Just 2 weeks from Season 2, HBO has released more trailer goodness (3/18/12). This is one of the best yet, featuring all sorts of footage from the new season, and cut into a more comprehensible story arc.
And the 3/25/12 “Nowhere to Hide” preview:
Title: The Sure Thing
Genre: Teen Comedy
Watched: April 4, 2011
Summary: Still holds up.
Continuing my 80s (and John Cusack) binge, I re-watched The Sure Thing again. 26 years really doesn’t show on this film. Sure the DVD transfer is a bit dated, and there are little 80s stylistic moments, particularly out in california, and it’s a tad goofier than movies tend to be now — but this is Rob Reiner in his good period. The same era that brought us The Princess Bride, This is Spinal Tap, and eventually When Harry Met Sally. There are just so many good lines.
And the film is anchored by an intelligent script and two fine actors. It isn’t a plot driven movie. We know what’s going to happen from about minute 5. For those of you either two young to remember or with frontal lobotomies, this is a story about a boy crossing the country to get laid, who is forced by circumstance to spend a lot of time with a really pretty but bookish girl (those didn’t seem to exist in the 80s — except that somehow I married one 15 years later). They argue. They fall in love but don’t know it. Events proceed as expected and in the final 30 seconds they kiss.
But the writing and acting make us want to care. How often does that happen anymore on screen?
Oh, and did I mention it’s funny? Really funny.
Genre: Period (80s) Comedy Romance
Watched: Sept, 2010
Summary: Touching, funny. Great film.
I didn’t really have a lot of expectations going into this film. I knew it was by the same director as Superbad (great film) and starred Eisenberg and Stewart, and that’s about it. It’s a great film. The kind they rarely make anymore where it’s essentially a character movie woven around a romance. The script is great, the acting’s great, and the direction is great. It’s a funny movie, but not in the laugh a minute kind of way, but in a wry more or less real way.
Comedy varies across the spectrum of dark to realistic to slapstick to abstract. This is realistic. The humor is partially in the fact that these situations are real situations that we did or could have found ourselves in — and hence, it’s a kind of bittersweet humor. The tone is not so different than the excellent Freaks and Geeks TV show, and in fact there’s at least one actor in common (the excellent Martin Starr). They don’t make a lot of comedy romances like this anymore, the kind where there’s no gimmick, just real people, and hence real romance.
The plot is fairly incidental. We have the likable Eisenberg (playing on type, but great as a Geek who isn’t really shy) who has money troubles and needs to take a lousy summer job at a crappy Pittsburg theme park. Having grown up in the 80s this is exactly my generation (I’m perhaps 4 years younger than the characters) and the music and outfits are nostalgic and amusing. None of the people he meets are exactly stereotypes, and they have a delicate underwritten quality. The core that holds the film together is Eisenberg and Stewart (who proves she can do better with a script that isn’t terrible… I mean Twilight — CLICK FOR MY REVIEW). Not just the acting but the writing. He’s the kind of guy I could imagine being friends with, and she’s the kind of girl I could imagine having fallen for in college. There relationship feels real. This makes it sexy even though there isn’t much sex. And isn’t that one of the main things that fiction is about? Depicting real people. It seems all too often forgotten.
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS.
The Buffy pilot is a work of art. In just 74 minutes, it manages to effortlessly introduce a big cast and a complex setup. But it’s the dialog that sells the entire series, and how that manages to consistently characterize a big cast of very funny, yet very real people, caught up in ridiculous situations. There’s a rhythm to it, capturing natural teen dialog, self referentially referred to as “buffy-speak.”
Whedon even manages to make an info dump funny:
The pilot may be brilliant, but some of the other episodes in this mid-season 12 episode run are a little “monster of the week.” The special effects are laughable. But still, the dialog is spot on and the characters are great. Buffy, Willow, Cordelia, and even the evil Darla are all sexy, yet not fully stereotyped. Xander and Giles are just plain funny. Even in this early run, the season has an overall meta-villain, the sinister, yet silly “Master,” a rehash of all Most Ancient Vampires.
The Master: You’re dead.Buffy: I may be dead, but I’m still pretty. Which is more than I can say for you.The Master: You were destined to die! It was written!Buffy: What can I say? I flunked the written.
He’s totally silly, but he’s also kinda scary in his own goofy way. And he is a nasty killer. The connections between the pilot, a few of the intermediate episodes, and the literally killer finale (“Prophecy Girl“) give the show a nice hybrid continuity (see my article on this). Overall it’s the weakest season until Season 7, but it’s still fun, and the show slips in references to material from older episodes in such a consistant manner (much as real High School friends never let you live anything down), that it’s essential to foundation for the greatness that is to come.
It’s with the second second that Buffy really starts to hit stride. As our season villains we get the awesome Spike & Drusilla, a pair of british vampire lovers who play marvelously against type. On first watch a lot of the episodes in this season don’t seem as integrated into the overall story and mythology as they will from Season 3 on, but the clever writing team retroactively mines them as sources for ongoing material in later seasons, therefore pulling them into the fold. The robot employed in “Ted” will eventually lead to Season 5’s robot girlfriend and hence the Buffybot. “Halloween” sets up Giles’ past as Ripper, and his old nemesis Rayne. The creation of a second slayer upon Buffy’s first season death at the hands of the master is revealed. And that’s just a few.
Across all the episodes the relationships between the characters start to really come into their own. Willow’s lifelong crush on Xander is stymied and she meets Oz and begins to dabble in witchcraft. Xander’s negative chemistry with Cordelia draws them both into something unexpected. Giles’ dark past begins to surface. Fundamentally, the writers aren’t afraid to play with their formulas. Since season one, Buffy’s relationship with the brooding reformed vampire Angel has been growing, and when on her 17th birthday she decides to give her virginity to him: Things don’t go exactly as planned. Writers before and after have used the supernatural as allegory for human problems, but never with such darkly comic panache. The show isn’t afraid to go dark. I mean really dark, and still be funny. Most shows would have just beat around the bush of Buffy’s sexuality, but here, she does it, and gets a metaphoric stake in the heart in return. This pivot drives the second half of the season into really dark territory, and it’s all the stronger for it. Watched back to back on DVD there is a raw emotional intensity to the arc, and it comes from just plain good writing. The characters are funny, yet real, and their genuine changes and growth irresistible.
Title: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Creator: Joss Whedon
Genre: Comedic Teen Contemporary Fantasy
Watched: Winter 2004-05, Summer 2009, Winter 2010-11, Winter 2012-13, Winter 2013-14, Winter 2015-16
Summary: Best TV show of all time.
As a diehard vampire fan I saw the movie version of Buffy when it came out. I hated it so much I used to mock it as my pre Twilight example of lame vampires. I have this requirement that vampires need to be menacing, even if comic (Fright Night) or romantic (Interview with the Vampire). The Buffy movie undead were just flaccid.
When the TV show debuted, I was in the midst of the busiest year of my life, the year of Crash Bandicoot 2, when I was in the office every single day (7 days a week) between New Years and September 8th. Besides, the movie had been dumb. So the show even became a punching bag of mine (although I hadn’t seen it at the time) used to illustrate Hollywood’s creative drought: Hey, they’d made a show based on a terrible movie that hadn’t even made much money.
Oh, how wrong I was.
Finally, in November of 2004, after having “retired” from Naughty Dog, my wife having insisted for years that the show was good, I succumbed and ordered the first season on DVD. Thus began an obsessive binge where I watched all seven seasons, plus five of Angel, back to back over the next three months. Generally I consumed three or more a day, including watching 18 episodes of season 3 in one continuous sitting (home Sunday with a cold). My only breaks were the week back east for Thanksgiving and three weeks we spent in Sicily (yum!). Four and a half years later I re-watched all seven Buffy seasons during the summer of 2009. It was almost as good the second time, and I appreciated it more.
Despite a significant cheese factor, and a first season that suffers from being overly episodic, the show is absolutely brilliant. If you aren’t a fan you probably think, “Buffy has these weird obsessive fans, but that kind of thing isn’t for me.”
I’ve never met anyone who’s sat down and started watching from the beginning who doesn’t absolutely love the show. But that’s just it, you have to start from the beginning. Fundamentally the show blends fantastic writing, really funny dialog, off-beat but likable characters, zany and intricate mythology, a creativity with the TV medium, and quirky humor with a kind of hidden dark realism found in only the best dramas. By disguising drama with humor and the supernatural the writers are able to get at real human issues without freaking out the network, and because they’ve created characters we care about, it all works.
The casting too is inspired. Sarah Michelle Gellar is perfect as Buffy. She may be cute, blonde, and perky, but she isn’t a typical airhead. She combines practical cleverness, toughness, and hidden vulnerability, with a strong sense of duty. Fundamentally the show is about the weight that rests on her narrow shoulders, and what it takes to bear it. The rest of the core team is great too. Alyson Hannigan‘s Willow is every geek’s fantasy, the shy computer nerd who learns to kick ass, Nicholas Brendon‘s Xander provides the token maleness with more humor than testosterone, and Anthony Stewart Head‘s Giles is pitch perfect as the stuffy older advisor with a dark past.
But it’s not just the premise that makes this show rock, but what the writers do with it. I’ll explain when I CONTINUE IN PART 2…