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Petri Wessman's weblog

Avatar and other stuff

We stayed cooped up inside for most of the New Year extended weekend; we originally intended to “do some stuff”, but the extra-chilly weather and general laziness put a stop to that. It was nice to just cozy up inside for days, don’t get me wrong. Anyway, yesterday we felt like doing something, so we decided to go see Avatar since a) it’s by Cameron who is generally awesome and b) it had been getting generally positive though slightly mixed reviews.

Well, it was very much worth seeing. It’s not a perfect movie; the plot is more than a tad predicable and follows the classic “boy meets girl and becomes hero” pattern a bit too much by-the-numbers. Maybe the most fitting thing to say about the plot is that it was serviceable; while it could have been (a lot) more original, it didn’t get in the way. But the visuals. Damn, they were jaw-dropping, especially when seen on the large screen with 3d. This is the best visualization of a science fiction world and native culture that I recall even seeing. Even though I knew that most of what I was seeing was computer-generated, my eyes were telling me the stuff was real. During the whole 3-hour span, there was only one short clip where the CGI was obviously CGI in a way that jarred me. That’s damn well done.

So. The complaints about the plot do have merit. But it’s not that bad, and this is one movie that is worth seeing for the visuals alone. They are just that good. The star of this movie is the planet Pandora.

(Added later: here is a hilarious plot summary. Spoiler alert, you might want to skip until you’ve seen the movie!)

Apart from that, I actually spent a large part of the mini-vacation coding and watching “TV” – coding in one window with a video player running in another. I’m working a hobby-project Exalted character generator web thingy. I’m not sure when if ever it will be ready, let alone ready for general use, but it’s one of those things – a way to learn lots of new tech while building something useful. I’m using a lot of bleeding-edge stuff, and Ruby on Rails of course. Among the toys are: authlogic, declarative_authorization, formtastic, css_dryer, jQuery & jQuery-UI, AJAX (with dynamic jQuery/Javascript generation via Rails views), and rspec test cases for all models and controllers. Fun stuff, and complicated enough to keep it interesting.

On the TV side, I managed to watch:

  • True Blood season two. Good stuff, and very interesting “bad guy”. Still among the best of the current crop of series. Not for the prudish, though.

  • Californication season two. Very good and very funny. Also not for the prudish, and I mean it: this show is mostly about sex. And about how people deal with it. I really like this show, because the characters are excellent and it somehow manages to be lewd & irreverent and warm & understanding at the same time. The characters screw up (and just screw) all the time, but you can’t help understanding and liking them at the same time.

  • The Doctor Who “specials” Waters of Mars and End of Time (parts 1 & 2). Watchable but nothing all that special. Will be interesting to see how the new Doctor works out, since these were the final ones with the (great!) David Tennant.

  • Some other bits and pieces… some Heroes (meh, but at least getting a bit better), Sanctuary (meh), etc. Nothing much worth commenting on.

Supernatural considered kick-ass

“You’re sorry you started Armageddon?”

Ok, I still have a metric crapton of tv episodes sitting on my server, waiting for me to grab enough time to watch them. I’ve watched some of them, some are still in the pipeline. Some observations follow.

Supernatural continues to kick ass. Seriously. Sure, the first season was a bit hit and miss, and based on a “monster of the week” idea… but the writers soon realized that they had something a lot cooler in their hands and started working on a bigger plot, using the (somewhat unexpected) talents of the lead actors. Last season (the 4th) was… pretty awesome, not to mince words. This new 5th season looks to be just as good.

Last season they had angels. And not some wimpy “play harps on clouds” versions. No, the “smite it from orbit with extreme prejudice” kind. The kind that’s not interested in justice, or anything “good” (necessarily). This season, they have… well, something worse. Much worse.

From a “sort of fun” show, this has risen to be one of my current favorites (from what’s currently active). Muchos recommended. Supernatural is the best “World of Darkness” version on TV, without being “WoD” in any licensed sense.

Apart from that, my “worth watching” list now includes Stargate Universe. I’ve always liked the Stargate series… it’s good entertainment, and does not take itself too seriously. This new series seems to be better than “Stargate Atlantis”, at least. The characters are interesting, and the setup is pretty cool… if not totally original. It’s a mishmash of Star Trek Voyager and Stargate… but unlike Voyager, the script is (at least so far) not written by drunk baboons and the acting is at least decent. The three-part series pilot was pretty cool, waiting to see where this one goes.

Suprisingly, Fringe has taken off and become quite fascinating. I almost gave up on it… sure, it had some nice moments, but it was just so corny and filled with pseudo-science and technobabble. The background “metaplot” was pretty cool, though, what little of it we saw. This second season, they seem to have dumped most of the crap and concentrated on the big plot. And it works. At best, it reaches the level of X-Files (before it turned into crap). Not sure where this one will go, but I’ll be watching. For now, at least.

A side “hooray” must also be given to Burn Notice. It (also) seems to have found its stride, and is damn funny and entertaining. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, which always helps.

Other that that, nothing has impressed much so far. On the other hand, I have lots of stuff still on the waiting list: Dexter seasons 3 and 4, Californication seasons 2 and 3, True Blood season 2. I expect most of those (at least) to rock.

Californication & other TV

No, you can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
And if you try sometime you find
You get what you need

– Rolling Stones, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

I still have tons of tv episodes sitting on disk, waiting for me to get time to watch them, but yesterday I finally got around to watching the final episodes of one of my favorite new shows, Californication. Final verdict: made me laugh out loud, made me cringe, made me care for the characters. I’m glad this is apparently being picked up for a second season; I’ll be watching.

David Duchovny plays Hank Moody, a novelist with sex and drug addictions (and a writer’s block) who is struggling to raise his daughter part-time, while trying to cope with life without (and with) his ex-girlfriend. The dialogue is brilliant, there’s a lot of very explicit sex and various recreational drugs, and in general the series doesn’t hold back much – it starts off with Hank getting head from a nun (with the Rolling Stones playing in the background), and goes off at 90 mph from there. It’s no wonder that many conservative groups have condemned the series and mounted some protests against it. Family-friendly fare this is not.

…but it is very human, in a way that reminds me of Six Feet Under (another series that also managed to… disturb some conservative elements). Now, this is very different fare from Six Feet Under, and to be honest in the beginning I felt this show might be using the sex & drugs thing a bit too much of an exploitative device. I changed my mind, though, there is very much a point and the whole thing works. Hank is, to quote his daughter, a “tragically flawed person”, but he’s also sympathetic. He’s trying, sometimes, though he fucks up more often than he gets it right. There’s also a very definitive Spider Jerusalem vibe there, during Hank’s stint as a blogger for a magazine. Both characters rant “I hate it here!”, but can’t help caring for some people round them, can’t help also being decent human beings when the mood strikes them.

This is billed as a comedy, and yes, it had me laughing out loud in many places – but it’s comedy in the same sense that Six Feet Under was a comedy. The humor is pretty dark and bizarre, at times.

Anyway, I can recommend this to anyone who isn’t too conservative. People with too much of a prudish outlook will probably just fixate on the sex & drugs thing, and ignore what the series is actually about… which would be a shame. This is good stuff.

About other stuff, let’s see… Moonlight is another new series I like, though it seems that so far I’m the only one who likes it (sort of like Supernatural, in that regard). It’s a modern-day vampire story, and while it doesn’t break any new ground in any regard, the story and characters are interesting. This could well be a WoD story (again, like Supernatural). The pilot is very mediocre but the series picks up pace fast – don’t give up right away, watch the first 3-4 episodes or so. It’s not a wonderful show, but it’s pretty good; I like it and will probably continue watching if it gets picked up for another season.

Supernatural itself enters season three, but I’ve only seen the first episode of that so far so can’t comment much, other than to say it seems to follow the style of the previous seasons. Good WoD/Hunter -flavored monster hunt romp, with uneven episode quality (some excellent ones in there, some pretty poor ones). I keep watching.

Heroes season two is still in the “to watch” pile, as is the second season of Rome, season two of Dexter and other known-to-be-good stuff. Pushing Daisies gave a good (and weird) impression based on the pilot, but too early to tell yet. Stargate Atlantis continues to be lightweight brain candy, not too good but watchable on the side. Desperate Housewives, now in season four, is also brain candy but a lot better and quite a lot of fun. Nip/Tuck continues to mainly go for the cheap shocks, I’m not sure why I still watch it; it’s not all that good – though I do have to admit the self-deprecating tv-show plot in the latest season is good fun.

As for the “avoid” list: Bionic Woman is pretty crap (no big surprise there), watched the first 5 episodes then gave up. Not sure why I bothered in the first place, maybe because some rare tv remakes turn out to be good. This wasn’t one of those.

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