, wordlessly communicating to a viewer that the guiding credo of the order isn't concerned with benevolent protection, it's one of militaristic strength and aggression nestled within colours associated with fascism.

In post-civil war Britain (2020 AD) the Knights rule with force, guns and border patrols, killing any who dare resist their control. It's a children's TV show but the killing doesn't happen off-screen; there's more hard-hitting acts of violence shown than you'd expect to see in a production with such a classification. In today's culturally sensitive climate it would probably be labelled as YA.

The Welsh resistance, onetime fishermen who now hold automatic pistols and machine guns, refuse to accept the fascist regime. They're the biggest thorn in the Knights' broad side. The resistance group put their lives on the line in the fight for freedom. Prior Mordrin (John Woodvine), the Knights' leader, is obsessed with crushing their cause; he formulates a dangerous plan to make it happen.

Problematic civilians who aren't killed are sent to "Education Retraining Centres"; i.e. internment camps. It's there that the story begins to have a more direct focus, having had the foundation for such laid prior to the relocation. The young protagonist, Gervase Edwards (George Winter), is tested both emotionally and physically by his captors, ironically preparing him for what's to come.

It's abundantly clear that a lot is at stake, more than just personal freedoms, but it doesn't reveal the full extent of exactly what it is until later, deep into the final third. However, the episodic conflict may well lose a large part of a modern audience before that happens because of its slow progression, the conflict is often fought through a dialogue-heavy battle of wills, which is a dramatic change of pace from the armed war of attrition undertaken in the borderlands.

The complexity is extended to the inner-workings of the Knights. Brother Hugo (Julian Fellowes), the Prior's second in command, is a sadistic, power-hungry and ambitious individual with a comb-over, the sort of officer that's not to be trusted.

If you find that the series holds your attention even in the quieter moments then there's much to be gained from sticking it out to the end. There's a hasty wrap-up that really ought to have been given more time to breathe, but overall it's quality TV that puts emphasis on depth of character and conviction over all else.

13 episodes, approx 26 minutes each.

4 rising tides out of 5

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger:
It's here! Midsummer Armed On Festival!! (2013)

I can't believe I chose not to watch this until now! It's glorious ;_;; Instead of just Daigo and Utchy we get a little over 1/3 of the team. The logic behind acquiring the exclusive weapons is sound but not really compelling. Also, the returning baddies take on personalities they didn't have in the series proper. That doesn't really matter much, though, when you give me Ramirez & Tessai, Daigo and Utchy gleefully torturing Nobu, and several truckloads of romantically homoerotic bonding. Ian's got competition.

Utchy gets to dual-wield and while that's pretty basic, it's not something I normally complain about, especially when it's foreshadowing! When it comes to Daigo, however, it's important to reiterate that these specials, in addition to always being somewhat off in terms of minutiae, also tend to exist out-of-time in regards to their respective series' chronologies. This one can feel even more incongruous given the changes that were made to Kyoryuger in specific. Let's dive into it:

I've seen it stated multiple places that this takes place between episodes 23 and 24 but that simply doesn't work. There's no window for it between Plezuon's introduction and Yayoi becoming a Senshi, let alone exactly there, as 24 opens with Doctor Ulshade and Daigo in the hospital. Still, if it was their sincere intent to place it there, given the changes enacted, then Toei gets MORE THAN full credit for wanting it to be the case. If it's important to someone that it fit somewhere and fit there because of logic, there's definitely room between 24 and 25. For these folks, I'll help by positing that it's not really important that Daigo used a one-time use thing instead of her, especially at that point.

As a pathological Yayoi devotee, I prefer the Gaburicannon w/Bayonet, anyway, as it puts her in league with Sieg. That's always a good thing. Further, it resembles a plesiosaur with its large center mass and slender forward extension, unlike the rocket module. It's also worth noting that the Zyudenchi here is referred to as the Spirit Ranger Purple Version. She's (still) not dead, you know ;) Ho ho, life is good~

3½ Infectious Bouts of Enthusiasm out of 5

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Witches and the Grinnygog (1983)

A miniseries based on the children's book of the same name (1981) by Dorothy Edwards. I've not read the book. I had, however, watched the series back in the 80s when it was first screened on British TV. Once the actual Grinnygog appeared onscreen the memories of that time came flooding back to me - almost literally, I felt like I'd been hit by a driving wave of forgotten salad days.

The Grinnygog is a horned, cheeky-faced stone statue about the size of an average garden gnome. The little guy doesn't actually do very much besides look cool, but the majority of the important events that subsequently occur in the lives of the main protagonists happen as a result of his sudden appearance. Without seeming to do so directly, he influences and twists the threads of fate so that the correct people are in the correct place at the correct time.

The witches appear later, and for a while their motivations are a mystery to the children that the story centres around most and, by extension, to the viewers.

There are five kids in all, four of whom are working together to create a museum of local history, a place where the town's past can be viewed and appreciated by everyone regardless of age. Their research not only educates them in the obvious manner but also proves useful in other ways.

It's both a fascinating and enjoyable exercise for me to look back at children's television from yesteryear and note how often the makers of the shows tried to scare the crap out of us and feed us compelling tales of Britain's pagan past.

TWatG doesn't tread the scary route but does take the other, and it does it in such a way that neither condescends nor elevates the importance of one individual belief system over the other. I feel that's an important point to stress because being a children's show means its target audience is typically more suggestible than viewers in some other genres, and kids should always respectfully be allowed the freedom to form their own opinion about such matters.

6 episodes, approx 25 minutes each.

3 of the wayside faith out of 5

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


You're dead, Laura,
but your problems keep hanging around!
It's almost like they didn't bury you deep enough!

During it's 8-episode first season run, Mark Frost & David Lynch's bizarre prime-time soap opera murder mystery, Twin Peaks, became a tornado of a world-wide phenomenon, leaving it's second season with a lot to live up to.  

After the season one finale hilariously threw every possible clichéd cliff-hanger ending in the book at the viewer, the second year jumps right in the thick of things in true Peaks fashion that proves it wasn't just a flash in the pan.  The quality of the show is maintained for the next 7 episodes or so, until the television network forced Lynch & Frost, much to their dismay, to reveal who Laura Palmer's killer was fearing that audiences were growing impatient.  And with that a disgruntled Lynch more or less left the series and quite frankly, without him, it's astonishing to see the very apparent nosedive in quality within a single episode.  

From there the viewer is punished with 8 episodes of some embarrassingly bad writing that is not unlike the trashy soap operas the series set out to satirize.  A gaggle of new directors sloppily handled these episodes, all whom didn't seem to understand that Peaks used to be perfect blend of  quirky silliness, ominous darkness and the mind-boggling bizarre and instead brought them together like oil & water.  

Thankfully, after a brief hiatus, the writers got their shit together and the series became a faint reflection of what it once was.  Alas, the damage had been done and the task of picking up the shattered pieces isn't a completely successful one but it's light years better than the crap before it.  Sadly, the ratings plummeted something fierce and as quick as the series shot to popularity it was given the axe, leaving the viewer with an highly effective and disturbing cliff-hanger that still haunts me to this very day.

As a dedicated fan of the series, it's difficult to recommend due to a larger portion of the second season is just plain bad but it's also hard to properly criticize it because there's so many great things going on when it's firing on all cylinders.

3½ doppelgängers out of 5

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Box of Delights (1984)

TBoD is much-loved by many people. I suspect that some part of the warm feelings that accompany thoughts of the series is to do with similar feelings toward the holiday season in which it's always shown; i.e. the lead up to Christmas. I'm not implying that to love TBoD you need also to love Christmas, but there's a definite correlation there. As such, while I very much enjoy what it does on a technical level, the 'seasonal magic' is merely perfunctory for me.

I apologise if it seems like I'm treading on someone's childhood when I say that the story was frequently uneven, losing ground in the middle section before pulling it back for an exciting ending that was itself followed by what I'd consider a clichéd cop out if it wasn't for the slight ambiguity that lingers as the credits roll.

The story revolves around eleven-year-old schoolboy Kay Harker (Devin Stanfield), travelling home for the holidays. His adventure begins before he's even stepped off the train, and it moves to the next level when he bumps into a bearded Patrick Troughton (both pictured above), an encounter that changes the course of his winter break. The box, more like a box of tricks than one of delights, is sought by a number of unscrupulous people who'll do almost anything to retrieve it. Kay and his friends must do their best to help keep it from their lupine hands.

The young actors are all fine, but the danger level never reaches the heights that were needed to keep me fully engaged with their plight. But I admit that I sometimes find it difficult to relate to privileged rich kids.

It will likely appeal to fans of the BBC's more well-publicised adaptation of C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1988), which it predates by four years. (The original novel by John Masefield also predates Lewis' Narnia books. The Box of Delights was published in 1935, whereas The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe didn't appear until 1950. I've not read Masefield's book.)

The 'technical' aspects I mentioned above are used to enable the magical properties of the box to be realised. The effects are a mixture of practical, chroma key, suit actors and hand drawn animation. The latter was my favourite - the scenes of animals running, flying, etc, through various environments are beautiful.

6 episodes, approx 30 minutes each (I really liked the episode titles).

3 hobsessions out of 5

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Family (1994)

A four-episode miniseries set in Dublin, Ireland, written by author Roddy Doyle and directed by filmmaker Michael Winterbottom. I've read a couple of Roddy's novels and watched the films based on The Barrytown Trilogy. I enjoyed them all. None of the films were big budget ventures, so I had no reason to suspect that a TV production would be any less engaging or personal. Sure enough, it wasn't, the working class Spencer family were just as well-written and presented as Roddy's movie characters. In fact, it was an exceptional TV drama.

Four of the six Spencers have an episode named after them, within which they're the main focus even though, with the exception of the two youngest, all members play an important role each time. Episodes in the order presented:

Charlo: The father. A typical day involves reaching for a cigarette before he's even opened his eyes in the morning, followed by afternoon petty theft, boozing and being condescending to his wife and kids at meal times. It may sound like he's one-note, but there's more to Charlo than I've room to say, almost all of it selfish.

John Paul: A thirteen-year-old son who worships his shit-bag father despite often witnessing the terrible things he does. School is a chore, if he even goes. Loves football, drinking and smoking. In short, a portrait of a troubled youth.

Nicola: A daughter, the eldest of the four kids. She hates her father and has difficulty respecting her mother Paula because of the shit she takes from Charlo.

Paula: The mother. Paula's situation is the most complex. She's guilty of many sins, the majority of which are actions not taken as opposed to ones that are, but she's a mother and she's the best hope the family has of ever finding peace, if only she can pull herself together in time and stay strong thereafter.

It's primarily a hard-hitting drama but makes room for comedy too, oftentimes triggered by brash actions and/or relatable embarrassment.

With regards the principal cast, I don't know enough of their work to judge if they can be as convincing across a wider spectrum, but they were all excellent here.

4 episodes, approx 45 minutes each.

4 vodkas before breakfast out of 5

Monday, April 4, 2016

Samurai Sentai Shinkenger: The Light Samurai's Surprise Transformation (2009)

Genta has FAR more honor than sense. This is clear to see both in the series and in this DVD special. Luckily, Kyouryuu Origami doesn’t factor common sense into its judgements about who is worthy of wielding it as a blade. You watch this for Hyper Shinken Gold and to see how infinitely patient Takeru can be with his childhood friend. It’s inspiring and heartwarming. What isn't is Takeru's finisher. I'll detail the issues with it below the cut.

But, meh, DVD specials are always a little wonky in terms of minutiae.

2 BFFs out of 5

Kamen Rider Agito Special: A New Transformation (2001)

This was aired between episodes 35 and 36 and you’ll want to watch it then, too, as this conveys all of the emotional significance behind Agito’s final form. The debut of it in the show itself (in episode 37) assumes you’ve seen this as there’s not much in the way of specific explanation. G3 Mild appears here, as well, and he couldn’t be a more adorable underdog of a Rider. Ryo even continues to display his most amusing power: to repeatedly punch cops without ever getting arrested for it. Like Agito himself and his eponymous series, this special is both incredibly funny and touching.

4 (Broadly Speaking) 'Lost' Little Old Ladies out of 5

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters vs Beet Buster vs J (2012)

Sentai DVD specials have a history of focusing on their teams’ Reds and Sixths. As long as such bias isn’t rampant in a given series, or is justified via the writing, I don’t mind such narrowly-focused excursions. I adore Jin & J, and Hiromu, so no problems on that front! Besides, Yoko and Ryuuji are actually here, too!! 99% of this is hilarious and squee-worthy. The other 1% is Space Sheriff Gavan.

In the past, that sentence was followed by an intensely brief statement, with a strong expletive in it. I said, "Fuck him." I'm not here in April 2018 to rewrite the past, or censor myself. I'm here to explain myself, which is what I should have done originally. My apologies. For me, the series is gospel. Anything that goes against it, has to go. Dialogue and events within it seem to suggest that its head-writer, Kobayashi Yasuko, feels much the same. There are specifics that directly preclude the crossover films and the Come Back special from making sense within its narrative.

The same can possibly be said of Missions 31 and 32, which comprise Gavan's crossover with the team (what happens here is simply a cameo). The main point of contention is a repeated statement that contradicts the events of Mission 30. Having watched those episodes again, however, it seems to be an issue of ambiguity. Kobayashi makes the actual intent clearer in Mission 33 and completely clarifies it in Mission 34. I am living proof that this was capable of creating an issue for people who were already watching the series, and I imagine that it may have presented an even bigger one for anyone who jumped on board following the crossover.

I'm not personally sure how many comprise that number, though, as I find Gavan's aesthetics and gear to radically clash with the Busters', to the point of distraction. What also radically clashes is everyone's knowledge of Gavan, depending on what you're watching at a given moment. It's so disparate that this special does not seem to be able to take place before or after Missions 31 and 32. I've stated before that DVD extras such as this are always a little weird in terms of chronology. However, for me, all of the above stated ambiguity, confusion, and incongruity, is too much. The few positives of the crossover episodes simply do not outweigh the oceans found herein. Gavan's momentary presence causes no harm, so long as he isn't encountered anywhere else.

If you're okay with spoilers and are in need of convincing, feel free to check out some of its gif-worthy moments~

4½ :like:s out of 5

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Quatermass II (1955)

If you're wondering why I skipped the first Quatermass and went direct to the second, it's because, unfortunately, two-thirds of Series One, named The Quatermass Experiment (1953), is lost. Episodes Three, Four, Five and Six are gone, believed to no longer be in existence. It's possible to watch the first two episodes as filmed and finish up by reading the available photocopied scripts of the remaining four if you really want to, although it's not necessary because, while QII does reference what came before, it's a new story with an entirely new threat.

If you did watch the previous two episodes, however, you'll notice that Professor Bernard Quatermass is no longer played by Reginald Tate. Tragically, Tate died less than a month before shooting was due to begin. Instead of respectfully postponing the project the producers moved forward and quickly recast the role, which is how John Robinson came to be the titular scientist. To his credit, Robinson did a fine job despite having had little time to prepare. He struggles in the final episode, but it's the weakest of the six and most of it is easily forgotten anyhow.

The Professor's daughter, Paula (Monica Grey), is employed at the laboratory. She's perhaps the most emotional one but only to a certain degree and often as a necessary foil to the driven men. Otherwise, she's the type of strong, intelligent female equal that 1950s TV series were capable of including but rarely did.

It seems as if the actors sometimes—if not at all times—had a single chance to get it right, one take and job done, as evidenced by the infrequent line errors being present in the final cut; but so too are the quick recoveries, just like stage actors do, pushing onward, making it seem like a real situational solecism.

It's easy to pick apart the occasionally amateurish production methods in comparison to contemporary ones, or even to its big screen remake, because the settings have the wobbly backgrounds you often see in stage productions that are operating beyond their budget, but if I'd been alive and watching the series when it was first screened I'd have been absolutely, utterly hooked.

Each episode opens with a title card (pictured above) and a super-dramatic/stirring rendition of part of Gustav Holst's Mars, the Bringer of War (1914) that really gets you psyched. It's fair to say that it's perhaps the best part, but five of the six episodes don't disappoint. They're suspenseful, respectful to the topic, and at times even damn creepy, the latter being something that British sci-fi excels at.

6 episodes, approx 30 minutes each.

3½ stone shells out of 5

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Tensou Sentai Goseiger (2010-11)

The Goseigers are five trainee angels. Yes, angels. They're prematurely thrusted into protecting the planet and doling out punishment to a handful of enemy factions. This may smack of a disjointed narrative, but I assure you the writers’ hands are always firmly on the reigns. Their dedication carries through into the characters themselves:

Alata (Gosei Red) can be entirely nonexistent when the focus is on other characters and is sometimes overshadowed even when he is at the forefront. His relationships with Nozomu (an exquisitely-acted child character) and Gosei Knight (the team’s Sixth) are some of the most touching I’ve seen realized in media. He is mere STEPS behind Sosuke (Go-On Red). My penultimate Red, with a bullet.

Hyde (Gosei Blue) is patient, analytical, and the only Seaick Tribe member currently on Earth. His solitude is assuaged by a number of characters that support him both in battle and at home. Indeed, the depth of his loneness is matched only by the resolve he develops and (eventually) explosively unleashes.

Agri (Gosei Black) is a slender muscle man (fitting for someone whose totem is a snake) with a heart of gold who often pushes his sister to greatness when ostensibly attempting to show her up. Mouné (Gosei Yellow), for her part is…infectiously cuckoo for cocoa puffs.

Like Shinkenger, Goseiger is a series that’s not afraid to consistently spotlight its ladies. Fitting then that we’re ending with Eri (Gosei Pink). While most Sentai teams will speak to the fact that they will always rise again, the Goseigers do it incessantly. This resilience finds its origins, like many things, in Eri’s childhood with Alata. From even before any of them were Gosei tenshi, she was the well-spring of inspiration and resoluteness. Truly, there is no more fitting visage for her than that of a phoenix.

While there are many early highlights, Goseiger starts pleasingly well and increases in quality as it goes. There are moments of flatness and there is additional emphasis placed upon and greater privilege granted to Alata and Eri. The team’s overall fighting style is also very fixed and while it’s done in the service of a worthy concept that doesn’t mean it won’t lead to fatigue on the part of some viewers. Similarly, if you aren’t sold on the concept and significance of their final mecha, you’re going to get real tired of it, real fast. Once on the field, it is the most omnipresent I’ve personally witnessed.

While I am fully admitting these potential flaws, Goseiger is still gloriously unique among the Sentai series I’ve seen. I consider that one of its biggest strengths. It isn’t perfect, but what does work radiates off the screen. Contrary to overwhelming opinion, it is a journey worth taking, especially if you’re willing to see it through to the end.

50 episodes, approx. 25 minutes each.
Their supplemental materials are discussed below the cut.

4 Endless Fights in the Dark of the Sun out of 5
Rest in Peace, good sir <3

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Into the Labyrinth (1981-82)

Three youths, Phil, Helen and Terry (as pictured), shelter in a nearby cave when a freak storm breaks out. It's there that they find Rothgo, a formidable but weakened soul with the kind of powers we'd normally associate with sorcerers of bygone eras. He enlists the children's help to retrieve an ancient and powerful artefact.

To attain the Nidas, as it's known, the kids must venture into the Labyrinth, a gateway to other times. It's a perilous journey and like all good children's TV shows it has an antagonist that's truly memorable, but I'll get to her eventually.

It sounds like a standard set-up so far, but it has elements that raise it above the norm. Firstly, Rothgo, played by Ron Moody (who you may know better as Fagan in Oliver! (1968), Carol Reed's version of Oliver Twist) brings a Shakespearean sensibility to his scenes. Perhaps being limited to a stage-like setting was the reason or perhaps not - whatever the case, he helps turn what could've been an archetypal mentor character into an emotional one, desperate to save himself but likewise prepared to sacrifice his goal should the need arise.

While the search is ongoing from week to week, the structure is episodic. Both the Nidus and the children are bounced around notable historical periods, creating something akin to a merger of fantasy, sci-fi and period drama. Following them through time is a power-hungry witch named Belor who's hell-bent on attaining the artefact's power for herself, and if she can't have it then no one will.

The beautiful but evil Belor, a toxic yet alluring combination, was played by Pamela Salem. Wow - what an absolute star she was! Salem hammed it up in an immensely dramatic fashion when necessary but in such a way that she owned every scene. She embodied a collection of detestable traits but I was completely smitten by her enthusiasm and grace. Full marks for her.

Some folks will criticize the fact that the same cave interior is repeatedly used, over and over, rearranged or revamped a little each time with the application of new set dressings. It's a legitimate complaint but not one that I was at all bothered about. Like I said before, it was a stage-like environment, and that's how it works on stage. I even began to look forward to the changed trappings, evaluating their placement and usefulness. I was never disappointed.

21 episodes (07 Eps x 03 Series), approx 26 mins each.

4½ shining reflections out of 5

Friday, January 1, 2016

Bad Influence! (1992-96)

My first thought was, 'Who let Andy Crane out of the broom cupboard?', but he did an okay job on his feet, showing an admirable amount of enthusiasm in the presenter role. His co-host of the show is Violet Berlin, which is a name that most UK folks who were into gaming back in the 90s will recognise.

It wasn't as good as the similarly themed GamesMaster (1992-98) series that aired on a rival channel, but Bad Influence!'s focus was broader.

It states on Wiki that the show was like a 'Tomorrow's World' for kids, which is an observation I agree with. Of course, it means nothing if you don't already know what kind of a show Tomorrow's World was. In both cases, new technology that was either still under development, in the testing phase or already on the market was showcased in an easy to understand way that didn't compromise the scientific nature or importance of the product. Features were either in the studio or on location and showed the presenter(s) getting hands-on with the new tech.

The techy stuff was cool, but the main focus was Video Games, Consoles and Home Computers. By 1992 the 16 bit consoles had taken a strong hold, but CD-based options were appearing. It's fun to look back and see how things like the Panasonic branded '3DO Interactive Multiplayer' and the 'Phillips CD-i' were heralded as the next big thing, when in fact they were the next big failures.

Interestingly, product reviews even included third-party devices, such as the kind that enabled gamers to circumvent copy protection on cartridges, allowing for import carts to be played on UK machines. The friendly warning that the use of such gray area products voided your warranty seemed more like a necessary addition to keep the team on the right side of the law than anything else.

The competitions were mostly amazing; in one episode they even gave away a Neo Geo with games! In the UK at the time, a Neo Geo was like the Holy Grail - in fact, it was better, because you can't play Metal Slug on the Holy Grail.

57 episodes, approx 20 minutes each.

3 super-fast datablasts out of 5