Thursday, 1 January 2015

MY FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2014

And so here we are again. Happy New Year! And here is my twenty favourite films of 2014 in descending order. If you care. Don't blame you if you don't.

Please note: as per usual I do not claim that these as the best films of the year, just the ones I personally enjoyed the most. It is all subjective. I have a big ol' yen for Marvel flicks, apes on horseback and emotionally resonant Asian animation. So there you go. Also, at the bottom of this post you'll find my five least favourite films of 2014. Enjoy.

20. Frank



Lenny Abrahamson's strange, off beat dramedy stars Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy and Michael Fassbender as the titular Frank and was inspired by Frank Sidebottom, the comic persona of late comedian/singer/poet Chris Sievey. Abrahamson's film is a strange, funny and also sad tale with a top notch cast that has the excellent Fassbender proving again why he is one of our best current actors.

19. Jodorowsky's Dune



Frank Pavich's engrossing and fascinating documentary explores Chilean-French director Alejandro Jodorowsky's unsuccessful attempt to adapt and film Frank Herbert's legendary novel Dune in the mid-1970s. The interviews are all great but Jodorowsky and his Dune bible in which he has his entire movie that never was mapped out in script, storyboards and detailed artwork are the true stars. The movie had it happened would have been utterly insane but totally original. If only.

18. Only Lovers Left Alive



Idiosyncratic director Jim Jarmusch does his take on vampires by focusing on the current lives of a centuries old married couple played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton and how they both deal with unending life and the frustrations of the modern world. There isn't much story (an appearance from Swinton's troublesome undead sister played by Mia Wasikowska adds some jeopardy) but rather the film is about two very much in love people who just happen to be very, very old and is a brooding, contemplative, darkly humorous character study featuring two riveting performances from Hiddleston and Swinton - the coolest on screen vamp couple since Spike & Dru.

17. Stretch



Stretch is a sly, darkly funny, cynical LA noir thriller from Joe Carnahan which see Patrick Wilson as a down on his luck limo driver knows as Stretch who is trying desperately to raise some money to pay off gambling debts while at the same time trying to improve his life, impress his ex girlfriend and also get himself out of a criminal tangle his rich and kinda mad client has got him involved in. Stretch is slick, funny, satirical (esp about LA life and its glossy/seedy side) and features two great performances from Patrick Wilson in the title role and Chris Pine as the rich, mad, grubby and criminal client. A very, very fun ride of a flick. And a totally unexpected joy.

16. The Wind Rises



The Wind Rises is legendary Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki's final film before he retired in late 2013. The film is a fictionalized biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi A5M fighter aircraft and its successor, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, used by Japan during World War II. However the film is not about the war or about creating weapons of war but rather about a young man who since boyhood has loved aeroplanes and the idea of flying, a love and fascination shared by Myazaki. As such the film is an ode to that purest and most freeing of dreams and is also about how love and dreams become entwined to create a rich and full life. As always with Miyazaki the film looks beautiful and the themes are honest and relatable. Not his best work but a fitting note to end such an illustrious career on.

15. Gone Girl



David Fincher's film of the novel by Gillian Flynn is a savage indictment of the institution of marriage and what it can involve and potentially lead to – lust becomes love becomes routine becomes indifference becomes boredom becomes hostility becomes....something else altogether. Ben Affleck is very good in the role of the husband suspected of offing his missing wife while Rosamund Pike turns in a 'who knew?' performance that will surely bring her an Oscar nom. Sexy, riveting, scary. Another Fincher winner.

14. Godzilla



Gareth Edwards' update/remake of Toho's famous monster mash movie thankfully wiped clear all memory of Roland Emmerich's ghastly 1998 effort. The story here is rooted in family tragedy as a bereaved husband seeks to discover the truth about his wife's death in a nuclear power plant in Japan while his now adult son tries to stop him only to get embroiled in a multinational conspiracy to keep the existence of ancient monsters a secret. A secret which explodes in to the world with disastrous results. To be honest the human story here is secondary. It is fine. But what the punters want is Big G. To have him done right. To sell his size and majesty. And to see him kick monster ass! And boy doe we get that. What ever the movie may lack in its human story it surely succeeds in how it treats its star. Edwards holds back on revealing Big G...but when he does...wow! And every scene with our star, every sequence is directed the hell out of. This was a true cinematic experience that got my jaw well and truly dropped in the theatre. It does lose something on the small screen but still manages to sell its titular hero to us. Monstrously good fun.

13. We Are The Best



Swedish director Lukas Moodysson's sweet, funny, endearing coming of age story is about three young girls in 1982 Stockholm who start their own punk band just as punk is dying out. Bobo (Mira Barkhammar), Klara (Mira Grosin), and Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) are outsiders. Bobo and Klara are lifelong friends and already rebellious and looking for any opportunity to stick it to the system (in their own naive and sweet way), while Hedvig is a Christian girl who is great at guitar but is isolated from the rest of her peers due to her strong religious beliefs. But when the three girls come together they find common ground and a common spirit and embark together on a mission to form their band and play their punk songs to people, especially 'Hate the Sport' inspired by their shared hatred of gym class. The three young actresses are fabulous and you can't help but root for them in their small but so very important personal mission to express themselves to a world which wants them to conform and behave. A lovely, sweet and funny ode to friendship and rebellion, We Are The Best is a charming little gem.

12. The Grand Budapest Hotel



Wes Anderson's eighth film as director is now my favourite of his. It's a tale of old world manners and etiquette mixed up with a farcical comedic criminal conspiracy that features a hilarious and career best performance from leading man Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes is Gustav H, concierge at the titular hotel who teams up with one of his employees, bell boy Zero (Tony Revolori) to prove his innocence after he is framed for the murder of a rich old lady who he'd been providing extra 'services' to for years. Anderson brings his usual style of flat space camera moves, symmetrical compositions, snap-zooms etc. to showcase the small, idiosyncratic and also big and outrageous comedic moments that litter the film. The film also looks gorgeous having been designed and shot to within an inch of its life with Anderson making full use of his glorious sets and locations as well as his game cast. Odd, hilarious and utterly brilliant!

11. What We Do in the Shadows



A mockumentary about four old school vampires who live together in Wellington, New Zealand, What We Do in the Shadows follows their night to night lives, documents how they co-habit and how they deal with 'living' in the modern world. It also shows what happens to their home when one of them accidentally makes a new vampire who turns out to be a real pain in the neck. The movie was directed and written by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords), who also star. The movie works on three levels. First, it is very, very funny with the characters great and distinctive and the comedy coming from how they interact with each other and with the outside world. Second, it pokes affectionate fun at many familiar tropes of the horror/classic monster movie genre. Third, the three main vampire characters have their own stories and arcs which we follow and we can't help kinda rooting for them. For despite their great age and monstrous nature they are still relatable and have to deal with many of the same things us humans do – keeping house, petty arguments, relationship problems, dealing with tiresome bureaucracy. But above all else this movie is just damn funny. I laughed and laughed and loved every minute.

10. X-Men: Days of Future Past



Original X-Men director Bryan Singer returned to the chair to make Days of Future Past, a further reset/course correction for the franchise after the excellent First Class in an effort to repair the damage done by X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the Last Stand. And he succeeded. A complex time travel story sees Wolverine altering the past to save the future and in doing so erasing much of what went wrong in the franchise. Once again Jackman is terrific as the hirsute hero while the First Class cast esp Fassbender, McAvoy and Lawrence all do great work. Arguably though it is Evan Peters as Quicksilver who almost steals the movie in his small but pivotal cameo. Full of great action, stylish visuals, resonant themes and strong acting, Singer has indeed succeeded in putting his X boys and girls back on top. Bring on Apocalypse!

9. The Babadook



Blimey! A horror movie that is actually about something and that is genuinely smart and scary. Doesn't happen often anymore. Jennifer Kent's powerful, creepy, emotional and affecting fairytale horror story is all about parenting and the stresses and strains of motherhood especially when doing it alone looking after a young child with emotional issues while at the same time trying to cope with one's own personal emotional issues. Isolation, grief, stress, terror all come to play here thanks to a truly remarkable performance by Essie Davis as the mother being driven to distraction by her child and by her own still raw grief at the death of her husband. The film is largely set in the dark and creepy house mother and son inhabit, a house that has been exquisitely designed, dressed and shot to enhance the levels of spine tingles and discomfort amongst the audience. And Mr Babadook himself is thing of nightmarish beauty. A marvellous creepy children's monster come to life. Is it real or are all the supernatural events in the film just the product of two traumatised minds? Who knows. And that's the beauty of it. Brilliant!

8. The Guest



The Guest was directed and edited by Adam Wingard, and written by Simon Barrett, the team who previously gave us the excellent horror flick You're Next. In The Guest the pair have made a retro 80's inspired action/horror/thriller about a mysterious, relentless and utterly lethal ex soldier who comes to visit the family of a deceased comrade and proceeds to cause bloody havoc in and around the family's lives. Small scale but beautifully directed, shot and edited ,The Guest benefits hugely from its stripped down script, 80's feel (complete with synth score) and rather stunning and star making central performance from one time Downton Abbey actor Dan Stevens as David, the titular guest. Stevens burns up the screen with charm and charisma that barely covers a level of bestial menace and threat. And when he finally unleashes his full lethality he becomes a force of pure bloody destruction to rival the Terminator himself. Short, sharp, stylish, brutal, The Guest is bloody brilliant!

7. The Raid 2



If Gareth Evans' The Raid was his Indonesian take on Die Hard then The Raid 2 is his take on The Godfather. The simple 'fight your way through the building to get the boss' plot of the original has been replaced by a sprawling crime saga that follows undercover cop Rama and his battles with rival crime families and police corruption. The simplicity of the set-up of the original Raid was part of its brilliance and that simple brilliance does get lost in what is now a two and half hour crime epic. But Evans manages to weave a tense and compelling tale here with strong memorable characters even if some of the plot might lose you in places. But where he truly excels is the action. My God! The action! Nobody else is making action films like this. Epic, bloody, brutal, choreographed to insane levels...and now with added car chases too. They are like long and beautiful ballets of carnage and blood that do quite take your breath away. I do hope Evans doesn't get sucked in to the Hollywood system and just keeps on doing what he is doing. Because what he is doing is pretty much perfect just the way it is. Stunning!

6. The LEGO Movie



Everything is awesome! What more can I say? This movie IS awesome. Chris Miller and Phil Lord's blatantly commercial effort to sell more of the iconic Danish toy to kids worldwide had no business being this good. Being this smart. This sly. This funny. This...AWESOME! The visual style is pure genius, the gags (coming thick and fast) hilarious, the characters memorable, especially goofy Lego everyman Emmett (Chris Pratt – having a great year), the asshole Batman (Will Arnett) and the genius that is Bad Cop (Liam Neeson). The movie even tackles themes of creativity verses conformity and pokes fun at story archetypes, the corporate world and its money grabbing ways, and at adults who forget what toys are all about – imagination and fun! Just damn funny. Damn smart. Damn creative. And damn good FUN!

5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier



And the Marvel machine keeps on rolling. And keeps on making top flight entertainment. But this time they added a little extra: a bit of social comment with a look at our current surveillance world and how our fears of terror and of crime can lead us to almost blindly give away the very freedoms we say we cherish and are fighting for. Basically Marvel made a 1970's conspiracy thriller which just happens to have a costumed super soldier as its main hero. New directors The Russo Brothers bring a more real world, gritty style and feel to the world of Cap and co. while still maintaining the scifi and fantasy elements that we love about the Marvel Universe. The film sees Cap struggling to find his place in this new and morally grey world when a deadly conspiracy throws him back in to action along with an old friend and a new one in a fight to save lives and stake out the moral high ground his way. Once again Chris Evans is terrific as Cap giving him a vulnerability and innate likability while always maintaining his strength and absolute badass ability along with the sense that he truly does believe in just being a good man and doing the right thing. Scarlett Johansen is also excellent as the sly yet ultimately loyal Black Widow and Anthony Mackie makes a great addition as Cap's new buddy Sam Wilson. Also only Robert bloomin' Redford!!! Awesome! Plus Cap 2 has possibly my fave action sequence of the year with the epic free way chase/battle. It's amazing and brings to mind the street battle in Heat. With this movie Marvel yet again proved they can find the perfect people for the job with The Russo Brothers who are returning for Cap 3: Civil War and are rumoured to be involved in the Avengers: Infinity War saga if Joss decides to bow out. The future is looking pretty darn Marvel-ous!

4. Edge of Tomorrow



Adapted from the 2004 Japanese light novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Doug Liman's scifi actioner is bloody great from start to finish. Tom Cruise plays against type as the cowardly PR man drafted in to fight alien invaders on the front lines in a hopeless battle only to find himself caught in a repeating Groundhog Day style time loop which allows him to repeat the same day over and over until he gets trained up enough to get off the beach and ultimately find and destroy the core of the alien threat. Cruise is terrific as the coward who gradually becomes a deadly weapon. And he is assisted by the equally terrific (and very gorgeous) Emily Blunt as veteran badass soldier Sergeant Rita Vrataski aka Full Metal Bitch! The concept alone is brilliant and Liman and his writers mine it for all its worth. What is perhaps most surprising though is the level of black humour throughout inc. finding more and more creative ways to off poor Tom! The alien bashing action is all wonderfully staged and exciting and the cast are obviously having a grand old time of it. EoT may not be very deep or thought provoking but it is a great scifi concept well told that rollicks along and keeps the audience on their toes. The aliens themselves – mimics – are a cool and creepy creation, while the tech and the war imagery harks back to WW2 complete with the storming of Normandy beaches. The saddest thing here is that while the movie did okay at the box office it got largely overlooked in the busy summer season. While crap like Transformers 4 makes over a billion dollars a genunely great and fun scifi actioner like this is relegated to the lower BO leagues. Bummer!

3. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya



Isao (Grave of the Fireflies) Takahata’s animated adaptation of the old Japanese folk tale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is easily the most beautiful animated film of the year and a gorgeous, magical, graceful and emotional joy from begging to end. The story is about many things – partially a coming of age tale it is also about how parents should allow their children to follow their own path to discover who they really are rather than forcing them down a path they think they should follow due to societal pressures or their own personal agendas. It is also about how society views women and young girls as well as ones own personal wishes and dreams and about being careful what it is you end up wishing for. But above all the story is about the simple pleasure and joy to be found in close familial bonds – the love of a mother and father for their daughter and vice versa. If nothing else though The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is simply gorgeous to look at. The animation is a sketchy simple style set over the usual vibrant watercolour type backgrounds, though here those backgrounds are of a lighter than normal style with the edges of each frame fading out to white. The effect is like a children's hand drawn storybook come to life. Almost every shot, every frame of this film you could put behind glass and mount on your wall. Simply this movie is irresistibly beautiful on every level.

2. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes



I love the Apes movies (except for Tim Burton's crap 2001 remake) but when Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out three years ago I like many were wary. But then I saw it and loved it. It was a brilliant prequel/reboot to the entire franchise that started back with the classic 1968 original. When it came time for the sequel to Rise it was announced that Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) would direct. That made me happy as I loved both his earlier flicks. The resulting film is another triumph for the almost fifty year old franchise. A contemplative and character driven take on trust, betrayal, race relations and sharing (or not) the world with others who are different, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is Shakespearian in its tragedy and in the weight it puts on its characters especially the noble, caring and peace loving Ape leader Caesar once again played by the brilliant Andy Serkis. Caesar must deal with a city of humans wanting access to his land for their own needs while also dealing with fury and betrayal in his own ranks, all the while trying to keep what is a fragile peace between Ape and what remains of Man. Reeves focusses in on Caesar as the central character. The film starts close in on his eyes and ends the same way. We see in to his troubled soul. Serkis and the Weta FX team who help bring Caesar to life are astonishing. All the apes look amazing and are wonderfully performed especially by Serkis and Toby Kebbell as vengeful Koba. The humans are all fine and if they are short changed then so be it as this is Caesar's story and not theirs. The end of the film is sad and melancholic and points the way even more towards the future world we first saw through astronaut Taylor's eyes. Reeves is currently working on the next movie which is apparently a more or less direct sequel to Dawn. I for one can't wait. Hail Caesar!

1. Guardians of the Galaxy



Okay, so...its an action/comedy space adventure starring some chubby guy from a TV sitcom, a green woman, a talking raccoon... and a walking tree that can only say the same three words? And to write/direct we'll hire the guy who wrote Tromeo and Juliet, made weird no budget psycho superhero flick Super and those internet comedy shorts PG Porn? Sounds perfect. Lets do it!

And lo they did.

With GotG Marvel took their biggest gamble to date. Even bigger than hiring a then washed up actor and recovering drug addict to headline their first big budget movie about a B level comic book character. And that turned out pretty well. But that Kevin Feige guy at Marvel must have a crystal ball or something because they went and did it again. And yet again they pulled it off...big time stylee!

Guardians of the Galaxy is not the smartest, deepest, most intelligent, most artistic movie this year. It is not world changing in any way. It doesn't speak to the core of your humanity and say anything profound to you about life and creation.

But what it is, is one helluva good time.

It's a pure geek pleasure from start to finish that knows exactly what it is – a machine for making you smile, laugh, cheer, and laugh some more. Writer/director James Gunn and original writer Nicole Perlman took these largely unknown characters and made audiences love them. As with many stories I love (including the works of Mr Whedon) the primary theme of Guardians is family...but making your own family when you don't already have one or don't have one that 'gets' you. It's the group of freaks/outsiders who come together and forge loyal bonds of friendship and love that strikes a chord. It's Buffy. It's Angel. It's Firefly. It's Star Trek. It's Babylon 5. And now it's the Guardians.

So what else?

Simply Guardians is a blast. It's funny...so funny. Full of spectacle. Full of great action. Designed and shot beautifully (boy does it look good). It's a rollicking good roller-coaster movie ride. And those songs...oh wow! But all that would be for naught if we didn't love these guys. Peter Quill, a man-child who still mourns his long dead mom; Gamora, the assassin who hates what her evil 'father' has turned her in to; Drax, full of vengeful hate and emptiness due to the murder of his only family; Rocket, an angry, tormented and scarred little creature who has never known anything but pain and suffering except from his loyal pal Groot, the big lovable, childlike sentient tree who is like Rocket's very own Jiminy Cricket conscience. Yes, Gunn and co. made us love 'em. And that is why the movie works so well. Character. And the fact that it was cast perfectly and written and directed with a quirkiness that made it feel outside the box and some ways away from normal. Oh and that Quill named his awesome ship the Milano after his major crush on Alyssa Milano, something I can totally relate to. All that and we also get Howard the freakin' Duck at movies end!!

Before 2014 dawned Guardians of the Galaxy was my most looked forward to film of the year. I had a feeling. I trusted James Gunn. And Marvel too as they had shown they had the balls to make left field choices that paid off ridiculously well. So it is pretty bloody great that come the close of 2014 Guardians is indeed my favourite film of the year and is also my second favourite Marvel film to date being not too far behind Joss's The Avengers. And as they move forward and produce more and more movies Marvel continue to redefine blockbuster entertainment with the shared MCU having gotten bigger this year. Way bigger with a new wing having been added to the Marvel house - a cosmic wing inhabited by a talking raccoon and his weird, funny, lovable pals. And I for one can't wait to see what these awesome Guardians will do next. So bravo Marvel! Bravo James Gunn!

We ARE Groot!

BUBBLING UNDER:

Predestination, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part 1, Nightcrawler, Starry Eyes, In Your Eyes, Obvious Child



LEAST FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2014

5. In To The Storm

Tiresome and utterly stupid disaster movie starring the bland and uncharismatic Richard Armitage. At least Sarah Wayne Callies added some spark.

4. I, Frankenstein

Poor Aaron Eckhart. From The Dark Knight to this. Lame brained and utterly misconceived spin on Mary Shelley's classic tale. Dumb is being too kind.

3. 3 Days to Kill

Or where terminally ill Kevin Costner wears a silly scarf and kills people while trying to reconnect to his annoying teenage daughter in Paris. Not even the gorgeous Amber Heard can save this risible toss.

2. Devil's Due

Yes, because we really needed a found footage take on Rosemary's Baby only without the subtext, the style, the creepiness, the scares, the sense of any point to it all whatsoever. By the numbers and empty headed so-called horror for undemanding teens and nobody else.

1. Transformers: Age of Extinction

More loud, obnoxious, incomprehensible and needlessly vulgar crap from Michael Bay. I make myself watch these as I know that they will be the worst films I see in whatever the year they come out. It is quite reassuring to always be right. This one though... the film stops dead for scene where a early 20's guy explains to his teenage girlfriend's dad why it is okay for him to have sex with her and not get prosecuted for statutory rape! Yes. Really. Wonderful. Bay really outdid himself this time. Jeez!




Wednesday, 26 November 2014

BUFFY 6.22 ‘GRAVE’


The Dark Willow story

WRITER: David Fury
DIRECTOR: James A. Contner

WHAT’S THE SITCH?

Giles is back! He battles Dark Willow and manages to best her…temporarily. But soon Willow is free again and forcing Buffy to take off after Xander, Dawn, Andrew and Jonathan to save them from a seeking fireball Willow launched after them. Buff saves them just in time, but gets herself and lil sis trapped below ground in a collapsed section of graveyard. Meanwhile back at the Magic Box and Giles lies beaten and broken, the store in ruins, Anya by his side. Willow drained him of all his borrowed power and in doing so she became connected to every living thing on Earth. Being dark still she focuses in on every human being’s pain. And determined to end that pain, she decides to destroy the world!

WHAT’S THE SITCH BENEATH THE SITCH?

It’s all about the pain. What else in a Joss Whedon TV show?

WHO’S GIVING US THE WIGGINS THIS WEEK?

Dark Willow

WHY IT ROCKS

Giles is back! ‘nuff said.

Have a laugh: Buffy is so happy to see Giles and unloads on him all the grief that has happened to her and the gang in his absence. Giles stares at her with quiet sombre concern…only to then break in to uncontrollable laughter at the insanity of it all. Buff quickly joins him. And it is most amusing.

Spike: the platinum vamp, bloodied and bruised, completes the trials and gets what he wanted.

WHY IT SUCKS

Huh?: Okay, so I get what they were aiming for with this series finale – bringing our characters back to simple emotional truths about themselves and each other, having them realise what growing up is really all about. BUT… it gets fluffed. Xander stopping Willow and saving the world by saying “I love you” and reminding her about a yellow crayon she broke in kindergarten? Really? And Buffy’s realisation that she doesn’t want to be protecting Dawn from the world but wants to be showing it to her is beyond cheesy. The dialogue is pure bad soap opera.

Evil temple: So there is apparently a conveniently buried satanic temple on a cliff top which Willow can raise up and use to destroy the world. Um…okay. That came from out of nowhere. Talk about handy last minute plot contrivance. Sigh.

ITS BUFFTASTIC

Giles and Buff having a good ol’ laugh

DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR

Willow: "Uh-oh. Daddy's home. I'm in wicked trouble now."
Giles: "You've no idea.”

Buffy: "Everything's been so.. Dawn's a total klepto, Xander left Anya at the altar and Anya became a demon again. And I.. I'm so.. I've been sleeping with Spike."

Anya: "Giles? Giles! Don't die.. not yet. I.. there are.. I need to tell you... Thanks a lot for coming. I mean, it was nice of you to teleport all this way.. Though, in retrospect, it might have been better if you hadn't come and given her all that magic that made her ten times more powerful.. that would have been a plus."

Willow: "Is this the master plan? You're going to stop me by telling me you love me?"
Xander: "Well, I was going to walk you off the cliff and hand you an anvil, but it seemed kinda cartoony."

AND ANOTHER THING

Grave marks the first (and only) Buffy series finale not to be written and directed by Joss Whedon. And you can tell. Joss was busy with Firefly at the time and only wrote one episode this season - Once More, With Feeling. But boy, what an episode.

If you look closely at the devastated Magic Box, there's a smouldering William Shatner book on the floor. Poor charred Shatner.

The song played at the end of the episode is Prayer Of St. Francis, by Sarah McLachlan and is a rare track which appeared on the bonus disc originally included with the limited edition double CD release of her Surfacing album in 1997.

HOW MANY STAKES?

Not quite ready for the grave 2.5 (out of 5)



And so concludes my Buffy season 6 retrospective/review. Tune in soon for season 7.

Monday, 24 November 2014

BUFFY: 6.21 ‘TWO TO GO’


UK episode promo

WRITER: Doug Petrie
DIRECTOR: Bill Norton

WHAT’S THE SITCH?

Dark Willow continues her violent warpath through Sunnydale, grabbing power where she can as she seeks out the two remaining members of the Trio – Andrew and Jonathan. Along the way there are more confrontations with Buffy in which the Slayer comes off worse. In a destructive showdown at the Magic Box it appears our black eyed girl has Buffy at her mercy...until the last minute intervention from an old friend.

WHAT’S THE SITCH BENEATH THE SITCH?

The unleashing of Dark Willow and her wrath continues. Themes touched on are the abuse of power, consequences of our actions and taking responsibility for those actions.

WHO’S GIVING US THE WIGGINS THIS WEEK?

Dark Willow

WHY IT ROCKS

Dark Willow: by far the best thing about these last three episodes of season 6 is Alyson Hannigan in full on evil Dark Willow mode. She is terrific and clearly having a load of fun especially when insulting and goading her friends. Her verbal and physical smack down with Buffy being a particular highlight.

Truck surfing. Willow standing atop a semi truck magically driving it to try and run the Scoobies off the road is a great image. Kinda Terminator-ish.

Slayer vs. Wicca: The Dark Willow v Buffy fight is pretty good, esp poor Anya hiding behind a counter trying to keep the protection spell around Andrew and Jonathan going.

Teleporting from Rack's: the sequence where Buffy confronts Willow at Rack's place thus saving Dawn from being turned back in to energy by Willow is great, especially as the two talk the camera slowly pans around them then pulls back to reveal Willow has teleported the three of them to the Magic Box.

The final moments of the episode feat. the return of an old friend.

WHY IT SUCKS

Dark Willow's rather obvious stunt double during the big Willow v Buffy fight scene.

The destruction of the police cell wall looks terrible. The set looks hugely fake – like blocks of precut Styrofoam.

IT’S BUFFTASTIC

“I'd like to test that theory.”

DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR

Jonathan: “Um, Anya, you're gonna have to break this down for us a little.”
Anya: “Warren shot Buffy. Warren shot Tara. Buffy's alive. Tara's dead. Willow found out, and being the most powerful Wicca in the western hemisphere, decided to get the payback. With interest.”
Andrew: “Wh-what about Warren?”
Anya: “She killed him. Ripped him apart and bloodied up the forest doing it. Now she's coming here and the two of you are next.”
Andrew: “Oh my god... Warren.”
Jonathan: “Oh my god... me.”

Willow: "Mom!" "Buffy!" "Tara!" "Waah!" It's time you go back to being a little energy ball. No more tears, Dawnie.

Willow: “So. Here we are.”
Buffy: “Are we really gonna do this?”
Willow: “Come on, this is a huge deal for me! Six years as a side man, and now I get to be the Slayer.”
Buffy: “A killer isn't a Slayer. Being a Slayer means something you can't conceive of.”
Willow: “Oh, Buffy. You really need to have every square inch of your ass kicked.”
Buffy: “Then show me what you got. And I'll show you what a Slayer really is.”

Willow: “Buffy... I gotta tell ya... I get it now. The Slayer thing really isn't about the violence. It's about the power. And there's no one in the world with the power to stop me now.”
A blast of magic energy knocks Willow over
Giles: “I'd like to test that theory.”

AND ANOTHER THING

Previously on Buffy: Being part 1 of the final episode of the season (it was shown as a double bill with Grave in the US) the opening recap is much longer than normal and has Xander announcing, "This is what happened this year..." as opposed to the usual Giles spoken, “Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer...”

Dinowillow: To herald the arrival of Dark Willow at the police station, the camera pans in to a cup of coffee which ripples in time with the thunder and lightening in a homage to Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park.

HOW MANY STAKES?

Big G is back! 4 (out of 5)

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

BUFFY: 6.20 ‘VILLAINS’


A lovely tribute to Tara & Willow

WRITER: Marti Noxon
DIRECTOR: David Solomon

WHAT’S THE SITCH?

After Warren's shooting spree at Buffy's house Buffy is rushed to hospital seriously wounded while unbeknownst to the rest of the Scoobies Tara lies dead in Willow's bedroom. Willow, overcome by rage, and with dark magic in her system, takes off alone in search of more power which she intends to use to hunt down and kill Warren. Soon she has all the power she needs and Dark Willow is born. Warren (and the entire world) are in for it now.

WHAT’S THE SITCH BENEATH THE SITCH?

The almost banal hideousness and heartache of real and regular everyday evil.

WHO’S GIVING US THE WIGGINS THIS WEEK?

Warren. And Dark Willow.

WHY IT ROCKS

Hunting Warren: This episode is basically all about Willow, fuelled by rage and hate and the blackest of black magics, relentlessly hunting down a fleeing Warren as her friends try in vain to stop her from killing a human being and from being consumed for good by darkness. They have no chance though. And this story can only end one way. And so it does.

Dark Willow: If nothing else about this episode...nay...this entire season was any good then Dark Willow and Aly Hannigan's portrayal of her alone would make it all worth while. Our newly raven haired, black eyed, blood thirsty uber powerful goddess of revenge is a wondrous thing to behold. Aly Hannigan is clearly loving playing this version of Willow who is not afraid to tell her friends some home truths and to go toe to toe in a knock down drag out fight with her best friend Buffy. The look is great too – the black hair, black eyes, white face, veins showing... Brrr. Creepy. But also kinda...hot? Oh I'm such a bad man. Anyway, Dark Willow is up there with Vamp Willow as genius creations by Joss and Ally; two awesome aspects of an already awesome character.

Sucking out the magic: the sequence where Willow sucks out all the magic from the books in the Magic Box is brilliant! A terrific visual effect that shows all of the words and spells traveling over Willow's skin.

Warren the joke: Warren finally discovers the truth about himself and his sad little gang when he is gloating at a demon bar about how he 'killed' the slayer. He soon finds out from the gathered demons that Buffy is alive and will be out to get him. The demons have never heard of him or his gang and find him and his predicament hilarious. So hilarious they don't want to kill him as it will be far more fun to see what the slayer does to him when she finally catches up with him. Although unbeknownst to them all it isn't Buffy that Warren should be worrying about. It's Willow!

Clem: More Clem goodness as Buffy drops Dawn off at Spike's crypt only to find Clem now living there since Spike upped and left town. Buffy asks Clem to watch Dawn and the kindly demon happily agrees suggesting they rent The Wedding Planner and play Parcheesi.

Skinned alive: Warren's eventual death at Dark Willow's hands is fittingly nasty as, tied up Evil Dead style by creepers and vines, Warren is first tortured by Willow who, using magic, slowly pushes a bullet in to his chest. Then, with the immortal words “Bored now!” uses her magic to rip his entire skin from his flesh in one agonising go, before then burning him up in a fireball. And yes, this is just as gruesome as it sounds. So much so that it was so heavily edited when shown on the BBC that viewers were left wondering what exactly happened to Warren. Answer: nothing good.

Cliffhanger: the episode ends with Willow, having killed Warren, telling a shocked Buffy and Xander, “One down...” before vanishing in a cloud of black smoke and fire. The next episode is titled 'Two to Go'. Meaning Jonathan and Andrew are next.

WHY IT SUCKS

How did Warren know that he'd killed Tara? In fact, how did he kill Tara from that angle? Magic bullet time. Someone call Oliver Stone.

How did Spike get all the way from Sunnydale USA to Uganda in Africa in the timespan between Seeing Red and Villains seeing as how Villains follows on directly from Seeing Red? Has he developed teleporting powers??

IT’S BUFFTASTIC

“Bored now.”

DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR

Andrew: He's coming up with a plan. Like, "War Games." Remember that decoder that Matthew Broderick used?
Jonathan: Oh, yeah. That was rad. The one he made from the scissors and the tape recorder?
Andrew: I miss "Ferris" Matthew. Broadway Matthew? I find him cold.
Jonathan: Really? No, I- Shut up!

Buffy: We love you. And Tara. But we don't kill humans. It's not the way.
Willow: How can you say that? Tara is dead.
Buffy: I know... I know. And I... can't understand... anything. Not what happened... a-and not what you must be going through. Willow, if you do this, you let Warren destroy you too.
Xander: You said it yourself, Will... the magic's too strong, there's no coming back from it.
Willow: I'm not coming back.

Xander: I just... I've had blood on my hands all day. Blood from people I love.
Buffy: I know. And now it has to stop. Warren's going to get what he deserves. I promise . But I will not let Willow destroy herself.

Willow: Wanna know what a bullet feels like, Warren? A real one? It's not like in the comics.
Warren: No. No.
Willow: I think you need to. Feel it.
Warren: Oh god! Stop it!
Willow: It's not going to make a neat little hole. First, it'll obliterate your internal organs. Your lung will collapse. Feels like drowning.
Warren: Please! No.
Willow: When it finally hits your spine, it'll blow your central nervous system.
Warren: Oh please, stop, god! Please-
Willow: I'm talking! The pain will be unbearable, but you won't be able to move. Bullet usually travels faster than this, of course. But the dying? It'll seem like it takes forever. Something, isn't it? One tiny piece of metal destroys everything. It ripped her insides out... took her light away. From me. From the world. Now the one person who should be here is gone... and a waste like you gets to live. Tiny piece of metal. Can you feel it now?

Willow: Bored now.

AND ANOTHER THING

The song playing in the demon bar Warren visits is Die, Die My Darling by the Misfits.

When Buffy flatlines on the operating table after getting shot in the chest, this is the third time she has died on the show. Surely some record for a TV show's main character.

HOW MANY STAKES?

I'd be skinned alive if I didn't give it five. 5 (out of 5)

Sunday, 16 November 2014

BUFFY: 6.19 ‘SEEING RED’


James Marsters on THAT scene

WRITER: Steven S. DeKnight
DIRECTOR: Michael Gershman

WHAT’S THE SITCH?

The Trio steal a pair of magic orbs which will grant their wearer super strength and invulnerability. Warren takes them for a spin in a bar macking on ladies and beating up guys...only to run in to Xander. Xan makes it out in one piece...just...and goes to tell Buffy only to find our girl, suffering from a slaying related injury, lying on the bathroom floor after having had a shocking and deeply disturbing encounter with Spike. Nevertheless Buffy sets out to confront Warren and co. and stops them from robbing an armoured truck. A fight ensues and Buffy manages to win after destroying Warren's magic orbs. But he gets away leaving Andrew and Jonathan behind. The next morning a blissfully happy Willow and Tara watch from their bedroom window as Xander appears in the back yard and reconciles with Buffy. But tragedy soon strikes when a crazed Warren suddenly appears brandishing a gun. Shots are fired, some going wild but with two of the bullets finding there targets: one in the back yard and the other in the bedroom above. And as a result things will never be the same again.

WHAT’S THE SITCH BENEATH THE SITCH?

Male ego and misogyny – power, control, domination with rampant testosterone running wild. But also genuine love and friendship with good people who love and care for each other sticking together no matter what.

WHO’S GIVING US THE WIGGINS THIS WEEK?

Warren & Spike

WHY IT ROCKS

Script: Simply Steve DeKnight wrote a great script. It treads a fine line, a balancing act between daft and goofy and dark and disturbing. But it does so brilliantly. The character work has depth and pushes our heroes to even greater places of darkness and turmoil than before while also managing to bring them back together, to reignite the spark of genuine love and friendship between them. Well, all except for one.

Performances: across the board they are great. But special mention goes to SMG and James Marsters who have to play what is the darkest and most ghastly scene this series ever did. And they are both fabulous. Oh and Alyson Hannigan and Amber Benson are beyond cute together...right up until the end when they will break your heart.

Jet packs: Heh. The sequence where Andrew tries to escape using his hidden jet pack...only to hit the roof and collapse to the ground is hilarious. A terrific sight gag.

Saws: when Buffy searches the Trio's abandoned lair she is attacked by multiple huge circular saws requiring her to engage in some Spider-Man-like acrobatics to avoid being sliced and diced. Its a great sequence and looks very cool.

Clem: Yay! Spike's nice guy demon pal Clem shows up to be a sounding board for a confused and distraught Spike. Gotta love Clem.

Two moments: “Ask me again why I could never love you!” and “Your shirt...” If you aren't hurting inside then your heart is cold.

Warren: Oh he makes such a wonderfully evil villain. So easy to hate. And what he does in this ep arguably makes him the worst and most hated villain in all Buffydom. Kudos to Adam Busch who does a terrific job in the role.

Balls: The blatant testosterone metaphor of Warren and his pair of super powered orbs...and Buffy smashing them to defeat him. YES!!

WHY IT SUCKS

It doesn't suck. At all. But it is one heck of a cruel episode both for the characters and for the audience. Three awful things happen in the space of forty two minutes. It is almost too much to take. Almost.

IT’S BUFFTASTIC

Buffy's victory over Warren, throwing his misogynistic insult right back at him before kicking his ass to the kerb. “Good night, bitch.” Yeah!!

DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR

Andrew: “I don't trust that leprechaun.”

Buffy: “Ask me again why I could never love you!”

Willow: “We were able to decipher pretty much everything except these.”
Tara: “It isn't written in any ancient language we could identify.”
Xander: “It's Klingon. They're love poems. Which has nothing to do with the insidious scheme you're about to describe.”

Spike: You know, everything always used to be so clear. Slayer, vampire. Vampire kills Slayer, sucks her dry, picks his teeth with her bones. It's always been that way. I've tasted the life of two Slayers. But with Buffy... It isn't supposed to be this way! It's the chip! Steel and wires and silicon. It won't let me be a monster... and I can't be a man. I'm nothing.”

Warren: “I was wondering when Super Bitch would show up.”
Buffy: “You've really got a problem with strong women, don't you?”

Andrew: “I really want to get my hands on his orbs.”

Warren: “Say good night, bitch.”
Buffy (crushes his magic orbs and knocks him down): “Good night, bitch.”

Tara: “Your shirt...”

AND ANOTHER THING

The scenes at the amusement park were specially filmed at Six Flags Magic Mountain, 35 miles north of Los Angeles.

The following tracks were featured in Seeing Red: The Leaves by Daryll-Ann, Stranded by Alien Ant Farm and Displaced by Azure Ray.

James Marsters says to this day that the Spike assault/attempted rape of Buffy scene is the worst thing he has ever had to do in his career. He found it deeply traumatising and it left him an emotional wreck.

For the one and only time since she joined the show Amber Benson gets her name in the opening credits sequence. Kind of a sick joke considering her fate.

When Buffy explores The Trio's lair, she discovers several action figures – grimacing in particular at the one of Vampirella, a comic book superhero from the planet Drakulonn who devoted her life to destroying all vampires - and wearing very skimpy red outfits.

HOW MANY STAKES?

A painful 4.5 (out of 5)

BUFFY: 6.18 ‘ENTROPY’


Teaser

WRITER: Drew Z. Greenberg
DIRECTOR: James A. Contner

WHAT’S THE SITCH?

Anya returns to town having been reinstated as a vengeance demon and is determined to find someone who will wish ill on Xander allowing her to enact a curse on her behalf. It doesn't go so well for her though, and when Spike comes to see her at the Magic Box looking for a spell to ease his own hurt over being dumped by Buffy, the two end up in a clinch, finding solace in each other. Unbeknownst though to the intimate pair the whole thing is being broadcast via secret cameras the Trio have set up all over town including one at the Magic Box. A camera Willow has just managed to tap in to which suddenly allows all the gathered Scoobies including a stunned Buffy and horrified Xander to watch the vampire and vengeance demon getting it on together.

WHAT’S THE SITCH BENEATH THE SITCH?

As the episode's title suggests this is about disruption and disorder, how things seem to be falling apart. It's also about dealing with personal hurt, lashing out, making mistakes and trying to cope with the consequences.

WHO’S GIVING US THE WIGGINS THIS WEEK?

The Trio. And Xander...kinda.

WHY IT ROCKS

Emma Caulfield: Anya is back with a vengeance...literally. And this is her episode and Emma Caulfield is terrific. Poor Anya is consumed by anger and hurt at what Xander did to her (justifiably so) and is looking for vicious payback. However you can tell that beneath the surface she feels somehow responsible, that she was somehow to blame and that Xander never really wanted her. She hates what Xander did to her. But she hates herself even more for allowing herself to be put in that position in the first place. Emma plays every scene with layered nuance even when she is being hilarious and trying to get unwitting people to wish horrible things on Xander.

Real world shopping: The scene near the start where Buffy and Dawn are out shopping together was filmed on the Santa Monica promenade in the heart of LA . It is kind of jarring but also very cool to see Buffy being filmed off set and in a real city location that's bustling with people. This is something that unlike Angel Buffy rarely did.

Temple of Doom: Warren calling Jonathan Short Round is most amusing.

Willow and Tara: They get back together. And it is beyond cute. Yay!

WHY IT SUCKS

Soapy: Okay, so there is no real story this week. It is all about the consequences of what the characters have been doing to each other and behind each others backs. Who has been sleeping with who. Who dumped who. Who kept secrets from who. Yes, it is all very soap opera-ish. But that's just about okay here as the characters and story up until now have earned it and we are invested. However it does make you think you are watching an ep of Spike's beloved Passions!

Xander the Dick: Okay, so Xander being all self righteous and angry over Anya and Spike and what Buffy has been up to is very annoying. He has no right at all to judge either of them, not after what he pulled only two eps ago. Nothing against Nicky Brendon who is really good but, like with Buffy, it feels like we are losing the character this season. Xander has become 'gulp' unlikable.

IT’S BUFFTASTIC

Anya hilariously trying to convince Buffy why she should hate all men, especially Xander.

DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR

Anya: I... I wish you had tentacles where your beady eyes should be! I wish your intestines were tied in knots and ripped apart inside your lousy gut!
Xander: They are.
Anya: Really? Right now? Does it hurt?
Xander: God, yes. It hurts so bad it's killing me. Anya... I love you, I want to make this work.
Anya: Those are metaphor intestines! You're not in any real pain! What's wrong with me?

Willow: Well, if there's anything we can do, just let us-
Anya: Actually... um... there is an eensy something I could use a little help with. You're lesbians, so the hating of men will come in handy. Let's talk about Xander.

Buffy: I don't think he could feel any worse.
Anya: Let's test that theory.
Buffy: Anya, Xander's my friend. I know what he did was wrong, and... if it had happened to me, I'd-
Anya: Wish his penis would explode?

Tara (to Willow): There's just so much to work through. Trust has to be built again, on both sides... You have to learn if... if we're even the same people we were, if you can fit in each other's lives. It's a long... important process, and... can we just skip it? Can-can you just be kissing me now?

AND ANOTHER THING

When Tara is talking to Willow at the end Willow's dress from the episode Once More, With Feeling can be seen hanging on the door.

After Xander leaves with a weapon Willow sees the open door and open chest. The weapons chest she sees is the same one Xander made for Buffy's birthday in Older and Far Away.

HOW MANY STAKES?

A chaotic 4 (out of 5)