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Petri Wessman's weblog

The Doctor will see you now

I have to admit, I was a bit worried about Matt Smith as the new Doctor Who. He’s young, and I was afraid the show would go (even more) in the “zany young action-Doctor” direction. Besides, David Tennant left pretty huge shoes to fill.

Well, I recently watched the first episode of the new series, “The Eleventh Hour”, and can happily report that I needn’t have worried. I’m sold. Matt Smith is good, and he brings an “old soul in a young body” dynamic to the thing that I wasn’t at all expecting. He’s almost professorial, at times. In a “mad as a box of cats” way.

The fact that Karen Gillian, the new companion, is absolutely smoking hot doesn’t hurt, either.

“Hello! I’m the Doctor. Basically… run.”

Added: just watched the second episode. Good stuff.

…and a brilliant throwaway line: “A long time ago, tomorrow morning”

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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.

Battlestar Stargate Voyager

I’ve long liked the Stargate TV series (both incarnations, though SG-1 kicked Atlantis’ ass). Not a rabid fan, but I have enjoyed it… and damn, the original series ran for an incredible length of time. As someone noted, it’s sort of the U.S. “Doctor Who” in that regard. It never took itself too seriously, but neither did it go all slapstick… and I think that worked pretty well.

Stargate Universe, as noted previously, is the new series in the Stargate universe. The pilot 3-parter left me with a really positive impression. It’s darker than the previous series, and I get a definite Battlestar Galactica vibe from it at times. It’s not quite that grim, but it’s a lot more moody than the predecessors. It’s also a bit slower paced and focuses a lot on the characters. I personally love that. The basic setup is of course close to the old Star Trek Voyager… but thankfully that’s the only similarity to that piece of crap. This series has those “actor” things, and something called “plot”.

Well, last night I watched the latest episode, “Light”, and… wow. Ok, now I’m officially impressed. That was good. Very good. So far, I think this is my favorite Stargate series – though that is only based on five episodes. We’ll see how it develops.

It’s a different show from the earlier ones, with a very different feel. I hope it keeps that up.

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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.

Dollhouse, Burn Notice

Spent a lazy weekend (those are nice now and then) and mostly just read some books and watched some TV shows. Oh, I did do some light “useful” stuff (mowed the lawn, cleaned kitty litter, washed some clothes, installed a crypto partition on netbook, organized some backup stuff)… but mostly, I took my cues from the cats. That is, eat and laze around.

Some quick notes on a few TV shows. First off, Dollhouse, Joss Whedon’s new series. It’s been getting so-so reviews, and after watching the first four episodes a month or so ago, I wasn’t totally thrilled either. I mean, it was ok, but it didn’t really grab me. Well, now I watched the rest of the series and I’m happy to say it improves, a lot. I’d say episode six (“Man on the Street”) is the turning point, that episode and the stuff after it puts things in gear. It’s still not in the “utterly fantastic” category, but it is very good. I’m looking forward to season two, this first season ends on a very interesting (and somewhat unexpected) note.

I think that the most interesting thing about this series is the intentional shades of gray it plays around with. Sure, what the Dollhouse does is prostitution. However, the “dolls” are (to some extent) volunteers, and they are compensated very well. The Dollhouse is presented as a very ambiguous entity… in some ways, it’s the antagonist here, and in others, well… it’s hard to say. There is also a lot of plot centered about the fact that we really don’t know who is on which side, or even what the “sides” are. To be honest, I suspect many of those issues are a bit too complex and uncomfortable for the large audience (“what? no simple good/evil? me no play!”), but the good thing is that after a very slow start, the series works fine as “just” an action/intrigue series.

Secondly, I have to just remark on how much I’m enjoying Burn Notice this season. The show seems to have found its tone and it’s just a huge amount of fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but neither does it give in to crazy-comedy. The subtitles that appear next to characters during freeze-frame moments are often hilarious… I’m still chuckling over “Michael’s worst nightmare” overlaid on top of a certain police officer.

Good lightweight spy action stuff. Just the thing for lazy summer weekends.

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Juhannus

…was fun. We didn’t really intend to hold a party as such, but that’s kinda sorta what happened. Lots of people came over, tons of food was grilled and eaten, and large quantities of alcohol were imbibed. The weather didn’t really cooperate, but sauna compensated pretty well.

The thing where you notice you’re getting a bit older is that it takes you longer and longer to recover from aforementioned large quantities of alcohol. Our whole household spent Saturday in lizard mode, and I didn’t see much vigorous activity on Sunday either. That’s not a complaint, it was very pleasant to just lie around in the sun and read; when it got too hot I went inside and watched some TV show episodes on the computer. At some point we were wondering if we needed to go buy groceries for Sunday… and then when we raided the fridge, we discovered we still have huge piles of leftover food there. So we cooked a meal of sausages plus steaks, along with a bacon-vegetable hash thingy. Oh, and some grilled corn. Yum. Life is good.

Managed to finish watching Dexter season two (good) and started watching Chuck season one (no-brains-required spy comedy, not-bad entertainment). Also noticed that Burn Notice season three has started, the first few episodes were very enjoyable. I was a bit so-so on this show during season one, but it really grew on me during the second season. It’s still not in the “fantastic!” category, but it is good fun and seems to have found its stride.

“You know spies. A bunch of bitchy little girls.”

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Daily Show not visible... not!

Well, survived another Vappu (Mayday celebration) again. Had fun, drank a lot, ate a lot, got a bit sunburned… situation normal. We had a nice grill-thingy at our place after Ullanlinna, since Janka was on call over May Day eve and we didn’t party then. Thanks to everyone who showed up, it was a good way to end Vappu. Good thing the next 2 days were not allocated for anything constructive… since I wasn’t feeling constructive. At all. Lizard mode + sun = happiness.

On to something completely different. I’m a big fan of The Daily Show… it’s funny and a bit sad that one of the more biting political commentary shows in the U.S. is billed as a comedy show. Anyway, it’s great stuff. Was even better when the Shrub was in office, making fun of Bush & Cheney was just so easy and rewarding. Obama makes Daily Show work a bit harder… but just a bit.

Anyway, I’ve been watching the thing via the web for a while now. Until just now, when I noticed that suddenly I get a notice “this content is not available in your country”. Wtf? Apparently somebody had bought the rights to show the thing here in Finland, and as a result it’s cut off via the web. For fuck’s sake… I’m not going to watch television at this day and age, that’s so last century. So what to do? Bittorrent? Well, that’s a bit cumbersome for something like the Daily Show, lots of episodes and lots of hassle.

It took about 10 minutes to find a solution. There’s an extension available for Firefox named X-Forwarded-For Spoofer. You figure out the rest.

Yes, it works. So screw you, international broadcasting rights holders, once again. I’m not going to watch this “broadcast TV” thing of yours, I gave up on that years and years ago.

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There must be some way out of here, said the Joker to the Thief...

So now it’s over. I just watched the final episode of Battlestar Galactica (“Daybreak, part 2”).

I’ll avoid spoilers here, because most people in Finland have yet to see even most of season 4, let alone the series finale. I will say this: it’s a fitting ending, and it doesn’t compromise. It’s also a happy ending, but since this is BSG that also means it’s far, far from a saccharine one. It’s hopeful, if only because most of the series was so totally dark and desperate. “Bittersweet” might be the dominant emotion.

Like most of the series, it’s slightly uneven. The writers try to wrap up everything… or, well, everything that they want to wrap up. Most of it works, though there are small stumbles here and there. I’m still unsure if the final scene was worth including, I would personally have ended things a bit earlier. Still, it does underline one of the major themes, so… dunno. I’m pretty sure this will be a pretty controversial series end; I liked it quite a bit (though it was far from perfect), but I’m quite sure some people will hate it – for various reasons. The religious themes actually didn’t bother me much, even though I’m quite strictly an atheist myself; they were there from the very beginning of this show, and I think they were handled pretty well here. We’re never given 100% solid explanations for various things, we only have various character viewpoints. And that works. The difference between a “god” and a “highly advanced being” is, after all, tenuous if you take it to the extreme.

I liked the resolution of Starbuck’s storyline, though I’m certain some people will hate it. That final scene with her was well done… no flashy effects or other distractions.

In hindsight, it’s obvious that the writers made a lot of stuff up as they went along, as they freely admit in interviews. It’s actually surprising how well the whole thing holds together, despite that. Sure, there are nitpicks to be made, and not everything makes sense. But it feels like a coherent (if messy) story, and that’s what matters in the end.

If there is any justice in the world, this one will be remembered as one of the great scifi TV epics, like Babylon 5. Both shows had their share of stumbles along the way, and both transcended those stumbles by just being so damn good as a whole. I’m still amazed that Ron Moore managed to take something as cheesy and vapid as the original BSG, and turn it into a smart, ultra-dark and desperate story of humanity’s survival and eventual redemption (of sorts). That’s one hell of a hat trick to pull off.

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True Blood: utterly fails to suck

Ok, True Blood is now officially the best thing currently on TV. Or “coming soon to TV”, or “recently on TV”. Dunno, I don’t watch broadcast TV.

Anyway. Watched the last episode of the season last night, and now I’m very eagerly waiting for season two (coming next year). Wish there was a soundtrack CD available, the music here is great.

One of the best vampire-themed TV shows I know of, if not the best (ok, comparison with Buffy is pretty much impossible, the shows are very different). Not to everyone’s taste. The show has apparently been a hit for HBO, but the reviews have been extremely polarized. Some love it, some hate it, very few neutrals. This doesn’t surprise me a bit. Safe “family-friendly” entertainment fare this isn’t, even if it’s damn funny at times.

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New TV

I’m totally backlogged on new TV stuff, but while fighting the flu watching some small bit of my downloaded pile of episodes was just the thing. So I watched the 2nd season of Heroes, and the 3rd season up to the latest episode. Verdict: it’s still watchable, but the show has problems. While the second season was still ok, this third one is a mess. Time travel was cool when it was done in a limited way in the first season and used for heavy foreshadowing. Here, it’s used all the time, and I’m starting to have no idea whatsoever what’s going on. New characters are introduced, characters are killed off, same characters are brought to life again, all at a dizzying pace. What’s lost? The story. It’s… well, a mess.

After that I’ve been sampling some new series in the scifi/fantasy ballpark, with varying results.

Fringe has an ok basic setup… the passengers of a plane all die in a gruesome fashion and the FBI is called in. Things get weird, and we end up with a special group tasked with investigating “fringe science” events. Sort of in the X-Files direction, lots of good stories to be found there. Potentially, at least. Here… not so much. The acting is pretty wooden (with some exceptions), and the plots.. could use improvement. Ok, it’s “fringe science” so I’m prepared to let the “science” word slide – but here threats get pretty ridiculous, along with the solutions. The pacing is strange. Total weirdness happens, and then it often gets dropped without much of an explanation. Underneath this, there’s still something good: some of the characters have potential, and one of the episodes (The Arrival) was actually pretty damn cool. The MIB-like “Watcher” character made up for a lot of crap. Still… I’ll keep watching this for a while, but can’t recommend it too highly.

Eleventh Hour attempts to cover slightly the same territory; science & medical emergencies. The main characters spend each standalone episode investigating weird events and figuring out a solution. No X-Files vibe here, this is more straightforward… problems, then solutions; very much like traditional “detective/investigation” shows. Sounds a bit bland, and that is is, somewhat. In addition, the characters aren’t all that believable and (so far) remain totally two-dimensional. However, the episodes manage to be quite entertaining and the writing is at least lots better than Fringe. I’ve put this in the same category as Fringe – not all that hot, but ok entertainment.

Then we come to Sanctuary. Amanda Tapping (from Stargate) plays “Dr. Magnus”, a (very) long-lived scientist who specializes in providing a safe haven for various sorts of supernatural creatures. Heavy on computer-generated content, it’s very lightweight… but it’s also lots of fun. Sort of like Stargate, actually. I can’t really call this a quality series, it’s way too fluffy and lightweight for that, but it’s good fun. I’ll keep watching. Best “popcorn” series of this new bunch. Oh, and it has Jack the Ripper in it. Can’t go wrong there (well, yes you can, but it works here).

Saving the best for last, there’s True Blood. A new series from HBO, by Alan Ball (creator of Six Feet Under)… I was already expecting to like this, before I saw the first episode. I also expected it to be… not exactly family-friendly fare. Right on both counts. Based on books I haven’t read, it’s set in the present-day deep South, in an alternate world where vampires are both real and have “come out of the coffin” some years previously. Enter Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic barmaid, and a some new vampires in town. Everyone wants to sleep with everyone else, some do, some don’t, some get killed, some just screw everything else up. Oh, and it’s pretty funny, in the way Six Feet Under was funny (in a dark way, that is). There’s a lot of fun play on old racist attitudes, transformed (partially) into the human/vampire context. “God Hates Fangs”, indeed. It’s no Six Feet Under, but it is easily the best of this bunch. It doesn’t follow a formula, it’s doesn’t follow “safe” themes (quite the opposite). Will be interesting to see where this one goes.

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