Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Lady Kills- Why I Love Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Giles: “Into each generation, a slayer is born. One girl, in all the world, a chosen one. One born with the ...”
Buffy: “… the strength and skill to hunt the vampires, to stop the spread of evil, blah blah, I’ve heard it, okay?” – Welcome To The Hellmouth.

I would like to say that this was the biggest incredible scenario of the whole series (which it is though) but what is more incredible is the fact that one of the successful and influential series in our time is the second chance of a preposterously silly film back in 1992 starring Kirsten Swanson, a film so silly that it became a massive flop and something most critics didn’t bother remembering. Cut to March 1997 on the WB and I’ll bet all those memories of said silly film came flooding back. If I had seen the movie before tuning into the series, I certainly wouldn’t have been enthusiastic to have sat through this show. It might be good thing that I didn’t.

The concept is pretty simple – a bright and perky sixteen year old blonde girl named Buffy Summers discovers that her destiny is to slay all kinds of supernatural nasties in an attempt to protect the world while following orders from a group of disciplinarian men called watchers. Her watcher in LA being Merrick, her attempts of doing her slayer role forced her to burn down a gym and get a transfer to Sunnydale as her parents’ marriage collapse.

Damn this girl already has got it hard, so it’s a good job that you’ve got an actress as charismatic and dare I say it, convincing as Sarah Michelle Gellar taking on what is essentially a surprising. This may be fantasy aimed at teenagers but this is show in which the writing was strictly on an adult thinking while successfully giving off the message that teenagers can be flawed and engaging to watch. Again this series succeeded more than it failed.

While the first season of Buffy is easily my least favourite (don’t kill me), it is on the other hand, one of the best debut seasons to any series (Six Feet Under IMO will be remaining at Number 1 for the foreseeable future) and it’s opening episodes “Welcome To The Hellmouth” and “The Harvest” saw convention turned on it’s head in a big way. Instead of a pretty blonde girl in an abandoned school in the middle of the night being a prey for a randy jock, the poor said ending being her snack. That pretty blonde girl being Darla, who when you look back is incredibly influential in the a lot of the series’ vampire based mythology (Angelus, The Master, Spike, Drusilla).

Our main blonde butt kicker Buffy stemmed out of creator Joss Whedon’s love of horror and unabashed sympathy of the blonde girl always getting a grisly ending. Buffy would face a mess load of hardships in the seven TV years we got to know her but in the end she would always come out of top and as a dedicated viewer you would want her too as well. Gellar perfectly played and added lairs to a character that in the hands of inferior writing and casting would have suffered the same fate as the 1992 movie had suffered.

But Gellar was far from the only casting joy on this show. Nope, there was British actor Anthony Stewart as her trustworthy and slightly uptight watcher Rupert Giles (who was more or less Buffy’s surrogate father), Nicholas Brendan as goofy but kind hearted geek Xander Harris, Alyson Hannigan as the meek computer nerd/all mighty powerful Wicca Willow Rosenberg, Charisma Carpenter as the delightfully bitchy Cordelia Chase and David Boreanaz as the dark and mysterious and tortured ensouled vampire Angel.

Throughout Season One I enjoyed learning about Angel’s dark past, Cordelia and her array of caustic putdown, the ongoing saga with The Master and of course, Buffy’s reluctant acceptance of Willow, Xander and Giles as her allies. Instead of being accessories and random people for Buffy to always save, they became part of the reason why she won many of her battle.

The one thing I always loved about Buffy though is the fact while in later years we lost Angel and Cordelia to a spin off for Buffy’s tortured lover and even Oz (werewolf/musician boyfriend of Willow’s for three years and all round nice guy), the show’s constant need to reinvent itself and stay fresh made it even more addictive. I loved Seasons One to Three. I loved the high school angst, the slow break ups and reboots Buffy went through with the Scoobies and her parents, I loved the study of her slayer calling, the introduction of the Watcher Council and darker side of being a slayer as wonderfully demonstrated through Faith but some odd reason, I love Seasons Four to Seven just a little bit.

Why? Probably because it was in those final four years of the series life that I felt the series was really taking risks. The writers went from having Willow into a mousey girl into the most powerful woman in the universe and how sensitively and realistically her relationships with both Tara and Kennedy showed the kind of authentically of same sex relationships that even now many shows consistently get wrong. I liked how Xander did his ample best to mature and be adult. In a lot of ways, him ditching Anya at the altar did show maturity as his fears of turning into his parents did get him to be honest with her. Hell even having Buffy self destruct every once in a while and the series’ history rewritten to justify the presence of sister Dawn had its pros. We may have needed to see Buffy become something of a mentor but it didn’t the series any harm either.

I also liked that this show could do an episode of pure silence (“Hush”), an intriguing and disturbing honest depiction of a personal death (“The Body”) and even a musical episode (“Once More, With Feeling”) with such relish and care. Like many people, I still having trouble understanding this series was constantly denied Emmy accolades. It more than deserved them.

I loved the diverse range of baddies we got too. While the first two seasons delighted us with fantastic vampires such as The Master, Darla, Spike, Drusilla and Angelus, remaining seasons thought more outside the box. Okay while The Initiative and Adam in Season Four along with the nerds, Warren, Andrew and Jonathan in Season Six weren’t as effective as oh say, The Mayor in Season Three, Uber-goddess Glory in Season Five or even The First Evil and Caleb in Season Seven, they still made for more interesting villains in comparison to a lot of other series though.

I got into the series back in 1999. When I was watching it at first, I was a casual viewer but by the time I had seen “Becoming Part 2”, casual fan became obsessive fan and boy, did I have many a person in my school take the piss out of me for being addicted to this series. Back then I didn’t care, now I care even less because this show was so freaking amazing, it’s almost inconceivable to me that anyone would not like it.

Sure there was some flaws and things that griped, mainly poor development for a character like Riley, Tara’s cruel death and the clumsy manner in the way the series tried to incorporate Andrew into the Scoobies and played down Spike’s attempted rape on Buffy but the fact that this show dared to take risks even when they didn’t do them much good is a testament that many other shows can’t brag. Sure during and since Buffy’s exit there has been plenty of shows vying for the Slayer’s mantle but look at the odds. Charmed is/was too monumentally stupid that even comparing to Buffy feels laughable, Alias nearly got there but the last few seasons lagged and Supernatural, although brilliant needs to up the ante so we really made of before it can properly be considered a genuine successor. The only show that has the same kind of feelings that Buffy did for me is the new Doctor Who.

I spent five years watching 144 episodes of sheer and undeniable joy. I spent five years forming an emotional bond to an extraordinary array of fictional and getting animated and engrossed (as well as occasionally creeped out and tearful) of their many, many dilemmas. Buffy was the first, it isn’t the last but it will be the most significant show to have that kind of an impact on me. By the time I saw “Chosen”, I was ready to let this series go, I wasn’t totally happy about it but at least I knew that this was a show that came into the world amazing people like myself and left doing the same thing. Again that is not something you say about many TV series. I want to thank Joss Whedon and everyone involved in this series for actually opening up my mind to what I can and should expect from a television show.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Sink Your Teeth Into This - Why I Love Angel

Lilah (to Wesley): “That’s the funny thing about black and white, you put them together and you get grey. And it doesn’t matter how much white you put back in, you’re still gonna get grey” – Habeas Corpses.

Spin offs can be a dodgy deal. In one they can be seen as a great expansion of an already franchise, another they are also seen as a creator who is spreading himself too thin. Joss Whedon had already shown epic talent within Buffy; surely good lightning can’t strike twice? Except it can it and pretty much.

I won’t lie to you – rating wise Angel did always lag behind Buffy and may not have been as critically acknowledged as it’s sister series but in terms of overall quality and performances, we got five years of mostly TV gold and despite at least four genuinely atrocious episodes in the mix of goodness, David Boreanaz proved that tearing his tortured hero away from Miss Summers would be one of the best things ever done for both shows.

Debuting on the now defunct WB back in October 1999, Angel had left Sunnydale upon the reasoning that his presence was preventing Buffy from growing and mainly decided to head to LA to be literally unrecognisable. Well if that tactic didn’t work for him when he was scowering for a rat meal, it would prove not to work again when the powers that be gave him his own visionary in the form of half-demon Doyle, who despite only making it to nine overall episodes, he had proved him enough of a favourite among viewers.

Together with Doyle and a snarky Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter much better here than she ever was on Buffy), we got Angel Investigations, the coolest vampire ran detective agency on Los Angeles where you can poltergeist attempt to drive you to suicide or your ex-wife’s fiancé determined to eat your brains. Or if you Doyle, you’ll sacrifice your life to save another clan, bestow your visions to Cordelia in the writers (successful) attempts of deepening a previously shallow woman and as Cordelia, you can spend five years experiencing everyone’s else’s pain, doing good but ultimately paying the price by being used as a vessel for evil and being denied to explore a relationship with a man you may or may not love.

And there’s a debate – did Angel and Cordelia really love each other? Over the course of five seasons, they graduated from tolerating each other, being best buddies to genuinely showing love and affection for each other. The very idea of Angel and Cordy in a romantic relationship didn’t sit well with most fans but to be honest I ended becoming more and more invested and intrigued by their relationship than I ever was with Angel and Buffy’s.

Even though she hardly featured on the show, Buffy and the memory of her and Angel’s love was still enough for Joss and company to never really consider officially hooking Angel up with anybody. Nina was more of a sex buddy than an actual girlfriend, Darla the woman who caused Angel his problems as well as the mother of his child and Cordy, the woman Angel may have wanted but would never have.

Cordelia as a love interest wasn’t the only purpose Charisma Carpenter served on the series and it’s a good job too! In the space of the 86 episodes she featured in, Cordy went from being vulnerable, ambitious for stardom, snarky, to being loveable, brave, kind, and surprisingly complex. Who would’ve thought that a ditzy cheerleader would become one of the strongest and most engaging characters on one of the best spin off series? So it’s pretty much a disappointment and a disservice to Charisma how Cordy was written as the all evil in Season Four and killed off in Season Five’s “You’re Welcome” (the show’s 100th episode).

The goodness sidekick wise didn’t end with Cordy though as the former priggish Wesley stumbled into LA mid way through the first season and developed from a pain in the backside to a genuinely troubled and often very sympathetic man, if very misguided. Yes, we’ve seen Wesley go through the hell of constant disparagement from his father (which nearly saw him bump of his dad in a way), being the butt of a few jokes, unenviably having to take Angel’s son away from him when duped by a fake prophecy which resulted in Wesley getting his throat slashed by Justine (The L Word’s Laurel Holloman), nearly suffocated by an almighty pissed off Angel, totally isolated from his friends.

Wesley then sleeps with Lilah, a woman he hates and when he finally gets the girl of his dreams, shy scientist Winifred “Fred” Burkle, she’s killed and transformed into the goddess Illyria. Even a pathetic demon named Cyrus Vail, delivers the final crushing blow to Wesley by killing him in the series finale, “Not Fade Away”. You can definitely say that Wesley suffered … a lot! Alexis Denisof – you rocked!

Our other Angel recruiters are interesting too as we have a renegade vampire killer named Charles Gunn, who evolves from nice looking muscle to Mister hot shot lawyer while briefly dating Fred, turning his back on his own gang (for good reason), staking his sister and taking the virginity of a mutant but as one of the most underused Angel characters, Gunn at least had something to do and J. August Richards looked hot in his lawyer suits during Season Five. Hey, I’m allowed to be a little a shallow!

Then there’s Lorne who played to perfection by Andy Hallett was a green skinned and benevolent Pylean with a passion for singing, sea breezes and a snarky comment even when the situation didn’t call for it. How I loved that character. He was a fantastic breath of fresh air and I enjoyed his little flirting with Angel from time to time (Lorne was like, so totally gay). It was a pity that in Season Five he didn’t get more to do and that his killing of Lindsey had diminished that perky spirit of his which I loved so much.

Aside from Cordelia, our only other regular female was Winifred “Fred” Burkle. A great find in Amy Acker, Fred was discovered in Pylea (Lorne’s home place – where humans are slaves and music doesn’t exist) and taken back where she became a regular fix from Season Three onwards. In her three years, she dated both Wesley and Gunn, made kooky contraption, said “Kyrumption” a good few times, almost killed the professor who sent her to Pylea and got taken over by a goddess named Illyria. Yes, Joss loved to ensure a “no happy” coupling on his show but although the Illyria plot worked a treat, I would’ve preferred had Fred not been bumped off so quickly after Cordelia.

Assistants, Angel also had to deal with biological family when a one stand from Darla resulted in a boy named Connor, who upon returning from a hell dimension, pretty much out of his way to oppose Angel in every way possible, whether it was burying down the bottom of the sea, sleeping with Cordelia or holding a store full of people hostage, Connor was one seriously traumatised kid. Upon first watching his antics in Season Four, I hated the guy but repeated viewing and Vincent Kartheiser’s has made me feel sympathetic for the poor lad. Angel gave Connor the ultimate peace by erasing his memories of the hell he had been subjected to. When Connor regained said memories, he finally saw that Angel loved him all along. Am I glad that Connor’s mom was Darla and not Buffy though.

Final main player who would ironically be a major role in Season Five was Spike. Unlike most people, I actually wasn’t looking forward to the addition of James Marsters to the series and it’s not because I harbour a hatred for Spike – I love the guy and his history with Angel but two years onwards, I still don’t understand why he was added to the show. History aside, I found most of Spike’s scenes pretty forced and many of his contributions to the series, unnecessary. You also have to bear in mind that Spike and Angel’s history with each other and Buffy gave the writers the idea of scripting the horrendously shit “The Girl In Question” (Worst! Episode! Ever!) and also both Gunn and Lorne relegated to the sidelines.

Just like Buffy, Angel’s main set of baddies were more triumphs than disasters. Wolfram and Hart proved to be an excellent foe for five straight up, even when the Angel crew collaborated with them, they still caused trouble. We got excellent and charismatic lawyers like Holland Manners, Lindsey McDonald, Marcus Hamilton and Lilah Morgan, who more than made up for useless non-entities like Linwood, Gavin and Eve. Both Darla and Drusilla caused all kinds of havoc in Seasons Two and Three and Holtz (an ancient vampire hunter/old foe of Angelus) made it his personal mission to destroy Angel and very nearly succeeded. There’s also The Beast, Angelus and Jasmine from Season Four and the last minute Circle of Black Thorn in Season Five all of whom made Angel and company’s life hell for five years.

Angel made have been prematurely axed and Season Five may not have ended the series in a ideal manner (blame the WB, not Joss Whedon) but it still made for absorbing, delicious and often very grey area television. Seriously if the upcoming Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood is anywhere as good as Angel was, then it will the second best TV spin-off I’ve encountered in years.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

My Review of Doctor Who's: "The Movie"

Written by Matthew Jacobs
Directed by Geoffrey Sax

Grace: “I only have one life, can you remember that?”
The Doctor: “I’ll try.”

A couple of years before the 2005 series had seen The Doctor ride the ratings and public affection high once again, there had been a few attempts to bring the show back. One was the awful gimmick “Dimensions In Time” as well as “Curse Of Fatal Death” and “Scream Of The Shalka” (the former by Steven Moffat and the latter by Paul Cornell). However the only official canon was in fact the 1996 Movie and I can tell you, I actually quite enjoy it.

Seven years is arguably a long time for a show to be gone and perhaps a shorter time to try and bring it back but this movie does make a decent attempt of doing so. We might not know what happened to poor Ace or how The Master escaped Cheetah world but the opening with the latter getting wiped out by the Daleks is a good starting point.

A part of me is massively surprised that for the first 20 minutes, it’s the Seventh Doctor we’re dealing with. You’d think the movie would want to start with the Eighth and gradually explain or at least throw some hints about the regeneration process. It’s an audacious move on the writer’s part and perhaps a tad better for a newcomer who gets to delight in seeing an actual regeneration (which we got denied of in “Rose”).

The Seventh Doctor is set to take The Master’s remains back to Gallifrey upon his enemy’s final request but he’s smart enough to lock the box that contains the remains of his best enemy. Of course, The Master has always been a conniving so and so and it’s not rocket science that he decides to use this as an opportunity to escape and part of that plan has the TARDIS crash landing on earth.

Now The Doctor loves Earth quite a lot so he probably wasn’t expecting to have the TARDIS protect some kid named Chang Lee nor for the moment he opened the door did he expect to be shot multiple times by the same gang in pursuit of Chang Lee. Well the writers needed to speed up the regeneration and there’s some fun here in seeing The Doctor mortally wounded as The Master in a snake like formation slithers away to find a new body.

With The Doctor and The Master both on the verge of change, it’s the shaping of their companions that propels things along as well. On The Master’s side you’ve got a naïve boy in Chang Lee, who while not above gun violence, seems to be more manipulated by The Master’s lies of The Doctor being evil rather than anything. It’s also an unusual joy to see The Master with a companion even if Chang Lee is kind of annoying.

The Doctor on the other hand nearly has his regeneration process wrecked by medics when they put a probe inside him to see why his heart is racing so far. The hospital banter, in particular with discussion of Grace’s on-off relationship with Bryan comes across as being somewhat inane and the moment where both The Doctor and The Master (who swipes the body of ambulance driver Bruce and then kills Bruce’s wife) won’t win point for subtlety.

As Doctors go, Paul McGann is great. He’s on the right side of being both vulnerable and manic with excitement as memories of past events come flooding back. I also appreciate that The Doctor and Grace’s team up is pretty quick to. Yes following her into the parking lot and sounding like someone loose from a psych ward may not have the resonance of other Doctor/Companion moments but it more or less does the trick in its own way.

Grace is also a pretty good strength to this movie also. She may not be up there with either Sarah Jane, Martha or Ace but she’s instantly likeable and pretty efficient even if it does take her a while to actually believe The Doctor’s entire story. As for the multiple kisses these two exchange – I really couldn’t care less. It just didn’t bother me a lot.

The Master on the other hand is let down a bit by Eric Roberts. He’s not the worst actor in the world but compared to the likes of Roger Delgado or John Simm, you almost get the feeling that he’s phoning in his performance. He started off great with the moment in which he killed Bruce’s wife but when he actually captures The Doctor and uses a possessed Grace and Chang Lee to steal The Doctor’s remaining lives, the camp factor does kick into overdrive.

Perhaps The Master is pissed off for all those times The Doctor has bested his plans and I get that wanting to stay alive is important but there’s something not quite as satisfying with this general plot. The Eye Of Harmony is the cause of the problems with the TARDIS and the goal for The Master to survive but it feels as if it should’ve been more of a battle for The Doctor to defeat him. Even The Master winding up trapped in the Eye Of Harmony and Grace and Chang Lee being resurrected feels a bit too easy.

Still this movie was always going to have to be a bit self-contained in case it bombed and the ending with Chang Lee getting some of The Doctor’s stuff and Grace and The Doctor saying their goodbyes is satisfying enough. We’ve had stronger departures but I ended up liking Grace a hell of a lot more than I expected to. Daphne Ashbrook’s consistent performance ensured. It’s only sad that this is the only televised adventure with her and The Eighth Doctor. I wouldn’t have minded seeing some more.

Also in “Doctor Who: The Movie”

Annoying that we not only didn’t get to actually see the Daleks kill The Master but the voices didn’t even sound Dalek like.

The Doctor: “Here it comes.”
Chang Lee: “Hold on there, old man. Chang Lee will help you.”

The Frankenstein moment between The Doctor and The Master was the not subtle thing I meant earlier on. Pete was watching the movie during the regenerations.

Wife: “What would you like me to call you then?”
The Master: “Master will do fine.”

Grace: “Somehow I don’t think the Second Coming happens.”
Pete: “What you think he’s gonna go to a better hospital?”

Both The Master and The Doctor mentioned they’ve snogged Marie Curie. Well it wouldn’t be the first time either of them have invaded the other’s turf. Both of them also kissed Grace for different reasons.

Grace: “No sorry, the dead stay dead. You can’t turn back time.”
The Doctor: “Yes you can.”

The Doctor: “I am The Doctor.”
Grace: “Good, now do that again.”

The Doctor showed both Grace and Chang Lee the future as well as Gallifrey. This is also one of the few times in which he’s mentioned his father.

The Doctor: “That’s very witty Grace. At least Freud would’ve taken me seriously.”
Grace: “He’d have hung up his pipe if he had met you.”

Props go to the makeup team for the gorgeous icy blue makeup and black eyes when Grace was possessed. Daphne Ashbrook looked rather hot during those scenes.

Chang Lee: “You’re a funny guy.”
The Master: “I’m glad one of us is amused.”

The Doctor: “But time to change.”
The Master: “I always dress for the occasion.”

Standout music: Puccini’s “Madam Butterfly”, despite being massively distracting.

Grace: “I’m gonna miss you.”
The Doctor: “How can you miss me? I’m the guy with two hearts. I’m easy to find.”

There was a dedication to Jon Pertwee at the end of this movie but it doesn’t seem to be on the DVD.

For something that was supposedly so bad, I actually found “The Movie” really enjoyable. Yes it was kind of Americanised and Eric Roberts made for a bad Master but everything else was pretty fun, even the mansion like TARDIS upon repeated viewing. Still anything is better than “Dimension In Time”, right?

Rating: 7 out of 10.