26 March 2017

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 7



It's Very Messy, but Buffy Season 7 Ends Right
by Kristin Battestella



The seventh and final 2002-2003 twenty-two episode season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer certainly has its ups and downs with new slayer potentials creating multiple storylines amid the nostalgic series reflection. Most of the year is uneven at best with too many characters and a plodding pace. However Buffy's big finale remains a sentimental must see for long time fans. 

Vampire Slayer Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is hired by Principal Wood (D.B. Woodside) at the new Sunnydale High school where her sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) attends. Unfortunately, there's little time for construction manager Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendan) to work or reformed witch Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) to return to college, for ex-watcher Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) reports that potential slayers all over the world are being killed by The First Evil. The Hellmouth beneath the high school is stewing, putting vengeance demon Anya (Emma Caulfield) on the outs with the evil community and testing vampire Spike's (James Marsters) inability to deal with his newly earned soul. As the public abandons Sunnydale, the small Scooby army is joined by former Trio hostage Andrew (Tom Lenk) and Slayer bad girl Faith (Eliza Dushku) to fight against the ancient Turok-Han vampires and The First's ruthless disciple Caleb (Nathan Fillion).


The seventh season opener “Lessons” is a pleasing re-introduction to Sunnydale High School, its creepy basement, and the suspicious new principal with an office directly above the Hellmouth. There's certainly some residual energy on the grounds, and it might have been interesting to stay with this renewed school paranoia. Let Buffy be the occasional adult as new school evils and fresh characters arrive to replace those departing. Scenes from the earliest seasons haven't been in the opening credits for some time, but numerous references to prior Buffy years pepper the foreshadowing, soul revelations, and demons under pressure. Although the plot is convenient, “Same Time, Same Place” perhaps admits last season skewed too dark – the gang is down to Buffy, Xander, and Dawn before the Scoobies come together again for more yellow crayon reminders. Our main girls help each other heal in similar but parallel separations, and this unique episode with no billed guest stars shows what Buffy can do with a total bottle episode. “Help” also mirrors Buffy's beginnings with invisible girls unnoticed and hanging at the morgue on a school night. The bullying and suicide conversations are slightly after school special, but in Sunnydale, it's easier to consider the slayer way or something spooky rather than normal human resolutions. There are demonic twists for sure, but the cryptic predictions build real world life and work better than all the dark metaphors. “Him” does the high school love spell again, complete with the old Sunnydale High cheer leading uniform and A Summer Place music. Despite annoying Dawn moments and dated then cool lingo, this is a self-aware revisit with all involved in the crushing gone awry. In contrast to these lighthearted back to Buffy roots, “Conversations with Dead People” halts the paranormal life moves on potential with a solid mix of supernatural catharsis and deceptions. The isolated vignettes layer multiple foundations while the tension, possessed house, and too good to be true afterlife conversations remain intimate angst and personal horror.

Sadly, most of this season Buffy is disjointed with anonymous potentials detracting from the core gang. With only one big bad lacking the usual Buffy seasonal structure, this could have been a much shorter year, yet the previouslies each episode get longer. That two minute recap eats into an already short forty-three minutes with credits, providing less time for the important things amid ominous cliffhangers and toiling games. Cluttered characters and too much exposition add to the increasingly messy timeline – some episodes continue right where the action leaves off while others never acknowledge gaps in time. Continuity also plays willy nilly with a non-corporeal baddie touching people or objects, leaving viewers to weed out what is fact, error, important, or meh. It's tough to appreciate the taunts and changing face of The First as actual badness thanks to tired scripts and an over it apocalypse feeling. Such convenient even lazy writing is surprising when Buffy is usually so well interwoven. Season Seven is undecided on whether this is a reset with the global youths or an inward goodbye wrap. Buffy is welcome to do either, but the apathy on choosing makes it easy to tune out now just as it did when the season originally aired. “From beneath it devours” mantras come up empty, and “Beneath You” is a filler attempt at combining good character conversations with monster of the week unnecessary. This is supposedly the bad before bad was even bad, yet it hasn't been mentioned since Season Three and Buffy doesn't realize this is The First until “Never Leave Me.” Pieces of episodes have great scenes, but “Bring on the Night” is all talk. Real world school cancellations and residents leaving town finally come in “Empty Places,” but Faith takes everybody to the Bronze, Giles doesn't trust Spike, Spike doesn't trust Giles, and peeps be disrespecting Andrew by stealing his Hot Pockets!


Fortunately, the girl power confrontations and women in charge conversations about much more than boys increase the Hellmouth consequences in “Get It Done.” Who The Slayer is and how the job can be redefined finally get back to the First Slayer roots – although such good pieces can be tough to swallow when the obvious First Slayer answers from earlier seasons are selectively ignored. Past slayer angst, vampires both friend and foe, period William the Bloody flashbacks, and motherly conflicts do right in “Lies My Parents Told Me” with deep seeded memories and oedipal mother/slayer sons kink. Not to mention the self-aware jokes on the speeches and confusions about the chip, a trigger, a soul, which one the military gave Spike, and which one is off, on, or making him kill again but not anymore. The wasting time arguing on how to argue comes to a hilt with “Touched,” but not before a speech from Spike interrupted by a speech from Willow cut off by a speech from Faith saying the time for speech giving is done. Thankfully, this entry is about each couple having their moments before the end, and it is indeed touching as well as groundbreaking with steamy interracial sex scenes and equal lesbian action unheard of on American television lo these fifteen years ago. Though commonplace now, it's another reminder of how important Buffy The Vampire Slayer really is, and “End of Days” takes up the mantle with Sword in the Stone inspiration and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade old lady guardians. The bombs and magic weapons are slightly episode of the week for Buffy rather than penultimate heavy, but old friendships are reconnected and everyone has their time with what's really important – like explaining what happened to Mr. Kitty Fantastico! The series is able to say goodbye with a message on whether you win or not being up to you, but there's a chuckle. too: “What's your name?” “Buffy.” “No, really.” The prophetic gems and potentials come full circle in the “Chosen” finale by facing the fear of being alone with an eponymous army changing the call to fight against evil. Naturally, it wouldn't be a Season Seven drinking game without one more speech, but a course of action is finally taken and Dungeons & Dragons is played in the calm before the battle. While some fighting and effects are hokey or crowded, there's also a cinematic flair with superb moments from the original Scooby Gang – save the world and go to the mall. The slayers make the rules, take it to the evil, and kick ass. It's an excellent culmination to the series with huge tearjerker moments and a totally fitting goodbye to the Hellmouth, “Welcome to Sunnydale” sign and all.

Kind of sort of counselor Buffy almost has a real job, yet she looks like she did in the first season – just with better symbolic white clothing. High school is a familiar setting, but she's older, wiser, able to deal and admits to dating hottie dead guys. Buffy has some undead therapy, too, a sit down examination on her inferiority complex about her superiority complex. The Slayer must always isolate herself, and Buffy feels unqualified for any proper life position. Good thing she has bigger Hellmouth concerns! She doesn't want any legacy, for what she does is too important for the world to know about it, and Buffy becomes increasingly snotty and defiant despite doing little to fight The First. Her catatonic breakdown late in Season Five seemed a better crack under pressure with less roundabouts and rogue fighting getting people killed, and this disservice pulls Buffy a touch too far astray. Deep down she's still not over killing Angel way back when, and it understandably takes Buffy some time before trusting Spike again. Luckily, she comes to defend and rely on him, inadvertently confessing she previously had feelings for Spike. The audience has to conveniently forget that Spike told her about Nikki Wood in great detail as Buffy also seems to forget, but amid all the apocalypse crazy, these relationship pauses give Buffy the clarity she needs. Yes, it is a speech about unbaked cookie dough, however it's easy to forget how young Buffy really is because she's been through so much. This time the end of the world is coming round and Buffy realizes she has her whole life ahead of her and it's okay to not be ready for whatever else there is. She doesn't want to be the one and only, so she faces her self doubt, embracing a new comfort in her own skin alongside a mature frankness with Spike. Of course, Buffy never was much with the damseling, but now she has to learn how to be just like everyone else.


Vampire Spike is on the case trying to unravel what's happening in his own head in “Sleeper.” Double Spikes and The First's non-corporeal switcharoos are confusing, but Juliet Landau's Drusilla disguise helps make The First feel more real as Spike isn't handling the remorse of his newly acquired soul too well and hanging out near the Hellmouth for The First's taunts add to his torment. Spike's crazy basement talk comes in handy however, and his brief past with Anya is addressed amid multiple questions about his chip, evil brainwashing triggers, and his soul reprieves. His previous attack on Buffy is put front and center to start the season, as Spike knows he has no right to ask for help from her. It's eerie to see him biting people again, reminding the audience his struggle over his previous villainy will get worse before it gets better. Does he still need to be on a leash or should his chip be removed? Spike drinks to avoid all the household's human temptations but insists he be there to become good enough and do what Buffy wants. The Initiative chip was done to him, but he sought his soul, and Spike feels good fighting bad guys. He wants Angel's pretty charm that calls for a champion strong enough to wield it. Spike, a hero, whodathunkit?! He remains loyal to Buffy, literally sniffing her out when she's tossed from the house, and he's not fooled by her seeming acceptance of defeat. Spike and Buffy have it out once and for all, coming to a deeper understanding on who each is and what they are together. Even if you aren't a Spuffy fan – I love both characters but still don't know if I like them together – there are some endearing late season moments between them.

Unfortunately, I don't feel sorry for Willow learning her lesson via a mystical English retreat, and it's incredibly frustrating that this uber powerful witch who can poof anything better is knocked out of the fight and made awkward again over contrived can't or won't magic hang ups. Let her face the bad memories at home and get back into a lighthearted academic usefulness as in the earlier seasons, for Willow has no right to distrust anyone or call out others for any evilness. If potential slayers are making ready, then where are all the other magic experts and trainees for Willow to host or join? If all these characters are doing nothing, why not school other magically inclined people like Dawn, Anya, or Andrew to Wicca power? It's as if Buffy doesn't know what to do with Willow's magic beyond the lesbian sex metaphors, but at least her relationship with Iyari Limon as Kennedy can be realistically portrayed without that wink. Sassy Kennedy acts tough, but the superior potential attitude feels try hard, and the spoiled rich girl is taken down a notch after pushing Willow to do more non-sex magics. Likewise, the uneven “The Killer in Me” is riddled with unnecessary Initiative throwbacks and a repressed grief Willow as Warren hex due to the new lady romance. Been there, done that, and still “So, so tired of it!” Thankfully, Xander has mellowed in his old age, becoming a single parent figure comfortable with himself, his job, and driving everyone to school. His past jerk behavior isn't forgotten and Xander objects to still being called Buffy's boy, however he's a firm voice of reason, fortifying the house in construction as well as alleviating fears with humor. Xander relates to the potential girls waiting to be chosen, knowing their struggle to be so near but just outside the spotlight. He repairs his relationship with Anya and trusts Buffy even as he pays a hefty price for his loyalty and refuses to let Willow magically heal him. Through it all Xander's in good spirits and ready to be there at the end – if only because it is his job to bring Buffy back to life after each apocalypse.


Anya isn't doing too well as a vengeance demon and spends the early episodes as a magical support plot point before the bemusing Old Norseth speech, subtitles, and period flair of “Selfless” complete with a cute revisit to “Once More with Feeling” and an explanation about the bunnies contrasting her dark and gruesome vengeance deeds. Demon fun with Kali Rocha as Hallfrek and consequences from Andy Umberger as D'Offryn or not, Anya must decide which side she is on with wild spiders, lingering feelings for Xander, and head to heads with Buffy coming to the hilt. I'm not sure where in the series, but we should have had her backstory episode much sooner instead of Anya as merely Xander's girlfriend who admittedly does little but provide sarcasm. She uses her demon connections, gets into the interrogations, and applies her poor bedside manner when telling how ripe and overcrowded the house is. Her hair changing stir crazy leads to some fun moments with Andrew, who agrees her hospital supply robbery with Jaws quotes makes her the perfect woman. Sunnydale is all kinds of screwed, but Anya isn't leaving town for this apocalypse. Besides, she's spot on in saying Dawn isn't good for anything. The teen still needs to be rescued or babysat a few times, but she does seem to find her place as a junior watcher style researcher. Of course, that doesn't mean her information is well received, and her idea on developing a demon database based on detective work rather than last season's out of hand use of magic is ignored. She's growing up and has some humorous moments, but it makes no sense how her mystical same blood of Buffy means she is not a potential slayer. Despite wise youth observations about no one asking for help when they need it or that is isn't evil that makes vampires with or without souls love or hate slayers, there are just too many people making speeches already, and if Dawn was mentioned as being secreted away to safety with the unseen good witches coven in England, her absence would not have been noticed.

D.B. Woodside's (24) Principal Wood is quite interesting for Buffy, a character not quite friend or foe who should have been used more – even as a suspected mini bad for the first half of the season. Wood knows more about Buffy than he admits, calling her school record checkered while he describes himself as a snappy dressing, sexy vampire fighting guy. He knows Spike is a liability but lets his personal history with the vampire cloud his judgment as they begrudgingly fight alongside each other. Sadly, Wood ends up just kind of there, with too much busy and inconsistency in “First Date” interfering with his revelations. I still also want more of Eliza Dushku as Faith, an inexplicably late arrival to Season Seven who's right that she should have gotten the FYI on The First. Faith opines that Buffy protecting vampires makes her the bad slayer and now she is the good one who chose to serve her time. It's delightful to see her really meet Spike not exactly for the first time, and their bantering about who is the more reformed bad – not to mention Faith's chemistry with Spike and Wood – was spin off worthy for sure. The best parts of “Dirty Girls” are the ones without Buffy, and the good and evil religious parallels add to the saucy and Faith's kinky reminiscing. Buffy should have used the lingering resentment between who is the real slayer in charge to the fullest, and The First appearing as Harry Groener's Mayor Wilkins helps Faith face her past. She admits she enjoys being part of something bigger, even if a weapon that could be hers of course really belongs to Buffy, and in the end, Faith goes from defensive about her slayer burden to encouraging the man interested to “have a little faith.”


I recall Nathan Fillion's (Firefly) Caleb as being more important than he actually is, and his evil priest with the dirty slayer girls metaphors also could have been a mini bad face to The First early in the season instead of a mere five episodes late. Caleb has some great warped sermons with evil reversions on the Last Supper, communion, wine, and blood. His misplaced righteous defines who's good, bad, clean or bad folk. Unfortunately, the hammy quips are too tired, and explanations on his mergings with The First to gain his super strength are almost an afterthought in the second to last episode. So, The First wants to make all humans soulless with such merges but needs a buried ancient weapon to do this slayer mojo reversion. We could have used that information just a little bit sooner. Likewise annoying, sorry not sorry to say, are the potential slayers – Amanda, Annabelle, Molly, Kennedy, Rona, Vi, Chao-Ahn, Chloe, Eve, Colleen, Shannon, Laverne & Shirley. Even Buffy can't remember the names of what is said to be thirty odd cardboard placeholders with iffy accents and terrible style. Their number, abilities, who they are, where they sleep, and who did or didn't tell who what and when remains ridiculously confusing. The potentials admit to having squat in “Showtime,” and the desperately unprepared girls are a terrible little army with entire scenes of fearful debates on their said unpreparedness. Buffy takes too long to realize the slayer line changes and First impostors infiltrate the unknowns far too easily. By “Potential” Spike's trigger is still in doubt yet he gets neck and neck with these girls during their little slayer boot camp. School and training are unrealistically balanced, as are bruises and injuries so serious one episode but gone the next. As the first episode aired after the series' winter break, “Potential” also resets any strides made with more round and round vampire studies that ultimately go nowhere.

Outside of the perhaps understandably absent Oz and Tara, nearly everybody who has ever been on Buffy has a goodbye moment, including each Big Bad, Elizabeth Anne Allen as evil witch Amy, and James C. Leary as the fun and floppy eared demon Clem. Special guest star Anthony Stewart Head's authority as Giles is desperately needed, but brief suspicions about him regarding The First are unnecessary and hollow. His usual voice of information is mishandled as well, with Giles' watcher wisdom cast aside for plot contrivances. Fortunately, David Boreanaz's brief crossover as Angel has more clarity with mystical tokens given and pissy jealously over his no longer being the only vampire with a soul. Bittersweet moments come with Kristine Sutherland as Joyce Summers and Danny Strong as Jonathan, however I am completely over Adam Busch as Warren and The Trio as villains. Tom Lenk's Andrew starts weak with lingering what's his name Tucker's brother clichés, and my word Buffy gets ridiculously finite with too many pop culture references and geeky fan service, making this annoying character annoying indeed. Thankfully, Andrew – a “guestage” who bakes as his reform from evil – is not wrong when he says this season is Episode I boring, and props to his Dalton as Bond appreciation! Though a fun departure before the big final episodes, “Storyteller” uses Andrew's video camera point of view for more meaning than it lets on underneath the Masterpiece Theatre ironies, retro video style, and need to document the slayer legacy with embellished liberties. Some B plotting out of the unique viewpoint loses steam, but Year Seven could have opened with the in media res here. This hour captures Buffy's not taking itself too seriously tone despite the demon bads – something this toiling season often forgets – and everything gets up to speed with revelations to the camera confessor as it should be.


But say hey, it's 2003 and they have cell phones now! Well, one shared flip phone that's left behind by teen girls and gets reception in the basement – yeah right! – but it's those corded landlines where you must remember the numbers to dial that are really scary. Series from this era were probably the last ones where world building could be so isolated with no newspapers or television reports necessary. Online police scanners could have been handy, however primitive internet searches result in nothing but unhelpful Geocities web pages. People need to explain what Googling is, and looking up “evil” on your work computer is never a good idea. The Bronze and its hip music moments should have been retired a long time ago, and certain fashions and weak monster effects shout Y2K. Buffy also strays from its own style with borrowing from Vertigo or The Terminator. Fatal opening montages featuring world wide potentials strive for exotic edgy but end up mere Run Lola Run copies. The scoring is also embarrassingly noticeable, swelling for each of those redundant speeches. There are some fun split screen effects to visually accent the hysteria, but the perpetually beat up yet unrealistically repaired Summers House is too crowded and inadvertently symbolic of this busy Buffy season. Camping out in the damaged Magic Box could have interesting, and maybe Xander's apartment on that higher floor might have been a bit more secure against the anonymous Bringers, lame Turok-Han vampires, or demon of the week easy. At least they admit one bathroom in the house is a problem, and hehe, Zima.

Today, Buffy's final leg would have been twelve episodes tops – eight with no punches pulled. I want to zoom over all the superfluous with only a viewer sense of loyalty to carry through the forgettable hours yet can only take so many episodes at a time. However, it's odd to complain that Buffy doesn't know what to do with itself this season since the series is must see exceptional television overall. Year Seven makes me want to go back and marathon my favorites, and I repeatedly stopped and started this rewatch several times – only going forth with the last few shows once Buffy was expiring from Netflix as a lazy excuse to continue. Season Seven is both nostalgic good and rocky tough, but all the negatives know when to take a backseat as Buffy The Vampire Slayer ultimately ties itself together in one final, pretty bow. 

  

18 March 2017

Quality Fantasy Tales



Quality Fantasy Tales
by Kristin Battestella



I confess it was a little tough to find the kind of fanciful viewing I was yearning to watch. Fortunately, in such fantasy pursuits I ended up with this fun and eclectic potluck of fairy tales, viking mayhem, sprite possibilities, and extra special little folk.



Beauty and the Beast – Not that one! Nor that one either! This 2014 French take starring Lea Seydoux (Spectre) and Vincent Cassel (Eastern Promises) opens with tale within a tale wishes and high seas adventures. The Old World pleasantries turn to country ruins and a colorful autumn patina while fanciful creatures and candlelit feasts pepper the overgrown interiors and natural landscapes. Yellow tavern glows and blue snowscapes match the shady villains or frozen mishaps as beautiful moonlit designs, garden realms, and hidden castles hit home the turning book pages transitions and magical, immersive narration. The pre-Tolkien style fantasy invites the healing enchantments beyond the hedge to enter our world with flashbacks of grandeur and truth revealing mirrors as the familial loss and personal blame add realistic dimension to several bittersweet animals, injuries, and upsetting hunting sequences. The score is both ominous or awe-inspiring and whimsical to match, however, at times the CGI is too obvious. Snotty sisters and a country Belle feel Cinderella derivative, and a vine covered bedroom seem Briar Rose Sleeping Beauty. The Beast's billowing cloaks while scaling castle walls also feel a little Dracula, and though PG-13, the leads' twenty year age difference unfortunately adds to the Stockholm Syndrome innuendo and underlying saucy a la The Company of Wolves. This cruel, scary jailer offers steep life or death threats and unromantic dinner demands. Fearful reflections and rough paws slowly reveal his terrible veneer – a well designed, provocative Beast. In the bonus features, Cassel says he would not have taken the role were it a masked performance and suggests actors should leave ego behind as motion capture realization of an on set performance is making prosthetic designs obsolete. The Beast's camera perspectives brim with up close shots of red lips, stockings, raised hems, and intimate dancing requests. We know what it means when he asks if she could love him, vowing she will be his whether he can fulfill her desires or not. A forceful kiss leads to penetrating ice rescues followed by roses, a more forgiving Beast, and a changed Belle wearing red asking if he will give her a ring now. Despite great costuming, Belle doesn't have much to do beyond running to or from the Beast, and her love grows as the plot says – not because the Beast redeems his brutish ways against nature's magic. The increasingly darker themes are welcome, but man's villainous nature, sacrificial penance undercurrents, and one messianic 'father forgive them for they know not what they do' scene fall prey to nonsensical fighting in the third act, leaving a generic action finale in place of the good-heartedness against cruelty, spiritual waters, and undeserved grace for a Beast who hasn't earned forgiveness. Late unraveling aside, overall this is an entertaining mix of mature fantastics and exceptional production values with no song escapades needed. The subtitles, audio options, and English dubbing by the stars keep this continental tale accessible to fanciful American audiences. Ironically, it's the long-awaited, ridiculously delayed, even buried stateside release that makes this version an elusive fantasy.



The Borrowers – There are certainly more recent updates of the Mary Norton novel, but this 1973 eighty minute TV movie adaption starring Eddie Albert (Green Acres) and Judith Anderson (Rebecca) remains charming. Granted, the videos available are low quality VHS transfers, and the seventies music sing a long moments are dated. Some of the juvenile acting is poor, the adults are occasionally over the top, and the soft volume old fashioned dialogue is tough to hear. Fortunately, the back then pastiche adds to the Victorian phonographs, doilies, and fancy woodwork – this English country manor is full of clutter with nooks and crannies a plenty where lost bits, bobs, and tiny people might hide. This is why one can never find a safety pin, lost pencil, or button. The tiny Clock Family's stove is truly all nuts and bolts and stamp artwork adorns their walls, but everyone takes tea at the same time, big or small. The miniature effects are actually not bad at all, and the under the floorboards whimsy contrasts the stuffy stiff upper lip above with adorable uses for spools, thimbles, or keys. Matches are candles to these crafty little folks, but their scavenging adventures have dangerous shortcuts. Cover your ears when traveling through the grandfather clock! Unfortunately, an eight year old boy moving in is worse than a house with cats and dogs – ugly human boys are clever, hunting and threatening to the titular trio. Does a daughter dare join her father on his borrowing trips with such peril upstairs? The below know how to be careful and not to be seen unless its time to sit and chat with the tipsy old lady of the house before disappearing some china plates from the doll house. Certainly such a big fine house is room enough to share. Why should The Clock Family be forced to live in the cold wilds like their distant relatives? Why must they flee from a suspicious housekeeper when certainly such a big fine house has room enough to share? When these inch sized parents warn their daughter about going outside and getting eaten by monsters, they mean it! Parables on whether outside curiosities or risky adventures are good, bad, or necessary ground the differences. Regardless of their size or initial fears, the children bond with inquisitive exchanges and competitiveness on who's people are more plentiful. Big humans fight and kill each other, and it makes sense that them and all their large stuff would be too much for the planet to hold. Though a fanciful tale, this is a straightforward moral reminding viewers young and old that maybe we should indeed be better custodians for any smaller things in this world that need our help. Acts of kindness and supplies gifted from the dollhouse help alleviate cross culture fears – but not before a dreaded ferret is on the chase!



Northmen: A Viking Saga – This 2014 adventure opens with stranded warriors and superb scenery – long ships, waterfalls, crisp country, brisk cliffs, misty caves, and standing stones. The sweeping vistas and archery zooms feel Lord of the Rings homage and the blues are over-saturated into a faux gritty, but these accents match the quick skirmishes, brief fireside interiors, and fast moving on foot versus horseback pursuits. Though the swords do look slightly plastic, clanging battle sounds and bloody gurgling add to the brutal slices or impalements. When these wet, bearded, angry warriors get dirty, they stay leathered and grimy, too – no pretty coifs and clean nails here. Our lady in red symbolically and visually stands out as well without being a sexy warrior maiden or a damsel in distress. She uses a crossbow and helps save the boys but can't always reload the bolt in time. However, there are also convenient psychic fantasy visions, and the storyline is too modern with no wounded left behind, ransoms on the prisoner princess set for an arranged marriage, and obviously violent dressed in black mercenaries calling themselves a “wolf pack” being obvious with their smudged eyeliner. The acting is wooden, raspy muffled voices make subtitles a must, and there's too much contemporary dialogue – women are birds, our behind enemy lines exiled vikings are outlaws, we shouldn't believe the rumors but “Vikings show no mercy!” and remember, “I'm a warrior, not a climber.” Using more native languages could have helped, but there's drinking game potential for all the Valhalla quotes. Despite cliché characters such as the would be hero son, his soft spoken BFF, the old man warrior, a rival frienemy, and a holy man good for weapons and reflection, it can be tough to tell who is who because they all sort of look like Thor. Early slow motion shouts over melodramatic deaths are too anonymous to care, but the chest pumping viking macho gets better as it goes on, balancing the action pace with campfire pauses on Christian versus pagan trusts and talk of peace that comes with a sword. Feasting songs, mead, and a few chuckles pepper the Pict legends and full moon, high tide deadlines as the quest to escape to a Viking settlement in the south is paved with perilous rope bridges, jumping off cliffs, battlefield sacrifice, and funeral pyres we can appreciate. It's a lot like Centurion actually, with enough twists and epicness that don't take the drama too seriously. This isn't a poor Asylum knock off, but there's nothing wrong with being a B style yarn not looking to franchise, origin explain, or do anything but have a good adventure – I wish more movies would take that hint. Despite its flaws, this remains a well done, entertaining European production with a fun finish.



A Little Documentary Fun


Gateways to Faerie – This ninety minute documentary invites audiences to “Discover a Hidden Realm of Mystery, Magic, and Wonder” by recounting one couple's whimsical connections to all things faerie. Granted, this is presented on Amazon Prize via UFO TV, and the narration is immediately storyteller rather than factual regarding the potential for mystical cohabitation between humans and fey and why people forgot magic and gave in to this veil between the races. Some montages, graphics, and fantasy overlays are silly. Often the subject matter is hokey or New Age in the worst way – i.e. when people negatively peg something as 'new agey' – and the overlong duration is at times a self-indulgent biography of its presenters. This chat is metaphysical, debating the essence of energy that we manifest as anthropomorphic sprites alongside similarities between natural elements and quantum physics or unexplained science phenomena. It would have been nice to have an in tune scientific expert agreeing on this wavelength (hee, puns). However, the once upon a time start makes no pretense about facts or accuracy. This lighthearted presentation has fun with its interviewees, invoking a sense of childhood wonder with which we have lost touch and should revisit in that Victorian sense of fantasy where something creative or magical and closer to another realm may be just around the next bend. Instructional how-tos on building mini faerie houses with natural materials and infusing one's model with unique art and ritualistic design add a tangible can do to the whimsy while pleasant music, lovely landscapes, and rustic scenery make this a soothing background piece for a relaxing evening – whether you fully embrace the more out there beliefs and extra om presented or giggle at the poetic peacefulness. Either way, it's a chance to not be so cynical – I don't think this is meant to be taken so seriously yet reminds us have a sense of humor and not be so flippant about respecting nature. If you believe you can see something with no preconceived expectations, anything you can imagine is possible, so go ahead and craft it, write it down, and inspire. Is this kooky and hippie high? Yes. Ridiculous at times? For sure. Scholars will hate that there is no discussion on faerie history, evidence of past cultures' beliefs, or pagan legends and information, but earth friendly folk and viewers looking for some trippy fun will delight in this whimsical lark. After all, those little store bought fairy garden decorations are certainly popular these days!


03 March 2017

Top Ten: James Bond!




Welcome to our new Top Tens series in celebration of I Think, Therefore I Review's Tenth Anniversary! These monthly lists will highlight special themes and topics from our extensive archive of reviews.


This time I Think, Therefore I Review presents in chronological order...




Our Top Ten James Bond Movies!





Please see our Action labels and James Bond Tags or our Bond Overview page for even more!


I Think, Therefore I Review began as the blog home for previously published reviews and reprinted critiques by horror author Kristin Battestella. Naturally older articles linked here may be out of date and codes or formatting may be broken. Please excuse any errors and remember our Top Tens will generally only include films, shows, books, or music previously reviewed at I Think, Therefore I Review.


01 March 2017

Quality Science Fiction Tales



Quality Science Fiction Tales
By Kristin Battestella


These recent and retro science fiction tales provide genre statements, epic adventures, and intergalactic visuals for some speculative but quality escapades. 

 

Narcopolis – Crime thrills and neo noir science fiction mix in this 2015 crowd sourced bender as CEO drug lords, corrupt officials, and noble but bottom dwelling cops vie for control in a futuristic world of legalized drugs and time travel. Pharmaceutical suppression, work cutbacks, and allotted utilities keep the public down in the city and looking for any kind of fix, and citizens are statistics, designated or unregistered people with unlicensed drugs deemed unworthy to have their victimizing investigated. Cop Elliot Cowan (Lost in Austen) begins as a typically angry lone wolf with a rap sheet and his own muddled history, but he's trying his best to protect his family – even if that means being late in giving his son a book for his birthday and distancing his wife from his work. The bleak concrete and desolate highway duty feel more grim reaper than cop as he catalogs dead junkies in a sort of mea culpa penance. We get the seedy mood without the unnecessary nudity, in your face music, nightclub strobe, and slo mo flashbacks of a rock bottom disaster. Fortunately, the cool effects are mostly reserved for future actions as people who haven't been born yet wearing watches that aren't yet invented pop through time thanks to freaky drugs injected through the eye. The how and why fantastics tie the suspect evidence and shady company dealings together, keeping the drug dystopia, contemporary crime, and paradox twists intriguing. However, the plot does drag, playing it safe or not going far enough as if this short premise is stretched too thin for a feature. 2044 to 2024 also seems too recent a time frame, with dated mobiles and skyping medical examiners also using convoluted, hi-tech DNA scans – and come on, today's millions of paperbacks are going to be scarce oddities seven years from now? The half-baked megalomaniac corporate villain should have remained unseen, and Jonathan Pryce (Tomorrow Never Dies) accents the touching generational aspects alongside Harry Lloyd (Game of Thrones) – who should have been used more. Why is he in so many movies for five minutes cameos? Tender moments in the final act raise the future risks, making wrongs right, and second chance escapes. Of course, the audience figures out the on the nose references to The Time Machine immediately, and the try hard gritty doesn't fully address the cult like power of this drug stranglehold – a suit at the top hiring the street peddlers to offer candy and magic to kids door to door is still the same drug trade in a new corporate uniform. However, the going through the motions numbness and corruption aggravating the situation for its own gain feels nineties throwback amid the sequestering control and corporate parallels certainly familiar today – a little twenty year reversal in itself. Although this isn't anything serious SF fans haven't seen before, the futuristic framing and genre statements make this an interesting little indie.



Quintet – This bleak 1979 tale – a rare science fiction outing from Paul Newman – is an icy, desolate two hours with snowbound civilization, small humans braving the bluster, birds a rare sight, scarce seal hunting, and memories of trees. Echoes, broken glass, icicles, and dangerous crackling sounds accent the ruined photos, damaged crystal chandeliers, shaggy beards, and bundled clothes. The information center no longer transmits, ten or twelve years have passed but who can be sure, children and pregnancy are uncommon, and water is everywhere but precious alongside lost life affirming opportunities and somber river burials. Despite his chilled exterior, Newman's Essex isn't unfeeling, however he doesn't initially realize just how high stakes the titular game is until the coercion, explosions, Latin oaths, slit throats, and assumed identities. He has a list of names due revenge, but the killings must play out within the Quintet rules. While promotions at the film's release included how to play brochures, today us not knowing the specifics on the mysterious sixth man in a five player game adds an interesting confusion to the high brow competition, and viewers must pay attention to the one man SF chess. At times, the game concepts fall flat and the trying hard statements on the cult-like mentality of the tournament don't quite come across. Like the solitary plodding and stilted chill it depicts, this is slow to start and the runtime could have been trimmed, but this shouldn't be a globe trotting, fantastic fun filled pretty people adventure game the way a modern movie would be, either. Mentions of five million people struggling in color coded sectors also don't quite register thanks to the small scale production, but prowling dogs, frozen carcasses, and on location filming at the abandoned Montreal Expo create realism. Director Robert Altman's (The Long Goodbye) decision to film with a foggy, Vaseline framed camera lense, however, misfires. The idea of the audience peering through the blurred trim of a frosted glass adds style while hiding cut production corners – the edging even mirrors the titular pentagon shaped symbolism that dominates the futuristic furniture and decor. Unfortunately, the execution is too noticeable and perhaps should have been used for indoor scenes only. Here hope is an obsolete word, and the desperate, arbitrary deceptions hit home the insensitive nothing else left to do but kill pointlessness – you bleed to stay alive and help decrease the population a little faster. Bitter tenderness and some tense shocks accent the cerebral tone as the intriguing melancholy escalates in the final act, and this somber, life imitating art statement is eerily prophetic in the notion of games and movies becoming social reality obsessions.



Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – This 2016 offshoot set before the original Star Wars certainly has pleasant visuals, pretty planetary vistas, intergalactic cities, and epic island battles. However, the spectacle doesn't overtake the sad family separations, weapons coercion, labor camps, extremist leaders, and bleakness of life under the Empire. Such hopelessness remains the film's unifying thread amid ties lost and gained, near gone Jedi philosophies, competing rebellion tactics, doubts on whether a life like this is worth living, and where you take your stand when the line is drawn. Those seeking it can find modern political parallels in the cinematic tensions, but the personal attachments to the refreshing, multidimensional ensemble are more important. There's no romance between the leads, either, another fresh turn against the usually required movie matchmaking. Instead, these likable rogue heroes – including Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Diego Luna (Y tu mamá también), Riz Ahmed (The Night Of), Donnie Yen (Ip Man), and more – become their own reformed Han Solos. Even Alan Tudyk (Firefly) who's hidden behind the delightfully charming K-2SO droid remains memorable, and the audience wants these rebels from the Rebellion to succeed in their choice for hope regardless of the consequences, leaving their mark long after the picture assures the stolen Death Star plans make it to Star Wars as we know they would. Older stars such as Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal), Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline), and Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) anchor the nods to this galaxy far, far away alongside the returning Genevieve O'Reilly as Mon Mothma, Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa, and familiar hallmarks such as Yavin 4, X-Wings, and more surprises. There's even an “I have a bad feeling about this” quip – almost. Unfortunately, I'm hesitant about the digital revival of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. Absolutely positively, I love the deserved respect with such a critical role and careful attention to detail. The composite isn't out of place, yet, when you've watched enough of his movies, it just reminds you that this isn't really Peter Cushing. It's a great technical achievement, but being aware of the wizardry makes the moral implications of using a late actor's likeness on a body double a distraction. For all its impressiveness, a blurry hologram message or onscreen video communiques would have sufficed, and Star Wars footage is used to recreate the X-Wing squadrons. There's uneven, convoluted techno babble, too – with ridiculously simple flick the switch/press the button/insert the data tape, some poor dialogue, and confusing planet hopping. Rewrites, editing changes, missing scenes, and reshoots are apparent, however the realization that this is the Star Wars movie we didn't know we needed bests any technicalities. Between the Prequels and the now de-canonized Extended Universe, who knew there was room for an entire movie leading up to the hours before Star Wars? Where The Force Awakens understandably re-endears with similarities to A New Hope, I'm still surprised this mature and sophisticated catharsis is a Disney movie. The only real trouble with this Star Wars Story is where it goes in a viewing marathon. Always introduce with the Original and Empire, let Han Solo in carbonite stew and remind us why the Empire must be defeated with Sith and Rogue One before coming home with Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Let this be your bittersweet Jar Jar palette cleanser!



An Unfortunate Skip


Outcasts – Although this 2011 eight episode limited series opens with intergalactic intrigue, the promising science fiction falls prey to standard television trappings. This refuge from Earth isn't what the New Haven colony had hoped – while some are grateful to be alive, others see this bleak time for humanity as an opportunity for power. Older adults and younger characters alike have touching recollections of how Earth used to be, and the title fits for both those willfully exiled and those cast beyond the colony's walls. Unfortunately, the survival science versus planetary pursuits are slow, few, and far between – feeling like thinly disguised The Next Generation meets Earth 2 threads when not taking a backseat to teen angst or bar fights. Archaeological evidence and alien frequencies remain B plots behind killer husbands and Lost delays with little purpose or explanation, and their technology is embarrassingly all over the place – space travel and memory revisiting machines but no way to tell if a hurricane’s a coming? Unlikable personal twists undercut already superfluous characters who run around each week or play cards when they are supposed to be exploring the exiled clones, diamond oceans, and non-corporeal beings. Obvious religious charlatan/smirking narcissists and political coups underestimate the audience with glossed over critical points and unnecessary on the nose tensions. Despite fine special effects, planetary vistas, and a neo noir feeling with dark corridors and cramped spaceships re-purposed as pioneer housing, there’s not a lot of actual SF and the odd timeframe embraces no genre wonder. Show us the settlement start with viruses, explorations, and excised soldiers or move to another five years on with a firm outpost thrust with surplus arrivals and strife. Instead, two cops do most of the work amid one nurse and a murdering botanist, relegating the lack of pregnancy and reproduction issues as secondary to guest of the week Gilligan's Island fodder. Veteran performances from unstable and talking to ghostly aliens in disguise Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones) and the steely but surprisingly stiff and washed out Hermione Norris (MI-5) can't detract from this disappointing lack of focus, and when they say their planet is named Carpathia after the Titanic's rescue ship, well I just think of Vigo from Ghostbusters II.


17 February 2017

Top Ten: Science Fiction and Fantasy!





Welcome to our new Top Tens series in celebration of I Think, Therefore I Review's Tenth Anniversary! These monthly lists will highlight special themes and topics from our extensive archive of reviews.


This time I Think, Therefore I Review presents in chronological order...





 Our Top Ten Science Fiction and Fantasy!





Don't forget to visit our Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Kid Friendly labels for still more genre entertainment!


I Think, Therefore I Review began as the blog home for previously published reviews and reprinted critiques by horror author Kristin Battestella. Naturally older articles linked here may be out of date and codes or formatting may be broken. Please excuse any errors and remember our Top Tens will generally only include films, shows, books, or music previously reviewed at I Think, Therefore I Review


15 February 2017

Shows I Didn't Finish



Shows I Didn't Finish!
by Kristin Battestella



Be they action adventures, historical fantasies, science fiction thrillers or not, these flat-lining serials can’t stay afloat long enough to gain viewer interest – even mine!



The Bastard Executioner FX's 2015 ten hour saga opens with a ninety minute pilot setting the Longshanks versus Wales strife with bloody battles, heady 300 action, and unexplained fantasy imagery. Such TV-MA flash over substance, nudity, and ridiculously intrusive modern music are unnecessary – not to mention nasty talk of barren holes, swollen meat, and inadvertently humorous “savage noble” and “noble coward” exclaims. The messianic pierced side wound, miraculous battle survival, and second chance idyllic country life do fine with humble thatch villages contrasting stone castle finery. Old age or dirty makeup with rotten teeth, however, call attention to themselves – and there's an entire scene with a baron taking a shit while someone else wipes his arse. o_O Without the who or why, ridiculous graphic torture splices become anonymous flayings with no thematic weight, and momentary on the move conversations don't build endearment. Pointless black and white blinks add to the camera's distracting focus on the frivolous – there's no in scene tension thanks to hasty, unimaginative up closes and standard television blocking provides no sense of scale while covering for inferior sets and the weaker cast. Drama is made simple to match crass homophobic hypocrisy, and one regular character is known for porking his sheep. The desperate grab for viewers puts the messy, unnecessarily super sized pilot off on the wrong foot with overtaxed Robin Hood peasants, pagan and Christian changes, and an unhappy baroness vying for attention alongside a stereotypical but underutilized ensemble that's better than the leads. Women and children are once again used for manpain, and at home horrors better left unseen become brutal gore shocking viewers out of the medieval immersion. Can you really put a dagger through the top of a person’s skull like that? Skipping to Episode Three does improve with in media res identity intrigue, righteous executioner conflicts, and marital ruses, but all this backstory should have been a revealing twist later. Torture devices and knight turned executioner uncertainly at what they do can be better than the numbing nasty, but the unique rebel leaders, Moors, sword wielding monks, and discussions on faith or ignorance take a backseat to the derivative violence. There's no chance to stew in the depravity of Stephen Moyer's (True Blood) power hungry chamberlain or Alec Newman's (Dune) ambiguous soldier secrets, and newcomer Lee Jones has too much brawn and not enough charisma to carry the weekly visions of late wives and incomprehensible mysticism. I just want to skip over all the superfluous torture – Ed Sheeran for a casual eye gouging! – but plot of the week executions, tournaments, and need to be cool shoehorning go nowhere. Who thought that opening song was a good idea? Who?!



Crossbones – This 2014 nine episode season opens with British Navy glory versus that monster of the seas – piracy! Frigate broadsides, spyglass viewpoints, and cinematic flair accent the realistic seas and below decks amputations. It's period fine design with eye catching island scenery and musket action, but initially the viewer has no idea who is who. The meandering premise packs a lot but remains too busy with MacGuffin chronometers, cipher decoding, poisons, and undercover plots. Even with multiple unique pirate opportunities, the women are too modern Boho, remaining love interest tropes or undeveloped with stereotypical lesbian moments. The scene chewing dialogue tries hard with debates on God, the devil, religion, or freedom – attempting drama heavy, steamy edgy, and adventure spectacle all at once. Everyone converses with knives at their throats and a melee or torture scene is required every three minutes between the hollow threats. Screeching, ghostly visions litter the well-spoken honorable pirate cult leader with new ideals and illness conflicts – today's unimaginative way to show trauma rather than using the innate camera and actor at television's disposal. Despite their eighties SF glory, these days it seems NBC just can't do period pieces or adventure series coughCrusoecough. More use should have been made of the Jamaica and Puerto Rico settings with more French or Spanish flair instead of odd accents and acupuncture that looks like Pinhead. While John Malkovich (Places in the Heart) is enjoying himself, the too serious ensemble is unable to meet his chess game. Richard Coyle (Coupling) plays a poor man's John Simm, and I love Julian Sands (Warlock) but he's out of place even when playing with a victim's eyeball. The unneeded previouslies reiterate the poorly paced season arc – Jacobite history and the origins of Teach's team are more interesting than weekly Gilligan's Island visits. For a supposedly secret pirate utopia, trade and travel happen too easy, and this should have begun with shipbound mutiny, traitors, or sickness instead. After all, when one thinks of pirates, we think of high seas – not a cabin boy collecting sponges for the local brothel. Malkovich's Blackbeard isn't seen enough, leaving the personality lacking with basic intercut plots and embarrassing sex scenes. Shootouts and orgasms! This is not meant to be an accurate Blackbeard account, but that uniqueness is wasted as an excuse for trying to be Game of Thrones and Black Sails. When dealing with alternate happenings, one should be far more specific on what is fact, what is fiction, and where the line is placed between them. Ultimately, seven different writers and six different directors make for a rocky foundation that doesn't know its audience – this isn't enough fun for Jack Sparrow millennials nor high drama for older historical viewers. I began wanting to like this but kept wondering when it would get better before just not caring how it ends.



Paradox – This 2009 five episode mini series rushes to set the scene with mysterious images from space, northern lights, foreboding digital countdowns, solar flares, and ominous downloads but has no sense of who anybody is or where any of it is going. Just get right to the detective ordered to investigate the call from a reclusive scientist and put the audience in on the personal with the facts: disaster images dated for today ten hours from now and how. Instead, unrealistic protocols and technicalities hamper the suspension of disbelief – there's no reason to be on anybody's side as they jump to easy conclusions, steering cases only they can solve with no uniforms or agency help. Defense ministries visit to assure secrecy rather than assembling top intelligentsia assistance, and debates on whether the goal is to find the image source or solve the crimes depicted feel hollow when there should be resources enough to do both. They can't even take overnight shifts to monitor this future hook up signal. U.S. peeps be confiscating that satellite for review! Interesting questions on predestination, aliens, miracles, divine messages, or electromagnetic interference never garner proper focus, and intriguing concepts on multiverses, alternate futures, and wormhole parallels are lost in the episodic framework. Rather than one long Contact mission, the weekly puzzles lack sophistication – is this global SF fantastic or a regular Manchester crime thriller? No one ever leaks information to the internet or press, and the mysteries lack tension or personality enough to keep viewers looking passed typical brawn versus brains triangles and rape plots. Why even go there with your strong female lead? Random people of the week take away from any religious possibilities – names such as Prometheus, Christian, King, Rebecca, Simon, and Benjamin become red herrings while redundant countdown flashes and repeated in your face images underestimate the audience. Show viewers the case images once at the beginning of the episode instead of dumbing things down with poor dialogue: “You know nothing of time. If I kiss you now would you arrest me for assault? You are as stupid as the rest of your profession.” Emun Elliot (The Paradise) is too similar to non-fave Joseph Fiennes, with a dry as unbuttered toast awareness of his ominous delivery to match the treading water contrivances. Everything the team needs to solve the crimes is all in the mystery photos, but nobody ever bothers to sit down and study them in full zoom, finite detail. Narrow thinking and frivolous pursuits waste time with faux angst – busying each hour with basic science talk and big action rescues but never getting any closer to an overall resolution or higher purpose. This should be a straightforward serial, but it never finds its footing. Not only do I not care, but I want to zip through on half speed just so I can get to the end instead of waiting for an answer that never happens. Perhaps this notion would make a fine book, however the attempted edgy doesn't fire on enough cylinders. I mean, satellite to the future and it's all about solving petty crime in Manchester? Explain yourself!