Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Buried: Livin' in a Box, yeah, yeah...

Buried poster Pictures, Images and Photos

Okay, so that was nasty.

In Buried, Ryan Reynolds is Paul, a civilian contractor who drives trucks in Iraq ferrying kitchen supplies around. One day his convoy gets ambushed and he’s taken prisoner. A while later Paul wakes up in a coffin-like box apparently buried somewhere in the deserts of Iraq. He finds he has a mobile phone left with him with limited battery life, along with a small knife, a flashlight, a lighter and some chemical glow sticks.

And that’s your movie right there.

And it’s all you need.

Because what follows is ninety minutes of pure horrific tension and claustrophobia as Paul discovers who has him and what they want while desperately trying to get through to his corporate employers and the US and local authorities for help as well as his loved ones back home. All of this before his limited air and battery power finally runs out.

Three things to say about Buried:

1. Ryan Reynolds is brilliant. Already a strong actor with tons of charisma and great comedic ability, this just goes to prove beyond any doubt his heavyweight dramatic acting chops. The entire film from first to last second is just him in a box acting the genuine terror, confusion, desperation and rage of his situation as well as his bitter frustration - especially when dealing with faceless, useless bureaucrats over his slowly dying phone. Reynolds truly sells it. You believe every ghastly second of his harrowing plight right up to the nerve jangling and emotion filled conclusion.

2. The director does one hell of a job in making a tense, terrifying, and set piece filled movie with just a guy in a box. But tense set pieces there are, lots of ‘em. The film’s concept is simple and genius. You can’t help but instantly identify with Paul and feel every horrid moment along with him in what has to be one of the biggest universal fears for humans – being buried alive. Honestly, to truly scare the bejesus out of people you don’t need ghosts or monsters of even serial killers, you just need something so very simple, real and primal in its terror and to be able to have people identify and connect with whoever is suffering. And that’s exactly what happens here. I’m not especially claustrophobic but, for me, Buried is hands down the best horror film of 2010.

3. All you need to know about the pointless, futile and misguided lunacy of America and Britain’s adventures in Iraq and the greedy corporate big money behind it is right here in Buried. Forget the well made yet pointless Green Zone or any other preachy, indignant Iraq dramas, just sit and watch and identify with Paul and the situation he is in, a situation built on greed, lies, broken promises and betrayal. It is simple, intimate and utterly horrific. And, sadly, very human.

Buried is one of the simplest, probably cheapest, and certainly best films of the year. Along with Natalie Portman for Black Swan, I’d love to see Ryan Reynolds get an Oscar nod. He probably won’t but as of right now his is the best male performance I’ve seen this year. 5 (out of 5)

Monday, 27 December 2010

Black Swan Ruffled My Feathers



Black Swan tells the disturbing tale of Nina (Natalie Portman), a beautiful, talented but also reserved and immature ballerina who’s quickly reaching the age when the chance to become a Principal Dancer and a major star is starting to slip away from her. However her Ballet Company’s director (the great Vincent Cassel) sees something in Nina and gives her the lead in his upcoming production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. But this means Nina playing two distinct characters – the sweet, innocent, virginal Odette, a princess cursed by a sorcerer to live as a swan, and Odile, said sorcerers dark, duplicitous, passionate daughter who tricks Odette’s Prince in to betraying his one true love. And while Nina has no problem portraying the innocent, fragile Odette, she finds it impossible to capture the dark inner passion of Odile, to allow herself to become the Black Swan. Nina’s major problem is that despite her age (28) she is still effectively a little girl. She’s immature, not yet having become a woman with the experiences of life and of the world that most have gained by that age. The main experiences here being of sex and passion. Nina lives with her mother who has effectively isolated her from life, from growing up and maturing. She smothers Nina, giving her no privacy at home, treating her as if she were still 8 years old. But as Nina starts pushing herself to embrace what being the Black Swan means by exploring her own inner passions, by letting herself go, weird and scary things start to happen. She starts seeing physical transformations in herself – scratches and marks appearing on her body. And then, later on, feathers breaking through her skin and reflections of herself taking on a life of their own. At the same time she is also becoming more and more convinced that the new addition to the company, the flirtatious Lily (Mila Kunis), is out to get her. That she’s looking to replace her, just as Nina has unwittingly done to the now broken figure of the previous Lead Dancer, Beth (Winona Ryder).

Hmm…all sounds a bit odd and freaky I hear you say. Yep, that it is. But in the very best way possible.

I reckon that with Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky, director of Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain and The Wrestler, has done his best work to date. This is utterly brilliant stuff. It’s an exquisite, disturbing, intelligent and artful film. I especially love how he films the dancing with energetic close in cameras following the dancers as they move. And then there's his fantastic time and location transitions while tracking Nina’s face or following the back of her head. Everything we see is stylised and intimate with the entire story being shown from Nina’s perspective. It is the self-view of a fragile, immature, isolated, frightened, yet deeply committed and ambitious girl. All of the nightmarish imagery we see is through her eyes. It is how she sees others and herself – the injuries, the blood, the grotesquely beautiful transformations. With Black Swan, Aronofsky pretends to be ambiguous. Is this all actually happening for real, or is it all purely in Nina’s head? The truth is, though, that Black Swan really isn't ambiguous at all. Not if you’re a reasonably smart human being who can see at least some of what this film is really all about.

So, having now set myself up for a fall, here’s what I think Black Swan is all about.


I see Black Swan as an allegory for the female journey to full-on womanhood with all the physical and emotional issues, problems and insecurities that journey entails - not to mention the various (and not always helpful) male and female attitudes and peer pressures. It’s also about what roles/personas girls might adopt throughout that journey, or might be forced upon them as they mature. Some of those roles/personas are shown in the characters of Nina, the immature, innocent child looking to grow up; Lily, the sexually confident and worldly young woman; Beth, the spurned older woman who is feeling unattractive, unwanted and redundant. And then there’s Nina’s mother, who is just that – the ‘mother’, the only thing that defines her. These female personas are all potential aspects of Nina’s own character. And she fears them. But she must confront them throughout the film so as to banish her fear and take control, to try and become the ‘perfect’ woman and deliver the ‘perfect’ performance as both Odette and Odile. And what better backdrop to this artistic female allegory than that of ballet, a world built upon female competition, continual striving for physical perfection, delicate beauty and fleeting youth. The world of ballet is a world full of women who’s ability to perform is in large part down to their age and the intense physical sacrifice, pain and punishment their art demands of them. It is a world where they have to become something that others determine and to continually adopt roles and personas. It is a world where there is always a younger, hungrier version snapping at the heels and where obsolescence is something that happens quickly and is especially cruel.

Specifically, though, Black Swan is about immature Nina's breakdown - or break through if you will.

For it is only by taking on the dual role of Odette and Odile (The White and Black Swan) that she finally forces herself to make the transformation in to a fully sexually mature woman. And maturing sexually is key here - complete with seduction, arousal, gay fantasies and masturbation. Indeed, the final shot of Nina dressed in virginal white and lying flat on her back in a dreamily satisfied state with blood on her lower body is a blatant allegorical image of the final transformation in to being a woman. The film shows us that this process of maturing sexually and emotionally, of growing up and dealing with all the trials and tribulations of becoming someone else, becoming someone more, is often painful and deeply troubling. These are age-old themes that have been told and retold throughout time in various folk tales and in classic and popular fiction. From my own pop culture bias the entire second season of Buffy is pretty much about the same thing – a young woman’s sexual awakening and painful transformation in to womanhood. As a film, Black Swan makes for a fine companion piece to Neil Jordan’s lush and dreamlike The Company of Wolves and John Fawcett’s excellent Ginger Snaps, being that they all share the same main theme.

Anyway, that’s what I reckon. But I could very well be wrong.

Whew! Almost done. But I can’t finish without a major shout out to Natalie Portman.

Unfortunately the flat acting of the Star Wars prequels along with various other stuff she’s done over recent years had lulled me in to thinking that Natalie as an actress was actually nothing that special. As far as I was concerned her stunning turn in Leon (aka The Professional) when she was only 12 was by far her best work.

Until now.

Yes, the entire Black Swan cast are great (yay for Ksenia Solo). But make no mistake this is Natalie’s film all the way. And she is quite astonishing. She captures perfectly the frailty and immaturity of Nina as well as her internal yearning to become what she needs to become. But there is also an intense fear beneath everything that she does - fear of failure, of letting go, of growing up, of becoming like Beth, or her mother. And when Nina eventually starts freaking out, when she is struggling with the emerging Black Swan, Natalie is ethereally frightening with her dramatic weight loss, wide-eyed paranoia, and violent outbursts. Purely on a physical level she is incredible, being totally convincing as an experienced ballerina, a job that requires huge physical stamina, ability and precision. The dancing Natalie does is beautiful as is all of the dancing on show. I don’t know that much about ballet, although I do have an appreciation for it, but I do know that it is enormously hard work that takes years of dedicated and painful practice, making what Natalie achieves here all the more impressive. If she doesn’t at least get Oscar nominated then the world has gone truly insane.

In closing, Black Swan is an excellent film and one of the very best of the year. It requires its audience to think about theme and allegory and emotion rather than to simply follow a plot. Most will consider it an art house film, some a horror film, some a psychological drama. And Black Swan is partly all of that. And more. It is a weird, disturbing, yet also beautiful and poetic film that should under no circumstances be missed. Ms Portman, I’m sorry I ever doubted you. 5+ (out of 5)


Sunday, 26 December 2010

What the Dickens? Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol

And so it came to pass that Steven (The Moff) Moffat did make the most Christmassy Doctor Who ever…and he was not ashamed one bit.

Moffat’s A Christmas Carol is a gloriously bonkers, clever, weird, hilarious, magical and sweetly sentimental affair that instantly adds itself to the collection of best interpretations of Dickens classic - my personal favourite still being the Muppets untouchable 1992 film.

We are all familiar with the basics of this timeless tale so I won’t go in to any great detail of the plot. Suffice to say The Doctor takes on the role of ghost of Christmas past by attempting to change the ways of a miserly old Scrooge-like figure (Michael Gambon) in order to save four thousand people (including Amy and Rory) on a doomed ship about to crash in to a planet. A planet that looks a lot like a Victorian steampunk London. Along the way we get fish in fog, scary sharks, frozen people, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra, a beautiful welsh singer who actually can act, and lots and lots of Moffat’s favourite timey wimey cleverness all bound together in to a tender love story and classic moral fable.

Look, I don’t care what anyone says, Matt Smith as The Doctor is just so damn good. He owns the role completely. Doubters be gone. His impishly eccentric yet also playfully subtle childlike/old man portrayal is pure genius. Somehow he never seems to take it too far as I felt Tennant sometimes could. And as for Katherine Jenkins as Abigail… Well, the term angelic doesn’t quite do her justice. I’ve never really seen much of her before apart from in brief interviews and photos. Of course she is incredibly beautiful and when I did see her in interviews she always came across as a genuine and sweet natured person. And thankfully that comes across on screen in her acting. And then some. Sure, she wasn’t exactly being stretched in the acting stakes here, but what she had to do as Abigail she did incredibly well. A lovely and luminous presence. And so what of Michael Gambon? Well, what can you say? The man is a legend and is, of course, brilliant in every scene.

The behind the camera team are on top form here as well. Major kudos must go to director Toby Haynes and to the design, art direction and photography - all wonderfully evocative and atmospheric - especially the design and execution of the Victorian steam punk city. Also, added kudos too to Murray Gold for his sterling musical work. The really quite beautiful end song he wrote and that Katherine sang (see YouTube clip above) was so goose pimple-raising good it deserves to be released by the BBC, ideally for charity.

Anyway, I absolutely loved A Christmas Carol. Sure, you can pick holes in the plot and ask questions of logic and science. And almost none of it will likely add up. But then that’s kind of missing the point. For this is a fable, a tall tale with a distinct moral at its core. It’s not about logic or science, it’s about emotion and magic, just like Dickens timeless classic. This is a Christmas fairy tale that perfectly captures the spirit of the original story and also of new Who, making it by far the best of all the Doctor’s Christmas specials. Only the hardest of hearts could fail to be warmed. Bravo! 4.5 (out of 5)

Monday, 20 December 2010

Tron: Legacy aka there's nothing creepier than CGI Jeff

She’s not creepy. She’s lovely.

Okay, so I'm a Tron geek. Have been since the original movie came out in 1982.

Back then, when I was twelve, I fell in love with light cycles, identity discs, game grids, IO towers, Space Paranoids...all of it. I had the books, the toys, the posters, the soundtrack. As soon as the 20th anniversary DVD came out in 2002 I bought it. Tron was and still remains one of the most original and distinctive looking films of all time. Sure, the script is pretty basic and unoriginal in its storytelling, but what the script provided was a framework, a context to show us something quite unlike anything we'd ever seen before or since. Though nowadays it's beloved by a small proportion of geeks, Tron was at best only a modest success upon its original release and was widely ignored by moviegoers and critics alike. Even the Academy snubbed it for a best visual fx nom due to it using computers which back then was considered as cheating. My, how times have changed. At the time, almost everyone failed to see Tron for what it was: a major evolutionary step in filmmaking. Over the years the cult of Tron has remained fairly small but always alive with its original followers having grown up and infiltrated the filmmaking establishment. So much so that for the past ten years Disney have been actively considering a sequel. And after a couple of aborted attempts they've finally gone and done it with the result being TRON: LEGACY.

Set in real time circa 28 years after the first film, TRON: LEGACY follows Sam Flynn, grown up son of Kevin Flynn, hero of TRON who suddenly vanished in 1989, as he receives s mysterious message from his missing father and sets out to find him. Said message leads Sam to his dad's old arcade and the hidden lab beneath it where Kevin was secretly building a new computer system, one he believed could change the course of humanity. Pretty soon, Sam presses a wrong button and ends up zapped by a laser…only to wake up inside his father's computer system. Faced with this weird alien world, Sam is soon confronted by its deadly overlord, Clu, a digital copy of his father originally created to help build the perfect system. Like in the original film, Sam then has to fight through various deadly video games including upgraded disc fights and light cycle races before escaping out in to the wider system where he will try and find the answers he seeks as well as a way back home.

Look, TRON: LEGACY is not a perfect movie. Far from it. The pacing is off in places with the film virtually grinding to a halt for a long stretch in the middle. The script is often clunky and is hugely exposition heavy; it keeps telling us stuff instead of showing us stuff. Talk, talk, and talk. Far too much talk that often veers from the corny and cheesy to the overly pompous. Also, some of the scripts many ideas and themes become a tad muddled at times with the entire movie trying to be a lot smarter than it really is, or actually needs to be.

But where TRON: LEGACY succeeds it does so big time.

Apart from one major issue hinted at in this review’s title, quite simply this is one of the most awesome looking films I've ever seen. For pure on screen beauty and imagery and spectacular use of 3D this is living in AVATAR territory. Director Joseph Kosinski is a genuine visual artist. Every frame is exquisitely designed, lit and shot to maximize its impact on your eyeballs. The first sight of The Grid is gob smacking in all its vast dark cyber-stormy glory. Sam being outfitted in his new duds is gorgeous (and the girls aren't half-bad either) with the exciting and inventive disc fight that follows being gleefully giggle-tastic. And by the time the light cycle chase/battle came around my inner twelve year old was jumping for pure adolescent joy. And the spectacle never lets up. Even when the story grinds to a halt mid-way through, the film is still something to behold courtesy of Kosinski's sharp eye for exquisite shot composition, the great sound fx editing and an instantly classic score by Daft Punk, a score that’s so cool and effective it keeps your neck hairs constantly raised.

So, apart from the obvious, what is TRON: LEGACY actually all about? We’re talking themes and subtext here.

Well, its been said that it is a story about fathers and sons. And that's true. It is. But its also about parenting in general and about children's relationships with their primary role models i.e. their parents. Both Sam and Clu are essentially Kevin Flynn's children. Both feel betrayed and abandoned by him. Both feel he broke a sacred promise he made to them. But whereas Sam’s held on to the positive memory of his father and finding out the truth frees him to be the man he needs to be, Clu has basically thrown the mother of all spoiled brat tantrums that only seems to get worse as time goes on. But possibly the film’s strongest theme is the obvious one reflected in its title: what we leave behind us, what effect we’ve had on the world, and primarily how we've raised our children who will, after all, become our ultimate 'Legacy'.

But the film also touches on several other themes. The hubris of man, knowledge versus wisdom, control versus freedom – specifically the freedom of information (very timely in these days of Wikileaks). Also the unpredictability of life and how perfection is a pointless and unattainable illusion. There’s also a fair amount about religion and spirituality and its role in the world. And the religious allegory is piled on rather thickly throughout. For example you could see Clu as Satan to Flynn's God with Sam as Jesus. Clu became bitter and angry over Flynn appearing to sway from the original plan of a perfect system, especially when the new life form, the ISO's, came in to being. Flynn saw them as a miracle to cherish and to learn from. Clu saw them as a dangerous aberration that needed to be destroyed. In the Bible it was God's love of man that made Satan angry and jealous and what started his revolt against Heaven. In TRON: LEGACY, Flynn's affection and wonder at the ISO's is what pushed Clu over the edge and in to rebellion. Clu has since been corrupting the other programs on The Grid (as Satan is supposed to corrupt people’s souls) turning them away from Flynn and the Users, making them in to an army which he intends to use to attack and take over ‘heaven’ i.e. the real world.

Yep, there is a lot going on under the surface of this film. Many will sell it short by saying it is all snazzy visuals and nothing much else. Yes, the subtext and allegory may get a tad muddled at times but it is still there and it is enough to keep the brain ticking over and for most people with half a brain to pick up at least the odd smidgen amidst all the CGI loveliness.

You’ll notice that so far I haven’t mentioned the cast, concentrating instead on the story and the visuals and the technical elements. That’s inevitable because TRON: LEGACY is primarily about the visuals and the techno thrill. But having said that the cast are all fine. To be honest they don’t have much to do as they are all pretty much archetypes with no real depth of character to explore. Jeff Bridges as Flynn is as good as you’d expect the Oscar winning pro to be. He can do this stuff in his sleep and it doesn’t tax him one jot. Garrett Hedlund as Sam is solid and does the job in running and jumping and fighting and delivering the odd dewy eyed moment with daddy as well as innumerable if rather flatly delivered one liners. Michael Sheen gets to have whale of a time camping it up something rotten as a gaudy club owner on The Grid. But of the main cast it is only really the gorgeous Olivia Wilde who gives something a bit more in her role. As Quorra, Wilde is ridiculously sexy and can convincingly kick ass and drive fancy vehicles to the max. But she is also wonderfully innocent, curious and vulnerable in a very childlike way. It is to the credit of the writers that she is never made the love interest for Sam, but is rather treated as a little sister who needs help and protection.

And a special mention must go to the great Bruce Boxleitner, Tron himself.

Bruce is back and plays an important role as Alan and is also very briefly glimpsed in flashback as Tron. Now I love Bruce. He has been two of my greatest on screen heroes ever: Tron and Captain John Sheridan in Babylon 5. Boxleitner’s an old school American TV actor and one time leading man. He’s a good dependable actor with genuine charisma and an always likable and appealing onscreen persona. I rarely see him anymore as he seems to have been consigned to the hell of cheap direct to cable/DVD exploitation movies from the likes of The Asylum. I think the last thing I saw him in was a short guest spot on Heroes a couple years back. And it’s a shame. Bruce deserves better. In fact, one of my major criticisms of TRON: LEGACY is that we don’t get to see more of him as Tron. After all, the film bears his name yet the Tron character stays faceless and seems uncomfortably shoehorned in to his own movie. Surely could have de-aged Bruce ala Jeff Bridges as Clu, couldn't they?

Okay, well, maybe not.

Which brings me on to my final point and probably my biggest problem with the film. Clu.

Jeff does a good job playing his evil alter ego.


He is let down by some of the worst and scariest CGI de-aging ever. Clu appears as Bridges circa 1989 and the likeness itself is very good. The problem is when he starts moving, speaking, looking at things. Clu is a lifeless plastic puppet with the deadeye syndrome times 100. He’s like an Auton from Doctor Who. His eyes are small and dull and dead. That whole part of the face around the eyes doesn’t move right. It doesn’t just look fake it looks downright creepy. Small kids might get nightmares. I know I had to look away a few times. When briefly he is shown in shadow or at an angle then it just about works. But as soon as he his required to act up close to camera (which is a lot) then it looks awful and the creepy shivers started running up and down my spine. Brrr. God knows how they dropped the ball on this. Why couldn’t they just have de-aged Jeff how they did Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan in X-Men 3? That looked really good. But, no, they had to go and make a full on CGI creepy Jeff head. Yikes!

So, to sum up, I loved TRON: LEGACY despite its creepy CGI Jeff Bridges and its many shortfalls. Because all of that is more than made up for by the good solid story, interesting underlying themes and the astounding and eye popping visuals and equally eye-popping Olivia Wilde. And the sheer geek factor at seeing light cycles again and me giving a little silent cheer at the fab Bruce Boxleitner co-starring in a $200m blockbuster. But I have no idea how the film will play to mainstream audiences. I mean, this is nerdy, geeky stuff that despite the awesome 3D visuals will probably leave most people cold. It’s sci fi action, sure, but with a bizarre, slightly muddled concept and a strong and precise visual style that borders on the experimental/art house. I expect only middling box office returns as this is definitely not the big rousing crowd pleaser that AVATAR was last year. TRON: LEGACY is, frankly, just too odd and too nerdy to be a huge success, just like the first Tron was. How fitting. 4 (out of 5)


Sunday, 12 December 2010

The wisdom of Kenzi

Canada's current hit supernatural fantasy TV show Lost Girl is a pretty so so affair - kinda like Charmed but with more sex and skin. However Ksenia Solo as heroine Bo's streetwise sidekick Kenzi is great and single handidly makes it worth watching. Just give her her own show already. And it's not just me who thinks she's great either. Ksenia has a supporting role in Darren Aronofski's upcoming movie Black Swan alongside Natalie Portman.

In the meantime here's some of Kenzi's highlights...

Buffy: Season 2, Episode 4 ‘Inca Mummy Girl’

Willow's so snug.

Writer: Matt Kiene & Joe Reinkemeyer
Director: Ellen S Pressman

What's the sitch?

Sunnydale High’s student foreign exchange program is up and running with some of our key players hosting students from foreign shores – including Buffy. Meanwhile at the local museum a cursed Incan mummy of a sacrificed princess gets accidentally reawakened. Said mummy, newly revitalised as a pretty young girl going by the name of Ampata, manages to fool Buffy and co. by masquerading as Buffy’s genuine exchange student who she killed. She immediately makes a big impact on Xander and the two soon become romantically involved. But Ampata still needs to kill regularly, taking people’s life forces in order to keep from returning to her yucky mummy form. At the same time, Buffy and the gang are trying to find out what is killing people in such hideous ways and what has happened to the original Incan mummy that disapeared from the museum, not realising that the truth is right under their very noses.

What's the sitch beneath the sitch?

This one is about fate, destiny, duty and also romantic relationships. Ampata’s plight is a mirror of Buffy’s. She too was a “Chosen one” by her people who had to give up a normal life and life altogether in order to serve a higher purpose. Although she is the villain of the week she is perhaps the most sympathetic of all Buffy’s villains. Like Buffy she was just a young teenage girl who, given no choice, was forced to be who she had to be. Now all she wants is a normal life - even if she has to kill to keep it. Plus she falls for Xander and he likewise for her, which complicates things even more. That’s part of the relationship angle, as is Willow overhearing Xander telling Buffy how he loves Willow but only as a friend. However, unbeknownst to Willow, it’s in this episode that she is first noticed by her first true love interest of the show, Oz.

Who's giving us the wiggins this week?

Ampata, the Inca Mummy Girl of the title.

Why it rocks

1. Curse of the Mummy. It’s a classic horror tale (a resurrected mummy) that’s given a fresh new spin by the Buffy writers. Instead of some vengeance-seeking monster, Ampata is an innocent who just wants, like Buffy, a simple, normal life. She doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but she will because she feels (justifiably) hard done by. In fact the episode works well as a romantic tragedy. You can’t help but feel so very sorry for poor Ampata at episode’s end.

2. Nicholas Brendon. He does some very good work as the smitten Xander. His quips and jokes remain, but he also invokes a tender sweetness that really sells his feelings for Ampata.

3. Beautiful mummy. Ara Celi as Ampata also does good work and makes for a suitably sympathetic and tragic character. Her underlying sadness and her attraction to Xander is well handled. Plus she’s a very beautiful girl.

4. A normal girl. One of the show’s main underlying themes is hammered home in this episode: Buffy’s eternal quest to be just a normal girl and to have a normal life. But this time it is mirrored in Ampata. The bedroom scene where Buffy hides crosses, stakes and crucifixes from Ampata, while Ampata hides a desiccated corpse in her trunk from Buffy could have come across as really silly and light hearted but is played with a genuine melancholy that is actually quite touching.

5. Oz. Yep, Oz (Seth Green) makes his debut in this episode. The intelligent, taciturn Oz is lead guitarist with Dingoes Ate My Baby, a local band that plays at the Bronze regularly. His noticing of Willow throughout the episode – especially when she is in her Eskimo costume at the Bronze - is really cute. And speaking of…

6. Eskimo Willow. At the fancy dress party at the Bronze, Willow goes as an Eskimo complete with furry hood and fishing spear. Xander, dressed as a Sergio Leone cowboy, comments that she looks “Snug.” What she looks is utterly adorable. No wonder Oz is smitten.

7. Sven and Cordy. Cordy ordering around her hulking Swedish exchange student throughout the episode is hilarious. The twist at the end only makes it funnier.

Why it sucks

1. Does Buffy really not know that her genuine exchange student is definitely a boy as well as what he looks like? Surely they’d have some contact info for his parents and have likely seen a photo. Even Joyce accepts female Ampata without question. No alarm bells ringing at all? No contact from real Ampata’s parents to confirm he arrived in one piece? Hmm.

2. The plotting relies a bit too much on coincidence and on the characters being dumber than they should be.

It's Buftastic

Willow dressed as a snug-looking Eskimo attempting to nonchalantly shrug when Xander asks her if she’s seen Ampata.

Dialogue to die for

Xander: “I think the exchange student program's cool. I do! It's a beautiful melding of two cultures.”
Buffy: “Have you ever done an exchange program?”
Xander: “My dad tried to sell me to some Armenians once. Does that count?”

Devon: “What does a girl have to do to impress you?”
Oz: “Well, it involves a feather boa and the theme to A Summer Place. I can't discuss it here.”

Buffy [to Giles]: “So, can I go?”
Giles: “I think not.”
Buffy: “How come?”
Giles: “Because you are the Chosen One.”
Buffy: “Mm, just this once I'd like to be the Overlooked One.”
Giles: “Yes well, I'm afraid that is not an option. You have responsibilities that other girls do not.”
Buffy: “Oh! I know this one. Slaying entails certain sacrifices, blah, blah, bitty blah, I'm so stuffy, gimme a scone.”
Giles: [sardonically] “It's as if you know me.”

And another thing

Along with Oz, nerdy Jonathan (Danny Strong) makes his series debut in this episode.

Ara Celi had a small role in Robert Rodruigez’s 2010 film Machete.

The Inca Mummy Girl of the title is actually based on a real female Incan mummy found in1995 in Peru frozen and extremely well preserved on Mount Ampato– hence the name Ampata.

How many stakes?

Xander wants his mummy. 3 (out of 5)

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Buffy: Season 2, Episode 3 ‘School Hard’

School Hard Pictures, Images and Photos
The baddest bad couple around.

Writer: David Greenwalt
Director: John Kretchmer

What's the sitch?

It’s parent teacher evening at Sunnydale High which Buffy and fellow ‘troublesome’ student Sheila have been put in charge of organising by odious Principle Snyder. Snyder is looking forward to meeting Buffy’s mum so he can tell her all about how much trouble her daughter is to the school and how close she is to expulsion. So as well as arranging everything for the event and doing so with a largely absent Sheila, Buffy must also somehow keep her mum away from Snyder on the night itself. But that’s not all of her problems. For unknown to Buffy a certain badass platinum haired vamp has (literally) hit town for the first time and, along with his insane girlfriend, is looking to bag himself a third slayer scalp. Cue a vampire invasion of the school on parent teacher night and Buffy fighting back guerrilla style ala John McClane – hence the episode title.

What's the sitch beneath the sitch?
More high school is hell stuff along with the usual thing of Buffy trying to balance her school life, home life and slaying life which is made all that more harder by the odious Snyder.

Who's giving us the wiggins this week?

Who do you think?

Why it rocks

1. Vampire lovers. SPIKE AND DRU! SPIKE AND DRU! SPIKE AND DRU! The pair make their Buffy debut in this episode. The rest is history.

2. James and Juliet. James Marsters and Juliet Landau as the Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen inspired vampire lovers make an instantly unforgettable impression and become a firm fan favourite. Marsters is all cocky English swagger and punk rock anarchy attitude while Landau is eerily demented and deceptively fragile. And their chemistry together is explosive.

3. This ep is a blatant but brilliant Die Hard homage with Buffy crawling through ventilation ducts and taking out individual vamps along the way then rescuing the trapped parents before having a final face off with Spike. A face off which ends in a way that could only happen in an episode of Buffy.

4. John Kretchmer who directed part 2 of the Buffy pilot does great work here. It’s tense, exciting, a smidgen scary and always tons of fun.

Why it sucks

It doesn’t. At all.

It's Buftastic

Two moments:

1. Spike’s iconic arrival in town by running over the Sunnydale sign

2. Buffy and Spike’s final battle with Joyce coming to her daughter’s rescue at the last moment.

Dialogue to die for

Spike: [to a rival vampire] "You were there? Oh, please! If every vampire who said he was at the crucifixion was actually there, it would have been like Woodstock. I was actually at Woodstock. That was a weird gig. I fed off a flower person, and I spent the next six hours watching my hand move."

Buffy: “Cordelia, I have at least three lives to contend with, none of which really mesh. It's kind of like oil and water and a... third unmeshable thing.”

Drusilla: [about her favourite doll Miss Edith] “Miss Edith speaks out of turn. She's a bad example and will have no cakes today.”

Joyce: [after braining Spike with an axe] "You get the hell away from my daughter!"

And another thing

Spike says that Angel was his sire but we later find out Spike was actually sired by Drusilla. Dru was the one sired by Angel/Angelus, thus making Angel Spike’s grandsire.

Spike and Dru were based upon Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen as confirmed by Joss.

Spike wasn’t for certain going to be English. Marsters did several accents before Joss and co settled on his English one.

In this episode we discover that the authorities are wise to the weird supernatural stuff that goes on in Sunnydale but are keeping it quiet. Mention is also made of The Mayor foreshadowing season 3.

Spike destroys the Sunnydale sign a second time in his one and only season 3 appearance ‘Lovers Walk’. Though that time it is an accident as he’s totally drunk.

Juliet Landau (Dru) is the daughter of Oscar winning actor Martin Landau and his ex-wife Barbara Bain and appeared with her dad in Tim Burton’s 1994 classic Ed Wood for which Martin Landau won his Oscar for playing Bela Lugosi.

How many stakes?

This time it’s 5 spikes (out of 5)

Friday, 10 December 2010

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 2, Episode 2, ‘Some Assembly Required’

Some Assembly Required Pictures, Images and Photos
The moisturiser ain't working for him.

Writer: Ty King
Director: Bruce Seth Green

What's the sitch?
While on patrol, Buffy discovers the robbed grave of a recently deceased teenage girl. That same night, Cordelia and Angel discover discarded body parts of various other recently deceased girls. However some of the parts are missing leading the gang to believe that someone at Sunnydale High is pulling a Dr Frankenstein by trying to build a whole new girl from the dead parts of others. Meanwhile, misguided student Chris and his nasty science nerd friend Eric, who together are making this patchwork girl for Chris’s recently back from the dead brother Daryl, are looking for the perfect head for their Bride of Frankenstein. The only problem being said head can’t come from a corpse. It needs to be fresh. It needs to be taken from someone while they are still alive. And that someone looks like being Cordelia Chase...

What's the sitch beneath the sitch?
This is about relationships and about wanting to have someone to be with, to not be alone. Zombie Daryl wants a living dead girl of his own so that he won’t be alone. Meanwhile, Buffy is struggling with her relationship with Angel, Giles is trying to get together with Ms Calendar and Xander and Willow are complaining about being uncoupled and alone. The episode is also about the objectification of women, a theme that repeats throughout Buffy. Eric is a vile little critter who only sees women as objects to be used and abused as he sees fit. He gets off on it. He’s like a proto-Warren from seasons 5 and 6. Also present is what will be another recurring theme of the show: people dealing with loss and attempting to bring back loved ones that have died.

Who's giving us the wiggins this week?
Nasty Eric and zombiefied Daryl.

Why it rocks
1. Teenage Frankenstein. It’s a good, solid story and a fun and creepy riff on Frankenstein.
2. Someone to love. It works thematically being all about relationships and not wanting to be alone.
3. It’s gross! The concept and its execution is pretty yucky. And I mean that in a good way. The half-built dead girl glimpsed in portions along with some discarded body parts is rather unpleasant…just as it should be.
4. Giles and Jenny sitting in a tree… Giles’s jittery courtship of Ms Calendar is funny and cute and gives Xander and Buffy plenty of opportunity to poke fun at him.
5. Daryl and Chris’s mum, Mrs Epps, being so wrapped up in her obsessive grief about Daryl’s death is possibly the creepiest thing about this episode.

Why it sucks
1. Though creepy and icky, neither Chris, Eric or zombie Daryl pose too much of a threat to Buffy. And Chris never seems keen on what he’s doing anyway so you wonder how he got this far.
2. Cordy is in peril once again. Yawn! Plus she gets to act in that traditional horror movie girl in peril role i.e. doing stupid stuff and screaming a lot. Exactly the kind of thing Buffy was supposed to subvert.
3. It is a blatant use of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein and despite some great dialogue and the solid thematic base it doesn’t really excite all that much.

It's Buftastic
Giles is in the library nervously practising his lines to ask Jenny out…and then Buffy and Xander make a sudden and embarrassing entrance.

Dialogue to die for
Buffy: (to Xander after he asks for hers and Willow’s help in digging up a grave) “Sorry, but I'm an old-fashioned gal. I was raised to believe that men dig up the corpses and the women have the babies.”

Cordelia: (sarcastically) “Darn, I have cheerleader practice tonight. Boy, I wish I knew you were gonna be digging up dead people sooner. I would've cancelled.”

Buffy: “Love makes you do the wacky.”

Buffy: [giving Giles advice on his pick up lines] “You also might want to avoid words like 'amenable' and 'indecorous', you know? Speak English, not whatever they speak in, uh... “
Giles: “England?”
Buffy: “Yeah.”

And another thing
This episode sees the first use of the Buffy/Angel theme by Christophe Beck, a piece of music that will become known as ‘Close Your Eyes’ by seasons end.

How many stakes?
“SHE’S ALIVE! SHE’S ALIVE!” 3 (out of 5)

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Going postal in 60’s L.A.

post office Bukowski Pictures, Images and Photos

Based on the recommendation of a friend I’ve just finished reading the novel Post Office by American author and poet Charles Bukowski.

This was an interesting book for me as it was well out of my comfort zone and not the sort of thing I’d usually go for. For a start, there’s no real story, just a collection of fairly random events covering over a decade in the life of Bukowski’s close-to-home alter ego Henry Chinaski. Chinaski is an alcoholic, womanising, gambling low life who aimlessly lurches from one menial job to another before ending up working for the US Postal Service where he remains for eleven years stuck in the soul destroying limbo of brain dead and degrading work. According to Chinaski the Post Office is a place populated by all kinds of annoying, repulsive loudmouths, dictatorial jobs worth managers and other assorted broken and downtrodden characters. Chinaski survives the place and his years spent there through copious amounts of booze, women, and his extremely cynical view of the world. To note: the term going postal comes from the fact that in the past quite a few US postal workers have snapped and done the whole workplace murder spree thing. Reading this you can see how that could happen.

After a slow and wary start, and after putting it down for a few weeks due to not really feeling the vibe of the thing, I persisted and picked the book back up a couple of days ago. And for some reason I got in to it a lot more this time and finished off the remaining hundred or so pages pretty quickly (it’s only one hundred and sixty pages in total so is more of a novelette than a novel). And I gotta say...I enjoyed it a fair bit. It’s still not really my cup of tea but it is an interesting look in to a life totally alien and in to the world of sixties America - specifically Los Angeles when many of the riots were kicking off. But even though Chinaski’s sort of life is alien to me, I could still kind of identify with some aspects of it such as the sheer drudgery and boredom of menial work and the attitudes of some of those little Hitler types who when they get the slightest whiff of power just love to make others life hell. Luckily I haven’t had too much experience of that, but I have had some, just as many surely have. So you can’t help but smile and give a silent cheer when Chinaski, through his cynical wit, or a small act of defiance, gets one up on em and on the system.

Stylewise, Bukowski’s writing is refreshingly basic, unfussy and to the point. Description is brief and limited and mostly focuses around the size and shape of women or the things he particularly dislikes about a person or a place. Sentences are short and dialogue dominates. And that dialogue is usually dry, cynical and bleakly humorous. And it does make you laugh. Bukowski constructs short, punchy, (oft dark) comic set pieces throughout. The one about the two birds Chinaski’s wife keeps in a cage that keep him awake with their incessant chatter and then what he decides to do with them is particularly funny.

Post Office was Bukowski’s first novel. It was released in 1971 and is said to be an autobiographical account of the writers own experience working on and off for the US Postal Service. Bukowski was quite a fascinating character. He became a willing alcoholic from his early teens saying that it helped him overcome his chronic social ineptness and withdrawn nature. Arguably it also helped fuel his writing ability giving him that extra dimension through which to tell his low life tales and to impart his poetry. The alcohol did harm to him for sure (bleeding ulcers and other complaints) as well as hindering him socially as much as he thought it helped him. But the argument that says how drugs and booze have helped form some of the greatest art, literature and music through the ages could be applied. For without the booze, Bukowski would probably not have become the renowned and influential writer he did. He died in 1994 from Leukaemia aged 74.

I may go on and read some more of his stuff, the continuing saga of Henry Chinaski in the likes of Ham on Rye, Factotum and Women. But the relentless low life, cynical (though amusing) gloom might be too much to take in extended doses. So I think I’ll leave it for a while. As a total antithesis to Bukowski I’m currently reading the official 2009 sequel to the wonderful A Little Princess entitled Wishing for Tomorrow by Hilary McKay. Then it’ll be Stephen King’s Cell, all being interspersed by the odd Edgar Allan Poe poem and short story. Some nicely eclectic reading over the Christmas period.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Emma scores an Easy A from me

Easy A Pictures, Images and Photos

It’s official: Emma Stone rocks!

You might remember pretty red head Emma from her supporting roles in The House Bunny, Superbad and Zombieland plus her various TV appearances. And she was uniformly excellent in all of them. Because what Emma has is an aura of sharp intelligence to her acting not to mention bags of natural charm to go with her impeccable comic instincts and timing. As a result, she’s been at the top of the list of the new generation of Hollywood up and comers to watch, in the same way that Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock were twenty or so years ago. Because just like those two, as well as having bags of talent, Emma also has that certain indefinable something that quite simply makes the camera and the audience love her. She has star quality.

In Easy A, written by Bert V Royal and directed by Will Gluck, Emma plays socially invisible high school student Olive. Mostly ignored by her fellow students, the whip smart, witty Olive tells a little lie to avoid going on a camping trip with her best friend and her best friends weird parents. Said little lie involves a fictitious date with a college freshman. Well, one thing leads to another and the little lie soon gets out of hand evolving in to a much bigger lie about Olive losing her virginity and engaging in all kinds of freaky sex games with the made-up boy. Unfortunately this bigger, badder lie soon spreads further afield than it was intended, mutating ever more as the school rumour mill goes in to overdrive. And before poor Olive can say ‘woman of easy virtue’ the entire school now thinks she’s a (insert derogatory word for a woman who has lots of sex with lots of different men.) Despite her protestations of innocence, the rumours still continue to grow and she very quickly becomes a social pariah and a target for the schools group of creepy Christian holier than though kids. Olive is so incensed by what’s happened that she decides if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So, taking payment in the form of cash/vouchers/coupons etc. she pretends to have had sex with several dopey boys in order to help them out of various social jams. All the while she starts dressing like a burlesque dancer and wearing a scarlet ‘A’ on her clothes mirroring the book her English class have been reading, Nathaniel Hawthorn’s The Scarlet Letter, a story of adultery and hypocritical puritanical persecution in 17th Century America. Interwoven in to all of this is the fairly standard romantic story of the one boy Olive has really liked since they were both small and who can see through all of the lies about her.

So, essentially, Easy A is The Scarlet Letter transposed to a contemporary Californian High School in a similar way to how the great Clueless transposed Jane Austin’s Emma.

However, where Easy A differs is that it is not an adaptation but rather the Scarlet Letter is a touchstone for the story. Olive openly references The Scarlet Letter and identifies with its heroine Hester Prynne even going as far as wearing the same scarlet ‘A’ on her clothes to make a point and putting up with hypocritical religious persecution from her peers. But Easy A also openly refers to other more contemporary sources for inspiration – mostly 80’s teen movies by the likes of John Hughes. Olive makes the point that her story is not like any 80’s teen movie. She wishes it was and that she could get the same cool but pointless musical number ala Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (she does), or get Judd Nelson from The Breakfast Club (she does…kinda), or get the same romantic John Cusack boom box moment from Say Anything (she gets that too…also kinda). So as well as being a modern take on an old literary classic, it is also an open love letter to some of the great teen angst/romance movies of the last twenty plus years.

But Easy A also happens to be very funny and very cool in its own right. The script is snappy, witty and sharp. The performances likewise with the quality of the cast being pretty darn impressive. For your money you get:

Emma Stone
Thomas Haden Church
Lisa Kudrow
Malcolm McDowell
Amanda Bynes
Patricia Clarkson
…and Stanley Tucci.

Clarkson and Tucci especially do some truly great work as Olive’s funny, loving, supportive yet rather offbeat parents. You can tell they were having a blast.

But, y’know what? The oddest thing occurred to me while watching Easy A.

The style of acting, of dialogue and delivery…I almost felt like I was watching a Shane Black film.

Or rather a Shane Black/Joss Whedon/John Hughes hybrid film.

It has that same cool, snarky, one liner, insult filled attitude of Shane Black mixed with the witty, pop culture/classic culture references, verbal word play and thematic layering of Whedon, plus the whole teen angst/wish fulfilment thing of Hughes. I was watching Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang the other night and loving it. And watching Easy A reminded me (rather bizarrely) a whole heap of that film.

Sidebar: how bloody great is Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? I adore it. Best Downey Jr role ever. Period. So why is Shane Black not making more movies? Answer: cuz judging by Kiss Kiss Bang Bang he pretty much hates Hollywood. End of sidebar.

Now, stay with me here.

Okay, so why does a violent, sweary comedy/action thriller from 2005 remind me of a teen high school comedy drama from 2010? Like I said above, Easy A shares with Black’s film that same style of clever, witty, smart-ass talk and ‘tude along with some great insults and put downs. Like KKBB, it also has the central character telling their story to the audience and narrating that story all the way through. Plus, both films main characters start out as total nobodies, rather hopeless cases. Though smart and sweet, they are both social outsiders who, through lies and some stupid decisions, become involved in a series of events that they then try to use to their advantage but which rapidly spiral out of control. There is also a childhood crush in both films who become part of the ongoing plots. Of course, there are no violent gun fights, fist fights or car chases in Easy A, just a swift, snappy, witty script and some top notch acting all round. Plus Emma Stone. And Emma Stone is great. She alone would make this film worth seeing. The script, style, and remaining cast make it pretty much unmissable. Sure, it all ends happily and the resolution is kinda formula and cheesy, but then Easy A is partly an ode to those kinds of films. And, anyway, the journey to the film's end has been an immensely fun one so I can forgive it.

So, yeah, Easy A. It’s a really good movie and a star making turn for Emma Stone who has the talent and the charisma to be big…Bullock and Roberts big.

In 2012 we’ll see Emma in the Spider-Man reboot as Gwen Stacey, Peter Parker’s love interest. Of course she’ll be great in it. We know that. I just hope she doesn’t get stuck in the girlfriend role too often and gets to have plenty more of her own leads. Cuz this lass certainly deserves 'em. Nice one, Emma. 4 (out of 5)

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 2, Episode 1 'When She Was Bad'

Buffy, When She Was Bad Pictures, Images and Photos

Writer: Joss Whedon
Director: Joss Whedon

What's the sitch?
It’s a new school year and returning from her summer vacation spent with her dad in LA, Buffy is back in Sunnydale, back with her friends, back slaying vamps. But something is different. She’s a different girl. She’s distant, dismissive, angry and more than a little bitchy. Willow and Xander think she’s been possessed. Giles is more on the money. He thinks she has issues stemming from her ordeal, her death at the hands of The Master. Meanwhile, the Anointed One and some remaining vamps loyal to The Master dig up his consecrated bones in order to attempt a ritual to bring ol' bat face back from the dead…

What's the sitch beneath the sitch?
This is about dealing with trauma and personal demons. It’s about learning to face up to the bad things that have happened to you, and about trusting those around you who care about you.

Who's giving us the wiggins this week?
A bunch of who cares vamps and the Anointed One. But the big villain of the week is Buffy herself.

Why it rocks
1. A splendid relaunch. This episode reintroduces the characters and the concept and tells you all you need to know if you have never seen Buffy before.

2. A character story. This is all about Buffy and what her ordeal facing the Master has done to her. The beauty of this show is that nothing is without consequences. Bad stuff happens to people and it has an effect. Sometimes that effect can be ongoing, sometimes it can rear its ugly head way on down the line. Here, Buffy must confront and deal with the psychological trauma she suffered due to her battle with the ancient vampire at the end of last season.

3. Your hero is your villain. In this episode, in what is basically a relaunch for the series to help entice new viewers, Joss does a massively brave thing. He turns his heroine, his main character, in to the villain. Buffy is a total bitch for most of this episode. She is horrible to her friends and to others around her. Huh? But…you can’t do that to your main character. Nobody will watch it. Nobody will get it. But Joss does do it. And it works. And this is partly why Buffy works as a show. Sure, it can be very silly, just as it can be very funny. But it can also be painfully emotionally honest.

4. The Gellar is back. I know I keep saying this but Buffy wouldn’t be the show it is without Sarah Michelle Gellar. She owns this role so much it ain’t funny. As soon as you see her make her fun entrance in this episode’s teaser you can’t help but grin. After she slays the vamp, she smiles sweetly at Xander and Willow and says before the titles kick in, “You miss me?” Damn right we did. And still do. She does a hell of job in this episode. Playing nasty Buffy and also sexually provocative Buffy to Xander (to make Angel jealous) is something she does with classy abandon. But you can always feel the fragile vulnerability behind it all, as if she is about to break down or to snap at any moment…which is exactly what she does at episodes end.

5. The darkness. Once again, the photography by Michael Gershman is excellent. It is very dark with heavy shadows and plenty of deep blacks. Faces are shot partially lit with half-profiles in total black. And once again The Bronze looks awesome. The dance sequence there with Buffy and Xander looks especially lovely and moody. It is also wonderfully directed and performed being only music and visuals but being entirely about character. Wonderful stuff.

Why it sucks
1. Vampires suck. The vampires that threaten Buffy are frankly rubbish. They ponce around and spout pretentious dialogue and are about as threatening as a small gang of geriatric muggers. The annoying Anointed One isn’t much better. Luckily, Buffy herself is the villain for this episode so it doesn’t really matter. But you are left wondering if season 2 is gonna be able to field some decent villains for her to face. Oh, we really needn’t have worried about that. Two episodes later and we get all the villains we could ever want. Then another eleven episodes later we get arguably the greatest villain the Bufster will ever face.

2. Where’s the fun? For a season opener this is rather dour and downbeat stuff. Sure, there’s humour, but as a whole it might be a little too angsty and introverted for new fans and some old ones.

It's Buftastic
At the end, Buffy takes on all the vampires. And though they all attack her mob handed she holds her own and slays ‘em all…eventually setting the main vamp on fire and watching as he’s consumed by flames.

Dialogue to die for
Principal Snyder: “There are some things I can just smell. It's like a sixth sense.”
Giles: “No, actually, that would be one of the five.”

Xander: "Well, we could grind our enemies into talcum powder with a sledgehammer, but, gosh, we did that last night."

And another thing
David Boreanaz became a regular cast member as of this episode.

The band playing at the Bronze when Buffy does her sexy dance with Xander is Cibo Matto with Sean (son of John) Lennon on base guitar. The song being played is called ‘Sugar Water’ and is a really cool tune.

Season 2 was still being filmed in 16mm so retains that rather grainy look.

The school set has grown and includes more corridors, stairs and a large seating area.

Tony Head now provides the famous intro “In every generation…” as opposed to the WB announcer in season 1.

How many stakes?
Bad Buffy bags 3.5 (out of 5)

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

GRR ARGH! Jossless Buffy gets the (re)boot.


Oh balls!

It’s official. Atlas Entertainment has announced via press release that they are “…rebooting the beloved franchise, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with Warner Bros. Pictures.” Charles Roven and Steve Alexander will produce the new film alongside Doug Davison and Roy Lee of Vertigo Entertainment. Whit Anderson is writing the script. And who be Whit? Apparently she is a young actress with no script writing credits and only three minor acting credits. But who knows, she may turn out to be a great writer. Doubtful I know, but we can but hope.

Producer Roven said:

“Whit approached us with an exciting idea about how to update Buffy. There is an active fan base eagerly awaiting this character’s return to the big screen. We’re thrilled to team up with Doug and Roy on a re-imagining of Buffy and the world she inhabits. Details of the film are being kept under wraps, but I can say while this is not your high school Buffy, she’ll be just as witty, tough, and sexy as we all remember her to be.”


And there was me thinking that the proposal from earlier this year by the original film’s producers to reboot Buffy sans Joss had died a death. Apparently not.

Double crap!

Based on that quote from Roven, Atlas and Warner Bros appear to have no clue as to what the vast majority of Buffy fandom wants. Yes, Buffy fandom is big, active and still growing. Yes, we have been eagerly awaiting her return to the screen (big or small).

But not like this.

If Roven and co. really wants to know what fandom thinks then he needs to check out the most active fan sites such as SlayAlive. Sure, a few on there seem intrigued, some just dismissive. But the majority by a mile are openly hostile to his plans. The main point of hostility being that Joss Whedon, Buffy’s creator and all round genius, is not involved. Nor does it sound like he was even approached.

The truth of it is that Warner and Atlas only have the rights to the name and character of Buffy and to characters and events in the dire 1992 movie which they’ve licensed from the dreaded Kaz and Fran Kazui, producer and director respectfully of that movie. They have access to nothing of the classic TV show's characters and situations as that all resides with Fox and Joss. So this new take will either be a rehash of the original movie or some entirely new story/mythology about a girl called Buffy who kills vampires. And it doesn’t even sound like it’ll be a high school thing either. Maybe she’ll be a cute blond twentysomething waitress in a southern bar with special powers and who falls in love with a broody vampire. Hang on a sec…

If this all sounds like I’m being rather too precious and protective, then you’re right, I am. Damn straight I'm protective of Buffy. And I make no apologies for being that way.

Joss's Buffy is one of the few things in pop culture I do feel immensely protective of. She is Joss’s creation, his avatar as he described her. Despite many writers providing her words it was always Joss’s voice that came through. She’s his girl. End of.

And just so you know, I’m not one of those angry fanboys who bemoan all remakes and reboots. As I’ve said before in previous blog posts, I'm not morally opposed to them. Some of the best films and TV have been remakes and reboots. Buffy itself was a reboot of the failed movie. But I only agree with them when there is artistic merit. Not just for pure financial gain. Another Buffy reboot by others in the distant future post-joss would be fine. But to actively do it while the guy is still writing Buffy (seasons 8 & 9 comics) and while its fandom is still so big and active and vocal is just plain disrespectful to Joss and to the millions of the Slayer’s fans all around the world. It comes across as nothing but a cynical cash grab aimed at the Twilight generation.

Some comments I’ve seen have compared this yucky turn of events to JJ Abrams reboot of Star Trek.

I say no. Not the same.

I thought Abrams’ Trek reboot was brilliant. But there’s a big difference here. Roddenberry is long gone and by the time Abrams came to it, the Trek franchise had been done to death, and, in my opinion, pretty shabbily treated in its latter years with the likes of Enterprise, Insurrection and Nemesis. It needed a reboot in order to survive. And a good one at that. And thanks to JJ and co. that is exactly what it got. Also, Abrams reboot is still very much a part of the classic Trek universe (though a universe now altered by time travel). It has the same characters, situations and is linked by Nimoy's Spock Prime which gives the whole thing instant credibility.

So there you go. Those are my thoughts on this grim turn of events for the Slayer. I just hope that whether the movie is a success or failure (critically and/or commercially) it doesn’t taint the popularity of Joss’s classic series or adversely affect its ongoing comic book continuation.

This is what Hercules, Ain’t it cool news’ TV guy had to say after reporting the news:

“Buffy fans have been craving a movie for more than a decade. Given youngsters’ insatiable lust for young-adult vampire stories of any stripe, I suspect something called “Buffy” will find its way to the big screen. It may even be good. But without Whedon working the script, it won’t be Buffy.”

And I leave the last witty, sardonic words to the man himself, taken from his email response to E-online regarding the reboot news:

“I always hoped that Buffy would live on even after my death. But, you know, AFTER. I don't love the idea of my creation in other hands, but I'm also well aware that many more hands than mine went into making that show what it was. And there is no legal grounds for doing anything other than sighing audibly. I can't wish people who are passionate about my little myth ill. I can, however, take this time to announce that I'm making a Batman movie. Because there's a franchise that truly needs updating. So look for The Dark Knight Rises Way Earlier Than That Other One And Also More Cheaply And In Toronto, rebooting into a theater near you. Leave me to my pain! Sincerely, Joss Whedon.”

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 1, Episode 12 'Prophecy Girl'

"Bite me!"

Writer: Joss Whedon
Director: Joss Whedon

What’s the sitch?


Xander finally asks Buffy out to the upcoming Spring Fling dance…only to be knocked back by the “I don’t think of you that way” line. Later on, Buffy overhears Giles and Angel discussing a prophecy Giles has just discovered in the Codex: the ancient book Angel supplied him with. The prophecy tells of how The Master is about to rise and that Buffy will die at his hands. Buffy is devastated. She tells Giles she quits and runs off home.

The next day, Willow and Cordelia discover the bodies of students in the school's audio/visual room. They’ve been brutally murdered by vamps working for The Master. Buffy goes to see the traumatised Willow at her home to offer comfort. Seeing what this has done to her friend and realising that Willow and Xander may well be next, Buffy decides to face her destiny and seek out The Master before anyone else gets hurt. So wearing the dress her mum bought her for the dance plus Angel’s leather jacket, our brave slayer tools up and makes for The Master's lair looking for a showdown.

But in the ensuing battle with the ancient vampire, Buffy does indeed die at his hands by drowning in a shallow pool of water. And The Master, having now killed the Slayer, fulfils the prophecy and rises from his underground prison, arriving on the surface, triumphant in his victory.

Meanwhile, Xander and Angel get to The Master’s former lair only to find Buffy face down in the water, dead. Xander gives her CPR...and eventually she splutters back to life feeling stronger than ever. The reinvigorated slayer then heads up to the surface to seek out The Master for what will be their final battle.

And on the roof of the school library, as the Hellmouth beneath starts to open, Buffy and The Master fight once more.

But this time our girl is too strong for him and the risen vampire, soon bested, plunges down through the skylight to be impaled on some broken wood, killing him outright.

The Master dead, the Hellmouth immediately closes. All is well once more.

Reunited, the gang decides to go on to The Bronze for the Spring Fling dance.

“Sure!" remarks Buffy. "We saved the world. I say we party. I mean, I got all pretty.”

And they all head off for some well deserved fun.

What’s the sitch beneath the sitch?
This is all about fate, destiny and sacrifice. And above all friendship. Despite being traumatised by the prophecy and what it means for her, Buffy puts the safety of her friends and others before her own life. Luckily things don’t turn out quite as she’d expected.

Who’s giving us the wiggins this week?
The Master and the seemingly inescapable pull of fate.

Why it rocks
1. Joss writes and directs. This is the big season finale that pays off everything that has been set up in the prior eleven episodes. The story is tight, well structured, character driven, emotional and has impact. It’s also a lot of fun in a bleak kinda way and is ultimately a highly satisfying finale to the first season.

2. Sarah Michelle Gellar. She slays all before her. Watching her portray such an epic emotional journey in just one episode is something to behold. She starts as happy schoolgirl, then goes to embarrassed, uncomfortable teen, to devastated and terrified child, then to compassionate friend and finally to calm and focussed warrior. When she dons her pretty dress and leather jacket and tools up with stakes and a crossbow the icon has most definitely arrived. It’s like watching Batman put his costume on. Kristy Swanson donned more or less the same gear in the movie but it never had the same impact that it does here…mostly because the film was rubbish and didn’t take itself or the character remotely seriously. Plus Swanson lacked the petite vulnerability, emotional range and sheer acting chops of Gellar.

3. “I quit.” The entire scene where Buffy reacts to the fatal prophecy and quits her slaying gig is one of the finest pieces of writing and acting in the entire seven seasons of the show. And it ends with that most heartbreaking of lines: "Giles, I'm sixteen years old. I don't wanna die."

4. Subvert and die. Joss pulls one of his usual tricks and subverts the audience’s expectations. Even with the prophecy we don’t really expect Buffy to die at the hands of The Master. But die she does.

5. Xander the hero. It is fitting that Xander is the one who saves Buffy by insisting that Angel takes him to The Master’s lair, showing that he truly loves Buffy despite her not feeling the same way for him. And finding Buffy dead, it is Xander who brings her back to life. Angel, the one she does love, is the one who’s reluctant to go and help her and is also unable to save her life having no breath for CPR. Along with Buffy, Xander is the true hero of the piece. He steps up to the mark and puts his own fears, hurt feelings, and his own life aside to save someone he really does love. It’s the theme of this episode. And it works beautifully.

6. Play that rockin’ theme. Newly revived and stronger than ever, our girl gets back up and strides off to find The Master for some serious payback as the Buffy the Vampire Slayer theme blasts out. Love it.

Why it sucks
1. The rubber Hellmouth monster is crap.

2. How come the Master’s bones remain after he dies? Surely they should turn to dust with the rest of him.

3. Not much humour to be found here; it's mostly angst and death and mayhem.

It’s Buftastic
Buffy learns of her prophesied fate and rails against Angel and Giles before running away. Her subsequent conversation with Willow shows us the moment where she decides to face her destiny and save her friends no matter the cost to herself.

Dialogue to die for
Xander: “I'm just gonna go home, lie down and listen to country music, the music of pain.”

Angel: “By the way, I really like your dress.”
Buffy: “Yeah, yeah. Big hit with everyone.”

Buffy (to The Master): “You have fruit punch mouth.”

Buffy: “Sure! We saved the world. I say we party. I mean, I got all pretty.”

And another thing
Prophecy Girl marks Joss Whedon’s debut as a director. And a darn good job he does too.

Cast and crew had no idea if the show was going to be picked up for a second season when this was made as the entire first season was shot and finished a few months prior to it being aired. And so Prophecy Girl is designed as not just a season finale but a show finale too. Luckily for us Buffy hit big and season two (this time a full 22 episodes) was soon greenlit.

How many stakes?
I prophesise five for this girl. 5 (out of 5)

And so ends my Buffy season one recap. I'll move on to season two soon.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 1, Episode 11 'Out of Mind, Out of Sight'

Marcie doing her Marty McFly impression

Writers: Ashley Gable & Thomas A Swyden (story by Joss Whedon)
Director: Reza Badiyi

What's the sitch?
An invisible force starts attacking people at Sunnydale High: a baseball bat beating, a push down the stairs, a teacher with a plastic bag over the head. At first the gang think a ghost is responsible. But graffiti that turns up near the attack scenes seem to indicate something non-ghostly. Eventually Buffy discovers that a student who nobody remembers called Marcie Ross is the one responsible for the violence. Giles deduces that being ignored by everyone at school and treated as an outsider is what caused Marcie to turn properly invisible and then sent her in to a vengeful fury to punish all those she blames for making her that way.

What's the sitch beneath the sitch?
This is about popularity, fitting in, belonging. And it's about the loneliness, anger and resentment felt by all those left out in the cold.

Who's giving us the wiggins this week?
Marcie Ross: homicidal invisible girl.

Why it rocks
1. The pain of being lonely. It's a worthy metaphor that many can relate to. Being lonely, being ignored, being an outsider and the anger that comes from feeling that way, from feeling that you don't count.

2. Cordy is human. We get to see and hear about the real Cordelia Chase, about her insecurities and why she is how she is.

3. The end. This episode has possibly the best ending of the season as invisible Marcie takes her place in a class room with other invisible kids in a secret government facility to learn assasination skills.

Why it sucks
1. Despite being invisible, Marcie isn't really much of a threat to Buffy. But she does manage to land a few good thumps.

2. Sadly, because Marcie is invisible we don't actually get to see much of Clea DuVall who plays her except in a few brief flashbacks. But she's very good when we do see her.

3. The idea's a good one but the overall story is rather weak and the episode as a whole pretty unmemorable.

4. The boys playing the jocks at the start are terrible actors. Plus they look about thirty.

It's Buftastic
Buffy has to concentrate and use only her amped up slayer hearing to land a hefty whack on Marcie.

Dialogue to die for
Buffy (to Marcie): “You're a thundering loony!”

Giles: "Once again I teeter at the precipice of the generation gap."

And another thing
Clea DuVall who plays Marcie went on to make a name for herself in movies such as Girl, Interrupted, The Faculty and Ghosts of Mars, as well as on TV in the excellent but short lived Carnivale and then later in Heroes.

How many stakes?
I can see right through it. 2 (out of 5)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 1, Episode 10 'Nightmares'

Vamp Buffy Pictures, Images and Photos
Is it weird that I think she still looks cute all vamped? Xander did.

Writer: David Greenwalt (story by Joss Whedon)
Director: Bruce Seth Green

What's the sitch?
The people of Sunnydale's nightmares start coming true. Buffy, Giles, Willow and Xander are forced to confront their greatest fears while trying to discover what's causing this madness and then stopping it before nightmares engulf the world. The answers they seek may well be linked to a small boy laying comatose in the hospital after being found beaten unconscious. The very same small boy Buffy has been seeing in her nightmares and who's constantly running away from a hideous monster that wants to hurt him.

What's the sitch beneath the sitch?
This episode is about dealing with the intense psychological trauma caused by abuse. The little boy, Billy, was bullied and then beaten unconscious by an adult. As a result, he suffered deep physical and psychological trauma. The Hellmouth allows Billy to share his inner trauma and fear with the rest of the town by making them all live out their own personal terrors.

Who's giving us the wiggins this week?
Plenty. The Master pops up to taunt Buffy. There's a plague of spiders, Xander is chased by an evil knife wielding clown and Billy is continually chased by a scary club handed monster known as the Ugly Man.

Why it rocks
1. The concept. It's a hoary old story made fresh and genuinely creepy and also rather moving by some great writing, great directing and some top notch acting especially from Sarah Michelle Gellar.

2. The horror. While some of the nightmares are funny (Xander walking in to class almost naked, Cordy being a chess club nerd), others are properly freaky such as Xander's homicidal clown chasing him with a big knife.

3. The emotional horror. The single most awful nightmare in this episode (and one of the series most heart wrenching scenes) is where Buffy's dad (Dean Butler) picks her up from school for the weekend but then sits her down and tells her he doesn't want to see her anymore as it's all her fault that he and Buffy's mother got divorced and that Buffy is such a huge disappointment to him. Part of the reason this scene works so horribly well is because it comes out of the blue and is played so matter of factly by Buffy's dad. But it's SMG who truly sells it. Watch her face as she hears all of this casual cruelty coming from the lips of her dad, someone Buffy plainly adores. Heartbreaking stuff.

4. Vampire Buffy. Another of Buffy's greatest fears (shared by Giles as it turns out) is Buffy being vamped. Seeing Buffy in full-on vamp face is still pretty darn cool to this day.

Why it sucks
1. We presume the Hellmouth is somehow responsible for Billy being able to do what he does but it is never properly explained, though Giles has a brave go.

2. When Buffy becomes a vampire she somehow stays her old self and can control her blood hunger. Oh, and at the end when she's fighting in the hospital hallway she is going in and out of sunlight without turning all burny.

It's Buftastic
SMG acts her little socks off in the scene with Buffy and her dad. If you aren't moved then you aren't human.

Dialogue to die for
Xander (happily following a trail of candy bars): “Someone else's loss is my chocolatey goodness.”

And another thing
This is the first time we see Buffy's dad in the show. And although his treatment of Buffy in this episode is from her nightmare, the pair eventually do become estranged with Hank Summers not even coming to Buffy's mothers funeral or contacting his daughter to offer her help. So this episode is actually rather telling. Effectively Giles becomes the true father figure to Buffy from here on out.

How many stakes?
What a nightmare! 3.5 (out of 5)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 1, Episode 9 'The Puppet Show'

The Puppet Show Pictures, Images and Photos
Brrr...creepy dummy

Writer: Dean Batali & Rob Des Hotel
Director: Ellen S Pressman

What's the sitch?
It's time for Sunnydale High's annual talent(less) show; a chance to showcase truly terrible magicians, terrible singers (step forward Cordelia Chase) and the weird ventriloquist act of student Morgan and his creepy dummy Sid. But when students start turning up dead and with organs missing, Buffy suspects that creepy dummy Sid might somehow be behind the gruesome killings. However, things are not necessarily what they seem. They seldom are in Sunnydale.

What's the sitch beneath the sitch?
Nothing obvious, just more High School is hell stuff. However it is amusing in this age of X Factor/Britain's Got Talent seeing talentless teens desperately trying to get on stage and be liked. That is except for Buffy, Xander and Willow who try to avoid it like the plague but end up being forced to 'volunteer' by heinous Principle Snyder.

Who's giving us the wiggins this week?
As this is a whodunnit then that would be telling. But Sid the dummy does give good wiggins throughout. As does new Principle Snyder.

Why it rocks
1. It's a mystery. This episode is a lot of fun and a pretty good whodunnit with a some nice twists and reveals.

2. Sid the dummy. He's creepy but also very funny and very well realised. His lecherous looks and comments - especially regarding Buffy - are great. Tom Wyner who provided Sid's voice did top notch work.

3. The horror. There's some genuine nastiness going on here with brutal murder and organ theft. Plus, any time you use ventriloquist dummies you are guaranteed to generate some oogly feelings in people.

4. The funny. The Puppet Show is one of the first season's funniest episodes thanks mostly to Sid and his wise cracking and rather lecherous behaviour. Principle Snyder and Xander also help bring some major funny too.

5. Snyder. Nasty Principle Snyder (Armin Shimerman) – or, as Giles calls him, “our new Fuhrer” - débuts in this episode and makes an instant impact on the gang and the audience.

6. Greek tragedy. Buffy, Willow and Xander's attempt at a scene of Greek tragedy for the talent show is hilariously terrible. You have to be good actors to pretend to be this bad.

Why it sucks
1. It's a monster of the week show with nothing to add to the overall season.

2. As far as I can tell there's no underlying metaphor at work, though I'm probably missing it.

It's Buftastic
Buffy wakes up in her room in the middle of the night thinking something is in there with her. Well and truly freaked out, she screams in terror as something comes at her from the bed covers. Brrr

Dialogue to die for
Snyder: "I know Principal Flutie would have said, 'Kids need understanding. Kids are human beings.' That's the kind of woolly-headed liberal thinking that leads to being eaten."

Xander: (messing around with Sid the Dummy) "REDRUM, REDRUM, REDRUM!!"

And another thing
This is the only episode of Buffy that carries on in to the end credits with Buffy, Willow and Xander performing their awful Greek tragedy scene for the talent show.

Cordelia sang in the talent show because Joss knew Charisma Carpenter really couldn't sing. Prior to filming when he asked her, “Can you sing?” and she said “No,” Joss allegedly smiled and replied “Good.” So the voice you hear is more or less Carpenter's real singing voice. Jeez! Good job she wasn't around for 'Once More With Feeling.'

SMG admitted to having nightmares about dummies after filming this episode. The scene in Buffy's bedroom in the middle of the night might have had something to do with that.

How many stakes?
Buffy's no dummy. 3 (out of 5)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 1, Episode 8 'I Robot, You Jane'

I Robot You Jane Pictures, Images and Photos
What a load of old Moloch(s)

Writer: Ashley Gable, Thomas A Swyden
Director: Stephen Posey

What's the sitch?
Willow becomes involved in an online relationship with someone she thinks is the perfect boy...only to find out it is in fact an evil demon looking to use her (and other teenagers) for its own dark purposes.

What's the sitch beneath the sitch?
This is one of the most glaringly obvious metaphor shows Buffy has ever done. Beware internet predators posing as kids. Of course, in the Buffyverse online predators are replaced by an ancient demon looking to use kids to help manifest itself through modern technology.

Who's giving us the wiggins this week?
Malcolm aka Moloch the Destroyer

Why it rocks
1. Willow takes centre stage. Put Willow in danger and you guarantee grabbing the audience. Ally Hannigan's big soulful eyes and trembling lip does it every time.

2. We meet Jenny Calender (Robia La Morte) for the first time, Sunnydale High's computer studies teacher. She'll play a major role over the next year or so. Plus she makes a great love interest/foil for Giles.

Why it sucks
It just ain't very good. Though the notion of demons inhabiting the internet is an interesting one, it just isn't scary. And the monster, Moloch, ends up looking ridiculous. Oh yeah, and the image of glassy eyed teens tapping away for hours at keyboards might be a nice comment on modern life but in the context of an exciting horror/comedy/drama show it leaves much to be desired. Consider this episode a file ready for deletion.

It's Buftastic
Um, when it's over?

Dialogue to die for
Ms. Calendar: "You're here again? You kids really dig the library, don't you?"
Buffy: "We're literary."
Xander: "To read makes our speaking English good."

And another thing
Did I mention this one ain't much good? Move along, move along...

How many stakes?
It's a wilting one. 1 (out of 5)

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Two Vampire Tales to Freeze the Blood and Warm the Heart

let me in,let the right one in,vampire,eli,oskar,abby,owen,film,poster

LET ME IN is the US remake of the beloved (by me and millions of others) Swedish vampire/coming of age film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, which itself was adapted from the novel of the same name by its author John Ajvide Lindqvist.

A huge fan of the original movie and the book it was based on, Matt Reeves, director of CLOVERFIELD, took on the unenviable task of ‘Americanising’ this story of a lonely, abused boy who befriends the little girl next door only to discover that she has a very, very dark secret.

Firstly, here’s where I’m coming from.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is a modern classic and a film I deeply love. I’ve watched it many times. It was my favourite film of 2008 besting even that other classic of the same year THE DARK KNIGHT. It’s a masterpiece of subtle emotion that delves deep in to loneliness, separation, isolation and the pains of growing up, of finding that special someone who ‘gets you’. Eli and Oskar are two lonely souls who find each other amidst the frozen world – both physically and emotionally – that they both inhabit. They each give the other something to help them carry on: an inner strength, a purpose for being. It’s a beautiful love story that touches the heart and freezes the soul as there always remains some ambiguity about Eli’s true purpose. Is she in fact just grooming Oskar to be her next carer, to replace the unfortunate Håkan after he’s caught by the police and takes a fatal dive from his hospital window? In the hands of director Tomas Alfredson the film plays out in a restrained, almost Kubrickian style with an oft still camera, long takes and a real feeling of icy isolation, reserved emotion and unspoken despair. It is this reservation of emotion that makes the genuine connection forged between Eli and Oskar even more powerful and affecting.

So bearing in mind how I feel about the original I approached LET ME IN with a great deal of trepidation.

Upon first hearing of this remake I was cynical and rather bitter because LET THE RIGHT ONE IN means a lot to me. I, like many others worldwide, feel protective of it.

But then something started to change.

Reading interviews with Matt Reeves it became clear that he adores the original film and book as much as I do. It touched a nerve in him. It made a connection. Realising that the remake was going to happen one way or another, Reeves got in there early to make sure that if it had to be done then it would at least be done right. He was going to make damn sure Hollywood didn’t pull its usual trick of ruining what makes something special. He was going to make sure the kids didn’t suddenly become twentysomething teens living in, say, contemporary LA. He was going to make sure the film wouldn’t be filled with marketable music by the latest hip rock or indie bands. And he succeeded. What Matt Reeves has done is to make sure that this story has been told as it was meant to be told and that the delicate themes and emotions remain intact. He’s made sure that the brutal horror of Eli/Abby’s feeding and of Oskar/Owen’s abuse is kept to the fore. He’s made sure his film stays wrapped in that same frozen world of horror and despair and loneliness from which there seems no escape. He’s kept John Ajvide Lindqvist's tale a chilling, intimate and effective love story between two lost souls looking for a way out as much as a way in.

And bless him for it.

LET ME IN is an excellent film. There is no doubt about that.

It captures the story, character, themes and mood of the original while taking a couple of slight detours here and there so as to subtly distinguish itself. Unlike LTROI, we don’t get to know or follow Owen’s neighbours (Lacke and Virginia etc. in the original) but rather we see them at a distance through Owen’s telescope in his bedroom. An early scene where he sees Virginia getting naked and engaging in foreplay with her man is a small sexual awakening for the boy which leads into his stirring feelings for Abby, shown further when, smiling, he spies on her getting changed (a scene in the original which plays out rather differently here as it misses a famous key shot). This rather dark sexual awakening is something of a theme in LET ME IN and is more obvious than in the original. Witness Owen’s watching of Virginia getting naked, his lingering looks at the young girls in their swimsuits at the pool, his eagerness to catch Abby naked as she changes, his worrying use of the term “little girl” when he pretends to stab a victim.

So with the neighbours mostly absent in this telling of the tale it's a local cop (Elias Koteas) who we follow as he investigates the various murders, eventually leading him to Abby’s door. The cop is the one who discovers Abby in the bathroom and who pays the bloody price. And that’s fine. None of this detracts from the film as it is the relationship between Owen and Abby that we really care about, that really matters. And that relationship works just as well here as it does in the original thanks to the sensitive direction of Reeves and the excellent work of Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen and Chloe Moretz (yes, Hit-Girl herself) as Abby. My only minor complaint about the kids is that they are almost too good. The original kids in LTROI were not professional actors. They had a kind of awkwardness about them that came across as more naturalistic. Kodi and Chloe are classy professional actors who do a splendid, seamless job. I’m not criticising them. They both rock. I just prefer that slightly uncomfortable, amateurish feel from the originals two young leads. It sells the innocence and evil behind innocence a tiny bit better.

So how does the rest of it stack up to the original?

To be honest the vast majority of LET ME IN plays out almost exactly as the original. Many scenes (especially the key ones) are virtual carbon copies of dialogue, shot composition and editing. Other places where it does differ it does so in interesting ways. Reeves decides to isolate Owen further by only letting the lad have contact with his father by phone unlike in the original where Oskar goes to visit his dad only to be sidelined. And I really enjoyed Abby’s ‘father’ hiding out in the back of people’s cars to kill them for their blood. This leads to a great sequence where it all goes horribly wrong with a major car crash brilliantly shot entirely from inside the tumbling car. The film’s final act is virtually identical to the original, building up to that now iconic sequence in the swimming pool (slightly more frenzied here but still great) where Owen is tortured by his bullies one last time, before the film then ends just as the original did on the train carrying Owen away on a journey to who knows where.

I have no major complaints about how this film was made. Sure, a lot of the CGI Abby effects were pretty poor and I question the need to give her glowy vampire eyes and demonic looks when feeding as it detracts somewhat from the more subtle and restrained feel of the film. But it’s nothing to get too bothered about. The positives far outweigh the negatives. Cinematography, art direction, costumes…they’re all great. And Michael Giacchino’s score is mournfully sweet and darkly menacing in equal measure. It doesn’t quite soar to the heartrending highs of Johan Soderquist’s gorgeous score for the original but it is still mighty fine and helps cement Giacchino’s position as one of the very best contemporary film composers.

So, yeah, LET ME IN is an excellent film. Matt Reeves did a bang up job in taking such beloved material and subtly shaping it in to a new version deemed fit for those who can’t or won’t read subtitles, who hear the phrase ‘foreign language film’ and run screaming. The soul of the story and its characters remains intact and he can be justifiably proud. Fans of the original won’t be offended or angry.

Despite my original fears about remaking a movie I love dearly I’m not morally opposed to remakes. I have no problem with them…as long as they are good and bring something else to the table. What I can’t abide are soulless artistically bankrupt efforts that only exist to make a quick cash grab (Platinum Dunes I’m looking at you.) Anyway, you can argue that LET ME IN is just another adaptation of a book – something that happens all the time. And now that the dust has settled I’m actually happy that two versions of the same story I love, both wonderful, both decidedly intimate, emotional and uncommercial, can exist in this world at the same time. And though I will always love and prefer Tomas Alfredson’s LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, having forged a special connection to it, Matt Reeves’ LET ME IN is a great movie in its own right. It's heart is in the right place and it deserves to be loved as well.

The final irony, though, is that despite excellent reviews, LET ME IN fared dismally at the US box office making not a huge amount more in total than the original did on a fraction of its screens. I ask you, in what sane world can a dismally dull supernatural bore like CASE 39 that had been left on the shelf for a couple of years end up making more money than something so good? 4.5 (out of 5)