Why Buffy Rocks!

No, not the movie but the television show – Buffy the Vampire Slayer – which was created by Joss Whedon after his original vision for the movie was butchered by the film studio.

I know this show is old news.  It has, after all, been off the air for a few years now.  That is precisely why I’m writing about it.  This tv show was never given the attention it deserved by the emmys, golden globes, etc.  Only the critics and fans appreciated it for what it was – a great show about teen angst told through the eyes of a pretty blond who could kick your ass and then some.

Buffy Summers, wonderfully portrayed by Sarah Michelle Gellar, is the vampire slayer.  Buffy is a normal teenage girl until she finds out that she has been given superhuman strength for the sole purpose of fighting evil such as monsters, demons, and of course vampires.  The series begins with Buffy starting her first day of school in Sunnydale, the small town in California where she and her mother have relocated after Buffy was expelled from her previous high school in Los Angeles for burning down the gym, which was filled with vampires.  Buffy is determined to stay out of trouble, but almost immediately the high school librarian Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) informs her that she is the vampire slayer and he is her watcher.  She tries to ignore her calling, but since Sunnydale High sits atop the hell mouth, vampires and demons are fairly abundant.

So Buffy fights the forces of evil with the help of Giles and her friends Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Xander (Nicholas Brendon), also known as “the Scooby Gang.”  The Scooby Gang also entails a revolving door of members like Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), the snobby, popular cheerleader who dates Xander, Oz (Seth Green), the bass player of a local rock band, who dates Willow and whom is later discovered to be a werewolf.  And of course, Angel (David Boreanaz), the vampire cursed with a soul, with whom Buffy has a doomed love affair.  Their story is so brilliantly written, and Gellar and Boreanaz have an amazing chemistry.

Each season is complete with a villain that Buffy and her friends battle.  The first season featured the Master (the first vampire).  Other seasons have featured the evil Goddess Glory, a demonic robot, and in a later season, even a member of the Scooby Gang.  By far, the most memorable villain of all is Spike (James Marsters), the punk rock vampire, whom is endlessly devoted to Drusilla (the vampire whom sired Angel).  He is so deliciously evil, he’s the vampire you love to hate.  Spike lasts a number of seasons, and in later seasons, even becomes a love interest for Buffy.

The story lines are unbelievably relatable considering the subject matter: a witch using her powers to get good grades, the same witch’s mother switching bodies with her daughter so she may enjoy her youth again.  Another episode features Xander trying to put a love spell on Cordelia after she dumps him.  The spell backfires and makes everyone but Cordelia fall in love with Xander.  A Christmas Carol like episode shows what Sunnydale would be like had Buffy never moved there.  That world features a Sunnydale where vampires rule the town and humans are few and far between.  In season four when Buffy goes to college, she moves into a dorm room with a roommate who ends up being a demon.  Who can’t relate to an evil roommate?  One of the best episodes is a musical that finds all citizens of Sunnydale prone to break out and sing at the drop of a hat.  The amazing episodes are too numerous to name on a small show that lasted seven seasons.

Most of the cast have gone onto greater things.  David Boreanaz now stars in Bones and previously was spun off onto Angel.  Alyson Hannigan is featured in How I Met Your Mother and James Marsters has guest starred on Smallville.  I’m still waiting for another great turn from Sarah Michelle Gellar.  She has starred in numerous films, none of which have made waves at the box office.  I hate to think that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is her crowning achievement since I believe her to be capable of much more.

Buffy spawned shows like Dark Angel and Alias.  Those shows did not last nearly as long.  Television would be a lot different today if it were not for Joss Whedon and his willingness to create something that most people, including me, thought sounded ridiculous at the time.  Yes, eventually, those other shows would have existed but not without the originality of Buffy.  If you have not seen Buffy, it should absolutely be added to your dvd list.  It will live up to your expectations.

September 18, 2008. Uncategorized. 3 comments.

Soundtrack Review: Across the Universe

In keeping with tradition of my last post, I am writing another review of an album which pays tribute to one of the greatest bands of all time – The Beatles.  The film “Across the Universe” came out last year.  This was a movie that did not make too many waves in theaters – without good reason.  Wonderful film, but this post is dedicated to the soundtrack of that film.

The film takes place in the swinging 60s around New Jersey and New York’s Greenwich Village.  It is at the time of war, protests, peace, love and yes, I know it sounds like more of the same.  It is not.  “Across the Universe” tells its story through the songs of The Beatles.  Why listen to a soundtrack filled with Beatles tracks that is not performed by The Beatles?  Because even though it is not The Beatles, these songs are performed with such conviction that they will transport you back to the film so you may relive all of those moments.  And yes, you should see the film since you will not appreciate the soundtrack without the benefit of the film viewing.

It includes some of the greatest tracks from The Beatles’ collection.  All our sung with heart by the relatively unknown actors from the film.  Each song holds a specific storyline to the film.  “All My Loving” performed by Jim Sturgess, portraying Jude, signifies his leaving his girlfriend in Liverpool to travel to America to search for his family roots.  He quickly forgets that girlfriend when he meets Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) which leads him to sing “I’ve Just Seen A Face”.

T.V. Carpio (Prudence) sings “I Want To Hold Your Hand” while longing to hold the hand of the head cheerleader whom is clearly heterosexual.  Later in the film, you witness Prudence falling for another unavailable woman: the musician Sadie (Dana Fuchs).  At one point of the film, Prudence locks herself in the bathroom while pining for her.  Sadie sings “Dear Prudence” to try and convince her to open the door.  Sadly, “Dear Prudence” is not included on the soundtrack.

Also on the soundtrack is the classic “Come Together” sung by Joe Cocker who makes a cameo in the film as a homeless man on the streets of the Village (still a common occurrence today).  Bono makes another cameo as Dr. Robert (a philospher of words) during which he performs “I Am the Walrus” with the Secret Machines while taking Jude and his friends on a psychedelic road trip.  During the end credits, Bono also sings “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.  Even Salma Hayek makes a cameo as a nurse chiming in on “Happiness is a Warm Gun” with Jim Anderson who portrays Max, Lucy’s brother.

Although this film has many, many celebrity cameos, this film is special for what it represents: love and hope in a time of war.    Whenever I listen to the soundtrack, I am reminded of the film that takes its storyline, with great success, from the songs of The Beatles.  That is what makes the soundtrack so special.  After all of these years, people are still covering the tracks of The Beatles.  Not everyone is so successful, but I’m happy to say that this soundtrack succeeds.

July 14, 2008. Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Music Review: Panic At the Disco – Pretty Odd

I have a great love for all things music, but most of my friends know that I am not a fan of current MTV staples. Although I like to think I give a lot of bands a fair chance, I do have to admit that I am not always so generous.

It was with great trepidation that I purchased the most current Panic At the Disco album. I am one of the few people I know whom still buys cds. I never think purchasing an album is a waste of money, because even if I don’t exactly love it, I always believe it is a learning experience. With this record, I had absolutely nothing to worry about. I’m not familiar with Disco’s previous album, but I’m guessing from the title that this is not their normal cup of tea.  A cup of tea this most certainly is not.

This is a rock album with some beautiful melodies and harmonies that are reminiscent of The Beatles. The first track “We’re So Starving” assures its audience they’ve been away for “so long because we’ve been busy writing songs for you.” Just by listening to this first track, I was already intrigued. Each song thereafter proved to be brighter than the one before.

“When the Day Met the Night” is a summer power pop sing along that will have everyone humming. Even though not all of the songs are so upbeat, each and every one has its own beauty. “The Piano Knows Something I Don’t Know” sounds so much like The Beatles, it’s as if they were channeling them in the studio. This album was mixed at Abbey Road Studios. If that’s not a good omen for great music, I don’t know what is.

Bottom line: there is something here for almost anyone. It has reaffirmed for me that music being created today does deserve a listen before being written off as the same recyclable tunes from every other band being played on the radio. Thank you, Panic At the Disco, for creating such a beautiful collection of tracks. I will no longer judge an album by its cover.

July 7, 2008. Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Movie Review: Into the Wild

I read the book “Into the Wild” about a year ago. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, because it’s a very sad and unfortunate story. I will say that I was glad I read it. I feel the same way about the movie, and I guess that’s a testament as to how faithful it is to the book. The film, written for the screen & directed by Sean Penn, features endearing performances and a somber soundtrack by Eddie Vedder. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it is about a young man whom upon graduating from college decides to give up his money and identity and live in the Alaskan wild. It focuses on his family, the people he meets along his journey and his overall experience living in the wild.

Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) is an Emory University graduate with rich parents and decent prospects. One day, he abruptly leaves without a word to his family and makes his way out west. Eventually, he abandons his car, cash, driver’s license and his entire life savings of $24,000 and continues his journey to Alaska on foot. Along the way, he meets a number of eclectic characters who shape his life. Among them are a middle-aged couple (Brian Dierker & Catherine Keener) who immediately take him in as family, a young singer (Kristen Stewart), and an aging loner (Hal Holbrook, in an Oscar nominated performance) who yearns to adopt Chris to be his grandson. While he is on this journey, his parents (William Hurt & Marcia Gay Harden) hire a private investigator to search for their son with no success. His younger sister, Carine (Jena Malone), whom also narrates the film, is not only concerned but surprised that her brother didn’t think to at least call her. In flashbacks, we learn that Chris did not have such an idealistic childhood. He was raised in a dysfunctional family where his parents yelled and fought all of the time.

Despite reaching Alaska, he discovers that he is not so well prepared and decides to head home. He tries to cross the stream that he crossed in the winter when it was snow, but it has since turned into an impassible river. He heads back to the bus that he has been using for shelter and tries to survive the best he can. After a few days, he realizes he has consumed a poisonous plant. Upon the realization that he will die, he begins to regret his foolish journey. Since it is too late to return home, he writes a few goodbye notes in his journal.

This film is not for everyone. If you are someone who thinks Christopher McCandless’s journey was a ridiculous act of arrogance, you will probably not appreciate this movie. At 2 hours and 30 minutes, it is a bit too long. I knew how this movie was going to end, and I was not exactly thrilled that I had to wait that much longer to get there. Regardless, Penn has crafted an unforgettable film that portrays McCandless’s journey into the wild as a tragic accident.

June 18, 2008. Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Movie Review: The Incredible Hulk

I am someone who really enjoys seeing comic book movies even though as a child – I never read comic books. To me, they are fun movies that distract me from the hysteria in my everyday life.

When I first started seeing previews for “The Incredible Hulk”, I wasn’t sure what to think. I, of course, wanted to see it. I was just unsure of what to expect: action, comedy, romance. I was so unsure, in fact, that I wandered around the mall of the movie theater for a half hour before even buying a ticket. Sure enough, my curiosity won over the doubt in my mind.

Sitting in the movie theater watching the previews, I was slowly becoming excited. I did see the previous Hulk incarnation as interpreted by Ang Lee starring Eric Bana & Jennifer Connelly and to say the least, I was unimpressed.

This version starred Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, William Hurt & Tim Roth all directed by Louis Leterrier of the Transporter franchise. This is a top notch cast but in all honesty, even movies with an A list team could go wrong. I am a huge fan of Edward Norton, but I didn’t see him playing the Hulk. I was not expecting too much. Was I wrong? Yes.

Edward Norton is pitch perfect as Dr. Bruce Banner, the scientist who becomes infected with what we know as the Hulk virus – turning him into a monster (for lack of a better word) when he becomes angry. Although I was not sure he could play the Hulk, he doesn’t have to. The way he portrays Banner, the Hulk is an entirely different character even though it is theoretically the same person. He was so good in fact that I hope he continues as Banner throughout the 2 planned sequels. (Norton is not contracted to continue in the title role.) For those of you living under a rock in the movie world, Norton & Marvel Comics (whom produced the film) were tied up in a dispute over the final cut of the film. When the dispute became public, Norton declined to do any publicity for the film.

Tyler, portraying Dr. Betty Ross, is at first hard to believe as a scientist, but she wins you over as Norton’s love interest. Her romance with Banner gives the film a much needed heart. Since Lord of the Rings, Tyler has opted to be a stay at home mom rather than acting in films. This is a welcome return. Hurt, as General Thunderbolt & Betty’s father, is an adequate villain who wants to use Banner’s Hulk persona as a military weapon. Although the real villain of the film belongs to Blonsky/The Abomination whom is portrayed by Roth with detestable vigor. Roth’s Lieutenant Blonsky catches one glimpse of the Hulk and decides he wants that power for himself. Once he becomes infected with Banner’s blood, his alter ego is quickly nicknamed The Abomination. The final action sequence is of a Hulk/Abomination fight in the streets of Harlem.

This movie does have a little something for everyone: a few comic one liners, romance, but it is mostly an action movie. It moves very fast – it is under 2 hours which is a welcome surprise considering most movies these days are pushing 2 and a half hours. It could have used a bit more character development, which is apparently what Norton was fighting for. If Marvel had listened, they could have had an even more enjoyable film. It will have more of an audience than the previous film. All in all, I recommend this movie for its comic book spirit and the fact that I did not look at my watch once throughout the entire film and that is saying a lot.

June 15, 2008. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Sex & the City/NYC – You Gotta Love It!

Since I lived in NYC for a number of years before relocating to a college town, I have both an appreciation and a resentment for Sex & the City. Yes, everyone has heard of this show by now. In 1998, it rocketed Sarah Jessica Parker to fashion stardom after she spent decades dabbling in bit film roles and theater.

I first viewed the premiere episode during my film days working at a production company. We had received a preview of the series before it even aired. And while it was entertaining, I don’t think anyone thought it would become such a phenomena. Let’s face it: it’s not exactly realistic. Four career women whom are gorgeous, living in huge apartments, drinking cosmos every night, and buying manolos like they would buy bubble gum.

Carrie Bradshaw lives in a huge, rent controlled apartment in the Upper East Side. I believe her rent is $750 – never happens. Since she is a freelance writer, it is doubtful she could afford a $750 rent along with the chanel, dolce & prada clothes she wears everyday. To be fair, I count only one vacation – to LA. She didn’t go to Europe until she had a rich boyfriend to pay for it.

Still, I had high hopes for the movie. Did it deliver? Yes and no. I still love all of the characters, but they seemed to all be fighting for screen time. At 2 hours and 20 minutes, it’s difficult to give everyone a decent amount of time for a storyline. The majority of the time was spent on Carrie and her long suffering relationship with Big.

Jennifer Hudson portrayed Carrie’s assistant. Despite all of the hoopla surrounding her getting the part, she is barely in 20 minutes of the movie. All of the men in the womens’ lives are given even less screen time. I longed for more screen time with Charlotte & Harry, whom I feel owned the TV series’ happiest ending.

All that said, I still loved this movie. There are plenty of laughs when the girls spend time together and plenty of envy during all of the fashion show like sequences. I’m sure I’ll see it again before it leaves theaters.

Bottom line: if you loved this show, I dare you not to like, if not love, this movie just a little.

June 9, 2008. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

One Lonely Night Out?

I moved to Northampton in April 2006. I didn’t know a soul, but that didn’t really bother me. That is, it didn’t bother me until 2 months after I moved when I found out that one of my favorite singer/songwriters was performing at a music venue downtown. Grant Lee Phillips, formerly of the late great nineties band Grant Lee Buffalo, had become a favorite of mine since Grant Lee Buffalo produced the tracks “Lone Star Song,” “Homespun,” “Bethlehem Steele,” and countless others. When I learned he would be at the Iron Horse, I knew it was fate – I was supposed to be at that show. I had seen him twice before: once with his band Grant Lee Buffalo and the other just him. Both shows were in NYC and with my friend, Tia (we shared a love of his music).

Unfortunately, the only 2 people I really knew were my 2 co-workers, and they both had plans the evening of the show. And yes, I am one of those people who does not like to go to concerts alone. Don’t get me wrong – I like going to movies alone as much as the next person. Doesn’t bother me at all, but for some reason, concerts by myself were always a deal breaker. Until now. A Grant Lee Phillips show was worth the looks of pity from fellow concert goers.

The night of the show arrived, and I was ready. I had spent most of the day listening to a couple of his solo albums, so all of his songs were fresh in my mind. The Iron Horse is an intimate place. It encompasses a small stage, a bar in the back, and tables in the middle. Patrons may order food and drinks. Depending upon time of arrival, the host will usually sit people with other people if space fills up. I was seated with 3 women and they quickly included me in their conversation. Funny enough, one of the women had relocated to Northampton from NYC years before. Small world.

Phillips approached the stage and immediately started playing. He had a great repartee with the audience. He mentioned he had never been to Northampton but compared it to the fictional town of Stars Hollow from “Gilmore Girls.” (Gilmore viewers may remember Phillips as the town troubadour of Stars Hollow in episodes throughout the years.) I have to say, I was quite agreeable to his comparison. He mostly played songs from his most recent album at the time – Nineteeneighties, a collection of covers from the new wave bands of the eighties. Among them, Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way” and The Church’s “Under the Milky Way.” Phillips’ rendition of The Smiths’ “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me” is heartbreaking. If you listen to this one album, you will become a lifelong fan. Phillips played for an hour and a half before leaving the stage and quickly returned for an encore that lasted 30 minutes. When he left the stage for the final time, the crowd roared with applause.

When I look back on that night, it was not what I would call a lonely night. I just remember a nice conversation with some friendly Noho locals and a great performance by one of my all time favorite singers. Although I am still fearful of going to shows alone, I will always conquer that fear for a show as great as the one Phillips gave that evening. I went to another show alone recently, but I will save that story for another time.

June 6, 2008. Uncategorized. 4 comments.

A Brave Night Out

Last Sunday evening, I ventured out into town after a long weekend away. Rilo Kiley was performing at the Calvin (one of the local music venues of Northampton), and I had bought tickets with a friend months ago. Even though I only knew one of their albums, it was enough for me to determine they would be great in concert. Despite a few mishaps, they were great in concert.

The show started at 8. With two openers, that pushed back their stage time to 10. I know Rilo Kiley is an up and coming band, but do they really need two opening acts? I mean, come on, aren’t 2 opening acts reserved for huge bands like Coldplay and Radiohead? The first was a folk like musician, who was actually really good. Unfortunately, I do not remember his name since it was not on the ticket and I missed his intro. After a few songs, my friend and I decided to head downstairs to the bar where we spent the next hour and a half talking about how many teenagers it seemed were at the show. My friend then dared me to approach the guy sitting behind us at a table alone. He was the good looking opening act from earlier. I, of course, couldn’t get up the nerve to do it and a few minutes later he was joined by the drummer of Rilo Kiley. At that point, we realized they would not start their set for a long while.

A little after 10, we made our way back to our seats and Rilo Kiley finally graced the stage. They played all of their hits, of course, and sounded even better than on their albums. How often does that happen? It’s such a pleasure to learn that not all musicians are made to sound good by auto tuning in the studio. I will say that the guitarist, who is rumored to be dating Winona Ryder, is a bit strange. He kept making odd comments about shrooms, but then declaring he did not do them. The lead singer, Jenny Lewis (former child actress) dated the guitarist. They split up years ago but seem to have a good relationship on stage.

My two biggest disappointments: they didn’t play my favorite song – Love and War and they only played for an hour. In my book, that is a short set for the main act – especially considering it was a three hour show. If those are the two worst things about a show, I’d say it’s not all bad. I would definitely pay to see them again.

June 6, 2008. Uncategorized. 3 comments.

Hello world!

I’ve decided to start a blog devoted to music, film and all things loved by me!  This list will come to include books, fashion, NYC (where I used to live), Northampton (where I currently live), anything entertainment related, or in general anything I feel like blabbing about at any given moment.  Read, enjoy, and please leave your comments!

June 5, 2008. Uncategorized. 2 comments.