Tuesday, March 31, 2009

DVD review - Buffy season 2, episodes 11 and 12

Continuing my viewing and reviewing of season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

*** SPOILERS ***

Episode 11: Ted

Synopsis: When Buffy's mother is romanced by a computer software salesman named Ted, Buffy's uneasy feelings cause her to launch a background investigation. (written by: Joss Whedon, airdate 12/8/97)

I loved the twist on the child from a divorced marraige not accepting a parent getting back into the dating pool. Like Buffy, I was not so sure about this guy from the moment we met him. Being a great chef and everyone loving his food - too good to be true (I so called the food being a key to the infiltration). Even then, I was not 100% sure what the deal was with him. I knew Ted was weird but why. When Buffy finally has to defend herself and puts him out, I thought "okay, this just got all weird - she killed him". It felt so surreal and that helped the viewer feel Buffy's confusion. Then, bam, Ted's baaaaaaack! That was freaky. Even more freaky, what lies under Ted's skin. John Ritter played this part perfectly, from nice guy to crazed killer robot. Loved the team (Willow, Xander and Cordelia) doing their own investigating and finding the hidden place in the cellar. Oh, and I loved that Xander and Cordelia know their love is "forbidden" (by high school clique standards) but they'll still go make out in the utility closet. I also enjoyed that Giles went out to pick up the slack of patrol, only to have Jenny follow him to apologize. Then, bam, she's in danger and he protects her so she can escape. Yet, she wants to help only to end up shooting Giles instead (so glad many layers of tweed are like kevlar). In the end, they make up which is nice to see. I'd hate to see her leaving the show so soon.

Episode 12: Bad Eggs

Synopsis: Willow, Cordelia, Giles and Joyce become drones for an ancient beast after its eggs are mistakenly given out as part of a health class assignment. (written by Marti Noxon, airdate 1/12/98)

Lots of coupling going on in this one - Buffy and Angel, Xander and Cordelia. I enjoyed the later pair's veiled fight in health class. Speaking of, this episode gives a whole twist on the "egg baby" exercise by throwing in little nasty parasite creatures. Ick indeed. A nice and creepy episode - giving the viewers the heebee jeebees right with the characters. A shame we lost one of the two cowboy-vampires to the egg-laying momma, but I have hopes that the other one will return in the future. He seemed too good of a character for a one-shot appearance.

Monday, March 30, 2009

DVD review - Buffy season 2, episodes 9 and 10

Continuing my viewing and reviewing of season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

*** SPOILERS ***

Episodes 9 and 10: What's My Line parts 1 and 2

Synopsis: As career week at school has Buffy wondering what her future may have been like, Spike hires three professional bounty hunters to ensure she has no future at all. Then, Buffy joins forces with a mysterious Slayer named Kendra in hopes of saving Angle from Spike and Drusilla and the deadly ritual they have planned. (written by: Howard Gordon and Marti Nixon, airdates 11/17/97 and 11/24/97)

I'm reviewing the two parter together to make it a bit easier for me. This is the first one of these since season 1, and the story certainly warrants it. First, Buffy had a Dorothy Hamill obcession - nice. This is how you bring out rich backstory details of a character, in a logical and unobtrussive way. If that was SMG doing the actual skating (it certainly appeared like it in many of the scenes) then she is pretty good. We get to have some Willow and Oz time together - and even I caught the change in his hair color between episodes. Mistake? I think not! I am sure this is a clue to something I'll learn more about in a future episode. The debut of Kendra was surprising but logical (Buffy was dead after all last season). It played as a nice contrast between the two - especially since one goes by the handbook (to the letter) and the other didn't even know one existed. Also, I love how Kendra is continually surprised by how many folks know Buffy is the slayer; her American counterpart has no sense of secret identity at all. Nice to see the strain between Giles and Ms. Calendar - that makes sense given all she went through in the previous episodes. The bug guy was downright creepy - and Xander and Cordelia made an awesome team (and an awesome couple who eventually cannot deny their attraction, even though it is so "Pretty In Pink" in reverse - which would really make it "Some Kind of Wonderful", wouldn't it?). The scenes with Dru "playing" with Angel was downright sadistic. Then again, he did drive her crazy centuries back, so it is a little payback coming around. The whole Spike-Dru-Angel triangle makes for great tension. And, speaking of great, that final church battle that brought down the house - perfect. The end was even better, with the now healed Dru rising up and vowing to nurse her Spike back to health. She is one scary lady! All in all, a solid, well-round storyline.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

DVD review - Buffy season 2, episodes 7 and 8

Continuing with my viewing and reviewing of season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer...


Episode 7: Lie To Me

Synopsis: Buffy is lured into a trap by a group of vampire wannabes who hope Spike will thrun them into vampires in exchange for giving him the Slayer. (written by Joss Whedon, airdate 11/3/97)

Nice - lies upon lies upon lies in this episode, making the life lesson that things aren't always what they appear really drive home. Buffy sees Angel in the playground with Drusilla, but it isn't what it seems. Buffy's old friend Ford shows up in town, but it isn't what it seems. The wannabes have this vision of what vampire life is like, but that isn't what it seems. Buffy has to set up Ford only to follow him, but that isn't what it seems. Ford makes a deal with Spike, but that isn't what it seems.

I liked Xander's jealousy continuing to be a center point. And right after Angel mocks the wannabes dress only to have one come by dressed just like him - very funny. Learning more about Drusilla was good - and that scene with the bird just shows how crazy she is. I am curious too to see what Spike will do with the book stolen from the library. Good episode all around, but that's to be expected as it was one of Joss'.

Episode 8: The Dark Age

Synopsis: Giles' past comes back to haunt him when a demon he and Ethan Rayne summoned in their wild days come looking for them in Sunnydale. (written by Batali and Des Hotel, airdate 11/10/97)

So, what was hinted at in "Halloween" is revealed two episodes later. I was expecting something a bit more serious and lasting, but I guess this works. The connection of Ethan and Giles to their college days of demon summoning comes back in a deadly way. The casualty, alas, is the relationship between Giles and Jenny Calendar. I'm sorry to see that. But I guess it hard to forgive someone after they lead to your being possessed.

Some great Cordelia moments, and Willow and her speech about shaping up or getting out of "her library" was fantastic. And, I love Giles' last line "The Bay City Rollers - now that's music".

Saturday, March 28, 2009

DVD review - Buffy season 2, episodes 5 and 6

Continuing with my viewing and reviewing of season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer...


Episode 5: Reptile Boy

Synopsis: When Buffy and Cordelia attend a frat party, they find themselves being offered up to a reptile-like creature as human sacrifies. (written by David Greenwalt, airdate 10/13/97)

High school and college boys - it is the age old combination. Girls mature faster than guys and want more mature guys. Not these guys! I love the whole fraternity as a cult angle - they always seemed to have that kind of mystique. Some outstanding dialogue in this. Cordelia needing Buffy lead to some great moments, and then her flip-flopping the blame - classic. Love how Xander crashes only to become a mockery only to become one to help save the day. Perfect balance. Willow chewing out both Angel and Giles was also a great scene. The special effects with the reptile-demon were pretty well done too. A very solid episode. Enjoyed it.

Episode 6: Halloween

Synopsis: After renting Halloween costumes from an unusual shop, Buffy and her friends literally begin turning into whatever costume they are wearing. (written by Carl Ellsworth, airdate 10/27/97)

Awesome episode all the way around! Love the premise, love Xander as the hero and Willow coming out of her shell and taking charge. Buffy as the demure worked to allow the others to shine nicely. We get more of Oz too. Good to see Spike again, taking advantage of someone else's chaos. And speaking of - this Ethan and his knowing Giles from the past - there is the kicker of the episode! We get a teaser that something isn't quite as it seems, and I am so pumped by this. I love the twists and turns, and this is a great one. Can't way to see how this unfolds in future episodes.

Friday, March 27, 2009

DVD review - Buffy season 2, episode 4

Continuing with my viewing and reviewing of season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer...


Episode 4: Inca Mummy Girl

Synopsis: A beautiful Inca princess who was buried alive in a tomb 500 years ago is accidentally brought back to life in the Sunnydale Natural History Museum. (written: Matt Kiene & Joe Reinkemeyer, airdate 10/6/97)

This one was enjoyable. The writing was very snappy and funny in parts, the premise another classic horror comic spin, and it dealt again with teen romance. A perfect combo. Poor Xander. Can't catch a break. He should learn the rule: if he's attracted to a hot, new stranger in town then she's probably some kind of killer. ;) I love the continuity nod with the line "You're not a praying mantis, are you?". Perfect. And, Seth Green shows up in the band as Oz and he's interested in Willow. About time she had somebody mooning after her.

Comics of the Week (3/25/09)

Batman: the Brave and the Bold #3 - the cover is that of a 60's comic, with a little bait-and-switch about Batman being sworn in as President. Instead, he has to protect the President and he brings along buddy Green Arrow to help. The rivalry of Bats and GA from the cartoon episodes (of which GA has appeared in a number so far) was not there so that felt a little disjointed. Other than that, it was a fun little romp and a good book for new, younger readers to enjoy as well as oldtimers like me.

Justice League of America #31 - the first page was confusing. Either the art was wrong or the dialogue was wrong, because Zatanna was talking to "Dinah" but Wonder Woman (Diana) was shown. That was jarring. The rest of the issue was okay. Basically this is the JLA dealing with the ramifications of Final Crisis and the loss of the Big Three. Another bad point - this issue references events from a mini coming this summer (we actually got a footnote caption!) but we're preceeding that story by months. Not a smooth transition there either. Ah well.

Trinity #43 - the big three strike at the villains, but they seem to still be in "God mode". Will they revert back? Of course they will. But hopefully we'll see that soon as these versions of the characters are pretty cold and sterile.

Showcase Presents: Ambush Bug - DC's zany hero who debuted in the 80's gets the b/w treatment in a nice volume covering all of his early appearances and mini's. Nice to see DC could strike a royalty deal to put out this collection of 80's and 90's issues in one place. Though I own most of the floppies, I got this one for the collection. Just a lot of fun. Looking forward to reading this one soon.

Back Issue! #33 - this issue sports a Perez cover of the New Teen Titans and focuses on teen heroes. Again, haven't read it yet but it is on my weekend enjoyment list. This magazine is always a pleasure to savored every two months. If you are a comic fan of the 70's and 80's, this is one that should be on your list. Rarely am I disappointed by an issue - there is always some great articles to fill in my knowledge of the Bronze age era of comics.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

DVD review - Buffy season 2, episodes 2 and 3

Continuing with my viewing and reviewing of season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer...


Episode 2: Some Assembly Required

Synopsis: A series of grave robbings leads to a science club member who is trying to create a girlfriend for his brother, whom he has just brought back from the dead. (written by Ty King, airdate 9/22/97)

First, love the title! This episode again harkens back to those old comic horror stories - assuming a kid could actually figure out how to resurrect his recently killed brother. The fact that he and a friend would then keep a promise to make a patchwork-woman for the lonely, recently dead just kicks up the ick factor. What works mostly for me in this one is the continuity points with the main cast. We see Giles getting up the nerve to ask Miss Callender on a date, only to find himself asked out instead. That was fun. Plus, we get the tension of Buffy/Angel/Xander carrying over from last episode into this one nicely. And, finally, more Cordelia in the center of danger - the damsel in distress role. Those are the bits that made this one a little better than average. But, hey, the season is still young.

Episode 3: School Hard

Synopsis: Buffy's mother gets trapped inside Sunnydale High School when a vampire named Spike arrives in town and launches an attack against the Slayer. (written by Joss Whedon, airdate 9/29/97)

This one kicks it up the notch I wanted. First, there is the introduction of Spike and Drusila, a set of adversaries that'll make things a lot more interesting. I love Spike's style and attitude. And I like that there is that connection to Angel, providing another level of tension for that character. The whole nightmare of school meets parents meets slayer added a good bit of conflict. Clearly more people are getting an inkling of what is going on. And the fact that the new principal and the police officer allude to something in their brief conversation in the end has me thinking they both know a lot more than are letting on. Oh, and I love Armin Shimmeran (Quark) in this role - nice casting. All in all, a solid episode that advances the continuity and premise nicely. Me like!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

DVD review - Buffy season 2, episode 1

As noted earlier this week, I am on to season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Since Mike wanted to do an interactive discussion with me, I'll be reviewing episodes as I watch them. You can participate in the talk too - just remember I am a first time viewer (even though these shows are from 1997) - so please don't spoil future episodes for me. I will not read not post comments that do that.

First, love the interactive menus on season 2 disks. The whole 3D trip through the town is neat. Nice touch.

**** SPOILERS ****

Season 2, episode 1: When She Was Bad
Synopsis: Buffy returns from summer vacation with a "major attitude" and recurring nightmares involving the Master - even as The Annointed One and his followers plot their revenge. (Airdate 9/15/07, written and directed by Joss Whedon)

Ok, beginning of the seasons episodes can be a little clunky. You have new hairstyles (like Cordelia's hair being more brown, Buffy with her cut locks, Xander cleaned up a bit), with teens they have aged some too. It shows. But everyone is back and a perfect follow on to the season 1 finale. It tied in some of the loose ends from that episodes and it showed how the group - now with Cordelia and Miss Collander - had really expanded.

I knew there would be some ramifications from the Master's bite in the season 1 finale - I thought that was what was causing Buffy to act so weird. Turns out, though, it was just trauma - trauma of dying and coming back, trauma of such a crazy year, and trauma of the love-kind with Angel. What's a girl to do? Take out her aggressions - literally.

Of the new vampires, I was sorry to see the preacher man go so quickly. I kind of liked him. Not sure how I feel about The Annointed One - so far he hasn't done a heck of a lot. I am sure that will change in future episodes - as a writer, I certainly would do something with him.

And, poor Xander. That scene at the Bronze, right after Buffy does her "dirty dancing" impression, he is left confused. Should I go? Should I not? Is it me she wants or is it whatever the freak is bothering her? And Willow stares. And Cordelia stares. And Angel stares. That is how to create unspoken tensions all the way around the group. Nicely played, Joss.

Coming soon (as soon as I watch it - maybe tonight) - episode 2.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Comics of the Weeks (3/4/09 to 3/18/09)

Time to play catch up. Sorry to my regular readers for not posting these - been a little busy. I'm thinking maybe doing my comic comments every two weeks or once a month now, in part because I'm finding that my pull list is shrinking a bit more as each month goes by.

Booster Gold #18 - another rock solid issue by Dan Jurgens as Booster teams up with his past self to rescue his sister from the end of time and to return the chrono-dagger to ancient Egypt. Lots of ramifications in this issue - answering some questions and creating a few more. A good time travel series should do that. I hear rumor that in a few months the price of the book will go up another $1 (to $3.99) but the Blue Beetle (Jaime) will be a back-up feature in the title. I'm not thrilled with the price increase but I enjoy Booster too much to let this one drop.

the Outsiders #16 - the new/old team gets new digs and a mission. Hmmm...I'm not as impressed as I had been last month. I think this book is going to targeting my "drop list" very soon.

Rebels #2 - while not as good as the first issue, this one did have its moments. Seeing Vril Dox argue with Brainiac 5 was interesting, as Vril going off task to use the information he got from his ancestor to do things his way. That makes this book nice and unpredictable. And the way Vril screwed over Tigorr - priceless.

Secret Six #7 - the opening arc ends in a free-for-all in Gotham City. I love the twists and turns this book takes, and I love a cast of villains who tend to do things their way for their own reasons. Another solid issue from Gail Simone and the art team.

Solomon Grundy #1 (of 7) - spinning off the one-shot "Faces of Evil" issue two months ago, this seems to be building into a nice, definitive look at Grundy's past and future. If you're a fan of what Geoff Johns did with the Rogues over in the Flash, you should enjoy this book.

Strange Adventures #1 (of 8) - this mini is a sequel to the recent Rann-Thanagar Holy War. It has Jim Starlin back at the creative helm. It follows the further exploits of Adam Strange, the cosmic Starman, Captain Comet, the Weird and Bizarro, and it introduces some new cosmic threats. I am enjoying it just for the scope of things and the varied cast.

Terror Titans #6 (of 6) - another fine issue wrapping up a great mini with interesting villain characters. The ramifications will be folding back into the regular Teen Titans title and, from what I heard, Ravager will be getting her own back-up series in that book when it bumps up a buck as well to $3.99. If it continues the events from this mini, I'm good with that as well.

Trinity #40 to 42 - the weekly epic draws into the third act. The trinity is back, sort of, from the altered reality and is making good that which needs to be. They're taking on the villains three and holding nothing back. But even when they are stopped, there is still the threat of Krona looming near the finale. With ten issues left to go, I am looking forward to a huge payoff. Oh, that and freeing up $2.99 a week off my bill - that is unless another weekly is going to be done and it is something that interests me.

"New" author Gregory Maguire

Recently I started in on a new author - okay "new" is subjective as his books have been around for a better part of a decade. Gregory Maguire is probably most known as the author of Wicked which became a hit Broadway musical. I saw that book in paperback recently at the store and decided to grab it. I heard his style is taking classic fairy tales and such and spinning them in a different way for adults. Sounded fun.

I actually didn't read my purchase first though (still need to do that). Instead I went to the local library and checked out a couple of his earlier works first: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and Mirror Mirror. The first is a spin on Cinderella while the later is one on Snow White. What did I think? Well...

Both of these books are period pieces, set in Europe in the middle of last century. So, you've got to adjust for that. The first is written in present tense mostly - which for some reason always puts me off (not sure why). The later actually ties in Lucricia Borgia as the "wicked queen". In both, it took an awful long time doing the set-up and the action seemed rather drab. Not sure why. I had hoped for more but was woefully disappointed.

I will likely start Wicked some time next month - or perhaps wait a bit longer to get that first bad taste of the author out of my head.

Monday, March 23, 2009

DVD review - season 1 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I'll admit right up front that I am very late coming to the Buffy party (over a decade). I knew about the show after its run began on FOX in the late 90's, but I didn't tune into it. Maybe something else I watched conflicted with the time. Maybe it was because I never was a big horror movie fan. Maybe I just was out of the loop. Most likely, though, it was probably because I don't like to get into a show after it has been on for a couple seasons. I feel like I am walking into the middle of the movie or starting a book on page 100. I just don't like to do that. It goes against my nature. Still, I knew enough through references in other places (like comics or other TV programs). I knew the names of Xander, Willow and Angel. I had friends who were huge fans of the show. I just never got into it.

That's not to say I didn't get into other Joss Whedon shows. I was onboard with Firefly from the start. And I jumped into Dollhouse right when it debuted this season - it is part of my must-see shows on Friday nights. But I was missing the experience of those early TV successes of his.

A few weeks back, that all changed. I was in the local WalMart with my family doing some shopping. I was checking the DVD section while my son looked at video games. On one of the end aisle shelves were a number of TV season box sets on sale for $14.95 apiece. Among them were the first four seasons of Buffy and the first two seasons of Angel. I figured "hey, for that price, why not give them a look?". But, my son had just gotten a lecture about spending money needlessly so I very well couldn't put six box sets in the cart. What kind of example would I be setting. Curse the timing.

So, a week later we were in the same WalMart and the same boxes were still there. I decided to grab season 1. I told my wife that I wanted to see if I would like the show before getting the rest. She accepted that premise - as long as I was going to watch them. I said I would. As soon as we got home, I put in disk 1 and proceeded to watch three episodes in a row. I was hooked.

A few days later, I went back and picked up seasons 2 through 4. One of the Angel sets was gone so I skipped that. But then at Target this weekend I saw Angel seasons 1 and 2 for $26.00 in a set so I was able to pick that up. My wife likes David Boreanaz on Bones, so this was an easy sell. In fact, I think she might have even watched Angel once or twice when it was on FOX. Then, today, I was browsing Amazon.com and noticed that they had the rest of the Buffy and Angel seasons, in the slim cases, all for half price. Score! Guess what is on order? You got it! While not as good a deal as the earlier WalMart and Target purchases, this is still pretty decent - certainly better than any local retailers will provide me.

So, after a week and a half, I have gotten through season 1 of Buffy. I thought I'd go through the episodes and offer some comments I had. Though the show ran over 12 years ago (1997), I'll put a SPOILER notice anyway - just in case someone is not familiar with the show like I was just a week or so ago.

**** SPOILERS ******

"Welcome to the Hellmouth" and "the Harvest" serve as a great introduction two-parter. They almost play like a movie, or a sequel to the original film that starred Kristy Swanson. In fact, events from the film are hinted at as Buffy moves to Sunnydale to try and start over. She makes new friends at school, begins her mentoring with Giles the watcher, and learns of the nexus of evil that this town sits upon. What I really liked is that all the initial elements are there in these episodes. Joss sets up threads and relationships that build as the season builds. This is why one really needs to start viewing from the beginning. As a writer, it helps me too to see the characterizations take root and unfold right from the start. That's what good writing does - give you characters you can hook into and become instantly interested in.

"Witch" was the first standalone tale. I like how it and many of the first season episodes have that reflection of the difficulty of high school, the pressures and the conflicts. Adding the horror element gives the show its spin.

"Teacher's Pet" also stands alone, but it and the previous episode remind me of those classic comic book horror stories. Both had twists and the theme of "things aren't always what they seem". I liked these both too because they showed that we'll be getting more than just vampires for the gang to face off against.

"Never Kill A Boy On A First Date" is a classic example of why the hero(ine) can't get too close to anyone who isn't in on the secret. All Buffy wants to do is go on a date and her chosen destiny gets in the way. This was an okay episode, a little weak in spots, but it is crucial to set up some things for later in the season.

"The Pack" was really creepy. Maybe it was just the laughter of the group after the trip to the zoo, but it was creepy. It worked for me. One thing though: despite all the deaths around the school up to this point, the school still tries to function. Then when Mr. Flutie meets his end, we still have the school open and everyone there. I guess this is where the suspension of belief has to kick in big time. Okay - I'll go with the premise as it is needed to make the series work.

"Angel" is another key episodes of the season (like the two part opener and the finale of the season). Here we get the dirt on the mysterious man who shows up with cryptic advice and comments. It really helps solidify the character and the relationship with Buffy. It also helps add some conflict for Xander. All that teen tension - critical for an ongoing series about high school. I also like the connection that we're given to Darla, the she-vampire from episode 1. Again, tying it all together.

"I, Robot...You, Jane" gives a nice focus on Willow. I know Allyson Hannigan well from three seasons of How I Met Your Mother, but here she plays a totally different character. The whole cyber-nerd girl gives her a unique position in the group, and in this episode leads to some of the trouble. Add to that her unrequited love for Xander leading her to take up an online relationship with someone who "cares" and you've got some great character development. The beauty is this is a timely episode even today - when cyber-predators still abound. Finally, we get the added element of another adult ally for Giles. That works too.

"The Puppet Show" again took a classic horror twist and turned it on its ear. I thought I had this one pegged and then we get the twist. That made it work as a refreshing kind of story.

"Nightmares" was also one of the weaker episodes of this season, I thought. I am all for nightmares come true kinds of tales, but this one just didn't work completely for me. Ah well, they can't all be gems.

"Out of Sight, Out of Mind" was a fairly easy one to figure out too, but the motivation behind the attacker and the level she would stoop was what made it work. I remember sometimes that invisible feeling from school but not to this extreme. I like that this is the episode that moves Cordelia closer to the group. I figured it was about time as she was one of the five stars of the show (per opening credits). She needed that motivation to be part of the gang. The end was a bit of twist too with the FBI guys. That last scene seemed like a commentary about the government more than anything else. Quite a few of the season 1 episodes had some open-ended aspect that could lead to a potential return of a former adversary. I'll have to keep watching to see if any of them do.

"Prophecy Girl" seemed like a nice way to tie up the loose ends from the earlier parts of the season. We have Buffy questioning her role. We have Cordelia working with the others. We have the computer teacher back. We have Angel back. We have Xander coming to the rescue too even though he has no special abilites. And we have a conclusion to some of the things started in earlier episodes. The way it ended up could have easily served as a show end if FOX didn't renew it. The saga could have stood solidly with just 12 episodes if need be.

Thankfully, there is more - much much more!

And I'm looking forward to starting season 2 this week.