Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series

Humans create Cylons.

Cylons destroy most of humanity in a nuclear holocaust.

The survivors run from the Cylons in a creaky old spaceship, looking for the fabled planet Earth.

It’s funny, but for as complex a show as it often is, Battlestar Galactica can still be boiled down to the bare bones with those three sentences. Probably the greatest triumph of the series, though, is that it’s built around the two topics which are considered taboo for cocktail parties and dinner conversation: religion and politics. It’s entirely possible that such a series could only be successful under the banner of science fiction, and yet Galactica only uses the sci-fi label as a ruse to tell the kind of stories it wants to tell. Read between the lines: the show really isn’t like any other TV science fiction that’s come before it.

Of course, devotees of the original 1978 incarnation would be all too happy to explain how, without the groundwork Glen Larson laid, Ron Moore’s new version never could have existed. They may be right, but none of that would change the fact that, even as a Star Wars lovin’ kid, I always hated the ‘70s version. Even though it only lasted one season, it felt like it was on forever, a perception likely exacerbated by the Gods-awful Galactica 1980 series which followed it for a half a season. Somewhere out there, no doubt, there’s a kid who had the exact same reaction to the new version of the series, but that’s not because it’s bad. It’s because this isn’t a show for kids. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone under the age of 12 finding much of anything to enjoy about it. The stench of the original series stuck with me so thoroughly in my adult life, however, that it wasn’t until the second season was well under way that I broke down and gave the remake/reimagining/rehash a chance on DVD – mostly because it had been recommended to me over and over, and I figured I ought to give it a chance. Obviously, this anecdote has a predictable outcome: the show was actually good. No, it was better than good: it felt transcendent. Much of my reaction was due to watching it on DVD, and now that the entire thing is available in one massive package, you too can experience it on DVD or Blu-ray, which is by far the best way to imbibe in this show’s wares.

Read the rest of this DVD/Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Life on Mars: Series One

There are police dramas that deliver far more engaging procedurals than Life on Mars. There are also time travel shows that offer up far more stimulating scenarios than Life on Mars. But there’s something about combining the two genres into one that makes you forget about all those other concepts, and leaves you convinced that you’re watching one of the most badass TV series you’ve seen in a good long while. Sam Tyler (John Simm) is a Detective Constable Inspector in 2006, until he’s randomly hit by a car. He’s then suddenly, inexplicably taken back in time to 1973, and the Bowie tune that was playing on his iPod at the time of the accident now plays on an 8-Track deck. His manner of dress has also changed to reflect the times. But most importantly, he’s gone down in rank – he’s now just a lowly Detective Inspector. Is Sam crazy? Has he actually travelled back in time? Or is he in a coma, and this is all some kind of elaborate dream? Most of the evidence suggests the latter.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Grey Gardens

When Grey Gardens premiered on HBO earlier this year, I was telling a friend how good it was and how he really needed to watch it. He refused on two counts, the first being a slavish devotion to the original documentary upon which it’s based, and the second being Drew Barrymore, whom he hyperbolically declared to be “everything that’s wrong with cinema today.” I spoke with him earlier this evening, before sitting down to write this review. Seems his girlfriend rented it over the weekend and he caved. Good thing, too, because he really enjoyed it and appears to have a newfound respect for Miss Barrymore, offering her the highest praise with the simplest of critiques: “She was Little Edie!”

While it helps from a contextual standpoint to have seen the 1975 doc of the same name, it isn’t necessary for an appreciation of Grey Gardens. Albert and David Maysles’ original piece was the 100-minute culmination of various interviews given to the brothers by Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, who lived together in a decaying mansion in the East Hamptons. The name Bouvier is the key here: they are the aunt and cousin of one Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. The pair lived in squalor for decades, surrounded by cats and raccoons. When the National Enquirer exposed the situation in the early ‘70s, Jackie O. felt the need to help her relatives by fixing up the house and (presumably) providing them with some financial support. This is all dramatically reenacted in the film (Jeanne Tripplehorn cameos as Jackie O.), and it’s the real reason for making it in the first place: to give viewers a taste of the years and events that led up to the Beales as presented by the Maysles.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Doctor Who: The Rescue / The Romans

As a Doctor Who fanatic, it always seems treacherous to admit that the William Hartnell era of the series is something I can take or leave. He is, after all, the first Doctor, and without the groundwork he laid through his portrayal, the show may not have lasted a season, never mind 46 years (and counting). Nevertheless, you’ll rarely find me waxing rhapsodic about the early years, because they were so very clearly aimed at children, and the pacing and production values reflect a series that was typically doing little more than entertaining the young ‘uns every Saturday afternoon. This was how Doctor Who started, and I understand that, but the truth is much of the Hartnell era is not particularly engaging TV by today’s standards. (Of course, I also understand that some would argue nothing within the first 26 years of the series is engaging by today’s standards, but they are, of course, wrong.)

Why all the qualifiers? Because “The Romans” reaches for something greater than most of the era in which it was produced.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Kath & Kim: Season One

If there was a network series more lambasted, loathed and condemned at the start of the Fall 2008 TV Season than Kath & Kim, I sure as hell can’t remember what it was. It seemed like this show earned the ire of nearly every TV critic out there. Thing is, I can’t figure out exactly why it was universally despised. Was it a general dislike of Molly Shannon? Admittedly, she’s hardly a draw for me. Do critics gather together and find at least one series that they can all agree is just plain awful? Surely it wasn’t a conspiracy. Or had the majority of them actually viewed the Australian series upon which it was based? That’s the only logical answer. I have not seen the Aussie version of Kath & Kim, but after viewing this set, the original must be a fantastic series. This American version is not fantastic, but it dances with greatness often enough that the material upon which it’s based has to be classic. I’ve seen enough American translations of foreign TV shows (usually British) to recognize great TV when I see it, even when it’s filtered through the watered-down lens of an American network remake.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Secret Diary of a Call Girl: Season Two

At the close of the first season of Secret Diary, the show looked as if it was set to deliver a far superior second season. While Season Two is an improvement on the first, the bad news is that the upgrade in no way rocks the foundations of the series. Season Two’s dramatic arc is nearly identical to what it’s already given us. It does lead to a considerably different outcome, yet one can’t shake the feeling that this is mostly a case of “been there, done that.” If the show can’t scale some risky heights in its sophomore outing, it probably never will. The good news is that it is much funnier when it needs to be, and much more dramatic when it’s required. Clearly this is never going to be a “great” show, yet it remains, at the very least, an entertaining one – as long you embrace the seedy, duplicitous adventures of a London whore.

Season One saw the unveiling of Belle the call girl/Hannah the person (Billie Piper), and explored the relationship with her best friend/ex-boyfriend Ben (Iddo Goldberg), and what happened when she let him into her world. Season Two sees Belle/Hannah falling for a new guy, Dr. Alex (Callum Blue, cue obscure “Orb” joke here). Of course, the hook is that she hides her profession from him for the first half of the season. (Sound familiar to you Diary vets?) Alex discovers Hannah’s secret life in Episode Five, and the series must be given kudos for finding an engaging, melodramatic way for this to unfold. Yet it does it in such a way that you’re forced to side with Hannah. Manipulative or smart? You’ll have to decide, as I’m on the fence.

Read this entire DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen

I imagine the same can be said of many genre shows, but when you’re a fan of Doctor Who, there are always a few stories that you enjoy but the rest of fandom shuns. For me, “Attack of the Cybermen” is such an installment, and a big part of my appreciation for it comes from having viewed it repeatedly at a time in my life when I only had about five different Who stories on VHS. I know every beat of it as well as I know The Rocky Horror Picture Show. During those precious teenage years, criticism was much harder to come by than it is today, so I was blissfully unaware that “Attack” was unpopular with the fans. Having read plenty of critical pieces on it since then, I can sort of see where the distaste comes from, and yet it hasn’t really changed my feelings about the story. Sure, it’s far from a sterling example of the show, but it’s an immense amount of fun regardless.

Probably the most controversial aspect of the story – the one that folks rant about incessantly – is its over-reliance on continuity. It is true, “Attack of the Cybermen” is quite the fan-wankfest, and in order to get the most out of it, it helps to know some Cyber-history. For starters, it’s something of a sequel to 1968’s “Tomb of the Cybermen,” and along the way it also pays homage to the ‘60s serials “The Invasion” and “The Tenth Planet.” Further, there’s a major reference to the very first Who story ever, “An Unearthly Child,” and it brings back the character of Lytton (Maurice Colbourne), the intergalactic mercenary who’d worked for the Daleks in the previous season’s “Resurrection of the Daleks.” And just to make sure you’ve been paying attention all these years, it features the singular instance of the Doctor actually fixing the TARDIS’ chameleon circuit, so that for this story only, the exterior of the time/space machine changes to fit in with its surroundings (or not, as it turns out, but those are gags better left seen than talked about here).

Read this entire DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.