Friday, 20 January 2012


Giles sings Freebird

WRITER: Doug Petrie

DIRECTOR: David Grossman


Buffy gets back from her troubling visit to Angel in LA. Meanwhile Spike, recruited by Adam with the promise of removing his chip, hatches a dastardly plan to weaken the slayer: he intends to separate her from her friends by spreading rumours and lies amongst them. This proves very successful, putting the Scoobies at each others throats. Then Angel turns up, looking to find Buffy to apologise for how things went in LA, but he has a run in with a jealous Riley. Eventually the pair face off in front of Buffy who enforces a peace. She makes things right with Angel, who then leaves for LA. Buffy must then put things right with Riley…and break the news to him that she saw Adam kill his friend Forrest in an earlier run in she had with the big lug, one which Buffy barely survived. Shocked, Riley storms off alone. Later, Scooby Gang infighting comes to a head at Giles’s place (no pun intended) and an angry and distraught Buffy, worried about Riley, walks out on them all, heading off to fight Adam alone. Meanwhile Riley has found Adam, and the two of them, alone, face off.


Complicated relationships, group dynamics, the darker side of human nature – resentment, anger, jealousy. It all comes in to play here. Spike does his part to ferment it but the tensions were already there bubbling away under the surface.


Adam and Spike


Bad Spike. The platinum one gets to have a ton of fun messing with the Scoobies, sewing not-so-subtle seeds of discord amongst them. My personal favourite is how he gets Giles to degenerate in to a sulky drunk with the use of just a few well chosen words – observations about how Buffy treats her one time Watcher. Thing is, Spike is not too far from the truth. What’s best, though, is the one huge flaw in Spike’s plan that Adam identifies near episode’s end. Oops. Poor William.

Miss Kitty Fantastico. Tara and Willow get themselves a kitten who they call Miss Kitty Fantastico. She’s very cute and would make a good familiar. Shame she pretty much disappears after this season.

Angel. Unlike his last visit to Sunnydale, this one is really cool. Angel's fight with the Initiative guys and then with Riley is well done and pretty intense, as is his eventual confrontation with Buffy, after which the pair sorts out their issues and come to a peace. Boreanaz is great. Scowling, long black coat billowing, his brooding intensity is ramped right up to the max. Now THAT’S Angel. Plus his childish smirk to Riley after Buffy appears to take his side is perfect. Angel always had that slightly childish, petulant side to him. Great stuff.

Lots of plot. A ton of stuff happens in this episode. Lots and lots of character dynamics/exploration of relationships. Also a moving forward of Adam’s (still unknown) plan of action which seems to involve getting lots of demons in to the Initiative and also having Buffy lead the fight against them all. There’s not a moment in this ep that isn’t working flat out on character or plot. Nice work Doug Petrie.

Clown pants. Poor Riley is forced in to borrowing some of Xander’s less stylish clothes. Ugh!


Um, nothing I can think of. This episode’s pretty much all-round great.


The current boyfriend and the ex-boyfriend smack down.


Xander (about the clothes he's letting Riley borrow): “Try those on. You'll feel like a new man.”
Riley: “Would this man have a bright red nose and big floppy feet?”

Spike (startling Giles): “You know, for someone who's got "Watcher" on his résumé, you might want to cast an eye to the front door every now and again.”

Anya (hitting Xander in the chest): “You're joining the Army?!”
Xander: “OK. (to Anya) One. Ow! (to Spike) Two. Where'd you get that idea? (to Anya) Three. Ow! (to both) I'm not joining the Army!”

Angel (angrily to Riley): “Don’t test me, boy!”

Buffy (to Riley about Angel): “He's... not bad.”
Riley: “Seriously? That's a good day? Well, there you go. Even when he's good, he's all Mr. Billowy Coat King of Pain, and girls really....”

Willow (fighting with Buffy): “We have to face it, you can't handle Tara being my girlfriend.”
Xander (to Buffy and Willow): “No! It was bad before that! Since you two went off to college and forgot about me. Just left me in the basement to… Tara's your girlfriend?”
Giles (drunk, off camera): “Bloody hell!”


When Spike comes "bursting" into Giles', his reflection can be seen in a mirror behind Tara and Willow. Oops.

That’s really Tony Head playing an acoustic guitar and singing Lynrd Skynrd’s ‘Freebird’ right before he’s rudely interrupted by Spike. This was the second time Giles is caught singing. The first was in ep. 18 ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ when Willow, Xander, Tara and Anya walk in on him singing ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ at the Espresso Pump. Tony Head is a veteran of musical theatre. He had a brief role in Tim Burton’s film of Sweeny Todd (most of it was cut) and had a starring role in Darren Lyn Bouseman’s recent musical horror film Repo: The Genetic Opera.


Spike’s mixing it up. 4.5 (out of 5)

Saturday, 14 January 2012


Willow and Oz’s very first date. Cute. (Ally and Seth circa 1988)

WRITER: Marti Noxon

DIRECTOR: James A. Contner


Just as Willow and Tara are enjoying the flowering of their new romantic relationship, who should suddenly turn up out of the blue but Oz. Yep, good ol’ Oz. The taciturn wolfman is back. He’s been travelling the world searching for a cure for his werewolfism. And he appears to have found it. His reappearance throws poor Willow and obviously crushes an already insecure Tara. Oz, not knowing about Willow and Tara, is looking to get his girl back now that he’s discovered a way to control his beast, to keep it inside. However he soon cottons on to Willow’s new relationship. And an explosion of jealousy releases his savage inner beast. Transforming in to a wolf, Oz chases Tara only to be quickly captured and subdued by Riley and a squad of Initiative soldiers who think he’s the demon who killed one of their men earlier on (he isn’t). Before Tara can tell Riley’s its Oz, the unconscious wolf is carted away. Tara rushes to find Buffy and Willow to tell them what happened. A plan is quickly formed to sneak in to the Initiative and rescue Oz, which the gang manages to do, forcing Riley to finally choose a side.


Oz is back and dealing with his inner beast. So we are back to that beast within metaphor. There is also a potentially abusive relationship angle here as we now realise that anger, jealousy – especially to do with Willow - lets loose Oz’s beast. They have a conversation where Oz says if she ever makes him angry then he could go all animal and hurt her. At least Oz realises the issue and makes responsible decisions. There’s also a theme of bigotry and sexuality. Willow basically comes out to Buffy, telling her about Tara. Initially Buffy is rather shocked and kinda thrown. But she soon recovers and gives her friend the support she needs. Later, when discussing with Riley about Oz being a werewolf, and seeing shocked Riley’s reaction to Willow having been involved with such a creature, Buffy gets angry at Riley’s apparent bigotry. She rightly says that love isn’t always clean and simple. You love who you love. Though I suspect Buffy is angrier at her own initial reaction to Willow confiding in her as well as also reflecting on her own past relationship with Angel.


Oz I guess, with the Initiative guys having a good try.


The script. Marti Noxon wrote an emotional rollercoaster. Poor Willow. Poor Tara. Poor Oz. People are gonna get hurt. And hurt they do indeed get.

The themes. As discussed in the ‘What’s the sitch beneath the sitch?’ section, the themes are strong and pretty effective without ever beating the audience over the head.

Oz. Yay! Seth Green returns for his penultimate ever appearance on Buffy to tie up the loose ends left hanging after his rather hasty departure earlier in the season. And as always he’s great. It’s good to see a slightly new side to the character – a pent up aggression which is totally against type.

Willow. Alyson Hannigan is truly excellent. Poor Willow is put through the emotional wringer, not knowing what to do, not wanting to hurt anyone. Her last scene with Oz in his van is wonderful as is her sad little speech to him, perfectly written by Marti Noxon. Her final scene with Tara is equally good and oh so sweet.

Tara. Amber Benson does strong work. You can see her heart starting to break when Oz turns up. She has to make you believe that Willow would want to be with her. And she does. Tara is sweet, gentle and willing to put everyone else’s needs before her own.


As always, werewolf Oz looks rubbish. Hairy monkey time again.

I’m not quite sure why the Initiative guys would believe that Buffy would really kill their general when she’s holding him hostage. Everything they know of her would tell them she’s bluffing. Hey ho.

Oz has been gone for about five and a half months. He seems to have travelled an awful long way and seen a lot of remote parts of the world in that time. Not impossible, just a bit improbable.


Willow and Oz’s final goodbye


Riley: “OK, I'm up less than a minute and somehow I've managed to piss you off.”

Buffy: “You mean Tara has a crush on Oz? No, you — oh. Oh. Um... Well... That's great. You know, I mean, I think Tara is a really great girl, Will.”
Willow: “She is. And... there's something between us. It wasn't something I was looking for. It's just powerful. And it's totally different from what Oz and I have.”
Buffy: “Well, there you go. I mean, you know, you have to follow your heart, Will. And that's what important, Will.”
Willow: “Why do you keep saying my name like that?”
Buffy: “Like what, Will?”
Willow: “Are you freaked?”
Buffy: “What? No, Will, don't — (regains her composure) No. No, absolutely no to that question. I'm glad you told me.”

Adam: “Scout's honour.”
Spike: “You were a Boy Scout?”
Adam: “Parts of me.”

Oz: “It was stupid to think that you'd just be... waiting.”
Willow: “I was waiting. I feel like some part of me will always be waiting for you. Like if I'm old and blue-haired and I turn the corner in Istanbul, and there you are. I won't be surprised... Because you're with me, you know?”


In the original script Emma Caulfield was listed with the regulars for the first time, though she wasn’t yet added to the opening credits.


Return of the Wolfman. 4 (out of 5)

Friday, 13 January 2012


Giles singing ‘Behind Blue Eyes’

WRITER: Tracey Forbes

DIRECTOR: David Solomon


Buffy and Riley are caught up in the passion of their relationship, looking for any chance to ‘be together’. Meanwhile Xander and Anya are rowing because after not having had sex for two nights Anya thinks the spark has gone and they are going to break up. Later, at a party at Riley’s frat house, Buffy and Riley take to his room and engage in non stop lovemaking, while in the rest of the house psychic energy left behind by abused and deeply troubled teenagers begins to manifest, trapping and scaring the partygoers as it starts tearing the house apart. Xander, Anya and Willow escape, but Buffy and Riley are still inside, trapped in endless, oblivious, psychically powered lovemaking which will eventually kill them…


It’s all about sex, baby, yeah! Or more appropriately, it’s about natural passion, how we express it, how we can be caught up in it, become lost in it. And how serious sexual repression can end up being just as destructive as over indulgence.


Mrs. Holt, the creepy old religious nutter who abused the kids in her care.


Theme. It’s an interesting theme to explore – the potentially destructive power of both sexual passion and repression, two sides of the same coin.

Spike. He’s funny. Showing up at the party with Anya…then realising it’s full of Initiative guys. Silly boy. His offered then quickly retracted offer to help Xander rescue a trapped Buffy and Riley is also most amusing.

Giles sings. Willow, Tara and Xander go to find Giles…at the Espresso Pump playing a guitar and singing ‘Behind Blue Eyes’, much to Xander’s horror. Tony Head does a great job singing a great song. Xander’s horror is totally unjustified. The open mouthed look on Willow’s face is priceless though, as is her admission that she used to have a crush on the G man.

Nice FX. The physical and visual FX used to show the destruction of the house are pretty good, especially the mystical tentacles and vines that invade it, shutting off Riley and Buffy from the rest of the house.

Anya. She’s always great. Here her lack of understanding of how human romantic relationships work, especially in the first passion fuelled few weeks and months, is funny. Her assumption that hers and Xander’s relationship is now over because they haven’t had sex for a couple of days is chucklesome and leads to much confusion and anger on her count. And Xander’s.


Nothing really sucks. It’s a solid episode. It’s just nothing special.

Anya’s hand. At one point Anya has her hand run through by a nasty vine. She seems to shrug it off and it is soon forgotten. Um, if that happened to a normal human (which Anya now is) it would be a pretty major trauma, probably needing surgery, or at least a lot of stitches. Plus, y’know, painful!

When Spike realises he doesn't want to go into Lowell house to save Buffy and Riley, his reflection can be seen first in the window and then, even more clearly, in the glass door.


Giles singing and Willow’s reaction. Cute. (see vid at top)


Anya (after Spike tries scaring her): “Oh now, come on! You're not even bumpy anymore.”
Spike (feeling his forehead): “Oh. I was just a minute ago. Hang on, get me mad again.”

Spike (entering the Lowell House party with Anya): “Hey... I know these guys from somewhere.”
Anya: “Initiative soldiers. They live here. Experiments happen in the lab under the house — that's where they kept you and put in your chip. Let's have fun!”
Spike: “What are you doing? You brought me here?”
Xander: “Anya? What are you doing? You brought him here?”
Spike: “That's what I said, only I hit the "here" part.”

Anya (upset, to Xander): “I'm just trying to tell you that we have nothing in common besides both of us liking your penis, and now I don't even have that!”


Not too wild. 2.5 (out of 5)

Sunday, 8 January 2012


Episode promo

WRITER: Jane Espenson
DIRECTOR: David Grossman


When Buffy and her friends encounter a nest of vampires, the slayer gets nervous, fearing she’ll be unable to handle that many vampires at once. Her friends agree, not having much faith in the Chosen One. So they turn to the one man they know can help them; the all round Mr Wonderful; the world famous…Jonathan Levinson. Yes, little geek Jonathan is somehow the worlds most famous and beloved man. He’s a miracle. He invented the Internet, starred in The Matrix, is a best-selling author and musician, advises the military and best of all, is the greatest killer of vampires and demons ever. The world worships him. As do Buffy and her friends. And Jonathan does indeed help them kill the vamps. But later on that evening, a nasty monster with a distinctive symbol on its head mauls a young girl, a superfan of Jonathan’s he met earlier on. Jonathan seems unusually evasive and unconcerned, trying to dissuade a suspicious Buffy from investigating the beast. Unfortunately the monster shows up again and attacks poor Tara, who only just survives. So Buffy decides to take the initiative (no pun intended) and hunt down and kill the monster with or without Jonathan’s help. She is also determined to get to the bottom of what the short superstar is hiding from them all.


I guess it’s about wanting to be someone you’re not. Wanting to be popular and successful without actually having to work at it. By taking an easy shortcut.


A creepy monster that savages people and seems linked somehow to superstar Jonathan. Oh, and a few assorted vamps.


Jane Espenson. Superstar is a Jane Espenson script so it’s well written and amusing.

Theme. It works quite well I guess. I see it more as a comment on the modern celebrity/get famous fast culture without actually having to do anything to earn it. Jonathan makes people believe he’s famous for good reason, though really he isn’t. He’s just so desperate to be popular. Like lots of so-called celebrities these days.

Danny Strong. Recurring Buffy background actor Danny Strong gets to have a starring role this week as one-time geek Jonathan. His previous Buffy role of any size was in the season 3 episode Earshot where, at the end of the episode, Buffy stopped him from killing himself. And here he does a great job. He pulls off a super smart, super suave performance as superstar Jonathan. It’s only really when we see him at episode’s end reverted back to normal nerdy Jonathan that we realise what a bang up job he did. Luckily Jonathan will stay a recurring character in Buffy taking a more prominent role in season six. Nice one, Danny.

Anya. Emma Caulfield is hilarious as Anya. The scene where Buffy turns up at Xander’s to find Anya alone and Anya reluctantly letting her in to wait for Xander is most amusing, as is Anya’s explanations about alternate realities including a world without shrimp. Love her.

The opening titles. 'Superstar' is the only episode of Buffy where the title sequence was re-cut as a one-off, here inserting lots of heroic shots of Jonathan.


It’s a potentially good idea. But, for me at least, it doesn’t really work. The ‘A’ story is simply not strong enough (no pun intended). Luckily the more interesting stuff is the ongoing fallout between Buffy and Riley after Riley’s unwitting liaison with Faith. Throughout this episode the couple works through their mutual issues of trust and hurt (with Jonathan’s help) and end the episode stronger than ever.

The rubbery monster created as a consequence of Jonathan’s spell is a bit rubbish.

Alternate realities have been done before on Buffy (The Wish) but this one seems a bit muddled as Jonathan has altered our reality and not created a whole new one ala Cordelia and Anya in The Wish. Quite how far it extends and how it works is not very clear.


Anya and her world without shrimp…or world with nothing but shrimp.


Spike (to Buffy): “Yeah, back off, Betty!”
Buffy: “It's Buffy! You big, bleached... stupid guy.”

Anya (trying to give Buffy a pep talk): “Oh, buck up you! You kill the best! Go you! Kill, kill.”

Buffy: “Anya, tell them about the alternate universes.”
Anya: “Oh, okay. Um... say you really like shrimp a lot. Or we could say you don't like shrimp at all. "Blah, I wish there weren't any shrimp," you'd say to yourself —“
Buffy: “Stop! You're saying it wrong.”

Buffy: “I think that Jonathan may be doing something so that he's manipulating the world, and we're all like his pawns.”
Anya: “Or prawns.”
Buffy: “Stop with the shrimp! I am trying to do something here!”

Giles (after Xander reads out a spell in Latin, setting the book on fire): “Xander, don't speak Latin in front of the books.”


The Jonathan comic books shown in ‘Superstar’ were made specifically to use in this episode by Dark Horse comics, the same company that (in real life) publishes the Buffy comics. Later on, Jane Espenson went and actually wrote a Jonathan mini series for Dark Horse, which was published not long after this episode aired.

Brad Kane, the real voice of Jonathan's singing at The Bronze, played Tucker, trainer of the Hell Hounds, in ‘The Prom.’ Brad was also the singing voice of Aladdin in the Disney movie.


Superstar? Super…okay. 2.5 (out of 5)

Sunday, 1 January 2012


cinema Pictures, Images and Photos

It’s that time again.

After some not so careful consideration here’s my favourite and most loathed movies of 2011 plus a brief look at the coolest flicks for 2012.

So here goes…


10. Captain America: The First Avenger

This position was a toss up between Cap and Thor, Marvel’s two in house produced entries in to this year’s summer movie season. Both were excellent with Kenneth Branagh doing a bang up job bringing the God of Thunder to life. However I marginally preferred Cap as it hit my geek buttons slightly more. It’s the 1940’s WW2 setting, the genuinely sweet romance between Steve Rogers and hot English agent Peggy Carter, the uncredited Joss Whedon rewrite (you can tell in places) and that killer ending, plus the teaser for Joss’s The Avengers after the end credits. Kudos to director Joe Johnston and star Chris Evans et al for handling potentially silly and corny material with wit, warmth and a steady hand. Make mine Marvel.

9. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Tomas (Let the Right One In) Alfredson’s adaptation of John le Carre’s 1970’s spy thriller is a beautifully written, acted and directed film with a refreshingly adult tone. It’s a complex, slow burn film that requires patience, attention and a certain level of intelligence from its audience. As much as I love my fun/escapist movie entertainment it is a welcome relief to go and see something now and again that is unapolagetically adult and demanding of its audience. A smart, thoughtful and engrossing film packed with great acting turns from Gary Oldman as lead George Smiley, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy.

8. Sucker Punch

Haters be gone! Zack Snyder’s pop video/video game/musical/art house movie is a thematically rich and visually stunning delight featuring his usual bravura explosion of cutting edge-and-beyond filmmaking techniques. It’s like Inception meets Shawshank Redemption meets Girl, Interrupted by way of all sorts of hyper stylised video games and fevered fantasies. Sucker Punch is a much maligned and misunderstood feast for the eyes as well as for the brain, if only the lazy and the thick could be bothered to dig a little deeper. Covering thematic areas such as the objectification and abuse of women, it kinda makes for a weird companion piece to Lucky McKee’s The Woman (see below). Wicked stuff.

7. The Woman

Lucky McKee writes and directs only his third major film (after May and The Woods), working once again with his muse and good luck charm, actress Angela Bettis. The Woman is a brutal, shocking, disturbing but brilliant treaties on the way women can be viewed and treated by men. In the film, a feral woman is captured in the forest by the brutal father of a family and kept locked in a shed where she becomes the object of the father’s and his son’s fascination/anger/desire. The father wants to ‘train’ The Woman in to becoming more human, more of what he believes a woman should be – compliant, grateful, subservient – the way he has ‘trained’ his downtrodden wife (Bettis) and teenage daughter. Secrets and brutality reign in this isolated family. But those secrets are about to come out. And the Woman is looking to get loose. McKee is a smart director, unflinching in what he does, what he shows. Angela Bettis is great as always as the poor mother, but it is Sean Bridgers as the vile father and statuesque one-time model Pollyanna McIntosh as The Woman who stun. Hard viewing for sure, but a great film none-the-less.

6. Hugo

Martin Scorsese takes a break from gangsters and thrillers to make a film about a young orphan boy in 1930’s Paris looking to make one last desperate connection with his dead father. Hugo is about several things – family, friendship, our place in the world, how everyone effects everyone else in some way, about the importance of stories to humankind. Most of all, though, Hugo is a love letter to cinema itself, to its origins, its history, its power in unleashing imagination, in lighting up the world. This is all hung on the backbone of a fun and glorious looking kids adventure as young Hugo (the excellent Asa Butterfield) and new best friend Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) try to recover Hugo’s father’s notebook and repair an old clockwork automaton. Scorsese recreates 30’s Paris as a wondrous retro city of lights, full of great gothic buildings, high towers, sweeping snowy vistas. It looks amazing. He also uses 3D in possibly the best way I’ve yet seen it used. It serves as an intrinsic part of the story. Seeing how Hugo is about cinema and its progression, then 3D becomes the latest aspect of that. And Scorsese uses the extra dimension to dizzying effect in some scenes and in some truly weird and cool ways in others. It’s the one film this year I’d say that you must see in 3D if at all possible so it can tell its story properly. Everything about Hugo is brilliant, technically, artistically, and thematically. It might just be my favourite Scorsese picture yet. Way to go, Marty!

5. Super 8

JJ Abrams writes and directs this late 1970’s set homage to all things Spielberg and Amblin as a group of small town kids get together one summer to make a horror movie before events intervene to set them on a scary real life adventure. The story itself may not be very original but, as always, it is the telling of the story that counts. The core of Super 8 is the kids and their relationships with each other and with their parents. Great genre pieces aren’t really about monsters or spaceships etc. they are about people, about life, about how we live our lives. And that’s what Super 8 is. It’s a film about childhood, about friendship, about kids relating to, and dealing with parents, and vice versa. And the kids here are outstanding. They act and sound like real kids, not the usual super sweet or overly adult Hollywood kids we usually get. They are real. They are recognisable. Super 8 is a smart, scary, touching, beautifully made ode to a time gone by.

4. Tangled

Tangled is a joy from start to finish. It's a laugh-out-loud funny and immensely charming CG animation from Disney based upon the classic story of Rapunzel. The character animation here is nothing short of astounding and the warm, sharp script crackles and zings with wit while Zachary Levi, Mandy Moore and Donna Murphy are all pitch perfect in their voice roles. This was almost as big a surprise as last year’s How to Train Your Dragon. I can’t emphasise enough how awesome this film looks as well as the razor sharpness of its script and its performances. Too good for kids, do yourself a favour and see it, preferably in HD. Even the songs are good.

3. Drive

Well now, I didn’t see this one coming. Ryan Gosling is a loner Hollywood stunt driver and mechanic by day/wheelman for villains by night who gets close to his cute neighbour (Carey Mulligan) and her kid. But when Mulligan’s husband comes out of prison and is targeted by vicious gangsters, Gosling offers to help him by driving for a job that will clear the father’s debts. Of course it all goes horribly wrong, putting Gosling, the mother and her kid in terrible danger. Cue lots of car chases, blood, death and tears. Drive is an odd film. But a brilliant film. Its oddball director Nicolas Winding-Refyn has described it as an existential, noir action thriller. I’m not sure I know what that means. To me, Drive is basically a western. Gosling’s character has no name, being referred to simply as the Driver. He’s a gifted troubled loner who, like in Shane etc. steps in to help save a family from dastardly outlaws. The story is simple, brutal, touching and utterly compelling. And the car chases are realistic and brilliantly shot. The film also looks fantastic with a sleek, dark, gritty look. And the performances are also excellent, especially the always wonderful and luminous Mulligan and a genuinely nasty turn by Albert Brooks. Winding-Refyn previously made the bonkers Bronson and the boring as hell Valhalla Rising. Drive is not bonkers and is far from boring. See it.

2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Let’s face it, this had the potential to be utter crap…just like Tim Burton’s 2001 Apes remake. Wisely though, Fox opted for a prequel/reboot, hired some good writers, a strong, visionary director and somehow allowed him get on and make the film he wanted to make. Oh yeah, they also hired Weta to do the FX (big thumbs up) and Andy Serkis to play lead chimp Caesar (bigger thumbs up). The end result is Brit director Rupert Wyatt, in only his second feature, knocking it out of the park. ROTPOTA is brilliant! It’s an intelligent scifi thriller, a cautionary tale about what we do to our environment and to other species. It’s also just a damn good, old fashioned, revolt/underdog strikes back adventure ala Spartacus and numerous prison escape films. Caesar is simply a great character as played by Serkis. Following his life and his rise to power is mesmerising and thrilling. And not once do Wyatt and co. drop the ball. The build up has been so strong that the eventual Apes vs. humans showdown is stunning, reaching a skin tingling pinnacle in Caesar’s spoken roar of protest. A great movie then, and a more than worthy addition to one of the greatest scifi franchises of all time. Go Ape!

1. X-Men: First Class

How the hell did this happen? How did Fox, a studio well known for big budget summer cockups, make my two favourite films of the year? The world has gone mad. Anyway, it happened, so there. Just so you know, I bloody love this movie. I love the X-Men anyway, especially Bryan Singer’s two movies. Forgetting that naff Brett Ratner effort and the risible Wolverine thing, X-Men First Class proves to be the right and proper successor to Singer’s X-Men and X2. In fact, Mr Singer came back and was producer here. Thank God! Mathew (Kick-Ass) Vaughn is now the director for this utterly brilliant 1960’s set prequel to Singer’s fantastic X-Men and X2. James McAvoy is a young Prof. X who meets up with Michael Fassbender’s Nazi hunting Magneto and together they must try to stop evil ex-Nazi 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. 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.

The best of the rest (in no particular order):

Thor - Marvel-ous God of Thunder
Hanna - Fairytale teen assassin goes a killin’
True Grit - Jeff Bridges does grizzled in the Cohen Bros. fantastic remake.
M:I-4 - See Tom run, see Tom hang from tall buildings.
Attack the Block – Heroic hoodies vs. nasty alien beasties.
Super – scary psycho vigilante and his even scarier sidekick bash in skulls.
The King’s Speech – Royal stuttering becomes feel good drama.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil – two misunderstood rednecks try to survive a bunch of lunatic college kids.
A Lonely Place to Die – Melissa George tries to save a child from kidnappers in the Scottish mountains.
Stakeland – Grim survival in a post-apocalyptic vampire filled USA.

The top three new-to-me films I saw in 2011 which weren't released in 2011 (And yes, it's a Ghibli fest)

3. My Neighbour Totoro

Hayao Miyazaki’s utterly captivating and charming story of childhood innocence, freedom and imagination. If you don’t watch this with a big ‘ol smile on your face then you have a heart of stone. It’s fun, it’s imaginative, and it’s immensely sweet in a totally unsentimental way. There’s no bad guys, no violence, just a whole bucket load of kindness towards, and admiration for, the free and innocent spirit of young children. A joyful family classic from Studio Ghibli.

2. Grave of the Fireflies

In total contrast to Totoro we have this utterly devastating animated film (animated but not produced by Ghibli) telling the story of a young orphan boy and his little sister struggling to survive in devastated WW2 Japan. Grave of the Fireflies is powerful, affecting filmmaking that delivers more than one emotional gut punch to its audience. It sits up their alongside the likes of Schindler’s List as one of THE most effective attacks on the horrors of war being inflicted upon the most innocent. A hard watch. A great film.

1. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Hayao Miyazaki’s awesome 1984 scifi/Eco adventure tells of a far future Earth and a young princess in a hidden valley having to save her people from ever encroaching poisonous jungles, huge vicious beasts, and warring tribes of humans in mechanised flying fortresses. James Cameron obviously nicked loads of this for Avatar and has admitted to being a big fan. Miyazaki’s film is the superior one though. The story here is more complex, more layered, richer in theme and character than Cameron’s film. It also looks amazing.


5. The Chronicles of Narnia: the Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Boy, Michael Apted sure knows how to make a dull movie. Not content with sending Bond fans in to boredom induced comas with the rubbish (except for the ace pre-credit sequence) The World is Not Enough, he then went and did the same to kiddie winkies the world over with this flat, dull, episodic, horrifically blatant Christian propaganda trash. There’s no proper story, just some random arsing about on the water before that bloody lion turns up again at the end. Somebody please kill this franchise.

4. Shark Night 3D

A boring, bloodless, boobless, pointless exploitation movie with no sodding exploitation. What a waste of 80 mins. A bunch of sharks are let loose in a salt-water lake to munch on a bunch of bland, annoying teens. Utter rubbish. If you want some quality fishy exploitation fun then see Piranha 3D instead. Now THAT’S how you do it.

3. Season of the Witch

Yay! The bottom five wouldn’t seem right without Nicolas Cage. And this putrid turd fits the bill nicely. I can’t even remember why I hated it so much, only that I did. I recall vague flashes of anger at the way the film depicted the witch of the title and how bloody dumb and annoying the story and characters were. Anyway, it sucked.

2. The Howling Reborn

Some bright spark decided to reboot the long dead Howling franchise by turning it in to a quasi-Twilight effort set in a swanky American private school. DOH! So here we get an annoying teenage boy moping around the place, giving uber-pretentious voiceovers of absurd irony-free self-analytical dialogue you wouldn’t even hear in the worst episode of Dawson’s Creek. This is all because said bland and mopey teen boy feels like an outsider and has a yearning love thang going on for an equally bland and mopey teen girl. Soon though, mopey boy and girl get together and get caught up in some shit about a long lost werewolf mommy coming back to reclaim her kid. Yikes! This is Howling PG-13 for the kids. The werewolf FX are actually ok (when we finally see them) but blood and gore is almost non-existent, as are any scares, tension, or genuine depth to the shitty story. The really annoying thing is that this obviously had some sort of budget to it. It actually looks pretty good with good locations, glossy/gritty photography, nice helicopter shots of cityscapes, a decent score, and some pretty decent FX. It’s just a shame the script is terrible and the director utterly clueless. Bad wolf!

1. My Soul To Take

I always new Wes Craven could be a shit moviemaker but this was ridiculous. Over his entire career Wes has made two great movies and two very good movies. The great ones are A Nightmare on Elm Street and Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare. The very good ones are Scream and the original The Hills Have Eyes. Everything else ranges from okay (Scream 2, 3, 4/The People Under the Stairs) to the utter shite (Shocker/Last House on the Left/Vampire in Brooklyn). But Wes reached a new nadir with this one. He wrote this himself, you know. It’s some nonsensical crap about teens in a small town who share the same birthday as some long dead local killer, getting themselves killed off one by one in the most boring, workmanlike ways possible. Is lead teen possessed by the long dead killer? Who the fuck cares? I was bored rigid for the entire running time. As the barely adequate Scream 4 shows us, Craven has long passed his sell by date. Let the old codger retire. He gave us Freddy Krueger. His good work is done.

The rest of the worst: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Your Highness, Insidious, Fast Five.


5. Skyfall – Daniel Craig is back as Bond. Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes co-star with Sam Mendes directing.

4. The Avengers – God…I mean Joss Whedon writes and directs Marvel’s superhero team up. Major Yayness!

3. Prometheus – Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender star in Ridley Scott’s scifi thriller set in the Alien universe about the origins of human life.

2. The Hobbit Part 1 – Peter Jackson returns to Middle Earth for more Tolkien. What’s not to love?

1. The Dark Knight Rises – Christopher Nolan finishes off his Batman trilogy in what is sure to be grim yet stunning style.