gwyn: (bond w/gun perceptible)
Thanks for the birthday wishes yesterday, everyone who made them. I really appreciate it. It was as good a day as it could be considering all the things going on that remind me of my dad and my sister. It felt really weird this year to not have my dad to go to on Thanksgiving, and then have our usual conversation where he asks me what I want for my birthday and then tells me to get it for myself from him. ;-)

I went to see Skyfall with my friend Michael, and then did a little shopping, then went to dinner at Bai Tong, considered the best Thai restaurant in Seattle, conveniently located near the theatre we saw Skyfall at. Then I came home and hung out with Blues, Olive, and Buffy. The big disappointment of the day was that there was no mangoes and sticky rice at the restaurant for dessert. Yeah, yeah, I know.

I had a really intense dream about sis_r the night before and it left me feeling a little weird during the day. And I'm trying to get the house really tidied up for the party and so I keep coming across all this stuff that I haven't wanted to deal with, stuff like Dad's checkbooks, some hospital bills, etc. It definitely has an impact on your feelings. Plus the past couple days have had a lot of people canceling on the party for Friday, which worries me since I bought this big freakin' cake and now most people seem to be bailing on it. Arg.

Anyway, lest I focus on the maudlin, my thoughts about Skyfall are as follows )
gwyn: (mulder _jems)
I'm sorry that it's taken me so long to get a report done of the Escapade vid show and the review panel the next day. To tell the truth, I didn't want to relive the horror, and I was busy, so it was easy to avoid. We had some really old style technical glitches with no sound on a bunch of vids, which we discovered only about an hour before the show was supposed to start; I'll leave out the rest of the gory details but suffice to say, we were really late, and the solution we used was glitchy in and of itself, but the audience was really nice about it. The DVDs all have the same sound problem, and so for those of you who weren't there and don't know, these won't really play (after the first three vids, the sound disappears on most of the vids) in a DVD player but they will often play on a computer IN a program like VLC. They are getting newly remastered discs though, and you can request a replacement from the con comm, probably soonish.

Me and [ profile] mlyn ran the vidshow review panel the next morning. It was sparsely attended, and it was hard to get people to talk about things. But there were a few places people spoke up and offered some really interesting insights. A lot of the vids didn't get talked about due to my horrible sense of judging time; I totally misunderestimated how much time we had this year, a bit different from previous years, and getting set up took some time. These comments are pretty much my recollection and opinion of the vids; I'd love others to please add comments about what they thought. Especially since so many people who usually talk a lot at the review panel weren't there this year - here's your chance. [ profile] par_avion has put together a complete list of the vids with the LJ names of the vidders and the locations of the vids online, if available, here.

Escapade 2009 vidshow and review panel )

I can add links to this if anyone feels like supplying them to me.
gwyn: (mack daddy)
I have had to accept, especially since I got the TiVo a number of years ago, that there's just no way I can watch as much of the new shows to test them out as I would like -- so I whittle down my list more and more each fall and attempt to pick what I think will a) be worth my time, or at least be semi-interesting, and b) last longer than 4 eps. I still haven't mastered the art of b) yet. And I still have too much TV on my TiVo, which, now that I'm watching a soap again and have an addiction to HGTV, has become quite unmanageable. This year, I've got about five new shows on the season pass list, and I still can't keep up, between my older series (Heroes, Numb3rs, The Unit -- what can I say? Hot men, bad TV, and so on) and the new stuff.

I adored Chuck, but couldn't watch it after the first episode, because they teasingly showed it on every network NBC owns for only the pilot, no other episodes, and NBC's player works so suckily on my Mac I haven't tried to watch them online. But at some point, I will catch up. Because Adam Baldwin in a Best Buy-type-store polo shirt? Won't ever not be funny.

Speaking of losers who are funny, Reaper )

Life )

Journeyman )

Pushing Daisies )

Moonlight )

Bionic Woman )

And then there are the returning shows, though mostly what I could say about those is that there are fetching new hair styles on both the Unit and Numb3rs for a few people, and Don has standup hair again, thank god, though Charlie's facial hair scares me a bit. They are still silly and I like them, but I'd rather watch Reaper than the Unit, for however long that lasts. The big two, for me, though, are Heroes and Dexter. I haven't had the chance to watch more than the first two eps of second season Dexter so I'm behind in that respect, but...

Dexter )

Heroes )

Prison Break )
gwyn: (bond&vesper perceptible)
After watching my friends list erupt with squeeing over the new James Bond movie, Casino Royale, and consequently his new actor, Daniel Craig, for over a month, I finally got to see the damn thing this weekend. I've been a fan of Craig's for a long time, and I was deeply distressed when they named him the new Bond. See, I hate James Bond movies. Loathe, despise, abhor.

I wrote about all the reasons why in a review I did of the last one, which I went to see primarily because Will Yun Lee from Witchblade was in it and Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors) had directed, but the condensed version is: wink-wink-nudge-nudge misogyny up the wazoo; smug, above-it-all, cooler than thou suavity rubs me the wrong way; no human character to speak of, as Bond is uber-human and that's just boring; stupid gadgets and chases that go on for fucking ever; no consequences. I loved the beginning of Die Another Day, because Bond gets thrown in prison and tortured. Finally, I thought, consequences. But then he got out and the movie turned into another piece of crap. The only movie I ever liked in the franchise was On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which is widely reviled, because again, there was heartbreak and loss and consequences and a super tight plot that didn't waste a lot of time with stunts.

So you can imagine my distress when one of my favorite actors, who's always taken unusual roles and flown under the radar for most people, was getting stuck in that horrid franchise. It was heartening to hear that they were planning to reboot it, but I still had doubts. Not about Craig, though -- I think he's just one of the most amazing actors around, and he can be such a chameleon that I knew he could do anything. Plus, he singes my eyeballs with his hotness, and so I figured that at the very least, it's a couple hours of him looking good at my local theatre.

I know not everyone thinks he's hot (some critic described him as having the quality of a dyspectic Steven McQueen) and of course, you're nuts, but the thing that makes me happy is that even those who aren't swept away by his sexayness have talked about what an amazing actor he is.

There are still a couple movies to go on my Netflix list, which I keep pushing back for one reason or another (like, I just don't want to watch another talky political drama as in Archangel just now, and I'm not up for yet another loony obsesso guy like he sounds in Obsession, so I've just kind of kept them back a bit, and I will get around to Infamous when I can), but I've seen most of his work that's available here across the pond, and so thought I'd do more than just wax rhapsodic about an actor I adore, and tell you, in case you're thinking it since you now want to write and read James Bond fic and Daniel Craig is your new BSO, about his canon. Because I gotta tell you, some of the movies should come with warnings. Seriously. Henceforth my gift to you: Daniel Craig-o-rama.

So, you want to rent a movie with Daniel Craig in it )
gwyn: (film reel)
Not long after Hillary Swank won her first Best Actress Oscar, she starred in an HBO movie called Iron Jawed Angels, about the last years of the woman's suffrage movement leading up to the constitutional amendment finally giving women the right to vote in the U.S. I remember at the time the reviews were mostly mixed to negative, not so much because the movie wasn't good, but because everyone seemed to have enormous problems with the anachronistic quality of the film. What for some people is innovation and audacity, to take a staid, period setting and modernize it a little bit in dialog, musical selections, editing, and film technique seemed to strike a lot of others as somehow wrong, or making light of a serious topic.

I'm definitely in the "innovative and audacious" camp. When you first start watching it, you're thinking, wow, this is gorgeous, and then you kind of go, huh, that's an interestingly... uh, modern choice of music, and then when you get to some of the first bits of dialog between Swank's character, the suffragist Alice Paul, and Frances O'Connor's, you're thinking, whoa -- that is not a phrase from 1917! But then it starts to grow on you -- or rather, it did me. I loved the fact that they used modern techniques and dialog to make a story about a period a lot of people find yawn-inducing into something much more compelling.

Initially, in fact, the story is slow -- Paul and her fellow "take a more aggressive approach" activists are embroiled in some more political maneuvering as they gradually begin to make a split with the main suffrage organization at the time, and that is never terrifically exciting. Though the cast is incredible -- Angelica Huston, Julia Ormond, a pre-McDreamy (but no less dreamy, OMG) Patrick Dempsey, Vera Farmiga, and even Alma from Deadwood! -- political machinations are often not that engaging for modern audiences, but the director's really unusual approach and the beautiful cinematography pull you in.

The right to vote for women has way too often been downplayed in our history texts -- I didn't know about, for instance, the jailing and torture of many of the women until I went and researched it on my own in junior high. Most of the time it's just a note on 1920 -- women were granted the right to vote by an amendment blah blah. The best thing about Iron Jawed Angels is that it brings to life people who have been shoved into the margins of history, and shows us just how terrible their fight was for something we all take for granted. Toward the end, when the U.S. goes to war in 1918, things start to get very, very ugly, and they do not stint on showing just how horrific force-feeding of hunger strikers actually was.

For me, the movie was a great example of just how engaging film can make history to a modern audience. We seem to have this belief that history has to be told in epic presentations, with everyone using faux British accents if they're not already from there (because god knows, no other accent would be historically accurate! Look at the pasting Scorsese took when he let his American actors use their own voices in Last Temptation of Christ), and with quasi-symphonic music as a background. Iron Jawed Angels is gorgeous, living proof that you can make history and the people who made it engaging, fascinating, and thoroughly relatable. If it weren't for a steamy bathtub scene with Swank and a few swear words, in fact, this would be a perfect movie to show junior-high kids to make them fully understand the cost of the rights they will probably soon grow up to take for granted and ignore.
gwyn: (film reel)
I'm so full up of anger right now, and I hate everyone so, so much, that I have to write about something I like or my head will 'splode if I don't. So I decided to talk about a movie that blipped on very few radars, more's the pity ([ profile] feochadn, this one's for you): a little indie from 2000 called Songcatcher.

I've seen a lot of people talk about roots music lately, and I wish more people who had an interest in Americana, or whose only exposure to music that's come "down from the mountain" is the soundtrack(s) to O Brother, would see this lovely, gentle film. It's about a musicologist in the early part of the last century who is denied a position at the University where she teaches (because, mostly, she's a woman, and therefore unworthy of a position a man could have). She takes off to visit her sister in rural Appalachia, who runs a small school with a lady friend, to lick her wounds and figure out what she wants to do. While there, she hears a young woman singing (played by a very young Emmy Rossum, so Phantom phans should take note) a variety of Scots-Irish songs that had been previously thought lost. She is stunned by this discovery, and sets out to get to know the locals that she had earlier shied away from so that she can record their songs and recover this nearly extinct history. Along the way she falls in love with a rough-edged, somewhat dangerous war veteran, played by Aidan Quinn, and discovers the truth about her sister and her lady friend.

The music is gorgeous and wonderful and so real it lifts your heart. I'm sure there are people who would classify that kind of music as caterwauling (my parents would have, I'm certain), but I find it gorgeous to listen to. The songs that Lily discovers have been passed down from generation to generation, preserved in the hills because of the lack of contact from outsiders. Most of the locals are happy to sing them for her, but Quinn's character confronts her with accusations that she is no better than the other outsiders who come there to exploit the people and the land for money, such as the mine owners. Emmy Rossum has such a beautiful voice and natural presence on the screen, it's hard to remember how young she is. At first, she's only too happy to sing all the songs she knows, but grows weary the longer Lily does her research.

For a lot of the people Lily encounters in this society, music is the only thing they really have that provides any happiness or relief from a life of astounding hardship and poverty. At first, she has trouble grasping that, but as she begins to grow more enchanted with the locals, and to understand her sister's desire to help them, she takes up their cause in her own way, hoping that by making the recordings available to the public, people will see what the mountain culture has to offer -- that these people are more than stupid hillbillies. But the road to this plan isn't smooth. Along the way, the bumps she encounters are pretty hard, including the discovery that her sister is a lesbian -- and not long after she discovers that, so do a few other pretty nasty people, and the consequences are harsh.

Ultimately, though, it's an incredibly uplifting movie, and one that does what its lead character wanted so badly to do: share this classic, lost music with a wider audience. It's also got one of the most sensitively portrayed lesbian love storylines I've ever seen, not to mention heterosexual love storylines. It shows the ugly and pure sides of love with equal tenderness and understanding, and even the villains don't come across as pure evil simply because we are allowed to see where their fears and anger come from.

If you love the traditional American music that evolved out of what immigrants brought here and developed over time, this is a movie to treasure. If you love quiet, gentle stories that respect their characters for both strengths and weaknesses, this is a movie to treasure. And if you enjoy romantic yet grounded love stories ... well, you get the idea. Just all the way around, this movie is a quiet little jewel.
gwyn: (film reel)
A lot of my friends are very, very into anime, but when I mention a little movie that has a kind of proto-anime style that influenced a lot of subsequent work in animation, inevitably I find that they have not seen The Point. And I'm always surprised. To say that The Point influenced my life heavily would be a huge understatement. For one thing, it was the first animated feature that really got to me, in a way that Saturday morning cartoons, even my favorite, Gigantor, or the popular Disney flicks of the '60s, never did. For another, it had this hipster zen cool dope sensibility that offered advice about life that has often sustained me when I couldn't quite make sense of the world. Remembering one quotation, from the Rock Man ("You see what you want to see, and you hear what you want to hear") has helped me through some really difficult situations throughout my life. And the music from Harry Nilsson's original album and soundtrack can brighten my mood when all else fails, and I've found myself turning to these songs (the only famous one is "Me and My Arrow") a lot lately since my sister's death, just because they take serious issues and turn them into something light and airy and just... endurable.

The Point was originally aired on ABC in 1971 (the album Nilsson himself narrates predates the movie a little bit), and the primary narrator and father character was voiced by Dustin Hoffman, with his son, and the character of Oblio, voiced by Mike Lookinland, the original Bobby Brady (I think it was Bobby... I was never a BB fan, so I don't remember for certain) from The Brady Bunch. Hoffman's narration was replaced years later by another actor, then finally by Ringo Starr, and it's his voice that's on the DVD release as well as the older VHS release. He's not nearly as good, sadly, and I miss Hoffman's version because his deadpan, clipped words were just so damn perfect.

It's the story of a boy named Oblio who is born in the land of Point, where everything and everyone has a point. On top of their heads, their buildings, etc. -- it's the land of Point, after all. Oblio, unfortunately, has a round head. When he makes an unintentional enemy of the evil Count's son (by beating him at triangle toss, a game he can play with the help of his trusty dog, Arrow, hence the song), Oblio is banished to the Pointless Forest because he violates the... well, point of Point by not having one. The rest of the film deals with Oblio's adventures and misadventures in the Pointless Forest.

The characters he encounters along the way are extraordinary, and the story is a lovely fable that doesn't stint on some of the sadder, more confusing, or scarifying aspects of what's happened to him. That's what makes his lesson so valuable in the end. The weak King, who allowed the Count to banish Oblio, starts to get a spine, Oblio's parents try to get him back, but in the end, it's Oblio and Arrow who really teach everyone what's important. So this is a great movie for kids, but it's got such bizarre '60s-'70s absurdist humor and surrealist stylings that it works beautifully for adults, too.

It was made in conjunction with a Japanese animation house -- one that also did Free to Be... You & Me, which I know a lot of my friends remember fondly -- and it's really obvious that both the American and Japanese producers took Nilsson's narrative album and gorgeously illustrated booklet (I still have my LP copy of all this because I've never found this on CD even though it's advertised on the back of the DVD, and that booklet is too beautiful to shrink) and really ran with it. While it's obvious people were smoking something, it never has that annoying drug-based humor or style that can date and diminish a movie so very badly over time. There are the bouncing fat sisters, the guy with multiple points, the Rock Man ("you been goofin' with the bees?"), a frightening swarm of bees and a big scary mama eagle, and on and on. The songs are beyond delightful (I've always wished I could find something to vid for one of these songs), and the whole thing is just such a pleasant, positive experience that I always feel like a little light is being shined into my life when I watch this.

There are wonderful messages about tolerance, about conformity (a huge topic in the early '70s), about what it means to be accepted and loved despite differences, and mostly, about diversity. The movie is never preachy, never "adult" in that annoying way message movies of the '70s often are. And the Peter Max-ian visuals combined with anime-factory flair makes it such an eye-candy treat. When I saw this first, in fifth grade, I think, I was sicker than a dog -- I'd had a terrible flu that had left me bed-ridden for days and days (during my birthday and Thanksgiving, I might add), I hadn't been able to eat or keep food down for almost as long. Even though I was weak and miserable, I had been determined to watch it no matter what. I'm still glad I did even though I was on death's door (literally, since I had to be hospitalized later), because it gave me such fond memories of Hoffman's narration, now lost to time, but it also kind of kept me going through the next few years, which were very difficult for me. I would remember the Rock Man's sage advice, or some of the goofier observations Oblio made about people having points, and no matter what life threw at me, I could find something from The Point to help me over it.
gwyn: (heroes)
Thanks to [ profile] fenchurche and [ profile] sdwolfpup, I got to see Serenity last night, when I never expected to be able to make it to one of these preview screenings. I didn't have the energy or emotional ability to deal with trying to get tickets, especially after hearing people's war stories about it, but when sdwolfpup hooked me up with fenchurche, who had an extra ticket that she could easily have scalped, my only big worry was whether I would be able to stay awake for the screening. Honestly, the kindness and helpfulness of real fans never ceases to amaze me -- there was a small group of people begging for tickets before the show, and they ended up behind us in line because some woman there had found out that her friends decided at the last minute not to go, and so she offered them tickets at face value, no markup. No matter how cynical you may get about fans and fandom, remember that there are people like sdwolfpup and fenchurche.

Anyway, about the movie. One of the reasons I started this journal was to review shows and movies I liked, since for a brief halcyon time I worked as a movie critic and I never forgot my love of writing that kind of piece. At the time, Firefly was on, but there was no critical discussion of it, and all the LJ writing I found tended toward the "squee!" I wanted more discussion, but then it was gone. So I can't approach the movie just as a squee-y fangirl; I still tend to bring that old critical faculty to movies when I see them, and it's not something I can put down for the most part. Even if I enjoy something, a compartment in my brain is also taking notes about what is working filmically, what isn't, etc. So if that bothers you, then by all means, stay away from the comments in the cut tag. Needless to say, if you're a spoiler scaredy cat, then SCAMPER, KITTENS! RUN! BE FREE!

Contemplating last night's preview screening of Serenity )

And the second best part besides meeting fenchurche and her friends was that there was swag! A small poster, a booklet, and a nice little keychain, which I needed since my puffy Totoro won't fit in my new bag.
gwyn: (film reel)
Continuing my happy movie and must post about something besides my awful life theme, I thought I'd go for a movie that was a huge hit at Sundance a few years ago, but that ended up being a critical and box office disappointment, for reasons I've never understood because I adored it: Happy, Texas. The movie is often used these days as a touch point for discussions about the distribution bidding wars and how the big hits at festivals don't pan out, and while it's not a perfect movie by any stretch, it's still a much better movie than critics gave it credit for being.

It's a comedy about two prisoners (Jeremy Northam and the ubiquitous Steve Zahn) who escape from a road gang and steal an RV belonging, they find out later, to two children's pageant coordinators who were on their way to Happy, Texas to beef up the skills of the town's little girls competing for the Little Miss Fresh-Squeezed title. Everyone in town assumes they're the (very odd) pageant boys, which allows Northam, who's a bank robber and con man, and Zahn, who's basically just a violent career criminal with few brain cells to rub together (with the sublime name of Wayne Wayne Jr.), to stay there a while and plan to rob the local bank. The problem is that Northam falls in love with the banker, played by Ally Walker from Profiler, under the guise of being her new gay best friend, and Zahn starts to really get into his role as pageant expert, while also falling for the previous pageant guide, played by the always great Illeana Douglas. Worse, the town sheriff, played note-perfectly by William H. Macy, falls in love with Northam's character, thinking of course that he's gay, and on the outs with his "partner."

While there's a lot of the usual stereotyping and the final action set piece goes on way too long, what I loved about the movie was that it got to the heart of what makes people fall in love with other people, what makes people want to stay in one place or be with one person, and how you can never predict what will touch your heart. Zahn is hilarious when he's struggling with the fact that he's really falling for the little girls he gets stuck with teaching; he has a monologue while using a sewing machine, as he rips into Northam for abandoning him, that almost made me pee my pants with laughter, because he gets so worked up about his girls, especially the one with the flaming baton who he's afraid will set herself on fire "like one of them Buddhist monks." And Northam is really touching to watch as a heartless con artist who slowly discovers his heart -- his scenes with Macy are especially wonderful. Everything with Macy's quietly gay and lonely sheriff is a great antidote to the stereotypes, so that by the end, all the stereotypes get kind of subverted. Ron Perlman has a great small role as a Texas Ranger whose admiration for Macy's "big-dicked" lawman turns into something else altogether by the end.

I think these days any comedy will get trounced by the critics, especially one like this that was a huge audience-pleaser at a festival like Sundance. But just because it's not perfect doesn't mean it's not also a) funny and b) well-done and c) features outstanding performances by some of the best indie film people in the business. And to me, those are pretty important to making a comedy successful -- when [ profile] feochadn and I saw it in the theatre, it was a small crowd, but I remember the two of us, and the rest of the audience, laughing our asses off, and I think nothing could be higher praise for a movie. If for no other reason, it's worth watching for Zahn's sewing machine monologue, but I also think the sweet love stories, and the final little tender surprise with Macy's character (not to mention the scene where he drives around crying), make it definitely worth a rental.
gwyn: (film reel)
My normal disposition is toward the melancholy and the dramatic, and I've never had much use for people who won't watch serious or sad or dramatic movies and just dismiss them as "depressing," because I think that great art shouldn't have to be limited to a certain disposition or emotion. As much as I'm annoyed by the Academy Awards' refusal to equate comedic performances and films with quality and reward them with top honors, I'm also annoyed by much of the moviegoing public for its refusal to support really good, serious, and often tragic movies.

But of course, lately I've had the big hankering for comedy and romance, as a way to try to push back my own really tragic thoughts and try to find something, anything that will lift my spirits. I've been catching up on all my zombie movies (because... zombies!), and watching repeated showings of romantic comedies even if I don't like them that much. Just... you know, because. One movie that finally came out on DVD a while back that never fails to make me smile is I Wanna Hold Your Hand, a very early effort by Robert Zemeckis (and produced by Steven Spielberg), he of the enormous box office smashes like the Back to the Future series, Romancing the Stone, Cast Away, Forrest Gump, and of course, the gimicky things like Gump, Contact, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Death Becomes Her, Polar Express, etc. He's always been an envelope-pusher in terms of technology in filmmaking, but what a lot of people forget is that when he works small, he can create really lovely, intimate character portraits, even if the humor is broad or slapsticky (as in the way-underseen Used Cars). I Wanna Hold Your Hand is a perfect example of what he can do when he works small.

It's a charming movie about six teenagers in New Jersey who will do pretty much anything they can to see the Beatles when they come to NY for their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. If anyone watched much TV in the '80s, they would know who Wendy Jo Sperber is, and she is the most maniacal of the fans in this group of girls (though I should add, one of the six is a boy who is every bit the fan that the girls are), and she is frequently hysterical in her slapstick-manic energy. She's like a Tasmanian Devil with a scratchy girl's voice and a Jersey accent. Nancy Allen plays the least-interested girl; she is not a fan at all and is much more concerned with her upcoming wedding, but in the end, she's the one who has the close call with the Beatles, something which changes her life forever. Most of the movie is taken up with the friends running around NY trying desperately to get tickets (their methods involve everything from trying to sell fake Beatles bed sheets to winning a phone contest, my favorite Wendy Jo moment in the movie), and it runs the gamut from charming romance to physical pratfall comedy, but never really loses its way.

What I also love about this movie is that it perfectly captures a specific point in time when America was beginning to change drastically, and has all the right period pieces without ever seeming kitschy and overly nostalgic. Allen's character reflects the traditional sort of future-housewife innocence of a lot of middle-class girls of that era (and then her eyes are opened by the Beatles!), there's a much more aggressive and intelligent girl who you just know is going to end up publishing a magazine and living in a penthouse on Central Park or something, and a future hippie chick who's much more interested in folk music such as Bob Dylan's. So much about pop culture was at a crossroads in 1964, and the movie gives us a lovely slice of that within the context of this comedy about, well, fans and how fanatic they are. In the way the original Fever Pitch memoir by Nick Hornby (do NOT get me started on this American bastardization into basefuckingball) was the most cogent, funny, smart evocation of what it means to be a fan I've ever read, I Wanna Hold Your Hand captures just how fans really are, and never makes fun of them in the way almost every movie about fandoms has.
gwyn: (gay pants)
I thought I'd try to do a non-horrible death post for a change and say something fannish.

The reception to my Magnificent 7 vid In a Big Country surprised me a lot, both when it premiered at the con and when I put it up online. It seemed to pique the interest of a lot of people who normally wouldn't give cowboys in love a fightin' chance. Coupled with the fact that Showtime Extreme is currently showing the episodes uncut and unbugged, I think the fandom is poised for a little bit of an uplift. Before, anyone getting into it through word of mouth or fanfic had an awfully hard time getting hold of the 23 hours available (a pilot movie and 21 subsequent episodes, spread over two "seasons" because CBS cancelled it halfway through its first season, but it was brought back by a successful fan campaign, whereupon CBS promptly cancelled it again without airing the final four episodes that TNT, before it became Spike TV, did air with their horrible, horrible station ID bugs and all cut up). When they could get tapes, they were second or third gen, blurry and dark, or people bought the terrible DVDs that someone is selling, where they are compressed, blown up to full screen size, and then crammed on a disc with so many other eps that they are nearly unwatchable. So it's been a difficult fandom to pimp. Hallmark channel showed them a few years ago, but their scheduling was weirdly unreliable, and some eps were drastically cut, often in the slashiest places, or then not touched at all, but they changed schedules without alerting TiVo, so one of the most pivotal eps never repeated.

I'm hopeful that with the Showtime airings making good copies available, people can discover this wonderful series -- and hope they will show up on the torrent sites, if people don't have someone who can record the Showtime eps for them. The ones I've seen so far look stunning -- the show was filmed using natural light, which is very unusual, so the darks often didn't register well previously, but these airings have restored the look of the show quite well, I think. I'm also hearing things I've never been able to hear before. Like a lot of shows on CBS at the time, Mag 7 was made with a very clean-cut, family audience in mind, so there are a number of the usual Western cliches. But the show really veered away from that in many respects to create a more realistic feeling about what things were like, and they got a number of historical details right that I really valued (being someone who really loves to research the old West). I heard a couple people disparage the show at Escapade as being not bad, but not good, but I disagree -- I think it was frequently great, and had some good solid writing from people who knew their characters well (no mean feat for seven main characters and a couple of recurring secondary characters). The final four eps that CBS never aired, in fact, were superb, and were taking the show to a very dark, very adult place that was everything I could have hoped for.

I really enjoyed [ profile] killabeez's posts about essential Highlander episodes, and I got to thinking after someone mentioned again how the vid had got them interested in seeing it, what episodes would I consider mandatory watching to be pimped or to pimp someone into the fandom? I'm a terrible pimp, so I might be choosing the wrong things (I like dark, challenging, gripping stories as opposed to lighter weight or humorous, most often), but this is a listing of what I would show someone if I had limited time. (OTOH, I think watching all 23 hours isn't unfeasible, and would recommend that more, especially in order -- I sent [ profile] mlyn home with a bag o' tapes and she came back hooked. A marathon can be a lot of fun.) Keep in mind, too, that I'm very, very Chris/Vin-centric, with a lot of love for everyone, but not as much for Buck and JD, though I do think they have their moments.

My essential episodes of The Magnificent Seven )

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Showtime airs them all, and doesn't just peter out halfway through. Because that second season is a corker (I didn't even include the wonderful Love and Honor, and Lady Killers), and I would hate to think that people won't have good copies of this wonderful series.
gwyn: (film reel)
With so much Oscar discussion around Sideways (and the nominations it didn't get, especially since it's the critics' darling for this year) and especially around Virginia Madsen, I thought I'd bring up my favorite role of hers: the tortured call girl Yolanda/Nancy in Slam Dance. Directed by Wayne Wang, this 1987 noirish thriller starring Tom Hulce and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio pretty much disappeared without a trace when it came out, but it is still a favorite of mine even looking back on some of its quaint "underground" lifestyle depictions that were somewhat more shocking at the time.

An English lit professor of mine once said to me "An interesting failure is better than a boring success," and that always stuck with me because I think I'm drawn to the interesting failures (keyword there is interesting -- regular old failures are not that attractive!), very very strongly. Slam Dance is not necessarily a good movie all the way around, but much of it is very good -- most notably the cinematography, which is unlike anything I have ever seen on film and probably never will again as celluloid loses its prominence in filmmaking. [ profile] feochadn explained to me once how Wang got the effect he did in this, but I can't remember what she told me; I only know what DVD (especially MGM's usually craptastic treatment of their discs) can't even begin to do it justice, and so the only people who will remember how astonishing this thing looks will be cranky old people like me who saw it in a theatre and went, "whoa." It's hard to explain to people who don't notice photography, but the blacks here are the richest, deepest blacks I've ever seen, pulling you into the dark corners of the movie in a way two dimensions shouldn't be able to. The lighting is jaw-dropping, from the neon-lit nightclub Hulce's character, C.C. Drood, hangs out in to the detail of peach-colored silk sheets that ripple like desert sand dunes. The landscapes of LA have never looked as gorgeous. Normally, people, when they're on film, tend to have a slight edge around their shapes, especially if they are lit from the side or back; here, the shots of people are edgeless even against deep blacks, and everything has the quality of a painting in some ways. There is, essentially, no gray scale in this movie. Whites are shockingly white, and Virginia Madsen's blond halo of hair, her pale porcelain skin, almost glow on the screen, especially in the nightclub scene where Drood first meets her.

I've never completely understood the story, and it gets tangled up in odd directions. Adam Ant plays Drood's best friend, the nightclub owner where the titular slam dancing takes place, and he's often hilarious -- he has a reaction to Hulce in one scene that induced me to laugh so hard my friend tried to drag me out of the theatre because I just couldn't stop laughing no matter how hard I tried. Other actors in the movie include Harry Dean Stanton and infant Robert Beltran from Voyager. There's a strange cameo from Millie Perkins that is so stiff, it makes you wonder about her performance as Ann Frank. In fact, most of the actors here are stiff and deliver their lines in these very old-fashioned noirish beats. Best of all is the soundtrack, I think: it's a fascinating mix of original stuff (some of it fleshed out by uberhipster John Lurie) and some cool songs by Stan Ridgway (of Wall of Voodoo "Mexican Radio" fame), the Fibonaccis, and a song that I still plan to vid to someday by Tim Scott. "Bing Can't Walk" and "Art Life" are two of the sickest, funniest songs I've ever heard, and I was thrilled recently when a friend made a CD copy of the vinyl-only soundtrack for me so I could listen to them again.

Even though Hulce and Mastrantonio are the stars, it's really Virginia Madsen you leave this movie remembering. Her haunted, sad, all-too-knowing character is the device around which the story is built, but she's more than just a device. We find out everything about her when we first see her in a stunning, sexy dress at the nightclub, coolly regarding Hulce with all his questions, but the longer he looks at her, the harder she finds it to keep her icy cool, and her face dissolves into a girlish grin and embarrassed giggles. She's really amazing in this movie, and every time someone comments on how surprised they are by her role in Sideways, how this "gorgeous actress has never had a chance to shine in the B-movie graveyard" she's worked in before, I want to point them to Slam Dance. It may be a B movie in many respects (though that wasn't the intention of the filmmakers, by any stretch), but it's an interesting failure, and Madsen is literally luminous. She seems to have been lit from within at times, and she actually appears to shine on the screen.

The DVD has both a pan and scan and widescreen choices, but that's all it offers. Not even a chapter listing insert. I'm glad that it's at least available; it was out of print for years and the soundtrack will never come out on disc, I'm sure. But if you're in the mood for a stylish, odd, indie noir that looks really good, it sure beats the heck out of all those boring successes.
gwyn: (Default)
Review of the Wonderfalls complete series DVDs )

Thanks again to everyone who's sent me wishes about my sister. Things have gotten very bad very suddenly, and I don't know what's going to happen just yet, but they're not looking good right now. If you can spare her some more prayers, we need them.
gwyn: (film reel)
Talked with my sister last night and found out what they're going to do treatment-wise, and it's so depressing and hopeless that I can hardly talk. So I'm working on my "My twin sister is going to die" denial-mastery by pretending I care about other things. So I thought I would do my first Movies You May Not Have Seen recommendation today, because it feels like a fitting movie to talk about with these emotions.

The Navigator is a 1989 film from New Zealand that many people seem to confuse with the treacly Disney movie from around the same time called Flight of the Navigator. It probably hasn't been helped by the fact that The Navigator has been tagged, especially in North America, with numerous subtitles that don't seem to help sell people on its brilliance. It appears to have three separate titles, one of which was on the old VHS tape "A Medieval Adventure" and another of which has been tagged on to the DVD -- "A Time-Travel Adventure." When it came out in theatres here, it was just plain ol' The Navigator, and I think the subtitles make it sound cheesy, which doesn't do it much service when the cover is also kind of crappy and won't pop out at someone on the shelf.

This is a brilliant small movie that uses both black and white and color film to tell a story of a small village in 14th-century Cumbria so terrified of the coming plague that they are willing to follow the visions of a young boy (played by Hamish McFarlane in a surprisingly self-assured performance) to do the impossible in the hopes it may protect them from "the Death." He sees them tunneling (they are miners) through to the other side of the world, and raising the tallest spire in Christendom -- their effort of which will reward them with an escape from the plague. They do manage to tunnel through to the other side: modern New Zealand, complete with cars, trains, television, and even a nuclear sub. Their adventures are often funny as they try to navigate this bizarre, terrifying landscape, but it gradually turns darker as Griffin, the boy, begins to understand what the pieces of his vision mean.

There's a brief glimpse of Griffin viewing the world-famous television commercial from Down Under about AIDS, where Death is bowling people down. This is a significant moment because Griffin recognizes who Death is alone among all the images he sees in modern times; in his limited learning, of course, images like the figure of Death play a significant role. It's also important because the film can be seen as a metaphor for the desperate, uninformed fight to protect ourselves against a modern plague.

But it's not as high-handed as that makes it sound: it's a visually breathtaking movie (anyone who's seen Vincent Ward's other major film, What Dreams May Come, will know what an amazing visual stylist he is) with a core tale of adventure both modern and historical, and mysticism. Griffin's adoration of his brother Connor frames the story; it's Connor's adventuring that informs the village of the plague sweeping their way, and also what makes them believe they're capable of raising the spire in the first place. Unfortunately the only disc available in North America that I know of comes from a small distributor called Hen's Tooth Video, and the print is not widescreen, so we lose a great deal of the larger beauty of the film; it's also clearly made from a VHS tape, possibly not even a video master, so it's filled with flaws. With a movie so small and unnoticed (it was a big art-house hit in Seattle, but not many other places), I should be grateful to have it at all on DVD, but... something this striking should be treated better. I don't know if it has been Down Under, but I hope so. The soundtrack, however, is not marred -- it's an incredible, haunting mix of chanting, modern-day symphonic styles, ambient sounds, and gorgeous, lyrical singing.

There will be people who will gripe about its downbeat ending, I'm sure, but I think those people might be missing the core message of the movie -- that even in the face of terrifying odds, faith and vision can help us fight back, can help us survive as a community of people. And that love can bring both wonder and dread.
gwyn: (nik mikey isabellecs)
My shipper manifesto for La Femme Nikita's Michael and Nikita is up now over at [ profile] ship_manifesto, . I don't really think it's any good, and certainly not something that would draw anyone into the fandom, but I think the fact that I don't get that kind of thing -- luring others into you fandom -- has a lot to do with it. I just did the best I could within my limitations.

I know that sounds weird -- why write a manifesto to pimp a fandom if you don't pimp? Well, generally I don't, but lately I've had unexpected luck with it in The Fast and the Furious, so I figured, since I was asked, why not? A couple people asked me why I was doing it if I didn't believe I could lure people in. The truth is, it's really simple -- I was asked to write something, and I almost never get asked to contribute to anything fannish, so I said yes. I'm a whore, basically. The weird thing is, I never get into fandoms because of something another fan wrote or vidded. If I don't find it on my own, in my own time, I will never get into it. Which is something I'm starting to understand is quite unusual -- almost everyone I know says they love things like the ship-manifesto site to help them find new things to watch and enjoy. And I would just never click on those cut tags to investigate a piece someone wrote about a show or movie I'm not into, so this is all very peculiar to me!

The request was pretty generic, and it looked like any pairings I wanted to say something about were already taken -- Chris and Vin in Mag 7, Bodie and Doyle in Professionals, Buffy and Spike had been done already, and someone far more qualified than I to talk about Dom and Brian in F&F had signed on for that. I thought about going back to X-Files, but I didn't, at the time, really still feel the burning passion for Mulder and Skinner and Scully I used to, so I settled on Nikita and Michael, because dude, no one pays any attention to LFN at all. And then I struggled with what to write, because I knew I'd have to intro the show to people since so few have seen it. Apparently I'm missing the pimp gene.

Also, I am so rarely (well, once, actually) ever asked to contribute to anything that when someone asks me, I say yes. I'm never going to be one of those popular fan writers everyone nominates for all the awards and Better Buffy fic weekends and blah blah blah, so if someone thinks I can contribute to their benefit zine or write a manifesto about a relationship, I'll probably say yes because I'm all Sally Field and going "someone likes me! someone thinks I have something to say!" There you have it -- big ol' ho. Now I'm actually thinking about signing up for something XFian or maybe even Miami Vice, except that I could not remember to post this LFN thing, so I have no faith I'll be able to remember to do it on a real timeline. I'm hopeless about remembering what I wrote even a few days ago.

So anyway, if you want to see what it is about poor old LFN that I love, there you are.
gwyn: (pete sdwolfpup)
Getting all 13 episodes of Keen Eddie on nice shiny DVDs is a little like those classic choice scenarios where you really have no choice. You can have the episodes on disc, preserved in beautiful picture forever (or at least until new technology becomes standard and/or laser rot proves to be more than an urban myth), but you have to accept them without the original music in many of the best scenes, and you have to watch them all out of order. So, cake or death? Which will it be? Of course any true fan chooses to have them even without the music. But for anyone who's already fallen in love with the show, it becomes painful to watch some of the episodes. And it's impossible to review the discs without focusing on this.

Review of Keen Eddie Complete Series DVDs )

ETA: I believe this is the original order of the episodes as they were conceived:
Horse Heir
Keeping Up Appearances
Citzen Cecil
Who Wants to Be in a Club That Would Have Me As a Member?
Sucker Punch
Black Like Me
Inciting Incident
Achtung, Baby
The Amazing Larry Dunn
Sticky Fingers
Eddie Loves Baseball
Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite
gwyn: (vin sex)
Since others have done that "pick a movie that people probably haven't seen" meme that's going around everywhere with movies that I would recommend (so nice to see people mention Big Eden and Strange Days and Wings and all kinds of truly great stuff), that didn't leave me with the huge list I was putting together in my head. But here's a couple that I would highly recommend:

1. The Sweet Hereafter. I'd be hard pressed to say "best movie ever made" about anything, but this one comes close. I think it's as close to film perfection as I may have ever seen. It's a tragic story, and I think this turns a lot of people away, but it's also ultimately hopeful, and gets at the heart of what makes humans resilient even in the face of staggering personal loss. Starring Ian Holm, Bruce Greenwood, Sarah Polley, Alberta Watson from LFN, and a host of Canadian actors almost everyone will recognize if they've watched Canadian-made shows (and all three of those lead actors mentioned are jaw-droppingly incredible), and directed by Atom Egoyan from a novel by Russell Banks (who helped write the script), this is essentially the tale of a lawyer who arrives in a small Canadian town to start a lawsuit over the deaths of a busload of children, whose bus crashed into a frozen lake. It jumps through time (I love stories that mess with timelines) and back and forth between the individual characters' stories, and it's suffused with a kind of gorgeous grief and longing that's palpable. It's haunting, redemptive, and heartbreakingly beautiful.

2. The Limey. Also another story that screws with time, and turns the concept of voiceover narration on its head, this masterpiece by Steven Soderbergh takes many of the tricks he employed on the lovely Out of Sight and The Underneath of time-displacement and disjunctive narrative style and uses them to astonishing effect. It's also one of the most visually arresting movies I've ever seen. Terence Stamp plays a career criminal who has just been released from prison, and goes looking for the man who killed his daugher in Los Angeles just prior to his release. Peter Fonda and Barry Newman are amazing as the would-be bad guys, but Stamp just burns through the screen in every scene he's in. He's especially incredible with Luis Guzman, here in one of his few good-guy roles. One of the best crime stories I've ever watched, it has the coolest "shoot-out" too, totally scary because it's so realistic it spooks you. And it uses footage of a young Stamp in the '60s Brit movie Poor Cow as flashbacks, because Stamp is essentially playing the same character decades later. A story of personal redemption and recovery, and the effect of memory on present action, it has one of the loveliest endings on film, and also had the single greatest one-sheet poster ever created, in my not-humble opinion.

3. The Iron Giant. Because this lovely animated film came in at a time when computer animation was taking over, it was dumped on by Warner Bros and never got the attention it deserved. Similar in some ways to Lilo & Stitch (another highly recommended, largely hand-drawn animated film), this is a story about a boy in the late 1950s who befriends a giant robot who doesn't know where he came from, and doesn't know that he is essentially a defensive weapon. Director Brad Bird's comment was "What if a gun had a soul?" It's beautiful, funny, poignant, sweet, filled with wonderful adult jokes and kid-pleasing visuals, and really deserves to be seen by more people. (The little making-of on the DVD hosted by Vin Diesel, who does the voice of the Giant, is a huge extra treat, btw.)

And then there's this movie called The Fast and the Furious that... ha ha, just kidding.
gwyn: (Default)
Whenever I feel kind of down in the dumps, I pull out certain movies or shows with actors I love. A pretty face always makes me feel better, so I’ve been watching the remaining Sharpe episodes that I hadn’t seen (or rather, movies, since they were filmed separately as movies) because few faces make me as happy as Sean Bean’s. I’m still a bit stunned by the huge fandoms that sprang up over Pirates of the Caribbean and Master & Commander, because so few fans tend to (even with a love of pirates!) like historically set shows and films. A part of me keeps hoping that some of that will spill over onto two other shows I love set during the Napoleonic era -- Horatio Hornblower and the Sharpe series. At least HH is set on the sea, but Sharpe is set on land, alas, so I have a feeling I’ll wait in vain for more fans to come out of the woodwork (and write me some fanfic or make me some vids!).

Sharpe has all the same types of elements as M&C and HH, just without boats (swords, manly men, swashbuckling, manly men, derring do). And mostly it has Sean Bean as possibly the sexiest rifleman who ever shot a gun or wielded a sword. He plays a solider in Wellington’s army who saves Wellington’s life in the first movie (Sharpe’s Rifles), then rises through the ranks -- incredibly uncommon for a lower class infantryman back then -- to become a high-ranking officer of a select group of riflemen, sent on the most dangerous and secret of missions. Sean is so perfect in the role that Bernard Cornwell, who wrote the books, apparently revamped the physical descriptions of the character midway through. He’s got this perfect blend of macho manliness and loving tenderness, something that few actors can really put on screen well -- they often overcompensate in one direction or the other, and Sean never does that. Last year I remember an article in USA Today, I think, where they talked about the new scenes in the extended Two Towers release, and they said, “Fans of manly actor Sean Bean will be thrilled...” I howled over that for days. I’d never quite thought to put such a sobriquet on him, but it really is true to some degree -- he has that unique ability to be incredibly strong and exert a certain kind of machismo while also being believably tender and sweet and quietly sexy, a quality that’s there in only a handful of actors, most notably Russell Crowe.

Sharpe really needed that kind of actor, too -- you had to believe he could beat the shit out of a man much bigger than him to whip him into line, and yet still be so tenderly sweet to the women who fall for him (not to mention to his very young soldiers who need a guiding hand). Sharpe is kind of like the British Army of the 19th century’s equivalent of Captain Kirk -- the babes fall for him right and left, from firebrands to novitiate nuns to enemy spies to upper class English girls. And his men are all a little in love with him too, not to mention Lord Wellington. His first real girl in the series is a ball of fire who leads the partisans in Spain, and the two of them generate enough sparks of their own to create a bonfire. Sean has that rare ability to generate chemistry with a really huge range of other actors, which is not something that can be easily created by the producer types. And that ability comes into play when he has to work different sides of the character, against actors with varying styles.

I think when actors get tagged with that manly man title, they often get stuck in roles that don’t allow much leeway for quieter stuff; fortunately Sean’s been pretty good about testing that, in films as diverse as the dark and depressing film adaptation of the play The Field with Richard Harris, to an adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, to American Hollywood crap like Don’t Say a Word or Patriot Games. Because he can play that Eurotrash bad guy all too well, he gets cast too often as the heavy, like in Goldeneye -- he has, like Crowe again, those kind of eyes that can look either feral and psychotic or gentle and kind, and so he often gets stuck with the former while working over here. He’s also great at goofing on himself -- his cameo in the Vicar of Dibley episode where he appears to the Vicar in her wedding dream was hysterical, and he seemed to know it (plus I loved that the man she was marrying referred to him as Sean Bone).

I was so very grateful to Peter Jackson for casting him as Boromir in Lord of the Rings. At first I was kind of upset, because I didn’t like book Boromir at all, but I was glad that at least he wasn’t playing a nutball. In the end, though, Jackson and Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, through their wonderful alchemy with Sean’s acting gifts, came up with a character I fell madly in love with. He represented all the good and bad in humans, embodied all the nobility, pride, greed, kindness, and honesty that’s in people, creating a character that resonated with a lot of people even in his limited time on screen. Plus, Best. Death scene. Ever. Ever! (And I say that as a connoisseur of death scenes.)

What I think made movie Boromir so amazing was that the character development picked up on what makes Sean so sexy and magnetic to many people -- a kind of rough-hewn quality that also shows refinement if you look under the surface, a quiet nobility that says this is a guy who doesn’t say a lot, but tells you deep things through his actions. He’s got all these very strong, masculine features -- the strong jawline, hawk-like nose, high cheekbones, sandy blond hair, narrow, deep-set eyes, and the deep, plummy voice with the rough Yorkshire accent. Yet at the same time he radiates that interior, almost artistically inclined type of personality, and you totally believe him when he’s tender and soft on screen (which I think really paid off for him in Ronin, where he played a bullshitting macho ass who, when the truth really came out, was scared and weak and miserable). Casting him as Boromir not only changed the character in some ways from the book, but brought a vulnerability to the role that wasn’t on the page, at least for me. Sean in that role couldn’t have been more perfect -- exemplifying how perfect the casting was throughout that movie for most of the characters.

A lot of actors, too, can’t make the switch between historical and modern all that well. One of the great things about so many British and Australian actors is that they have a quality about them that translates better in different eras, and when you go over his credits, it’s interesting to see how much of Sean’s career has him in roles set a long time ago. He’s amazing at wielding a sword and all that, but he’s equally at home in modern clothes, often pointing a gun. And nothing I’ve seen in recent years was as sexy as him simply reading from a book of poetry in the cheesefest that is Equilibrium -- that voice, that face, and poetry, yum.

Because at the core, a lot of what I love about him is that he’s gorgeous. My taste in most actors is quite different from my friends’ tastes, so when I think someone’s gorgeous and they don’t, I get that. But Sean’s one of those guys who, if people say they don’t get the attraction, I want to shout, “are you freaking blind?” It’s hard to see him in his regimental forest green velveteeny uniform in Sharpe, with the super cool boots and the epaulets and the tons of sparkly buttons and frog closures and the tightest trousers ever (stretched over a really, really nice ass), and understand how anyone could resist him. Especially when he’s got the jacket open and the poofy shirt underneath slightly unbuttoned, or when he’s strutting around in a nice medium shot so we can see how provocatively worn and faded his trousers are in strategic places. With the waist-length jacket always offering us a nice view of front and back, it’s hard to believe there are people who don’t appreciate that view.

He’s also one of those actors who's unafraid to share their... charms with the audience. It’s one reason I was initially so hopeful about Venetian Heat, but I have no idea if that movie’s seriously gone off the planner or not. It could have been lovely to have him and James Marsters in that, since they seem to have so little trouble with adventurous roles. Because it was for television, we didn’t always get as much skin on Sharpe as we could have, but what we got was often lovely, plus he was constantly macking with the babes, having this incredibly slashy relationship with his sergeant, Patrick Harper, and being shot, stabbed, beaten, betrayed, you name it.

Sharpe as a series had pretty much nearly everything, but mostly it was a chance to watch a really good actor define a character so completely that you can’t imagine anyone else in the role. It helped that he was so pretty, of course, and it’s fun to watch the series over the years, as Sean grew a little bit older and more rugged (though not in the craggy, scary way Mel Gibson has grown rugged). I wish they’d film some of the other books, but I suppose he’s too old for them to go back and fill all that in. I’m actually getting to the end of seeing the entire series now, catching the movies I’d missed before, and I wish it wasn’t going to end. Because, man, it’s a long, long time until Troy comes out, when we get to see him running around in a leather skirt as Odysseus. Hopefully even more people will discover him after that drops this summer. And now, of course, I'm wishing I had a Sean icon.
gwyn: (buffy delectableoomph)
I’d planned to do a review of the Buffy season 5 DVDs before, but then time kind of got away from me, and I wasn’t sure it was worth it. But after all the fic writin’ of the past few weeks, I ran out of things to say! So I figured I’d at least put it down on electronic paper just to get it off my mind, plus, I’m stuck home on a snow day, so what else to do?

Review of Buffy the Vampire Slayer season five DVD set - long )
gwyn: (wes lose)
After Alias last night I flipped the channel to watch Angel on the local syndication run, and they were showing one of my favorite eps from third season, “Billy.” I remember when this was first aired, I seemed to be the only person on this one list I was on who enjoyed it. They all disliked it intensely, calling it overly stated, broad, dumbed down, you name it. And I could understand that, I mean, it’s so overtly allegorical, and less about the supernatural than about the worst of the natural instincts in people. But I think that’s precisely why I love this episode so much.

I was about ready to give up on Angel in S3. I wasn’t sold on Fred as an addition to the cast, Gunn bored me silly, I’d never liked Cordy all that much, but didn’t dislike her, but she really became blurry and annoying in 3 for me, and by the time Darla arrived with the baby story, I was just about ready to leave. I have always disliked Darla, I often find Julie Benz insanely annoying, and the way they turned Angel into the cooing comic relief dad just about killed my interest. It was really “Billy,” in the early eps, and then after the development of the story with Holtz and that aftermath, that grabbed my interest back in a big way. What I liked best about “Billy” was that it was horror based on the things inside us as human beings that we want to keep from getting out — I’ve always found what people do to other people to be far more terrifying than spooks and monsters. In fact, I’ve never been scared by traditional horror stuff; it’s the way humans torture, terrorize, and manipulate other humans that I find scary. Which is another reason the Jossverse vampires are more effectively creepy to me, because they often embody the worst examples of human behavior on a far more evil scale.

And of course, men are scarier. Even though we’re taught that the female of any species is the one you have to watch out for, I don’t think most human women ever feel that way when it comes to facing down human men. There’s that mindset we’re raised with that all men are potential rapists (whether that’s true or not isn’t the point, it’s a message we hear over and over), and we know our culture of violence, degradation, and cruelty towards women. We realize that the enlightened, caring male could always be a false front, and know that we can never really understand what possibly lurks in the depths of a seemingly civilized exterior. “Billy” brings this home to us with terrifying clarity, especially in the scenes with Gavin and Lilah, and Wes and Fred. And Cordelia, of all people, becomes the one real voice of strength and action, the one person who understands just where this evil comes from and its true potential for destruction, and the one who takes the most decisive action until the end, when Lilah shifts back.

And I suppose if you’re not inclined towards allegorical tales of the psyche gone wild, this wouldn’t seem like a great ep, but I’m more disposed toward those, actually. I found the whole concept of the most hidden parts of these men coming out in sick ways to be incredibly creepy, particularly Gavin, who’d seemed less than effectual before, and Wes, the one person we thought of as the most tender, reasonable, and the most civilized. His emotional agony at the end isn’t that far from what an audience would feel — we’ve seen this part of him that he didn’t know existed, that he couldn’t control, something he didn’t want to believe could exist inside him, come out with deadly force, and it preys enough on him that it becomes one of many emotional breaks that lead him toward Lilah at the end of the season. I also like that brief moment of fear when Billy touches Angel, because Cordelia knows just how terrifying that part of Angel can be; the thought that it could manifest itself with even more violence is a nice scary touch.

What really struck home with me, though, was the scene with Cordy and Lilah. I love that it starts out with this argument of how tough Lilah is — or not, segues into a fashion discussion, and then Cordy giving Lilah the what’s what. Because it not only shows how much Cordy’s grown in emotional maturity due to the toll the visions take on her, but also just what Lilah actually fears. Cordy understands that Lilah is largely fearless and empowered, but that this beating and letting Billy get away has hurt her at a far deeper level than her bruises and cuts hint at. She knows that Lilah may be in service to her firm and her clients and thus has cut off any sense of morality or human feelings, but that she is not enslaved to them, and that Gavin’s beating and the destruction Billy causes have made Lilah nothing more than a slave to someone else’s will and evil nature. It’s this concept of being beneath, forced, that finally motivates Lilah to take action — she will not live in fear, or be subject to any man’s hatred, or bow down to someone else’s will because they have more physical power. And it’s after that that Lilah’s machinations take a different turn in terms of her involvement with W&H’s agenda, and of course, with Wesley.

And frankly, despite all the cries of “it’s a Shining ripoff” with Wes chasing Fred down hallways with an axe, I found that whole sequence extremely disturbing. Until then, we’ve seen a slightly ... greyer version of Wes. Not dark, precisely, but growing more embittered, cynical, and into the deeper tones that he’ll develop once he figures out that prophecy. To watch his veneer of civilization and gentleness and intelligence slide away and slither and twist into such malicious cruelty is, for me, much scarier than any monster, or something such as Hellbound’s finger chopping guy. The way he called to Fred, taunting and threatening her, just gave me chills the first time I saw it, and again last night. Because you know that if it can happen to Wes, if it can make him become that man who’s trying to punish Fred for having and being the very things he wants, then no man is safe from Billy’s evil, and no woman is, either.

And when he cries at the end, when he sits so forlornly in front of that window, and he cannot forgive himself even when Fred does, to me, that’s a much more effective horror aftermath than just throwing a bad guy to the wolves, so to speak, or dusting them. He has to live with that, Lilah now has to live with the conflict of how far she debased herself for W&H, and it’s going to scar them deeply. And despite Fred’s forgiveness, it could very well be one of many things that drove her to Gunn instead of Wes, even subconsciously. He’ll be left to wonder if what he did contributed, but will never know completely, sending him on the way to the darker paths he chose later in the season. What happens to Wes chills me to the bone, because he becomes that man we hear about as we grow up, that man who seems nice at first but hates women, who may just be a rapist or wife-beater or serial killer and torturer. And Wes is not the man we ever expect it from. Angel is immune to Billy’s poison, the one with the greatest evil inside him, yet it’s the outwardly civilized and quiet characters we know, Wes and Gavin, who show the true faces of the men we’re raised to believe exist deep down inside every human male. To me, that’s the scariest thing they could do.

Alias, The Nemesis -- Dixon rocks, but not much else )

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