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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Bojack Horseman Review: Dark Horse Comic.

I gotta say, I did not expect to write a review about this. I only liked the show, usually I need a stronger reaction than that to get me tuh' writtin'. But the critical reaction being as tepid as it is, I feel the need to wade in amongst the "mehs" and shine a light on what this show does well. Which is plenty.

Will Arnett plays an anthropomorphic horse who's trajectory in the entertainment business went from struggling comedian, to long running sitcom lead in "Horsin' Around," to a solitary has-been who's self aware enough to want to change, but too much of a coward to do anything about it. Yeah, this show gets existential. Darkly so.

You can blink and miss 4 second gags about Bojack waving his hand over a stove top muttering "nothing on the outside, nothing on the inside" that are just fast enough to be funny, yet manage to add just a touch more character depth. Like the director just dropped an ice cube down your back. It's surprising in the moment, and it's funny in retrospect. But if he just held the ice to the back of your neck, it'd be painful. In some respects this method works a hell of a lot better than most straight dramas I've seen. Bojack does this again and again. It lured me into thinking it was another Mission Hill (the most thunderously boring animated series yet unleashed upon the world) but would routinely sneak in either clever anthropomorphized animal gags (maggot morticians, paparazzi birds, penguin publishers, middle aged women as lap dogs, a wolf in a bar wearing a t-shirt that just says SHEEP while hitting on one, I could go on... it's marvelous.)  or decent story beats and dialogue.

This is a show meant to be paused and savored.
The voice cast is talented enough that footage of the taping session would almost be enough for me. Seriously, where has Amy Sedaris been? If nothing else, her character guaranteed a Colbert cameo. But as Bojack's agent Princess Caroline (did you guess she's a cat?) she gets more depth in one season than Lois Griffin has had in 5. In fact, her boyfriend near the end of the season is my favorite running gag in a long time. Aaron Paul is, unfortunately, playing a slightly more well adjusted Jessie. But he plays it so well I didn't mind. And while most of the time the show struggles to find something for him to do, they usually pull it off. Just wait until "Boreanaz house" before passing judgment.

What else? Stanley Tucci is great as Bo's old showrunner/back stabbed best friend. Paul F. Tompkins tears it up as golden retriever, Mr. Peanut butter. He's dim, over eager, stupendously vain, yet you can't stop loving him. There is simply no better analogy for a dumb, pretty boy, actor than a golden retriever.  Which  brings us to Alison Brie's, Diane. As well as a great low key performance from her. There's not a lot to say about her barring spoilers, except she's Bo's ghostwriter as well as the near central source of conflict for the season. For those of you that think she could never really swim in the deep waters of mad men, I say that you should watch what she does here. A charming, three dimensional, love interest that could carry the show on her own.

Intellectually I can accept this show will be rule 34'd... but emotionally I cannot.

I don't think I'm overselling how damn good the acting is, but there are serious issues that hold it back. Small, but consistent things. It's true there's a lot in common with this and Californication, and in terms of basic structure I don't think it branched out enough. It's also true it never got a real "belly laugh" from me either. Just bemused snickering, not that it's a bad thing, I just wish it went for bigger laughs a few times.

But unlike Californication, where there must have been a clause in Duchovny's contract that forced his character to always be at least slightly badass, Bojack is allowed to be pathetic. It's depths of pathetication is the single most interesting thing the show does. The monologue at the end of episode 11 cut through me like butter. A passionate demand that the person on stage "like" him. Not "marry" him, not "love" him, just think highly enough about his capacity for humanity to simply enjoy being around him. It's a spectacular monologue. One that exempts this show from a low score entirely on it's own. It was more moving that anything Zach Braff has ever managed to cobble together... but that's not selling my point much, is it?  

Let me leave you with this. There's a lot in this show that have been done before as well as a few things in there that have been done to death. But what it does well (the acting, the story, the relatable existentialism) is so well done, by the end of the season I could barley notice the warts anymore. Remember how irritating it was on Family Guy when Brian would just unleash a diatribe or whiny monologue out of nowhere? Bojack Horseman is structured to earn those moments. It even writes them more coherently. Simply put, clinical depression has never been more entertaining. 

...That's praise.

Also I love the opener just... so much:

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mr. Stewart's Opus.

Remember last year when John Stewart left the Daily Show for the summer and made that movie? I've been trying to put it out of my mind for some time now. I the show and I love John Stewart. I feel like he's a pretty good judge of character and has a spectacularly minimal tolerance for bullshit. So I'd hate to see his heart break over all this.

I can't find the exact clip, but a few months ago I remember him just riffing off on how something you think is going to be pretty good, ends up being embarrassing. He was joking, but it was obvious that the post production prognosis did. Not. Look. Good.

No one really tries to make a bad movie, it just something that happens. Making anything that gets released is incredibly difficult. So the trailer for Rosewater was released and... I can see it. I can see  the inkling of grandiose hokyness (the last thing this story needs) in some of the lines.

But there's something else too. The lead is acting his ass off. The interrogator isn't some slobbering sub-human. I could see this being pretty good.

See for yourself:

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The agony and the ecstasy of the getting the perfect entertainment system set up.

Apparently in some places internet can be set up over the phone! My new apartment complex is one such place. After hearing horror stories of my west coast friends dealing with Comcast, Time Warner was shockingly, shockingly, friendly and helpful. This was a refreshing change of pace from my simple internet life out in the sticks. Apparently being a stone's throw away from Duke University has it's perks... 

I've also been meaning to get back to the crackpot, but I've also been busy moving in/getting pimp slapped by Best Buy/Best Buy employees just doing their job. And I am just this close to a comfortable living room set up that's also physically attached to the monster PC in the other room.

You see, I pride myself on not being a dick neighbor, and last night while testing out my new TV with The Winter Soldier (at 11:00) I failed miserably. As soon as I heard the first angry out-of-bed foot stomp I knew I fu**ed up. I can change that. I want to change that. It should be stupefyingly simple to change that.

Not so.

Radio Shack had only half the parts I needed, the rest have to be ordered special. All to plug my PC into a TV in the next room and have headphone capability. It's taken an extra $80 and 6 trips to Best Buy and Radio Shack collectively. Granted half of that is negligence on my part, but I can't be the only person that wants this... can I? 

Yet seeing a maxed out Far Cry 3 at 1080p on a 32 inch screen for the first time makes up for all of it.


And soon my rig can stay comfortably perched on my desk while I switch screens and furniture with ease.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Crackpot has gone dark....

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to set up an internet connection at my new apartment. And while I know some of you out there can write novels on your damn i-phones, it's almost physically painful  for me.

I like my new digs though...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rectify is... really damn good.

Apparently the Sundance channel is in on the shockingly good original series game. Something that just seems to be happening a lot lately. Outlander is getting some good press, it's production value is excellent, it's story is fun, it's cast uniformly excellent... but I don't know. In two episodes there have been at least 4 sultry "nurse the charming soldier back to health" scenes. They've been well done, but I know when I'm not the target audience, and that's ok.

It's really slow, too. Agonizingly slow.

But Rectify! That's what I'm here to talk about.  Remember Labor Day? That face-palmingly awful Jason Reitman movie where an escaped conflict is Jesus Christ? Rectify is like that if it was almost 100X more believable. And enjoyable.

Daniel has served 19 years on death row, sentenced when he was 18 to a Georgia prison. The tireless efforts of his sister have turned up inconclusive DNA evidence and released him from his cell. Though the local State senator made his career on the Holden case and he will be damned if it's overturned. It's pretty good stuff so far, but sprinkle in a stepfather that Daniel's mother married 9 years into his sentence, a teenage half brother, and the fact that you don't know if he's really innocent, and this becomes something far greater than the sum of it's parts.

It's no masterpiece... yet. But brother, it's the best southern drama I've seen in a good long while.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Five Nights at Freddy's: Creepy-Pizza.

Why does a duck need any teeth, let alone two sets?! One of them looks awfully human...
There's something about age that can somehow make horror games... scarier. I think that's why Silent Hill 2 is still the de-facto masterpiece it is today. You can't make out much on the polygon count of 2002 era monsters and that's a good thing.

Five Night's at Freddy's looks like cheap, pre-rendered, shovelware from the late 90's and it's a pretty brilliant design choice, if you ask me. If you want to sell "cheap" and "other worldly" this art style nails it in spades. But what the hell is this game anyway? It's kind of a resource management affair. You can control a few light switches and two reinforced steel doors... but why would you need to control lights and two reinfroced steel doors? I'm getting to that.

You've been hired as a night watchman at a hellish Chuck e. Cheese rip off. You're are paid $120 a night to watch a bunch of animatronic animals on closed circuit tv...

You can see where this is going:

I think it looks great; if playing "weeping angels" with the inbreed homunculus offspring of everyone's favorite cheese eating rat sounds like it's worth $5 to you, I say pounce.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

I'm Officially a Professional Journalist!

After a bit of a wait, I've finally been compensated for my work at Durham's Herald Sun. For the very first time, my English degree has produced tangible results! It does not suck, this feeling.

It does not suck.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Clockwork Empires is on Early Access.

Fish People!!!!

It may be buggy, it may crash every 15 minutes, I may not be able to save it yet, but it's so fuggin' charming I don't care. This game makes cult related cannibalism charming.  I'll let that sink in.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Metal Gear Solid V is coming to PC... wait, REALLY?! What the hell?

Kojima! What is this? What are you doing? ...Explain yourself.
And to STEAM no less. This is... stunning. Like Uncharted 4 showing up on my rig's doorstep next year. After the blow of the next Tomb Raider's timed XBOX exclusivity, I did not see this sh*t coming.

This was... is SONY's bread and butter. The '98 original put the PlayStation on the map and the 4th was the PS3's first killer app (sorry Resistance). Making it multi-platform was one thing, companies like Square have been hedging their bets like that since 2009. This IP isn't an unproven property, this is a console kingmaker. While I've always had a good chuckle at the bi-annual  "pc gaming is dead" articles, I had no idea the wind had turned so fiercely in it's favor.

In fact, this news sounds more like a nail in the coffin of the console wars than anything else. Or maybe this game was so ludicrously expensive (see Mr. Sutherland above) that hitting all AAA platforms at once is the only conceivable way of turning a profit.

That's actually really unsettling. I was hoping it was because Hideo really liked Half-Life.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Cosmos is on Netflix. You no longer have any excuse.

Did you know he was a wrestler? Like, a seriously bad ass college level wrestler?

Why is it that I can get through Blue Valentine and Schindler's List without a twitch of my eyelid, but Tyson's Cosmos has me all weepy? There's something deeply poetic about they way this mini series just... explains science that gives me what has to be a religious experience. While the last 5 episodes are a little dryer than the rest, what comes before is (in no uncertain terms) the most awe inspiring documentary I've ever seen.

I'd better stop now before this devolves into diatribe.


Monday, August 11, 2014

The Knick Review: Artist in Residency

If there was one thing I truly loved about FX's Nip/Tuck it was the aggressively realistic portrayal of plastic surgery. A better depiction of the self destruction of vanity there has never been.  The only problem was, oh I don't know... the cartoonish hyper reality of everything else. It had me going for a while though, right up until the penis-less serial killer and his incestuous twin sister... you know what? I'm boring you. I'll move on.

Ever since then; I have waited for a show to seize the potential in the bloody reality of practicing medicine, and Cinemax's  "The Knick" has taken up the mantle with a coked up bewilderment that almost approaches a Gilliam joint. But yet it still remains rooted in it's 1900's reality, aggressively 80's synth soundtrack or no. The best thing I can say about the soundtrack is that it didn't annoy me and that's the highest praise I can give synth. But I'm getting sidetracked agian, what the hell is the Knick?

It's the Knickerbocker Hospital in New York and the show is centered around Clive Owen's Dr. Thackery as he tries in vain to advance medical knowledge to the point where people have a better chance in a ward than on the street. Something that has only started happening very recently. Thank god Thackery's got anesthetic, or else the opening (sorry) c-section scene would have been exponentially harder to watch. And this is hard to watch... but in the best way possible. There is real tension and horror in these sequences and they are of some of the best TV I've seen this year and I include The Leftovers in that pile. I should do a Leftovers review come to think of it...

But it wouldn't be a 2000's golden age drama without an anti-hero angle. So don't worry, Thackery isn't just a brilliant (artisanal) medical mind, he's also a coke addict who's closed almost every vein in his body. I'm thankfull we've already gotten the "fall from grace" angle out of the way already, but it would be nice to see a genius on TV or film that didn't have some crippling character flaw for the sake of it.

Either way, Owen's up to the task and towers over the rest of the cast. They're good, Andre Holland and Chris Sullivan, particularly. But no one is frankly well written enough to steal focus. At least not yet, anyway.

But I'd put up with miscasting for a look into this New York. Child labor, patient poaching, health inspector bribery, visual progress metaphors via the electrification of the hospital, it's the details that this period piece spends a majority of it's energy. It's time and resources well spent. Don't believe me? You can watch the pilot right now and then tell me off in the comments.

Move along people, no dramatic potential here...

Friday, August 8, 2014

Vigil Games Lives!

The scariest thing about Crytek's financial woes to me was the fate of my beloved Vigil games. From THQ's fallen empire to Crytek's sinking ship; the folks behind Darksiders (good game) and Darksiders 2 (damn near my favorite game) have become free agents once again as Gunfire games.

There are only seven people at Gunfire, so Darksiders 3 is absolutely out of the question for the time being. Though Nordic games, who snatched up the IP rights to DS at auction, have been vocal about continuing the quadrilogy and have spoken to gunfire about it. They are not interested and want to focus on some indie fare first. Though eventually they want to build to the scope of what made DS2 so great someday.

"Third-person, games with a lot of characters, adventure aspects, player progression, hunt cool bosses, fantastical creatures," "We have some ideas kicking around." -Director David Adams

Music to my ears, man. Just keep flying.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy Review: Knowhere Special.

Would you look at that! Chris Pratt is now box office gold, and you have no idea how happy that makes me. What's more, between this and the Lego Movie, he's been able to have his critical cake and eat it too. Nice, talented, guys can finish first and that just makes me smile. But enough about Pratt and how awesome he is, you're here to find out if that article title is snarky or not.

It isn't. I thought Guardians was fantastic, but the hype left a little to be desired. I thought the movie was good, but the exact amount of goodness it accomplished must be discussed. One; because this could be James Gunn coming into his own as a great pop directer, and two, because I haven't written anything in almost a week and I haven't written a review in god knows how long.

First things first, the very beginning was wonderful. The maudlin opening is a fickle and occasionally very powerful tool, and a scant few directors know how to pull it off. Spielberg can do it, JJ's done one pretty well, and I thought Gunn nailed it here. Plus, Greg Henry on the big screen! That put me in a great mood. And a random alien abduction notwithstanding, seeing a little boy deal with the death of his mother (an unrecognizable Laura Haddock) with coldness and anger was a great character choice.

Chris Pratt realizing he can write his own ticket.
The movie barely takes another breath before throwing you into ancient alien ruins, then into an antique shop on a futuristic "not-earth" run by Glenn Close, then into a dank space prison. All the while building character arcs and motivation for the five leads on the margins of some damn slick action scenes. The prison break has everything that the film does best all at once. It gives every character something to do and puts little personality beats within each task. It was a cracking screenplay juggling act you don't see every year. After that, the movie exhales and lets it's muffin top show a bit.

Before reaching the massive floating robot head/mining colony "Knowhere" I was down with a giant talking tree, manic bionic racoon, a hulking tattooed convict who literally takes everything literally, a green skinned assassin with crippling daddy issues, and a roguish dolt with crippling mommy issues (and a cassette with some sweet tunes). I was down with it. Everyone had creatively earned their keep. Except for Gamora, but despite being underwritten, Saldana positively oozes charisma and screen presence, so... B+. But now we had to let the supporting cast take over, sit through some exposition scenes, and feel generally let down after Thanos shows up and literally doesn't lift a finger.

The present's so bright...

Benicio Del Toro is sleeping walking through his 6 to 7 minutes and it's hard to blame him. There's a sadness in his eyes that speaks to a much meatier part in a different draft that existed before he signed the contract. But nonetheless, the collector's gallery is a visual orgy of Easter eggs and I had plenty to occupy myself while not noticing Del Torro chew the scenery. Oh, and speaking of scenery chewing!

Lee Pace has simply outdone himself with Ronan. He's feeling genocidal, has a giant hammer, is covered in chalky face paint tears, and... that's it. But Pace goes the opposite direction of Del Toro and gets as loud and as angry as he possibly can. I can see how some people didn't think much of it, but I appreciated how he turned a bad situation into a workout. Near the end he has a single comedic line and he kills it. Just... murders the hell out of it. It was the biggest laugh out of me in a movie that had already taken plenty.

Michael Rooker also manages to be a secondary power house as the guy who kidnapped Peter Quill in the beginning. There's a great father-son/Stockholm syndrome relationship between the two that winds up being much more interesting than the Quill/Gamora shipping scenes. But I actually liked those scenes too, even if they taste a little contrived.

In summation, this was a funny, affecting, and delightful space opera. The leads are all wonderfully cast, the writing only sputters in the middle( but I concede that drunk Rocket Raccoon was a legitimately moving middle scene... seriously), and it's generally as lovable as blockbusters get. This will be to 8 year olds what Men in Black was to me. A movie that will shock, amaze, and be watched over and over and over and over again.

You will believe a Raccoon. CAN. MURDER.