Monday, 18 August 2014

BUFFY: 6.15 ‘AS YOU WERE’


Episode dailies

WRITER: Doug Petrie
DIRECTOR: Doug Petrie

WHAT’S THE SITCH?

Out of the blue Buffy's former lover Agent Riley Finn drops back in to Buffy's life asking for her help to track down an especially nasty demon he's followed through central America and back to Sunnydale. Riley is also after a rumoured local black market dealer known only as 'The Doctor' who is planning to sell the demon's highly prized eggs to a foreign power. But Agent Finn hasn't come back alone. He has brought his new wife with him.

WHAT’S THE SITCH BENEATH THE SITCH?

Re-evaluating what a healthy relationship actually is. Moving on. Self forgiveness.

WHO’S GIVING US THE WIGGINS THIS WEEK?

A Suvolte demon. The Doctor.

WHY IT ROCKS

Riley's back! I always liked Riley and Marc Blucas' portrayal. I thought Riley had a rough ride from the fans just cuz he wasn't Angel. I mean, God forbid Buffy should ever have a healthy relationship with an honest to goodness human being who is just a nice, reliable, dependable guy. Sheesh! This time Riley is in full-on 007 stealth mode but is essentially the same nice, thoughtful, gentleman he always was...except now with a brand new wife, Sam, another special opps soldier who is just as nice, respectful and capable as he is. Nice one Agent Finn.

Action/stunts: There are quite a few good fight sequences here and I especially liked the dam rappelling stunt. Kinda reminded me of the opening of Goldeneye, though not a bungee but rather Riley and Buffy doing a line drop down the face of a rather high dam. Cool.

Willow: Willow is almost back to her old self in this episode. She is chirpy and gets positively giddy in places chatting to Sam. Loved how she wanted to hate her being Riley's new love but just couldn't.

Buffy sees the light: finally, seeing what a good and healthy relationship looks like (Riley and Sam) Buffy forgives herself and decides to move on by ending it properly with Spike, leaving his dark crypt at episodes end and literally walking out in to the light. It's a beautifully written and played scene between Buffy and Spike with Buffy calling Spike by his real name, William, with the look on his face showing that he knows she means it this time.

WHY IT SUCKS

Dawn: Again, Dawn manages to make everything about her...even Riley's leaving Sunnydale in season 5. Arghh!

Questionable parenting: Buffy lets Dawn go out with Willow to the Bronze until 11pm on a school night? Really? Good parenting Buff. Plus earlier Dawn reminds Buffy it is trash day. Cue we see Buff chasing after and missing the trash collection. In a previous episode we've seen Dawn swanning off to school leaving a sink full of dishes for Buffy to clean after working a double shift. Um, does Dawn actually do anything at home? Does she have any chores at all? Sheesh! And for that matter what about Willow? She still lives there too. If I was Buff I'd kick em all out.

Wedding plans: is it just me or is the whole Anya/Xander wedding planning thing getting to be really tiresome? I have a low threshold for wedding fluff anyway (giant waste of money I say) so it just makes me roll my eyes and groan.

IT’S BUFFTASTIC

Buffy's dazed reaction to seeing Riley back. “My hat has a cow!”

DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR

Riley: “I want to explain, I just don't have time. I've been up for 48 hours straight tracking something bad, and now it's come to Sunnydale.”
Buffy (dazed): “My hat has a cow.”

Sam: “We better regroup. Buffy, I hate to impose further, but... you got a safe house?”
Buffy: “I, I have a house. I-I think it's safe. Sometimes you can't even leave.”

Willow: “Just so you know? I'm prepared to hate this woman any way you want.”
Buffy: “Thanks, but no. I don't wanna seem all petty.”
Willow: “Well, that's the beauty! You can't, but I can. Please. Let me carry the hate for the both of us.”
Buffy: “Go nuts.”

Sam: “I gotta tell you, Buffy, I'm a little bit intimidated. I mean, patrolling with the real live Slayer, you're like... Santa Claus, or Buddha, or something.”
Buffy: “Fat and jolly?”
Sam: “Legendary. And it's not just slayer status I'm talking about. It's you.”

Riley: “Wheel never stops turning, Buffy. You're up, you're down... it doesn't change what you are. And you are a hell of a woman.”

Buffy: “I'm using you. I can't love you. I'm just... being weak, and selfish...”
Spike: “Really not complaining here.”
Buffy: “...and it's killing me. I have to be strong about this. I'm sorry... William.”

AND ANOTHER THING

Spike's record collection can be seen in the moment before Buffy shoots it - "The Keller Family Sings" plus the soundtrack album to "The Wiz" are visible.

On Buffy's rejection letter for readmission to UC Sunnydale, her address is printed as 1630 Crestview instead of 1630 Revello. Oops!

Ivana Milicevic who plays Riley's wife Sam played the small villainous role of Valenka in Bond film Casino Royale (2006)

HOW MANY STAKES?

It's a Finn old time for sure. 3 (out of 5)

Sunday, 17 August 2014

BUFFY: 6.14 ‘OLDER AND FAR AWAY’


Spike's muscle cramp...in his pants.

WRITER: Drew Z. Greenberg
DIRECTOR: Michael Gershman

WHAT’S THE SITCH?

It's Buffy's birthday and the gang are throwing her a party at her house. They will all be there, including Tara. Buff is bringing a female friend from work while Xander is bringing a male friend from work in an attempt to match him up with Buffy. Meanwhile Dawn is feeling ignored and lonely seeing as how all the adults are always busy with their own life stuff, often leaving the teen all alone and mopey. Called out of class, Dawn goes to see the new guidance counselor who she tells her troubles to, wishing that people would stop leaving her. Unbeknownst to Dawn the guidance counselor is in fact Hallie, Anya's Vengeance Demon friend. Hallie grants Dawn's wish without the teen knowing. And come the night of the party everyone who turns up to celebrate at 1630 Revello finds that they are unable to leave once the party is over. Add in to the mix a jealous Spike and a demon who keeps popping up trying to maim and kill and the gang are in for one wild night. And following day. And following night...

WHAT’S THE SITCH BENEATH THE SITCH?

Teen angst – abandonment, loneliness, anger, whole-world-revolving-around-me-ness

WHO’S GIVING US THE WIGGINS THIS WEEK?

Hallie the Vengeance Demon, a nasty demon with a big sword, but most of all Dawnie.

WHY IT ROCKS

Jealous Spike: Spike acting up when he sees the guy Xander brought to hopefully pair up with Buff. James Marsters does snide and childish rather well.

Clem: Spike brings his loose-skinned demon pal Clem to the party who we last saw playing kitten poker with the vamp. Clem is a nice, easygoing, friendly sort who enjoys watching cartoons and just generally being a nice bloke. Actor James C. Leary helps makes him such a likeable and loyal sort that Clem very quickly became (and remains) a firm fan favourite.

Tara: Amber Benson is great here, especially when she defends Willow by facing down Anya who wants the red headed Wiccan to do some magic to get them out of the house, thus putting addicted Willow in danger of falling of the magic wagon.

WHY IT SUCKS

Dawn: Now, this is nothing against Michelle Trachtenberg who is a fine actress and who does her best here. No, it is the writers who are to blame. Dawn is unbearable and insufferable. She is in full-on whiny tantrum throwing brat mode. Her histrionics are teeth grinding and whatever sympathy we may have had for her quickly evaporates. Plus she is a total klepto now too. Sigh.

Birthday hell. It's Buffy's birthday, which never EVER goes well. You'd think Buff's friends would have learned by now to keep it low key and just avoid any fuss. Dear oh dear.

Dull. Quite frankly this is a rather tedious and dull 'bottle' episode being mostly shot on Buffy's house set. Conceptually it's all about Dawn's issues which I'm afraid by this point have gotten beyond annoying. The demon that turns up now and then to flail his sword at the gang is not scary at all and is merely a clunky plot device to try and add some kind of action to a story about inaction. Oh, and the less said about the sap Xander brings for Buffy the better.

IT’S BUFFTASTIC

Tara's “Hey! You're gonna back off,” to Anya. Go girl!

DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR

Buffy: “How are you doing?”
Tara: “The word "gulp" comes to mind.”

Spike: “I had ... a ... muscle cramp. Buffy was, uh, helping.”
Tara: “A muscle cramp? In your ... pants?”

Spike: “So, you ever think about *not* celebrating a birthday? Just to try it, I mean.”

Tara: “She said no, and that's it. You're not gonna make her do something that she doesn't want to. And if you try...You're gonna have to go through me first. Understood?”

Richard: “You have some weird friends.”
Xander: “News from the file marked 'duh.'”

AND ANOTHER THING

Dawn shouts "Get out, Get out, Get out, Get out" at Buffy and the gang. She did the same thing to Buffy and Joyce in season five's birthday episode, Blood Ties.

The episode title is a quotation from J.G. Ballard's autobiographical novel, Empire of the Sun. The book was made into a movie by Steven Spielberg in 1987.

Hallie and Spike's odd surprise at seeing each other is cute seeing as how actress Kali Rocha also played Spike's love interest Cecily in season Five's Fool for Love. Maybe Cecily went on to become a Vengeance Demon?

When Spike opens the front door at the end of the episode his reflection can be seen in the frosted glass next to the door. Oops.

HOW MANY STAKES?


Please, let me out of this episode. 2 (out of 5)

BUFFY: 6.13 ‘DEAD THINGS’


Interesting video about the Trio and their misogynist psychology and how it relates to geek culture in general.

WRITER: Steven S. DeKnight
DIRECTOR: James A Contner

WHAT’S THE SITCH?

The Trio (Warren, Jonathan, Andrew) test out their new gadget – a cerebral dampener which they intend to use on beautiful women to turn in to their mindless sex slaves. Warren uses it first on his ex Katrina, taking her back to the Trio's lair dressed as a French maid with the intention of having sex with her before letting the other two nerds have their go with her. But before Warren can have his way with Katrina the dampening effect wears off and she tries to escape...only to be hit over the head by Warren and killed. Scared that Buffy will find out what he did Warren gets Andrew and Jonathan to help him pin Katrina's death on the Slayer with the use of some perception bending magic. Wracked with guilt by a death she wasn't actually responsible for Buffy decides to turn herself in to the police...much to the fury of Spike and to the delight of a secretly observing Warren.

WHAT’S THE SITCH BENEATH THE SITCH?

Casual and not-so-casual misogyny. The objectification of women. When love isn't really love but is something dark, cruel and destructive.

WHO’S GIVING US THE WIGGINS THIS WEEK?

The Trio but chiefly Warren, a selfish and cruel misogynist.

WHY IT ROCKS

The subject matter: This episode is partly about when love isn't really love but is instead something dark, cruel, selfish and destructive. For as well as The Trio and their heinous plan we also have Buffy trying to discover why she lets Spike do the things he does to her.

Katrina: The episode is also about men objectifying women, seeking power over them and seeing them as nothing but objects to be used for pleasure. At first the story is played rather light and semi-jokey. But once the Trio's scuzzy plan starts being put in to action, when we see poor Katrina blank eyed and dressed like a cheap sex doll about to be used and abused it becomes anything but. It becomes truly uncomfortable viewing. Just as it should. What is also great is Katrina, the spell wearing off, telling the Trio the hard brutal truth of what they were about to do to her: rape. This shocks Andrew and Jonathan. They hadn't even considered what they had planned as rape. Warren though? He doesn't care. Also, it's great that Katrina doesn't react as a victim. Despite knowing what the Trio had planned for her she isn't a screaming helpless wreck. She is mad as hell at them. She is furious and offended and tells them exactly what she thinks of them. Unfortunately though Warren makes sure she doesn't get away.

SMG brings the pain: The episode ends with Buffy, having secretly asked Tara to check out the spell that brought her back to life to see if anything went wrong, breaking down in front of the Wiccan when Tara tells her the spell worked fine and nothing is wrong. Buffy hates herself for what she does with Spike, for allowing it to happen. And the last we see of her in this episode is crying her eyes out in Tara's lap confessing all. SMG is fabulous here. She pours her heart out to Tara and begs Tara not to forgive her for what she has been doing. It can break your heart to watch it.

WHY IT SUCKS

Dawn: Unlike many I've never been a Dawn hater...BUT... really Dawn? You're gonna make everything about YOU? Even Buffy's (misplaced) guilt over Katrina's death? Littlest Summers sure does get the bratty thing going on in this part of the season. And it only gets worse next episode.

Bad joke: The 'joke' about Spike telling Buffy he's got rid of Katrina's body and it will never be found...only to then overhear a policeman say they found a girls body in the river. Okay, first, its not funny. The subject of the joke just isn't funny. At all. Also, how bloody inept does this make Spike? He can be a bit reckless, sure, impulsive even. But he isn't a totally useless idiot.

Humour: Apart from the completely misjudged joke above this is a laugh free zone. Even the bungling Trio antics are tinged with so much darkness that no smiles can be cracked. This is something that doesn't happen very often on this show. And it feels weird.

From behind: Okay, I'm no prude but do we really have to see Spike taking Buffy from behind while they are alone together on the balcony of the Bronze watching the Scoobies below having a good time? This is about as low and as grim as you can take poor Buff. We are losing her, the hero. She is heading for rock bottom, if not already there.

IT’S BUFFTASTIC

Buffy breaking down to Tara at the end. Powerful and emotional stuff. Hats off to SMG.

DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR

Buffy: “I've been thinking about doing something to my room.”
Spike: “Yeah?”
Buffy: “Yeah, I think the New Kids On The Block posters are starting to date me.”

Katrina: “You bunch of little boys, playing at being men. Well, this is not some fantasy, it's not a game, you freaks! It's rape!”


Buffy (repeatedly punching Spike in the face): “I am not your girl! You don't... have a soul! There is nothing good or clean in you. You are dead inside! You can't feel anything real! I could never... be your girl!”
Spike (taking the punches): “You always hurt... the one you love, pet.”

Buffy: “He's everything I hate. He's everything that... I'm supposed to be against. But the only time that I ever feel anything is when... Don't tell anyone, please.”
Tara: “I won't.”
Buffy: “The way they would look at me... I just couldn't...”
Tara: “I won't tell anyone. I wouldn't do that.”
Buffy: “Why can't I stop? Why do I keep letting him in?”
Tara: “Do you love him? I-It's okay if you do. He's done a lot of good, and, and he does love you. A-and Buffy, it's okay if you don't. You're going through a really hard time, and you're...”
Buffy: “What? Using him? What's okay about that?”
Tara: “It's not that simple.”
Buffy (crying uncontrollably): “It is! It's wrong. I'm wrong. Tell me that I'm wrong, please... Please don't forgive me, please... Please don't... Please don't forgive me... “

AND ANOTHER THING

The song playing as Buffy stands outside Spike’s crypt trying to decide whether to enter is ‘Out Of This World’ by Bush.

HOW MANY STAKES?

Things are getting darker. 4 (out of 5)

Saturday, 16 August 2014

BUFFY: 6.12 ‘DOUBLEMEAT PALACE’


WRITER: Jane Espenson

DIRECTOR: Nick Marck

WHAT’S THE SITCH?

Needing money to pay the bills and generally help get herself back in the black, Buffy takes a job at The Doublemeat Palace, a local franchised fast food joint where she is forced to wear an embarrassing uniform (complete with cow/chicken hat) and flip burgers and serve customers for minimum wage. Of course, being Buffy The Vampire Slayer, it's soon obvious that something strange is afoot at The Doublemeat Palace with staff members disappearing and strange secrecy around the food's apparent secret ingredient. What's more Spike continually hanging around trying to tempt Buff away from her new life on the bottom rung of the service industry ladder doesn't make things any easier for our girl. Poor Buff. And did I mention that hat? Hoo boy!

WHAT’S THE SITCH BENEATH THE SITCH?

Real life. Paying the bills. The soul crushing monotonous drudgery of going through the motions of daily life, just trying to keep ones head above water. Oh, and poking fun at the fast food industry.

WHO’S GIVING US THE WIGGINS THIS WEEK?

The monster with the phallic worm thing that extends out the top of its head to eat people with. Yeah, it's as weird and as gross as it sounds. Yuck! Oh, and working at a fast food joint.

WHY IT ROCKS

Funny. This ain't the greatest of episodes but being a Jane Espenson script it does bring the funny in a few key places, mostly at the expense of poor Buff and in poking fun at life working at a fast food restaurant.

SMG. Put this girl in the worst most embarrassing uniform ever with that god-awful hat...and she still looks as cute as a button. Plus she also provides another excellent comedy performance. Buffy's reaction watching the Doublemeat Palace training video showing how cow and chicken are brought together in to one swirly meat-like substance is priceless.

The penis worm monster. It is quite frankly weird and yucky. A pretty good physical and make-up effect though that is just the right side of silly while keeping one foot firmly planted in the gross camp.

WHY IT SUCKS

The 'lets poke fun at fast food joints' is amusing at first but I'm not sure it warrants a whole episode. It isn't that subtle either portraying the staff as dull, greasy, zombiefied stiffs who are like that due to the soul crushing nature of their job rather than anything supernatural. It's just all a bit obvious.

Also, mixed in with the fun and silliness are moments of darkness with Spike showing up to taunt/tempt Buff and her then sneaking away for (literally) soulless sex with him up against a burger bar wall. This feels grim and rather jarring in tone. Also seeing Buff apparently helpless against the vampire, unable to enforce her own will, is kinda distrubing too. But hey, that's season six for you.

IT’S BUFFTASTIC

Our first sight of Buff in THAT hat.

DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR

Anya (to Xander & Willow): “But super-villains... want reward without labor, to make things come easy. It's wrong. Without labor there can be no payment, and vice versa. The country cannot progress. The workers are the tools that shape America.”
Buffy walks in wearing her new fast food uniform complete with silly cow/chicken hat
Buffy: “Good to know. I was kinda feelin' like a tool.”

Buffy (watching Doublemeat Palace's graphic meat production video): “Holy crap!”

Manny (about the Doublemeat video): “Interesting, isn't it?”
Buffy: “Oh yes! Like how the cow and the chicken come together even though they've never met. It's like Sleepless in Seattle if, if Meg and Tom were, like, minced.”

Buffy: “I'm working. Go away.”
Spike: “Yeah, and you chose to be in the consumer service profession, and I'm a consumer. Service me.”

Buffy (manic): “Stop! Stop! Everyone, you have to stop! Stop eating! No, you can't have this! It's not beef! It's people! The DoubleMeat Medley is people! The meat layer is definitely people! It's people! It's people! Probably not the chickeny part. But who knows? Who! Knows!”


AND ANOTHER THING

The whole idea of Buffy's that people are the main ingredient of the burgers was the theme of 1973 sci-fi flick Soylent Green.

Doublemeat Palace was first heard (but not seen) in a TV commercial Amy watched in ep. 6.9 'Smashed'.

SMG's first acting gig was a Burger King ad at the age of four. And it got her sued. She was named in a lawsuit filed by McDonald's because in the ad Sarah said, "Do I look 20 per cent smaller to you? I must have at McDonald's because their hamburgers are 20 per cent smaller than Burger King's." McDonald's sued Burger King, the advertising agency, and Sarah herself.

Believe it or not Doublemeat Palace is the Buffy episode that got Joss and co. in to the most potential trouble with the network. Forget sex scenes, gay relationships, horror, violence.. Making fun of fast food was then a cardinal sin in US broadcasting. The ep proved extremely unpopular with sponsors with some even pulling out of the show because of the episode.

HOW MANY STAKES?

It's not a Whopper at 2.5 (out of 5)

Friday, 14 March 2014

I AIN'T AFRAID OF NO GHOSTBUSTERS 3


Ghostbusters quotes


The other week Drew McWeeny over at Hit Fix asked the following question:

“Do you really want to see Ghostbusters 3?"

In the article that followed he tried to convince us that before we said an automatic geek fueled 'Hell yes!' we should take a moment, weigh up the real, actual Hollywood business model pros and cons before then coming to the eventual answer of 'No.' His argument was predicated on the idea that in order to make the film, to satisfy the many differing requirements (four quadrant movie making – selling toys, fast food/sponsorships, paying talent/back end deals) what we'd end up with would be some ghastly bastardization of a much loved classic. A pale and unfunny imitation. You know, kinda like R.I.P.D.

Drew is right. I don't wanna see that. At all. Who would?

But I like to keep a glimmer of hope alive in my heart. Just a small spark of light fighting the good fight against cynicism and low expectations.

Maybe, just maybe we could get a new Ghostbusters movie done right.

Of course 'done right' depends very much on your own personal take. Many would argue that you simply can't do another GB movie without the original line up, especially Bill Murray. Twenty years ago I would have shared that same view. But not now. Not after all this time has passed. Don't get me wrong. I adore Murray, Ramis, Aykroyd et al but the world they created is so darn good, has so much potential that it can and should live beyond them. And anyway, Murray has shown epic disinterest in the project for decades now meaning it just ain't gonna happen with him. End of. Plus the recent sad passing of Harold Ramis has now made the 'getting the old gang back together' approach a non-starter anyway. So it's a no then to that approach.

But I don't want a remake either. Or a reboot or whatever you wanna call it.

No, what I want is a continuation, only with new characters and a wider universe to explore. That's not to say the old crew can't also appear in some shape or form. Of course they can. And they should if they want to. Personally I love the franchise idea Drew posits in his article. One that builds off of the first two films. I mean, the guys float the idea themselves in the original movie saying that the franchise rights alone could make them rich. So lets see it. Lets see other teams of Ghostbusters around the US, around the world. Some good, some bad, some screw ups, some amazing. Mix it up. Expand the universe. Go play. Go crazy. Franchise doesn't have to be a dirty word. Not here. When done right it can be the best thing ever. When done wrong it can be Transformers.

Opening the Ghostbusters concept up to go international and inter-dimensional is the way to go I say. I've always thought the concept was so awesome and so potentially huge that it could live well beyond the original movie if handled right. I mean, you could create a truly weird and funny Marvel-ous kinda universe full of monsters, ghosts, inter-dimensional worlds and beings and different groups of Earth-based Ghostbusters who work on their own or team up for various crazy missions. And with the right actors, writers, directors it could be really fun, funny and spectacular.

Okay, glimmer of hope starting to fade. Cynical hat coming back on.

Sadly I fully expect that when a new Ghostbusters does get made - and rest assured folks, we WILL get one at some point - it'll probably be a remake/reboot, a bland corporate ghost of its former self and a complete waste of potential. But we'll see. I'll still hope for the best and will keep everything crossed...except for the streams of course. Never cross the streams. Because crossing the streams is bad.

Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.

RIP Harold Ramis

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

MY FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2013

So here's my ten favourite films of 2013 in descending order. Please note: I don't claim these as the best films of the year, just the ones I personally enjoyed the most. There are some films I saw in 2013 which would have made this chart but I left out as they were not technically 2013 UK releases but had already been released here prior to 1 Jan 2013. Also, at the bottom of this post you'll also find my five least favourite films of 2013. Enjoy.

10. THOR: THE DARK WORLD

The sequel to Kenneth Branagh's 2011 God of Thunder epic is a fast, fun, epic fantasy which opens up the restricted scope of the original to new worlds and new places on Earth (specifically London replacing a small New Mexico town). Game of Thrones' Alan Taylor comes aboard as director and brings a less shiny more lived in look to Asgard and its people. Principle cast returnees Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Natalie Portman as Jane, Kat Dennings as Darcy and Stellan Skarsgard as Eric are all once more top notch. But it's the not-so-secret weapon of Tom Hiddleston as Loki who once again commands the screen and makes the audience just love a bad guy. Above all else though, Thor: The Dark World does what the best of Marvel movies should do - it is tons of fun. And sometimes that's all you need. All hail MeuMeu!


9. THE WOLVERINE

The Wolverine sees James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) directing Hugh Jackman as the badass mutant with the cool adamantium claws. And in doing so makes up for the horrible poop fest that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Based on a classic run of the comics by Chris Claremont, the story sees Logan travel to Japan at the behest of dying Japanese industrialist Yashida who as a young man was saved by Logan when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Yashida wants to repay his life debt to Logan by offering him the one thing he wants – mortality. However it appears there is a hidden agenda behind Logan's visit and our hirsute hero soon becomes involved with Mariko, Yashida's granddaughter, who has become a target of Yakuza gangs vying for control of her Grandfather's company. The Wolverine is a rare beast of a superhero flick in that for much of the time there are not any real super-heroics going on. It is more about character building and interaction and is not afraid to have well written, well acted scenes of just two people talking. But when the super-heroics do come then they come in style with some wonderful action sequences including a thrilling fight atop a speeding bullet train and a battle in the snow against an army of ninjas. All in all then a top notch character driven superhero thriller with Jackman hammering home yet again his total ownership of this role. Snikt!


8. IRON MAN THREE

I had a real hard time figuring out my fave Marvel movie of 2013. To be honest, it could easily be any of them (I include FOX's The Wolverine in this even though it is not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe). They were all great and they all had something different to offer while retaining the central Marvel demand that first and foremost they be FUN! But in the end, it came down to one thing...or I should say one person. Shane Black. Yep, the man behind Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was given $200m and told to go away and make a superhero film. Only Marvel would be this brave. And God bless 'em for it. It is precisely these smart and often brave choices that have made their films so much quirky, endearing fun, not to mention hugely successful. So what did Shane Black do with Marvel's $200m? What he did was to pretty much discard Iron Man and instead make a Tony Stark movie. For much of this film the armor is not even in use and when it is Tony is often not in it and is instead operating it remotely. Either that or other people are getting to wear it. In IM3 Tony is cast adrift and forced to use his wits and smarts to uncover the truth behind the terrorist known as The Mandarin as well as stopping a very bad guy from creating an army of exploding super-soldiers. Black invests his film with many of his usual tropes. In parts it becomes a buddy film (Stark and the kid, Stark and Rhodey), it is set around Christmas time, there is a torture scene where the hero turns the tables on the villains. And Black is also in super playful mode as he gleefully pulls the rug out from under the audience with a controversial twist about two thirds through which puts the whole film in to a new perspective. Also he is a dab hand at witty cutting banter. As such, IM3 is very, very funny with Downey Jr yet again proving why he is Marvel's most valuable on screen player. The action sequences are all good with the two highlights being the destruction of Stark's home via missile attack and the brilliant mid-air rescue of Air Force One passengers in free fall. The ending might devolve in to a bit of a flying CGI melee but it still contains some great character beats and gags amidst the carnage. Performances are all great with Downey Jr still at the top of his game. But special mention must go to Sir Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin. He is scary and...a lot more. Oh, and Brian Tyler provides a wonderfully toe tapping score with his end theme being sublime. So yeah, in the end, Iron Man Three clinches the title of top Marvel movie of 2013 mostly by virtue of being a Shane Black flick. And thanks to Marvel (and IM3 making $1.2bn), Black will now go on to make more movies of his choosing. And for that alone we must all be truly grateful.


7. THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE

Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend) replaces Gary Ross as this series' director, and in film number two brings a wider scope and deeper mythos to the building story of Katniss Everdeen and her growing role as unwilling focus for a building rebellion in the future land of Panem. The story here builds logically and smartly on the first film with nasty President Snow (a wonderfully snakelike Donald Sutherland) looking to discredit our heroine before getting her killed in a new round of winners only Hunger Games. Once again Jennifer Lawrence is superb as Katniss – steely and smart, haunted and vulnerable. And she is given strong support by the rest of the cast with special mention going to the fab Elisabeth Banks as Effie Trinkett who brings new depth to the previously shallow Escort to the District 12 Tributes. As before, the underlying themes are all about social control, the power of a complicit media, and the horrific extravagance and waste of the Capitol contrasted against the extreme poverty of everywhere else. It is perhaps this huge gap between the haves and have nots of Panem that hits home hardest making for a powerful message in this time of real world austerity for the poor and seemingly continuing greed and avarice for the wealthy. What makes this series work and raises it above all other young adult adaptations is that it has something serious and important on its mind. It is actually about something. Something important. Plus it has at its center perhaps the best leading lady and character actress of her generation in Jennifer Lawrence. I mean, how awesome must it be to be Jennifer Lawrence right now? Pretty damn awesome I reckon. Top of the world. Girl on Fire! And good for her. Bring on Mockingjay.


6. ODD THOMAS

Tricky one this. Odd Thomas has not been officially released anywhere yet. It's been made for nearly two years but due to legal wranglings remains locked in distribution limbo with no release in sight. I saw it via other means and we'll leave it at that. That this movie hasn't been and may not be released is a crying shame. Based on the novel by Dean R Koontz, Odd Thomas tells the story of a young man, a short order cook in a small town, who has the ability to see and communicate with recently dead people. Dead people who often need Odd's help to pass on. And being a kindly soul, Odd is more than willing to oblige them, using the knowledge the dead impart to him to track down murderers, rapists and all kinds of scum. However when Odd starts seeing a major increase in the number of bodachs (invisible creatures that appear when death and disaster is near), he becomes convinced that something terrible is going to befall his town and sets out to stop it from happening. Now I've not read Koontz's books so I have no idea how faithful the movie is or isn't. What I do know though is Odd Thomas the film, as written and directed by Stephen (The Mummy) Sommers is an imaginative, witty, warm, emotional and exciting supernatural adventure helped along by a great cast led by Anton Yelchin who is superb as the highly capable and likable Odd. Yelchin is wonderfully supported by Addison Timlin as Stormy, Odd's cute and loyal girlfriend, and Willem Dafoe as local Police Chief Porter, a friendly father figure to young Odd. The core of the film though is Odd and Stormy. And they are great together. You really do buy in to their playful, loving relationship and the obvious history behind it. You care about these two kids. The supernatural story proceeds as you'd expect – always fun, always creepy, always cool – but the tale of Odd and Stormy is what counts. By movie's end I don't mind admitting that I was moved. An emotional connection had been made. The film had worked. It was lots of creepy charming fun, yes, but it connected too. And in the end, that is what really counts. Way to go, Odd one.


5. JOURNEY TO THE WEST: CONQUERING THE DEMONS

Okay, so I had a big silly grin on my face all the way through this. Genius Chinese filmmaker Stephen (Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle) Chow returns with his epic prequel to the famous 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en. To western audiences (especially kids who grew up in 70's/80's Britain) Journey to the West is best known as the classic Japanese TV show Monkey! The novel and TV show concerns the pilgrimage of Buddhist monk Xuanzang who traveled to India to obtain sacred texts with the aid of three protectors: a magical monkey king with fabulous powers, a pig demon, and a water demon given human form. But instead of telling this tale again, Chow has created his own prequel concerning Xuanzang and his pre-pilgrimage days as a rather hopeless Buddhist demon hunter who won't slay the demons but prefers instead to naively use the non-violent method of reading old nursery rhymes with the intention of calming the demons down and reawakening their goodness. Of course this approach does not go well for Xuanzang who soon runs in to a fellow demon hunter called Duan, a tough and beautiful woman who slays demons the old school way. Xuanzang doesn't seem to like his new competition very much. Duan though becomes hopelessly smitten by the hopeless young monk/demon hunter and their paths intertwine, eventually leading them both to come face to face with the legendary Monkey King imprisoned by the Buddha beneath a mountain. To be honest, there is not much of any real story to Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons. It is mostly a series of incidents as poor hapless Xuanzang keeps trying (and failing) to calm those demons and become a better man through finding enlightenment. The film's throughline is Xuanzang and Duan and their weird and wacky one sided courtship mixed in with lots of gloriously entertaining set pieces involving all kinds of crazy monsters and Tom and Jerry style cartoon action. This could easily have been one big rambling mess. But Stephen Chow knows what he is doing. And like the awesome Kung Fu Hustle, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons ends up a wildly inventive, very funny, very silly blast. The fact that it is based around the same tale that brought joy to millions of 70s/80s kids like me is just an added bonus. This time out though, Chow does not star in his own movie as he usually does. A younger actor was required to play Xuanzang. And Wen Zhang is a spot on Chow substitute. Then there is the beautiful Shu Qi (best known to western audiences as Jason Statham's 'cargo' in the first Transporter) who is terrific as the feisty, fighty, slightly unhinged Duan. The movie looks great too with big detailed sets, glorious design and lots of nifty FX. But in the end it is the pure nutty fun factor that Chow can harness so well in his films that makes this one a winner. Sequel please.


4. WOLF CHILDREN

Acclaimed Japanese director Mamoru (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars) Hosoda co-writes and directs this beautiful, simple animated film that tells the story of nineteen year old Hana who meets and falls in love with a man who she soon discovers is the last of his race: a legendary tribe who can physically transform in to wolves. The pair marry and Hana soon becomes pregnant, eventually giving birth to a daughter, Yuki, and then a year later a son, Ame. However tragedy strikes and Hana and her two small children are left alone with Hana struggling to bring up two small wolf children with hardly any money and no experience of rearing such creatures. All the while she is also trying to keep the children's existence secret from the rest of the world while also trying to give the two (literal) nippers enjoyable and fulfilling lives. Mamoru Hosoda has said that Wolf Children was conceived as his love letter to motherhood, to mothers the world over. And that it is. There is no big intricate story here. There are no bad guys. What there is, is a mother struggling against all odds to make a wonderful life for her two growing children while also giving them the strength and the space to find out who they are and to make the right choices for themselves. The film rings true throughout and visually it is truly lovely with the gorgeous and vivid watercolour style countrysides striking to behold as are the almost photo-realistic cityscapes. Perhaps the single greatest sequence in the film is of Hana playing with and chasing her two small wolf children through the snow on the mountainside where they live, all three of them filled with such unbound joy. Truly uplifting stuff. Wolf Children is a lovely film. Touching and emotional without being sentimental. Funny and charming throughout. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars were both great but this is Mamoru Hosoda's best film to date. A treat.


3. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

So, you're in the middle of directing one of the biggest blockbuster movies of all time (3rd biggest to be exact) and you get two weeks off. What do you do? Take the wife and kids on a break? Go home and sleep? Well, if you are Joss Whedon you go make a film in your own house with no money starring a load of your friends. And not just any film either. Oh no. You make an adaptation of a Shakespeare play. In black and white. But surely not I hear you cry? That could never work. No where near enough time. And who the heck wants to watch a black and white Shakespeare play shot in someone's backyard anyway? Well, me as it turns out. And a lot of other people too. I won't bother with a plot summary. Go look it up if you don't know. Just know that Beatrice loves Benedick and vice versa but neither of them know it or will admit it until romantic circumstances arising between Benedick's friend and compatriot Claudio and Beatrice's cousin Hero force the issue. There are conspiracies, back-stabbings, tragedy, fury, romance, and lots of laughs. Yes, I swear. It is honestly, properly funny. Possibly the first time I have ever found a Shakespeare comedy funny. This being a Joss Whedon film he focuses on the gender issues highlighted by the story with Beatrice's heartfelt and rightly furious rant about the unfairness of it all being a highlight. Oh yeah, Amy Acker as Beatrice. She is fabulous. But then she always has been right back to her days as Fred and Iliyria on Angel. And as Benedick, Alexis Denisof is also great, full of swaggering charisma and latterly a growing fury and passion. The rest of the cast are good too including Clark Gregg as Leonato, the governor of Messina, and Fran Kranz as Claudio. However it is the duo of Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk as bumbling cops Dogberry and Verges who almost steal the entire movie. They are hilarious. Even if you don't understand the language you will get what they are doing. Comedy gold. I've watched this several times now since it came out and it never gets dull. In fact, it is a pure joy from start to finish. I truly hope Joss shoots some more Shakespeare plays this way. It would be a crime not to let his little rep company get their Bard out more often for all of us to enjoy. Yup, Joss (and William) remains Boss!


2. PACIFIC RIM

It's big. It's not subtle. It's kinda daft. But boy, is it a blast! Guillermo del Toro brings to the screen in the way only he could the story of humans piloting giant mechas knows as Jaegers to fight off the cross dimensional invasion of giant monsters who appear through a rift at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. And that's pretty much it really. There's not any great depth to Pacific Rim (except when they are literally at the bottom of the Pacific of course). It's a giant monsters versus giant robots smash em up movie as filtered through the brain of monster loving, clockwork/gears obsessed Mexican geek demi-god del Torro. The cool and imposing Idris Elba as Stacker Penticost leads the charge for humanity in the dying days of the Humans vs Kaiju war which humans are now losing. However Penticost has one last card to play. He has a plan to end the war forever with one last major strike against the Kaiju's rift at the bottom of the sea. Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), a washed-up Jaeger pilot is called out of retirement and teamed with rookie pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) who also happens to be Penticost's adoptive daughter, to lead this last-ditch effort to defeat the Kaijus. What Pacific Rim really is, is an old fashioned WW2 against the odds mission movie. Backs against the wall, chaps. Tally ho! The look and design of the film for all its high tech robots echoes WW2 flicks from the Jaeger hangers and bases and barracks to the battered leather fleece lined jackets the pilots wear. It is this future retro feel that really makes me love the movie. That and the terrific visuals including the designs of the Jaegers and the various monstrous Kaijus. The epic battles when they happen are humongous and inventively staged slug fests using supertankers as baseball bats to batter a monster and rocket powered arms to land a more powerful punch. The performances are fine with Elba being suitably gruff and intense and Hunnam reluctantly heroic. Rinko Kakuchi as Mako is good too with a nice line in deceptive fragility. However it is the little girl Mana Ashida who plays Mako as a child who deserves most credit. The sequence of her wandering Tokyo utterly terrified as a massive Kaiju runs riot is scary good. The poor kid looks like del Toro was threatening to shoot a puppy off camera or something. Tremendous performance! In the end, Pacific Rim is just big gleeful nonsense. But I bloody loved every minute of it. Thankfully (mostly due to the great people of China) it became an international hit after only doing so so in the US. This may mean we get to see a sequel, although the movie ends the story perfectly so I wouldn't be too upset if we didn't get another does of this mecha on monster action.


1. GRAVITY

In space nobody can hear you crap your pants! At the start of this end of year round up I made the point that I am not claiming these to be 'the best' films of the year, merely the films I have personally enjoyed the most. However I can honestly say that Gravity IS the best film I saw this year. Hands down. It is quite simply astonishing. Sandra Bullock is scientist Dr Ryan Stone who becomes stranded in orbit after her shuttle is destroyed by debris from a satellite mishap. Along with fellow astronaut Kowalski (George Clooney) she must find a way to get back to Earth before either the debris field comes around again or they both run out of oxygen. What follows is one of the most intense, scary, stressful, beautiful, awe inspiring pieces of cinema ever. Just the visuals alone with the groundbreaking use of CGI and other visual FX is enough to make your jaw hit the floor, but add in the buttock clenching and seemingly hopeless fight for survival and you end up with what is an unparalleled cinematic experience. Gravity is only one of three films you simply must see in 3D. The other two being Avatar and Hugo. Okay, so Gravity is basically a genre film which plays out kinda like a horror movie. But it does have depth to it. It has themes and layers. The main ones being about the preciousness of life, birth and rebirth, the vastness of the cosmos but also the vastness of the human spirit and its will to survive, to go on no matter what. Of the actors, Clooney is of course splendid but the film belongs completely to Bullock who cements her position as one of the biggest genuine movie stars on the planet as well as being a tremendous actress. Because despite the visual wonders on show if you don't buy in to Dr Ryan Stone as a character then nothing else will work. But buy in you do. Gotta say for a woman in her late 40's Sandy B is seriously bucking the Hollywood starlet meatgrinder trend. And more power to her. But the success of Gravity would not have been possible without the visionary direction of Alfonso Cuarón, the genius Mexican director of Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá También, and the sublime A Little Princess. Cuarón is simply one of the very best filmmakers working today and I can't wait to see what he does next. Make no mistake, Gravity is the real deal. A tremendous piece of film making with a great central performance from a genuine movie star. I just hope Warners re-release it every few years so we can continue to see it as it was meant to be seen: on a huge screen in 3D. Cuz I really want that experience back.


Bubbling under:

Django Unchained, Rush, American Mary, The World's End, Les Miserables

And now my bottom five films of 2013:

5. THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES

A dull, hackneyed grab bag from other better fantasy franchises stuffed together in to this confusing, poorly written and completely uninvolving bore of a film. Only the super cute Lily Collins makes this even close to bearable. Thankfully it flopped...and yet they are making a sequel. Huh?

4. DRACULA 3D (Dario Argento's film)

Oh how the once mighty have fallen. Dario Argento has been a true visionary in the realm of horror cinema with classics such as Deep Red, Suspiria and Tenebre. But those days are long gone. Dracula 3D is a laughably bad retelling of Stoker's classic featuring some truly terrible acting, awful FX and poor general production values. Argento manages to reduce Stoker's creepy gothic horror story to a silly bland cartoon. Only buxom vampire bride Tania played by the gorgeous Miriam Giovanelli provides any life being charismatically sexy and nicely ferocious in her role. But this is mostly some major suckage.

3. LOVE BITE

A British alleged horror comedy set in a small seaside town which sees teen Jamie (Ed Speleers) and his three pals looking to get laid so that they don't fall victim to a possible werewolf who is out hunting down virgins. The situation gets complicated by Jamie falling for a visiting American girl Juliana (Jessica Szohr) who may or may not harbour a dark secret. Okay, so the filmmakers were obviously going for something akin to The Inbetweeners meets Cherry Falls meets Ginger Snaps. Unfortunately they failed dismally on every level. It's crude. Sure, that's easy. But it ain't funny. And it sure ain't scary, tense or even gory. It is just a big fat nothing. A big empty hole lasting 90 mins. I felt sorry for poor Timothy Spall as a deranged werewolf hunter. How did he end up in this rubbish?

2. A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD

And so director John Moore and writer Skip Woods took a franchise I love (the first Die Hard is my second fave film ever), killed it, shat on it but then didn't even bother to flush it. They just left it there lying dead in cinema's toilet bowl mouldering away for us all to see before we turn away in violent disgust. Fuck them. Fuck them all. The basic premise of this the fifth Die Hard film is fine - McClane goes to Russia to help out his son who is in a spot of bother and gets dragged in to a criminal conspiracy to steal nuclear weapons. So far so solid. Problem is the resulting script is awful being filled with bad plotting, terrible dialogue and worst of all devolving John McClane – one of cinema's greatest heroes – in to a grumpy, ignorant, unlikable borderline psychopath who appears to care nothing about crushing cars with innocent civilians inside and seems to glory in getting his gun off whenever he can. That is NOT John McClane! McClane is always a reluctant hero, just a regular guy who is not eager for violence but who will step up and do the right thing if needed. But above all...he CARES!!! Add in the fact that John Moore is a director who can't shoot decent action to save his life and is incapable of bringing a sense of life or energy or drama to anything he makes and what we end up with is a complete and utter travesty of a Die Hard film. For all those people who thought Die Hard 4.0 was bad (I don't, I really like it) well, watch this and you'll think it was a stunner by comparison. Part of me hopes this is the end of McClane's adventures as I don't want to see the great man shat on anymore. But another part of me hopes that when John McTiernan is let out of prison he will get to make a sixth and final Die Hard which will restore the good name of the franchise and above all the good name and high standing of Mr John McClane. This? This is just utter, utter dispiriting shit. Shame on you, FOX.

1. A HAUNTED HOUSE

Any other year and A Good Day to Die Hard would easily clinch the bottom spot on this chart. However this year The Wayans Brothers (chiefly Marlon) unleashed this utterly wretched turd of a film on us. It's basically a spoof of the Paranormal Activity films (a series I've given up on now after the crap fourth film) that is so spectacularly unfunny and even offensive in places that I was quite amazed while struggling through it. What is even more amazing is that it made money and a sequel is on its way. Oh god no! But hey, if you think Marlon Wayans gurning like an idiot amidst lots of shouting, stupid sex jokes, borderline homophobic jokes, as well as a sequence which sees a young child being violently beaten is remotely funny then good luck to you. I don't. Quite the opposite in fact. I found nothing at all to like about this. I hated every vile second. At least A Good Day to Die Hard had a good score from Marco Beltrami to distract me from its shitness. No such luck here. Congrats Wayans Bros. With the likes of this, White Chicks and Littleman you continue to scrape the bottom of the comedy barrel. Gross.


That's all folks. Happy cinema going for 2014.