Archive for the 'Reviews' Category

12 Favorite Stand-Alone Buffy Episodes

The topic of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” been coming up a lot lately (more than usual, anyway). Earlier this month, I attended a “Geek vs. Nerds” show where Buffy took on Blade (and through some unforeseen happenstance, there were somehow more shirtless Ryan Reynolds fans in the audience.) And the month before, a Joss Whedon night was held at a local club where I cosplayed as Seth Green’s Oz character from the season 3 Halloween episode (because this was the quickest costume I could put together on short notice.) And before that, we had “Avengers” and “Cabin in the Woods” – it’s been a good year for Buffy fans.

Personally, I’ve seen the whole series a half dozen times over already. It really is one of my favorite shows because of how often it tries something out-of-left-field or break its own rules (i.e. Buffy switches from stakes to rocket launchers in one episode.) But in recent years, whenever I re-watch it, I tend to get more selective with the episodes, and I find a lot of my favorites are always the stand-alone shows. Stand-alone episodes are usually the short stories that have little to do with the season’s story arc. They’re entertaining enough without requiring a “Previously on Buffy” refresher course. So for the purposes of this list, I won’t be mentioning any season finales, two-parters, or any episode where a key character dies. I’m just going to highlight the fun episodes.

And why twelve? Because it came up to twelve when I was finished.

1. The Pack (Season 1)
When the show first started, it was straight-up high school horror corniness. This episode was no exception, but to a different extreme. Before, the key villains were vampires and witches. This one decided to go off on a tangent by having a group of students get possessed by wild hyena gods, which the writers had too much fun with. They were cruel, sadistic, creepy, and otherwise completely indistinguishable from any other gang of hooligan teenagers.

2. The Puppet Show (Season 1)
Hey, creepy ventriloquist dummy episode! We can all guess where this is going! Or can we? I think this was the first episode to introduce a mind-blowing twist which forced the audience to start second-guessing every episode from there on in. It also features a very awkward post-credit scene where Buffy and her friends massacre a scene from “Oedipus Rex”.

3. School Hard (Season 2)
Prophecies and rituals come to an end in this episode where the character of Spike is introduced. Back in this season, Spike was pretty much The Joker – chaotic and reckless. So the premise here is that he wages a vampire siege against the school on Parent/Teacher night, resulting in Buffy needing to go all “Die Hard” on their asses and doing very little to hide her secret identity. It’s a pretty sweet episode.

4. Ted (Season 2)
Personally, this is one of my top favorites. It’s the Buffy version of “One Froggy Evening”. John Ritter guest stars as Buffy’s new potential step-dad. He bakes cookies, takes everyone out for mini-golf, dispenses fatherly advice, and is overall the nicest guy you’d ever meet. But when he’s alone with Buffy? COMPLETE PSYCHOPATH. None of Buffy’s friends believe her, so the stakes are raised as she gets pushed to the point of murder trying to prove that this guy is evil. It gets quite serious and over-the-top at times, but I love it. A later episode in season four “Living Conditions” mimics the same situation where Buffy is convinced her new roommate is evil and everybody is trying to stop her from killing her roommate.

5. The Zeppo (Season 3)
How about an episode where Buffy and her friends battle the greatest, most horrible evil they will EVER meet on this show? And then how about make it so they exclude one friend (Xander) from joining in the battle because he’s the most likely to get killed? And how about the whole episode follows all the madness that befalls Xander on that fateful night? It’s a wonderfully crazy episode with many jabs at the show’s own formula. I’d almost compare this episode to “South Park” where you can tell the writers are being given free reign to vent their frustrations over the usual cliches.

6. Earshot (Season 3)
I might be biased here, because I love any episode of anything where the main character can suddenly read minds. It’s a great tool for comedy as you suddenly get an insight in everybody’s thought processes (and discover that some characters have no thought processes at all). This one quickly takes some dark turns, though, as Buffy finds herself trying to track down a student whom she “overheard” planning a mass murder. From there, it actually touches down on some real life issues on events that hadn’t yet become a reality on the news, but it’s all handled very well. And the ultimate pay-off for solving the mystery is one of the most fantastically stupid moments in the show.

7. Pangs (Season 4)
Buffy and the gang battling Indian vengeance spirits on Thanksgiving while trying to be politically correct about it. Political correctness fails many times in this episode.

Special Video Highlight:

8. Hush (Season 4)
A spell falls over the town depriving everyone of their voices. What follows is a scary-as-hell episode where freaky monsters attack the town and no one can scream or call for help. This is one of those “top of every list” episodes because of how damn good it is. Even better is watching all the truths and misunderstandings that come out when people can no longer use their words to lie or defend themselves. A perfect horror-comedy.

9. Restless (Season 4)
Here’s an episode that’s confusing no matter whether you’re a fan or new to the show. Four of the characters experience four separate dreams and what follows is a very nonsensical, “Twins Peaks” style episode with no coherent narrative. They just wander from one pointless scenario to another, acting very out-of-character and doing random stuff. There is a story hidden in the subtext, but it’s otherwise a very accurate depiction of a dream-like state. Plus it has the cheese man. Who doesn’t love the cheese man?

10. Once More, With Feeling (Season 6)
I’m reaching by calling this a stand-alone episode since it relies on past episodes for its main story to work. But the real charm is the whole musical angle where the town becomes cursed and people randomly break out into song. Fans of “Dr. Horrible” can see Joss Whedon’s songwriting roots here as nearly every song is both catchy and clever as hell. Even the lyrics drift from beautifully poetic to absurd non-sequiters (most notably one lyric: “I think this line’s mostly filler” when a random character has nothing to add to the song.) After seeing this one for the first time, I found myself humming a lot of the tunes throughout the next several weeks.

11. Normal Again (Season 6)
This is one of those episodes that asks a very simple question: what if Buffy is a nutcase in an asylum, and this whole show is her delusional fantasy? As the episode cuts between worlds, Buffy is pushed into almost doing unspeakable things as she chooses between realities. Also, without giving too much away, it’s pretty rare to see Buffy as the villain.

12. Conversations with Dead People (Season 7)
I’m also stretching with this as a stand-alone episode because it relies VERY heavily on past episodes for the story to work. But the reason I put it on this list is because it’s the first episode I ever saw – and it hooked me instantly. So it must be doing something right if I can enjoy it without understanding it. Four characters all have different supernatural encounters on one night. In one situation, Buffy’s making small talk with an old friend-turned-vampire whom she has to kill later, meanwhile, her sister is battling a genuinely dangerous poltergeist in the house. And meanwhile from there, two other characters are having very serious conversations with long-dead friends. None of these stories ever intersect. There’s a lot of strong comedy and drama in here, but the overall flow of the episode is tied together very well, along with the accompanying music. I’d almost call this Tarantino-esque if it were a little more off-kilter. While I can’t recommend it to all new-comers, it’s a very experimental episode and a very personal favorite of mine.

October 22 2012 | Reviews, TV | 5 Comments »

Movie Reviews: Harry Potters 1-6

I didn’t see any movies at the theater this month, so I won’t be reviewing any new stuff – but I have been re-watching the Harry Potter movies. The final chapter is coming out shortly, so it seemed like a good time to catch up on what all happened.

Just a heads-up – this is not a spoiler-free review. I will ruin endings here.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
(“Sorceror’s Stone,” for any philosophy-fearing Americans out there.)
Believe it or not, seeing this in the theater was the first time I had ever heard of Harry Potter. Before this, I never heard of the books, didn’t see any movie trailers, or hear any word-of-mouth about it. I didn’t even know it was playing until my friend spontaneously started screaming “WE HAVE TO GO SEE HARRY POTTER NOW!!!” So we drove down to Cold Lake for a midnight showing, and imagine my surprise when I saw the lobby packed. With adults no less – not a single child to be seen anywhere except on the movie poster. I was really out of the loop back then. And it was a pretty damn good movie. I’ve read all the books since then, and even today, I think Chris Columbus did a bang-up job on it. The cast is perfect, the art design is flawless, the music is memorable, and the first movie on it’s own set the standard for the rest of the series.
Let’s Nitpick: I’m still peeved with the ending of this movie. Why do the teachers reward Harry’s reckless disregard for the rules by giving him the House Cup? What example are they setting? I want to see a version where they give Harry and his friends all those extra points for defeating Voldemort, but still give the House Cup to Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff because they studied and passed their exams.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
(AKA “Harry Potter and the Hurray for Harry Potter”)
On another viewing, I think one is both my favorite, and the most underrated of the series. There’s tons of action, I love the art direction, there’s much darker tones, and what’s more, it’s a perfect stand-alone story where every scene provides yet another subtle clue to the big mystery. There’s no cliffhangers, no villains get away, and you don’t have to start from the first movie to enjoy this one. But on top of that, it’s also probably the most faithful of the movies – dropping virtually nothing from the book (to my recollection anyway.)
Let’s Nitpick: The only downside to not dropping anything from the book is that this is probably the longest of the movies. Also, at the end… Dumbledore cancels exams as a reward? Those seventh years really need those exams, Dumbledore. Don’t ruin their lives just to make the 2nd-graders happy. I swear this school system is rigged just to make sure Harry Potter doesn’t have to study.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
(AKA “Harry Potter Scared Stupid”)
I know this one’s supposed to be the most critically-acclaimed of the series, but I personally found it to be really silly. They swapped out directors at this point, and then mixed in more slapstick comedy, blue filters, and slow fades-to-black. Although it does have some great visuals, (especially on the scenes with the Dementors and the werewolf) this remains the one movie that really sits on the fence for me. Something about it reminds me of an Ernest movie for some reason.
Let’s Nitpick: In the last half-hour of the movie, they use Hermione’s magical hourglass to go back in time and resolve all their problems. Then they proceed to never use this device again in any of the movies (especially when it really matters.) It can’t be that hard to fabricate an hourglass either if the teachers are letting third-graders walk around with them. Also, what’s up with that song at the beginning? Did the music teacher think “Something Wicked This Way Comes” would be a great way to ring in the new school year?

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
(AKA “Robert Pattinson and the Stroke of Bad Luck”)
Another director swap at this point (Mike Newell) turns “Goblet of Fire” into a very rushed, but still very entertaining movie. In fact, this one seems more like a sports movie the way they handle it. There’s a lot more school spirit and the students act like real people rather than wizards. The Tri-Wizard tournament lends to some great action sequences as well, and I only just noticed David Tennant (Doctor Who) as one of the bad guys this time around. Awesome!
Let’s Nitpick: This one marks the first time that you really can’t jump into a Harry Potter movie without seeing the first three. There’s so many obscure side-characters popping up, and important plot elements are randomly re-introduced from previous movies. Of course, if you’ve gone this far already, you probably already saw the first three.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
(AKA “Harry Potter vs. The Establishment”)
With David Yates at the helm, he returns the series to the old Columbus style, albeit more darker, but still retains Mike Newell’s habit of not bothering to provide background information. Still, I think this one’s pretty awesome. Imelda Staunton puts on the best performance of the series as Delores Umbridge – a villain who embodies every despicable thing we could ever hate about a villain. Then we’ve also got Helena Bonham Carter as her awesome freaky self. I really liked the story’s approach to having all the characters rebel against authority – because when wizards rebel, everything explodes.
Let’s Nitpick: I’ll tell you this much – the IMAX 3D version sucked (post-conversion crap.) And at the risk of sounding like a book-nerd, I really think they should have put the original ending battle into the movie, because the movie version was pretty lame by comparison.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
(aka “Harry Potter and Something Vaguely Sinister is Going On”)
During a second viewing, I realized that there’s really no story in this film. In fact, the book’s the same way. It’s just a series of events throughout the school year that range from terrorist attacks, cheating on tests, and Harry snogging Ron’s sister. In fact, for the first two hours of the movie, there’s no actual mission – no mystery for Harry and the gang to solve, other than how to get their teacher drunk so he can spill the beans on how to defeat Voldemort. After that, the movie begins and ends pretty quickly. Still, I really enjoyed watching a lot of the nonsense as Harry and his friends just fart around all year, especially the scenes where Harry gets high on luck potion.
Let’s Nitpick: What bugs me is that throughout the movie is a sub-plot involving Malfoy and a magical cabinet. In the book, this is a relevant plot-point, since the cabinet later enables Voldemort’s henchmen to infiltrate and attack the school, resulting in a chaotic battle between the students and the Death Eaters. Unfortunately, in the movie, the epic battle never happens. They infiltrate the school, mess up the dining hall and then… leave. They do burn down Hagrid’s hut, but otherwise… what’s the point? Why sneak in Death Eaters? Was Hagrid’s hut really that big a threat?

Harry Potter and the Draco Malfoy Puppet
(AKA “Draco likes Pliers”)

And there we go! All caught on my wizard stuff. Now I just need to remember every tiny plot detail for the next few weeks until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1) starts… AKA “Harry Potter and the Neverending Camping Trip.”

October 30 2010 | Movies, Reviews | 3 Comments »

A Saturday Morning Retrospective

I’m render-wrangling again, so I’ll just review something in the meantime.

For the last year or so, they’ve been replaying all these old classic cartoons from my childhood on Teletoon Retro (a Canadian channel.) I don’t do much TV watching these days since I’ve got people lending me box sets of Dexter, Entourage, and Gilligan’s Island to catch up on. But whenever I do catch one of these old shows, it’s interesting to see which ones have aged better – now that the rose-colored glasses are off – and which ones have gotten on my nerves.

The following lists are entirely my opinions, so no offense is intended if I happen to rag on one of your favorites. After all, at one point, these were all my favorites too.

Five Cartoons That Aren’t Holding Up Well For Me

Sylvester and Tweety
Out of all match-ups between Looney Tune characters trying to eat each other, this is the only one where I can’t bring myself to care as to whether Tweety gets caught or Sylvester gets clobbered by the dog. I just don’t like Tweety and… Sylvester keeps reminding me of Rob Schneider. In fact, there’s the whole problem right there. Much like Rob Schneider, Sylvester doesn’t have any original material and has to rely on his co-stars to keep the show interesting. This is why they’ll often swap out Tweety for someone else – because watching Rob Schneider get clobbered by a kangaroo is far more entertaining than watching him not eat a bird.

Speed Racer
I tried watching this show again shortly after the movie came out and couldn’t get past eight episodes. They just recycle the same two-part story over and over again. Even Scooby-Doo had more depth than this one. Oh-no! A cliff! How will Speed get out of this? Stay tuned to find out! (Spoiler: He pushes the car’s jump button.)

Inspector Gadget
The best parts of this show involve the theme songs and watching Chief Quimby explode. Otherwise, this show gets really annoying once the M.A.D. agents show up and try kill Gadget. They have only one job, but they always follow the same stupid three-step plan on how to do it. 1) Disguise themselves, 2) sneak up behind Gadget, and 3) ??? (the show never gets that far because they end up tripping over Gadget while he’s smelling a flower or something.) Also, listening to the sound effects on this show is like hearing someone button-mash an iPhone soundboard. They only have about five sound effects, but you’ll hear them all a hundred times before the credits run.

Rocky and Bullwinkle
I think R&B was a well-written show for it’s time, but what kills it is the bad production design. The jokes are rushed, the timing is off, the voice acting is horrible, and they’ll sometimes screw up the animation cels on a character, causing their eyes and mouth to fall off their face. I know animators were pressed for time back then, but even the Flintstones knew how to keep limbs attached to torsos.

Transformers, G.I. Joe, and He-man
These are great shows to riff on with friends because of how ridiculous they are, but to sit and watch any of them alone can be very brain-damaging. The plots are stupid, the dialogue is stupid, the animation is stupid, and the characters always resolve their problems by shooting at each other until somebody runs away. They’re guilty pleasures at best, but ultimately, they’re just 30-minute toy commercials. Grimlock still rules, though.

Five Shows I’ve Grown To Appreciate More

Coyote and Roadrunner
If you’re like me and have forgotten how every single trap backfires on the coyote, then this is a brilliant show to watch. Will the boulder hit him or miss him this time? Sometimes it misses, but rolls over onto him. Or maybe he’ll walk away from it and accidentally step off a cliff. Or maybe all will be well until the roadrunner hits him with a truck. It’s the show that keeps you guessing!

Astro Boy
I forgot how dark this show is. Some cartoons like to teach children to share and play nice; Astro Boy likes to teach children that they will someday die. I’m not joking – every other episode ends in Astro Boy failing to save the day, and mourning a friend’s death as a result. So why do I think it’s a good show? I think I just like the contrast between the parts of the show that seem targeted at preschoolers, and the other parts of the show that would scar them for life.

Reboot
This show is just bad-ass.

Gummi Bears
I’m still going to argue that this is one of Disney’s best. Yes, even better than Ducktales or Rescue Rangers. The animation is great, the characters are likeable, the stories are awesome, and they did a really good job building an entire culture and mythology around these bears. Not bad, considering all they had for subject matter was candy.

Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, and Freakazoid
Steven Spielberg rocks at making cartoons. End of story.

October 26 2010 | Reviews, TV | 9 Comments »

Archive: Tim Schafer Game Reviews

Having recently finished “Brutal Legend” again for the umpteenth time, I wanted to post up a review, but a simple review didn’t seem to be justice enough for the fifth installment in one man’s legacy of video games. Enter Tim Schafer – not a house-hold name, and not associated with any mainstream games like Super Mario or Halo – but nonetheless, one of the finest creative minds that the medium has to offer and one of my personal heroes.
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February 07 2010 | Reviews, Video Games | 2 Comments »

Archive: Movie Reviews, Sept-Dec ’09

Inglourious Basterds
What we see in the trailers: Wall-to-wall action as Lt. Raine’s troops storm around France gunning down Nazis in a bloodbath of awesomeness.
What the movie’s actually like: People sit at tables and chat for twenty minutes about everything except the plot. Then some plot happens. Then they sit at another table and repeat the process until the movie’s over. Every other scene ends in a quick ten-second gunfight. Those are the parts that end up in the trailers.
But it’s still damn good!: Yessiree, Bob.
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February 07 2010 | Movies, Reviews | 1 Comment »

Archive: Finest Films of the 70’s

Following up my previous lists from the 80’s and 90’s, I have now scientifically broken down a list of the finest films of the 70’s (because obviously the 70’s comes after the 90’s. Don’t ask me how science works.) These are the top movies that have been walking fine lines for over three decades, and still kick ass for their time.
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February 07 2010 | Movies, Reviews | No Comments »

Archive: Anime Reviews (Part 3)

And here we at the end. Eventually, I’d like to review non-anime shows as well, but all these hour-long programs like “Lost” and “Dexter” take significantly longer to watch and don’t show any signs of ending anytime soon.

In the meantime, here’s the last of the animes:
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February 07 2010 | Geek Talk, Reviews, TV | 4 Comments »

Archive: Anime Reviews (Part 2)

Welcome to Part 2!

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February 07 2010 | Geek Talk, Reviews, TV | No Comments »

Archive: Anime Reviews (Part 1)

Maybe I’m brainwashed by the mainstream media, but Japan is awesome. We need to agree on that. Awesomeness just seems to flow out of that country like a natural resource. They’ve got sushi, they’ll be the first to invent giant robots, and if you set a “Fast & the Furious” movie in the country, it’ll automatically be the best of the franchise.

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February 07 2010 | Geek Talk, Reviews, TV | 2 Comments »

Archive: Final Fantasy XII Review

I’m just going to break this whole game down into three simple sections:

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February 07 2010 | Reviews, Video Games | No Comments »