Portlandia [Season One]

Portlandia

Portlandia is a sketch series from IFC which parodies the hipster utopia of Portland, Oregon. The show stars Saturday Night Live‘s Fred Armisen and Sleater-Kinney‘s Carrie Brownstein. Portlandia centers (I use this term loosely!) around a couple who have recently relocated to Portland from Los Angeles. Brownstein and Armisen play a variety of different roles that poke fun at a wide variety of trendy hipsters ranging from vegans, dumpster divers, artists and environmentalists.

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The Walking Dead [Complete First Season]

92175358When American cable outfit AMC launched its series The Walking Dead in 2010, it quickly became apparent the channel had a hit on its hands. The show attracted 5.3 million viewers for its pilot episode in the USA, making it the biggest show in AMC’s history – no small feat, given the network boasts titles like Breaking Bad and Mad Men in its line-up.

Based on the graphic novel series of the same name, The Walking Dead did come with some level of built-in audience, but the popularity was far greater than that. Whilst zombies have long since become passe in feature films, comics, video games and other media, the idea of a full-on living dead television series was still original.

The series opens with a bang, as in the first episode Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is shot in the line of duty and slips into a coma. He awakes to find the world apparently deserted…except that the dead have come back to life with a hunger for human flesh. So begins a desperate hunt for his wife and son, all the while trying to avoid the roaming hordes of undead.

The pilot is, simply put, terrific television. It blends tension, pathos and elegance with some great set-pieces. Showrunner Frank Darabont (best known for The Shawshank Redemption and The Mist) shows a great eye for memorable visuals, such as when Rick stumbles across a rotting, legless zombie dragging itself through a lush green park in idyllic sunshine. The visuals are helped by the best zombies ever to grace the screen, bar none.

Executive Producer Greg Nicotero first cut his teeth doing zombie effects on George Romero’s seminal Day of the Dead, and he brings all the experience in the 25 years since to bear in the creations of The Walking Dead. Phenomenally detailed and almost beautifully hideous, the zombies here are individual, tragic and pitiful. Their realisation is almost worth the price of admission alone.

The production values in general are outstanding. This really is feature-film level stuff. The acting is also strong, although English actor Lincoln occasionally seems to struggle in keeping his Southern US accent in place.

Early on, the show has a real sense of urgency. Rick first has to get to Atlanta to find his family, which in the second episode becomes a case of trying to get out again. Then he and others must return to find someone left behind. But as the series progresses into its latter stages, the objectives become a little vague and more distant and the momentum of the show dries up. Proceedings get bogged down with soap opera bickering between the survivors and a rarity of genuinely likeable characters before it all winds up with a somewhat underwhelming finale.

The first season is only six episodes long, so the novelty of seeing a zombie series is enough to carry the day, but the patches of boredom risk being overwhelming in future seasons unless a more consistent plot can be put in place.

Overall, The Walking Dead: Season One can be considered a qualified success, creating a convincing and expansive post-zombie-apocalypse world. The stumbling scripting towards the end does threaten to hamstring the series, but the potential is there for the ship to be righted and a truly great show to emerge.

The extras include a decent 30-minutes look behind the scenes, which is a fast-moving look at a variety of the aspects of production and a variety of marketing fluff pieces under the banner, “Inside The Walking Dead”. These are five-minute featurettes typically following a cast or crew member around for topics such as a tour of Dale’s RV or a time lapse look at the make-up process for the pilot’s iconic ‘bicycle girl’ zombie.

One of the more interesting extras is a detailed step-by-step guide to a zombie make-up using commercially-available items. Headed by Greg Nicotero, the tutorial is a neat lesson for budding FX artists or just for those who want to put a bit of extra effort into their Hallowe’en costumes.

Available on R4 DVD from Magna Home Entertainment. 

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

In interviews Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost has said that the goal of Twin Peaks was to do “something original”. While it achieved originality in spades the idea of a story about a girl who is murdered from the get-go stems from the 1947 Robert Wise film Born to Kill. In Born to Kill the victim’s name is Laury Palmer, in Twin Peaks it’s Laura Palmer. So it’s quite fitting that we never get to know Laura in the series but follow a whole week or so of her life in the movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

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Robot Chicken: Mega Meal Collection

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I imagine there are very few people out there who don’t know what Robot Chicken is about. So for those of you who’ve never heard of it:

1) Go to Robot Chicken’s Wikipedia page

2) Watch a short clip on Youtube

3) Go and order Madman’s Robot Chicken Mega Meal Collection (10 Disc Set)

And if you’re too lazy to do any of that then here’s a quick summary of the show: its one giant pop culture riff. It’s really hard to review season by season as the show is just a bunch of animated shorts that spoof everything from reality tv, 80s toys, game shows, celebrities, politics, internet humor, movies, tv shows and fads, etc.

I don’t want to bore you with my favourite skits from each season but my absolute favourite out of all seasons was the Big Brother Horror Movie staring Leatherface, Pinhead, Freddy, Jason, Ghostface, and Michael Meyers as Big Brother contestants. The Six Million Peso Man, My Little Pony as “Apocalypse Pony” (death, pestilence etc) was pretty clever too. They RC crew have a real knack for what they do and create some really hilarious sketches. It really does help if you were an ’80s kid though, I do wonder if some of the references won’t click with a younger audience.

Out of all the Adult Swim shows Robot Chicken is probably the most accessible because it relies so heavily on mocking popular culture. It’s not surreal or bizarre and unlike some other AS series the fifth season is just as good as the first. My first introduction to the show was the Star Wars special and although I thought it looked great I wasn’t all that fussed with it and didn’t really hurry to check the rest of the series out. When I got this set I watched all five seasons in a row and found it just got funnier and funnier without having to become cruder or sillier with each season as some shows tend to become.

Rather than babble on about the show itself I’ll focus on the box-set. If you’ve been buying Madman’s releases of each season then the only thing you’re missing is the individual artwork for each season. The Mega Meal Collection comes in a plastic 10 disc case. While I like having everything in one set – and this is the same for the Aqua Teen box-set – I kinda miss the artwork that comes with each individual season. But the good news is is that these box sets are often a lot cheaper than buying each season when it comes out.

I haven’t reviewed each season individually so assume that the extras will be the same in this set as they are on each individual season that Madman released. As far as extras go there are far too many to mention. Ones worth mentioning are “Sweet S Presents” which is the pilot for RC, the Comic-Con panels are interesting as well as the various commentaries, “Chicken Nuggets” (sketch by sketch commentary), animation meetings, studio tours, video blogs etc. You’re probably getting just as much content in extras as the show itself.

This set is an absolute must have for any Robot Chicken fan. The only slight annoyance is that the set only contains season 1-5. To be fair though season 6 has only just aired but it’s a pet peeve of mine to have a season or two out of a box set. It is also missing Robot Chicken Star Wars but for the price and the extras included this is well worth the purchase price.

EXTRAS

Season One: Disc One

  • Deleted Scenes – 11 clips
  • Deleted Animatics – 11 mins
  • Animation Meetings -14 mins
  • Photo Gallery
  • Trailers

Season One: Disc Two

  • Sweet S Presents – 15 mins (the pilot to Robot Chicken)
  • Behind-the-scenes – 13 mins
  • Wire Comparisons – 5 mins
  • Animatics to Episode Comparisons – 5 mins
  • Alternate Audio Takes – 5 mins
  • Promos – 6 mins
  • Bumps – 10 mins
  • Trailers

Season Two: Disc One

  • Deleted Scenes – 10 clips
  • Adult Swim Promos
  • The Making of a Sketch – 13 mins
  • Xmas Special – 11 mins
  • Deleted Audio
  • Commentaries – 12 tracks

Season Two: Disc Two

  • Animation Meetings – 4 clips
  • PS3 Contest – 1 min
  • Deleted Animatics – 20 clips
  • Slide Show – 2 mins
  • Video Blogs – 15 clips
  • Freedom Rock – 2 mins
  • Commentaries – 10 tracks

Season Three: Disc One

  • Commentaries – 10 tracks
  • Chicken Nuggets – 4 tracks with commentary
  • Gag Reel – 1 min
  • VFX Comparison – 1 min

Season Three: Disc Two

  • Commentaries – 11 tracks
  • Alternate Audio – 2 tracks
  • Deleted Animatics – 22 clips
  • Deleted Scenes – 8 clips
  • Studio Tour – 11 mins
  • Video Blogs – 11 clips
  • Trailers

Season Four: Disc One

  • Chicken Nuggets – 4 clips
  • San Diego Comic-Con ’08 Panel – 11 mins
  • Day in the Life – 6 clips
  • New York Comic-Con ’09 Panel – 8 mins

Season Four: Disc Two

  • Alternate Audio – 4 clips
  • Australia Visit – 2 clips
  • Deleted Animatics – 38 clips
  • Deleted Scenes – 9 clips
  • Video Blogs – 5 clips

Season Five: Disc One

  • Featurettes – 7 clips
  • Chicken Nuggets – 3 tracks
  • Sing-a-long – MP3 file for your computer
  • Promos – 21 clips
  • Alternate Audio Takes – 7 mins

Season Five: Disc Two

  • Chicken Nuggets – 1 track
  • Deleted Scenes – 7 clips
  • Deleted Animatics – 53 clips
  • Trailers

DIRECTOR(S): Mike Fasolo, Seth Green, Matthew Senreich | COUNTRY: USA | YEAR 2005 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Madman | RUNNING TIME: 1140 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: 16.9 /4:3 | REGION: 4 / PAL | DISCS: 10

The Protectors [Series 1]

Protectors-DVDWith the success of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo it was inevitable that there would be interest in any new (and a revival of old) Scandinavian crime related sensations. First it was the murder mystery series The Killing with its Twin Peaks-esque whodunit tease-fest and now the Danish series The Protectors.

The Protectors also known as “Livvagterne”, is a series about a Danish Personal Protection Unit. We follow three recruits: Arab born Jasmina El-Murad, Danish born Rasmus Poulsen, and Jewish Jonas Goldschmid as they go through the annual admission test and go on to become protectors.

The show focuses on the three protecting their clients, while exploring their lives, the clients’ lives and some major political themes affecting Denmark. The most central recurring theme is the impact of Muslim culture and its assimilation into Danish culture. To balance this out it also deals with issues such as White Extremists, political, environmental, and moral corruption.

The Protectors is a very multi-cultural show and in the eyes of Anders Behring Breivik this aspect would serve to prove his notion of the “Islamic Threat” and how Scandinavian culture is being destroyed. In wake of his actions watching a show like this does make you consider how traditions and cultures might get forgotten amidst so much culture. Having said that it’s really up to the individual to judge the nature of the show. This is obviously an issue in Denmark and they are not focusing only on extremism but the reasons for it.

Ultimately The Protectors is a nice break from the typical cop/action series. We get something a bit more fleshy and realistic although it still manages to provide some action and suspense sequences. One thing Scandinavian films and TV always excel in is character development and the show is more about the characters than the action which again is a nice change. Recommended for those who liked The Killing.

Madman’s release of Series 1 consists of 10 episodes spread over 3 discs with no special features.

Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Portlandia [Season Three]

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Created by and starring Fred Armisen (of Saturday Night Live fame) and Carrie Brownstein (the guitarist for alt-rock band Sleater-Kinney), the third season  of Portlandia continues to take us on a satirical trip through Portland, Oregon and the alternative subcultures which it is home to. With 10 episodes (plus the winter special) spread over two discs, Brownstein and Armisen use the sketch comedy narrative format to simultaneously poke fun at and homage the left-of-field characters which can be found in their hometown, in turn offering sharp-witted satire on the politics and trends which are so much a part of these cultures. This is all filtered through a whimsical off-beat, oddball humour which hones in on everything from vegan restaurants (fart patio included) to feminist bookshops.

Season 3 features such storylines as a vegetarian couple who have to swear off pasta creating carb withdrawls, the Feminist Bookstore holding a comedy night, the Gutterpunks finding a missing cat and the the entire city of Portland having his its power cut, among other things. The episodes also feature a bunch cameos with everyone from Kurt Loder to Jack White, the former of which is involved in a notable storyline where he and a few other characters storm the MTV headquarters in order to take MTV back to what it was in the ’90s, which is sure to pull a few laughs and create some nostalgia for the grown-up Generation X-ers who the show is no doubt aimed at.

All this continual poking-fun-at the absurdities and peculiarities of hipster/liberal culture means the humour can be somewhat limited in its scope, especially for viewers who are not aware of or involved in the cultural scenes which the show draws upon for so much of its humour. Some of these in-jokes may be lost upon a few viewers then, however I suspect the creators never really intended to have a mass-appeal with the show and if anything it’s quite refreshing to see a comedy which narrows down it’s focus to a particular type of society rather than a lot of pandering to the lowest common denominator which too much mainstream humour goes for these days.

This DVD package also comes with bonus features such as deleted scenes and a tour of Portland with Kumail Nanijani which may appeal to the more fervent fans of Portlandia. Now expecting its run for a fifth season, Portlandia: Season Three is a must for anyone who considers themselves a fan of the show but also works for those who aren’t familiar with it, checking it out for the first time.

Portlandia [Season Three] is available on R1 DVD and Blu-Ray from VSC / MVD Visual.

Adventure Time [Complete Second Season]

Adventure-Time-The-Complete-Second-Season-15529902-4Most people have heard of Adventure Time by now, but if you happen to be one of the willfully ignorant it’s a much-hyped animated series that airs on Cartoon Network. Despite being presented as a kids ‘toon, it has quickly gathered a “cult following” of teens & 20-something man-children, inspiring fan-fiction, cosplaying and all the money-grubbing merchandise you can think of.

The central plot revolves around the show’s protagonists Finn, a pre-teen boy, and Jake, a talking shape-shifting dog and their wacky adventures in the magical land of Ooo. On their travels they often come into contact with some of the various recurring characters such as Princess Bubblegum, Ice King, Lumpy Space Princess and Cinnamon Bun. Continue reading

Black Mirror: The Collection

Black-MirrorUK TV critic and writer Charlie Brooker is best known as an acerbic columnist for The Guardian newspaper, but his own ventures into television have always been met with critical approval. From his Screenwipe and Newswipe series to the zombie mini-series Dead Set and even the erratic Nathan Barley, Brooker has been able to air his blackly comic, cynical worldview. But none of them met with the acclaim – and the Emmy – that the anthology series Black Mirror has obtained so far.

Comprising two seasons to date, each three episodes long, Black Mirror is a Twlight Zone-esque set of ‘what if’ stories based around technology and social media and their effects on modern society. These are subjects close to the heart of Brooker, himself an avid Tweeter. Continue reading

The Pocket Book of Boosh

The Pocket Book of Boosh is exactly the same as the larger (hard covered) Mighty Book of Boosh except it is pocket sized and its hardly even pocket-sized. The only pocket that it fitted in of mine was my German army  parka. The pocket book is also supposed to come with a denim slip, mine didn’t, but I am in NZ so maybe it’s a different edition or something, or someone stole the cover in the shop.

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Robot Chicken: DC Comics Special

RobotChickenDCSo, another Robot Chicken special. This one chooses the DC Comics universe as the target for their usual brand of offensive humor. If you’ve seen the show it’s pretty clear the creators are unashamed fan-boys so a loving roast of the DC Comics heroes was clearly in order.

During its brief 23 minute runtime a few running gags come into play, the central one being the relentless bullying of Aquaman by the other members of the Justice League. Eventually the gilled freak get’s fed up and decides to switch sides by joining the Legion of Doom. Fortunately The Riddler has just quit to form his own Punctuation Posse, so there’s a space for the turncoat Aquaman. Typical RC wackiness ensues and many superheroes are torn to comedic shreds.

Other amusing reoccurring jokes are the “That’s Bane!” segments, wherein he constantly appears and breaks Batman’s spine, and a skit where the Justice League are out clubbing trying pick up chicks.

All things considered, this is not a must-see. I much prefer the standard Robot Chicken show than these specials as many of the jokes just fall flat. But despite the short runtime (23 minutes) and unfunny cracks, there’s over 2 hours of special features which will likely make this a mandatory purchase for any RC fan. The most entertaining of which for me was the tour of the DC Entertainment offices as you get to see numerous obscure action figures, their comprehensive comic library, and other cool merchandise.

Extras:

  • The Making Of RCDC Special
  • RCDC’s Aquaman Origin Story
  • Chicken Nuggets
  • Writers’ Commentary
  • Actors’ Commentary
  • DC Entertainment Tour
  • Stoopid Alter Egos
  • Outtakes
  • Cut Sketches
  • 5.2 Questions
Robot Chicken: DC Comics Special is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Madman Entertainment