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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Doctor Who Review: Christmas Special - "A Christmas Carol"

Dialogue Triumphs

(After splashing down through a chimney.)

The Doctor: “Cough, cough, blimey, sorry, Christmas Eve on a rooftop, saw a chimney, and my whole brain went ‘What the hell!’”


The Doctor: “Who’s she?”

Kazran: “Nobody important.”

The Doctor: “Nobody important? Blimey, that’s amazing. You know, in 900 years of traveling in time and space, I’ve never met anybody that wasn’t important before.”


The Doctor: “Fish? Fish… fish that can swim in fog. I love new planets.”


The Doctor: “And I bet I get some very interesting readings from my sonic screwdriver when I get it back from the shark that’s in your bedroom.”

Young Kazran: “There’s a shark in my bedroom?”

The Doctor: “Oh fine! Focus on that part!”


Amy: “Why is she still in there? You can let her out anytime.”

Kazran: “Oh yes, anytime at all… anytime I choose.”

Amy: “Then why don’t you?”

Kazran: “This is what the Doctor did to me. Abigail was ill when she went into the ice, to the point of death. I suppose lying in the ice helped her… but she’s used up her time - all those Christmas Eves with me. I could release her anytime I want… and she would live a single day. So tell me, Ghost of Christmas Present, how do I choose which day?”

Double Entendres

Rory: “Amy! The light stopped flashing; does that mean he’s coming?”


Kazran: “I cried all night, and I learned life’s most valuable lesson.”

The Doctor: “Which is?”

Kazran: “Nobody comes!”

The Review

Amy and Rory, while on their honeymoon, get trapped on an intergalactic cruise liner plunging on a crash course to a planet shrouded in thick, icy clouds that are populated by fish. It's up to the Doctor to save them, but the only way he can is by convincing a cruel, wealthy industrialist, named Kazran Sardick, who has a machine that controls the ice clouds, to help steer the ship to safety. However, Kazran, truly living up to the last four letters in his last name, is content to let the ship just crash. So, the Doctor takes Kazran on a Scrooge-like journey through his past, present, and future, with the hopes of thawing Kazran's icy heart, before the planet's icy clouds doom a ship of 4,000+ people.

You know, silly me, I actually doubted that this episode would be very good. The Doctor Who Christmas Specials can be kind of dodgy sometimes. Sure, they're almost always entertaining, but, with the exception of David Tennant's debut episode, "The Christmas Invasion", they're usually pretty forgettable. "The Runaway Bride", while bombastic and funny, wasn't even Christmas related, and the less said about "Voyage of the Damned" and "The Next Doctor", the better. Mind you, none of these are bad episodes, just not as good as the show is usually capable.

When I heard that showrunner, and all around genius, Steven Moffat, was writing a Doctor Who version of "A Christmas Carol", I kind of sighed irritably. The story of "A Christmas Carol" has been fucked out considerably, and I really didn't know how a Doctor Who version of it would be all that great.

I really ought to learn to trust the Moffat.

Sure, with the exception of a few minor quibbles about last season, many of which will probably be dealt with next season, Moffat has seldom ever let me down. He most certainly blew my mind this time.

While "A Christmas Carol" borrows the basic theme and formula of the Charles Dickens classic, it's done very cleverly, utilizing the Doctor's ability to travel in time to great effect. I clapped in utter joy when the Doctor went back to Kazran's childhood, while adult Kazran watched on in an old video log he recorded as a child (just like in "The Beast Below", the Doctor can't resist helping a weeping child). That's one thing I love about Moffat - he really takes advantage of the time travel aspect of the show to tell some really cool stories. Most writers, even throughout the classic era, spent more time focusing on the Doctor fighting monsters from outer space, or traveling to strange planets.

Speaking of strange planets, I also loved the concept of whatever planet this takes place on. The idea of fish that swim through fog is delightfully absurd, and serves to set the perfect, fairytale tone for the episode. I also like how, even though this is clearly the future, the people on this planet still dress like Charles Dickens characters. I suppose it stands to reason that such fashion could make a come back in the distant future, right?

The story is a very sweet departure from the normal Christmas Special fare, wherein the Doctor is usually pitted against some alien threat. Instead, the only the threat is the callous nature of Kazran, a trait which he inherited from his abusive father, and all the Doctor can do is try his best so show Kazran that there is another way of living his life. I absolutely loved the multiple Christmas Eves montage, where the Doctor comes back to spend every Christmas with young Kazran, and a beautiful cryogenically frozen woman named Abigail (who becomes Kazran's love interest as he grows older).

Naturally, as always, the performances are excellent. Unfortunately, Karen Gillan (Amy) and Arthur Darvill (Rory) didn't have much to do but scream for help most of the episode, but I do like how much Gillan seems to have toned down her character. Something about Amy bugged me all last season (and it certainly wasn't the looks, grrrrowl!) - it just seemed like none of the writers, except for Moffat, knew how to write for the character, and Gillan didn't really know how to play the character. It was good to see her again, especially in that sexy policewoman's uniform! Meanwhile, Matt Smith as the Doctor is, as always, a joy to watch. He crackles with energy all throughout the episode with the confidence of someone who has positively taken ownership of the role now. Lastly, veteran actor Michael Gambon turns in a superb performance as Kazran Sardick, which is hardly surprising considering that this is Michael Gambon we're talking about here.

Complaints? There aren't any. I found this to be an incredibly entertaining hour of television, and I came away not only feeling the Christmas spirit, but also looking forward to season six with an almost feverish enthusiasm.

Verdict: Fucking Awesome

Speaking of season six...

"I wear a Stetson now. Stetsons are cool."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

DVD BlitzCraig: Punchline (1988), Superman: The Animated Series Volume 3, Scrubs - Season 8

I'm so far behind in this, but you got to understand, I watch a shitload of DVDs... like, tons and tons and tons. I'm a single guy, with virtually no prospects over the horizon, so I'm sort of locked in with my bachelor lifestyle of "wake up, eat, shit, masturbate, watch a DVD, go to sleep" (not in that particular order, either). The routine sustains me. So, when trapped in a routine like this, the DVDs begin to accumulate, and when the movies are shit like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, well, I'm sorry, I just don't feel like writing about it. I mean, what more can be said about Prince of Persia that hasn't been said about dogshit?

Anyway, I'm going to try my best to catch up, because another part of the routine that sustains me is writing - whether it be in this blog, writing comedy for my stand-up, or just writing my grocery list.

Punchline (1988)

Tom Hanks stars as Steven Gold, a talented stand-up comedian who is the rising star at his home comedy club in New York City. He reluctantly takes amateur comic, and house mom, Lilah Krystick (Sally Field), under his wing and teaches her the ropes of comedy.

I found this movie to be really enjoyable, and an insightful look into the richly rewarding, but often profoundly lonely, world of stand-up comedy. I like how much the lifestyles of the two main characters completely clashed, but they both want the same thing: to succeed in comedy. Steven Gold is an intelligent, rapier witted individual, with a gift for comedy that is so natural, everyone knows he'll eventually break out big, but he is also a deeply lonely person, mostly due to his lack of social skills, and comedy is all that he's got. Meanwhile, you have Lilah, who is also a naturally gifted comic, but she is so devoted to her family, she doesn't have the time, or the inclination, to write her own material, and barely gets laughs rigidly delivering jokes that she bought from someone else using her family's vacation fund. She is anything but lonely, but nevertheless, has the same drive to make it in comedy as Steven.

These characters work so well because Tom Hanks and Sally Field give really strong performances. The solid performances create several great moments in the movie, one of my favorites being a scene where Steven completely bombs, and has an emotional meltdown, after discovering that his overbearing father, from whom he has kept his stand-up career a secret, is in the crowd:

Yikes. Every comic has had that experience, though few have been so grotesque. The worst I've ever bombed was the one and only time I got drunk before going onstage and promptly forgot my entire set. I just stood there, swaying on my feet, staring at the lights, desperately reaching into the murky cow pond that my mind had become, and retrieving nothing for my troubles. It was pretty god awful, but I didn't end up crying at least. Nope, I just burped, stumbled off the stage and into polite silence.

The only bad part of the movie is the clumsy and unnecessary subplot of Gold falling in love with Lilah. This development didn't feel natural at all, and while it certainly added a layer of neurosis to Gold's already neurotic character, it also just seemed way too forced. For one thing, Lilah never comes across as sexually alluring at all. Secondly, at no point during their time spent together, did it seem like Lilah and Steven were hitting it off romantically. It felt like the tone of the movie just kind of shifted dramatically - kind of like in Funny People, when the movie takes a complete left turn, and the plot is suddenly about Adam Sandler trying to reunite with his ex. I just sat there watching, thinking, "Where the hell did this come from???" I guess it did serve to emphasize the depth of Gold's loneliness, juxtaposed with the depth of Lilah's love for her family. Still, I wish it was developed better. Plus, considering that the same actors eventually play mother and son in Forest Gump, it was a little disturbing seeing the two kiss. Blegh.

Ultimately, the movie was enjoyable, and I'd hardily recommend it to anyone who is interested in comedy, along with the following films: Comedian, Heckler, I Am Comic,When Stand-up Stood Out, and that should be enough to get you going.

Verdict: Fucking Awesome

Superman: The Animated Series - Volume 3

Superman finishes up his adventures in the final season of this amazing series by Batman: The Animated Series masterminds, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. Most of this season involves Superman fending of invasion by the forces of Apokolips, led by the evil, godlike ruler, Darkseid. However, interspersed throughout the season are appearances by characters such as Mr. Mxyzsptlk, Bizarro, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Metallo, Supergirl, Batman, and Braniac.

I can't say enough about how amazing this series is. If you follow my blog, you already know there is a very large place in my heart for any animated series by Dini and Timm, so it shouldn't surprise you that my review of this series would be absolutely glowing. The season long epic involving Darkseid is handled extremely well, top-to-bottom, especially in this shocking scene when a heroic cop, named Dan Turpin, is murdered in cold blood by Darkseid to prove a point:

Good lord... remember, this was a cartoon that came on in the afternoons for kids just getting out of school. You just don't get scenes like that anymore. My only regret is that it didn't continue on longer, especially considering how the series ends with the world hating and fearing Superman after he is brainwashed to attack Earth by Darkseid... and, my god, is the fight he has with Darkseid later awesome:

Sure, it's not as good as the one he has with Darkseid later in Justice League Unlimited, but we'll discuss that one at a later time. So, yeah, as a whole, the Superman animated series is a work of art, and if you've never seen it, or have only watched bits and pieces, you really owe it to yourself to watch the entire thing. After you watch it, you'll be pissed that they still haven't managed to make a decent Superman movie yet.

Verdict: Fucking Awesome

Scrubs - Season 8

The hilarious hospital series closes it doors, as J.D. (Zach Braff) decides to leave Sacred Heart for new horizons and... wait, what? What do you mean there's a season 9? How can there be a season 9??? The main character friggin' left!

You know what sucks? When people don't get the simple concept of leaving on a high note. It's one of the oldest rules of showbusiness. Although this series isn't perfect, it was still really well written and enjoyable enough where, had it bowed out at the appropriate time, it would have been revered as one of the best television comedies ever. Instead, its legacy is one of being canceled, only to be renewed, have what was supposed to be the final season, only to have one more season, before being canceled again in disgrace.

But this isn't a review of season 9... sigh... I'll cross that minefield when I get to it. Let's pretend, for the sake of this review, that this actually were the final season of Scrubs. If such were the case, I'd say that it was a fantastic send off for a truly great show. The jokes are still sharp, the characters still likable, and the actors still giving it their best. All the characters end up right where I'd imagined them to be, so no surprises there, but it still works well for the series. The final sequence, where J.D. walks down the hallway one last time, and sees the familiar faces of all the characters he encountered during the series is actually quite touching.

It would have been the perfect end to a wonderful series... but noooooooo! Ugh... well, anyway, good season, and if you made it this far into the series, you'll enjoy it.

Verdict: Fucking Awesome

Friday, December 17, 2010

Doctor Who Retrospective - Villains: The Autons

By this point, I've covered all of the The Doctor's most dangerous adversaries: the Daleks, the Cybermen, The Master, the Ice Warriors, and the Sontarans. As far as The Doctor's gallery of villains is concerned, the Autons are certainly not very high up there, but since they have been involved in some of the series' milestone episodes, I felt it prudent to at least give them a passing mention.

The Autons are actually drones of living plastic, brought to life by a central intelligence called the Nestene Consciousness. The Nestene, itself, is mostly created out of living plastic, and animate anything else that is made of plastic by transmitting a psychic signal. However, commonly, the Nestene utilizes shop window dummies to do its bidding, although it can also create passable human replicates out of plastic and control those as well. All Autons are equipped with powerful projectile weapons, capable of completely vaporizing their victims, hidden in their hands. However, like I said before, the Autons are only drones, and when cut off from the Nestene Consciousness, which can be done with The Doctor's ever useful sonic screwdriver, they are rendered completely useless.

The Autons were introduced, along with John Pertwee as the Third Doctor, in the 1970 episode "Spearhead from Space":

Eww... for a second there, I thought Doctor Who was going to go into hentai territory... Anyway, they return the very next season in "Terror of the Autons", in which The Master collaborates with the Nestene in his debut episode:

The Autons were benched for the rest of the classic Who era, only to resurface in the very first episode of the new series, starring Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor, entitled "Rose":

Lousy disabled embeds... anyway, the Autons haven't been featured since "Rose", also they do play a fairly significant role in season five's 2-part finale "The Pandorica Opens", but no significant enough for me to go into full detail (especially without revealing spoilers). Nevertheless, even though they are very minor villains in the Whoverse, since they were the main villains in three major Doctor Who episodes, I felt it prudent to give them a nod, and anyway, who knows - maybe they'll grow to be a larger threat in future episodes!

Besides, the whole point of this retrospective is to not only cover the major villains, but to also dover interesting, if obscure, villains casual fans might not be aware of. Speaking of which...

Next time: Omega!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Craig Bitches About Everything: Bars

I hate bars.

I mean I really fucking hate bars.

Any one of my best friends knows how sincere I am with every word of that statement. If I could gauge my experiences in bars in a spectrum of 1 through 10, with 1 being "absolute loathing" and 10 being "mild annoyance", then I'd rate my experiences somewhere around... negative 2. Notice I colored the word "negative" red to emphasize my hate.

By this point, some of you naysayers are probably thinking, "Aw, if you'd loosen up and have fun, then you wouldn't hate bars so much." Well, nothing personal, but I think I may hate you for saying that almost as much as I hate bars. First of all, when someone is in an uncomfortable situation, they can't just "have fun". The act of having fun is not relegated to an on/off switch in the brain. You either enjoy something, or you don't. "Fun" is too subjective a concept. Some people think dancing is fun, while others would rather have their doctor lose his watch while giving them a prostate exam than dance.

The best way to get across why I hate bars is to describe a typical bar experience for me. A night at the bar usually starts late, which is already annoying, as I generally hate staying out late, because I love sleeping too much. If I stay up really late, I always feel groggy the next day, and that's just not going to be good for anyone. So, I'll drive to the bar, and usually end up circling the block for 15-minutes before I find a place to park. Then I walk up, and find that I have to pay a cover.

By the way - fuck cover charges. These places don't make enough money on their overpriced drinks? You have to be charged a fee just to get entry into the loud, overcrowded shithole? Fabulous. So, reluctantly, I pay the cover, mentally tallying that the night has started with me $8 in the hole, and I haven't even bought a drink yet.

For the sake of giving you a full blown, sucky bar experience, let's say the bar is packed with people. This mean, just to get a drink, I must squeeze by people, who stand there like cows, completely immobile and unwilling to move in any way that will allow you to get by easier. So, after stepping on five feet, nearly spilling the drink of a person who looks just like Ogre, from Revenge of the Nerds...

...and doing that thing where you have to squeeze really close to another dude, to get by, but you're desperately trying not to be make "crotch-to-ass", or even worse "crotch-to-crotch", contact with him, because he and his douchie, frat buddies look just like type to feel the need to reinforce their heterosexuality by beating anyone they perceive as the least bit "faggoty", despite the fact that they're all wearing pink in their wardrobe, and regularly engage in homoerotic activities like sticking their balls in their passed out buddy's mouth as a charming "prank".

So, after navigating through the pool of humanity, or cesspool, depending on the bar you're at, I finally get to the actually bar part of the bar. Now I'm standing there, like a chode, waiting for the bartender to notice me, and every time he walks by, I hesitantly stick my finger up, like I'm hailing a cab, only to be ignored for the pretty blond in front of me, or the hot brunette to the left of me. Keep in mind that now I'm the immovable object that everyone is brushing by, and I'm trying my best to stretch my body in an almost Yoga like fashion to accommodate everyone who needs to get by me, because I'm a pretty big guy, and I'm used to being in people's way. I'm the kind of guy that always feels slightly guilty to sit in front of someone in a theater, so I unconsciously watch the movie with my head hunched low for the sake of the entire audience behind me.

I finally get the bartender's attention, and the conversation usually goes something like this: "WHAT'S YOUR DRINK SPECIALS???" (all caps to because I have to scream to be heard over the unrelenting shitty music they usually throb in most bars).

Bartender: "We don't got no specials."

Me: "OH! UH... WHAT'S YOUR CHEAPEST BEER?" At this point, the bartender rolls his eyes, dusts off the laminated menu that nobody ever uses, and hands it to me. I don't take long, because what I need is usually right on top - cheapest beer: Paps Blue Ribbon. After I order it, I imagine a hipster tipping his ironic trucker hat and saying, "PBR - always a good choice!" Of course, I also imagine Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet:

Of course, by “cheap”, I mean that it costs $4.00 per bottle, whereas if I were to go by a gas station, I could probably pickup a six-pack of PBR at that price… hell, maybe even a 12-pack! I hand the bartender my debit card, and he asks if I want to start a tab. I say no. He says, “Sorry, but we have a ten dollar minimum if you’re going to use a debit card.” I say maybe I don’t want to spend ten dollars tonight. He suggests, in that case, I should visit an ATM. I point out that doesn’t make much sense, because an ATM only lets you withdraw a minimum of $20. He gets agitated, and points out that he has other customers to attend to, so I finally give him my card, resigned that, no matter what, now I’m going to be most definitely dumping 18 bucks (including cover charge) into this misadventure. Fuck.

I navigate through the crowd again to reach my friends, who are waiting for me on the other side of the room, right next to the speakers for the sound system. Lovely. Oh, wait, I’m sorry, did I say friends? Cause I meant two people I actually consider friends, and then half a table of people I’ve never met in my life. I try to muster enough goodwill with which to greet my friends, but it takes so much of my will to do it, I have next to nothing left for the strangers at the table, so I just give them a slight nod. I sit down, nursing my nasty tasting beer, surveying the bar, and feeling boredom almost immediately setting in. Fuck.

My friends try to engage me in conversation, but due to the loud music, it goes something like this:

Friend: “So, how’s the stand-up comedy going?”

Me: “WHAT???”

Friend: I said, how’s the stand-up comedy going?"


Friend: “I know, this bar is incredible!”

At this point, I shrug, and return attention to my beer. My friends, having decided that communication with me would be futile, turn their attention to the others at the table. I’m left staring wistfully at my cell phone, wishing that I hadn’t gotten rid of the internet service on it, as posting my misery on Facebook would do much to alleviate my suffering. I do the next best thing, however, and text every person on my contact list to get their sympathy. Half of them don’t respond, because it’s so late, or they could care less, while the other half give me the sage like advice to “have fun”. This irritates me enough that I put the phone away for the night, and now I’m left with literally twiddling my thumbs and thinking about how far I am from finishing Assassin’s Creed II for X-Box 360.

Suddenly, a shot is sat in front of me, and my friends are goading me to drink it. I ask where it came from. Some dude whose name I don’t even know has bought the table a round of shots. While I certainly feel grateful about the gesture, at the same time I’m kind of pissed, because now the obligation to buy the table shots will eventually move around the table to me, and I can’t be a dick and not reciprocate the gesture. Goddamn it, at this rate, I’ll be in the hole for 50 bucks if I’m lucky! Not only that, but I didn’t want to get very drunk in the first place, because I want to be able to get back home. I’d rather not crash on my friend’s couch, which is half my size, and is usually slept on by a cat, who makes it her business to let me know it’s her couch by sticking her puckered asshole in my face at every opportunity. I also didn’t want to have to call a cab, because I was already spending enough money as it is. Still, I couldn’t turn down the drink, as it would be rude, so I drink it.

Ugh… fuck… I hate shots… there is nothing fun about drinking a shot whatsoever. It’s about as fun as swallowing a pissed off bumblebee. My nasty ass beer is hardly much of a chaser, so I just sit there, choking, and desiring more fervently to go home more than ever before. My friends begin taking my silent sulking as an affront to their good time, so they begin to wish I’d go home as well. I finally strike upon the brilliant idea of getting my round over with and going home on a high note. So, I swim through the crowd once more to order a round of shots, close my tab, writing “Eat the 10 dollar minimum, asshole” in the Tip bracket, plow through people with a newfound total disregard for human courtesy, serve up the shots, and I get the fuck out of there.

That pretty well sums up my bar experiences. If I could surmise what bugs me so much about going to a bar, it’s that it feels like a lot of work for little to no reward. It’s kind of like paying to get into Disney World, but not being able to ride the rides, because of long lines, or because of malfunctions. Some people go out to bars to pick up girls, but I don’t function that way. I’m not very smooth even in the most casual environments, nevertheless when competing with a booming sound system. Some people go to socialize, but once again, I refer to the sound issue. Unless there was a high school lip reading class I wasn’t aware of, than socializing seems out of the question for me as well. Others go to bars just to get shitfaced, but I don’t drink very much – in fact, I don’t like to drink. I hate how it makes me feel the next day, no matter how much I’ve had. Also, I don’t like having no control over my faculties, especially in a public place. So, with all of that being said, you can well imagine that I much prefer a place that is about as opposite of a bar as one can imagine – that’s right: coffee shop. However, even those can be annoying in some ways, but I’ll save that for another bitching session….

Fuck bars.