Tags: tv

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I recently watched the first season of a French animated series called Wakfu. It was fascinating.

On the surface, it appears to be nothing more than an especially well-animated children’s action-adventure series. Indeed, it’s worse than that: It’s based upon an online roleplaying game, and to that extent, it’s basically a commercial for that game. We’ve all seen adaptations of video games before. They’re shallow, pandering, lacking substance, and are never intended to do anything but advertise the product, right? And on some basic, fundamental level, the story of the main characters is pretty much precisely that.

However, there’s something else going on here.

The main villain of the series is a character named Nox. Nox does what only the best of villains do, and what all great villains are remembered for: He utterly steals the show from the main cast, overshadowing them entirely. Visually, he’s fascinating, looking and moving like some sort of clockwork mummy. The voice actor that they have playing the role in the French version is inspired; there’s a level of manic desperation to everything that he says and does that bespeaks some greater depth to the character which is only gradually revealed to us.


Without having any desire to spoil any of the key plot points of the series, it’s difficult to discuss his arc in any meaningful way, but I can share a key insight into the character that I had been trying to figure out how to phrase for some time.

Nox is a character from an entirely different genre of show than the rest of the cast.

See, where the rest of the cast is basically in this show which is a fun, lighthearted, comedic action-adventure, Nox is like the protagonist in a Greek tragedy. Whenever he shows up, suddenly, the entire tone of the series changes. It’s not fun anymore. It’s not lighthearted. He drags everyone around him into the nightmare which is his life. He’s this intrusion into a world of bright colours and high adventure. A dark and terrible shadow cast upon the land in a physical and emotional sense.

By the conclusion of the season, he has utterly taken over the narrative. The big finish is truly an exercise in tragedy; shocking, poetic and heartbreaking in a way which would have seemed inconceivable if the story had simply continued to follow the thematic elements and narrative of the main protagonists. Nox, however, is such a larger than life character that he does not permit this. He’s an emotional black hole into which the rest of the cast is drawn, and from which not all of them emerge alive.

It’s remarkably deft storytelling that the producers of the show have pulled off, and as it plays out, it’s astonishing to look back upon where it started and to see the arc of the plot. The audacity of taking this bright and cartoony video game commercial and transforming it into this vehicle for a story of such pathos and drama. The vision necessary to pull it off. It’s nothing I would have expected at all.

Moreover, when the series IS a lighthearted and comedic action adventure, it’s GOOD at being that. The term “all ages” comedy gets tossed around a lot, but in general it’s awkward and stilted; either a children’s story which has a few clumsy double entendres for the parents in attendance, or else something so bland and inoffensive that it’s only all ages in that all ages of viewers will be equally bored and insulted by it. In this case, however, I actually found myself laughing out loud any number of times at the humour (and even where it didn’t exactly “hit” for me, I didn’t find my sensibilities offended by them). The absolute gorgeousness of the character designs, animation and direction were enough to keep me visually enthralled the rest of the time.

It’s a series I can find almost no fault with in its native form. Sadly, it seems that it’s now being dubbed into English, and there’s a clumsy, amateur quality to the voice casting which is kind of agonizing to listen to (as is sadly all to often the case with dubs). If you can find some of the fan made subtitled versions from some reputable and above-board source, I unreservedly recommend it.
Cocktopus

Nova - The Bible's Buried Secrets


A couple of weeks ago, I watched a fantastic documentary from Nova called "The Bible's Buried Secrets". As people who know me are well aware, this sort of thing is like crack to me. It essentially looks at the very early history of the Israelite people by means of a combination of approaches and creating a synthesis which is very compelling to me. They seek to disentangle the actual history of these people from the various strands of mythology which you find in the bible. And it does treat this book as mythology, and moreover, a sort of Frankensteineian hodge-podge of four DIFFERENT mythological traditions which were spliced, over the course of centuries, into the early books of the Torah (or "Old Testament" as the Christians somewhat condescendingly call it). It doesn't do so in an unfriendly or hostile way at all; it approaches the early history of this people as an engaging historical saga which has been obscured and confused by a series of myths which nevertheless served various useful purposes to the culture of this struggling people. It goes into a number of different corroborating sources for different elements of the story being told, many drawn from archaeological digs performed in the area over the last sixty years or so, mainly by Israeli archaeologists who have a vested interest in discerning the truth of their own early history.

I've shown this film to a number of friends, who have all enjoyed it tremendously, and I suspect many of you will as well. I know I fully plan on buying the DVD when it becomes available for sale in February.

For the time being, the entire thing can be viewed for free by Americans at Nova's page for the film here: http://www.pbs.org/nova/bible

For those outside of the US, there are a number of opportunities. For example, some helpful soul has broken it up into 12 parts and posted them on YouTube, the first of which I post here: 




If that's not to your tastes (as Youtube video quality can be a little on the weak side), there's always the torrent option : http://www.mininova.org/tor/2030190


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Dada


Are you familliar with Dada artwork?

It was this art movement in the early 20th century, created in part by a french artist named Marcel Duchamp. I won't go into great detail as to the history and origins of the art movement; if you want to know more, just click some of the above links. What I'm more interested in here is the spirit of Dada.

Dada is basically all about taking substanceless crap and - through subverting and corrupting it, either in presentation or in form - create some new peice of artwork out of it. Probably the first example of Dada artwork came in the form of Duchamp's "The Fountain", in which he yanked a urinal out of the wall of an art show he was judging, signed the name "R. Mutt" onto it, named it "The Fountain", and declared it the winner of the show, saying "Whether Mr Mutt made the fountain with his own hands or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object.".

Dada took on a lot of different forms over the years; it was never about the specific medium so much as it was about the gesture of contempt for a genre or body of work. One of the questions about almost any Dada artwork that inevitably comes up is "Are we supposed to like the actual creation, or the mere act of corruption and subversion?" The great thing about dada is that that question is meaningless; the two concepts are inseperable and indistinguishable.

Today, the spirit of Dada lives on. I've seen two videos on Youtube which I feel are worthy successors to the legacy of Dada. The first is Japanese...



The second is an actual, honest-to-goodness American presidential campaign video from former senator Mike Gravel...

 

...which I feel shows the appropriate contempt and subversion of the medium and substanceless crap of American campaign videos.
Cocktopus

Venture Bros.


Any of you folks out there watching The Venture Bros?

I don't watch a lot of TV. In fact... at the moment, this is actually the only TV show I'm watching, what with Dr. Wgo, Battlestar Galactica, and Family Guy between seasons. This is because, however, I have remarkably high standards for what I watch. This having been said, I think I can say that, even if those other three shows were running right now, Venture Bros would remain my favourite show. It's up to episode 4 of season 2. I just went out and bought a DVD set of season 1. And you know why? It's because I feel it's important that I financially contribute to the show, so as to ensure there's a season 3. 

This show takes such an awesomely nonchalant, indifferent attitude towards all the super-science and supernatural stuff which clusters around each and every plotline. Two of the main characters are a necromancer (so you know I'm sold right there!) named Dr. Orpheus, and a sort of half-assed super-scientist named Dr. Venture. They're basically buddies, but Dr. Venture speaks down to Dr. Orpheus all the time, I think mostly because he likes to get his goat. This episode, Dr. Venture takes some time out from saving his sons' lives from deadly peril to have a pointless dick-waving contest with Orpheus, over who can shrink themselves more effectively. Dr. Orpheus decides to go visit his master in a realm called "The Necropolis", to seek his advice. When he gets there, his master is sitting on his throne, in the form of the three-headed hound, Cerberus. Here's a snippet of conversation between them which sums up the charm of the show for me.


***
 
Cerberus: You're a know-it-all. And no one likes a ...

(One of his three heads starts noisily licking his crotch. He looks over, somewhat surprised)

Cerberus: ... wait, hold on a sec.

Orpheus: I only know that I know nothing.

Cerberus: Way to quote something I said, like, a year ago. But I'm serious, hold on. This other head likes to clean my genitals with his mouth. I know that sounds weird. I let him do it... because it feels great. Oh-h, yeah. The problem is, I can taste it. So... I taste my own genitals. In my mouth. It's...<chuckles> ... a conundrum.

Orpheus: M...master, what bearing does this have...

Cerberus: Hey, would you let me enjoy this? Damn, don't you know how good this feels? Oh, no, wait! I'm sorry. Your wife left you because you DON'T know how good this feels! 

***

Just go watch the show, damnit.

Cocktopus

The Road to Guantanamo

I recently saw a documentary entitled The Road to Guantanamo. It was in turns chilling, infuriating, and revelatory.

 

When I was a kid, growing up in Southern Ontario, I always, always had a problem with the United States. Part of it had to do with the fact that I was a fan of professional wrestling at the time. During those waning days of the cold war, the WWF was constantly doing these weird shows of nationalism, which involved humiliating and belittling these characters who were meant to be representative of the USSR and Iran and the like. While I’m sure this played well to the home crowds, I always saw it in a different light.

 

I was an unpopular kid, growing up in my little shit-town of Rockwood, Ontario. I wasn’t part of the gang. I got picked on, relentlessly, and without defense by anyone, either peer, teacher, or parent, for years. I was, therefore, always a staunch supporter of the underdog. When I watched these big American Wrestlers being cheered on by these American crowds for beating up these unpopular wrestlers, putatively from other countries, all I saw was the popular kids being praised for beating up the unpopular kids. And oh, how I hated that Hulk Hogan.

 

It gave me a kind of unvarnished look at American chauvinism and nationalism, and coloured every glimpse of American culture I saw from that point on. All the flag-waving, all the imperialism, all the shady political manipulations, and crowing about being the “greatest nation on earth”, I saw it all in that same light. These folks were the bullies and braggarts of the playground of the world, so secure in their self-image that they could see no wrong in anything that they did. There was a bigotry and racism which seemed inherent in the way the Americans dealt with the rest of the world.

 

When I saw this documentary (he said, bringing the topic back around to the original point), it gave a really raw look at the ugliness and viciousness which lurks just beneath the surface of American culture. Essentially, it’s about these three kids who were falsely-accused of being members of Al Queda, and who were subsequently caged and tortured by the Americans in Guantanamo Bay for three years. Though cleared of all charges, because all of them had rock-solid alibis as to where they had been during the year they were accused of being trained by Al Queda, they were treated like animals in a fucking kennel for three long years by the Americans who could not see past their brown skins and middle-eastern names.

 

This is the America I always suspected existed, but which has always been just barely concealed from view. Hateful, angry, and basically furious that there are people out there who aren’t like them. The film doesn’t even touch upon the justifications offered for the existence of these camps, nor the methods employed there. It’s not about American foreign policy, or the logic of the “war on terror”. It’s not about Goerge W. Bush, and it’s not about Republicans. It’s about what it’s like to be an innocent young man who the Americans don’t like the looks of, and the sheer, unending, unjustified and pointless suffering which they unleash upon you as a result. It’s a very ground-level view of how America deals with people who aren’t part of their system, and who are thus outside of the bounds of the protections of that system.

 

It’s said that a polite man who is rude to his waiter is not a polite man. Similarly, a good and just society which is barbaric and cruel towards those who cannot resist it is not a good and just society. This movie details, to chilling effect, how very true this is of the United States.

 

Cocktopus

I almost never post things like this, but I think it will make you all happy.

From BilyWest.com, earlier today : 

Yes! A full season of new Futurama episodes is on the way on Comedy
Central! I already knew but every time I said anything,I got my ass spanked
for ''jumping the gun.'' Everyone is coming back and we start recording in
July.So,ahh.....Death to my enemies!

This'll be so much fun.

Billy
 

Billy West, for those of you unaware of this fact, is the multitalented fellow who provided the voiced of Fry, Zoidberg, and Professor Farnsworth. 

Full thread here: http://www.billywest.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=2520&PN=1
Cocktopus

Fuckin' Anime

I was about eight paragraphs into writing a post about how I was washing my hands of all harem anime forever, when it became clear how little I had to say on the topic which wasn't said in the Wikipedia entry on the subject which I was linking to anyways. So: I invite you to read this and share in my contempt. 

All I really have to say on the topic which isn't said there, I say here: 

I recently watch the long, long, long-awaited conclusion of Tenchi Muyo: Ryo-Ohki! (which finally concluded after about a seven year hiatus), and was disgusted by the fact that they couldn't be bothered to resolve the romantic tension which WAS THE ENTIRE SUBSTANCE of the plot up to that point! I get it. I know. It's not commercial to resolve these things. But if, as stated, it is their earnest intention to have the series finished, then fuck commercial. Fuck stringing the audience along. Finish the story and give us some motherfucking satisfaction. 

A year or so back, I watched the end of the Sabre Marionette J series, which was similar, though considerably more sophisticated. It was a fucking harem anime, too. But at least by the end, it addressed the weakness of the genre. The three girls who were vying for the affections of the male lead finally confronted him and just accused him of being a selfish coward for refusing to choose one of them and make a commitment; his excuse, that he liked them all, was nothing but self-indulgent bullshit. He considered this, and admitted it was true. And he made a choice. The writers, though, coped out, by having some backgound noise drown out his words, and at no point was the choice he made made evident, since all three girls ended up getting killed right afterwards. I applaud the choices of the characters, since it reflected what I thought of the genre, but the cowardace of the writers, who didn't want to offend the two-thirds of the audience who weren't rooting for that particular hook-up remained contemptable. No, it wasn't even cowardace. They just did what was commercial. They did what they needed to in order to sustain their fandom. In that sense, it's not their fault. It's the fault of the fans. 

Fucking anime fans. Their small-minded, emotionally immature bullshit keeps many a potentially-quality story from having satisying conclusions. 

So I'm done with the lot of them. I wash my hands of the genre. It exists to pander to the needs of people whose needs, within their fiction, are diametrically opposed to my own. They need for there to never be a conclusion, so that the romantic resolution which they've projected themselves into is never concluded. I don't require this, because I don't give a shit about living vicariously through a bunch of fucking cartoon characters. I just want to see a good story. Is that too much to ask? 

Well, apparantly in this genre it is. So fuck 'em all. 

Hey, only six paragraphs this time. Much better.
Cocktopus

I approve!

I've long been disappointed by candies which have struck me as off-theme. I remember some years ago, I saw some X-Men candy bars, one of them with a picture of Wolverine on the wrapper. I asserted that such a candy bar should taste like a sweaty, hairy man, dripping in blood and other bodily substances; this is what Wolverine ought to taste like, I felt. Most likely, it just tasted like chocolate. This, I disapproved of.

I have seen, elsewhere, candies marketed to children, which promise to be "gross" or "wierd", but I cannot imagine that any of them have ever been pleasant to the tongue. The falseness of the advertising, I disapprove of.

Now, one might say to me, "But Dave! It is candy! Candy tastes good! This is its defining characteristic! If the candy did not taste good, it would not BE candy, and thus, it would STILL be false advertising! How do you propose to reconcile this?"

My answer would be "Shut up. How dare you try to derail my argument? I hope that when you bed your whore of a sister tonight, you will catch from her the syphalus which she has receieved from the many animals which she offers herself to daily".

Today, though, I finally found such a candy which claims to be overwhelming and gross, and which lives up to the claim.

For those who are unfamilliar with it, Fear Factor is a television program which challenges its contestants with all sorts of overwhelming tests of endurance. The one which sticks with me most vividly involved having pigs brains liquified in a meat grinder suspended six feet over your head, whose extrusions would then drip into your open mouth, which you would then have to spit into a bowl some ten feet away. The contestant who managed to spit the most liquified pigs brains out in a specified time period won.

This candy exists within that same range.

I have been named milky-sama, for my ability to drink four litres of milk in an hour and keep it down. I am strong. I am bold. I am fierce.

Eating this candy almost caused me to vomit six times. It is that strong. That vile. That monstrous. This ... THIS I APPROVE OF!

No gummy worm fit for the pallette of children, this! No "chewey booger gum"! This is worthy of its name! This is a candy you would give to Klingon children!

I do not know if I will ever buy another of these, at least for myself, but nor will I ever disparage this fine product. Truly, it is one of the most unabashedly earnest things I have ever tasted. I approve.

 

Cocktopus

Dr. Who: Father's Day

Wow.

Okay, now. Anyone who knows me knows a couple of things about me.

1) I don't watch much TV.

2) Not many things I see in movies or TV reach me in any meaningfull way. My skin is usually too thick, and I'm usually too jaded.

3) I don't tend to make it my business to promote other people's creations, including TV shows and such. That's their job.

In case you didn't know this, I feel it's important that you DO know this so as to put what I'm about to say into context.

I just watched the latest episode of th new Dr. Who. And by the end, tears were streaming down my face.

And no other TV show has ever, ever done that before.

This just became my favourite single episiode of any series I have ever seen in my life. And I think I can now quite safely say this is the best series currently running.

If you haven't been watching it, you're a fool. But I have fool cure. Observe:
http://www.the-realworld.de/modules.php?name=ed2k&op=release&rid=5097

Go. Download the whole series. When you've seen episode eight, comment here.

For now, I shall say no more.