SQOG - the Sasquatch Blog (April 2011 posts)
****All the posts below are bigtime SPOILERS if you haven't seen, read, or heard the entertainment I am talking about. Look at the post heading for the day and decide if you want to be spoiled on that topic or not.****
March 2011 posts
-Friday, April 29th, 2011: THE OFFICE - Michael & Jim's Goodbye
Now that was sweet. Sure, it might have been nice to have Michael leave THE OFFICE right after that wonderful proposal to Holly, but then we wouldn’t have gotten this excellent episode about he says goodbye to everyone. Some goodbyes worked better than others and the B-story with the increasingly annoying and unnecessary Will Ferrell character was a bust, but there were a couple moments in this episode, number 21, season 7, “The Long Goodbye,” that perfectly wrap up Michael Scott’s tenure as the Scranton branch manager of Dunder Mifflin Paper. Loved Michael’s wild laughter after giving Oscar a creepy scarecrow doll (“It looks like it was made by a 2-year old monkey on a farm!!”). Michael and Erin had a sweet and tender send-off that was fitting for their father-daughter style relationship, and I really loved Erin’s quiet eye-roll at the end. How perfect was Michael taking off his microphone for the last time at the airport, saying “Good to get that off my chest,” then, since the audio was cut off, mouthing “That’s what she said!” And thank god Pam caught Michael at the airport; it was going to break my heart if all they had was passing each other in the parking lot. We didn’t hear their goodbyes to each other, but the silence gave the scene a wistful Lost in Translation-type vibe. Steve Carrell did an incredible job in this episode, showing Michael veering from one emotional extreme to another, without making it a caricature. His best moment was when he was freaking out in his office, and decided to call Holly and tell her that he wasn’t going to leave (“I am not going to start improv at level 1. I don’t think my credits are going to transfer”). But as soon as he gets Holly on the phone and shares a dorky joke with her, he immediately calms down and remembers why he is moving. It’s a fantastic and uplifting scene and it tells the audience that Michael and Holly are going to be just fine; they really do fit perfectly together.
But the best moment was when Michael said goodbye to Jim. Now, I love the antics of Michael, Dwight, Andy, and the rest of the office gang, but none of those characters ever felt real to me. I just don’t believe that a Michael or a Dwight-type character actually exist anywhere in the real world. Which is fine, I don’t believe a Jack Bauer-type character could exist in the real world either. But I can still empathize with their emotions. But Jim and Pam are real people to me. They are funny, subtle, and could easily pass for people sitting in the next cubicle. So any emotion that these two experience feels much more real and hits me much harder. It’s why I have been such an enormous fan of their relationship over the long years, because it reminds me of my friends and their relationships, their stories, and their heartbreak. So it was perfectly in character that Jim would figure out that Michael was leaving a day early. I read somewhere that this episode was, obviously, very emotional for the cast and crew, that there were certain scenes that were really hard to get through without breaking into tears. Well, when Jim walks into Michael’s office, his eyes are swollen red. And that was wonderful to see, because Jim’s eyes aren’t red, John Krasinski’s are. It’s a breaking of the fourth wall, but it lets the audience peek behind the scenes and see how torn up the actors are in this scene. Some might be turned off by this, realizing that they are watching actors and fake characters, but I thought it just heightened the emotion of the scene to know that John and Steve were putting in so much of their own emotions. Jim and Michael have a perfectly under-stated goodbye, promising to meet up for a lunch that they both know will never happen. But the perfect kicker is right after this scene, when Michael is leaving the office for good. Jim is hunched over his desk, and he looks like he is just barely keeping it together. The rest of the office says goodbye to Michael, thinking they will see him tomorrow. Jim looks at Michael and gives him a little “Get on out of here” head nod. It’s small and subtle move, but it is just wonderful, and certainly got me all misted up. John Krasinski has always brought an easy naturalism to his role of ‘Jim,’ and these two scenes show how effective that style can be. I’m thankful he will still be around, but damn, Michael Scott and his awkward and lovable antics will be sorely missed.
-Thursday, April 28th, 2011: STTNG - Scary Morgue
Like most sane and rational people, I don’t like to watch scary movies at home at night when I’m alone. Now, I do like scary movies, but I don’t enjoy it when fears follow me into bed. The jacket over the desk chair becomes a hooded, red-eyed, penguin serial killer. The tickle of hairs on the back of my neck warns of a descending ax blow. A moving shadow from a car’s headlight becomes one of those shadow demons from GHOST. It’s not fun. And no matter how many times I check the closets, or under the bed, I am convinced that something is there, lurking in the corner of my eye. And since I am nightmare-prone, it gets a whole lot worse when I actually do get to sleep. Which leads me to an episode of Star Trek that was on at 1am last night. I know what you’re thinking; creepy terrifying moments in Star Trek: The Next Generation? That rated-G, cookie-cutter, PC space show?!?! Hell yes! I actually think the show had a couple creepy moments in its later years. I remember one, where crew members were being abducted in their sleep to be operated on. The survivors go into a holodeck and create the place they are taken too. It’s very dark, there is a creepy surgery chair, and out of the dark are these terrifying clack-ing sounds, like they are surrounded by an army of dissection-inclined crabs. Yick.
Anyways, the episode that was on last night was called ‘Night Terrors’, season 4, episode 17. Not a great episode, probably most remembered for its ridiculous scenes of Counselor Troi flying. Anyways, it’s about how the crew get stuck in some kind of vortex that does not allow anyone to enter REM sleep. So, due to lack of deep sleep, the crew starts to start hallucinating nightmares. Most are just silly (Picard is afraid of a bright light? Really??), but one scene I remember from seeing way back when I was a kid, and I got just as freaked out last night as I did back in the early 90s. Check out the scene here, at about 3:40. The good doctor, Beverly Crusher, is in the ship’s morgue, scanning about 20 dead bodies that are lying on tables, covered in plastic sheets. As she starts to scan, she hears tiny rustling sounds, like plastic crumpling up. So, at this point, I would have already vacated the morgue at warp speed, screeching like a banshee, my arms waving above my head like a ninny. But Beverly keeps working, with the occasional curious glance behind her. She gradually starts to feel a presence behind her, so she turns around to see that the body behind her is sitting up under the sheet! She whips back around and now all the bodies in the morgue are sitting up under their sheets!!! I love her reaction when she backs into a wall and sees 2 more bodies behind her. She whips her head around, squeezes her eyes shut tight, then curls up her arms and head like a scared little girl. She is now in full-on caveman survival mode. She knows she is hallucinating, but it doesn’t make her fear any more controllable. From her defensive position, she repeats out loud, “Go away,” like she is still in pig-tails, telling the monsters under her bed not to nip at her heels. When she opens her eyes, all the bodies are back down. It’s not a gory scare, but somehow this subtle and quiet bit is all the more terrifying for not being explicit. This isn’t a lot of depth to this post; I just wanted to remark that last night was tough, with corpses masquerading as a pile of clothes and the feel of plastic on my skin.
-Wednesday, April 27th, 2011: BREAKING BAD - The Shootout
I owe my brother for a lot of things, but perhaps the thing I owe him for most is convincing me to try out BREAKING BAD a year ago. What a freakin’ show! I was channel-surfing last night and came across one of my favorite moments from season 3, Hank’s shootout with the Cousins in Episode 7, ‘One Minute.’ As much as I enjoyed the first 2 seasons, the 3rd season blew me away. I heard an interview with Vince Gilligan this year where he said that, as opposed to the well-planned writing process for the first 2 seasons, this year he decided to just wing it. What a crazy idea! To mess with a successful show by completely changing the writing process?! In a show that takes such crazy chances, it s good to see the writers doing the same. In a show that has time for Hank’s shoot-out and the bottle-show episode, “Fly,” it’s hard to find anything wrong. Ok, wait, I got one. In the very last shot of this season’s finale, when Jesse is aiming the gun at Gale, the camera movement makes it look like Jesse aims away from Gale when he shoots. Gilligan, in many interviews, has stated, in plain terms, Gale is dead!! Come on then, there is no room for errant camerawork at a critical moment!
Now Hank is a survivor (um, mass death by exploding turtle anyone??), but I really thought he was a goner here. The best moment of season 3 was the shootout between Hank and The Cousins in the mall parking lot. Please tell me that this scene will be studied in film schools everywhere! It is just so well done, so thrilling and logical and real. How often do you notice the sound design in a shoot-out? The gun sounds, yes, but that insidious and annoying car alarm in the background is just as much a part of the tension in this scene as the grunting and gunshots. Let’s start with the beginning. What a smart choice to have someone call Hank to warn him that someone is coming to kill him. We get a 1 minute acting class from Dean Norris, going through dismissal, incredulity, paranoia, and acceptance. We get just as tense as Hank does in that 1 minute, mistaking regular mall customers for killers, checking the mirrors, just waiting for The Cousins to pop up in a corner of the frame. I like that they don’t just pop up, Hank sees them coming, and then they disappear.
Those first gunshots are a release of that tension, Finally! Normal gun battle coming, we think. But right away, that assumption goes out the window with that ultra-violent smashing of one of the killers between cars. That is just brutal, Hank actually crushes him through 2 other cars! Now, this sounds disturbing, but I like it when protagonists are shot in televised gunfights. Hank isn’t the never-touched-by-a-million-bullets action hero, he gets f-ed up in this scene! In each scene beat he gets wounded; shot in the elbow, the shoulder, and later taking shots to the chest and stomach.
Obviously, it’s convenient that the last Cousin goes back for the axe, but it makes sense too. The season has built up the Cousins as near-supernatural in their bearing and attitude, and Hank kills one of them. It does not surprise me that one of these psychopaths would want Hank to suffer with his favorite weapon. And the shots of the last killer’s feet walking towards Hank, dragging that heavy axe on the concrete, are just terrifying. Get that bullet in the damn gun!!! And how viscerally satisfying is that shot to the head, the Cousin’s brain splattering all over the camera, I know it got a fist-pump from my caveman, survival, all-that-is-man side. And then that great last shot from above, showing the geography of the scene, all the dead and wounded players, A to B to Z, like watching the aftermath of a gory chess match. There are a few uses of slow-mo and jump cutting in the scene, but they work well to jar us, switch up the tempo, and give us a little POV from seriously wounded Hank.
Every shot, sound, and action in this scene makes this an unbelievable moment in an already superlative show. I’d put this right up there with some of the best shoot-outs in film too, classic Tarantino feel here. It even tops that crazy moment in the penultimate episode when Walt runs over the drug dealers, chillingly shoots one in the head, you get that push-in camera move and Walt says “Run” to Jesse. Absolutely amazing end to an episode, don’t get me started, I could write pages on that scene too! I don’t know where this is going for next year, and I love it, I can’t wait to see some old-school Heisenberg bad-assery out of Brian Cranston.
-Tuesday, April 26th, 2011: MUSIC VIDEOS - Fox on Fire
I remember seeing this Eminem/Rihanna video a few months ago when it came out and not paying too much attention to it. I came across it again today though, and man, this thing is hilarious! Plus there is one really cool moment in there that I would like to talk about. Rap videos don’t usually interest me that much. Don’t get me wrong, I love music videos, especially when someone really creative gets behind the camera and makes a short film out of the song. They can be really powerful that way. Or hilarious. One of my favorites is still this old rap music video by the Roots for their song “What They Do.” The video is really simple, just subtitles that show what really happens in a typical rap music video. I think that at this point in time, all rap videos were being churned out by the same corporate machine and the Roots wanted to make a commentary on that. As it says on the website above, you actually really have to look for the real Roots video, because on Youtube and in record company releases, they have removed the subtitles, twisting the original video into the exact thing it is mocking. Kinda sucks.
Anyways, back to the Eminem/Rihanna video. If you love to see beautiful people looking trashy and beating the ever-loving shit out of each other, well, this video is for you. It’s a sexy house-burning fight between Megan Fox and Dominic Monaghan (waaaaay past Hobbit-land here!). The fire effects are actually amazing, especially near the end as the flames travel up the limbs on Dominic and Megan. I love moments when film and music synch. It can be simple, it can be bombastic, but I love it when it happens. In this video, there is a great synch-up between the images and the music at 3:48 with Megan Fox. She is sitting in front of a window, a beautiful lens flare playing across her face, putting out a flame in her hand. She is looking down and the music cuts out for a second, then BOOM, the beat kicks back in at the precise moment that Fox flicks her eyes up at us, staring through the camera. It’s like she suddenly caught the audience peeking in on her private domestic fight and she is accusing us. The timing and that stare combine to send a shiver running right down my spine. Of course, you can’t get away with this 4th wall break in a movie, but that’s the beauty of a music video. Even in this over-produced mess, with Rihanna and Eminem emphatically gesturing in front of boringly obvious backgrounds, there is still a single second of majesty.
-Monday, April 25th, 2011: ARCHER - Cancer in the Danger Zone!!
I’ve been cruising through the 30-minute episodes of the ARCHER cartoon. Each episode is twisted, dirty, and hilarious. And now that the show, just finishing its 2nd season, has wisely started to expand on the back stories of its supporting characters, the show is getting better and even more screwed up. Any screen time devoted to Cheryl/Carol, Krieger, or Pam, is awesome, especially when the storylines are so over-the-top. And am I the only one who finds Judy Greer’s vocal performance of ‘Cheryl/Carol’ damn hot?? Yes, probably. But the main characters are still great. 'Danger Zone!' is a quote I often use. And I love the regularity with which the writers fit in Lana’s “Nooooooope”s, it gets funnier every time. Archer, so uniquely voiced by H. Jon Benjamin, is such a magnetic douche, its hard to turn away whenever he is going off on one of his tangents. I mean, this guy is a little mama’s-boy shit, it’s not easy for me to figure out why he is so compelling. Maybe it’s just that he gets to say what all the rest of us only think. I think it has something to do with the fact that he really is just an immature, fun-loving 12-year old boy in a man’s body. Check out this hilarious clip when Archer gets super-excited to meet an ocelot named Babboo. That excitement is contagious.
Anyways, the show went really dark a couple episodes when Archer was diagnosed with breast cancer, and there was one moment that made my spine tingle. He is taking all his medications, but feels great. He finds out that his medication is just candy and Zima, so he smokes a copious amount of marijuana while vomiting through chemotherapy to begin his vengeful rampage of shooting the kneecaps off of every member of the Irish mob. It is kinda nuts to see a comedy about a sociopathic cancer patient taking chemo drugs while blowing away everyone in his path. And the animation does a damn good job of making Archer look sick and deranged. He also has these pot-induced flashbacks to an old woman, Ruth, who has become his friend at cancer treatments. Ruth is dirty and fun, and Archer is sweet to her as she gets more and more sick. They bond over watching Regis in the morning. I liked seeing that human side of Archer. He is still a jerk, but he is being a jerk with Ruth and that inclusive pompousness makes it better. Anyways, Archer finally meets the Big Bad, who is an old man in a wheelchair. The old man doesn’t think Archer will shoot an unarmed man (BS. We, as the audience know he’s done a lot worse!). As the old man wheels away, it gets quiet. The Archer looks up with his bloodshot eyes and says, in the creepiest most insane voice I’ve heard in a cartoon, “Did you see Regis this morning?” Then, he turns that crazy face into the camera, in full close-up, raises his arm, and shoots. I liked how simple this was. No extra soundtrack music, just the soft rustle of clothes as Archer turns and raises his arm. It feels inevitable, and powerful, and Archer’s silent declaration that he actually may have cared for another human being. What a cool moment.
Now, of course, no episode of ARCHER could end on such a moment of sincerity. It turns out that the end scene I wrote about above is a scene in Archer’s Cancer Movie, Terms of Enrampagement, which is totally a movie I would love to see. We have now flash-forwarded a few months to see Archer recovered and showing off the movie. “Boo-ya Ke-sha!!”. So really, the moment of emotion when Archer references Ruth and shoots the old guy was more likely an action cliché that Archer edited into his movie to mimic every other action movie he’s ever seen. So what does it say that I was completely manipulated by that moment? I’m not sure, probably just that I’m a sap, and still fall for regular old movie formula more often than not. Summer blockbusters are kind of made for people like me. Because no matter how many times I see that emotional cliché, I’ll still fall for it everytime if it’s done right. Even though I know it’s pure manipulation, I’ve worked in the movie business long enough that I am perfectly aware that an action film’s love story is a contrived element and most likely a product of demographics and opening weekend numbers. But maybe it’s more than that. Having worked on a couple sets, I know that, no matter how hackneyed and clumsy the inclusion of emotion can be in a blockbuster, there are at least a couple people behind-the-scenes of the movie who really do care about the scene. Be it one of the actors, or the original screenwriter, or the wardrobe assistant, or the key grip, I know someone is giving this cliched scene all their attention. And maybe that is what I am responding to. Or again, maybe I’m just a sap. I’ve wandered a bit, but I really did dig that scene in ARCHER. It was effective, emotional, and satisfying. I can’t wait to finish Season 2!
-Friday, April 22nd, 2011: THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE - The Iraqi Scarface
This fantastic poster just came out for THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE, one of the 2 movies I was able to see in my rushed schedule at Sundance this year. It’s always refreshing to see a great creative poster, we get so many boring actors-standing-around type posters these days, I love a good visual. The movie itself is straight out bug-nuts! It’s a fascinating topic: the story of Uday Hussein’s body double. I went in expecting some crazy shit to go down, but this movie is clearly trying to top the wild excess of SCARFACE. And amazingly enough, sometimes it works. According to what I’ve read, Uday really was the craziest son of Saddam, but there is just no way he could have done all this. Uday sleeps with a married woman immediately after her wedding and laughs when she commits suicide. He forces everyone in a club to dance naked around him. He guts one of his father’s advisors in the middle of a dinner. And I’m sure I am forgetting other things. What holds the film together and keeps it from falling headlong into farce is the performance by Dominic Cooper.
He plays both characters; the low-key and subtle body-double Latif, and the brazen insanity that is Uday. They are often in the same room, but the editing and effects work is so good, it is never obvious that the same actor is playing both characters. Cooper has a lot of fun with both characters, but I especially love how he starts to blend them together. There are times when Latif impersonates Uday, but you can still somehow always tell that it’s Latif. He gives Uday a fascinating personality chock-full of barely repressed homosexuality, insecurities, and rage. You never know what Uday is capable of doing and it is a credit to Cooper that it takes the audience so long to realize that Uday is actually certifiably insane. There is just enough humanity in Uday to make us squirm. I know this is a small movie, well, if an $11 million can be called small, but it would be a crime if Dominic Cooper was forgotten by the time the awards season rolls back around. I just can’t really recommend anything else about the movie. It is directed by Lee Tamahori, the guy who did the great Aussie drama, ONCE WERE WARRIORS, and the Halle Berry Bond film. He just pushes it too far. I kept wishing that I could spend more time with Uday and increasingly frayed Latif, without a scene quickly dissolving into revolting violence or strangely random nudity. The love story doesn’t really work for me either; you can see where that storyline is going ten miles away. But as I mentioned before, it is amazing how much I can excuse in the film when there is such a magnetic and compelling performance smack dab in the middle. Try not to take the film too seriously, cover your eyes at signs of impending violence (especially that gutting scene with Saddam’s advisor), but you’ve got to watch and see one of the best performances of the year by Dominic Cooper.
-Thursday, April 21st, 2011: HEATHER MORRIS - Damn!
Woah. Now that was hot. Check out this video, but be careful, I’m pretty sure it is not safe for work viewing. What a crazy run Heather Morris is having! About a year and a half ago, she was just a well-respected backup dancer. She had been a backup dancer for Beyonce for the ‘Single Ladies’ Tour. Then she gets called onto GLEE to teach the actors how to do the ‘Single Ladies’ dance and suddenly she is cast as a character on the show despite no previous acting background. Soon, she is the funniest character on the show, and as of now, she is pretty much America’s Ambassador of Hot Cool Sexy Dance. The attached video is from Esquire and is basically making the same point. I mean, a hot girl in a skimpy outfit dancing to music is already amazing to me, but she does actually seem to be changing up her styles based on the tempo and arrangement of each song. Very cool.
She was also one part of the best moment GLEE had last year. Most of the time, obviously, her character is just around for comic relief. I mean, it’s hard to imagine someone that monumentally dumb could actually get through high school. And don't get me wrong, she is hilarious. That line she had about how dolphins are just gay sharks was great. But what made it perfect was how she paused after she said it, then nodded a little and said, 'Yeah." But I have really found it rewarding whenever the writers start to explore the innocent side of Brittney. Since she isn’t exactly right in the head, she sees everything from the viewpoint of a child. When GLEE did that episode about how Brittney still believes in Santa Claus, it turned into something very sweet. But last year, the GLEE writers attempted to do more with Brittney and actually put her in a relationship with Artie, the kid in the wheelchair. And the result has been something adorable. Their relationship peaked in the episode, ‘Special Education’, episode 9 in the second season. The glee club is preparing for Sectionals, and Mr. Shue does something pretty cool, he decides to let the non-star kids in glee club sing the songs for the competition. This means that Brittney, Santana, Quinn, Sam, Mike, and Tina got to lead the group, which was a nice change of pace. Anyways, Artie is mad at Brittney because she said earlier in the episode that she had committed adultery. So, they have this talk behind the curtain, just before showtime. It’s silly, Brittney got confused and thought ‘adultery’ meant being ‘a dolt’. So Artie forgives her. Then, she crouches down, so she is looking up at Artie in his chair. And she says something like, “I’m so nervous, because everyone is going to be watching me dance. But I’m not dancing for anyone out there watching me. I’m only dancing for you.” It was a lot sweeter when she said it, but it was a wonderful moment, when suddenly a silly relationship becomes something potent. You go Heather, sky’s the limit!
-Wednesday, April 20th, 2011: YOU'VE GOT MAIL - the Hanks moment
I ask you, what would the world be like without Tom Hanks? I hope I never have to find out. But I miss the guy. As a producer, he is still incredibly prolific, bringing important movies and television series to the screen, such as THE PACIFIC last year. But as an actor, he’s coasting. It really can’t be much of a challenge playing Robert Langdon, the role kinda just looks like a fat paycheck. I think the last thing that he tried to stretch himself in was THE TERMINAL in 2004. Oh well. What I love about Hanks is that he always has a ‘moment’ in every film that transcends the movie he’s in. It’s always some little motion or tic, but it always hits me really hard. I don’t know why, but it always feels like he somehow opens up an emotional conduit with me, and suddenly I am there, RIGHT THERE with his character, and it’s a wonderful feeling. In PHILADELPHIA, his moment was when he was describing the opera. FORREST GUMP, when he reacts in horror at the news he has a son and bashfully asks if he’s smart. ROAD TO PERDITION, when he is recovering at the farm and his son waves to him, he tilts his head back and closes his eyes, basking in his son’s love.
Anyways, one of his more inconsequential films was on the other night, YOU’VE GOT MAIL. It’s actually not so bad. The days of the early internet are hilarious to see again, but I like the way the director chose to portray the internet with 3 streams of communication: the words on the computer, the character’s inner monologue, and what the characters speak aloud. It’s about the only way to make an email communication interesting. And I love that THE GODFATHER kept coming up as the ultimate way for men to communicate. Anyways, Hanks looks like he is having a ball playing a blasé bastard. And then he has his moment. It’s in a coffee shop with Meg Ryan, and the two characters are lightly sniping at each other. Then Meg Ryan gets a little pissed off and really lays into Hanks with a cutting insult. She says, “No one will ever remember you . . . you are nothing but a suit.” Suddenly, this isn’t a nice game anymore, someone brought a blade. Hanks just sits there, stunned and blinking, all mirth run out of his face, like he just got slugged in the stomach. As Hanks gets up to leave, he furrows his brow, and you can see that Meg Ryan’s words just confirmed his worst fears about himself. He is lost deep in fears and self-doubts that he hasn’t thought of in a long time. It’s a wonderful bit of quiet acting that suddenly speaks to all our fears. Who among us isn’t scared to death that they won’t be remembered? Who isn’t terrified that they’ll be alone? In a silly movie, Hanks brings some A-level pathos into a scene, letting his character’s cavalier shield drop for a second, letting us see how much turmoil lies underneath. I was reminded all over again how much I miss this guy really pushing himself on the silver screen. Another awesome acting moment by Mr. Hanks. Check the whole clip out here. The moment is at 3:40, but it helps to watch the whole scene and see how it escalates.
-Tuesday, April 19th, 2011: BUFFY - My favorite moment
I’ll try and keep this short, because if I start going on about BUFFY, this could get to pages. I feel like I’m a bit in the minority on this, but I think that Season 5 is BUFFY at its best. Granted, it doesn’t have the tragic operatic arc of Season 2, nor the creative experimentation of S4 and S6, but I think it has the best storytelling. For instance, the retro-introduction of Dawn is one of the smartest things I have ever seen pulled off in television. I truly wish that I had been watching this show live every week, because I would have loved to have seen Dawn randomly appear in the end of the first episode of S5, then wait weeks to have her presence explained, instead of on the next DVD disc. What a crazy ask risk the writers took, but one that I thought payed off brilliantly. While Dawn herself is pretty damn annoying, I really loved the way that having a younger sister opened up a new side of Buffy. Then there is ‘Fool For Love’ which was one of the coolest episodes ever between Spike and Buffy. That line when Buffy throws the money down and Spike, saying, “You’re beneath me,” is one of the most pitiful scenes I’ve ever seen. S5 also had, what I consider to be the best hour of television ever, ‘The Body.’ That episode is pure artistry and though it is hard to watch, I find so much more to appreciate in it everytime I see it. Expect a write-up of that in this blog someday!
But enough! Today, I want to talk about my all-time favorite BUFFY moment. Obviously, there are a ton of these, I mean come on, BUFFY is entirely about cool, emotional, epic, devastating moments. But this quiet little moment is my favorite. It’s in the already excellent 5th season, episode 5, “No Place Like Home.” The B story in this episode is that Giles is finally opening his magic shop. While Dawn is outside, Buffy walks into the shop on opening day, its all very quiet. She suddenly stops, seeing Giles standing in the center of the shop, all dressed up in some crazy wizard outfit and a pointy hat, with a goofy/friendly smile on his face. This is clearly his idea of a welcoming costume for his customers. Buffy just stares at him. Giles stares back. Nothing is said. After about 10 seconds, Giles, defeated, removes his costume, realizing how ridiculous he looked. What an awesome moment. These characters, who have known each other for 5 years, are so comfortable with each other, that they don’t need words anymore. Buffy doesn’t even frown at him, they just know each other so well, that all the information is passed with a glance. I don’t think there is any grandiose reason why this is my favorite moment in the series. It doesn’t summarize BUUFY as a whole, or speak to some larger truth about entertainment. It’s just a wonderful example of how well Joss Whedon and his team of writers drew these characters. As an audience, we invest a lot of time in shows that we watch and the characters we love, and scenes like this one are our rewards. This moment never fails to make me smile and be inspired all over again.
-Monday, April 18th, 2011: THE KINGDOM - Wrong ending
THE KINGDOM was on TV the other night and wow, I had forgotten about that ending. I’m pretty sure that I saw this one in theaters a few years ago, but I didn’t remember too many things about it other than being pissed off that they killed ‘Coach Taylor’ from FNL in like, the first 5 minutes, and that it had an insanely intense ending. It was directed by Peter Berg, the man who created the movie & TV series, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. And a lot of that influence comes through here; shaky/zoomy camera, Explosions in the Sky-like music, etc. And for the most part, it works. There is a little too much hoo-rah macho military posturing, but actors like Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, and Jason Bateman pull it off. Despite all that talent, I felt like their Iraqi guide, played by Ashraf Barhom, was the most interesting. This is another movie that unfairly gets shoved into the pile of unsuccessful Iraq war movies that has come out in the past decade. Though, to THE KINGDOM’s credit, most of it is straight up action, with very little political agenda. Until the end that is.
The end chase sequence is thrillingly paced. The Jason Bateman character, Adam, is abducted and it is very clear that he will be beheaded in a recorded anti-American demonstration. The rest of Adam’s team engages in a desperate rescue attempt to save Adam before he can be killed. I liked this frantic, make-it-up-as-we-go sequence, its visceral and exciting. I especially liked it that Adam never stops fighting his captors. He knows he is going to die and that he is far past the point of negotiation, so he does absolutely anything he can to delay his death. He kicks, scratches, grabs at doorways, thrashes his body, kicks the video camera, everything. It is a very effective way to show how desperate his situation is.
Anyways, there is a scene earlier in the movie, during a military briefing, where Jennifer Garner breaks down and starts crying over the bombing murder of her friend. Jamie Foxx bends over and whispers something in her ear that gets her to stop and continue on with the meeting. Throughout the rest of the film, characters ask Jamie Foxx what he whispered to Garner. In the final scene, he gives an answer. He says that he whispered, “We’re gonna kill them all.” This revelation is edited together with another scene that takes place in the main terrorist’s family. The mother asks a child what his father whispered to him before he died (from gunshot wounds inflicted by Jamie Foxx’s character). The boy says, “My father said, ‘Don’t fear them, my child. We are going to kill them all.’” Woah, what a nihilistic ending. It completely undercuts the mission of our central heroes, basically saying that the wars in the Middle East will never end because hatred is inherited on both sides. And even our stock American heroes aren’t so heroic in their angry intentions. I can see what they are going for with this kind of ending, a sober slap of reality, but I don’t think it fits with the bombastic and over-the-top action sequence that just came before. Are we supposed to leave the theater thinking how screwed up the world is and how there really isn’t a character to root for in this movie? Maybe I’m just over-thinking it, but it feels like a needlessly hopeless and demoralizing ending for a movie that has this much action. If the ending felt like an organic subversion of a clichéd war movie, than I’d be up for it, but it feels like its slapped on the ending of an action movie by an angry director who probably wanted to make more of a political thriller.
-Friday, April 15th, 2011: THE HOBBIT - About damn time!
Peter Jackson is notorious for allowing more access into his films than any other director. The last time I was working at a desk, as I am now again, was back in 2004, and I remember sneaking time over lunch breaks to devour the video production diaries that Jackson was producing for LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING and eventually, KING KONG. Most other directors that do these types of videos put them on the DVD, but Jackson releases these over the internet, months and years before the movie is released. It is one of the kindest things that could ever be done for a movie and LOTR fan, and it really shows how far apart from the Hollywood mindset the no-longer pudgy Kiwi director is. Those 3 LOTR films are some of the greatest feats in modern film, and though I will never be as big a fan of those films as other members of my family, each one had moments of cinematic brilliance that left me breathless. It seemed so effortless, how each film seamlessly melded fantasy & humanity, technology & emotion, scope & intimacy.
The first HOBBIT video diary came out yesterday, check it out here. It’s been awhile since I have been immersed in the LOTR world, so I clicked on the link with semi-interest. But as soon as that soaring Hobbit-land music hit my ears, and I saw the rebuilt 12-year old Rivendell set, wow, I was hooked all over again. I love seeing all the mundane details that go into filming, especially for something as iconic as this movie. Jackson and crew are blocking scenes in Bag End, and all the fans can think is, Holy Shit, they’re back in freakin’ BAG END!!!! And then Ian McKellan bows down to enter Bag End and I get goose-bumps all over again! I had also forgotten just how low-key and charming Peter Jackson is. The man is multi-millionaire, yet he still seems like a fuddy-duddy regular Kiwi Joe. One of the greatest nights in my career came when I was invited to go to the NY world premiere of the 2nd LOTR film, THE TWO TOWERS. At the after party, I got to meet everyone, which was just mind-blowing for a fresh-out-of-college 23 year old. I asked Jackson if I could get a picture of him and he said yes. But just as a friend was taking our picture, someone walked in frame. I started to walk away, thinking, ‘oh well, I hope that picture came out!’ But Jackson grabbed my arm and gently pulled me back, saying “Wait! Let’s make sure you get a good one.” My friend took the picture again and it turned out great. But what a nice thing for him to do when he really had no need to be that kind to a lowly little assistant in braces.
THE HOBBIT had one of the most tortured pre-productions of any modern film. Which is strange considering that THE HOBBIT is a beloved prequel to three of the most successful films of all time. MGM’s financial woes, the New Zealand labor strike, and the director controversy combined to put into doubt whether this movie would ever be made. But they have actually started filming now, it is too late to stop, and if we needed all these delays to get Peter Jackson excited to get back in the director’s seat with his full production team, then so be it. I can’t wait to get those Extended Edition LOTR BluRays this summer, because I am already getting pumped for more Peter Jackson movies in the Tolkien world. Full steam ahead, and keep the diaries coming!
-Thursday, April 14th, 2011: JUSTIFIED - Raylan & Art
Whew, this season is really heating up! I am having so much fun with what the writers are doing; it’s hard to find a weak link. Last week saw the death of Coover Bennett, a mean old dog that needed to be put down, at Raylan’s hands. And one thing Raylan does not need at the moment is to piss off Big Mamma Mags Bennett. What an awesome character Mags is! You wouldn’t look twice at this plain, dumpy old woman on the street, but she is crafty, scary, and mean when she wants to be. Her Godfather-esque rope-a-dope with the mining company last week was riveting. She may look like a scraggly hillbilly, but she is on top for a reason, and now she has conned her way into a fortune at the expense of Harlan County. Devious. And with a finale that is going to be called ‘Bloody Harlan,’ I’ve got a feeling we aren’t done with Mags yet! I love seeing Boyd Crowder, played to subtle perfection by Walton Goggins, slowly work his way back to the criminal lifestyle that runs in his blood. And now that he’s getting it on with Ava, well hot damn, that’s a Bonnie & Clyde couple I can get behind. But I also can’t get enough of Raylan and Winona. They have such a wonderful give-and-take to their relationship, I feel like I could watch an entire episode just about them bickering.
I’ve also really liked how protective Raylan has been about Loretta, the little girl whose father was killed by Mags. In this week’s episode, Raylan is called to help because Loretta doesn’t want to go into her foster home. Raylan, being Raylan, talks straight with Loretta, telling her that life is probably going to suck for awhile. But, she will be in a happy home and have younger brothers and sisters that, as Raylan eloquently puts it, “will look at you like you’ve got a light comin’ from inside.” Poor Loretta is lied to so often; honesty is what she most values from Raylan, and why he is the only person that she can trust now. I love seeing this side of Raylan, it’s what his whole old-school cowboy persona boils down to; protection of the innocent at all costs.
But the best scene this week was between Raylan and his boss, Art, played by Nick Searcy. Art is fantastic; he is a laid-back, warm, wise, but quite sarcastic boss who often gets annoyed by Raylan’s antics. But the show never depicts him as buffoonish, and that’s important, because Raylan respects Art quite a bit. A couple weeks ago, Art saw Raylan and Winona returning the stolen money, but he never said anything. Raylan’s guilty conscience is driving him crazy, he knows that Art knows, and Raylan hates that he has disappointed Art. So, in this episode, Raylan goes into Art’s office, sidestepping around the elephant in the room, but still trying to figure out how much Art knows and what Art will do about the stolen/returned money. Art dodges around the question for awhile, insisting everything is fine, but then as Raylan is walking away, Art refers to the problem they are not talking about, saying “Sooner or later, the problem will solve itself.” Meaning, eventually Raylan is going to get caught or killed doing something shady or stupid, and there is nothing Art can do about it anymore. Coming from Art, wow, that is cold. And Raylan takes it hard too. The two usually have an easy if exasperated friendship and it was quietly shocking to see where they truly stand with each other when they dig past pleasantries and bullshit. In a show filled to the brim with great scenes, the quiet conversation between Art and Raylan is superb in its depiction of two men verbally struggling to understand each other and why they do the things they do.
-Wednesday, April 13th, 2011: LOU FERRIGNO - Hercules vs. a bear
I don’t think I can express how happy I am that this clip found its way to me today. Really, I find myself giggling with girlish glee. I think what I like best is that I have never heard of the vast oeuvre of film work that Lou Ferrigno has done over his career. I mean, everyone only knows him as The Hulk and as himself in KING OF QUEENS. But as someone who is fairly knowledgeable about films, both excellent and crappy, I feel like I should know more about the 1985 version of THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULES.
Let’s rundown the awesome majesty of this clip: First off, that forest looks like someone’s backyard. I love that when the bear attacks the old man, even though they appear to be in a densely-wooded area, the sky is completely tree-less behind the bear. And Hercules, if you hear your father being mauled by something large, do not throw away your axe!! OK, why the holy hell does the impact of Hercules’ punches against the stunt-man-in-a-bear-suit sound like old SPACEBALL sound effects?!? I can swallow the fact that Hercules can throw the bear suit into space, I mean come on, he’s Hercules. But let me see if I get this straight: Hercules throws the bear so far into space that the bear becomes a constellation?!? Just awesome. And it’s all so perfectly capped off by the frilly space babe and her cryptic comment about stars.
Great crappy movies are hard to do right, and I have no clue if the rest of the movie is as fantastic as this one scene. But if the rest of the movie is even half as insane as the bear-in-space scene, then bravo MGM and Lou Ferrigno. Bravo.
-Tuesday, April 12th, 2011: STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS - Ahsoka
The cartoon, STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS, just had its 3rd Season finale last week, and you know what, this show is really becoming a worthy successor to the original 3 SW movies. Much more so than the crappy prequels. I hate to jump on the bandwagon of prequel hate, but I recently saw some bits of the original trilogy and then parts of the prequels and there is just no comparison. The prequels are cold, uninvolving, CGI messes, squandering all the fun and innovation of the original trilogy. The actors are wasted, I mean, try and compare Oscar-winning Natalie Portman to her dull-as-wood Senator Amadala in the prequels. Compare her with Princess Leia’s brassiness. Where is a Han Solo-type character in the prequels? Why the hell did they even do a prequel when we already know everything that is going to happen!?? Ugh, anyways . . .
The cartoon series has been happily trucking along to great ratings and increasingly more mythic storytelling. You can never forget that the series is aimed at children, yet there are some adult moments snuck in there that are stunning. And as it continues, it is becoming more mature and complex in its depiction of relationships, politics, and morality. There was a moment in Season 1, an aural demonstration of what Force Focus must be like with Mace Windu that was wonderful. Really, watch this and try not to get the old SW goosebumps!
This season had a great moment with Anakin hallucinating his future on a strange and mystical planet. As he writhes in pain on the ground, he sees Amidala dying, his murder of the younglings, and most cool of all, the smoke behind him momentarily forms into Darth Vader’s mask and the iconic John Williams score kicks in. In the S3 finale, there were some great moments with the introduction of Chewbacca, but there was a cooler moment that had nothing to do with callbacks to the original trilogy. The basic story is that Anakin’s padawan(?), Ahsoka, is kidnapped and hunted by lizard guys on a planet filled with other young Jedi prey. It’s a retread on THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, but done pretty well. At one point, Ahsoka accidentally kills the son of the Lizard General, then disappears into a dense forest. Furious, the General blindly shoots into the woods and kills Ahsoka’s young Jedi friend. Ahsoka is devastated, its sometimes easy to forget how young she still is. There is a wide shot with Ahsoka slowly standing in a thorny clearing above her dead friend, uncaring of the blaster bolts exploding around her, and in the distance, the General screams vengeance for his dead son. It’s a serious moment, the stakes are dead serious, but Ahsoka’s quiet moment of grief in the line of fire is wonderfully done. For a moment, it didn’t feel like a cartoon, it felt like real people we were seeing. And we could see Ahsoka’s confusion and guilt over the death of the Lizard son and her friend. Heady stuff for a cartoon, and why I am eagerly awaiting Season 4!
-Monday, April 11th, 2011: THE MASTERS - Tiger
Wheeee, now that was a fun golf tournament! Coming into the last few holes on Sunday, the lead must have changed over 10 times. I loved that Luke Donald chip-in on 18 after hitting th flag with his approach. And how cool was it that for Schwartzel to win, he actually had to birdie the last 4 holes?! This was a blast, but no matter what all the newscasters say, no one comes close to the pure excitement generated in watching Tiger Woods play.
Whatever you may think of the guy after last year’s debacle, you can’t deny that Tiger Woods is just pure champion. It’s easy to crap on him now because his game is off, but it’s just astounding to look at how completely he dominates this sport. TV ratings, records, money, gossip interest, god-given talent, it’s all there. There really is nothing comparable in any other sport. People could argue about Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky or . . . I don’t know, Babe Ruth for baseball maybe? But I just don’t think there is a comparison to his presence in golf. Who is even within spitting distance of his records? Mickelson? No way. You have to go back to Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, & Hogan to even get close. And like the best in sports, his feats are superhuman. Go ahead, try and drive a ball 330 yards. Try and hit a 230 yard shot on a fast green and get the ball to spin back. Impossible for any regular human being. Look at the telecast this Sunday. It got really exciting there at the end, but there was still nothing as thrilling as when Tiger started to make his run at the lead, making that eagle at 8. That vigorous fist pump, the crowd’s eruption, it’s magnetic. Golfers have this well-deserved reputation as being boring to watch on TV, and most of them are. Never Tiger. He gets pissed when he hits a bad shot; apparently he has been fined for foul language more than any other golfer in history. His victory reactions are copied so often, that even though guys have been fist-pumping for decades, any golfer doing it is immediately thought to be copying Tiger. He may as well patent that move at this point.
Look, what he did last year was despicable. To be cheating that often on your wife, a woman whom you have kids with, is just abhorrent behavior. I’m sure the pressure is enormous, with beautiful women throwing themselves at Tiger every day, but then dude, don’t get married in the first place. Or at least not until you have sown those oates, Wilt Chamberlin’d your way through the females of America. But I won’t stop cheering for him; I find it makes him more compelling as an athlete to know how much of a screw-up he is in his personal life. I am not a fan of celebrities being forced into being role models. Nothing about celebrity status automatically assures morality and it’s ridiculous to think so. I’m sure there were kids out there who idolized Tiger, and now maybe they think it’s alright to cheat as long as their idol did. But the good that Tiger’s charities do in the world trump any hurt feelings or fallen heroes. I know that kids need people to look up to, but damn, celebrities, even celebrity athletes, should be way down the list of role models(unless its Joe Montana). What about parents, teachers, family, friends, etc? Surely, in every kid’s life there has to be someone in their day-to-day lives that they can emulate before a figure only seen on magazines and TV? Oh well, I’m done moralizing. Any way you put it, I will never stop watching Tiger play or rooting him on. I think it’s a done deal that the biggest record in golf, Jack Nicklaus’s 18 Major Titles, will fall sooner or later to Tiger, who already has 14 Major Titles. And I’ll be there screaming at the TV, cheering him on.
-Friday, April 8th, 2011: 5 Days/5 Finales - Lost
Now, I actually haven’t seen the LOST series finale masterpiece again since it aired, so I’m not sure I am going to remember it all. It’s not that I don’t want to see it again, but it would feel like cheating if I just went right to the finale episode and didn’t experience the rest of the season again. For me, LOST depends on its emotional momentum, and the way to best experience that finale is to go through what has come before. And I don’t want to cheat that. I was one big blubbering mess by the time I got through this finale last May. I have always enjoyed the mythology of LOST, but it’s never what I depended on, so I wasn’t bothered that there were so many questions left unanswered. For me, LOST has always been about emotion. Whether it’s the launching of the boat in the 1st season finale, Charlie’s death, or Penny & Desmond in ‘The Constant’, the greatness of this show has always been about character complexity and the vast depth of emotion that the writers tap into. The finale was so polarizing for people, and I totally get that. Especially for those who didn’t like religion in the mix, this must have sucked! But since I’m Catholic anyways, this Christ/Purgatory/Heaven ending is kinda made for exactly my demographic, so its something I am already familiar with. And even after being so burned with all the religiosity of the BSG final season, the LOST spiritual ending was hopeful, redeeming, and sweet. And I don’t think it was that complicated either. Kate says she missed Jack because she lived a lot longer than Jack did, missing him for the rest of her life. Ben and Hurley lived for a long time on the Island together, so they have a whole shared memory. The whole idea of this after-life station was subtly but wholly explained. It was perfect.
One of my favorite things to see in film and television is revelation. Revelation that hopefully leads to redemption. That moment when a character awakens to something, realizes a truth, and we as the audience are right there with them. When I started to realize that revelation was going to be the main emotional driver of this finale, I knew I was in trouble. The waterworks were going to come hard. Because that’s what this finale is, it’s moment after moment of your favorite characters waking up, its consummation, enlightenment. And it was glorious. All the rest of the stuff, like the cork or Smokey or the plane escape, was all good stuff, but I don’t remember those plot elements as well as I remember the awakenings of Jin, Sun, Sawyer, Juliet, Charlie, Claire, Kate, Locke, and Jack (I'm not including Sayid because that should have been Nadia, not Shannon!) When each person is touched, and the LOST music kicks in and we see silent flashes of scenes from the past 7 years, important events that shaped each character, and memory dawns on each person. Now, there were also some great moments that didn’t have to do with the awakenings. Hurley's big ass smile at Charlie in the beginning. The fight scene on the cliffs was epic, especially that awesomely over-the-top shot of Jack leaping up in a superman-punch pose and Kate with her superhero moment. And I loved that goodbye kiss between Jack and Kate on the cliffs. It wasn’t sweet, it was hot and dirty and passionate. Wow, I want to go out on a kiss like that! But the awakenings…
The hospital awakenings were wonderful; Locke and Jin and Sun completely unable to stop smiling. I loved sweet Sun unable to stop crying, and that all it took to awaken Jin was for him to see a picture of his daughter. Beautiful. And when Locke says to a conflicted Jack, “I hope someone does for you what you just did for me,” it’s the most genuine and heartfelt comment he has ever made on the show. The awakening with Sawyer and Juliet in the break room was stunning, clutching each other as the memories wash through them. Juliet lets out a wonderful laugh, and that romantic and hot exchange, “I got you baby,” “Kiss me James,” “You got it Blondie.” So cool to see those characters back together. But it was that Kate/Claire/Charlie awakening really hit me hard. Aaron’s birth in Season 1 was so tumultuous and scary; it was perfect that Aaron’s birth would again define the relationship between these three. Kate crying and Claire’s joy, and the wonderful look on Charlie’s face, like he was lost, but found something essential that he never thought he would see again. That birth sequence has to be my hands-down favorite TV scene of 2010. And finally Jack, unable to awaken until his Dad gently forces him. And the gentle cross-cutting between Jack dying on the Island and Jack meeting all his friends in the church was beautiful. Jack, such a messed-up hero, finally finding everything, finally whole. His best lines were early on, to the MIB, when he chastises him for sullying John Locke’s name. Jack’s transformation into a man of faith is complete, and what a journey he has taken to get there. And thank goodness we had Matthew Fox as the lead in this show. I actually don’t think he’s the best actor around, but he has this niche specialty, this mastery of all forms of crying/heartbreak/emotion that was so very perfect for LOST. I loved that Jack stumbles back to the bamboo grove where he first awoke on the Island. He sees the plane fly off and is happy, exultant in the fact that Kate and Sawyer and Claire and the rest got away, that they would live. And having Vincent lie down next to Jack was perfect. Jack’s eye closed, mirroring the opening of the pilot when his eye opened, and we quietly cut to black. Just a beautiful ending to a series that liked to pretend it was a heady sci-fi, when in fact it was all about heart. And I am so thankful that I was able to follow this show episode by episode, from beginning to end, knowing that other viewers were going through the same surprises and emotion that I was. I miss the LOST world. I miss it bad.
-Thursday, April 7th, 2011: 5 Days/5 Finales - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I’ll try and keep this short-ish, because if I start going on about BUFFY, this could get to pages. Joss Whedon doesn’t usually do cliff-hangers, he likes to find a sense of closure at the end of each season. Now, it’s usually a wrenching, death-filled finale, but still. Closure. I feel like I’m a bit in the minority on this, but I think that Season 5 is BUFFY at its best. Dawn. ‘The Body’. ‘Fool For Love’. Honorable Spike. Glory. Trolls. Dark Giles. And my absolute favorite Buffy moment of all time. I’m not going to tell you what that moment is right here, but it will be revealed soon!
The finale for Season 5, ‘The Gift,’ really hit me, every single scene just added to the emtion they were building, climaxing in Buffy’s glorious gift to the world. Plus, due to a short 1st season, the 5th season finale also worked out to be the show’s 100th episode. It also happened to be the last episode aired on the WB before the show moved to UPN. I’ve joked with my sister that I’m sure there was some lower-end executive at UPN working late that night, watching the S5 finale, freaking out because they thought they just paid an ass-load of money for a show that just killed off its lead character. I love that the finale rewards the attention span of its audience. So many things from earlier in the season got pulled back for the finale: The troll hammer, the BuffyBot, Xander’s construction job, and that orb thing. It makes viewers relieved to feel like there is a master plan to the show and that our work in remembering each episode is paying off. Very cool.
So many moments here. Loved the beginning, with the callback to how far Buffy has come, when she saves the girl in the alley. Giles snapping at Buffy. Buffy missing her Mom. Anya and Xander and their sweet proposal, despite terrifying stuffed rabbits. Spike’s wonderful speech to Buffy when she invites him back in, “I know that I’m a monster. But you treat me like a man.” And that whole ending. How damn much firepower it takes to bring Glory down, there is no cheating there at all, they hit this girl with everything! The way Giles protects Buffy by coldly smothering Ben. The horrified look that Spike flashes to Dawn as he realizes that he has failed when Doc throws him from the balcony. And Buffy’s realization, with the sun rising, and the world crumbling, that she got the prophecy wrong. Her gift isn’t Death, but Life. When she figures it out, everything goes quiet, Christopher Beck's beautiful score comes in and she looks at the sun, just heartbreaking. And she wants Giles to know that she’s ok, that she figured it out. I like that we see Buffy’s actions, her slow-mo run off the edge, but only hear her words to Dawn as each character gathers around her body. Of course, by this point, I’m already bawling, but when Spike crumbles in bone-wracking sobs at the sight of Buffy’s body, not caring who sees him, oh man, I was gone. The beautiful redemption of Spike all season-long culminates in that expression of soul-deep love. He doesn't know what to do, his hands wavering around, it's like he hasn't cried in years. Finally, we end with a touch of sweet humor when we see the bottom of Buffy’s tombstone, “She saved the world a lot.”
‘The Gift’ is everything a finale could hope to be. It has momentous character changes, thrilling action pieces, and terrifying consequences. It is the final stitch in the tapestry of the season, and only after it’s done, can you see the threads that wove through 22 episodes. Since I first came upon this show, BUFFY has always been a guide to me, showing me how to do everything right in character and plot development. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t bad decisions made along the way in terrible episodes. But the success rate of this show and its ability to push the envelope of what we think of as the limits of the television format puts BUFFY into a rarified air. And the finale to Season 5 is one of the most rewarding and emotionally powerful finales that this show ever aired.
-Wednesday, April 6th, 2011: 5 Days/5 Finales - Battlestar Galactica
The new BATTLESTAR GALACTICA did so many controversial and polarizing things in its 4-year run, but no one could ever argue that they didn’t push the boundaries of sci-fi story-telling and go for broke with every single one of their season finales. There were moments in this series that are as beautiful as any I’ve ever seen, but the show really lost me with its fourth season. So many decisions just didn’t work for me. They had a ‘mutiny’ episode near the end of the series where everyone temporarily reverted to their Season 1-2 characterizations and it reminded me how much more interesting and rich the characters were back then. I mean, how am I supposed to identify with Starbuck when I have no frackin’ idea what the hell she is?! And the reasoning for the Final Five Cylons just never made any sense to me. I don’t need everything to be explained to me, but I need a little logic in my sci-fi. But the BSG finales always fascinated the hell out of me, so much so that I’m having a tough time figuring out which finale to write about.
I wanted to write about the S3 finale, which freakin’ blew. my. mind. Seriously, near the end, the Four are wandering the corridors, whispering lyrics to the weird music, and when you figure out that they are hearing and reciting ‘All Along the Watchtower,’ it’s like a sledgehammer hitting you between the eyes. What the holy hell is happening here?!? When the full song starts playing, Starbuck appears, and we do the massive pullback/zoom-in to Earth, then cut to black, my heart was racing. I had a giddy grin plastered on my face at the pure brass cojones on display by the writing team to go so big. I felt like such a happy geek and I loved reading how crazy people got over those last few moments. There were people who would freeze-frame that last shot of Earth, studying it for signs of civilization so we could argue about what time period it was in the BSG universe. The problem is that I don’t remember a lot else about that episode since the ending was so wacky.
So I want to go back to the S1 finale. When I was watching the first season, I had just started Sasquatch Films, and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the company. I guess I was looking for inspiration. And I remember thinking that the long and wordless opening montage to the S1 finale, ‘Kobol’s Last Gleaming,’ was truly inspired filmmaking. We are gracefully introduced to all the main characters, one-by-one, watching them start their days to the haunting violins of Bear McCreary’s score. I have never seen a show so identified by its music score; the music that McCreary wrote for BSG is stunning. There have been concerts in LA just dedicated to playing his BSG scores, it is truly magnificent music. I remember ideas flowing through me after watching that sequence; I used to just drive around town with that music playing in my car, and just let script ideas pop into my head. Another great part of that finale was the fight scene between Starbuck and Number Six back on Caprica. Holy crap, I remember this being a brutal and bloody fight, without being remotely girly. The only way Starbuck could put 6 down was impaling her on a rebar. And finally, when Sharon shoots Adama in the closing moments, it was a complete shocker. She was smiling, ready to be congratulated and she just pumped three rounds in his stomach, Adama falls back, bleeding out on the main board as Lee rushes in, and we cut to black. Whew!! What a cliff-hanger! Joss Whedon is usually the master of those shock moments, but it’s good to know that others can just as expertly craft a completely unexpected, but still logical, plot leap. BSG still had some great finales to come, but for me, nothing matches the artistry, music, action, and shocks of that S1 finale.
-Tuesday, April 5th, 2011: 5 Days/5 Finales - Angel
I remember when I started getting into BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, I devoured those episodes. I was in LA, working in post on a film, so times were slow. And I would just plow through the seasons on DVD, so excited and inspired by each episode that I had to see the next one right away! Then I moved right into the ANGEL DVDs, and while it didn’t inspire the same height of fanaticism in me that BUFFY did, I still thought it was a fantastic sister-show. I remember reading that the cancellation of ANGEL after 5 seasons was a surprise to the show-runners and fans, and it shows in the last run of episodes. Everything gets crammed into the end, it’s rushed, and you can feel how these were large events that were meant to expand and develop over an entire 5th season, not over 5 episodes. I am one of the ones who would have liked to see the show continue. The 5th season established the Angel gang as the heads of the big-bad law firm, Wolfram & Hart, and brought Spike back. The writers were still taking enormous chances with these moves, and I would have liked to see the W&H corruption of Angel play out over another season. There was still so much material to be mined from that situation. Oh well, at least they had 5 seasons. And there were such awesome parts of season 5: Everything to do with poor doomed Fred and Wesley, Angel & Spike’s fight about the Caveman vs. Astronaut, puppets, Cordelia’s perfect goodbye, Wesley shooting his dad, and so much more. Great season.
Unsurprisingly, the ANGEL series finale, ‘Not Fade Away,’ follows the Joss Whedon edict for finales: Everyone Must Die! And wow, were they powerful deaths. Wesley’s death in Illyria’s arms was just beautiful, capping off their dark and tender operatic arc. I loved that true line from Illyria, “Would you like me to lie to you now?” And asking Lorne to kill Lindsey was brutal, the sad and lost look on Lorne’s face, like he might never come back from this, was heart-breaking. I loved Spike’s final day, reciting his poetry to rousing cheers in the bar, just perfect. And the way Angel ended things with Connor just re-affirmed how awesome the choice was to let Connor have a normal life in the finale last season. That exchange between Connor and Angel boils down the ferocious protectiveness of any parent; Connor: “They’ll destroy you.” Angel: “As long as you’re okay, they can’t.”
And finally, the controversial ending. Angel and his crew standing in the alley in the pouring rain, ready to fight hordes of descending evil. Wesley dead. Gunn bleeding out. Spike mourning Wesley. Illyria really pissed off. Everything looks dark and hopeless. Angel turns and looks at all of them, they are united, each one prepared to sacrifice themselves to save the ungrateful masses of humanity. Angel and Spike share a small joke about who gets to fight the dragon. Old friends, fighting side by side again, this time on the side of angels. Angel turns back towards the approaching evil armies, says, “Let’s go to work,” swings his sword, and we cut to black. Damn do I love that ending. I think it really sums up what ANGEL has always been about: always fighting the bleak unending battle against evil, protecting humanity no matter what the personal cost, just being big damned heroes. So many people hated this ending, saying they want to know what happens. I don’t need to see that final fight, because I see that Angel is exactly where he has always been happiest. The whole 5th season was been about shades of grey, degrees of evil, and finally Angel is back in a black-and-white, bad vs. good situation. He knows he is fighting for good, that he is righteous, that he is the underdog, and he loves it. That last image of our heroes standing up when no one else would, I mean, that’s why we watch the show, that’s why we love them. This is them at their best, shining examples for the audience, going out on top. Perfect perfect series ending.
-Monday, April 4th, 2011: 5 Days/5 Finales - Star Trek: The Next Generation
After getting through the FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS finale last week, I have got finales on my mind! I thought this week I might run through 5 of my favorite season or series finales, no particular order, but starting with one of the earliest ones I’ve experienced. This sounds nerdy, but when I was a kid, the only show my family would gather around the TV for every week was STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. Man, I grew up with that show; I loved that show, especially the captain, Jean-Luc Picard played by the awesomely talented and insanely british Patrick Stewart. After my parents, I felt he was a role model growing up. Get in a sticky situation, well, What Would Picard Do? Now, it's hard to argue about finales with this show, because the 3rd season cliff-hanger is arguably considered to be one of the greatest finales of all time. I'll talk about that one some other time, because I want to talk about the series finale today. The last couple seasons of TNG weren’t so great; the show had gotten into a stale rhythm, but that 1994 series finale wrecked me. Picard was never the warmest of men, but in the last scene, when he sits down at that poker table for the first time, surrounded by his friends and family, he stops dealing for a second, looks around with a smile, and says “I should have done this a long time ago.” Whew, I lost it. It’s a perfect beautiful moment, the music and the acting and the camera movement all synch up. “Sky’s the limit,” he says, and the series ends with hope, with promise, with the idea of, as Q said earlier, “Exploring the endless possibilities of existence.” Loved it, and felt an ache in my little 14-year old heart, a lament that I would never spend a new hour with these characters again.
-Friday, April 1st, 2011: FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS - The End
Oh boy, I finally got to the end, and finished one of my favorite television shows of all time, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. It’s hard for me to express how emotional I get with this show. I feel like I’ve lived with these characters for 5 years, that I have grown and learned, and that without them, I won’t have any direction. That sounds so silly, but there is something about a good television show that gets under your skin. Unlike a movie which is 2 hours in a world, we can sometimes get hundreds of hours with the same complex and beautifully drawn characters. And if we are really blessed, we get to live with them while the show is actually airing. There is something to be said about anticipation, about having to wait until the next episode, the next season, to find out what paths your favorite characters will take. I’m all for catching up with shows on DVD marathons, but it’s not the same thing. There are very few shows that I deeply loved that I actually watched end. With BUFFY, ANGEL, and FIREFLY, I only caught onto those shows after they were aired and done. I loved early seasons of BSG, but it lost so much of my heart in its last season and the 2nd half of the finale, that I wasn’t too upset to have it end. There are only 2 shows I can think of that meant the world to me, that I saw end: STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and LOST. I’ll write about the impact that those shows have had on me another time, because right now, I want to write about a 3rd beloved series that I followed from the beginning and finally watched end: FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. And this is going to be long, this series has meant so much to me, it needs more than a post, this show gets a page. I’m basically going to list everything great from this strong last run of episodes, including the finale, so here goes!