Monthly Archive for August, 2014

Drunk History, Season 2

Drunk History, Season 2 (8/31/14) COM (2014 ***1/4) Created by Jeremy Konner and Derek Waters, featuring Jack Black, Winona Ryder, David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Johnny Knoxville, John Lithgow and many others. 10 episodes, originally aired 7/1/14 – 9/2/14. The second season features visits to Montgomery, New York, Baltimore, Charlston, Hollywood, Hawaii and Philadelphia, and thematic looks at American music, sports heroes and first ladies. Based originally on a handful of short films on FunnyOrDie.com, this is a series that shouldn’t work. The rational part of my brain tells me there’s something wrong with filming and recording people sitting in their living room and getting drunk off their asses. And yet, somehow taking the soundtrack from those sessions, then filming historical reenactments starring familiar faces lip syncing to the the audio is at times very, very funny.

Torchwood, Season 4: Miracle Day

Torchwood, Season 4: Miracle Day (8/28/14) Netflix (2011 ***1/4) Created by Russell T. Davies, starring John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Kai Owen, Gareth David-Lloyd and Bill Pullman. 10 episodes, originally aired 7/8/11 – 9/9/11. One day everyone stops dying and — in a striking bit of coincidence — Captain Jack Harkness picks the same day to become mortal. The fourth season of Torchwood was co-produced by STARZ, and quite possibly as a direct consequence of that new arrangement, the storyline stretched from the series’ previous Welsh locations to America, specifically my neck-of-the-woods, Southern California. In addition, the previously dwindled Torchwood team expanded its unofficial membership by two Americans. While the season was generally enjoyable, the worldwide “event” premise brought with it a definite sense of deja vu from the preceding “Children of Earth” miniseries/season. Seeing as the last (final?) Torchwood episode aired nearly three years ago, I can’t help but wonder what, if anything, lies ahead for Captain Jack and Gwen.

Fringe, Season 4

Fringe, Season 4 (8/25/14) Netflix (2011-2012 ***1/2) Series created by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, starring Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson and John Noble. 22 episodes, originally aired 9/23/11 – 5/11/12. At the end of the preceding season, Peter Bishop sacrificed his very existence to heal two alternate versions of Earth, but who in TV land really believed he was gone for good? Besides, it turns out he’s a vital part of fighting a plot to destroy both universes in order to create a new one designed by a man with a God complex. After the third season of Fringe I decided to try a little experiment: In order to cut back on my TV diet at the time, I decided to time-shift my viewing on a large scale, deliberately not watching the fourth or fifth seasons with the idea that I could catch up a couple of years down the line. And so, after becoming well ensconced with the joys of Netflix binge TV watching, that’s exactly what I did, watching this season on my television, my iPad and even my iPhone! Talk about living in the future! But enough about me and my largely successful experiment. As for the season itself, I found it to be fairly entertaining, with plenty of inventive sci-fi ideas integrated into a framework built on the premise of two parallel universes. One thing I particularly appreciated was that instead of the “us versus them” mentality that had been a source of dramatic conflict in the past, the various alternate reality individuals and teams had to work together toward a common goal. It was damn heartwarming at times, I tell you.

Torchwood, Season 3: Children of Earth

Torchwood, Season 3: Children of Earth (8/20/14) Netflix (2009 ***) Created by Russell T. Davies, starring John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Kai Owen and Gareth David-Lloyd. 5 episodes, originally aired 7/20/09 – 7/24/09. An alien race called “The 456” announce their arrival on earth by hijacking the planet’s children and having them chant “We Are Coming” in global unison (and in English). The novelty of Torchwood‘s third season is that it was promoted more as a miniseries event than a regular TV show: Its five episodes were aired over five consecutive days. Though the premise of the story was interesting and spooky on a fundamental level, I often felt a great deal of padding, with one delicious example coming to mind: At one point it took a minor character five minutes to put on a pair of contact lenses! (Or at least it felt like five minutes; I didn’t actually time it.) In addition, I felt the story spent far too much screen time with Torchwood’s liaison to the British government, John Frobisher, rather than with the Torchwood principles themselves. On the plus side, it was rather entertaining to see the limits of Captain Jack Harkness’ powers of regeneration after he (minor spoiler ahead) gets blown apart by a surgically-inserted bomb!

Torchwood, Season 2

Torchwood, Season 2 (8/19/14) Netflix (2008 ***1/2) Created by Russell T. Davies, starring John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Kai Owen, Gareth David-Lloyd, Burn Gorman and Naoko Mori. 13 episodes, originally aired 1/26/08 – 4/4/08. Captain Jack Harkness and his band of time-traveling alien hunters take on whatever the Cardiff, Wales dimensional rift dishes out. In the second regular season of Torchwood, we’re introduced to the flamboyant Captain John Hart (played by James Marsters), who appears in the season’s bookend episodes. Other highlights of the season included: a WWI soldier who’s awakened every year on the same day, an alien the size of a warehouse, another alien with the ability to implant false memories, a visit by Doctor Who alum Martha Jones, a second Resurrection Glove (They come in pairs, you know), an alien pregnancy, and a major physiological shift for one of the Torchwood team. As I watched the second season, one thing that consistently impressed me was the quality of the ideas for the individual episodes, which seemed particularly inventive and often thought-provoking.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy (8/16/14) Manhattan Beach Arclight (2014 ****) Directed by James Gunn, starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. Teenage alien abductee Peter Quill grows up to scavenge ancient artifacts, one of which contains an infinity stone, an item of special interest to cosmic baddie Thanos, last seen at the end of The Avengers (2012). Making this film was a real gamble for Marvel, as it’s based on one of their lesser-known comic book properties. Prior to its release, many in Hollywood waited with breath abaited to see how it would do, and of course it did quite well. It didn’t hurt that the film won the hearts of critics, with a 92% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Speaking for myself, it was a hell of a fun ride, a perfect summer movie. One key ingredient to the film’s success was a rocking soundtrack motivated by Peter Quill’s childhood treasure, a mix tape his dying mother made for him labeled “Awesome Mix.” Another bonus: Built into the movie’s premise was the ability for Quill to make amusing 1980s pop culture references that the audience got but none of the other characters did, especially the literal-minded Drax the Destroyer. Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy captured the spirit of the original Star Wars in a way that surprised me. Quill reminded me very much of Han Solo, making me wonder more than a little about the identity of his father, who was described by Rooker’s Yondu Udonta as a “jerk”… Hey! Now that Disney owns both Marvel and Star Wars, I suppose it’s not 100% impossible, right? And here’s another clue: Quill’s ship, “The Milano” was named after 1980s crush Alyssa Milano. But doesn’t it also sound a little like… “Millenium?”

Battling Boy

Battling Boy (8/15/14) Comics (2013 ***1/4) Written and illustrated by Paul Pope. The thirteen-year-old son of a lightning-throwing god is sent to defend Arcopolis from its plague of monsters. This is the third graphic novel I bought after an inspiring talk by Mark Siegel, the writer/illustrator of Sailor Twain. In particular, one of my colleagues in the audience reacted with much enthusiasm when Siegel mentioned Paul Pope. Though I found Battling Boy entertaining, it didn’t have the same impact as the previous three books (including Siegel’s) I’d read recently. It’s also the least “graphic novel-y,” as it’s clearly the beginning of an ongoing series, rather than a stand-alone book. In terms of the book’s premise, it has a fair amount in common with Robert Kirkman’s Invincible, in that it’s about a super-powered teenager with an even more super-powered father duking it out with monsters on an earth-like planet. In the case of Battling Boy, he gets his powers from a collection of T-shirts, which is a mildly interesting idea, but also a little strange. At any rate, I’m unsure at this time whether I’ll continue to follow the further adventures of Battling Boy, but I’m leaning toward not.

Torchwood, Season 1

Torchwood, Season 1 (8/9/14) Netflix (2006-2007 ***1/4) Created by Russell T. Davies, starring John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Kai Owen, Gareth David-Lloyd, Burn Gorman and Naoko Mori. 13 episodes, originally aired 10/22/06 – 1/1/07. Cardiff, Wales Policewoman Gwen Cooper joins Captain Jack Harkness and his merry band of double top secret dimensional rift cleaner-uppers. I’ve been meaning to give this series a watch for a long time and finally got around to it. I knew about it primarily through friends who were into the show enough to travel to Cardiff, Wales and shoot a video of a walking tour of Torchwood locations. As for the show itself: The first season started off cheesy, belying its anagram-erific parent series Doctor Who, then settled into a more consistently serious tone. Highlights of the season included a life-giving gauntlet, a sex-addicted alien, the secret of Ianto’s girlfriend, the return of a recently-deceased Torchwood member, a ghost with an alien’s eye, three visitors from 1953, a trip back to 1941 and a less-than-cordial visit from Abaddon, the Great Devourer. Though I don’t consider myself to be a superfan, I can see why the show developed a following. In addition to its tongue-in-cheek sci-fi premise, the show also contained an interesting subtext: Over the course of the first season, all the members of Torchwood exhibit — at one point or another — varying degrees of bisexuality.

American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese (8/7/14) Graphic Novel (2006 ***1/2) Written and illustrated by Gene Luen Yang. The story of a young boy named Jin Wang is told via three seemingly unrelated stories. As was the case of This One Summer, which I reviewed recently, I ordered this book from Amazon following a talk given by Mark Siegel, the writer/illustrator of Sailor Twain. Like the other books I ordered, this was published by First Second, the imprint for which Siegel works as editor. I was intrigued by his description of American Born Chinese, as having been a finalist for the 2006 National Book Awards and the winner of the 2007 Michael L. Printz Award. In the history of graphic novels, there are few that have been awarded prestigious awards outside of the comic book community, with the Pulitzer Prize given to Art Spiegelman’s Maus in 1992 as the gold standard. I was also interested in the fact that since its release, American Born Chinese has become required reading in a number of high schools and colleges. Having read it, I can see why, as it presents both valuable insight into the racial prejudices that continue to divide America, even in the 21st Century. The book also works as an introduction to alternative narrative structures, in that it tells three tonally different stories that don’t at first appearance have any relationship to each other, yet over the course of the book the connections slowly fade into view. I found Yang’s storytelling (both his words and visuals) to be quite clear, without ever feeling simplified to the point of losing power. As I approach my fifties, I’m probably not the right audience for this book, but can imagine young people who carry with them a daily feeling of alienation — even if not for reasons of their cultural heritage — will likely relate to Yang’s characters..

This One Summer

This One Summer (8/7/14) Graphic Novel (2014 ****) Written by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. Rose and Windy spend an unforgettable summer in a small town named Awago Beach. I picked up this book (along with three others) as the direct result of a studio talk given by Mark Siegel, the writer/illustrator of Sailor Twain and editor at the publishing imprint, First Second. Though I read Siegel’s book first (out of a kind of respect), This One Summer was the one I looked forward to the most. The book is nominally a “coming of age” story, told from the point of view of a pre-teen girl named Rose Abigail Wallace, who begins the summer clutching onto her childhood innocence, but has her eyes opened to the realities of the world by season’s end. The tone of the storytelling was gentle: slow but not plodding. There are events that happen, yet most of them are not particularly dramatic, and this book is the polar opposite of a superhero slug-fest. In many ways, the 300+ page book reminded me of an independent film, and that’s a testament to the cinematic visual style of Jillian Tamaki, whose clear artwork is never too realistic, nor too stylized. Though I obviously loved the book (giving it four stars), my only criticism is that there almost wasn’t enough of a story, and I imagine some might read it and dislike it for that reason.