Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Big Re-Watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer (season 1)

A look back at the all slaying all dancing show...does its still pack a punch?

A favourite show of mine in my early teen years when it was originally broadcast, I wanted to see if Joss Whedons massively successful show stands the test of time. Would it be too dated? Would it still resonate with someone in their twenties as much as it did when he was a teenage boy? Was it still, well, good? with these questions in mind, I decided to watch all 7 seasons,that's 144 episodes of vamp killing, witty wordplay, romance, teen angst, witching spells, sports bras, the hell mouth and a great title sequence...

Season 1 (aka the first one)

Immeditate thoughts-class.A bit dated going by the fashion statements,but class. The pilot is a prime example of the show- great fight sequences,witty dialogue, crude but forgiveable special effects and a dash of  adolescent empathy. Joss Whedon was on both writing and directing duties in the first episode and in many of the episodes throughout the shows seven year run, and you can see his input in all of the episodes that followed- whether it is the sarcastic humour, the well orchestrated  dramatic scenes or the kinetic action sequences. The only criticism would be that most of the characters have a 'THIS IS MY CHARACTER, HEAR ME ROAR' moment, but hey, almost every pilot of every show is guilty of this.

A s the season continues the characters get a little fleshed out, the long running romance between Buffy and the Vamp with a soul Angel begins to heat up and Giles (excellently played by Anthony Stewart Head) teaches the cast how to clean spectacles and act properly (zing!). The show takes a familiar page from The X-Files with episodes alternating between a monster-of-the-week (Xander as a hyena! robo-cyber-demon!) and the main season arc, speaking of which...
As with most of the seasons, there is a threat of Apocalypse, and the first seasons 'Big Bad' is a demon called The Master rises and tries to open the Hell mouth (directly under the school library floor/the scoobie gangs main hang-out) which they have to team and face in an excellent season finale.

All in all it is a great season. Sarah Michelle Gellar stars in what would become her signature role, and a supporting cast including Nicholas Brendon as the witty Xander, Alyson Hannigan as the awkwardly shy but brainy Willow and  Anthony Stewart Head as Buffys 'watcher' and school librarian accompany her through the highs and lows of being a Slayer and teenage girl battling through high school. By the end of its 12 episode run, it garnered a large and faithful audience (myself included) who loved its balance of horror, action, comedy and teen angst which made its such an enjoyable and entertaining watch.Soon season 2 followed which was bigger and much, much better...

Monday, 9 April 2012

Breaking Bad- Season 2 Review

...Or how I stop worrying and learned to love Hank

Breaking Bad's old friend, the cold open,welcomes us to season two-some black and white shots of, what is it? the back yard of the White's house? if you want to find out,you're in for a very, very long wait. 

Walt and Jesse, after the royal cluster fuck that was working with Tuco soon ends, are left with a bigger mess than before- Walt (played by Bryan Cranston) as always is trying to keep his crystal meth making under wraps from his pregnant wife Skylar, and with the bills for cancer treatment coming in thick and fast,it's becoming more and more difficult.
Jesse meanwhile finally settles into a small house after, in essence getting kicked out of his aunts house after his parents decide to sell, his new land lord Jane some becomes a romantic interest which flourishes throughout the season. A third into the season sees them branching out their operation and hiring a few dealers to move that now famous blue crystal, cue Jesse's good friend Badger and two of his others, Skinny and Combo which are a welcome addition to the cast of the show.

The relationship between Walt and Jesse is the centrifugal force of the show, and this is showcased in the seasons best episode, 'Four Days out'. The pair head out t the desert to cook up as much of the blue crystal as they can, and after a mishap with the fuel supplies with the caravan, they are stuck, literally deserted with nothing but themselves (and a caravan full of high quality crystal meth) for company. This 'bottle' episode is just what the show needed for anyone who was in doubt about the shows calibre of writing or acting, once again Bryan Cranston won an Emmy for his performance and Aaron Paul deservedly nominated. It is intensely dramatic, humorous and poignant throughout, and in no other episode has the father/son/business partner/friend dynamic been so intensely been put under the microscope 

Hank. Hank, Hank, Hank.In the first season you'd be forgiven for thinking that he was just another one of  those run of the mill douche-bag cops that is nothing more than a smarmy git who always has a smart alec approach to everything, but this is Breaking Bad and Hank is AWESOME. Dean Norris's performance of the DEA agent is one of the best of the show, and seems to relish in the vast amount of screen time that he has in the second season. After successfully bringing  an end to the reign of Tuco, promotion looms for Hank in the border control unit but has trouble fitting into his new role, and the events of the episode 'Negro Y Azul' affects him profoundly. His overall lookout and behaviour, especially towards Walt (after he helps him overcome the events in  Juarez) develops for the better and is slowly becoming the most important character in the show after Walt and Jesse, and from what is to be believed, for fans of him, it just gets better and better as the seasons go on...(yuss). 

Overall, season two moves the show forward with excellent plot and character development. Cranston once again acts everyone else under the table.Aaron Paul is utterly convincing as the troubled Jesse and Dean Norris stepping up to the plate as Hank. The season has made sure I will never listen to 'DLZ' by TV On The Radio the same way again, and we finally see Walt 'Break Bad'.The seasons writers, especially John Shiban, Sam Catlin along with its creator Vince Gilligan keep the shows level at the highest quality with some air tight episodes. Roll on season 3!


Sunday, 1 April 2012

Left in the DVD player- Kung Fu Panda 2

A sequel filled with inner peace and awesomeness.

Dreamworks 2008's mega hit Kung Fu Panda, exceeded my expectations when I watched it. It was funny, engaging, heart felt and featured one of my favourite scenes of 2008- the escape of Tai Lung. So its sequel had its work cut out, but it didn't let down.Not one bit.

Po (voiced by the perfectly cast Jack Black) and the other members of the Furious Five- Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross) team up again to confront the evil Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) and his cohort of  Wolves who have plan to use gun powder to kill off Kung Fu and take over China with canons and brute force. The character of Po is fleshed out as he discover the fate of his parents which brings a personal vendetta against Shen,but will the teachings of  master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) help Po make the right decisions? 

The plot, the characters and their relationships between each other are deeper and successfully build on those that were in the original, for example, the relationship between Po and Tigress has went from an almost hostile tone to a strong bond between the two by the end of the sequel. With the revelation of his parents fate, Po has become a little more serious in tone but still has a loveable buffon like charm to him,which is supplied by the excellent voice work of Jack Black. The rest of the cat too is on top form Angelina Jolie as Tigress and James Hong as Po's 'father' Mr Ping deserve praise, along with fun Cameos from Jean-Claude Van Damm, Danny McBride and Dennis Haysbert add to an impressive cast who bring so much to there animated characters.

The animation is no less than perfection. The opening scene, chronicling the story of Lord Shen in told in shadow light puppet style is an impressive homage to old Chinese storytelling. Each of the fight sequences (which there are many) are grand in scale and ambition. It seems that as the film goes on, the animators try to better themselves with every set piece. The finale is is nothing less than breathtaking, combining excellent lighting work, kung fu choreography and a  Hans Zimmer score that reaches its high point in the film. Throughout the film there is humour that will keep both children and grown ups laughing and enough drama to give the story a real depth for you to empathise with the characters- which is quite an achievement when you remember the characters are talking, fighting computer generated animals. 

Once again up the stakes with an excellent film stating that they do not rely on big green Ogres to make the people at Pixar feels that there is a snake in their boots. Bring on Kung Fu Panda 3!