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Film review: Twilight (long post)

Blu-ray

Note: I was originally planning this to be a review for DVD Times. As it progressed, however, it became clear that its tone wasn’t entirely appropriate for that site given that it’s less a critical review and more an uncontrolled rant.

I should state upfront that I haven’t read Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books. I gather they are quite the sensation, particularly among the teenage girl demographic. I am neither a teenager nor a girl, which some might suggest ought to preclude me from appreciating them. Personally, I don’t go in for that sort of compartmentalisation, and have enjoyed a great many books and films that are supposedly aimed at people who don’t possess the same set of genitalia as me. That said, I’ve never felt particularly compelled to delve into Meyer’s four-book saga. I picked up the first volume one day at the library and gave it a quick flick-through, but came to the conclusion that the material was too trivial to justify its length, and that its length was too great to justify my time.

However, something about the media phenomenon surrounding the book and its big screen adaptation piqued my interest, coupled with the widely differing reactions to it. On the one hand, you’ve got the legions of adoring fans who swoon at the very mention of its title. (If you want some idea of just how scary these people can be, head over to the movie’s IMDB board.) On the other, you have unprecedented levels of vitriol being hurled in its direction, mainly from people who consider it nothing more than a self-infatuated author’s overblown wank fantasy, and one with a very dubious moral at that. More often than not with such cases, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I wanted to know more and swiftly came to the conclusion that it would be easier to do this by watching a two hour movie than by reading a 500-page book.

[Continue reading "Film review: Twilight (long post)"...]

 
Posted: Monday, April 13, 2009 at 1:44 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Cinema | Reviews | TV
 

Just arrived…

Blu-ray

Twilight (Blu-ray, E1 Entertainment, Region ABC, UK)

My curiosity got the better of me. So much vitriol has been hurled in the direction of this film and the book upon which is is based that I eventually caved in and decided to see it for myself.

 
Posted: Saturday, April 11, 2009 at 6:29 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Books | Cinema
 

In the end, we’re all just puppets

Dollhouse

So Joss Whedon’s new TV show, Dollhouse, began airing on Fox this Friday, and if viewing figures for the series premiere, Ghost (written and directed by Whedon), are anything to go by, it may very well end up being yanked before completing its initial 13-episode run. Which would be a shame, because, while the episode suffered from some pretty significant problems, what I saw did leave me with some hope that the Joss Whedon in charge of this project is the one who produced the first five seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer rather than the one who oversaw its final two seasons on television and subsequently the dreadful comic book-bound Season 8.

Basically, the premise is that a shadowy organisation rents out young men and women whose minds have been erased to those who can afford to pay for them - whether so they can engage in a bit of hanky-panky, negotiate a hostage release, or even use them for something downright illegal. Basically, these “Dolls” or “Actives” are blank slates who can be imprinted with any persona, and following successful completion of their assignment, their minds are erased once more until their next mission. One of these Actives is Echo (Eliza Dushku, who played the recurring role of Faith in Buffy and its spin-off, Angel), who, following a cock-up which occurs during one such assignment, begins to develop a degree of self-awareness. A maverick FBI agent, meanwhile, seemingly the only person to believe that this “Dollhouse” actually exists, is hell-bent on infiltrating it and apprehending the perpetrators.

Dollhouse

There’s a heck of a lot of potential in this concept, given that the programme essentially serves as a showcase for Eliza Dushku’s range as an actress. Put simply, each episode stands to present us with a completely different scenario and Dushku with a completely different character to play. In this opening episode, we see three basic personae: the go-getter party girl glimpsed in the pre-credits teaser (who arguably has the most in common with Faith), the more or less blank slate that is Echo herself when not programmed with any personality, and the slick, efficient hostage negotiator whose identity she adopts for the kidnapping narrative that forms the main thrust of the episode, in which the young daughter of a rich Mexican businessman is abducted by a gang of unsavoury sorts, one of whom is a child rapist. The latter of these assumed identities is not all that convincing, as Dushku’s style of acting doesn’t really go with the primly-dressed, spectacle-wearing agent she ends up playing here. Then again, maybe it’s my fault for not being able to get her Buffy days out of my head.

The rest of the cast, unfortunately, are neither here nor there. They exist, but nothing about them really makes them stand out - shades of the Initiative from Buffy’s fourth season, I fear, where the various cadets and commandos did nothing to distinguish themselves. Compare this first episode of Dollhouse to the first episode of Buffy, where Willow, Giles, Xander et al immediately conveyed their personalities through their characterisation and dialogue, not to mention the performances of the actors. The same was also true of Angel, which, in its first season, had a minimal cast comprised of three diametrically opposed characters - Angel, Cordelia and Doyle (the latter being replaced part-way through by Wesley). There’s precious little of that here: broadly speaking, you could replace Dollhouse’s supporting cast with that of any police procedural and no-one would be any the wiser. Case in point: I can’t actually remember the name of the male lead (the aforementioned FBI agent), whom I suspect is being set up to be the yin to Echo’s yang. I wonder to what extent this has to do with the almost complete absence of Whedon’s traditional “peppy” dialogue: by and large, the characters here talk like normal people. On the one hand, it’s actually somewhat refreshing to see Whedon varying his style a bit; on the other, what we’re left with is fairly generic and forgettable. There are a few good lines here and there (for instance, our FBI agent, after accosting an informant in the process of making use of the facilities, tells him “Remember to wash your hands… and your shoes”; another good one is “We said no strings,” “We also said no ropes, and look how long that lasted”), but again they’re largely interchangeable with any number of other shows of the ilk. I got more than a few hints of Alias (which featured Jennifer Garner trotting about under a variety of assumed identities, working for a shadowy organisation which hadn’t told her the whole truth about what she was doing… albeit without the memory loss aspect), which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but does show that Dollhouse needs to do something more to distinguish itself.

Dollhouse

Ultimately, I suppose what excites me about this project is where it could ultimately end up going if the network gives it the opportunity. At its most basic level, we have a fast-paced and varied show featuring a charismatic actress assuming a vast array of different personae. On a deeper level, however, we have what essentially boils down to a story about people trafficking and the suppression of free will. We’re told, initially, that the Actives are essentially volunteers who knowingly submitted themselves to having their minds wiped and being turned into what are ultimately prostitutes (both literally and, on occasion, figuratively). However, one has to wonder to what extent any of these people actually knew what they were getting into when they signed up. (It’s a bit like in The Matrix, where Neo is offered the choice of the red and the blue pill. I’ve always wondered if he would really have chosen the red pill had he known what he was letting himself in for beforehand.) The way the B-plot featuring the FBI agent is developing also leads me to suspect that we are in fact headed for a revelation that at least some of the Actives have in fact been abducted and mind-wiped against their wills.

This is quite a potent cocktail of thematic concerns, and the extent to which they are allowed to be played out will, I suspect, be determined by whether or not Fox opts to pull the plug on the show, as they did with Firefly. On the one hand, the Network seems to have really got behind the show and is marketing the hell out of it, as well as using it as a pilot scheme for its new “Remote-Free TV” concept, where shows air with half the usual number of commercials, resulting in an extended running time. According to Eliza Dushku, Whedon already has a five-year arc planned for the characters and storyline. Whether he’ll get to follow it through is, currently, in the lap of the network gods.

Oh, and just in case all that text was beginning to bore you, here is a Dollhouse promo pic of Eliza Dushku with her bum out.

Eliza Dushku
 
Posted: Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 11:34 AM | Comments: 9 (view)
Categories: Books | Cinema | Reviews | TV
 

The pinacle of writerspeak

The scriptwriter's most dangerous weapon

About a year ago, I wrote a post about the writerspeak, i.e. the phenomenon of a character in a work of fiction serving as a mouthpiece for the writer and delivering dialogue (often expository in nature) that no real person would utter. Today, while at work, I found myself with nothing to read during the lunch hour, so, casting my eye around for some literature, I came across Jumping the Cracks by Victoria Blake. The cover art was striking, and the synopsis on the back made it sound interesting.

Unfortunately, I quickly realised that what I’d picked up was in fact the fourth instalment in a series of novels featuring the same character, Oxford-based private investigator Sam Falconer. That’s not necessarily a problem - I have a habit of starting midway through a series and catching up later. However, the author of this particular book opts to fill the reader in on the events of the previous novels with some of the most blatant writerspeak I’ve ever come across. Here, for your pleasure, is an extract from a conversation between Sam and her business partner, Alan, regarding their new office. On page 6, Sam is showing Alan the new sign for the window:

‘We don’t have to change the name [said Alan]. We can still use “The Gentle Way” if you want.’

‘It’s a new start, Alan. And anyway in the last year my life has felt like one of those protracted car crashes that closes the motorway for miles in both directions. There’s been absolutely nothing gentle about it at all. I’ve had petrol poured over me and been threatened with being set on fire, I’ve been beaten up I don’t know how many times, I’ve been shot at and threatened with a knife and hung over Putney Bridge by my ankles, you’ve been stabbed, and then Mark was kidnapped.’

That’s just a brief sample. Virtually the whole of the first chapter is filled with conversations like this, in which the characters tell each other things they already know in considerable (and eloquent) detail for the benefit of the reader. I must stress that I am, all things considered, rather enjoying the book, and the writerspeak does begin to recede after a while, but a scorcher like the one quoted above is hardly the best impression to give a reader. So does anyone have any prize examples of writerspeak that they would like to share?

 
Posted: Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 7:59 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Books
 

Waking the Dead: Series 6, Episodes 5 and 6: The Fall

DVD

Written by Damian Wayling; Directed by Robert Bierman

The conjoined corpses of a man and a woman, shot dead with the same bullet during a sex act, are discovered when the floor of a concealed room gives ways in a former City bank, which went down the tubes in the aftermath of 1992’s Black Wednesday. The man is identified as Mervyn Simmel (Nigel Whitmey), one of the bank’s directors, while the woman turns out to be Katherine Keane (Alison Doody), a journalist known for having a string of affairs with wealthy older men, many of whom hold down prominent government positions. The team’s investigation reveals several potential suspects, one of whom, Lucien Calvin (Peter Capaldi), a former partner at the bank, now clearly deranged and lecturing on the evils of capitalism, seems to be the likeliest.

This episode is undoubtedly a step up from its dire predecessor, but, watching it, one gets the impression that the writer relied a little too heavily on The Da Vinci Code for inspiration - not a good state of affairs by any stretch of the imagination. What this means is that, while Peter Boyd is a considerably more interesting character than Robert Langton (not that it’s difficult to be more interesting than Robert Langton), he does spend rather a lot of time chasing self-flagellating members of a secret society - yet another secret society with the spectre of religion hanging over it, which, hot on the heels of Wren Boys’ sinister nunnery and Deus Ex Machina’s Islamic overtones, means that things are beginning to feel a bit samey.

The highlight of this episode is undoubtedly Peter Capaldi, a fantastic character actor who plays the character of Calvin brilliantly, imbuing him with just the right mix of eccentricity and sinisterness. In the scenes in which he appears, the episode comes alive, and his interaction with Boyd and Grace is fascinating on many levels. In the most straightforward sense, it’s a pleasure to watch three extremely talented actors playing off each other; on a deeper level, writer Damian Wayling weaves a fascinating “family” undercurrent, with Boyd and Grace fairly obviously serving, in Calvin’s eyes, as surrogates for his own domineering father and docile mother, respectively. In Series 6 and 7 there is, on the whole, very little of the Boyd/Grace dynamic that helped make the first five series so enjoyable, so it’s very nice to see it making a welcome, albeit brief, return here.

 
Posted: Sunday, January 18, 2009 at 4:52 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Books | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Cheap and cheerful

Fujitsu Siemens Amilo 3230T

Voilà my new monitor, the Fujitsu Siemens Amilo 3230T.

On January 31st, just as we were about to sit down to the last evening meal of the year, my brother suddenly alerted me to a stupidly good deal over at Misco.co.uk, offering this 23” 1080p display for a mere £137.99 including VAT. I’d been mentioning recently that I wanted to replace my 21” Sony 1680x1050 display with a 1080p model, and this magnificent deal seemed too good to simply pass up. The trouble is, other people clearly felt the same day, as it took until this Tuesday for Misco to source enough stock and Wednesday for it to reach me.

So how is it? Well, it’s clearly a budget monitor, offering no real frills to speak of and using a TN panel and therefore being afflicted by the usual caveats associated with the technology, namely 6-bit “dithered” colours and a poor viewing angle. I can’t say the angle limitation concerns me unduly, as I always sit looking directly at my screen. Really, what do I care if it takes on an orange tint if I look at it from the side? Likewise, while I can see some people being bothered by the dithering, for me it isn’t an issue unless I actually press my nose against the screen… and, with my current cold, that would simply lead to it getting all snotty, which we definitely don’t want. Also an issue, albeit a slightly less documented one, is a moderately irritating tendency for the bottom of the screen to be slightly brighter than the top, which has affected every TN panel I’ve ever come across to some degree. On this one, it’s not bad, but nor is it ideal. It also lacks a height adjustable stand, a problem because I’m pretty tall and it sits a little too low on my desk for comfortable usage, but I solved this problem fairly easily by sitting it on top of a reasonably chunky hardback book that is unlikely to be needed any time soon (Language Intervention Strategies in Adult Aphasia, in case you’re interested).

Two other complaints frequently levelled against TN panels are poor colour reproduction and contrast ratios. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when my brother’s attempts to calibrate my screen using the MonacoOPTIX calibration tool and Colorimètre HCFR software turned out to be pretty successful. Once properly set up, the thing boasted an average gamma of 2.20 (which, my brother tells me, is basically as accurate as it gets) and a contrast ratio of 934:1, both a healthy upgrade over my previous display. (And yes, I’m well aware that Fujistu Siemens claims the display has a ratio of 10,000:1 - that’s just the usual marketing bullshit and bears no resemblance to real world use.) It’s true, the blacks on this new display aren’t as deep (relatively speaking - we’re talking LCD technology and their varying shades of milky grey here) as they were on the old one, but the numbers suggest a finer delineation of the scale between the darkest and brightest hues.

Perfection? Nay, but I never expected it at such a price. In switching from my old Sony MFM-HT205 to the Amilo 3230T, I’ve had to let go of uniform brightness and deeper blacks, but in the process have gained increased desktop real estate, an improved grayscale, and the benefit of now being able to watch 1080p video content without it being downscaled at all. (Incidentally, unlike most widescreen computer monitors, which have an aspect ratio of 16:10, this one is actually true 16:9. This means slightly less vertical resolution - 1920x1080 versus 1920x1200 - but it has the benefit of being a far more widely used ratio, especially as far as video content is concerned.) It also takes up considerably less space and has a much sleeker appearance. Oh, and I no longer have to put up with the MFM-HT205’s reflective surface which, during the summer months, turned the screen into a bloody mirror. Ultimately, I suppose I see this is an interim display to tide me over until I find a screen I really like - and no doubt one that will be considerably more expensive. I don’t foresee myself living with it forever, but for the price I paid, I don’t regret this purchase for an instant, and overall would consider is an improvement on my previous setup.

You can read more about the monitor and its specifications at the Fujitsu Siemens web site.

 
Posted: Friday, January 16, 2009 at 10:55 PM | Comments: 12 (view)
Categories: Books | Technology | Web
 

That was the year that was

Writings

With another year been and gone, now seems like a good time to sit back and reflect on the past 365 days. I’ve experienced some highs and lows, the lowest of which would undoubtedly be losing my last two surviving grandparents in the space of a few months. On the upside, I feel that I’ve begun to make real progress with my PhD, which is finally evolving into something tangible, the process of which will no doubt continue in 2009. Otherwise, I can’t say that very much has changed for me. I continued to work part-time in my job at the library, with the various rounds of staff transfers mercifully passing me by and life continuing as before. Is it my dream job? No, I should say not, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t go through periods of finding it (and the Great British public) incredibly frustrating. However, all things considered, I can think of plenty other less desirable jobs I could be doing. At least this one is convenient and, all things considered, reasonably well-paid.

 
Zeros and Ones

Logitech Z-5500 Digital

In relation to the battle between rival high definition formats Blu-ray and HD DVD, last year’s annual round-up included the statement “With no end to the format war in sight any time soon, 2008 looks set to be another interesting year.” Well, it seemed that I’d barely finished writing those words when the HD DVD camp threw in the towel. To be honest, the writing had been on the wall for some time, but several people, myself included, still adopted an “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over” mentality in the early days of 2008. With Warner’s abandonment of the format only a few days later, however, the writing was well and truly on the wall. Within days, the game was up and the remaining HD DVD-supporting majors (Universal and Paramount) were pledging allegiance to the Blu flag. In any event, once the stragglers got up and running, it turned out to be a pretty damn good year for HD content, with some truly amazing transfers seeing the light of day, while the arrival of several high profile titles such as The Godfather trilogy and The Dark Knight, plus the certainty afforded by there now only being a single HD format, undoubtedly contributed to more people taking the plunge and lending their support to the platform.

I bought myself a new computer - a full tower system after my brief dalliance with the world of small form factors the previous year. After relying on my more technologically competent relatives in the past, I was quite pleased with myself for managing to build the whole thing from scratch myself - seriously, deciphering some of those poorly translated user manuals practically requires a diploma in itself. I also upgraded my PC’s aged Creative audio system with some nice new Logitech speakers and a veritable beast of a subwoofer. I also ultimately succeeded in going region-free for Blu-ray playback, thanks to SlySoft’s AnyDVD HD software, allowing me to use my system as a multi-region HD home theatre PC.

 
At the Pictures

HD DVD

This year, my brother put together a pretty impressive projection system, accompanied by a meaty sound setup, allowing us to enjoy a film-watching environment that more closely approximates the big screen experience. Despite this, however, my overall viewing figures were somewhat reduced in 2008 compared with 2007 (themselves a reduction from 2006). I maintain a log of all the films I watch, and the total tally for 2008 is 128, 67 of which were first time viewings. The increasingly wide array of available Blu-ray titles certainly led to me taking increased risks with titles I hadn’t previously seen, but at the same time caused me to be far less likely to tune in to television broadcasts of films. (I watched 56 films on Blu-ray, 44 on DVD and 14 on HD DVD, versus 7 on TV.)

I got the opportunity to see several what might be termed “significant” films, among them the great - 28 Weeks Later, Across the Universe, Atonement, Bonnie and Clyde, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Dark City, Eastern Promises, Enchanted, Fight Club, The Fly (the David Cronenberg version), Juno, The Life Before Her Eyes, The Maltese Falcon, A Matter of Loaf and Death, Mean Girls, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Orphanage, Persepolis, The Plague Dogs, Rabid Dogs, The Shining, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Volver, Wall-E - the good - The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Almost Famous, Blow, The Brave One, Chungking Express, La Femme Publique, Grindhouse, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Memento, My Blueberry Nights, Nikita, Resident Evil: Extinction, School of Rock, Shaun of the Dead, La Vie en Rose - the disappointing - 30 Days of Night, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, The Dark Knight, Doomsday, Gone Baby Gone, Running Scared, Tekkonkinkreet - and the downright dreadful - Freddy Got Fingered, Omen IV: The Awakening and, last but not least, Seytan.

Best film I saw this year? Definitely Atonement. Worst? Oh, come on, do I even have to answer that? I saw Freddy Got Fingered, for god’s sake.

 
Bibliothèque

Garnethill

Much to my chagrin, my reading this year was pretty limited. In addition to perusing a number of academic tomes as part of my PhD research, I sat down with The Field of Blood, The Last Breath, Garnethill, Exile and Resolution by Denise Mina, Day After Day by Carlo Lucarelli, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James, Demo by Alison Miller, The Deceiver and The Fourth Protocol by Frederick Forsythe, and Above Suspicion by Lynda La Plante. I also re-read Mercy Alexander by George Tiffin, and tucked into The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins - the latter serving as my sole piece of non-fiction reading that had no direct relation to my PhD. I also started Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré, a celebrated classic that I must admit I’m making very slow progress with indeed.

 
Song and Dance

I picked up the following CDs: Atonement (Dario Marianelli), Echoes of War: The Music of Blizzard Entertainment (Eminence Symphony Orchestra), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Pink and the Lily (Sandi Thom) and Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez).

 
Posted: Thursday, January 01, 2009 at 5:36 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Books | Cinema | DVD | General | HD DVD | Music | PhD | Reviews | Technology
 

Review: the Garnethill trilogy (long post)

Garnethill

Prior to writing her first novel, Denise Mina researched a PhD on the ascription of mental illness to female offenders and taught criminology at Strathclyde University. These roots are very much in evidence throughout what is semi-officially referred to as the Garnethill trilogy, encompassing three books published between 1998 and 2001: Garnethill, Exile and Resolution. (The title refers to a residential area in the centre of Glasgow, most famous for the Glasgow School of Art.)

The central protagonist of the trilogy, Maureen O’Donnell, has not had what you’d call a happy life. As a child, she was abused by her father, culminating in what she later comes to suspect was a rape attack, an event which she blocked out for over a decade and which led to her father disappearing abruptly. Years later, as a History of Art student at Glasgow University, she suffered a nervous breakdown as her repressed memories of the attack resurfaced and was, for a while, institutionalised. However, her attempts to get her family to admit what had happened to her as a child fall on deaf ears, with her alcoholic mother seemingly repressing her own memories and her two sisters flat out refusing to believe Maureen’s version of events. Only her older brother, Liam, who makes a living peddling drugs, stands by her, and as a result the rift that has developed between these two factions of the O’Donnell clan is immense to say the least. At the start of the first novel, Maureen is on the mend. She’s holding down a job in a ticket office, self-sufficient enough to be able to live on her own in a flat at the top of Garnethill, and has recently decided to dump her boyfriend, therapist Douglas Brady, after discovering that he is in fact married. Then, one morning, she wakes up to find Douglas in a chair in her living room with his throat slit.

Oh, and the killer has gone to considerable lengths to make it look like she did it.

[Continue reading "Review: the Garnethill trilogy (long post)"...]

 
Posted: Thursday, November 27, 2008 at 9:09 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Books | Reviews
 

Buffy the Cartoon Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Animated Series

At some point prior to the demise of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, an animated spin-off was proposed. It ultimately never came to pass, despite some aggressive lobbying by Joss Whedon and his colleagues, and despite a number of pieces of concept art that were released generating some degree of interest. Recently, however, a promo video was released (or leaked), giving fans a chance to see what the show that never was would have looked like. Some generous soul uploaded it to YouTube for your viewing consumption.

To be honest, my overriding reaction is that the show’s failure to materialise is no big loss. Based on this three and a half minute clip, it suffers from exactly the same problems as the Season 8 comics, namely flat characterisation and what I like to call “ice cream on the hamburgers” syndrome: essentially, a tendency to throw in everything but the kitchen sink simply because it’s possible. The “real” Buffy series made the most of its limited budget and generally found creative ways around monetary issues (the occasional clumsy CGI dragon notwithstanding). Here, the philosophy seems to have been that, because the medium is animation rather than live action, there’s no limit to what you can do.

This is a myth propagated by scriptwriters and executives who have no understanding of animation. Doing a visually audacious set-piece in animation is no different from doing one in live action, in that it takes longer and requires more work. Unfortunately, scriptwriters are rarely particularly good at thinking visually, generally speaking because it’s not in their job descriptor and the artist/writer segregation of the post-60s animation industry means that they are completely cut off from the visual side of production. It takes less than five seconds for a budding writer to type the words “a huge dragon flies through the entire city and has an epic fight with Buffy”. Now imagine the poor guy who has to draw it. It’s therefore no surprise that such scenes often have a lacklustre quality to them: they can’t be much fun to do, and as a result the animator ends up merely going through the motions and producing a piece of technically complex but ultimately lifeless animation.

The whole of the animated Buffy promo feels lifeless. It also feels rather pointless. What, after all, is this achieving that wasn’t already being achieved, more successfully, in its live action variant (barring the obvious increase in scope and scale mentioned above)? Okay, you’ve got Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Head et al voicing the characters they played in the live action show (Sarah Michelle Gellar didn’t want to participate and as a result was voiced by a soundalike, but everyone else appears to have been on board), but again this doesn’t achieve much, because none of the actors seem particularly comfortable in their roles. I’ve said it many times, but it’s worth repeating: to provide voice-overs for animation requires a completely different set of skills than to act on screen or on the stage. For one thing, you’re limited to your voice, and, let’s be honest, there aren’t many actors who are famed for their voices above all else. Put simply, a good actor doesn’t necessarily equate to a good voice actor. (Of course, it works in reverse too. Would you automatically assume Jim Cummings or Cam Clarke would be able to cut it in the live action world?)

So, ultimately, what you have is a curiosity piece that doesn’t serve much purpose other than to provide a brief thrill at the sight of something which looks vaguely like Sarah Michelle Gellar (and Alyson Hannigan, and…) moving around in animated form. Not exactly the strongest basis upon which to build a series. I’m not saying it wouldn’t have worked or found its audience, but it ultimately looks fairly limp and generic, and I’m not convinced Joss Whedon’s style of writing translates effectively into the animated world (just as I’m not convinced it translates effectively into comics).

 
Posted: Wednesday, August 06, 2008 at 10:21 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Animation | Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | TV | Web
 

It’s okay to emote, you know

The Witcher

Over the last few days, I’ve been playing a game I got the previous Christmas but, for one reason or another, never really devoted much time to, until now. The Witcher is based on a series of Polish fantasy novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, about which I must confess I know next to nothing. I am, however, told that they are phenomenally successful in their homeland, spawning a film and television series, comics, card games and now a PC role-playing game.

On the face of it, the game is not unlike any number of other CRPGs. Based on the Aurora Engine developed by BioWare for Neverwinter Nights, it features a tried and true combination of character building, item hunting, monster-whupping and plot development. It’s in respect to the latter that The Witcher distinguishes itself. Most fantasy RPGs have a fairly black and white view of the world, usually pits noble humans, elves and dwarves against irredeemable, bloodthirsty orcs, ogres and the living dead. This isn’t entirely surprising when you consider that almost all fantasy worlds are ultimately derived from JRR Tolkien’s writing, which had an “us vs. them” mindset to an even greater degree. As much as I enjoy games like Baldur’s Gate and Diablo, therefore, I often find myself drawn to the ones that try to do something a little different. Planescape: Torment, one of the best games of all time, did that by situating the game in the wildly unique and imaginative Planescape universe, which is devoid of traditional elves and goblins, and also by allowing the player to create a morally grey character whose actions and behaviour would have lasting implications on how he was treated and how the story unfolded. Seemingly minor decisions the player made at the beginning of the game could come back to bite him/her later - the Butterfly Effect, if you like.

The Witcher

I’m not going to suggest that The Witcher is the new Planescape: Torment. It’s far too clunky and awkwardly written (a by-product, I suspect, of the fact that I’m playing an English translation of a game originally written in Polish) for that. Planescape: Torment didn’t exactly have the most wonderful gameplay mechanics either (it used BioWare’s Infinity engine, whose combat system always seemed somewhat counter-intuitive, particularly in comparison with action-oriented CRPGs like Diablo), but its writing was first-rate, particularly for a computer game, and it, in conjunction with the evocative graphics and Mark Morgan’s moody score, helped suck the player into the world. In comparison, The Witcher’s mechanics seem rather unwieldy, while the world depicted definitely feels closer to a pastiche of Tolkien than something as original as Planescape, with the usual vile beasts and ale-swilling dwarves (complete with cod-Scottish accents, of course, since for some reason people have got it into their heads that all dwarves hail from my part of the world).

It does, however, appear to take the notion of the Butterfly Effect philosophy of game design to the next level. Seemingly insignificant decisions can open up entirely new avenues, while at the same time closing others off. There is also a commendable effort, on the part of the writers, to create a feeling of moral ambivalence, in that no ideology, race or decision is defined as unwaveringly good or bad. In the first chapter, for instance, there is an incident in which you have to choose between siding with some pitchfork-waving yokels who want to burn the local witch, and aligning yourself with the witch in order to fight off her assailants. This was by no means a straightforward decision. The locals were clearly stupid, violent and led astray by a corrupt priest, but at the same time ample evidence existed to suggest that the witch might very well have been up to no good. Champion of the underdog that I am, I decided to help out the witch, although, given that I then had to single-handedly defeat a horde of armed yobs, I suspect I chose the tougher path. The point is, though, that the game provided me with a moral dilemma and, instead of going with the easier option, I opted for what that felt more ethically acceptable. That, to me, is the essence of good game storytelling.

 
Posted: Saturday, July 26, 2008 at 5:56 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Books | Games | Technology
 

Transmission interrupted

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

In the unlikely event that you’ve been waiting on tenterhooks for my review of Issue 15 of the dreadful Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 comic (you know who are, you weird, weird freaks), then I hate to break it to you: it’s not happening. Today, it suddenly occurred to me that the festering thing hadn’t arrived, despite it having been released over a month ago. A quick peek at my TFAW account explained this anomaly: my subscription actually expired with Issue 14.

This means that I won’t be able to tell you which forms of sealife are jumped in the four and final instalment of Drew Goddard’s woeful little tale of Japanese vampires, dead Slayers and laughably predictable plot “twists”, and, to be honest with you, I don’t care. Back when I thought I would also be receiving Issue 15, I contented myself with the knowledge that, although I was abandoning the series, I would at least be jumping off the boat at a semi-logical point. Discovering, today, that I would essentially be left hanging, I realised just how much it doesn’t bother me. And why should it? The comics themselves are risible, and I don’t consider them to be in any way canonical, regardless of what their creator might say. So, while it’s slightly frustrating to be ending on a comma rather than a full stop, as it were, at least this means I can devote less time to writing about crap and more time to stuff I actually like.

 
Posted: Friday, July 11, 2008 at 5:43 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | Web
 

The smell of blandness

Film

Have you ever looked through one of these “The Art of…” books put out by Disney for their animated films and wondered why the conceptual drawings look some much more interesting and full of life than what ended up in the film itself? I certainly have, and I’m still at a loss when I try to explain why this happens. At a push, I might hypothesise that the bean-counters at the studio are afraid of straying too far from tried and tested formulae and end up ordering the artists to water everything down into insignificance, but I wouldn’t like to stake anything on it.

Occasionally, something ends up slipping through that shows a spark of creativity. Most recently, Lilo & Stitch, the brainchild of co-writer and co-director Chris Sanders, and by far the best Disney film since, oh, say, Aladdin, felt like a breath of fresh air with its distinctive visual style and offbeat sense of humour. Lilo & Stitch didn’t look or feel like any other Disney movie, and so, when I heard that Chris Sanders was working on a new project for the studio, American Dog, I was understandably excited to see what he’d do with the idea. Certainly, the first concept drawings and test footage looked extremely impressive, marrying Sanders’ distinctive illustrative style with 3D technology.

Then, bad news struck. Apparently, new Disney animation chief John Lasseter was unhappy with the direction in which American Dog was headed and ordered major changes to be made. This led to Sanders leaving the studio and handing the reins over to Chris Williams and Byron Howard, with whom he previously worked on Lilo & Stitch and Mulan. The project was given more or less a complete reboot, receiving a new storyline, a new art style and even a new title: Bolt.

Recently, the trailer for Bolt was released, and it looks as if my worst fears were well founded. While this may turn out to be a mildly enjoyable film in the long-standing Disney tradition, it completely lacks the charm and originality of the early images that were released a couple of years back. Perhaps worse still, as many people have pointed out, the plot seems almost word-for-word identical to a Disney cheapquel, 101 Dalmatians 2: Patch’s London Adventure.

So, returning to my original unanswered question, how can it be that this

American Dog
American Dog American Dog

becomes this?

Bolt

 
Posted: Saturday, July 05, 2008 at 4:06 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Animation | Books | Cinema
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 14: Wolves at the Gate, Part Three

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

Written by Drew Goddard; Illustrated by Georges Jeanty

Well, Renée is now dead, bloodily speared through the heart with the mystical scythe by a grinning vampire in what I’m sure was meant to be a deeply shocking and heartbreaking moment, but which just leaves me rolling my eyes and thinking “Jesus, get a new favourite plot contrivance, Joss.” Sudden Unexpected Deaths are all very well when used in moderation and for meaningful purposes, but when you roll out the exact same thing again and again, then please forgive me for not being entirely enthused by it. Jenny Calendar worked, Joyce worked, I’ll even concede that Doyle worked to some extent, but now we’ve had (off the top of my head) Tara, Jonathan, Cordelia, Fred, Wesley, Christian Kane, Shepherd Book, Wash, Random Japanese Slayer… Really, when you add up all the Sudden Unexpected Deaths that have been thrown at us by Buffy, Angel and Firefly/Serenity combined, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was nothing more than a big joke.

Maybe it is. Maybe Joss Whedon is sitting at his desk cackling as his unquestioning fans slavishly lap up each tall steaming glass of liquid fertiliser he serves them and then ask for more. However, if so, I’m sorry to say I don’t share his sense of humour. Oddly enough, what I find particularly obnoxious about the whole affair is that I had no reason to care about Renée in the first place. She was never characterised in anything but the broadest sense, and her entire function, it is now clear, was simply to dump yet more heartache on Xander. Are we at all surprised that the pair shared a kiss not six pages before she was skewered? Then again, given how Whedon and Goddard have treated the Xander character so far in this arc (see his “relationship” with Dracula), perhaps they’ll expect us to see his bereavement as highly amusing. After all, this issue began with Buffy cutting down the body of Random Japanese Slayer, which the vampires had strung up over the streets of Tokyo for all to see, and yet, four pages later, had Dracula hilariously asking if anyone was going to finish eating the corpse.

I haven’t yet mentioned Buffy treating Dracula as a mere annoyance (rather than as the mortal enemy that he is) or the sight of giant Dawn stomping through Tokyo à la Godzilla, but in all honesty I don’t see the point. This comic is a train wreck even by the already extremely low standards set by Seasons 6 and 7 of the television series. I’m sorry to say that I have less and less hope for Whedon’s new TV project, Dollhouse, with every page I read of this travesty. It astounds me that the person who once gave us excellent television like Hush, Restless and The Body has fallen so far from grace, but quite frankly, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to bring myself to care.

My next Buffy comic review will be my final one. My subscription stops after Episode 15, and I most assuredly won’t be renewing it. So, you can all breathe a collective sigh of relief.

 
Posted: Tuesday, May 27, 2008 at 11:27 AM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | TV
 

Actually, it really is that bad

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

The illustrious Baron Scarpia has braved a fate worse than death and submitted himself to reading all thirteen of my Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 comics. It was actually the Baron who first drew my attention to the world of rubbish Buffy comics in a post he made back in 2006, and, while I’m sure I’d have sought the Season 8 comics out regardless, I suspect that his, erm, appraisal of the comics available on the BBC web site probably served as something of a warning of just how bad things could get in comicdom. Therefore, I suppose I have him to thank for my experience with Season 8 not being as traumatic as it could have been. You see, my expectations had already been tempered somewhat by what I knew about the previous comics in this franchise, to the extent that I wasn’t particularly surprised by the poor quality of this official continuation. Still, I think my appreciation for the comics would have improved immensely had they included this delightful line from a piece of Buffy fan fiction, quoted by the Baron in his 2006 post:

The demon jumped into the air and landed in front of Buffy. “I know you Slayer. You cannot stop me. I shall defeat you then I shall fuck you to death.”

Is that poetry or is it poetry? Proof, perhaps, that Willow asking Satsu what Buffy is like in the sack (in Episode 13) is actually not the single most absurd conversation that could have been written.

Anyway, there’s a point to this post other than simply hawking a friend’s review (not that I wouldn’t have done that anyway - go and read it, it’s insightful and quite amusing). I want to take the time to reply to some of the issues raised in a comment left on of my own reviews of these comics. Basically, the visitor, Marc, felt that, in comparison with my reviews of other series and films, my Buffy reviews were a bit like something you might find in a “tawdry fan blog”, featuring over-analysis and without sufficient context given for those who are not followers of the show to understand what I was writing about.

I disagree with the first point, in that I don’t think my coverage of this series has been any more (over-)analytical than the other reviews I do. And if it is… well, let’s not forget that Buffy is a series that has gone out of its way to be very self-aware and referential towards pop culture. It’s the sort of thing that practically demands that you address it in an analytical way rather than just saying “I liked this, I didn’t like that”.

The other point, however - the lack of background explanation - is a perfectly valid one, however, and is a shortcoming of the Buffy project that I’ve become aware of over the course of re-reading some of the episode reviews recently. It’s quite true that there is a lack of context: if you don’t watch Buffy, most of the time you’ll have no idea what I’m talking abut in terms of characters, events or the mythology in general. In that respect, these reviews are very difficult, not to mention weaker, than the reviews I normally write. In my defence, when I began the Buffy project I wasn’t really writing the reviews for anything other than my own benefit. By the time I realised that this was a problem, however, it was too late to modify the tone of these capsules without going back to the beginning and starting over, something that I don’t feel particularly compelled to do, since it would necessitate yet another trip down memory lane, dredging up all the painful memories that come with it.

Tell you what - one of these days, I’ll sit down and write a summary-style review of each season, written with the assumption that the reader has no prior knowledge of the series in question.

 
Posted: Saturday, May 10, 2008 at 10:29 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | TV | Web
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 13: Wolves at the Gate, Part Two

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

Written by Drew Goddard; Illustrated by Georges Jeanty

Another month, another wondrous Buffy comic. The previous issue was irksome because of the Buffy/Satsu nonsense, but this one is completely and utterly bloody infuriating. First of all, this episode has more Andrew in it than any previous one - Goddard must be in love with this character, and it’s one of my main reasons for my considering him to be utterly overrated as a writer. Seriously, it absolutely astounds me that he and illustrator Georges Jeanty have managed to make this character every bit as annoying on the page as he was on screen. That must constitute some sort of dubious special talent.

Secondly, the character of Xander continues to be run into the ground with the revelations, spoken (by Andrew) without a hint of jest, that he and Dracula “stayed in touch” post Buffy vs. Dracula, writing “the occasional letter here and there”. I mean, seriously. This is the Xander who, after freeing himself from Dracula’s spell, gave a bit speech about how he would never again be anyone’s butt-monkey. But even this pales in comparison to the statement that, after Anya’s death, Xander went to live with Dracula for several months because he “needed some guy time”. Oh, and taught Dracula how to ride a motorbike.

I know this shouldn’t really be surprising. The character of Xander was treated like absolute crap in the final two seasons of the TV series, and indeed Nicolas Brendon has since stated that, at around the beginning of Season 5, Joss Whedon essentially told him that his character arc was finished and was welcome to stay but shouldn’t expect any meaningful storylines (he only stuck around because he felt he needed the money). But this is a new low. It demonstrates, to me, that those involved have lost any interest in telling a believable story about people the audience can empathise with and instead are content to trade the core characters’ dignity in favour of a cheap laugh here and there.

By this stage, I was pretty close to tearing my comic in two and chucking the two halves in the bin, but I hadn’t even finished page 7 at this point, so against my better judgement I persevered. If I hadn’t kept going, I wouldn’t have got to enjoy the sight of Buffy completely blanking Satsu and barking orders at her, and a whole cavalcade of jokes suggesting a homosexual relationship between Xander and Dracula, each one more hilarious and mature than the last. Oh, and Willow pestering Satsu to tell her what Buffy’s like in the sack. That, by the way, comes after Satsu saying she knows Buffy’s not “a dyke”, surely the most tasteful piece of writing since that infamous deleted exchange in the Season 6 episode Dead Things where Tara sympathises with Buffy’s sordid relationship with Spike by pointing out “Sweetie, I’m a fag. I been there.” (You think I’m kidding? Just follow the link.)

Following this hearty recommendation, I’m sure you’ll all be rushing out to buy copies of this masterful work of literature. Myself, I’d cancel my pre-orders for Parts 3 and 4 of this four-part arc if I could.

 
Posted: Thursday, April 17, 2008 at 2:32 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | TV
 

Amazing, just amazing

Actual conversation I had at work today:

Woman: I need you to help me find a book.

Me: Sure. Have you got the title?

Woman: No.

Me: Okay, well, do you know the author?

Woman: No.

Me: Right, well, okay, what’s the subject matter?

Woman: Oh, it was something about religion.

Me: Well, is it fiction or non-fiction?

Woman: I don’t know.

Me: You’re not giving me very much to go on here. Is there anything you can tell me about this book?

[Pregnant pause.]

Woman: I think it’s got a pink cover.

Me: Well, without more information, I’m not sure I can be of much help. I can only suggest you go through there to the religion section and see if there are any pink books.

Woman: You’re not much use, are you? I thought you were supposed to be a librarian.

Me: Actually, I’m not.

 
Posted: Wednesday, April 16, 2008 at 9:52 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Books | General
 

So many discs, so little time

Blu-ray

The last few days have heralded a shed-load of DVD and Blu-ray releases pouring through my letterbox, most of which I’ve scarcely had time to give more than a cursory glance. Most of them were free review copies, and a good thing too as I recently had to pay off my Graduate Endowment, so my coffers are looking a little empty at the moment.

First up, and one that I did pay for, was Sony Pictures’ UK Blu-ray release of Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. It looks to feature a decent transfer for a catalogue title: detail is, on the whole, very good, but the tell-tale signs of grain reduction are consistently evident. At the moment, I’d peg it as being slightly better than the re-release of The Fifth Element, also from Sony, but more investigation will be needed.

DVD

Next up, on Saturday, Shameless Screen Entertainment’s UK DVD release of Piero Schivazappa’s trippy 60s shocker The Frightened Woman (a.k.a. Femina Ridens). As a nice surprise, they sent me a fully boxed copy rather than the “DVD in a paper wallet” affair that most of the UK studios favour, so I can savour the tacky artwork in all its, erm, glory.

Unfortunately, I can’t say anything particularly positive about the transfer. Yes, it looks considerably better than my old VHS dupe, but that’s not a fair or particularly realistic comparison. A more valid counterpoint would be Severin Films’ release of The Psychic, which had similarly poor image quality, with a lack of detail and what looked like a dodgy scaling job, manifesting itself in the form of jagged diagonal lines. I wonder what caused this. Perhaps both films were acquired from the same licensor, or perhaps both companies used the same (incorrectly set up) encoder? Either way, if I’d paid for a company to encode my film and it came back looking like this, I would have rejected it outright. In case anyone gets the wrong idea, this is nothing to do with the quality of the source materials, which, barring some tape-based inserts for scenes which wouldn’t be sourced from a print, appears to be in great shape. This issue here has nothing to do with that and everything to do with the way it has been treated at the authoring stage. Not impressed.

DVD

Also in the package was the 2-disc release of the first series of Holby Blue, from 2 Entertain (the BBC’s front for commercial exploitation via optical disc). This is interesting, because I recorded the entire series directly to my computer via my USB TV stick back when it first aired, so I had a point of comparison to refer to when examining the image quality. The results, which you can see by clicking the smaller images below, are quite surprising:

Example 1
(Left: Commercial DVD; Right: My recording from DTV)
Holby Blue Series 1 Holby Blue Series 1

Example 2
(Left: Commercial DVD; Right: My recording from DTV)
Holby Blue Series 1 Holby Blue Series 1

Example 3
(Left: Commercial DVD; Right: My recording from DTV)
Holby Blue Series 1 Holby Blue Series 1

That’s right: the DVD release is considerably more filtered than what was broadcast on BBC1. Obviously, there are considerably more compression artefacts in the captures taken from my off-air recordings - that’s not surprising, given the notoriously shoddy standard of BBC’s encoding (BBC1 has a fixed 6 Mbps bit rate to play around with, so there’s really no excuse). I am, however, surprised, by how much more detailed my recordings are. A further black mark against the DVD release is that 2 Entertain have unceremoniously lopped off the “Previously” and “Next week” segments at the start and end of each episode, sometimes incredibly badly: the music has noticeable jump cuts and generally reeks of shoddiness. Is it so unreasonable to expect a complete package when you shell out your hard-earned cash for a TV series that you already helped pay for with your robber baron tax? (Ignoring the fact that I got the DVD for free, and, not being a home-owner, don’t pay the robber baron tax.)

DVD

The final disc in this package of joy was Optimum’s UK release of Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears. Audio options are Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 English, with no subtitles, while the only extra is the trailer. Image quality (and I’m aware of sounding increasingly like a broken record here) is not too bad, but not too great either. There’s plenty of evidence of ringing as a result of brick wall filtering, and also a massive amount of noise reduction which robs the image of its natural grain. A couple of people who got advance copies of this disc mentioned that the film looked as if it had been shot on digital video, and I see what they mean. I wonder if Medusa’s Italian release (which doesn’t have any English audio options) looks any better?

DVD

This morning, I received an order from DVD Pacific containing the US release of An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. This was an ITV adaptation of P.D. James’ novel of the same name (which I’m reading at the moment), starring Helen Baxendale and Annette Crosbie, and the DVD contains all four three-part episodes. My interest was piqued when I discovered that one of the three-parters was written by Barbara Machin, creator of Waking the Dead (the seventh series of which incidentally started tonight), so I decided to pick up this DVD set, fully aware that all four episodes feature standards converted transfers. This is, unfortunately, as far as I’m aware the only release of this programme on DVD, and beggars can’t be choosers. I won’t start watching till I’ve finished reading the book, though.

Blu-ray

Finally - and this is where my luck with image quality finally changes - I also received a review copy of the US Blu-ray release of Juno. My good friend Peter M. Bracke opines that this is “a fairly good-looking presentation”, but as usual I beg to differ. This is definitely the best high definition transfer I’ve seen from 20th Century Fox so far, bearing in mind that I own fewer of their films than any of the other major studios. The source material is such that it won’t make you leap out of your seat, marvelling at all the detail on display, but even so it’s an excellent presentation of a fairly low-key, muted-looking film.

Expect full reviews of The Frightened Woman, Holby Blue, Mother of Tears and Juno at DVD Times before very much longer.

 
Posted: Monday, April 14, 2008 at 11:19 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Books | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 12: Wolves at the Gate, Part One

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

Written by Drew Goddard; Illustrated by Georges Jeanty

Note: Several of my thoughts on this issue were previously worked out in an email exchange with my good friend Baron Scarpia.

Wow.

I take it most people know the phrase “jumping the shark”. In case you don’t, Wikipedia describes it as

a colloquialism used by U.S. TV critics and fans to denote the point at which the characters or plot of a TV series veer into a ridiculous, out-of-the-ordinary storyline. Such a show is typically deemed to have passed its peak. Once a show has “jumped the shark” fans sense a noticeable decline in quality or feel the show has undergone too many changes to retain its original charm.

Now that we know what it means to jump the shark, my question is can a series jump the shark more than once? Or do you have to jump over some other form of sealife? A Blue Whale, perhaps? By my reckoning, Buffy the Vampire Slayer jumped the shark at some point during Season 6, either with the episode Wrecked or Hell’s Bells. (Others might argue for the final scene of Seeing Red, but as far as I’m concerned it was past the point of no return before that episode anyway.) Still, I now find myself in the unfortunate position of having experienced an event that makes all Buffy’s past transgressions seem minor in comparison. This is worse than magic!crack Willow, worse than the comedy rape of Spike, worse than Buffy juggling, worse than the murder of Tara, even worse than the yellow crayon speech. And no, I’m not referring to the sight of Xander flying around in a helicopter that looks like a fish-bowl.

Buffy just screwed another woman.

I specifically chose to say “screwed” rather than “had sex with”, “slept with”,* “got jiggy with” or any number of other hilarious euphemisms, and the reason for this should become clear in due course. First of all, a little back-story. To briefly set the stage, one of the junior Slayers in Buffy’s squad is a young woman called Satsu, who is fairly blatantly in love with Buffy. I’m not just talking about a crush here - I’m talking full-on true lurve. The reason we know this is that, in an early issue, Amy cast a spell on Buffy which sent her to sleep, and, in typical Buffyland fashion, it had an escape clause built in: she would wake up if someone truly in love with her kissed her. Well, that someone turned out to be Satsu (although this was so unclear in the actual comic book panels that it had to be revealed in retrospect in a “Letters to the Editor” section after several readers wrote in asking who had awakened Buffy). In the most recent issue, Episode 11, Buffy had a long chat with her in which she explained that, while she was flattered, that wasn’t her thing. Fair enough. Cue Episode 12, and what does Buffy do?

She has sex with Satsu. For real.

This is horrible on so many levels it isn’t funny. There are a few ways you can attempt to spin this plot development, and none of them do the character of Buffy or Joss Whedon and his merry band of writers any favours. But here goes:

Theory 1. After being fed seven years’ worth of evidence to the contrary, we are now being told that Buffy is in fact attracted to women. It worked for Willow, after all.

Theory 2. Buffy has learnt nothing from the abominable manner in which she treated Spike in Season 6, and is proceeding to do much the same to another person, using them for a quick lay despite the fact that they want more out of it than a quick orgasm. Now do you see why I used the word “screwed”?

Theory 3. 2 grls 2gether = teh s3xy = $$$.

Yep, sorry, guys - I think Theory 3, probably with a bit of Theory 2 thrown in for good measure, is the most likely. The publisher suggested that retailers order more copies than normal for this issue. You do the math(s).

(Incidentally, I once read a very funny piece of intentionally absurd fan fiction which culminated in, for want of a better description, a gang bang involving a good 95% of the female characters in Buffyland. It’s some measure of how low this series has descended that, if Joss Whedon served this scene up as it exists in Issue 13, I wouldn’t even do a double take.)

So, we now find ourselves in a situation where the heroine of the tale is, in all likelihood, so callous and heartless that she is willing to toy with a friend/underling’s emotions in a manner that is utterly reprehensible and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to continue to root for her. Okay, so Seasons 6 and 7 did a pretty solid job of stripping Buffy of every ounce of humanity, but until now I still held on to a rather slim hope that she might have learned from her mistakes and realised that it’s not good to treat your friends as commodities that are devoid of feelings of their own, and can be picked up and used to scratch an itch, then immediately dumped. I really shouldn’t be surprised, though - it’s not as if there have ever been proper consequences for bad behaviour in Buffy, regardless of the writers’ endless pontificating to the contrary.

Perhaps I’m taking this all a bit too seriously? After all, it’s only entertainment, and at least on some level this episode was clearly written with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek (and yes, a lot of it is genuinely funny, considerably more so than any previous issue). Maybe I should lighten up and just see this as a bit of a laugh, a bit of outrageous fan fiction that really isn’t any better or worse than 99% of the other fan-written jaunts you can find for free on the web. Only it’s not fan fiction, and it’s not free. It’s also rather depressing to watch characters who I have developed some degree of affection for over the years being used for such cheap ploys. I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that these comics aren’t worth my time or money, and that I would be better served by cancelling my subscription and devoting the cash I save to something that actually gives me some degree of enjoyment.

Oh, and incidentally, what happened to the searing animosity between Willow and Buffy? The only thing worse than creating insincere conflict is creating insincere conflict and then not following up on it. (Hmm, sounds like Season 7 described in a nutshell.)

* Pointless aside: did I ever mention how much the euphemism “slept with” makes me roll my eyes? I’d imagine sleeping is that last thing either party will be doing. Which reminds me of a great exchange in the Season 5 episode Intervention:

Willow: Um… Buffy, this thing with Spike, i-i-it isn’t true, is it? You didn’t, you know, sleep with Spike?
Buffybot: No. I had sex with Spike.

Ah, happier times.

 
Posted: Saturday, March 29, 2008 at 8:30 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | TV
 

Mother of all cover designs

DVD

Cover art for the UK release of Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears, due out on April 28th from Optimum, has appeared online at various retailers, including Amazon.co.uk. It’s quite a classy design, for once, similar to the artwork used for the cover of Variety’s Cannes Film Festival 2007 issue, albeit tinted red.

According to John White over at DVD Maniacs, who has seen a check disc, it’s bare-bones barring a trailer, and has a 2.39:1 anamorphic transfer with English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Given that it looks like the upcoming Italian release is dubbed into Italian (a good 90% of the dialogue you hear in the film is what was spoken on set by the actors in English), and the currently available Russian release is cropped to 1.78:1, this release would appear to be the one to get.

 
Posted: Tuesday, March 11, 2008 at 10:08 PM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: Books | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Web
 

Eye slicing never looked more lovely

DVD

I was browsing through some of the reviews at HorrorDVDs.com the other night, and I suddenly noticed something: Another World Entertainment’s release of Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper has a really nice transfer. Personally, I always appreciate it when a review includes full size screen captures, because it means that, whatever the words might say, I can trust my own eyes and have a fairly good idea of what the transfer will actually look at without having to put a whole lot of faith in reviewers whose credentials are unknown to me.

Today, while doing a bit of shopping at Xploited Cinema, in the form of the Italian genre cinema book Esotika Erotika Psicotika, primarily for my PhD work, I decided to bite the bullet and order this, my third copy of Fulci’s notorious Video Nasty. It’s not my favourite of Fulci’s films by a long shot (I still maintain that A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is his best work), but it’s unjustly maligned and is, if not in the “very good” category of gialli, at least in the upper echelons of “good”.

Thank you for the screenshots, HorrorDVDs. You’ve just earned Another World Entertainment another sale!

 
Posted: Friday, March 07, 2008 at 2:56 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Books | Cinema | DVD | Gialli | PhD | Web
 
 

 
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