October 27, 2005

AMERICAN PSYCHO (18)

Title:
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Dir. Mary Harron

For those worried about my review trend, I promise this only happens to be because I bought this recently and not because I fetishise serial killers, okay? Good. I also happen to appreciate very dark movies – much like the excellent American Psycho.

The film American Psycho happens to be based on a rather good, if extraordinarily macabre, novel by Bret Easton Ellis. The novel has been stripped down to its bare essentials and is now a lean, dark social satire with a bit of slasher horror thrown in. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is a mild, intelligent, charming, hard working, amiable and rich young banker working on Wall Street. He's also a murderous psychopath, who kills call girls and homeless men for no apparent reason. The film charts his degeneration from savvy banker into maniac, and is all the more powerful for its denouement that pretty much emphasizes the entire message of the film – if I told you, it wouldn't be as amusing and flabbergasting as it turns out to be. It's not a twist as such, more just a deeply surprising way of concluding a movie where the ending would otherwise be astonishingly predictable.

With all due credit to the director and writers, the tone is dark and comical with an acidic edge and kept at a decent 98 minutes which makes the film snappy and fast-moving. Unlike the book, where it occasionally goes to town on the detail and gore, the film is conservative about blood being spilled – there is claret to be seen here, but compared to the book it really is nothing in terms of quantity – and draws an interesting contrast between Bateman by day as banker, and by night as murderous lunatic in underwear wielding his chainsaw around. The best shots in AP are the subtle yet shocking ones; a casual conversation reveals Bateman opening his fridge to retrieve some wine, only for the audience to see a severed head in a plastic bag inside he obtained from a woman he met earlier. No violent strings, no screams…just the shot, Bateman talking, and the door closing. Shots like this make the film as blackly comical as it is.

Christian Bale excels himself, the pure embodiment of smirking charm and arrogance and beautifully portrayed narcicissm. He is, essentially, everything you'd expect Patrick Bateman to be. He is well supported too; Reese Witherspoon is delightfully vacuous as Bateman's fiancee, Evelyn, and Chloe Sevigny is nicely understated as Bateman's sweet and bashful secretary. Willem Dafoe does nicely too, although he doesn't really have much to work with – only being in two or so scenes.

The dialogue is great ("I just…had to kill a hell of a lot of people!!") and when a film is as well acted as this, you have a great film resulting. If I have any criticisms, it is that Bateman's degeneration in mental state seems almost too quick, but it is marginally better than the constant bloodletting of the novel. It also lacks some of the more vividly satirical moments of the novel, something that would have worked well in the film, but to be honest you couldn't include the whole book in the film – The result would just be unwatchable.

Mary Harron has done a great job, creating a magnificent villain for the modern era, and the fact the film remains unflinching and makes no attempt at moral judgement makes the film that much more powerful.


THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974, 18)

Title:
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

Dir. Tobe Hooper

It has three sequels and one remake, and neither one came even slightly close to the sheer buzzsaw power and terror of the brilliant original. In the early 1970s, it was not uncommon to find films akin to TCSM - largely in the form of rather pointless orgies of bloodletting inspired by Night of the Living Dead (18, 1968). What singles out TCSM is its surprising lack of gore – blood is rarely spilled, but when it is, the effects are shattering.

Made for $500,000 in a sweltering August in 1973, Tobe Hooper's feature length debut was banned in a number of countries, as well as the UK - a campaign sperheaded unsurprisingly by those protectors of moral values, The Daily Mail. It was years before mainstream audiences in the UK saw it, and before it finally got the acclaim it so obviously deserved. It is a horror masterpiece. No, there is no intricate complex plot involved here, it's not The Ring. It does what it says on the tin. A group of teenagers driving through texas are waylaid by a rather 'unconventional' family, out of work since the Slaughterhouse closed down. The first inkling they get of this family is the slightly crazed hitchhiker (Edwin Neals) who hints at what is to come with an amusing lack of subtlety ("My family's always been in meat") before they run out of gas, and poke around an old house before they explore a little too far.

What with there only being five teenagers, the bodycount is low but their deaths are quite awesomely shocking. Deaths are delivered via hammer, chainsaw and meathook – by the insane squealing Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), a rather unfortunate name to give a growing young man but hey, it has the intended effect. The sole survivor, Sally (Marilyn Burns) spends most of the remainder of the film running away and screaming – unlike most scantily clad film heroines however, you're actually screaming with her. The chase is truly terrifying, and as the film powers into its final minutes, we're still holding our breath and trying not to scream. As a hysterical, shrieking Sally finally escapes, we see the most chilling shot in all cinema – leatherface screaming, waving his chainsaw around his head in a fit of rage.

It is a horror film with a distinct lack of frills and is probably one of the purest horror films ever. It's the bad guy and his quarry, laced with black humour (seen particularly when Leatherface is in the kitchen, being hounded by 'paw') and plenty of shocks and a constant sensation of dread. The film forces you through one nightmare after another; in fact, some of the most disturbing scenes are where leatherface has no weapons and the whole family are sat around the dinner table, shrieking and laughing hysterically at the bound and gagged girl. Okay, so the film is unlikely to win awards for acting – although Gunnar Hansen is fantastic as the insane and child-like Leatherface – but having Shakespearean actors in a film that is all about getting cut up with a chainsaw is not strictly necessary. The film has dated, but it has never lost the power to terrify. The power of the film was such that it was felt that it needed a remake with higher production values and a larger 'Sawyer' family – but the 2003 effort just couldn't get close. Hail one of the great horror movies of all time, as well as one of the greatest and most frightening villains.


July 26, 2005

Hellsing (15)

Title:
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

A strangely compact anime series, that consists of only 12 episodes or so, and rather loosely based on the manga by Kohta Hirano. The idea is one of the more basic of anime ones: Arucard (Alucard? It's never made clear – Although for me it makes sense for it to be Alucard as Arucard backwards creates…Dracura. Yeah, not as catchy) is an age old vampire, working for his tough human master Sir Integra Wingates Hellsing, and after an incident in a church that leaves young Seras Victoria dying he turns her into one of his own. The whole thing is set largely in London, which gives the cultural imagery a curious angle – more on that later however, but it gives it a fresh setting.

The anime, as expected, is extremely bloody – hands and arms get lopped off at a quite alarming rate, and it can't help but make you chuckle. The animation is first class; its just stunning stuff. The backgrounds look beautiful, and the characters themselves move cleanly and dynamically. You won't find bloody animated quite so beautifully – with the possible exception of Blood: The Last Vampire.

Voice acting in japanations that are not cast by the big guys (i.e Disney's casting of Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away) can have results ranging from the hilarious to the plain absurd. Hellsing's is kind of both. The acting from Victoria Harwood as Integra is full of delicious self-assurance and makes for the best accent of the piece, but K.T Gray as Seras Victoria is less worthy. Its not so much the acting is bad or her accent bad, its more that she can't seem to decide which accent she has. Londoner or aristocrat? She manages both, often at the same time. Crispin Freeman does a decent job as Arucard, and the bit parts are played by graduates from the School for Cockney Acting. Perhaps this is too cynical. As an ensemble, it works very well – the fact that every accent is reasonable does give the anime a firm grounding in England.

If the anime has any flaws, its that the overall story is rather limp. The anime is perfectly happy with its beautifully constructed original episodes, but there is no real build up to the explosive 2-part episode finale. It makes up for this by being very well translated; I have rarely seen an anime that has been so well translated into English. Okay, its not literary masterwork, but it does at least make grammatic sense. Each story is fairly simple, but hugely enjoyable. I was tickled particularly by Episode 2, in which two vampire youths go on a murderous rampage around Coventry. As in, COVENTRY. Very entertaining.

We also care about our characters; Arcuard is a murderous lunatic vampire on a leash (exactly as he should be) and Seras Victoria is a frightened, uncertain vampire who knows little about her new place in the world. To be honest, I don't know what she's got to be unhappy about as her turn to the undead has apparently ballooned her bra size by at least several cups – but hey, its a vampire thang. The rather absurdly named Integra Wingates Hellsing probably makes for the toughest female character ever. As in, ever. Cigar smoking, cold and yet also extremely compassionate for the plight of others, this is a woman who shoots herself in the BLOODY HEAD to get the 'vampire infection' out of her blood at some point in Episode 9 (if its 10, I stand corrected). Ripley ain't got shit on Integra.

Its tough, its unrelenting, and its very memorable as series go. It is also a curious cultural creature that seems to try its hardest to be 'British' and yet to any British person watching, will appear as anything but. To be fair, it is not doing what American films do – Use age old cultural stereotypes filled with middle aged women saying 'Oh, how quaint' or cockney thieves. Its rather charming, in fact. Everyone says God Save the Queen, and the Tower of London is the apparent centre of operations for the UK government. Harmless stuff. What it does uniquely, however is the fact that we see ordinary English people in it. There is no absurd polarisation of the villain being British and the hero American (even if Arucard is voiced by an American, but our leads are mostly English sounding). It is very refreshing. The religious aspect is also interesting; Arucard uses bullets made from the silver of a cross melted down from Canterbury (?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and the biggest enemy for the first couple of episodes, to my inherent amusement, is the Militant Wing of the Vatican. It creates a very odd, yet extremely compelling cultural monster that only suffers from a few continuity errors (Seras being told she cannot go out in the sun is followed up badly a few episodes later when she takes a stroll in the daylight), some amusing cultural problems (the SAS attacking a huge, rather isolated castle in the middle of nowhere) and a rather weak overall story.

Each episode however is tight, contained and flows into the other; they are well written, action filled and beautifully animated. Its cool and bloody, and it gets the job done.


July 25, 2005

End of Evangelion (15)

Title:
Rating:
1 out of 5 stars

The highly controversial 'end of evangelion', where Hideako Anno completed his near legendary anime series about bio-mechanical stomping robots and their highly neurotic teen pilots is one of the great debated endings of all anime series. The Angels are defeated, but NERV, the organisaiton that uses the Evangelions, is under attack from the rest of the world. The apocalypse is nigh, and the secret society SEELE is ready for the world to cease to exist. The third impact, the legendary apocalypse that the cast have been hugely afraid of through the entire series, is about to occur. This really is the end. To say it got a mixed reception is an understatement; half of the people who saw it didn't understand it at all, feeling that it went quite supremely up its own backside. The other half thought it had huge art-house value, and sensibly ended the series on a down note.

So which is it?

Its a bloody mess. Sorry, but to be blunt…this feature length season finale is a complete mess. It has a few strong moments emotionally, which really rip at the heart, and also one extremely stirring action sequence that shows Asuka going psychotic in Eva Unit 02 in a moment of love for her long dead mummy. Its a stunning, bloody and explosive sequence. Such a shame that pretty much everything else is a bit of a shambles. I will try and classify its precise problems, since I have tried in the past to sum up in one go what is wrong with EOE, but its problems are multi-faceted.

1) Ideology: A tip, Hideako-san. Complex religious allegories are NOT good plot points – the Wachowski brothers should really have seen this to realise how much of a truth this is. Gnostic Christianity can be obscure at the best of times, and the themes it tries to convolutedly work into an already confusing plot just makes the whole thing a nightmare to comprehend.

2) The death and angst: A 26 episode series that ends with all of its principal characters dead bar one doesn't half make the preceding 25 episodes feel completely pointless. Especially since the various deaths just seem to happen for the sake of 'we need 'em dead' rather than for any logical reason. They just…die. It didn't have to be a happy ending, but a bit more character closure instead of an almost insane (i.e verging on the ridiculous) level of angst would have been nice. I'm also at a loss to explain Shinji's issues, but I don't think 'Oedipal' covers it. The attempt to wrap up all of the series loose ends when they had only been touched on loosely had been made before – the web becomes more tangled than a blind grandmother's knitting pattern. Exemplum: Shinji hates his dad, who hates his son because he loves/hates his wife who loved her son and loved her husband but was hated by Ritsuko because she was clever and her clone was too, her clone being Rei who is loved by Shinji's dad who doesn't love Ritsuko who thought she loved him. And I haven't even touched on Asuka, Miato and Koji's role in this. Did you follow any of that?

3) The second half: Nearly 30–40 minutes of the film is basically a huge acid trip. I had had a spaghetti bolognese the night I first watched it, and was wondering if some sort of hallucinogen had worked its way into my meal such was the Shroom-tastic closing 40 minutes of EOE. The narrative, hardly cohesive at the best of times, at this point completely gives up all together and goes down the pub. Something to do with Shinji choosing whether to live in this world or an idealised world thanks to the world being reborn after Eva Unit 02 was crucified (honestly, this is true). I found it distinctly hard to pick out individual stories…or, come to think of it, any story at all.

4) Shinji's hand shandy: In Death and Rebirth (or the greatest hits of Evangelion, as I like to call it) towards the end we witness Shinji masturbate over the unconscious form of Asuka, who does seem to have unusually large breasts for a girl her age, but hey, its anime. The fact that this scene, which is physically painful enough to watch thanks to both the sound of Shinji grunting over the shot of an 'engaged' lock on the surgery room door, and is followed up by a shot of his semen spread all over his hand appears AGAIN in EoE beggars belief. No, I don't want to watch Shinji have a wank again. Does it have some sort of religious symbolism? The symbolism could be that it is grossing out the viewers by making them watch our hardly mature looking hero ejaculating over his own hand. Just…no. It looks bad enough when pornstars do it, so seeing it in this form makes it that much worse. The low point of the film.

I think I've covered it. The film just isn't good. Evangelion's end could have been SO cool. What we got was this. Shame.


July 22, 2005

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 3 (15)

Title:
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

Are these glowing five star reviews getting tiring? I hope not, because I'm afraid I can't say enough good things about the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In a series that by this time had elevated itself to super-cult status, demand was naturally high to keep the quality consistent. Joss Whedon and his established team of writers, the big stars being Doug Petrie, Marti Noxon, Jane Espenson, David Greenwalt and David Fury – together, they delivered a stupendous third season. As well as going from strength to strength, it was clear that Season 3 had matured a great deal – our heroes are worrying about college, relationships are becoming more complicated and a great deal changes a the series starts to make the transition out of school life. Again, Buffy succeeds by ramping it up on ever level.

Yet again, this season begins where the previous season left off. 'Anne' is the starter here, following Buffy's adventures in LA now that she has run away from Sunnydale after killing her lover. Back in Sunnydale, the team try to cope with the vampires in Sunnydale – but it is definitely clear that they are struggling without Buffy. Buffy finds herself sucked into a hell dimension thanks to a kindly/murderous church helper, and realises that she cannot cheat her fate. She chooses to return to Sunnydale. Proof that Buffy can go to any territory, 'Dead Man's Party' flirts with zombies, at the same time dealing with the anxiety being felt about Buffy running away from home. Both episodes settle us very comfortably into the world of the Buffster once more. A new bad guy and a very bad girl are introduced in 'Faith, Hope and Trick', in which we meet Mr. Trick ("it's not a haven for the brothers, you know, strictly the Caucasian Persuasion here in the Dale"), a cunning and extremely stylish vampire who is pursuing the drop dead gorgeous Faith, another slayer called when Kendra (badly accented slayer in Season 2) died. Faith is everything Buffy is not, and Buffy clearly resents the way she is working her way into Buffy's life – the chemistry between them is excellent however, and Eliza Dushku fills Faith with pure sexual ferocity that means she will often dominate the scenes she shares with Buffy.

'Beauty and the Beasts' sees the big twist of the season – Angel returns from hell, in a feral state. Buffy's encounter with him is enough to convince her to keep his presence secret, especially in light of the various animal attacks occurring around school. Oz naturally becomes prime suspect, but is left off the hook. We also see Oz finally getting some razor sharp dialogue ("Yeah, but, you know, since the best jazz is improvisational, we'd be going off in all directions, banging into floats… Scary").

From 'Homecoming' up until 'Lovers Walk' we see a brief affair between Willow and Xander, whose 'fluke' kiss in 'Homecoming' becomes a source of consternation for them both. Further smooches ensue until they are caught red handed by both Oz and Cordelia when being held prisoner by Spike (more on him later). The results of this are the painful split of Cordelia and Xander, who share acid and hurtful (if brilliant and often very funny) dialogue for most of the rest of the season. Oz and Willow split temporarily, but kiss-and-make-up after Oz proves more even minded than Cordy. 'Band Candy' is a stand out episode, if because we finally see Joyce Summers (Buffy's mother, played by Kristine Sutherland) becoming a more central character. All the adults in sunnydale are becoming teenagers – and believe me when I say, this episode is worth watching for what happens to Giles and Joyce alone.

'Lovers Walk' sees the welcome return of Spike, who arrives in very much the same manner except this time dead drunk ("Home, sweet… home") and also broken hearted after Dru told him 'they could still be friends'. As well as seeing some vintage Spike action, we see some extraordinary profundity from the punk vamp. The reality of Angel and Buffy's relationship is brought home for the first time by his words in one of the best speeches of the season:

"You're NOT friends. You'll never be friends.
You'll be in love till it kills you both. You'll fight, and you'll shag,
and you'll hate each other till it makes you quiver, but you'll never be
friends. (points at his temple) Love isn't brains, children, it's
blood… (clasps his chest) blood screaming inside you to work its will. I might be love's bitch. But at least I'm man enough to admit it."

Hmm, very telling. It is with episode 9 that the third season soars into brilliance with the monumentally cool 'The Wish'. Cordelia, still reeling from her break up with Xander, makes a rather ill-advised wish to the demon Anyanka (Anya of course, who becomes quite prominent in the next season). We see the alternate Sunnydale if Buffy had never been there – scared, subdued by The Master and inhabited by Vampire Xander and Vampire Willow, who burn up the screen with every scene they are in ("I love this part" "You love all the parts"). Naturally this means the master makes a welcome return, and we see a far meaner, more dangerous Buffy who is clearly embittered and cold after her calling takes up her entire life. After a heartbreaking sequence in which each and every one of our heroes dies, all is returned to normal thanks to Giles' actions which result in Anyanka becoming plain Anya. 'Amends' is one of the less well received of Joss Whedon's episodes, but actually handles Angel's despair about his previous sins very tenderly and introduces us to the big bad of Season 7 – the first evil.

'Gingerbread' is a rather stylish retelling of The Crucible, after Joyce comes across two children dead in a park apparently at the hands of witches. At first things seem okay, before student rights are being violated, goths are being picked on for no readily apparent reason and Gile's entire library is confiscated. The witch-burning finale definitely evokes Arthur Miller, as Buffy herself is about to be killed by her own mother – although of course this time the ending is a happy one. Xander-focused episodes are always fun, and 'The Zeppo' is probably his best. An episode that gives Xander his very own adventure after his friends decide he's going to get killed if he helps them avert the apocalypse, works as the best derivative of 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead' ever created – we see the drama of Buffy's adventure in averting the apocalypse, but the focus is Xander's own problems with an undead gang he inadvertently becomes part of (Giles: "There's something… different about this… menace,
something in the air… The stench of death" Xander: "Yeah, I think it's Bob"). He also saves everyone even as they fight on the hellmouth, though they don't know it of course, and finally realises he doesn't need to worry about whether people consider him useless or not – he knows he saved the day once.

'Bad Girls' and 'Consequences' deals with the downfall of Faith, who by the end of 'Consequences' has shifted sides completely and starts working for the mayor – the fact her Skywalker-esque turn to the dark side never fails to be real is a testament to how Eliza Dushku and Sarah Michelle Gellar play off against each other. it is one of the great tragedies of the season that is touched upon again in Season 4 and even in Season 1 of Angel.

It is probably worth mentioning arguably the greatest and most entertaining bad guy in television – The Mayor (Harry Groener), who wishes to ascend to demonhood and forms the backbone of the season in its superb story arc. The mayor…what can I say about him? There aren't words that can describe how knock-out funny and bizarre this guy is. Obsessively clean, polite and sunny but hiding an evil and vicious soul, the mayor simply blows away everyone in all of his scenes – this does include when he's with Faith, Buffy or anyone else ("This officially commences the Hundred Days. Nothing can harm me until the Ascension. (smiles wide and laughs) Gosh, I'm feeling chipper! (keeps laughing) Who's for a root beer?!"). I feel that I have to mention the scene in 'Bad Girls' in which he ticks his 'to do' list, which includes 'greet scouts, see temp agency, become invincible'. Sorry, but it had to be done. The guy is pure class. His father-daughter connection to Faith becomes a strong sticking point up until the climactic episodes of 'Graduation Day Parts 1 & 2' and, in tribute to Harry Groener's acting, show the mayor conveying a great sense of loss when Faith is…incapacitated. Sheer brilliance.

Willow is also a very strong character in this season; she starts becoming the leader the gang need when Buffy isn't there to do it for them, and we see her in the wonderful 'Doppergangerland' at her best. An attempt to throw off her nerdy exterior by performing a spell with Anya goes somewhat askew, and the vampire Willow from 'The Wish' ("Bored now") turns up in the home reality. The quotes are just endless, so I'll simply put my two favourites in here:

Giles: She was truly the finest of all of us.

Xander: Way better than me.

Giles: (nods decisively) Much, much better.

And:

Buffy: "Aren't you gonna introduce me to your- holy
God, you're Willow."

Also, Willow's "Jeez, who died?" response to her despairing comrades after seeing her as a vampire…pure Joss Whedon and pure beauty. After the fun of 'Dopplegangerland' we return to more serious turf, and in 'Enemies' and 'Choices' we see the further downfall of Faith, and also the build up to the mayor's ascension. Faith becomes more murderous and destructive, and the mayor makes a rather pointed comment about how Buffy and Angel's relationship can never work. 'Earshot' is also a great episode (sandwiched inbetween 'enemies' and 'Choices'), and frighteningly contemporary, as it deals with a mass-murderer in high school that Buffy overhears after becoming a mind-reader temporarily. Interestingly, this episode was to be broadcast one week after the Columbine massacre and was rather wisely shunted forwards as a result. Of course for me, the episode is worth watching for Buffy's reaction to what Joyce and Giles did in 'Band Candy'.

'The Prom' sees Angel break up with Buffy, breaking her heart of course but harks back to The Mayors profound statement about the fact the two can never have a happy life together – he tells her he will leave after graduation day, but not before he shares the prom with her in the last dance they will ever have. There is also a glimpse of the future between Xander an Anya, in the first of many priceless exchanges (Anya: "Fine. 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.")

The explosive season finale, the two-parter 'Graduation Day Part 1 & 2' sees everything come to a thundering end. Buffy and Faith fight, Buffy wins but needs Faith's blood to cure Angel from a poisonous arrow fired by the eponymous rogue slayer. Now, when I graduated, I was half expecting (half hoping?) for the VC to turn into a giant snake while all the robed graduates removed various medieval weapons and twatted him with flamethrowers and fire arrows before destroying the Arts Centre in an enormous explosion. What a headline that would make. Of course, this is what happens in Buffy. After a great speech by Principal Snyder ("You all proved more or less adequate") the mayor ascends, and the gang stand with the rest of the school to defeat the mayor. Its a great end, and a new beginning – there is no more school, and Cordelia and Angel enjoy their last episode.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention Wesley! Played by Alexis Denisof, the character of Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, the new watcher after Giles gets fired in 'Helpless' only stays for this one season but is so memorably priggish and buerkish that he just HAD to become part of the core cast of Angel. Well played friend, well played.

Season 3 proved that TV series don't just peter out after two seasons, and in the case of Buffy continued its very fine tradition of excellent dialogue and compelling characterisation, as well as putting our favourite characters into fruition throughout. After this, its roll on the college years. Buffy was rarely better than this.


July 21, 2005

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 2 (15)

Title:
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

To put a sexual analogy on it, the first series was just foreplay – this is the real deal. Longer, far more intense, sharper and generally more witty all around, season 2 is often considered the best season of Buffy. It is not hard to see why. Since I have explained the core characters already, there's no real need to do a character overview unless I'm mentioning incidental characters and those who 'come into their own' (such as Cordelia and Jenny Calendar).

Buffy returns to Sunnydale after spending the summer in LA with her dad. She is still somewhat traumatised after he final encounter with The Master, and her initially bitchy behaviour threatens to distance her from her friends ('When She Was Bad'). As it moves on, we meet the new bad guys; Spike and Drusilla. Spike and Drusilla are just stunning. Spike, the British vampire who acts like Sid Vicious (and was based on him, no less) and has a wicked sense of humour, meaning you just can't dislike him regardless of how evil he gets. Drusilla is his fruitloop girlfriend who is, in the words of my brother, 'f**king mad'. The Sid and Nancy of vampiredom dominate the first half of the season, making every clash with Buffy they have as memorable as the second half. Standouts of episodes 1–11 include 'Inca Mummy Girl', a variation on the theme of 'Teacher's Pet' except with a beautiful, uh, mummy. Xander falls in love with her, naturally. You'd have thought he would have learned by now. Others include 'School Hard', where Buffy has to deal with both PTA night and a vampire raid led by Spike on the school campus, 'Ted' where Buffy's mother's boyfriend really does turn out to be too good to be true (Ted himself played by the wonderful, but now sadly deceased, John Ritter). Oh yes, and 'Halloween' and 'The Dark Ages' which feature Robin Sachs as the acidic but devilish Ethan Rayne, also gives us more insight into Giles' character and his less than savoury past. It also gives us Xander with a machine gun and Buffy thinking she's from the 18th century. How much more fun than THAT can you get? There is also 'Lie To Me', where for the first time the line is blurred between good and evil when Buffy meets an old flame from LA.

The first of the true two-parters, 'What's My Line? Part 1 & 2' serves to deepen the relationship between Buffy and Angel and also gives us the surprise new romance of the season – Xander and Cordelia, whose loathing for each other breeds….um…love. Ass kicking action all present and correct of course. When 'Bad Eggs' plays, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Season 2 was simply a far cooler and more exciting Season 1 (although I'd dispute that), but when the next two parter 'Surprise' and 'Innocence' comes along, we enter far darker territory. Buffy and the Scooby Gang (they are thus called) fight to enter the plans of Spike and Dru to bring forth a legendary demon called 'The Judge'. The Judge becomes the least of their worries when Buffy and Angel have sex for the first time, and Angel loses his soul. He then reverts to being Angelus, a truly despicable and evil foe. The Joss Whedon scripted and directed 'Innocence', beautifully captures Buffy's heartbreak at the loss of her love to evil and Angelus' obsession with tormenting Buffy and her friends.

It is worth mentioning at this point about Jenny Calendar, the beautiful Computer Science teacher played by Robia LaMorte. The perfect counter (and of course, love interest) to Giles has a few rocky episodes with Giles, but is a loveably feisty presence who cannot help but poke fun at the man she falls in love with. Giles is deeply betrayed to learn in 'Innocence' that Jenny is in fact completely aware that Angel had been cursed with a soul. Not to mention Buffy of course. The other romance appearing at this point is the romance of Oz and Willow. Tired of waking for Xander to wake up and smell the roses, Willow finally becomes the other half of sweet and sensitive Oz, played by the very familiar sight of Seth Green (Scott Evil? You know?). The slight drawback is that Oz happens to be a werewolf ("You're nice and you're funny. And you don't smoke. Yeah, okay, werewolf, but that's not all the time. I mean, three days out of the month I'm not much fun to be around either")

Things take a turn for the shocking in 'Passion' where we see Angelus' true colours in all their viciously violent glory ("It speaks to us… guides us… Passion rules us all. And we obey. What other choice do we have?"). It is always nice to see episodes that are dark and full of drama, but Buffy never overdoes the darkness. 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered' is a perfect counterweight to this, and one of the finest episodes written by Marti Noxon. A love spell goes wrong, and every woman in Sunnydale suddenly becomes rather obsessed with Xander. You have to see it to realise just how funny this episode is. 'I only have eyes for you' is a surprisingly touching episode, involving the restless spirit of a boy who killed the teacher he was in love with in 1955. It is also very sad.

Season finales don't come much better than 'Becoming, Part 1 & 2', where we explore some of Angel's past and where it all spirals towards the inevitable face off between Buffy and Angel – where Buffy must choose to make the ultimate sacrifice. The world is going to be sucked into hell thanks to Angelus' machinations, of course. The emotion is intense, the stakes high and the sheer raw brilliance of it as written by Mr. Whedon never serves other than to give this a truly epic and apocalyptic feel. I dare you not to feel a tear in your eye in the final moments of the last episode of the season. Its truly heartbreaking. Who said Buffy can't do drama?

Season 2 is bigger and badder than Season 1, and also puts in true drama. The theme of tragic love is all pervading, never more so than in every confrontation between Buffy and Angelus after that. Cordelia becomes a more integral part of the group, as does Oz, who both end up putting their lives on the line for Buffy's sake, but the expanded group never loses dynamism.

Its a great season, and prepares us inexorably for the third season. After this season, Buffy finally proved itself as being more than just another teen drama – it was in a cult of its own.


Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 1 (15)

Title:
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

It seems to have become derigeur to bash Buffy lately. Its not high art, its not akin to great literature, and it lacks dramatic clout. Well, that's what they tell ME anyway. It is also apparently typical American TV. Except that the thing Buffy has that most American TV doesn't, is mythos. There are few worlds as compellingly watchable as that which Buffy inhabits – its sunny california, yes. Except they're on the mouth of hell. Its probably the only time watching American TV you're not jealous of the inhabitants of the town in question, which is Sunnydale.

For those who don't know, the series takes up where the entertaining, if lacking, film finished. Buffy Summers has been kicked out of her LA High School for burning down the school gym, and takes this unfortunate stigma with her to Sunnydale, where the only ones who befriend her are the sweet but nerdy Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) and the well-meaning Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon), who also has a king-size crush on Buffy. The actors could NOT have been better chosen. The group dynamic is so effortless and full of chemistry that you couldn't envision any other TV actor playing the roles. Sarah Michelle Gellar is just great; yes, she's attractive, but just putting a blond bimbo in the role of Buffy wouldn't work. Gellar invests Buffy with both sparky teenage verve and also a world weary knowledge of her responsibilities as a vampire slayer, which makes her both an effective and effortlessly watchable lead with her quirky and very funny counterparts.

Other support comes in the form of the effortlessly dry librarian/Watcher of Buffy, Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) and also Angel, the dark and smouldering vampire-with-a-soul that Buffy inevitably falls for. It is the best kind of support.

No series like this is complete without a decent bad guy, and Buffy delivers on every level. The Master, a very old vampire whose season-spread intention is to open the Hellmouth and thus end the world as we know it, is the wonderful nemesis. He is self effacing and extremely witty, as well as being funny. Yet despite his humorous side, he is also extremely cruel and highly vicious – good combined characteristics that pretty much make him brilliant.

Its difficult to cover an entire series, but I've picked out my favourite episodes. The compulsory viewing of 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' and 'The Harvest' exposes us for the first time to Joss Whedon's simply delicious writing ("There's no cause for alarm…well, actually there is cause for alarm. It just won't do you any good"). 'Teacher's Pet' is a true delight (not that 'Witch' isn't, but that isn't the point) in which young Xander Harris falls in love with the new teacher who happens to be a preying mantis in disguise. 'The Pack' is another beauty, again Xander oriented, except this time he and a few others have been possessed by the spirits of primal hyenas ("It's devastating. He's turned into a sixteen-year-old boy. Of course, you'll have to kill him"). The episodes hereonin are just great, but the episode 'Nightmares' in which everyone's nightmares come true veers successfully from the hilarious to the downright horrifying, and constitutes one of the best Buffy episodes ever. We also see some impressive work in 'Out of Mind, Out of Sight' where a girl becomes so used to being ignored, she becomes invisible. And quite mad. The bitchy popular girl, Cordelia Chase, becomes the target of her vindication – and the fact we start caring about the target despite what she's done again shows how good Buffy's writing can be.

It all explodes out in the open with 'Prophecy Girl', where Buffy learns a rather disturbing prophecy about her fate and runs from her responsibility. Since there is more than one season of Buffy, I don't think I'm giving much away by saying all ends well.

What a series. The fact it only got better says one hell of a lot about this stunning cult series.


Summertime (and everybody's havin' fun)

Wow, how much rage lay in me that 7 weeks or so ago.

Well, it's mid summer. I'm relaxing. There is much to do. Well, actually, there isn't, but that's not the point. I'm going to be busy next term, so I'm relishing my general freedom and lack of any need to…well, do anything really. My life is comparatively quiet at the moment. I have graduated, I enjoyed my moment of glory. Just for a while, its nice to not be needed. When you can just kick back and not have to worry about doing anything.

So, what HAVE I been doing lately? Playing Splinter Cell 3, for a start. And watching the constant Airwaves slogans being fired my way by it. Honestly, why is advertising creeping into games? I don't feel any need for gum because of the game, I feel insulted. Yes, the game is great – but you know, it gets a bit weird.

I'm looking forward to my masters degree year. I'm living with a good friend of mine and some very sweet girls. Okay, so I have been warned what might happen when the air is rife with oestroegen (I think that's how its spelled) but maybe I'll need them to kick my arse when I'm being a lazy tosspot. Nevertheless, it will be fun. And I'll only have one exam next year (can ya FEEEL it?).

Well, I'm going to do some DVD reviews now as I have not done them in a long time.


June 05, 2005

next generation

I'm posting here again. It's 2am on June 5th 2005. Well, you probably guessed that from the 'post-date' listed on this entry. Everybody's gone to a house party. Why am I not, you may ask? because I still have exams to do. They're all celebrating (including my girlfriend, I might add) and I'm miserable. I have nothing to celebrate about. All everybody has been doing today is going on about how great a time they're going to have tonight, and probably are. For somebody who is essentially abstaining from alcohol until his exams are done (ON F*CKING THURSDAY) and whose fun level is somewhere down in the triple-figure minus area, this is not what you want to hear. I've been getting sympathy, but I wish I wasn't here. If there's anything worse than people going on about a fantastic time theyr'e having, its being pitied for the same reason. I appreciate the sentiment, I really do and they are saying it out of the goodness of their hearts – its wonderful being remembered, it truly is. Yet it simply serves to emphasize just how utterly shafted you really are. It certainly did that to me. I have been in a depressed fury (ooh, oxymoron) this evening because of the knowledge everyone i know is getting drunk and having fun – but I'm not.

'Oh, you will eventually' I hear you say. Yet the immediacy of my situation is what annoys me at the moment. I am currently the least sociable man on the planet, and a single comment about how great their house party was will push me into 'throw object at wall' mode. Immature, maybe. But it is how I feel. I've never been good at controlling my temper you see. Everything gets to me eventually. It bottles up and can come out at the worst times – I have broken a good number of kitchen implements out of sheer frustration. I would never hit somebody of course in this particularly fevered mode. It doesn't win you friends, and you don't have to hurt anybody and live with the consequences. Yet a broken spoon is hardly likely to incur the wrath of the gods.

I've been trying to de-annoy myself since I stopped revising. Playing a deeply violent game only managed to partly curb my anger, and Crazy Taxi 3 simply succeeded in me writing a deeply cynical review to PC Gamer. I need some sort of punchbag in my room, methinks.

Maybe this blog entry will help. Maybe it won't. Doesn't matter anyhow. sighs Ah well. To bed I go, I guess.


January 31, 2005

Wotcha all – Late Entry

Well, here I am. Me. Again.

I suppose I should be writing something mucho exciting, but I haven't got a huge amount to write. Watching Back to the Future, and I intend to watch the rest of this finest-movie-ever-made candidate. My legs are aching thansk to my swimming earlier; I thought exercise was supposed to make you feel better?

Ah, probably just the fact I haven't done jack amount of exercise in yonks.

Recasting Asenath from Thing on the Doorstep A-F**KING-GAIN. I'm sick of this. If you commit to a play, then YOU STAY AND ACT IN IT. You don't just audition and go 'well, I'll turn it down. It isn't Shakespeare or Berkoff, so who gives a toss'.

Call this bitterness aimed at humankind if you like (it isn't, I like humanity) but the gist of my complaint is that if you want to be an actor, be less like a thespian.


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