Tag Archives: Joss Whedon

The Cabin in the Woods (2012 Movie)

Mutant Enemy Productions

My rating: 3.5 of 5

WARNING: Rated R for basically everything. Consider yourself warned.

Five college kids get together for a weekend trip away at a cabin in the middle of nowhere. It’s supposed to be a time to indulge in scary stories, exploration, drugs, and each other without the judgement and pressures of the world. But the rush of freedom quickly changes to horror as they find themselves attacked by zombies coming out of the woods, picking off the kids one by one. What the kids don’t realize at first is that this is all part of something bigger, that there’s someone behind the scenes manipulating them and orchestrating this little calamity. And when the survivors decide to take the horror back to the source, things begin going spectacularly wrong on the end of the manipulators. . . . Will the world even survive the aftermath?

Anyone familiar with Joss Whedon’s works, particularly Buffy and Angel will find a certain amount of familiarity in The Cabin in the Woods, although this movie is quite possibly darker and certainly more graphic than those shows. There’s a feeling about it that carries over though; it’s certainly Whedon’s story. The story both is a horror story–with all the blood and campiness and creeping dread that such a story entails–and also is a satire of the contemporary horror movie, pointing out the ways that such stories have gone wrong. And I kind of both love and hate it. I’m not big on the genre in general–honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that Whedon wrote it and Fran Kranz (love his character!) and Amy Acker were in it, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. Because the violence in that sort of show really feels almost pornographic to me, even in instances where there isn’t a lot of sexual content. But in this instance, that’s actually one of the things that’s dealt with satirically, so . . . yeah. I really did like the group of kids they chose; they had a good dynamic, and yeah, Fran Kranz (as a stoner idiot who may actually be the smartest of the group). The way the manipulators behind the scenes was developed was unexpected, but it definitely added a lot of interest and, while super creepy, I enjoyed that aspect of the story. The ending (no spoilers, promise) surprised me a lot, although I found it fitting. And the production of the movie itself was quite well done, with some interesting camera angles, lots of atmosphere, and tons of creepy monsters. I would definitely not recommend The Cabin in the Woods for everyone, but for those who enjoy Whedon’s work or the horror movie genre, it might be interesting to try.

Written by Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard/Directed by Drew Goddard/Produced by Joss Whedon/Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, & Amy Acker/Music by David Julyan

 

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Dollhouse

Created by Joss Whedon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Imagine a technology that would enable people to completely remove an individual’s memory, personality, identity. . . . Terrifying, isn’t it? A girl by the name of Caroline finds herself dragged into a corporation (the Dollhouse) that does just that–for profit. For various reasons, she becomes an “Active” called Echo, her own identity erased to become whoever the client needs her to be: spy, lover, special agent in a hostage situation, whatever. Only, unlike most of the other Actives, Echo keeps having pieces of old personality imprints popping up after they were supposedly erased; memories she shouldn’t have retained begin showing up. She is evolving a self of her own, beyond that of her original, Caroline. And Echo is determined to bring the Dollhouse down, whatever it takes.

I know I’ve said before that I really enjoy Joss Whedon’s shows. . . . Dollhouse is the best I’ve seen of them yet. I absolutely devoured all 26 episodes and was saddened that there wasn’t more (although I think they ended it very well). Rather than being about the paranormal, this is very much a science-y show–but not in an obsessively, overwhelmingly geeky way. While it does give a clear and terrifying picture of what could (likely would) go wrong if this sort of technology ever did come into existence, it is much more focused on the individuals involved in this particular story. Echo herself is absolutely the focal point of the entire story, and she is an excellent character. Eliza Dushku’s acting in this role is exemplary. She shows the individuals whose minds are implanted into Echo as distinct and yet also shows the gradually developing entity that is Echo as an individual herself . . . it’s truly fascinating to watch! The relationship that grows between actives Victor and Sierra (without giving too much away) is absolutely beautiful as well. The whole show is a strong argument for there being some–a soul perhaps–that makes us who we are, even if all our memories and such are stripped away. More challenging characters include scientific genius Topher Brink (whom I enjoyed very much, although he is again, a challenging character) and Dollhouse leader/shepherd Adelle DeWitt (who is excellently played, though provoking, and in my personal opinion absolutely maddening).  I guess what I’m getting at is that the characters, characterization, acting, and character-driven aspect (sorry if that sounds repetitive) are all wonderful. I’d also like to note that the production for the whole series is quite lovely–it’s visually stunning. Plus it has a great soundtrack. I would highly recommend Dollhouse to all mature viewers (not a kids’ TV show).

Starring: Eliza Dushku, Harry Lennix, Fran Kranz, Tahmoh Penikett, Enver Gjokaj, Dichen Lachman, Olivia Williams, Amy Acker, Reed Diamond, & Miracle Laurie

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Much Ado About Nothing

Bellwether Pictures

Directed by Joss Whedon/Produced by Joss Whedon & Kai Cole/Music by Joss Whedon/Based on the Play by William Shakespeare/Starring Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Reed Diamond, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Fran Kranz, Sean Maher, & Jillian Morgese

I find it probable that you have heard the tale of Beatrice and Benedick, sharp of wit and sharper of tongue, ever eager to turn the both against each other. You’ve likely heard of Beatrice’s fair and sweet cousin Hero and her love, the valiant (but too quick to jump to conclusions) Claudio. Mayhap you even know of the clever tricks that were turned against Beatrice and Benedick to soften their hearts and of the cruel tricks that were played against Hero and Claudio’s love. But I daresay you’ve never heard their tale told in quite such a manner as this. . . .

Joss Whedon’s take on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing was a treat from start to finish. It sticks largely with the plot–and even the wording–of the original (so yes, Shakespearean English). But he sticks the classic plot in a contemporary setting, somehow bringing the story into the present day (sort of) without verbally alluding to it at all. People are beckoned to listen to music . . . on an MP3 player. The watch manages to lock themselves out of their car. A lot of the story is carried non-verbally, while still somehow remaining true to the spirit and intent of the original. It helps that Whedon collected an amazing cast for this, most (if not all) of the major actors having worked with him before on other shows. (And may I just say, it was refreshing to see Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker get a happy ending for once!) The music chosen also set the mood excellently. And–one of the most refreshingly surprising aspects in my mind–the entire movie was in black and white! I love it!!! I will note that this is a PG-13 movie–and personally I wouldn’t share it with anyone under 16 because of a few bedroom scenes–but for adult viewers, I thing Much Ado About Nothing is an exceptional movie that I recommend highly.

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Angel

Created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt

Leaving Sunnydale behind, Angel finds himself alone in Los Angeles, brooding (what else is new), alone, and still nursing his guilt over his previous (pre-soul, vampiric) life. Fortunately, the powers that be (truly) send help his way in the form of Sunnydale expatriate Cordelia Chase–who’s not making the big movie break she was expecting–and Doyle–an Irish half-demon with skull-bursting visions that point the team to those in trouble. Together, these three form the beginnings of a team, “Angel Investigations,” dedicated to rendering aid to those who need it–and, of course, to opposing the working of evil in the city, which in L.A. means the law firm, Wolfram & Hart. Angel and his team are sure to have their work cut out for them, but they just might be able to make a difference . . . and if they’re lucky, they might even make enough money to stay in business!

I came to Angel as, probably, most viewers do: as a spin-off series from Buffy, starting simultaneously with season 4 of the Sunnydale classic. I’m honestly not sure if that’s a good thing or not. There are certainly things that carry over–you have a lot of back-story on the characters going in to Angel if you’ve watched the first few seasons of Buffy first, for instance. But the genres are pretty different. I feel like I should pause and say first that I honestly enjoyed Angel very much and would watch it again. Having said that, I felt like it was, on the whole, a weaker story–the plot’s all over the place, the character set is erratic, and sometimes I had no idea what sort of genre I was supposed to be watching. Plus, they used all that CSI flashing between scenes at the beginning; that just about gave me vertigo (hyperbole), ugh. But in spite of not knowing whether it’s a detective story or a soap opera, I usually enjoyed the story, wherever it went. I think a lot of that is attributable to the characters, many of whom I absolutely loved. I think one of the most positive aspects of this show for me was that it took characters that I rather disliked in Buffy–namely Cordelia and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce–and actually developed them into mature characters that I truly enjoyed. Also, the inclusion of more peaceable characters like Lorne and Fred (love those two!) added a lot to the story. Honestly, the one character I really didn’t care for was Angel himself, not because he was poorly placed–Boreanaz did an excellent job portraying him–but because I just don’t like who he is, never have really. But I guess the show must have some significant redeeming qualities elsewhere if I like it despite disliking the main character. Finally, the ending was somewhat abrupt, but I do understand that the show was cut unexpectedly (and is said to be continued in some graphic novels, though how that’s possible, I don’t know).  Anyhow, I enjoyed Angel, and I think Buffy fans who have a taste for more detective-y, urban stories would likely enjoy it also.

Starring: David Boreanaz, Charisma Carpenter, Glenn Quinn, Alexis Denisof, J. August Richards, Amy Acker, Vincent Kartheiser, Andy Hallett, James Marsters, & Mercedes McNab

Note: This TV series consists of 5 seasons (yes, it doesn’t seem like it should end where it does).

Note 2: Does anyone else get a Star Wars vibe out of Connor?

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Spike: Into the Light

Author: James Marsters

Illustrator: Derlis Santacruz

Note: This graphic novel takes place around the beginning of season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and there are definitely spoilers. You’ve been warned.

Sometimes a guy just can’t catch a break. Of course, it doesn’t help when you’re a vampire who’s only recently won back his soul and is still battling a dark past–plus all the complications that come from being a vampire. So, Spike finds himself in the small city of Greenville, broke, alone, starving–his shoes are even falling apart! But just maybe, as past collides with present, Spike just might be able, in some way, to redeem the present . . . or at least make a decent impression on an attractive local girl.

As Buffy progressed, I found myself more and more fascinated by Spike’s character, to the extent that now he’s quite possibly my favorite character in the entire series. Thus, finding a canon graphic novel written by James Marsters–the person who played Spike’s character in Buffy and Angel–was a pleasant surprise. I think the story presented in Spike: Into the Light portrays Spike’s character–and more importantly, the challenges and changes he’s going through–excellently. It’s true to the main storyline, while at the same time presenting an original, self-contained story that can be enjoyed in its own right (although the allusions to the main story will be appreciated only by those who have already seen Buffy up to this point). The art is quite nice–dynamic and expressive, yet somehow homey–in the American comic-book style. I think I would recommend Spike: Into the Light to those who enjoy his character and would like to see it fleshed out a bit more, as well as to those who enjoy a good comic in general, even if they’re not too familiar with Spike’s character. And I’m pleased to say that this graphic novel is actually appropriate for readers 16+ at least, possibly younger (a nice change, since most comic books are rife with language, sex, etc.)

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Created by Joss Whedon

When Buffy Summers moved to the small town of Sunnydale, all she wanted was to leave slaying and destiny and vampires behind–lead a normal high-school life, you know? That might have worked better if the town she moved to weren’t built directly over a Hellmouth, a center of supernatural and paranormal activity of all sorts. As it is, before her first day of class is even over, she’s encountered the tell-tale work of vampires and met her Watcher, Rupert Giles (read “stuffed-shirt British librarian sent to tell her what to do” is what I’d like to say, but Giles is actually a pretty cool guy with some interesting surprises up his sleeve). It seems there is no running from destiny, and Buffy’s got plenty of destiny to deal with as The Slayer, the one and only girl in the world with the super-powers to fight the forces of darkness . . . whether she likes it or not. Destiny may put a crimp in her social life, but Buffy actually develops quite a delightful group of friends who join in her fight against evil–which is totally against all Slayer rules, I might add. Not that Buffy’s much for rules; she tends to meet the forces of darkness and the forces of red tape with much the same snarky attitude . . . and she usually wins.

I had honestly avoided watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for years on the grounds that I generally hate American TV shows on principle. It was only when I realized that 1) the series has a huge cult following among the geekier types and 2) it’s created by the same guy who wrote Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog that I decided Buffy might be worth checking out–and I am so glad that I did. I really love the series. It’s a very multi-layered story. On the surface you have the story of a young girl going to school, making friends, fighting monsters–fun urban fantasy, maybe a little silly (and a little too much sex) but enjoyable nevertheless. But then underneath that you’ve got a very real, thoughtful, and sometimes vulnerable development of all sorts of real-life problems and complexities and questions–things we all struggle with, handled in a thought-provoking way. It’s neat the way the layers mingle and make each other richer. The characters are all incredible–highly developed and growing a lot over the course of the series–and the actors do an incredible job bringing the characters to life. I find the plot pacing interesting. It runs sort of like the Harry Potter books: one season per year in the characters’ lives, each season dealing with episodic issues but also culminating toward some big showdown with a “Big Bad” at the end (they actually make a joke about this in the seventh season). It’s kind of cliché, but it works. (Regarding age-appropriateness, I would generally say that it’s suited for people the age Buffy is in that season and up, so the first year is 15+, second season is 16+, etc.) Music is also a big part of Buffy, and I really enjoy the wide variety of music that is brought into the show. Plus the choreography that goes into the fights is really impressive–both intense and oddly beautiful. This is definitely a girl-power sort of show, I might add–although the guy characters are amazing too.  There’s a lot more I could say, nearly all positive as I truly enjoyed this show, but for now I’ll just say that if you enjoy funny yet thoughtful character-focused urban fantasy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is definitely a good option to check out–just be warned, it’s addictive!

Note: This TV series comprises 7 of 22 episodes each (except for the first season, which is 12 episodes). The plotline is continued in a canonical graphic novel series which I intend to review separately.

Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Anthony Stewart Head, Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, Charisma Carpenter, David Boreanaz, Kristine Sutherland, Michelle Trachtenberg, Seth Green, Robia LaMorte, Emma Caulfield, Eliza Dushku, Juliet Landau, James Marsters, Amber Benson, Marc Blucas, Tom Lenk, Alexis Denisof, and a bunch of other cool people

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Once More, with Feeling

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 7

Written & Directed by Joss Whedon/Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendan, Alyson Hannigan, Emma Caulfield, Anthony Stewart Head, Michelle Trachtenberg, Amber Benson, James Marsters, & Hinton Battle

As usual, something’s afoot in Sunnydale, California . . . only it’s not particularly clear exactly what that something is. Buffy Summers and her friends find themselves randomly bursting into song–and choreographed dance routines–as though they were starring in a musical. Further investigation (just walking outside, for instance) reveals that this musical mayhem is affecting not only “the gang” but the entire town–just another of the joys of living in Sunnydale. This would seem a relatively benign problem until people start spontaneously combusting from dancing so hard . . . not to mention all the emotional and relational damage from everyone bluntly singing their innermost secrets out to anyone around to hear! Clearly, something must be done, and fast–and Buffy and her friends are just the people for the job.

It’s practically unheard of for me to write about an individual television episode, but I feel that “Once More, with Feeling” truly deserves the attention. This single episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is written as a musical and can be honestly appreciated as such on its own, although the depths of the character development will be more greatly appreciated if you’ve watched the previous episodes. Basically, you’re coming into the story at the point where Buffy has been brought back from death by her well-meaning friends–only she’s really not happy to be back. Plus, there are a lot of complex interrelational issues that basically explain themselves through the songs themselves. And the songs are something incredible! Sweeping through genre boundaries to touch everything from classic musical styles to jazz to ballet-inspired to hard rock, each and every piece is both catchy and edgy. Honestly, it’s one of the best musicals I’ve seen, particularly when you consider that most of the actors were not professional singers. Amber Benson’s role, in particular, was breathtaking; she’s always been a character who was more than I expected, but in this musical, she truly shone. Beautiful voice! The story development is pretty intense–this comes at a breaking point of sorts in the lives of the characters. The songs really reveal this in their blend of passion and angst, hope and emptiness. If you’ve a taste for musicals at all, I would definitely recommend “Once More, with Feeling” even if you wouldn’t generally like the series as a whole–truly an impressive and moving work.

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