Thursday, 30 June 2011

BUFFY: 3.22 ‘GRADUATION DAY – PART 2’


Short WB promo

WRITER: Joss Whedon
DIRECTOR: Joss Whedon

WHAT’S THE SITCH?

With Faith gone all hope for curing Angel seems lost.

Because of this, and without telling her friends, Buffy makes a potentially deadly decision. She goes to Angel and forces him to drink from her.

A now cured Angel rushes an unconscious Buffy to the hospital where she undergoes an emergency blood transfusion. At the same time in a neighbouring hospital cubicle the Mayor is watching over a comatose Faith when he overhears talk of another young girl having been brought in. He goes and finds Buffy lying unconscious. Losing control he tries to smother her. Angel appears and stops him just in time, forcing him to leave. While unconscious, Buffy shares a dream with Faith who seems to give Buffy some vital but cryptic information about the future. Buffy wakes up. Feeling revitalised and knowing that the Mayor is to be the keynote speaker at their graduation ceremony, she lays out her plan to the gang, and to Wesley who turns up offering to help. There are tasks for everyone and time is short.

A few hours later and as the class of 1999 gather outside Sunnydale High for what should be an important right of passage, the Mayor begins delivering his inspiring keynote speech. But he is soon interrupted when the sun goes suddenly dark, thus signalling the beginning of his ascension. In front of the horrified gathering, the Mayor begins his long planned transformation in to a huge snake-like demon, his gang of vampires arriving under cover of the new darkness to keep the gathered students (needed as demon food for the Mayor) from escaping.

This is the moment Buffy’s plan goes in to action.

The scoobies have forewarned and forearmed all of the students against what the Mayor has planned for them. Xander takes immediate control, turning the Class of 1999 in to an instant army complete with hidden flame-throwers, swords, axes and flaming arrows. The students valiantly and successfully fight off the vamps with the help of Angel, while Buffy taunts the now fully demon Mayor in to chasing her deep in to the school. They crash through walls and doors, until they eventually reach the library. Buffy then leaps through a window, escaping, just as the demon Mayor notices explosives packed everywhere. As Buffy leaps clear we see Giles push down on a plunger…

And Sunnydale High School explodes in a huge fireball. It is destroyed utterly, killing the Mayor in the same way the demon from long ago was killed under the volcano.

Later, as the emergency services put out the fires and tend to the wounded, Buffy spies Angel. For a time the vampire and slayer just look at each other in silence. Eventually Angel turns and disappears in to the smoke, leaving behind Buffy and Sunnydale for pastures new.

Exhausted, the gang (minus Angel) reunites outside the smouldering wreckage that once was their school. Together they take a moment to savour the fact that they survived, as Oz points out, not just the ascension, but high school itself. Moment over, they wander off chatting and joking.

WHAT’S THE SITCH BENEATH THE SITCH?

Same as in part 1. It’s all about moving on, graduating, and ascending to new levels in life. Angel literally moves on, away from Buffy and Sunnydale, while the Mayor also moves on, just not quite how he’d hoped. And, of course, the gang and the entire class of 1999 move on from high school for pastures new. And they do it the only way they could in the Buffyverse: they destroy the school thus putting the past firmly behind them, literally burning their bridges to childhood. The future awaits them. Life awaits them. The adventure continues.

WHO’S GIVING US THE WIGGINS THIS WEEK?

The Mayor (human and demon) and a bunch of nasty vamps

WHY IT ROCKS

All the same reasons that part 1 rocks, plus you get the epic pay off with a big school-based students vs. vamps smackdown and a huge snake demon eating people left right and centre. What’s not to love?

A lot happens. As with part 1 there is a lot of story being crammed in here. But it works and nothing feels rushed or extraneous. It all fits seamlessly together to bring our characters to where they all need to be for the big actual and thematic showdown. Joss is the grand master of this. His season finales burst with intelligent drama, action and humour, all underpinned by real thematic foundations.

Sex. There are two sex scenes in this episode, both played very differently. First, we see Buffy and Angel go at it. Well, not really. When Buffy forces Angel to drink from her in what is a beautifully directed sequence, it is played as if Angel is making intense love to her, lying on top of her, her legs spread with him between, Buffy moaning, reaching out to crush a fallen jug in ecstasy/pain. Of course this ‘sex’ almost kills her, thus highlighting how impossible and dangerous their relationship really is. It is all based upon pain, suffering and death. The second sex scene is an implied one between Willow and Oz who get it on together in Oz’s van right before the graduation ceremony. They are so happy together that they can’t help but make love in the face of likely death and destruction. Their relationship is based entirely on comfort and mutual support and adoration. It is all good and healthy, unlike the doomed relationship between Buffy and Angel.

Wesley and Cordy realising they are not meant to be together after sharing one of the most awkward and funny screen kisses ever put on film.

The Mayor and Faith. The Mayor grieving for Faith at the hospital and then his subsequent attempt to kill Buffy is brilliant. It adds depth to the already wonderful character. He truly loves Faith and like any father would, he wants to lash out at the person who hurt his ‘daughter’.

The Buffy and Faith dream. While both slayers are unconscious in hospital together they share a dream where Faith imparts some cryptic words to Buffy, trying to tell her things. At the time this was a huge deal amongst the fans, wondering what it was al about. It turned out that Joss was layering in elements for future seasons with major clues being given to major developments two years after this episode aired. Way to go Joss. Now THAT’S forward planning.

Principle Snyder. This is the last time we see Snyder. And Armin Shimerman is typically brilliant. His opening remarks to the gathered students at the graduation are most amusing. Shame he has to go and get eaten by a giant demon. We’ll miss him. Farewell Principle Snyder, it was fun.

The final battle. This is a pretty big scale fight involving a couple of hundred people using flame throwers, swords, bows and arrows and numerous other weapons. It also includes Buffy leading the demon Mayor through the school, knocking down walls and causing mass destruction before trapping him in the library then blowing the whole place up. It’s big. It’s exciting. And it’s so very cool.

Angel leaves. The last we see of Angel is perfect. Across a smoke filled parking lot, crowded by emergency vehicles, he and Buffy share a silent goodbye before he turns and disappears in to the smoke.

WHY IT SUCKS

The big snake demon the Mayor turns in to is not all that impressive. It’s big, sure, but is it really that powerful and scary? Also the CGI is a bit lacking.

IT’S BUFFTASTIC

The beautifully directed sequence where Angel drinks from Buffy. Deeply erotic and kinda scary.

DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR

Oz: “Any change?”
Willow: “He’s delirious. He thought I was Buffy.”
Oz: “You too, huh?”

Buffy:” I’m gonna need every single on of you on board. Especially you, Xander. You’re sorta the key figure here.”
Xander: “Key? Me? Okay, pride. Humility. And here’s the mind numbing fear.”

Cordelia: “Well, that was the most fun you could have without having any fun.”

Giles: "There is a certain dramatic irony attached to all this. A synchronicity that borders on predestination, one might say."
Buffy (exhausted): "Fire bad. Tree pretty."

AND ANOTHER THING

The original US airing of this season finale was delayed by almost two months due to ongoing worries about recent violence in US high schools (the fact that students blow up their own school here being the main problem). Eventually Graduation Day – Part 2 aired mid-July 1999 in the US, though it had aired much earlier in Canada prompting mass bootlegging across the border between fans. Joss, hating the US delay, openly encouraged this practice much to the dismay of the WB.

The Sunnydale Class of 1999 yearbook has the phrase “The Future is Ours” on it’s front. This was the same slogan used by Nazi Germany. Also the logo accompanying it is remarkably similar to Nazi symbolism. Not sure what Joss was trying to say here. Maybe because Snyder acts as a bit of a fascist and had been called a Nazi by Cordy it was thought he’d use some Nazi terms and iconography for his big school event. Dunno. But it is kinda odd.

For the third time (see "Becoming, Part Two" and "Amends"), we get a special "Grr...argh" at the end of the credits. This time the little monster is wearing a graduation cap.


HOW MANY STAKES?

Buffy graduates with honours. 5 (out of 5)



And thus sees the end of my Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 3 review. I’ll move on to season 4 sometime soon. But in the meantime, stay “Five by Five.”

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

BUFFY: 3.21 ‘GRADUATION DAY – PART 1’


The last 5 mins of this episode inc. the Buffy/Faith fight.

WRITER: Joss Whedon
DIRECTOR: Joss Whedon

WHAT’S THE SITCH?

Buffy is investigating the murder by Faith of a seemingly innocuous vulcanolgist. Both she and Giles are suspicious of why the Mayor would order the rogue slayer to do such a thing. What is the secret the Mayor needs to keep hidden? In the process of her investigations Buffy runs in to Angel. The pair, now uneasy around each other, soon begins to argue - an argument that is shockingly interrupted when from up on a nearby rooftop Faith shoots Angel with a poisoned arrow, sending the vamp in to a slow and painful demise. As Willow and Oz look in desperation for a cure for Angel, Giles and Xander discover what the Mayor was trying to hide: the unsuspecting vulcanolgist had found remains of an ancient demon killed long ago by a volcanic eruption. This gives the gang the clue they need as to how to kill the Mayor should he ascend. Giles also discovers the type of demon the Mayor will become…something very, very big. Wesley is unable to get any help from the Watcher’s Council to help cure Angel. This prompts a furious Buffy to take a stand and formally quit the Watchers. Then, just as all hope for Angel seems lost, Willow discovers the one and only cure: draining the blood of a slayer. Her mission clear, Buffy takes Faith’s knife and heads to the dark slayer’s apartment, literally out for blood, the only blood that can cure Angel. Arriving at Faith’s, the two slayers face off and engage in one heck of a vicious and bloody battle; a battle that wrecks the apartment and ends up out on the roof. After much violence is done, Buffy gets the upper hand and stabs Faith in the gut with her own knife. But Faith, bleeding to death and knowing she’s done, still won’t let Buffy win. And so she throws herself off of the roof, landing in a truck that drives her away from Buffy, taking away a horrified Buffy’s one and only hope for curing Angel.

To be continued.

WHAT’S THE SITCH BENEATH THE SITCH?

Again, it’s all in the title. It’s all about growing up, moving on to the next stage in life, taking on responsibility. Buffy and the gang are graduating, not just from school, but from being kids; they are starting to take charge of their own lives, their own destinies. Willow and Oz move on to the next stage of their relationship, and the Mayor hopes to move on as well with his Ascension. But the theme is shown most poignantly perhaps in the tremendous scene in which Buffy tells Wesley in no uncertain terms that she quits the Council and that he needs to pack up and go home. He calls it mutiny. She says she prefers the term graduation.

WHO’S GIVING US THE WIGGINS THIS WEEK?

The Mayor and Faith

WHY IT ROCKS

Those magic words ‘Written and Directed by Joss Whedon’

The script. This is essentially the set-up for the big payoff in part 2. And so much occurs here. Not just big Ascension related stuff either but wonderful character stuff too. As always Joss has an almost supernatural grasp of his characters, of what makes them tick, and how to use them perfectly to tell a layered story that blends subtle depth, high drama, big laughs, tender emotion and some kick-ass action that leaves the audience desperate for more. Three scenes here are season highlights:

1. Oz and Willow finally making love: a wonderfully sweet, typically dry and witty way for the taciturn werewolf to finally make his move.

2. The Mayor confronting Buffy and the gang on their own turf: a chilling and intense scene perfectly sold by Harry Groener and by Tony Head who gets very angry with a sword.

3. Buffy quitting the Council: our girl faces down Wesley and tells it like it is. She’s had enough. And they can all go to hell.

Faith and the Mayor. As if we didn’t think these two were great enough, Joss gives us a lovely scene in which the Mayor gets Faith to try on a pretty dress for the Ascension and then listens to her with such great affection as she tells him about something that happened to her when she was a kid. The bond between these two is tangible and powerful. They are the bad guys but we don’t wanna lose them.

Anya. The brilliant Emma Caulfield as Anya has been playing a bigger part over the last few episodes. It is clear she is becoming a regular and will likely provide the plain speaking replacement for Cordy after she leaves for Angel. And thank heavens for Anya. What a great character she is, expertly played by Emma. Blunt, rude, hostile, but also na├»ve and charmingly cute. Xander’s gonna have his hands full. Lucky guy.

Eliza Dushku. She’s been a powerful, memorable presence since first arriving in Sunnydale back in 3.3 ‘Faith, Hope and Trick’. Her character journey has been fascinating, providing the essential core to this entire season, making this my personal favourite of all Buffy’s seven seasons. And here, in what is pretty much her final appearance of the season, she is wonderful. She’s both vulnerable and sympathetic as well as an evil kick-ass bitch from hell.

Slayer vs. Slayer…to the death (or not): the epic fight between Buffy and Faith at Faith’s apartment is a thing of brutal beauty. The choreography is fast, agile, creative and bone crunching and the direction and editing is perfect. Joss pulls the camera back and just lets them go at it.

WHY IT SUCKS

It doesn’t

IT’S BUFFTASTIC

It has to be that fight. So damn cool.

DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR

Xander (to Anya): "Yes, Men like sports. Men watch the action movie. They eat of the beef and enjoy to look at the bosoms. A thousand years of avenging our wrongs and that's all you've learned?"

Joyce: "You know, Buffy, looking back at everything that's happened, maybe I should have sent you to a different school."

Buffy (to Joyce): "I wish I could be a lot of things for you. A great student, a star athlete ... remotely normal. I'm not. But there is something I do that I can do better than anybody else in the world."

Angel: "Are you mad at me for being around too much or for not being around enough?"
Buffy: "Duh, yes!"

Cordelia: “What's her saga?”
Xander: “She's freaking.”
Cordelia: “About what?”
Xander: “The Mayor's gonna kill us all during graduation.”
Cordelia: “Oh. Are you gonna go to fifth period?”
Xander: “I'm thinking I might skip it.”
Cordelia: “Yeah, me too.”

Wesley: “This is mutiny.”
Buffy: “I like to think of it as graduation.”

Xander (seeing a picture of the huge demon the Mayor will become): “We’re gonna need a bigger boat!”

AND ANOTHER THING

Recently I caught a bit of a TV show here in the UK where actress/celeb Amanda Holden tries out some of her dream jobs. In the episode I saw she wanted to be a stuntwoman so she went to Hollywood and hooked up with Sophia Crawford who was SMG’s stunt/fight double on Buffy for the first four seasons. Sophia is actually English and is married to Jeff Pruitt who was the stunt co-ordinator on the show. Anyway, after training Holden up, Sophia and Jeff re-staged the ‘Graduation Day – Part 1’ Faith vs. Buffy fight move for move with Holden as Faith and Sophia as Buffy. They even dressed up in similar outfits. And it looked really cool. A great and totally unexpected geekout moment for me.

HOW MANY STAKES?

Blood, Faith and tears. 5 (out of 5)

Sunday, 26 June 2011

BUFFY: 3.20 ‘THE PROM’


Short promo

WRITER: Marti Noxon
DIRECTOR: David Solomon

WHAT’S THE SITCH?

Buffy and the gang are looking forward to their school prom. However this being Sunnydale nothing is going to go smoothly. Firstly Angel has heartbreaking news for poor Buff. He breaks up with her, as he knows they have no future together. He also tells her that after the Ascension he will be leaving Sunnydale to make things easier (plus he has his own TV series to get to in LA). As well as Buffy’s personal pain there is also the small matter of a bunch of vicious and human-brain-hungry hellhounds to deal with. They’ve been bred by a disaffected student and trained to kill anyone in formal wear. Determined that her friends will get their perfect high school prom, Buffy takes it upon herself to single-handedly hunt down and kill the beasts before they can start their high school student brain feast.

WHAT’S THE SITCH BENEATH THE SITCH?

Hmm, nothing too obvious. The hellhound stuff is just a daft action-orientated hook to hang this episode’s important end of season story points on e.g. Angel’s decision to leave and Buffy being recognised and trusted by her fellow students as ‘Class Protector’.

WHO’S GIVING US THE WIGGINS THIS WEEK?

Nasty student Tucker Wells and his vicious hellhounds. And possibly Angel for being pretty darn insensitive to poor Buff with his timing.

WHY IT ROCKS

The script. Marti Noxon wrote a deeply emotional and beautifully affecting script. Sure, the A story is silly hellhounds looking to chomp on formal attired students, but the really important stuff is what is happening with Buffy and Angel and with the rest of the gang. Angel’s realisation and decision is a long time coming, taking Joyce’s intervention as well as The Mayor’s earlier words to finally push him to act. After all he is the responsible adult. Buffy, as her mom points out, for all her smarts, strength and power, is a young girl in love, blinded by her love and by her lack of life experience. So it’s left up to Angel to make the responsible decision.

The acting. All are great here but once again SMG brings her big game. She runs the gamut in this episode from childlike glee to utter heartbreak and devastation to tough and stoic warrior. Sarah really does encapsulate the full character of Buffy Summers here. Sure, she is smart, hugely tough and quick with a witty quip or three but deep down she remains an emotionally inexperienced and fragile child. Something her mom knows very well and something others (Angel especially) easily forget.

Anya’s hilariously blunt, rude and inept way of asking Xander to be her date for the Prom.

Tucker Wells’ use of various famous high school movies to train the hellhounds to attack Sunnydale High Prom goers.

Angel’s disturbing dream of his and Buffy’s wedding day. The effects used to show Buffy burning to ash in the sun are horribly effective. But prior to her human torching Sarah does look truly beautiful in Buffy’s wedding dress. As she does later on in her prom dress.

Xander, Cordy and Cordy’s prom dress.

Giles’s exasperation with Wesley over Cordelia.

The awards ceremony at the Prom and Buffy being given her unexpected ‘Class Protector’ award by the Prom Committee – as represented by Jonathan. This could so easily have been extremely corny and daft. But luckily it is written, performed and directed with restraint and with genuine heart and doesn’t for a moment go in for needless sentimentality. It is simply a beautifully poigniant and perfectly charming scene. And it works because we all know that Buffy has truly earned this. And also it plays a major role in allowing to happen what needs to happen in the season finale. It’s emotional and character driven but also plot driven as well.

Buffy gets her one perfect high school moment right at the end, though it is tinged with sadness with the knowledge that all things – school, relationships, (favourite TV shows) etc. - come to an end.

WHY IT SUCKS

The hellhound plot serves as nothing but a functional element to add some action and monster mayhem to the story, though you could argue it hammers home the award Buffy gets and that people have noticed her and do appreciate her.

The hellhounds look rubbish. Just guys in silly rubber costumes prancing around on all fours.

For a guy who’s been around 240-plus years Angel sure can be a thoughtless inept tool at times. His timing for dumping Buffy is truly terrible. Couldn’t he have at least waited until after the Ascension as odds on they’d all die anyway so problem solved? Yeah, I know this wouldn’t have worked well dramatically or plot-wise seeing as how it has to be set up that Angel is leaving for his own series. But still, you can’t help but curse the guy for doing what he does when he does.

IT’S BUFFTASTIC

Buffy becomes ‘Class Protector’ in one of the series’ most perfect scenes.


DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR

Anya (asking Xander to the Prom): “Men are evil. Will you go with me?”
Xander: “One of us is very confused, and I honestly don't know which.”
Anya: "Look, I know you find me attractive; I've seen you looking at my breasts."
Xander: "Nothing personal, but when a guy does that, it just means his eyes are open."

Giles (to Buffy regarding her break-up with Angel): "I understand this sort of thing requires ice cream of some kind."

Giles (to Wesley, regarding Cordelia): "For God's sake, man, she's eighteen. And you have the emotional maturity of a blueberry scone. Just have at it, would you? And stop fluttering about."

Buffy (to the gang, determined): “I'm gonna give you all a nice, fun, normal evening if I have to kill every person on the face of the Earth to do it.”
Xander (looking worried): “Yay?”

Jonathan: “We have one more award to give out. Is Buffy Summers here tonight? Did she....um...This is actually a new category. First time ever. I guess there were a lot of write in ballots and the prom committee asked me to read this. "We're not good friends. Most of us never found the time to get to know you. But that doesn't mean we haven't noticed you. We don't talk about it much, but it's no secret that Sunnydale High isn't really like other high schools. A lot of weird stuff happens here."”
Student: “Zombies!”
Student: “Hyena people!”
Student: “Snyder”
Jonathan (continuing): "But whenever there was a problem or something creepy happened, you seemed to show up and stop it. Most of the people here have been saved by you. Or helped by you at one time or another. We're proud to say that the class of '99 has the lowest mortality rate of any graduating class in Sunnydale history. And we know that at least part of that is because of you. So the senior class offers its thanks and gives you, uh... this." It's from all of us. And it has written here, Buffy Summers — Class Protector.”

AND ANOTHER THING

The movies that Tucker used to train the hellhounds were: Prom Night, Pump Up the Volume (which Seth Green and Juliet Landau were in), Prom Night IV, Pretty in Pink, The Club, and Carrie.

Buffy's wedding dress in Angel’s dream was designed by famous fashion designer Vera Wang.

Sarah didn't actually get to go to her own prom. She was at the Emmy Awards instead.

The lovely song that Buffy and Angel dance to at the end is called Wild Horses and is performed by The Sundays (available on the first Buffy the Vampire Slayer soundtrack). It is actually a cover of a song by The Rolling Stones.

HOW MANY STAKES?

It’s all very PROMising for the big finale. 3.5 (out of 5)

Friday, 24 June 2011

MOVIES: COOL MUTANTS, PSYCHO MOTHERS, KILLER KIDS AND A DETECTIVE DOG

HANNA

Saoirse Ronan is Hanna, the teenage super assassin raised in a forest who's eventually unleashed in to the world by her rogue spy daddy Eric Bana so that she can learn the truth about her dead mother, herself and life in general. Joe (Atonement) Wright crafts a strange yet compelling fairytale/action thriller /coming of age story following Hanna as she makes friends, busts heads and tries to avoid cruel and cold-hearted Cate Blanchett as a wicked stepmother type who wants Hanna dead in order to keep certain secrets buried. Blanchett and Bana are great as always but with her white hair and pale skin, Ronan is just superb as the deceptively delicate, wonderfully odd, viciously brutal, yet vulnerable and sweetly innocent Hanna. The pulsing Chemical Brothers score is also immensely effective. An original spin on a familiar tale. 4 (out of 5)


X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
Mathew (Kick-Ass) Vaughn directs this utterly brilliant 1960’s set prequel to Bryan Singer’s fantastic X-Men and X2 with James McAvoy as a young Prof. X meeting up with Michael Fassbender’s Nazi hunting Magneto to stop evil Kevin Bacon from starting World War 3. Rich in story and character, X-Men: First Class is a slick and exciting superhero action adventure with genuine heart and soul as well as some pulse quickening action and mighty fine spectacle. The entire cast is great but the never better Fassbender is the real star here. The A list awaits him. So, forget the barely adequate X-Men: The Last Stand and the godawful X-Men origins: Wolverine, this one’s the real X deal. 5 (out of 5)


MOTHER’S DAY
Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw 2, 3, 4) directs this decidedly nasty, violent, sadistic remake of a dodgy 80’s horror flick. Rebecca DeMornay is the psycho mother who along with her three sons and one daughter invade the home of a young couple in search of a stash of hidden money. Murder and bloody torture follow as mother is convinced the homeowners are holding out on her and her nutty, nasty brood. Mother’s Day is a well-made film and quite a gruelling watch. It has a good cast (especially DeMornay) and explores familiar themes of family, loyalty and the extremes people can go to given the right circumstances. It’s a bit too long and a bit too torture porn for my tastes but overall Mother’s Day is an intense and reasonably interesting affair. 3 (out of 5)


DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT

Brandon Routh is Dylan Dog, a private detective secretly charged with keeping the supernatural denizens of New Orleans in check. When a young woman hires Dylan to find out what killed her father and why, he is drawn in to a supernatural conspiracy which could mean the end for all human kind. Based upon a popular comic book from Italy, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night is, according to the book’s fans, a total travesty. Now I’ve never read the comic so I can’t judge. What I can say is that this movie is a very cheap, very silly, monster movie romp. I found it to be perfectly acceptable, good natured fun - thanks mostly to its goofy tone, the easy low key charm of Routh (who should still be Superman) and the evocative New Orleans location. Okay, so the effects are often laughably poor, the overall story utterly predictable and by the numbers, and Sam Huntingdon as Dylan’s recently zombiefied friend intensely annoying. Stop SHOUTING! But you know what? I enjoyed it. Sue me. It's a cheap, cheesy, silly, B movie monster mash-up. Don’t put this Dog down just yet. 3 (out of 5)


GREEN LANTERN
Martin Campbell’s mega budget space opera/superhero adventure stars Ryan Reynolds as the power ring wielding intergalactic peacekeeper in glowy green tights. Now, this is a great looking movie for sure. It’s glossy as all hell. Problem is the script is clunky and muddled and stuffed to the gills with bad dialogue. The structure and pacing is also totally off with the film feeling as if important chunks are missing while other often dull and unimportant stuff just grinds on and on. The action works well for the most part (love the dogfight near the start) and the space-set stuff is actuallly pretty darn cool. Also Reynolds is a great leading man. He brims with likeable charisma even when he's being a cocky git. It’s just a shame more care wasn’t taken in the writing. Not as awful as most critics would have us believe, Green Lantern is a solidly watchable effort with real flashes of greatness that are sadly overshadowed by quite a bit of shoddiness. A shame. 3 (out of 5)


EDEN LAKE
Michael Fassbender (him again) takes his sweet primary school teacher girlfriend Kelly Reilly to a remote beauty spot for a weekend of camping in order to propose. Unfortunately they run in to a gang of thuggish and thoroughly despicable local teenagers who, after an unfortunate run in with Fassbender, take it upon themselves to hunt down and torture the nice young middle class couple. Eden Lake is a nasty little film. Like Mother’s Day it is a bit too much torture porn for my tastes. But also like Mother’s Day it is well made and has some interesting observations and points to make about society and its attitudes towards children. It also helps that Fassbender is good even if his character does some well stupid things. But cute Kelly Reilly is even better. She gives a very strong and affecting performance as the initially sweet and caring Jenny who’s eventually driven to become the thing she hates most. 3 (out of 5)

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

BUFFY: 3.19 'CHOICES'


Short promo for the episode

WRITER: David Fury
DIRECTOR: James A. Contner

WHAT'S THE SITCH?

Buffy gets good news about her choice of potential colleges. She has been accepted to several including some really good ones and desperately wants to leave town if /when she graduates. Unfortunately new Watcher Wesley is having none of this and tells Buffy she must stay and guard the Hellmouth. If she can stop the coming ascension Buffy believes that she can still go away to school and leave Giles and co to keep the common or garden vamps at bay until she comes back in her college breaks. So with this in mind Buffy becomes proactive and takes the fight to the Mayor. She, Angel and Willow steal from the Mayor the mystical Box of Gavrok, which forms an integral part of his ascension. Problem is Willow goes and gets captured by Faith before she can escape. And so Buffy proposes a swap – the box of Gavrok for Willow. The Mayor accepts. And so the scene is set for a night time covert exchange – a witch for a box. But as the two parties gather at Sunnydale High the box accidentally lets loose a whole bunch of creepy nasties on the gathered foes.

WHAT'S THE SITCH BENEATH THE SITCH?

As with a lot of Buffy episodes the theme is right there in the title. In this episode Buffy and the gang are making decisions about their futures, about where life will take them when school finishes…providing they survive graduation of course. It’s about growing up and moving on. For Buffy and Willow this is all about where to go to college, about them breaking free of their old life. Meanwhile Xander is also limited by not being the academic type. He seems destined for the open road, for the University of Life. And at the same time Angel is starting to wrestle with the huge choice he is soon going to make; a choice brilliantly vocalised by the Mayor when he spells out to both vampire and slayer the hard truth about their relationship.

WHO'S GIVING US THE WIGGINS THIS WEEK?

The Mayor, Faith, and billions of horrid spider things contained in the Box of Gavrok.

WHY IT ROCKS

The theme of choices. It’s an important one especially in this stage of a young person’s life. What they now do when school days are over; where they go; what they try to become; what path to choose in life. For Buffy that path seems set in stone, and though she tries valiantly to take another, she remains firmly on the path marked Sunnydale slayer.

The Mayor. Once again Harry Groener shows us why he is the best Buffy big bad ever. The guy isn’t just plain evil. He has depth and is a complex guy who just can’t help offering fatherly advice and guidance to young people…even ones he intends to kill horribly. And his advice is sound.

Stealing the Box of Gavrok. Buffy goes all Mission: Impossible by being lowered in a harness to snatch the box without setting off alarms. But being Buffy it all goes wrong and some witty fisticuffs soon become needed.

Willow. Willow is great in this episode. She stands up to Faith beautifully, telling her some hard home truths. Also gotta love her using her floaty pencil trick to dust a vamp. Heh.

Faith and her new knife.

Snyder. Armin Shimerman is fab as Principle Snyder. He’s on a drug busting crusade, convinced all his students are using or selling drugs but only finding innocent packed lunches much to his annoyance. Then when he finds Buffy and the gang late at night in the school he thinks he’s hit pay dirt. Unfortunately evil spiders escaping a magical box quickly prove him wrong.

Oz’s reaction to the debate about whether or not to bargain for Willow’s release.

WHY IT SUCKS

Thematically it works fine but the overall story concerning the Box of Gavrok is nothing too special.

IT'S BUFFTASTIC

Willow standing up to Faith.

DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR

Willow: “Hey, I eat danger for breakfast.”
Xander: “But, oddly enough, she panics in the face of breakfast foods.”

Buffy: “Faith's turn to the dark side of the Force pretty much put the proverbial kibosh on any away plans for me.”

Buffy (about Oxford): "That's where they make Gileses."

Buffy: “Unfortunately that's all I could get out of my informant before his aggressive tendencies forced me to introduce him to Mr. Pointy.”

Willow (to Faith): "I know you had a tough life. I know that some people think you had a lot of bad breaks. Well, boo hoo! Poor you."

Principal Snyder (to Buffy and the gang): "You! All of you. Why couldn't you be dealing drugs like normal people?"

AND ANOTHER THING

The City Hall rooftop is the same set used for the library rooftop in season 1 finale ‘Prophecy Girl’.

HOW MANY STAKES?

I choose 3 (out of 5)

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Buffy 3.18 'Earshot'


Short episode promo

WRITER: Jane Espenson
DIRECTOR: Regis Kimble

WHAT'S THE SITCH?

Buffy is out slaying when in the midst of battle with a pair of demons one of them scratches her hand right before it feels the business end of Mr Pointy. Its demon buddy escapes leaving Buff with a really itchy hand. As it turns out Buffy was scratched by a demon that can pass on one of its traits – the so-called Aspect of the Demon. Hearing this from Giles, Buffy starts worrying that she is gonna grow horns or, as Willow points out, if it was a boy demon something more, er, boyish! Buffy quickly discovers that her aspect gained is the ability to hear what everyone around her is thinking. At first this is exciting and fun but it soon becomes painful and debilitating and will lead to eventual insanity unless Giles, Angel and the gang can find a cure. To make matters worse Buffy heard the thoughts of someone at school planning a massacre at Sunnydale High. So the race is on to save Buff from insanity and to identify and stop a potential mass killer.

WHAT'S THE SITCH BENEATH THE SITCH?

Nobody in their right mind would want to be able to know others inner most thoughts. However this episode by the great Jane Espenson tells us that if we could then we’d discover that everyone else is in just as much pain and is just as insecure and messed up as we are. That people ignore others pain is because they are far too busy dealing with their own pain. Of course this is all a bit touchy feely and perhaps over dramatic but it just tells us to not think that other seemingly well adjusted and happy people don’t have their own major issues to deal with. Sure, some more than others. But in the end we’re all human and we all hurt. It’s as simple as that.

WHO'S GIVING US THE WIGGINS THIS WEEK?

An unknown (‘til the very end) potential killer.

WHY IT ROCKS

The concept. It’s a simple and brilliant concept. What would we do and how would life be if we could hear everyone’s inner most thoughts? Sounds fab and really useful. But there would also be a terrible price to pay. Would we really want to know what everyone really thought of us?

The great Jane Espenson ™. This is one of Jane’s best scripts and is typically brilliant work from the lady. Earshot balances smart, tender, thoughtful musings on identity, loneliness and pain with sly social satire and some big laugh out loud comedy.

It’s a mystery. The identity of the potential mass killer is kept secret right to the very end with lots of red herrings thrown in. Early on Xander accidentally identifies the real culprit in a throwaway gag that nobody takes notice of. See? The Xan-man often speaks unwitting truth in jest.

Sarah Michelle Gellar. SMG does a bang up job in this episode. She goes from nervous worry while waiting for her Aspect of the Demon, to gleeful excitement when she realises all the possibilities of her new ‘gift’, to caring thoughtfulness when dealing with a deeply troubled student. And her comedy instincts are great too – witness her hearing the thoughts of boys lusting after her and see how she changes her stance while subtly preening herself. Most amusing.

The funny. Being a Jane Espenson episode Earshot is very, very funny. I totally forgot about the classic scene in the library as Buffy tells her friends about her being able to hear all their thoughts. Of course almost everything Xander thinks about is sex, causing Buffy to look at him with disgust and Xander to then run away in shame. LOL

Cordy. Out of everyone it is Cordy who is least affected by Buffy’s new ability. Simply, everything Cordy thinks she says. She has no internal filter from brain to mouth. Which leads to some big funny.

Giles and the tree. The episode’s final moments sees Buffy revealing to Giles that she now knows he and her mom had sex, on top of a police car, twice. This causes a shocked Giles to walk in to a tree. Heh.

WHY IT SUCKS

The two mouthless demons are particularly rubbery looking monsters. They are okay, but just a bit too rubbery for my tastes.

IT'S BUFFTASTIC

The library mind reading scene. Brilliance of story, theme, character and major league funny coming together as a seamless whole.

DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR

Xander (thinking, panicking): What am I gonna do? I think about sex all the time. Sex. Help! Four times five is thirty. Five times six is thirty-two. Naked girls. Naked women. Naked Buffy. Oh, stop me!
Buffy: “God Xander! Is that all you think about?”
Xander: “Actually...bye!”

Xander (watching the Cheerleaders cheering): “They really are very good.”
Oz: “Their spellings improved.”

Cordelia: “I still have knee marks on my back...[get some looks] from the pyramid.”

Buffy (to Giles): "Sure, we can work out after school. You know, if you're not too busy having sex with my mother!"
Giles (walking into a tree): "Ugh!"


AND ANOTHER THING...

The main plot line of Earshot is about the potential mass killing of students at a U.S. High School by another student. It was a brave subject for Joss and co. to tackle, taking on the possible reasons for such things happening. Unfortunately it was on April 20th 1999 that the awful events at Columbine High School occurred…less than one week before Earshot was due to air. As a result, Joss and the WB pulled the episode out of respect. It was finally aired as a one-off in Sept 1999. There is controversy over whether the ep should have been pulled at all. Apparently the WB were reluctant to ever show it. But cool heads won out and Earshot did eventually get aired. Personally I think the right decision was made. It should have been pulled at the time out of respect. But the episode has something to say about why such terrible events occur and so should indeed be seen by audiences. Luckily there is nothing in the episode to harm the flow of the main season arc so its being pulled in April 99 didn’t effect the overall story of season 3.

How many stakes?

Read my mind… 4.5 (out of 5)

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Stake Land: Horror With Bite



Okay, so this was quite the surprise.

It's the near future and the world has been ravaged by feral vampires. In North America humanity is reduced to pockets of small isolated communities struggling to survive against the blood hungry night walkers as well as against bands of roving religious extremists – basically racists, rapists and other assorted sickos using their own twisted take on religion to justify what they do. Amongst it all, a lone man rescues a boy from a vampire attack that kills his parents, trains him to fight, and takes him on a journey up north, heading for the promised New Eden (i.e. Canada). Along the way, the pair hook up with (and lose) various people, clash with nutters and vamps, and generally try to survive long enough to reach the fabled place of peace.

Before I started watching it I didn’t know what to expect of Stake Land. I hadn't seen the trailer. I just thought it would be some kind of pulpy action/horror flick, like Underworld or John Carpenter’s Vampires.

Not at all.

It turns out that Stake Land has far more in common with the likes of Frank Darabont’s The Mist and The Walking Dead, classic Romero, The Road, Winter’s Bone and the recent Monsters.

Like the best horror or genre films, Stake Land is all about people. It's a slow burn tale whose primary themes are of family, parenting, and the dangers of religious extremism, but also of faith and sacrifice. Though critical of religion, faith is still very much at the heart of this story with the whole journey north being one baased on pure faith. After all, the destination is called New Eden. But this feels more like a faith in people and humanity than in any supernatural force.

The film's direction by Jim Mickle is gritty and naturalistic. Great use is made of the rugged, desolate and worn-down locations (very Winter’s Bone) with the photography equally effective being drained of almost all colour and warmth. The tone of the piece is deadly serious, unrelentingly grim and uncomfortably chilly. Dialogue is sparse with long stretches of silence. The emphasis here is on mood and on theme.

The cast, all very good, includes an almost unrecognisable Kelly McGillis as an ageing nun, and cute Danielle Harris from the Halloween remake as a pregnant girl the man and boy hook up with.

Though this is an arty, serious genre film, there is still some quality vamp slaying action to be had. Much of the action comes often in short, sharp, violent bursts with my personal fave being the religious nutters using helicopters to drop live vamps in to the midst of a small community’s night-time party, thus causing utter bloody mayhem.

In short, if you like your horror films to be smart and more than just monsters and mayhem, then give Stake Land a go. It's not perfect and may be too dour and fun-free for many, but I was completely hooked. 4 (out of 5)

Movies: From Anime to Foos to Fairytales

SUMMER WARS
Summer Wars Pictures, Images and Photos

Summer Wars is a 2009 Japanese anime film directed by Mamoru Hosoda who previously made the critically acclaimed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

Kenji is a school kid and math genius who is taken by fellow student Natsuki to stay at her huge family home miles from the city to celebrate her grandmother's 90th birthday. However, while there, Kenji is falsely implicated in the hacking of a virtual world called Oz by an artificial intelligence. Oz is the biggest single media environment on the planet, a place where billions of people have accounts and avatars, where governments and businesses have as much a presence as they do in the real world. As the AI gradually takes over Oz, causing world-wide chaos, Kenji joins forces with Natsuki’s extended and connected family to repair the damage done and to find a way to stop the artificial intelligence before it ruins the entire world, both virtual and real.

Summer Wars is an odd film. Being anime that’s kind of a given, I know. But I’ve never before seen a movie that is part smart and affecting family drama, part high school comedy/romance, part virtual reality cyber actioner, part global apocalypse, part conspiracy thriller. But Summer Wars melds all of these competing genres in to a sweet, smart, watchable and winning whole. The animation is great with the beautiful rural backdrops of the family home merging seamlessly with the weird and manga-ish styles of Oz. But what really makes this work is that amidst all the weirdness and cyber action, Summer Wars is at heart a story about family and how families band together in times of need. The story may be bonkers but the characters and their motivations are all down to earth and relatable. You can’t help but cheer Kenji on in his fight as well as feel a longing to be part of a family like the Jinnouchi family, one so big, yet so close and loyal, and governed over by the wise and strong as steel grandma.

Being a tad too long and probably a bit too odd for most western movie watchers, Summer Wars remains a smart, fun and sweetly human slice of Japanese sci fi. 4 (out of 5)



RED RIDING HOOD

Twilight director Catherine Hardwick delivers a good looking film with a good cast including Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Virginia Madsen, Billy Burke and Julie Christie. But ultimately the film fails because all it is is just another dull teenage love triangle thing with the only interesting plot thread being Amanda trying to figure out the identity of the werewolf terrorising her village. But even that mystery is, sadly, not very mysterious or interesting. Plus the film is not scary at all with the werewolf itself just a large and utterly unconvincing CGI blob.

Now, I love classic fairytales. And I love seeing them reinterpreted. Joss Whedon did some great stuff on Buffy. More recently Steven Moffat has done a great job turning Doctor Who in to a modern fairytale. Unfortunately this particular telling of Red Riding Hood is far more concerned with being a Twilight-esque teen love story than it is with exploring the themes and meanings behind classic fairytales. It just made me want to go watch Neil Jordan's brilliant The Company of Wolves again, a film based on the works of Angela Carter that explored the meanings behind this old story, making it weird, sexually enticing and nightmarishly beautiful.

In the end, Catherine Hardwick's Red Riding Hood is mildly diverting tosh, if only for pretty Amanda and the pretty set designs and photography. But ultimately it's a pointless, toothess, hollow, slice of teen pap that does nothing with its fairytale aspirations. A shame. 2.5 (out of 5)



FOO FIGHTERS: BACK AND FORTH

It’s easy to forget just what an awesome band the Foo's are, largely thanks to the ridiculously talented, charismatic, down to earth Dave Grohl. Before watching this I didn't know much about the actual band itself, other than it was Grohl who founded it post-Nirvana. I didn't know, for instance, that the first album was the same tape of songs Dave had written and then recorded all by himself before the band had even been formed. He just called the tape 'Foo Fighters' so people wouldn't know it was him. Then when the band was formed and it came time to release and album he just put out the very same tape. Job done. My fave moment in the doc was seeing Grohl on stage at Wembley in 2008 fighting back tears of amazement at how far they'd come as a band. Great stuff. 4 (out of 5)



UNKNOWN

Liam Neeson goes to Berlin with his wife, has an accident, recovers, but nobody then recognises him to be who he says he is. An impostor is now with his wife, who also swears she doesn’t know him. What’s going on? Cue lots of running around Berlin, car chases and general mystery and mayhem as Liam fights to discover the truth of his identity.

Unknown reminded me of quite a few movies I've seen before. I knew a twist was coming and having seen lots of films like this I managed to work it our pretty quickly, though some of the nuances of what else was going on thankfully remained a surprise. Neeson is great in the lead, and as his unwilling helper, Diane Kruger is pretty good too. As Neeson’s wife, January Jones is lovely and icy (you can see why she was cast as Emma Frost) and veteran actor Bruno Ganz does a great job as an old, world-weary ex-Stazi agent.

Slickly directed with that Euro thriller feel, Warner Bros. and Joel Silver have managed a good impression of a Luc Besson/Europacorp thriller. All in all this is well-made and reasonably compelling tosh. 3 (out of 5)



PRIEST

Post apocalyptic vampire slaying action with Paul Bettany as a rogue warrior priest who heads out of his huge Mega-City, in to the Cursed Earth to rescue his kidnapped niece from a pack of marauding vamps before going on to save his short sighted city from potential vampire destruction. Priest is essentially The Searchers meets Judge Dredd with vampires by way of a Paul (Resident Evil) Anderson film. This is low brow pulp sci fi/horror (nothing wrong with that) adapted from a graphic novel that I’ve never read. The set-up is fine and quite interesting if highly derivative. The FX are pretty good, and the cast, including Bettany, Karl Urban and Maggie Q, all do their bit. This is brainless harmless fun but like Paul Anderson films it tries too hard to be ‘stylish’ (i.e. lots of needless slo mo, editing farts, CGI) instead of being at least a tiny bit smart. Still, it’s miles better than Anderson’s last cinematic abortion Resident Evil: Afterlife and Priest’s director’s own previous effort, the tiresome angel vs. angel flick Legion. 3 (out of 5)