Friday, February 28, 2003


The groundswell of negative fan-feeling towards season seven of Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” continued apace this week, with the sad announcement that star Sarah Michelle Gellar is leaving the show at the end of this series when her contract expires, evidently to pursue a blossoming film career (Do the likes of “Scooby-Doo” sequel and the inordinately ropey-sounding rom-com, “A Semester Abroad” really qualify, though, as the kind of stuff that one deserts the incomparable Team Whedon for?).

Taking the evidence of last night’s episode of “Buffy”, the vignette-driven mood piece “Conversations with dead people” on board, Mrs Prinze Jnr. may yet regret her decision to pursue a life in pictures, given the quality of writing, direction and playing still present in her current day job. As for the fans? If they want to quibble over the quality of this show, they’re better off getting their jollies with second-string fare like “Smallville” and not bothering people who know great TV when they see it
(Trivial sidebar? This is the first episode of the series not to feature an appearance by Nicholas Brendon as Xander).

Opening on an evocative introductory sequence (complete with atypical on-screen episode title) several of the regular cast members are introduced going about their business on a typical Sunnydale evening, with Buffy is somewhat taken aback when the vamp that she’s planning to stake turns out to be a guy she went to the old Sunnydale High with, Spike spending a night on the town, Dawn enjoying a girly night in Chez Summers and Willow hitting the books at UC Sunnydale’s library. And, on the edge of town, former Nerd Troika mainstays Jonathan and Andrew are intent on sneaking back to the old alma mater to perpetrate new and doubtless nefarious deeds...

To spoil the subsequent course of events really wouldn’t be fair, but suffice is to say that casual “Buffy” viewers were probably unaware that last night’s phantom spirits were actually the handiwork of this season’s Big Bad, the none-more-villainous First Evil (we also saw this incorporeal nasty swine at the end of ”Lessons”; his roving agents have been the grim so-and-so’s hunting and killing young women during the pre-credits sequence in the first few episodes of the season).

As written by Jane Espenson and Drew Goddard, and under the assured direction of Nick Merck, “Conversations with Dead People” took the odd risk with storytelling conversation, ricocheting back-and-forth between narrative strands and giving each featured player an unselfish chance to shine in the spotlight (Michelle Trachtenberg being particularly impressive during her sections). Each vignette seemed initially connected, but ultimately revealed itself to be an integral aspect of the season’s underpinning, larger story arc - “24" has little on Joss Whedon and company when they are firing on all cylinders, as they were here.

This was prime “Buffy”, served well by a script demonstrating an honestly affecting, truthfully emotional core and fine work in front of and behind the cameras by all concerned, making it all the more sad that there are so comparatively few episodes left of this series to enjoy.


Or, if you want to know a bit more about the superheroic dude currently being embodied on cinema screens by Ben Affleck, direct your Acme Space Browser 3000 here...

Click on this for some quality Punker chuckles...

Does it go without saying that Avril fans need not apply?

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Want to see something really funny? Try nipping along to your local cineplex, dodging through the overpriced concession stand and catching up with the shamefully guilty pleasure that is the nutty trailer for the new Chow Yun-Fat/Seann William Scott martial arts adventure, ”Bulletproof Monk”.

I’m guessing that all concerned have their tongues more or less entirely in their collective cheek, as there’s no way on God’s earth that any audience is going to approach this latest, Hong Kong cinema-influenced actioner with a serious frame of mind (unless that audience is comprised solely of 13-year old PS2 junkies, in which case, this film will very possibly be their "Citizen Kane").

In said coming attraction, the redoubtable Mr Yun not so much defies gravity as shamelessly derides it and sends it to bed without supper (Dig the helicopter stunt for some quantum-grade insanity). Pausing between extended bouts of bad guy ass-stomping only to sling around the odd Buddhist aphorism and screenwriter-concocted one-liner, this is almost certainly the Chow Yun Fat you’ve been waiting to see since he went to America.(thank Sweet Muscular Jesus that, in this mercilessly loopy-looking crowd-pleaser, he seems to be a long way away from the territory of the three-wheeled, seriously listing Jodie Foster vehicle”Anna and the King”).

His youthful charge in this fine enterprise? Seann William Scott, the foul-of-mouth and slow-of-wit archetype who made ”American Pie” such a joy and whose joyously goofy exuberance nearly rescued ”Dude,Where’s My Car?” from being such a regrettable hive of abject idiocy. Stifler as a kung-fu warrior? You've already booked your ticket, haven't you? You're actually waiting in line as I type this piffle, aren't you?

Jaime King - who you may remember from “Pearl Harbour”, ”Slackers”, "Blow", and the quite thankless task of being Kid Rock’s former girlfriend - turns up as a gothette action heroine with a funky line in ‘Shocked Panda’ mascara design. At one point, she even gives a solid approximation of attempting to pray to the big Buddha man upstairs: Jennifer Garner is, even now, looking over her shoulder at the new hard chick in town.

It should go without saying that all concerned have naturally studied long, and trained hard, in the noble art of Wire-Fu.

Frankly, if this movie doesn’t rock like no spring-released movie has ever rocked before, you can take away my prized copy of Yuen Wu-Ping’s genius swordplay-fest, “Iron Monkey” and call me Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Click here for some "Matrix Reloaded" phone fun, fellow spoiler fans!

And just to prove that I still have my geek credentials intact, I want to direct your attention to today's update of Ain't It Cool News and it's front page featurette on the new Kate Beckinsale flick, "Underworld", which relates a ripped-from-the-headlines tale of vampires duking it out with werewolves and promises all kinds of genre-blending pleasures. You'll find out more via this link, which should contains lovely pics which should go some way towards erasing any English Rose notions which you may still be entertaining about Kate Beckinsale.

Buffy would kill for those outfits...

“Moonlight Mile”(15) is already enjoying pride of place in my list of the top five films of the year and it really isn’t likely to shift from this exalted position unless a cinematic event of “Fellowship...” proportions arrives in the meantime.

Written and directed by Brad Silberling, who has generously provided film hacks in the pastwith critical gift packages like kid flick “Casper” and the widely-panned-though-actually-kind-of-charming Wim Wenders rehash, “City of Angels”, “Moonlight Mile is a partly-autobiographical tale which skilfully touches on potentially well-worn staples like the raw, constant ache of grief and mourning, the lacerating emotional damage introduced by long-held familial secrets and the awkward transition between platonic friendship and passionate love, depicted within the setting of a vividly-drawn early-seventies, small town American coastal town.

Jake Gyllenhaal is dependably excellent as directionless, confused soul Joe, whose attempt to gain some forward momentum and independence in his life is severely curtailed by the abrupt intercession of fate, which chooses this pivotal moment in Joe’s life to murder his fiancee, three days shy of a wedding that neither are sure about committing to.

Mr Gyllenhaal’s fine work is more than matched by the venerable pairing of Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon, who play the dead girl’s parents, JoJo and Ben, who take the young man into their home after the tragedy, expecting him to stay around for good and join Ben’s embryonic real estate business, even as their surrogate son makes strenuous efforts to break out of the suffocating chain of events binding him to a place he can’t wait to get away from.

Complicating this scenario still more is the local post woman, Bertie, bewitchingly embodied by Ellen Pompeo, who yearns for her own departed lover (missing, presumed killed in the Vietnam conflict) and forms a mutual attraction with Joe.

This is, then, a film which relies on some potentially hackneyed elements to tell a well-worn tale and is the kind of dramatic piece which positively screams for award season recognition, suggesting an generational acting showdown waiting to unfold before your eyes. So far, so accurate, but ”Moonlight Mile” transcends expectations to deliver a heartfelt and genuinely affecting story told with subtlety, restraint and a generous, honest wit so often missing from movies which aim to tug at the heartstrings and instead end-up crudely manipulating their audiences.

The acting is first-rate, the sense of place and time is marvellously well realised, the song score and original music are wonderfully evocative and the whole piece is directed and written with a lightness of touch which is even more impressive given the personal resonance that this piece must surely have for Silberling, who lost his own fiancee in tragically similar circumstances to
those depicted in this film’s narrative.

A movie to seek out and to cherish, ”Moonlight Mile” should definitely be top of your “To See” list.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

We're going to see either "The Ring" or "The Kid Stays In The Picture" tonight at UGC, so don' expect me to review either of those any time soon, given my current form in that regard.

And we're going to see "The Two Towers" tomorrow, for the third time, because twice just isn't enough with Peter Jackson movies...

Dude, is learning to swim scary, or what?

Monday night saw my second not-drowning-yet-not-quite-floating-either lesson and I found it to be a tad heebie-jeebie inducing. Obviously, it’s not quite up there in the blood-curdling scarifying stakes alongside opening your monthly phone bill, or witnessing the dreadful, always unflattering results of that passport photo booth session, but the my first, tentative steps into the chlorinated underbelly of my local swimming baths are reminding me that I’ve avoided taking to the watery depths for a reason. (That reason would be the author suffering from a paralysing, mortifying, bone-permeating terror that the likes of Wes Craven only dreams of inducing).

At this point, your blogging scribe is getting comfortable with water and his place in it, and shying away from the rather more serious business of learning strokes, and the entirely fraught notion of unsupported forward motion through a fluid, unpredictable elemental environment. Last night, we focussed on placing my face in the water, which called for me to sport very becoming, helpful ocular fashion goggles and plunge my nonplussed mush into the deep (OK, shallow) blue expanse below.

Thanks to the support of my tutor, Alan, I made real progress last night and felt much more comfortable about what I was doing and more positive about the lesson next week - I may even have to go and buy a second pair of absurdly baggy, comfortable swim shorts, now that my mind has fully committed to the concept that I’m going to stick with the swimming and achieve my goal of being able to swim a length or two.

As a life-long asthmatic, it certainly makes sense to swim for health reasons alone: If I can actually get past those pesky mental barriers and enjoy the process as well, we'll really be onto something.

Monday, February 24, 2003

Would love to stop and chat, but I really must attend to a barking mad Golden Retriever called Ella, who feels strongly that I have been remiss in my attentions and that I should, with immeadiate effect, lavish a whole bunch of attention on her.

It's a hard life, and no mistake.

In addition, I will be doing my best impression of somebody trying vainly to float calmly and without fear, as I take my second weekly swimming lesson at the local baths - On a Monday evening, said establishment run a handy adult learner's programme, which minimises my acute self-consciousness at being seen in public in a state of mild undress. Other folks attend, naturally, and the fact that they can subsequently swim makes me think that I might one day be able to wrap my head around the concept of getting into an expanse of chlorinated water and not thinking that my life is about to end.

Which would be super, obviously.

After that whole ordeal fades into the distance for another week, I will be joining at least some of you in watching Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's pet project, "Project Greenlight", over on Sky Movies Premier, and awaiting the fireworks which must surely ensue as the filming of the winning screenplay, Pete Jones' "Stolen Summer" gets underway and the creatives present let fly with a barrage of expletive rants and foul-mouthed tantrum-throwing: Ain't indie film-making just grand? ("Moonlight Mile" review to follow: honest!)

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Our heartiest congratulations go out to Paul, archduke of the Isabella's Teddy blog, on his good news, which he relates on his latest update and which you should take a look at, right now...Click for good cheer, why don't you?

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