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)

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Life, Death and Life of Georgia 'George' Lass

Dead Like Me Pictures, Images and Photos
As well as my current Buffy rewatch I'm also in the midst of rewatching another all time fave show of mine: DEAD LIKE ME.

A blackly humourous look at life and everything after, DEAD LIKE ME follows the adventures of recently deceased Georgia 'George' Lass (Ellen Muth) a smart, cynical, sarcastic college drop out from Seattle killed aged just eighteen by a falling toilet seat from the space station Mir. Newly dead, George soon discovers she is destined to stay on earth as part of a small and motley team of grim reapers led by gruff but kindly Rube (Mandy Patinkin). Also in the reap team with George are eternally angry meter maid Roxy (Jasmine Guy), feckless drug and booze addled Mason (Callum Blue) and beautiful blond 1930’s starlet Daisy (Laura Harris). Our gang of reapers are charged with taking the souls of all those in and around Seattle who are about to die in accidental circumstances with only a name, location and an ETD (estimated time of death) provided on a post-it note from Rube. This leads to the reapers witnessing many bizarre, blackly funny and contrived deaths that would give the Final Destination films a run for their money.

Trying to come to terms with her new un-life and the depressing new job that comes with it, a job from which she can't quit, on Rube's orders George also has to stay away from her surviving family - mother Joy (Cynthia Stevenson), father Clancy (Greg Kean) and little sister Reggie (Britt McKillip). Unfortunately the Lass family are in the midst of falling apart after George's loss. George, though dismissive of her family before her death and now given a new face so as to be unrecognizable to those she once knew, finds staying away from them impossible which leads to many an angry run-in with Rube. As the series goes on, being newly undead and doing her new reaping job, George slowly comes to terms with her new existence and learns truths about her family, people in general and life as a whole, truths that slowly wake her up from her former cynical, self obsessed and nihilistic attitude, allowing her to finally start living her life…even after her death.

I love this show. It’s one of my all time faves despite only running for two short seasons and one so-so spin off movie released last year to DVD. The writing is blackly funny, deeply sarcastic yet also sweetly insightful. The characters are all vivid and utterly brilliant. Even the supporting characters are all really well drawn and allowed to shine, my favourite being Delores Herbig (" in her big brown eyes") George's eccentric cat loving boss at the Happy Time agency where George works part-time (seeing as how reapers don’t get paid for reaping so must still earn a crust to survive).

Because DEAD LIKE ME was a cable show the language and general attitude (including drugs, booze and sex) is expressed fairly freely. The F bomb is dropped on a regular basis but only to show how most people really speak i.e. it is not gratuitous just appropriate when used in anger or sarcasm or frustration.

Some great lines:

George: This is where I felt it the first time. The universe was cocking the fuck-with-me gun.

George: Life sucks, and then you die. And then it still sucks.

George: Yuck! This juice tastes like ass, here you try it!
Mason: No, thanks. I'm trying to stay off of the ass juice for now.

Rube: [to George] You're a constipator, Peanut. You disturb my shit, and that's annoying.

Mason [after being handed a self evaluation]: I need more drugs.

And possibly the funniest scene in the whole series from episode 1.4 ‘Reapercussions’...

Roxy: [to Mason who’s curled up on a bench at the diner and looking out the window] What's wrong with you?
[Mason blinks in her direction, eyes bloodshot]
Roxy: Are you stoned?
Mason: [looking very pale and sickly] I've got illegals in my bottom...
[referring to the bag of cocaine that broke in his rectum at the airport]
Roxy: [looking at Mason shaking her head] Why do you do this to yourself?
Mason: [whimpering] I don't know.

DEAD LIKE ME was created by Bryan Fuller who used to work on STAR TREK: VOYAGER and also created the short lived WONDERFALLS and the excellent PUSHING DAISIES. Fuller seems to have a knack for creating weird, quirky, off beat TV about the nature of life and death and life. But with DEAD LIKE ME he actually walked away after only the first four or five episodes due to rather robust creative differences with the studio leaving the show in the capable hands of producer John Masius. I’d love to know what direction Fuller wanted to go in that the studio didn’t because the remaining episodes of DLM as written and filmed seemed to me to be just right.

Bottom line: If you haven’t seen DEAD LIKE ME and you enjoy quality quirky material with great characters and great writing, I urge you to give it a go.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

A Belated Halloween Trick ‘r Treat Treat

Okay, so I’m a bit late with this one seeing as how Halloween is a few weeks gone now. But better late than never I guess.

If you haven’t seen it then Trick ‘r Treat is a little gem of a film; a heartfelt ode to the lore and myth of the 31st October, to the elements of that day which we are all familiar with. It’s an anthology, a portmanteau horror movie similar in vein to the likes of Creepshow and the lurid films made by us Brits in the 60’s and 70’s (Tales from the Crypt, Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, Torture Garden, The Vault of Horror, Asylum, From Beyond the Grave etc.) But Trick ‘r Treat differs in that the four main stories are not separated and are all interconnected, taking place on the same night, in the same small Ohio town. If you watch one story carefully you will see elements of the other stories unfolding in the background as the timelines of the four tales are rather twisty and turny with the film ending essentially where it begins.

The four stories are:

The Principal
Child hating Principle Wilkins (Dylan Baker), gets up to some sadistic business on Halloween night involving poisoned candy, bloody murder and the carving of icky jack-o-lanterns with his impatient young son.

The School Bus Massacre Revisited
Five kids, Macy (Britt McKillip), Schrader (Jean-Luc Bilodeau), Sara (Isabelle Deluce), Chip (Alberto Ghisi), and Rhonda (Samm Todd), head for to the local quarry where Macy tells the local urban legend of "The Halloween School Bus Massacre". But as the group investigates the quarry, a ghoulish prank soon turns deadly for the terrified kids.

Surprise Party
Laurie (Anna Paquin), a young, self-conscious "virgin", goes into the woods after deciding to separate from her group of promiscuous friends. But deep in the woods a scary man in black attacks her, while her sister and her friends’ party nearby with various men they’ve picked up along the way.

Meet Sam
Mr Kreeg (Brian Cox), a cantankerous, Halloween-hating old man who lives alone with his dog, is trapped and stalked in his own home by a weird and creepy childlike figure with a burlap mask and a fiendish love for candy.

My personal favourite of these is Surprise Party as it is the most fairytale of the lot and ends with a great twist while also connecting effortlessly with one of the other stories. Oh, and Anna Paquin is in it and she’s great. But The Principle gives Surprise Party a close run, mostly for Dylan Baker who gives a deliciously sick yet charming performance as the evil Mr Wilkins.

All four stories are intertwined by location but what binds them all together is Sam, the childlike, burlap masked little devil who appears somewhere in each but features most prominently in the pre-title sequence and in the final story. Sam is essentially the spirit of Halloween, a creepy little sprite who lurks and watches and waits for people to make a mistake in their Halloween traditions and who then pays them out in the nastiest of ways. He’s a great little character who has no dialogue but is played with scary, malicious glee by child actor Quinn Lord.

Writer/director Mike Dougherty (X2, Superman Returns), who made his directing debut here, is a talented graphic artist with darkly playful sensibilities that remind of a young Tim Burton. He is also a friend and protégé of director Bryan Singer having written X2 and Superman Returns for the man with regular co-writer Dan Harris. Singer produced Trick ‘r Treat and as a first time director Dougherty must have studied his mentors directing style in great detail. For Trick ‘r Treat, like all of Bryan Singer’s own films, is beautifully made with excellent actors such as Brian Cox, Dylan Baker and Anna Paquin, and shot and edited with a steady, deliberate pace. It is also one of the most beautiful looking films of recent years. Glen MacPherson’s gorgeous photography bathes the film in a lovely Autumn gold hue which helps add to the fairytale feel along with the classy, detailed and stylised production design of Mark Freeborn and art direction of Tony Wohlgemuth.

Trick ‘r Treat was made in 2007 for theatrical release but for corporate reasons was eventually released straight to DVD late 2009 despite it already winning awards and critical plaudits. A crying shame as this little gem, along with John Carpenter’s Halloween, is the quintessential Halloween movie and deserves to be seen on a big screen with an enthusiastic audience cheering on little devil Sam in his gleefully sadistic mission.

In the end the best thing I can say about Trick ‘r Treat is that it is fun. It’s a lot of ghoulish, black humoured fun. It’s not especially scary. It’s not meant to be. It’s meant to be a celebration of the traditions and the fun of Halloween, a cautionary, spooky fairytale. And I reckon it gets it spot on.

Long live Sam.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 1, Episode 7 'Angel'


Writer: David Greenwalt
Director: Scott Brazil

What's the sitch?
The Master sends The Three, a trio of deadly vampire warriors, to kill Buffy. And they almost succeed. However at the last moment Angel intervenes and saves her but gets himself injured in the process. The pair escape back to Buffy's house where Buffy, her feelings for the mysterious Angel growing, though still unaware that he's a vampire, patches him up and insists he spends the night...on her bedroom floor. Meanwhile, having failed in their task, The Three die at the hands of Darla, who then tells The Master of her own plan to kill Buffy: have Angel do it for them by framing him for hurting Buffy's mum. He'll then be forced to kill the Slayer before she kills him. Darla's plan is to not only rid Sunnydale of the pesky Slayer but also, by having him kill her, to bring Angel, the vampire she sired, back in to the evil fold. Delicious.

What's the sitch beneath the sitch?
Girls: beware of moody, broody older boys who aren't all they seem. Primarily this is a mythology and character episode that pushes the main story of the season forward (and season 2 for that matter).

Who's giving us the wiggins this week?
The Three, The Master and Darla. Mmm, Darla.

Why it rocks
1. Buffy steps up a gear. This is arguably the best episode of the season. I mean, what's not to love? The proper birth of the Buffy/Angel story, a surprise reveal, loads of emotional pain, Darla in gleefully murderous mode. This is a mythology and character episode that tells us who and what Angel really is and about his history with Darla. And speaking of...

2. Darla. Yes, Darla. The wonderful Julie Benz is front and centre. And she is wicked. All innocent and schoolgirly when conning her way in to Buffy's home and Buffy's mother's trust, then incredibly sexy and seductive when egging Angel on to kill Buffy, then gloriously cool dressed in her catholic school girl uniform, automatics in each hand, blasting away as she falls back in slow motion across a pool table John Woo style. What a Shame she gets staked by Angel at the end. But never fear she will be back.

3. David Boreanaz. The actor made big strides from the pilot to this episode. He simply had to be good in this one seeing as how it's all about him. He needed to convey the inner torment, immense guilt and self loathing that Angel carries. But also the conflicted part of his nature: that demon inside he is always resisting. Plus he needed to convey his burgeoning attraction to Buffy (admittedly not hard with SMG being so darn cute), a relationship he knows to be wrong and that ultimately can go nowhere. And to his credit Boreanaz pulls it off. He's still not the greatest of actors but he has presence and can do tortured brooding with the best. Next year he'll add gleefully sadistic monster to his repertoire. And then a couple years later goofy idiot and slapped puppy.

4. Sarah Michelle Gellar. Quite simply she's brilliant. She balances hormonally charged teenage girl with intense, conflicted warrior. And often in the same scene. She can go from weepy love struck teen to tough as nails kick-ass heroine in a heartbeat. Plus her chemistry with Boreanaz sizzles. The full emotional gamut gets run here: love, hate, terror, betrayal, rage, guilt, vengeance, mercy. Like this episode's writer David Greenwalt said of her at the 2008 Paleyfest reunion, and I paraphrase: “You can give Sarah anything and everything to do and she'll nail it all first time and every time. She's a machine.” You simply cannot underestimate SMG's contribution to the success of this show, to what makes it work.

Why it sucks
It doesn't suck. At all. However there are a couple of things that niggle:

First, after their fight with The Three, Buffy and Angel rush back to her house to take shelter. Angel runs in right after Buffy without being invited. As far as I'm aware this is the first time he's ever been to her home so needs to be invited in. Later, after Buffy has found out he's a vampire, she says to Willow how she'd invited him in to her home unwittingly. We never see that though.

Second, why would Buffy expect Angel to hang out in her bedroom all the next day until she gets home from school? Sure, he's a vamp and can't leave while the sun's out...unless he has a blanket and does the sewer thing like Spike will do in later years. But she doesn't know that yet. It makes no sense and is a contrivance of the plot. But when the episode is this good I'll forgive it.

It's Buftastic
Darla looking gloriously cool and sexy in her catholic school girl uniform, automatics in each hand, blasting away as she falls back in slow motion to slide in reverse across a pool table. John Woo does Buffy.

Dialogue to die for
Angel: “For a hundred years I offered ugly death to everyone I met. And I did it with a song in my heart.”

Buffy: "You want Xander, you've gotta speak up, girl!"
Willow: "No, no, no, no. No speaking up. That way leads to madness... and sweaty palms."

And another thing
This is the first episode that gets the spoken preface, “In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.”

How many stakes?
It's five expertly whittled ones. 5 (out of 5)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 1, Episode 6 'The Pack'


Writer: Matt Kiene & Joe Reinkenmeyer
Director: Bruce Seth Green

What's the sitch?
While on a class outing to the zoo Xander ventures in to the cordoned off Hyena exhibit to save a kid from a gang of bullies...only to have the Hyena's pull a mystical whammy on both the Xan man and the bullies by possessing them and turning them in to a cruel pack of predators. Being Hyena possessed, Xander's behaviour starts to change and he soon alienates Buffy and Willow by hanging out more and more with his nasty new friends. But things start to get much worse when new school mascot Herbert the piglet is mysteriously eaten alive. And then things get much MUCH worse when the school's principle, Mr Flutie, suffers the same grisly fate. Buffy is convinced that Xander and the others have been possessed by something evil. And while Giles tries to find out how to undo the possession Buffy tries to keep Xander away from the Pack and out of trouble.

What's the sitch beneath the sitch?
It's all about bullies, falling in with the wrong crowd and also the general adult fear of a feral youth. You know the drill: normally good kid makes some dodgy new friends and his/her behaviour starts to change for the worse. Except that in the Buffyverse it's a mystical whammy that makes Xander behave this way and pushes the already nasty gang of bullies in to pig killing, then finally in to murder and cannibalism.

Who's giving us the wiggins this week?
The gang of bullies, a creepy zoo keeper and Xander.

Why it rocks
1. Metaphor. Okay, so it ain't subtle but it does the job. Adults, if you annoy teenagers enough then they might just eat you.

2. Horror. Despite the inherent silliness of the idea this is actually pretty nasty stuff. Finding out that cute little Herbert has been eaten alive is bad enough. But soon after we get to see the Pack encircle and taunt poor Principle Flutie before they attack him and (out of sight though not out of earshot) tear him apart. Also, the small scene where a mother and her baby stumble across and awaken the slumbering Pack is nicely tense and mildly disturbing. As the Pack look at the mother and her child with burning hunger you really do think its gonna be chow time again. Gulp!

3. Nasty Xander. Nicholas Brendon is excellent as nasty Xander. Luckily he avoids chowing on Herbert and Principle Flutie, though he does get to be really horrible to poor Willow making her cry and everything. And when Willow cries it really gets you where it hurts. He also attempts to sexually assault Buffy. It's pretty grim stuff. And Buffy is so shocked (as are we) that initially she isn't able to defend herself, though she does eventually manage to subdue her possessed friend before he can do her any actual harm.

4. Killed off. Yet another regular character is killed of as Principle Flutie (Ken Learner) becomes a school dinner. This paves the way for the school's new principle: the odious child hating Snyder played with relish by Armin (Quark from DS9) Shimerman.

Why it sucks
1. Bad puppets. The 'real' Hyenas we see at the zoo are obvious puppets. And pretty awful ones at that.

2. Giles being slow. Giles is a bit slow on the uptake about the zoo keeper. Has he never seen Scooby Doo?

3. Odd pack behaviour. If Xander is now part of the Pack then how come he spends so much time off doing his own thing like trying to assault Buffy?

It's Buftastic
Buffy catches poor little piglet Herbert, the school mascot who's escaped from his cage and is looking to get the heck out of Sunnydale High. Maybe he knows what's coming. Poor piggy. Anyway, Herbert's run is great. It's shot low angle with high speed pig POV hurtling down hallways, through people's legs...then right in to Buffy's waiting arms. SMG looks genuinely happy cuddling Herbert. Maybe this is where the idea for Buffy's stuffed toy pig Mr Gordo came from.

Dialogue to die for
Xander (to Buffy): "We just saw the zebras mating. Thank you, very exciting!"
Willow (also to Buffy): "It was like the Heimlich... with stripes!"

And another thing
We see Buffy and Giles training for the first time.

How many stakes?
It's a three member pack. 3 (out of 5)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 1, Episode 5 'Never Kill a Boy on the First Date'

Buffy Pictures, Images and Photos

Writers: Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali
Director: David Semel

What’s the sitch?
Buffy has a major crush on quiet and bookish student Owen. Unfortunately Cordelia has her eyes on him too. Luckily for Buff, Owen already had his eye on her - much to Cordelia’s horror - and he asks our slayer out on a date. But poor Buffy gets no breaks in the love department and her date is interrupted by Xander and Willow who need her to go rescue Giles from a pack of marauding vamps that have the watcher trapped inside the Sunnydale funeral home. Buffy leaves Owen to go with her friends to help Giles…but Owen follows her and things get complicated as Buffy must save Giles, kill the vamps and keep Owen safe and unaware of what’s really going on.

What’s the sitch beneath the sitch?
It’s all about life and balancing the competing elements of responsibility and fun. This is the first time that Buffy’s perfectly reasonable desire to have a normal teenage girl’s life comes in to direct conflict with her duties as the Slayer. She is so taken with Owen that she loses sight of the pressing danger of The Master and the prophecy that’s unfolding. And in doing so almost gets Giles killed.

Who’s giving us the wiggins this week?
Crazy bible spouting vamp in the funeral home, The Master and other assorted bloodsuckers.

Why it rocks
1. She’s just a girl. This episode emphasises one of the main ongoing themes of the show: Buffy’s eternal struggle to just be a normal girl with a normal life.

2. Funny speak. There are a lot of great lines throughout. I may have to include several in the ‘dialogue to die for’ bit below.

3. Cute Buffy. Buffy is so darn cute when she’s all excited and little girly. No wonder Giles can’t say no to her. She’s also immensely cute all snuggled up in her hooded tiger stripe coat whilst out in the chilly graveyard waiting for a vamp to rise.

4. Queen C. Cordelia losing out to Buffy over Owen and then again to her over Angel is most amusing.

5. Ooh, twisty! There’s a cool twist at the end.

Why it sucks
1. Owen (Christopher Wiehl) is kind of a sap. I really don’t get what Buffy or Cordelia would see in him.

2. What plot? There really isn’t much of one. This is a kind of half-way story that makes up part of the bigger season arc to do with getting The Master free and is only really about the final (admittedly great) twist reveal.

3. Stupid vampires. Giles evades the rampaging vamps in the funeral home in a pretty unconvincing manner. They must have been some really thick undead types.

It’s Buftastic
Buffy fights crazy vamp at the funeral home and bests him with a one way trip to the furnace.

Dialogue to die for
Giles: “Alright, I'll just jump in my time machine, go back to the twelfth century and ask the vampires to postpone their ancient prophecy for a few days while you take in dinner and a show.”
Buffy: “Okay, at this point you're abusing sarcasm.”

Buffy: “If the apocalypse comes, beep me.”

Xander: "So, Buffy, how'd the slaying go last night?"
Buffy: "Xander!"
Xander: "I mean how'd the LAYING go last night? No, I don't mean that either."

Buffy: "But...cute fantasies?"

Xander: "Sure, he has a certain Owenosity."

Cordelia (seeing Angel for the first time): “Ooh! Hello, salty goodness!”

And another thing
Giles says that he doesn't have an instruction manual for slaying, but in the second season episode 'What's My Line, Part Two', new slayer Kendra mentions the Slayer Handbook, which Giles thought would be useless in Buffy's case.

Giles is at least a third generation Watcher. Giles' father told him he was destined to be a Watcher when he was ten, ruining his plans to become either a fighter pilot or a grocer.

How many stakes?
It has a certain Owenosity. 2 (out of 5)

Not Quite Time to Slay the Dreamworks Dragon

How to train your dragon Pictures, Images and Photos

First off lets get this straight. I’m not a fan of Dreamworks CG Animated films. Mostly I avoid them like the plague. I tried to watch Monsters vs. Aliens recently and got bored after only twenty minutes. Also I never understood the love out there for the Shrek films. I thought the first was massively overrated so kept well away from the sequels. Up until now I’ve only seen one Dreamworks effort I like and that’s Over the Hedge.

But due to strong word of mouth and a good reception from those I know and trust I rather reluctantly sat down this morning and watched Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon.


It was great. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This is by far the best Dreamworks CG animated film I’ve seen to date. And for three good reasons:

1) The story is strong and home to great characters and meaningful and weighty themes such as friendship, compassion, understanding, family bonding.

2) The tone is relatively serious. The film plays out as a big scale fantasy adventure that thankfully doesn't pander to the kids or resort to crap pop culture jokes ala most Dreamworks efforts.

3) It looks gorgeous. The character animation is good but it's the environments that really stand out. The flight sequences and the end battle are thrilling and really rather wonderful to behold with more than a couple of 'screensaver' images produced. Makes me wish I’d seen it on the big screen in 3D.

It’s certainly no Toy Story 3 (or Up, Wall-e, The Incredibles or any other Pixar film) but How to Train Your Dragon marks a strong entry for Dreamworks in the field of CG animation, one I’d be more than happy to watch again and again over the years. Just don’t ruin it with loads of shabby sequels.

So colour me impressed and chalk this one up as a big win for Dreamworks. I just wish they'd take this much care and effort with the rest of their CG animation.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 1, Episode 4 'Teacher’s Pet'

Buffy and Mr. Gregory Pictures, Images and Photos

Writer: David Greenwalt
Director: Bruce Seth Green

What’s the sitch?

When Buffy’s favourite teacher turns up dead sans head, a sexy new substitute, Ms French, arrives at Sunnydale High and immediately inflames the lustiness of her male students…including Xander. Unfortunately for the lusty boys, Ms French is not what she seems. And Xander, blind to the danger, is about to become the lethally lovely teacher’s next victim.

What’s the sitch beneath the sitch?

It’s all about sex. Teenage hormone bombs getting hot for teacher is nothing new. Just ask Van Halen. Unfortunately neither is the occasional predatory teacher who will take advantage of the situation. Of course the Buffyverse’s take on a predatory teacher is utterly weird: a giant female mantis bug looking for boys to fertilise the eggs she lays. Yuck! The other underlying theme here is to do with the often awkward teenage embarrassment and peer pressure regarding all things sex. Something most of us can relate to.

Who’s giving us the wiggins this week?

Bug lady Ms French (Musetta Vander) and some anonymous vamp with a metal clawed hand who Buff uses as a sniffer dog to locate bug lady and save Xander.

Why it rocks

1. Metaphor. It’s another metaphor show. Part of what this series does so well.

2. Hot teacher. Musetta Vander who plays Ms French is a beautiful woman with a deliciously seductive manner. You can see why Xander and the rest of the boys go all googly for her.

3. Funny Xander. It’s a Xander comedy episode with Nick Brendon taking centre stage. And that’s never a bad thing. The episode’s opening scene with Xander daydreaming about Buffy is hilarious as is the brief call-back to it when he thinks he’s scored with Ms French. Brendon plays goofy awkward charm better than almost anyone. His arrival at Ms French’s house and his stumbled over words are very funny indeed.

Why it sucks

1. Silly bugs. It is funny and Brendon’s great and the metaphor works fine, however it is perhaps just a tad too silly. Plus, it doesn’t help that the actual monster – the giant mantis – is rather crap.

2. Mr Cryptic. Angel is Mr Cryptic guy who just turns up and delivers some needlessly cryptic and overripe warnings while missing out the fundamental piece of info Buffy needs. He should have just said to her, “Watch out for the vampire with the metal claw.” ‘Nuff said.

It’s Buftastic

Xander has his heroic vampire slaying/guitar playing day dream at the episodes start with a love struck Buffy watching him go. The daydream is then wonderfully undercut by real Buffy waking him in class with a whispered, “Xander…you’re drooling.”

Dialogue to die for

Giles: “Uh, well, basically the, uh, the She-Mantis assumes the form of a beautiful woman and then lures innocent virgins back to her nest.”
Buffy: “Virgins? Well, Xander's not a, uh...I mean, he's probably...”
Willow: “...gonna die!”

And another thing

We find out in this episode that Xander's middle name is LaVelle and Willow's last name is Rosenberg.

This is the first script by David Greenwalt, who would go on to become a producer on the show and one of its main writers and would later co-create and run the Angel spin-off.

How many stakes?
Xander got bugged. 2.5 (out of 5)