“BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO: Buffy and Riley”

Below is an article I have written about the breakup of Buffy Summers and Riley Finn in the Season Five episode of “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” called, (5.10) “Into the Woods”

“BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO: BUFFY AND RILEY”

I have read many opinions regarding the breakup of vampire slayer Buffy Summers and her Season Four/Season Five boyfriend, Riley Finn on many discussion forums, blogs and message boards about ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”. The prevailing viewpoint seemed to be that Riley had ruined the relationship with his behavior and attitude in Season Five. I might be one of the few fans of the show who might harbor another opinion. Then again, I might not. Let me explain.

At the end of Season Three, Buffy’s vampire paramour – Angel – had decided it would be safer for her if he left Sunnydale and her for good. Following Buffy’s graduation from high school, she enrolled in the University of California at Sunnydale. And not long after starting school, she met Riley Finn inside a student bookstore for the first time. As it turned out, Riley was not only a Teacher’s Assistant for one of the university’s instructors (Maggie Walsh), he was also an Army officer and demon hunter for a government-sponsored organization called ’The Initiative’. And unbeknownst to both Buffy and Riley, his mentor Dr. Walsh had been feeding him drugs to enhance his physical prowess. Not only did the couple spend most of Season Four coming to terms with Riley’s participation in the Initiative, but also dealing with Maggie Walsh’s other experiment – namely a human/demon cyborg hybrid named Adam. But after their adventures with the Initiative, Adam and other demons; Riley resigned from the Army and became part of the Scoobies.

But all was not as well as it seemed by the beginning of Season Five for Buffy and Riley. Buffy began sneaking away from Riley at nights to engage in her usual Slayer activities. She suddenly found herself the older sister of a fourteen year-old adolescent girl named Dawn, who was in reality a mystical object known as the Key transformed into human for by a group of monks and sent to Buffy from protection from a hell god named Glory. The drugs that Maggie Walsh had fed into Riley began having a deteriorating effect upon his health. Riley had the drugs removed from him via an operation by a former Initiative doctor and became slightly weaker. Buffy discovered that her mother, Joyce Summers, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Worst of all, Riley began harboring suspicions that the blond vampire slayer did not really love him. It finally ended for Buffy and Riley in (5.10) “Into the Woods”when two things happened: 1) Riley was approached by his old friend, Graham Miller, to consider rejoining the Army and a new version of the Initiative; and 2) Buffy learned via chipped vampire Spike that Riley was seeing vampire whores who suck his blood for money. After a bitter fight between the two, Riley left Buffy and Sunnydale for good.

Ever since ”Into the Woods”, many ”BUFFY” fans have placed either most or all of the blame of the couple’s breakup upon Riley’s shoulders. First of all, many have accused his character of over-the-top machismo. They claimed that Riley could not handle being physically weaker than Buffy after his operation in (5.04) ”Out of My Mind”. They used his actions with the vampire whores as example that Riley tried to be “monstrous” enough to be a worthy mate for Buffy . . . and fell short.

I must admit that I found the above claims about Riley very hard to accept. Granted, he possessed a black-and-white view of the world before meeting Buffy. And this conservative viewpoint led him to join the Army, allow Maggie Walsh to recruit him into the Initiative and help the latter capture Oz in (4.19) “New Moon Rising”, despite Buffy’s protests. But Riley made bigger mistakes. After resigning his Army commission, Riley should have taken the time to make a life for himself outside of Buffy. He could have continued his studies at UC Sunnydale or try to become a teacher. Perhaps one of the reasons he failed to pursue another profession was that the only life he really wanted was in the military. I see nothing wrong with that. As long as Riley went through life with his eyes opened and without the naivety that Maggie Walsh had exploited in the past . . . he could be on the right track.

But Riley tried to make his life all about Buffy (just as Spike would attempt to do so between late Season Five and Season Seven) and it was another mistake on his part. Even worse, he failed to inform Buffy of his true feelings about everything – his lack of a direction in his life, the vampire whores and Buffy’s growing emotional distance – until it was too late. Quite simply, Riley made three major mistakes. He failed to make a new life for himself outside of Buffy, he cavorted with vampire whores in order to explore his inner darkness and most importantly, he failed to communicate with Buffy.

On the other hand, Buffy also contributed to her breakup with Riley. I suspect that she had been using Riley as rebound from Day One of their relationship. She was not only rebounding from Angel’s departure, but also from the idea of a relationship with a supernatural being. To her, Riley was her ”Joe Normal”. And this was a mistake. There is a chance that some part of Buffy had deep feelings for him, but I doubt that it was enough for a long term relationship.

But the one thing that really annoyed me was Buffy’s habit of treating Riley like fine china, following the operation to remove his physical enhancements in “Out of My Mind”. So what if he had lost some of his strength? He was still a competent demon hunter. He certainly proved that in (5.07) “Fool For Love”. Instead, Buffy treated him like a damsel-in-distress by insisting that the Scoobies help him hunt down the vampire that attacked her. In other words, she became ridiculously macho when it came to Riley. She failed to remember that Riley was an experienced demon hunter, who could help her deal with vampires, demons, etc. a little more effectively than the other Scoobies. It almost seemed as if Buffy was treating Riley with a patriarchal air. And that was a major mistake for her to make with a strong-willed personality like Riley. Another major mistake that Buffy made was like Riley, she failed to communicate with her. Many fans pointed out that Buffy was too busy dealing with Joyce’s illness and the appearance of a new sister to deal with Riley’s demons. But if Buffy could confide with Spike about Joyce’s illness in (5.08) “Shadow”, why did she wait so long to do the same with Riley? Why did she confide in Spike first?

I suspect that in the end, the real problem with Buffy and Riley was that emotionally, they were too similar to each other. Each, in their own way, possessed a . . . reserved, yet occasionally aggressive personality that made them too similar. And instead of creating a balance between two people, it created conflict in the end. Neither of them were really honest with each other. Both had a problem with communicating with each other. Is it any wonder that the relationship failed in the end?

“Buffy’s Relationship With the Scoobies”

I have something of a problem with Buffy Summers’ relationship with her close friends, also known as the Scoobies:

“BUFFY’S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE SCOOBIES”

I just finished watching the “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” Season Three episode, (3.07) “Revelations”. I find myself recalling the scene in which the Scoobies revealed to Buffy that they knew that Angel, the souled vampire whom she was forced to kill in the Season Two finale, (2.22) “Becoming (Part 2)”, was still alive and she had been keeping his presence a secret from them. Apparently, one of the Scoobies, Xander Harris, had decided to spy on Buffy, due to her secretive behavior and found her kissing Angel.

Now, I realize that they had a right to be angry that she failed to tell them about Angel being alive. The latter had spent the second half of Season Two as their main antagonist, due to his losing his soul. Because of this, he had caused a great deal of problems for them. He had also summoned the demon Acathla in order to bring about the end of the world. Buffy was finally able to defeat him in “Becoming (Part Two)” . . . but not before fellow Scooby Willow Rosenberg had restored his cursed soul.

But . . . God, this scene when the Scoobies had confronted Buffy in “Revelations” had pissed me off! If there is one thing about Buffy’s relationship with her Watcher Rupert Giles and the Scoobies that has burned me is that she has allowed them to dictate her behavior and moral compass, due to her own fear of losing their friendship. Has Buffy ever put such pressure on Xander, Willow or Giles? I wonder. For years, they put her on this pedestal called “THE SLAYER” and rarely allow Buffy to be herself or have her own life.

Xander was the worst offender of them all. I do not know how this character came to be so beloved by the series’ fans. Granted, Xander could be entertaining. But of all the characters, he was probably the most self-righteous of the bunch. And he has allowed his self-righteousness, along with his jealousy toward Buffy’s relationships with both Angel and Spike to compromise his morals without any remorse. Good examples would be his lie to Willow about Buffy’s wishes regarding Angel in “Becoming (Part 2)” and his attempt to murder a chipped Spike in (6.18) “Entropy” for having sex with the fiancee he had dumped at the altar. Even in “Revelations”, he was behaving in the most self-righteous manner about Buffy’s lie regarding Angel . . . yet, at the same time, was kissing Willow behind his girlfriend at the time Cordelia Chase’s back. Some would say that at least his infidelity with Willow was not a threat to anyone. But his and Willow’s actions ended up hurting Cordelia in more ways than one.

The Scoobies’ attitude toward Buffy reached its pinnacle in Season Six. In (6.01)”Bargaining (Part 1)”, Willow, with the assistance of Xander, his second girlfriend Anya Jenkins and her girlfriend Tara Maculay’s assistance, brought Buffy back from the dead . . . without her consent or anything. An act that led to a year long depression for for the Slayer. And they did this, because they needed “THE SLAYER”. They believed that Sunnydale needed a Slayer. Despite the fact that Sunnydale had managed to exist without a Slayer for nearly a century before Buffy’s arrival.

Is it any wonder why Buffy began to emotionally distance herself from her friends” in Season Seven?

“DIVERGENT” (2014) Review

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“DIVERGENT” (2014) Review

Ever since the success of the “HARRY POTTER” movie franchise, movies based upon teen fantasy and science-fiction novels have been hitting the movie theaters in the past decade or so. The latest teen Fantasy/Sci-Fi to be released is a dystopian post-apocalyptic tale set in futuristic Chicago.

Based upon the first of Veronica Roth’s literary trilogy, “DIVERGENT” tells the story of a 16 year-old girl named Beatrice “Tris” Prior lives in a society in post-apocalyptic Chicago that is divided into five factions based upon human virtues and personalities. They are Amity (peaceful), Candor (truthful), Erudite (intelligent) and Dauntless (brave) and Abnegation (selfless). Tris has grown up in Abnegation, though she has always been fascinated by Dauntless. Her father, Andrew serves on the ruling council along with the head of Abnegation, Marcus Eaton and the head of Erudite, and Jeannie Matthews, head of Erudite. Along with other 16 year-olds, Tris undergoes a serum-based aptitude test that indicates the faction into which they would best fit and informs their choice at the Choosing Ceremony. When Tris takes the test, her proctor, a Dauntless woman Tori, reveals that she has the attributes of all five factions meaning she is Divergent. Tori records Tris’ result as Abnegation, and warns her to keep the true result secret, since Divergents can think independently and the government considers the latter threats to the social order. In the end, Tris chooses Dauntless at the Choosing Ceremony, and her brother Caleb chooses Erudite, taking their parents by surprise.

Tris leaves her home and meets other initiates, including – her new best friend Christina, her other friends Will and Al, and an enemy named Peter Hayes. After they past a series of initial tests, they engage in a long training session conducted by Tobias “Four” Eaton and the brutal Eric in order to become members of the Dauntless faction, which seemed to serve as some kind of law enforcement organization. Although both Tris and Christina struggle at first, they eventually manage to rise in their class standing. During her training, Tris falls in love with one of her trainers – “Four”. More importantly, both of them stumbles upon a plot by Jeannie Matthews, Erudite and Dauntless for Matthews to become “the” leader of Chicago, which includes ridding the community of those considered to be Divergent.

Hmmm . . . what can I say about “DIVERGENT”? I thought it was a decent movie. Its theme seemed to challenge the idea of society being divided by superficial reasons – in this case, human traits. The movie also benefited from Neil Burger’s direction, who kept the movie’s pace energetic, despite its narrative. More importantly, Burger did a great job in creating some first-rate action and dream sequences. I was especially impressed by the last action sequence that featured Tris and Four’s efforts to prevent Jeannie Matthews from forcing Dauntless members to execute those who are Divergent. More importantly, the dream sequences that reflected her fear simulations took my breath away. And I feel that Alwin H. Küchler’s cinematography and Richard Francis-Bruce’s editing really contributed to those scenes.

“DIVERGENT” also benefited from some excellent and solid acting from its cast. Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd were excellent as Tris’ parents – Andrew and Natalie Prior. Unfortunately, they were not in the film long enough to have any real impact upon most of the film, except in the last 20 minutes or so. The movie also featured solid performances from Ray Stevenson, who portrayed Four’s father Marcus Eaton; Maggie Q as Tori; Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Christian Madsen as Tris’ friends Will and Al; Ansel Elgort as Tris’ brother Caleb; and Mekhi Phifer. Kate Winslet, Zoë Kravitz and Jai Courtney all gave good performances as Erudite leader Jeannie Matthews, Christina and Eric. But I got the feeling that their performances were hampered by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor’s screenplay. Winslet’s subtle performance was undermined by her character’s ham-fisted goals for Chicago – a society in which emotions are eventually eradicated. The screenplay did not give Kravitz much opportunity to display her acting skills (unlike her appearance in 2011’s “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS”), except in a scene in which she found herself dangling over a ledge, thanks to Eric. The screenplay only allowed Courtney, who portrayed Eric, to sneer a lot, nearly reducing him to a one-note villain.

In my opinion, the movie featured three first-rate performances. One came from Miles Teller, who portrayed Tris’ antagonist, Peter Hayes. Unlike Courtney or even Winslet, Teller was given the opportunity to portray a more well-rounded character. And he certainly made the best of it. I also enjoyed Theo James’ performance as Tris’ trainer and love interest, Tobias “Four” Eaton. Granted, his character struck me as a typical leading man in a production that featured a female as the lead character. Think Angel from“BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” or Edward Cullen from the “TWILIGHT”movies. But I also liked how James balanced Four’s growing feelings for Tris and his dread of his abusive father. The star of the movie is, of course, Shailene Woodley. In fact, I believe she gave the best performance as the complex, yet youthful Tris Prior. I am not surprised that she managed to carry this movie on her shoulders with ease. I had seen her in the 2011 film, “THE DESCENDANTS” and knew she had the talent and presence to do the job. Some have been calling her as “the next Jennifer Lawrence”. I disagree. Woodley is not the next anyone. She is her own self. And I would love to see her and Lawrence in a film together, considering how talented both are.

And yet . . . I do not love “DIVERGENT”. I believe it is hampered by too many flaws to make it a personal favorite of mine. One . . . I found the movie’s setting a little . . . questionable. A society that is divided by human virtues? Huh? It is possible that author Veronica Roth had used this division to expose how human beings judge others, based upon superficial reasons. But humans have judged each other for reasons more shallow than personality traits – class, race, gender, religion, nationality, region, etc. I wish that Roth had considered another means to divide her society, especially since selflessness happened to be one trait. And I do not believe that selflessness exists or that human beings are capable of it. And what the hell is up with the younger members of the Dauntless faction running, jumping and leaping all over the damn city? One of the movie’s characters – Christina – viewed these actions as crazy. Perhaps. But it struck me as a stupid and immature way to prove one’s courage. And why would the more adult members of Dauntless allow this? Why would Roth? As much as the screen chemistry of Woodley and James impressed me, I was somewhat taken aback by their on-screen romance. In the novel, Four was an 18 year-old. I read somewhere that his character aged by six years in order for the role to fit James. If so, I think it was a mistake. By allowing Four to be older, his sexual tryst with Tris transformed into an act of statutory rape. It smacked of the Buffy/Angel romance from “BUFFY” and I have always loathed it. Unless sex between an adolescent and a young adult is considered legal in Roth’s literary world. And I was less than impressed by the movie’s narrative structure. At least three-fourths of “DIVERGENT” focused on Tris’ training with the Dauntless faction. By the time the conflict against Jeannie Matthews’ efforts to take over Chicago manifested, the movie had at least 20 to 30 minutes left of running time. And the whole conflict struck me as pretty rushed.

What really bothered me about “DIVERGENT” was its lack of originality. Many have compared it to “THE HUNGER GAMES” saga, created by Suzanne Collins, due to both stories featuring an adolescent girl in a dystopian post-apocalyptic society. But“DIVERGENT” seemed to borrow from other literary/movie/television franchises. Mind you, there is no law that a story like this have to be completely original. One would be surprised at how many novelists and moviemakers borrow from other source materials. But . . . Roth’s efforts to put her own twist seemed to fall short. And the movie’s screenwriters seemed incapable of improving her flaws. It is bad enough that the movie setting and leading character strongly reminded me of “THE HUNGER GAMES”. We have the psuedo-Buffy/Angel romance between Tris and Four. The Choosing Ceremony for Chicago’s adolescents strongly reminded me of the Hogwarts School Sorting Hat (which should have been burned) from the “HARRY POTTER” series. And Jeannie Matthews’ goal of suppressing human emotions makes me wonder if the character was a fan of “STAR TREK” and a Vulcan wannabe.

“DIVERGENT” is not a bad movie. It featured energetic direction from Neil Burger, some decent performances, and especially an outstanding one from lead actress, Shailene Woodley. But it failed to impress me, due to some unoriginal and flawed writing, along with a great lack of originality. Like I said – “DIVERGENT” is not a bad movie. But I find it hard to regard it as a very good movie, let alone a great one.

“Trapped By a Title”

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“TRAPPED BY A TITLE”

I feel sorry for Emma Swan. I may not like her very much at the moment. But I do feel sorry for her. More importantly, she has become, since Season Two, one of the most frustrating characters on “ONCE UPON A TIME”. Which is probably why I have just written my third or fourth article about her.

From the moment her son Henry Mills found her in the series’ premiere episode, (1.01) “Pilot” and revealed that she was destined to break a curse cast by his adopted mother, Regina Mills that currently trapped the citizens of Storybrooke; she has been stuck with the role of “Savior”. Yes, I said “stuck”. Because there is no other way to describe her situation, pre-“Dark One” curse. And she will continue to be stuck in the role, once she breaks free of the curse. Henry was the first to forced the role of “Savior”. After Emma broke that first curse, her parents – Snow White and David Prince Chraming – and other citizens of Storybrooke enforced that role upon her as well. But I think this was a mistake on Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz’s part. They should have dropped the “Savior” title, after Season One. Instead, they have allowed other characters, including the reformed Regina, to insist that she is the “Savior”.

For me, this is so wrong on so many levels. Perhaps Kitsis and Horowitz are trying to re-create another Buffy Summers. Who knows? But this insistence that she has to be this savior who is supposed to be solely responsible for the lives of others and guarantee their happy endings is ridiculous. And it does not serve Emma’s emotional growth as many believe it will. Instead, it has become something of a character straight jacket. As long as Emma continues to allow the others to dictate what she has to do for the rest of her life, she will never grow as an individual or as a character. Being “the Savior”should not have been her job description in the first place. This is something that was enforced upon her by Rumpelstiltskin’s manipulation, because he wanted a way to the “Land Without Magic” in order to find his missing son, Baelfire. And the Storybrooke citizens have inflicted this role upon her, due to their inability to see her as someone other than a glorified magical vigilante. There is no real law that she has to spend the rest of her life giving people “happy endings”. I see no reason why she always has to be the one who has to defeat some magical Big Bad. Past seasons have allowed others like Regina, Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White, Henry and Anna of Arendelle (via emotional persuasion) to defeat or help defeat the Big Bad. So why is everyone still insisting that Emma has to be “the One”?

However, I fear that once Emma is freed from the “Dark One” curse, she will continue to allow everyone to squeeze her into some straight jacket labeled “Savior”. Because of this belief that she always has to save someone, Emma ended up making one of the biggest mistakes in her life in the Season Three finale, (3.22) “There’s No Place Like Home” when she tried to change the timeline and save Maid Marian’s life. She thought that because she was “the Savior”, she had the right to commit the dangerous act of changing the timeline in order to save someone who had died in the past. Yet, she also believed that Rumpelstiltskin did not have the right to change the timeline in order to prevent Neal’s death. Not only were Emma’s actions hypocritical, they also led to Zelena’s resurgence in their lives (Rumpelstiltskin helped with his so-called act of murder). In the Season Four finale, (4.23) “Operation Mongoose, Part 2” she called herself saving Regina’s moral compass – something which the latter never asked in the first place – from an entity that eventually led her to become the new “Dark One”.

Four years have passed since Emma first found herself stuck with the role of “Savior”. This role has proven to be something of an emotional strain for other fictional “saviors” and “chosen ones” such as Buffy Summer, Jack Shepherd, and Harry Potter. I find it odd that other than late Season One when Henry and August Booth aka Pinocchio kept insisting that she has to break that first curse, Emma has never really dealt with any emotional strain over being a “chosen one”. And the only reason she found it a strain was due to her inability to believe Henry and August about the curse. I find this both odd and unrealistic. The longer other “chosen one” or “savior” characters were forced to accept this role, the harder it became for them to deal with it. Instead, Emma dealt with the problems of her relationship with her parents and Neal, the growing strength of her powers, Henry’s amnesia in late Season Three, Regina’s anger in early Season Four over her time travel escapades, and her parents’ lies regarding Maleficent and the latter’s child, former childhood friend Lily Page. But not since Season One can I recall Emma dealing with the pressures of being the “Savior”.

It occurred to me that sooner or later, Emma needs to break free of that role/straight jacket in order to dictate her own life. I am not stating that she needs to stop saving others or stop being a town sheriff (despite being lousy at the job). But she does not have to make being the “Savior” a life long job description. If Emma continues down this path, she just might make another mistake on the same level as the one she made in “There’s No Place Like Home” or make a decision similar to the one that led her to become the “Dark One” . . . or something even worse. And she will never have the freedom to be herself.

The Meaning of Colors

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THE MEANING OF COLORS

Several years ago, I came across an old website about Wiccan practices and meanings. I was surprised to discover that even before the advent of Wicca in the early 20th century, Pagan worshipers associated colors with certain meanings. And those meanings turned out to be quite different than many people would today assume.

Unlike today’s societies – especially in the Western world – white or light did not automatically mean something good, pure or noble. In fact, even the white wedding dress has nothing to do with the lack of sexual experience or innocence of the bride. The white wedding dress started out as a fashion trend . . . and remains one to this day. This fashion trend was created by Britain’s Queen Victoria when she married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg in 1840. The young queen wanted to show that she was just a “simple” woman getting married, so she wore a white dress. She also wanted to incorporate some lace into her dress. Queen Mary of Scots wore a white wedding gown when she married Francis, Dauphin of France. Why? Because white was her favorite color. Before Victoria, women usually wore their best outfit for their wedding.

But there are the exceptions in which white is used as a negative form of symbolism in Western culture. One of the major villains in C.S. Lewis’ “THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA” literary series is Jadis, the White Witch of Narnia. There is nothing dark about this character’s physical appearance and wardrobe. She is all white. Another example of a villainous character who wore a white costume is Thomas Arashikage aka Storm Shadow from the “G.I. JOE” movie franchise. Ironically, Storm Shadow is a Japanese character portrayed by South Korean actor Lee Byung-hun. And white is usually associated with negative traits and death in Asian cultures.

Albinism is also associated with the color white and negative traits in various forms of popular culture . Albino characters can be found in movies like “COLD MOUNTAIN”, “THE DA VINCI CODE”, “THE MATRIX RELOADED”; and in novels like “The Invisible Man” and “Blood Meridian”. And all of these characters are either portrayed villains or those with negative traits. However, these are rare forms of white used as negative symbols and stereotypes.

So, what was the color white associated with . . . at least in Pagan circles? Simple. The color was associated with psychic pursuits, psychology, dreams, astral projection, imagination and reincarnation. Apparently moral goodness or purity has nothing to do with the color white. At least in old Pagan terms. Which leads me to this question . . . why do today’s Western societies insist that white has anything to do with moral compass of any form.

Finally, we come to the color black. As many people should know, modern Western societies tend to associate black or anything dark as something evil or negative. There are probably other societies that do the same. Fictional characters associated with evil in many science-fiction/fantasy stories are usually associated with black. Sorcery that has a negative effect upon someone is either called “black magic” or “the Dark Arts” (at least with the “HARRY POTTER” and Buffyverse franchises. And in the “POTTER” series, wizards and witches who have given in to evil are labeled as “dark”. The “STAR WARS” franchise usually refer to evil as “the Dark Side of the Force”.

In the “ONCE UPON A TIME” television series, the Rumpelstiltskin character was also called “the Dark One”. Why? As it turned out, some entity called “the Darkness” had entered his body after he had stabbed the former holder of “the Dark One” title. Apparently, show runners Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz could not find a name for the entity and called it “The Darkness” – automatically associating its black coloring with evil. Now it seems that the series’ main character, Emma Swan, has been given the name, due to the entity entering her body. The ironic thing is that Emma’s physical appearance – her skin, her eyes and hair – have become pale or white. Yet, she dresses in black and is called “the Dark One” or “the Dark Swan”. I am still shaking my head over this contrast. As for magic, sorcery, or even psychic abilities in many of these movies and television shows, it is clear that their creators/show runners associate dark or black with evil and light or white with goodness. The only fictional character I can recall that go against this grain is Snake Eyes from the “G.I. JOE” movie franchise. Not only is he villain Storm Shadow’s main adversary and one of the main heroes of the G.I. Joe team, he also wears a black costume.

Ironically, long time Pagans associated the color black with the following – binding, protection, neutralization, karma, death manifestation and will power. Someone might say – “A ha! Death manifestation! This is a term can be regarded as something negative or evil.” But can it? Why is death constantly regarded as something negative? Because people are incapable of truly facing the idea of death. It is a natural part of our life span and yet, many people cannot accept it. And because of this negative attitude toward death, society associates death with . . . you guess it . . . the color black. Apparently the Pagans believed differently and did not associate black with anything evil or negative. I was surprised to discover that Chinese culture regard black as a symbol of water, one of the five fundamental elements believed to compose all things. The Chinese also associated black with winter, cold, and the direction North, usually symbolized by a black tortoise. Black is also associated with disorder – including the positive disorder which leads to change and new life.

I have one last statement to make. I have noticed a growing trend on Internet message boards and forums for television shows and movies that deal with science-fiction and fantasy. This trend features a tendency by many of these fans to automatically associate white/light with goodness and black/dark with evil. The fans on these message boards no longer use the words “good” and “evil” anymore. Honestly. I am deadly serious. These fans either use the words light (lightness) or white; or . . . dark (darkness) or black. Why? And why do the creators of these television shows and movie franchises resort to the same behavior? I have to wonder. By associating anything black or dark with evil, are they associating anything or anyone with dark or black skin with evil? I suspect that many would say “of course not”. Considering the notorious reputation of science-fiction/fantasy fans (or geeks) of being racist, I have to wonder.

 

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Top Ten Favorite “ANGEL” (1999-2004) Episodes

Below is a list of my ten favorite episodes of “ANGEL” (1999-2004), which starred David Boreanaz:

TOP TEN FAVORITE “ANGEL” (1999-2004) EPISODES

1. (1.19) “Sanctuary” – The second of a two-part episode about a burnt out Faith’s appearance in Los Angeles. Following her breakdown, Angel discovers that the Watchers Council and Buffy are after her.

2. (2.07) “Darla” – Angel tries to find a way to save a human Darla from the clutches of Wolfram and Hart, while she remembers her past as a vampire.

3. (5.11) “Damage” – Angel and Spike hunt down a psychotic Slayer who has escaped from an institution and believes that Spike is the man who drove her insane.

4. (2.02) “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been” – In this send-up on the post-World War II Communist witch hunts, Angel recalls a traumatic experience during the 1950s at the Hyperion Hotel.

5. (1.18) “Five by Five” – The first half of Faith’s appearance in Los Angeles has the rogue Slayer being recruited by Wolfram and Hart to assassinate Angel.

6. (3.09) “Lullaby” – Holtz, a demon hunter from the past, hunts down Angel, while Darla endures a difficult labor.

7. (4.10) “Awakening” – In an attempt to bring down The Beast and restore the sun, Wesley brings in a dark mystic to extract Angel’s soul.

8. (5.08) “Destiny” – Spike is recorporealized, and the two souled vampires battle it out to drink from the “Cup of Perpetual Torment” to settle the renewed conflict of the Shanshu Prophecy.

9. (4.16) “Players” – Gwen Raiden enlists Charles Gunn’s help to steal a device to control her electrical abilities while Lorne attempts a ritual to restore his empathic powers.

10. (4.04) “Slouching Toward Bethlehem” – Cordelia Chase inexplicably returns from her higher dimension, but she has no memory of who she is and who her friends are; and Lilah Morgan develops an interest in her reappearance, as well.

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season Two – At Mid Point

 
“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” SEASON TWO – AT MID-POINT

Ever since the second season of Marvel’s “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, many television viewers and critics have waxed lyrical over their belief over the series’ improvement from Season One. And yet … the ratings for the show seemed to reflect differently from this view. Regardless of the opinions of others or the ratings, I have my own views about the show’s Season Two.

I am going to be blunt. I do not like Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. In fact, it has turned out to be a major disappointment for me. Last season, many fans and critics complained about the show’s pacing and slow revelation of the season’s main story arc. For them, Mutant Enemy’s handling of Season Two’s story arc has improved a great deal. I disagree. I had no problems with the development of Season One’s story arc. For me, it was no different from the formats for previous Sci-Fi/Fantasy serial television shows like “BABYLON 5”, along with Mutant Enemy’s “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” and “ANGEL”. All three shows began their story arcs for each season slowly and eventually build up the story arc to a mind boggling conclusion.“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” did the same. Many fans, critics and even Marvel claimed that Season One’s slow build up and occasional breaks had more to do with allowing the season’s story arc to build up to the plot for “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER”. I say bullshit to that.

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, like many other television shows with twenty-two (22) episodes per season, usually took occasional breaks in order to stretch out 22 episodes within a time period of seven to eight months. This is nothing new. These breaks have been going on for many television shows for a long time. In their impatience and occasional stupidity, many forgot that. Many also seemed to have forgotten that “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” was a serial drama about government agents that work for an intelligence organization … not about superheroes and superheroines. For some reason, many fans ignored the show’s title and honestly expected the constant appearances of costumed Marvel superheroes and superheroines. Why? I have no idea. But Disney (who owns the ABC Network), Marvel and Mutant Enemy decided to heed the complaints for the sake of ratings and change the series’ style.

What did they do? Well, they introduced new characters – especially new agents – in the wake of the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D. from the spring of 2014. How did Mutant Enemy introduce these new characters? Actually, they did not. Instead, new characters such as Alphonse “Mack” McKenzie, Lance Hunter and Isabelle Hartley had already been recruited as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents when the first episode, (2.01) “Shadows”. The episode also quickly introduced a new villain, a HYDRA official known as Daniel Whitehall, with a flashback to the past. The new characters, along with familiar characters such as Phil Coulson, Melinda May, Skye and Antoine Triplett, were quickly thrust into a new mission, which quickly morphed into part of the season’s new story arc – the recovery of an alien object known as the Obelisk. Everything about this episode seemed to hint “speed”. Missing from “Shadows” was Agent In fact,“speed” seemed to be the essence of the plotting and pacing for the first half of Season Two.

I find it ironic that many fans complained about how certain characters like Akela Amador, Chan Ho Yin and the Asgardian refugee Dr. Elliot Randolph seemed to have come and gone with the wind. Yet, they failed to realize that similar characters in Season Two did the same … or appeared in at least two to three episodes before disappearing. I refer to characters like Isabelle Hartley, Carl Creel, and Senator Christian Ward. But this did not bother me … except for their handling of Agent Amador and Senator Ward. What really bothered me was the handling of certain recurring or main characters.

There have been complaints about Mutant Enemy’s handling of its minority characters … well, its African-American characters. I never understood why it was so important for the Mike Peterson character to disappear after the Season One episode, (1.22) “Beginning of the End”. What the hell happened to him? Ten Season Two episodes have aired since and not once has the series revealed his whereabouts. Come to think of it … what happened to Akela Amador? She was imprisoned by Coulson’s team … even after they had learned that HYDRA had coerced her into pulling off several robberies on their behalf. HYDRA had released prisoners such as Raina and Ian Quinn, after the S.H.I.E.L.D. Civil War. What about Agent Amador? What happened to her? Off all the new S.H.I.E.L.D. agents introduced during Season Two, only two got the shot end of the stick. One of them was Isabelle Hartley, who was killed off in “Shadows”. The other character was Alphonso “Mack” MacKenzie, who was more or less used as some kind of therapy tool for the Leo Fitz character, before being transformed into some kind of zombie in the episode, (2.09) “…Ye Who Enter Here”. As of the season’s mid-season finale, (2.10) “What They Become”, Mack is no longer a “zombie”. But no one knows if he has fully recovered. I fear that Mack’s fate will become similar to that of the Elam Ferguson character from AMC’s “HELL ON WHEELS”.

Ruth Negga continued her role as Raina, the mysterious woman who had aligned herself with HYDRA and later, a man named Calvin Zabo who might be an Inhuman. As it turned out, Raina is also an Inhuman … like Skye. However, she underwent a physical transformation:

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And Skye … did not:
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Why? Why Raina and not Skye? Why did a character portrayed by an actress of Irish and African ancestry transformed into a non-Human form?

Finally, I come to Antoine “Trip” Triplett. The show’s “Legacy” agent, who had played a major role in the defeat of John Garrett, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent-turned-HYDRA mole at the end of Season One, seemed to have been shoved to the background by the writers under showrunners Joss and Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen and producer Jeffrey Bell. Why? Mutant Enemy and Marvel claimed that Britt was under contract to the BET series, “BEING MARY JANE”, which meant in their eyes, they could not use him as much as they “wanted”. Hmmm … more bullshit. They were able to use a great deal of Britt in the second half of Season One. And the actor appeared in less than half of the latest season for “BEING MARY JANE”. In fact, the latter has been scheduled by BET to end in 2015. What was the point in sidelining Britt in that manner? And why did they killed off Britt’s character with some of the most contrived writing I have seen on this show in “What They Become”, without allowing him to have a major appearance in said episode? It was just disgusting to watch.Speaking of contrived writing, I encountered a good deal of it in Season Two. The writers for “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” went through of minor story arcs with the speed of a ballistic missile. I realize that Season One had its share of one-shot episodes – especially in its first half. Again, I have no problems with this. One-shot episodes were pretty common in televised serial dramas like“BUFFY” and “BABYLON 5”. But in Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, the writers would set up a story arc with a great deal of build up and end the story arc within two to five episodes. The series ended up wasting potential characters and story arcs like Carl Creel, Jemma Simmons’ role as a S.H.I.E.L.D. mole within HYDRA, the introduction of Senator Christian Ward and the Daniel Whitehall character. Mind you, Whitehall lasted for ten episodes. Only, I had not expected him to be introduced so fast … and killed off so soon. Speaking of speed, I had no idea that the Skye character would be exposed as an Inhuman – part of a race of superhumans who had been engineered by aliens such as the Kree – so soon. Halfway into Season Two? I found this rather quick, considering that Marvel has plans to release a movie about the Inhumans in 2018, four years from now. Do they really expect“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, with its sketchy ratings, to last that long? If so, they could have waited a little longer.One last example of the show’s fast-paced narration was its tendency to shove two or three subplots into one episode. Other television shows have done this as well. But in a serial drama format, most writers would include the main story arc and a minor subplot that had little to do with the former. Mutant Enemy’s writers did not utilize this style. In order to keep the story arc going at neck break speed, they would shove two plotlines that had a great deal to do with the main story arc into one episode. This resulted in several episodes coming off as convoluted and very confusing. Several critics have complained about this, but most viewers and critics are pretending that this is a sign of improved writing from last season. Apparently rushed storytelling is now Mutant Enemy/Marvel’s idea of writing for sci-fi serial drama. Really? Speed writing for viewers or critics with the attention span of lice?Another problem I had with Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” is the character of Grant Ward – former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and HYDRA mole. Why is he still alive? Why? I suppose Marvel and especially Mutant Enemy still want actor Brett Dalton around. Just recently, producer Jeffery Bell said the following about the character and the actor:“What we love is that Brett Dalton is this actor that brings this complexity to this guy, a lot of the way that James Marsters brought it to Spike on Buffy and Angel.”

Okay, it is official. Mutant Enemy has a hard-on for Brett Dalton. But when I read the above quote, I did not know whether to laugh or upchuck. Look … Dalton is a tolerable actor. He is pretty solid. But I CANNOT believe that Bell had the nerve to compare Dalton with the likes of James Marsters. To this day, I consider Marsters to be one of the best actors or actresses I have ever seen in a Mutant Enemy production hands down. One of the best … ever. Dalton is nowhere that good. Now, I will admit that although Spike proved to be one of my favorite television characters, I have no love for Grant Ward. I disliked Ward when he was one of the “good guys” during most of Season One. When he proved to be a HYDRA mole, my feelings for him did not change on whit. I realize that Mutant Enemy was trying to make him complex. But thanks to Dalton’s performance, I simply failed to be impressed. But my dislike of the Ward character has nothing to do with my opinion of Dalton as an actor. I also disliked the vampire character Angel, also featured in“BUFFY” and “ANGEL”. But despite my dislike, I cannot deny that actor David Boreanaz’s portrayal of the character was superb. Another actor that made a name for himself portraying a morally questionable fantasy character was Julian McMahon, who portrayed the human-demon hybrid for three seasons in “CHARMED”. Like Marsters and Boreanaz, McMahon was superb in the role, despite producer Brad Kern’s shabby handling of the character during his last year on the show. Hell, he proved to be the best actor during the show’s eight season run. I noticed something else. Ever since the premiere of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season Two, Brett Dalton seems hellbent upon impersonating McMahon. Why, I do not know. Brett Dalton is no Julian McMahon. He should simply give up the effort.

Also, Mutant Enemy’s efforts to retain the Grant Ward character has resulted in some seriously contrived writing. After Ward’s capture in “Beginning of the End”, new S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Phil Coulson decided to keep the former agent at the new hidden base. Why? So that he can provide the new S.H.I.E.L.D. with information on HYDRA? What could Ward possibly know? He was a low-level HYDRA mole. I doubt that John Garrett knew everything. Hell, I doubt that Garrett, who can be very manipulative, told Ward everything. Anyone with brains or common sense should have realized this. Why keep Ward around? So that Dalton can do his Julian McMahon impersonation every now and then? Then Mutant Enemy decided to hire actor Tim DeKay to portray Ward’s older brother, Senator Christian Ward. DeKay appeared in two episodes – (2.06) “A Fractured House” and (2.08) “The Things We Bury” – before his character was killed off camera by Ward. Aside from giving the writers an opportunity for Ward to escape imprisonment, what was the purpose of DeKay’s presence on the show? I cannot decide what was more wasted – the Jemma Simmons w/HYDRA mini arc, Antoine Triplett’s Season Two presence, or the use of the Senator Christian Ward character. Even when the writers finally had a chance to rid the show of Ward in the mid-season finale, “What They Become”, they kept him alive with some ridiculously contrived writing. I suspect this is Mutant Enemy and Marvel’s way of giving Ward some kind of redemption by the end of the season. If so, this will proved to be the fastest redemption arc in television history. And right now, I found myself feeling disgusted over the whole matter.

I really do not know what else to say about “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. Other than I have washed my hands of this show? I cannot believe this is the same television series that I had fallen in love with, last year. I have to end this article before I find myself in danger of upchucking again. Dear Mutant Enemy. You have become such a disappointment to me.

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”: The Last Stand Against Mediocrity

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“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”: THE LAST STAND AGAINST MEDIOCRITY

The age of serial drama or adventure is over. It is over. I first came to this conclusion after learning the dismal ratings for the last episode of ABC’s “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” called (1.10) “The Bridge”. I eventually learned that the show’s ratings were not as dismal as I had been led to believe.  But the series never became a top ratings earner. Ironically, my original statement is not a criticism directed at the series or its latest episode.

When I had learned that the ratings for “The Bridge” had dropped considerably last January, I was a bit upset. Many fans saw this as a sign of the show’s not-so-sensational quality. I realize that “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” is not flawless. There is no such thing as a flawless show. But I believe it has achieved its potential to become a first-rate one.  I also believe that the quality of its writing has grown with time. But judging from the reaction to the show’s first season, I can clearly see that American television viewers and critics now lack the patience to deal with a serial drama. They will not allow shows like “S.H.I.E.L.D.” to develop at a steady pace. They want instant perfection right off the bat.

I blame televisions series like “LOST”, the new “BATTLESTAR: GALACTICA”, and “ONCE UPON A TIME”. All three shows gave television viewers an excellent First Season that seemed to blow their minds. And thanks to shows like the one I had just listed, an excellent first season is what many viewers have come to expect from a TV show in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. Superb shows like “BABYLON 5”“BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” and “ANGEL” did not have perfect first seasons. First first seasons were decent, but flawed. But in time, all three developed into excellent shows by their second and third seasons. And this is why I consider them among the finest series in television series. I am also reminded of cancelled shows like “FLASHFORWARD” and “THE EVENT”. I might as well be frank. The first half of their single seasons never struck me as exceptional or impressive. But both shows managed to develop in quality by the end of their seasons. And both shows promised great potential, as well. But the respective networks refused to give them a chance and cancelled them, instead of giving them a second season.

Considering that the writing for television series like “BABYLON 5” and “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” managed to slowly develop over time, I now realize that I can never consider shows like “LOST” and “ONCE UPON A TIME” among the best in television history. Sure, they were entertaining and revealed flashes of brilliant writing. Unfortunately, I believe that the writing for “LOST” flip-flopped in quality during its remaining five seasons. Despite some first-rate story arcs and plot twists over the years, it never reached the same level of quality that it had enjoyed during its first season. Many fans were dazzled by “ONCE UPON A TIME” during its first season. But the series is now in the midst of its third season. And I feel that eventually, it will suffer the same fate of inconsistent quality as “LOST” did.

The first season of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” reminded of those first seasons for shows like “BABYLON 5” and“BUFFY”. Like the two now defunct shows, the first season for “S.H.I.E.L.D.” was obviously flawed. But I feel that it also reached its potential, especially in the story line regarding the agency’s battle with an organization called Centipede, which turned out to be an offshoot of a bigger enemy from “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER”.  When the series first began, I could barely stand characters like Grant Ward, Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons. I found the former aggressively bland, and the other two rather annoying and out of place. The series has just finished its first season and I have grown to appreciate all three characters. This is due to their fleshing out as interesting characters, instead of remaining mere cliches.

For me, this is a sign of why I like the production styles of television producer/writers like Joss Whedon and J. Michael Straczynski. They do not try to wow the audience off the bat with a spectacular premiere or first season. Both Whedon and Straczynski, and other show creators like them, are willing to allow their stories and characters to develop with time … like true storytellers. But today’s television viewers do not seem to appreciate real storytelling. They do not appreciate a steady development of story and characters. They want to be dazzled right off the bat. And the creators of shows like “LOST” and “ONCE UPON A TIME” are willing to feed them dazzling premieres to automatically draw in viewers. Because of this new style of storytelling and lack of audience patience, I fear that “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” will not survive its second season, if its storytelling format remains.  And if it does last, I fear that the networks might force Whedon and his brother, Jed Whedon will transform the series into an episodic one that allow guest starring costume heroes to push the main characters into a back seat.

Oh well. There is nothing I can do about it. In fact, all I can do is sit back and speculate on the future of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. If it ends up cancelled by the end of its second season or is transformed into episodic television; the show’s fate will become another step down in the quality of television writing – especially for the sci-fi/fantasy genre. I fear culture is in serious danger of going to the dogs.

 

 

“ANGEL” RETROSPECTIVE: (1.08) “I Will Remember You”

Below is a look into (1.08) “I Will Remember You”, a Season One episode from “ANGEL”

 

“ANGEL” RETROSPECTIVE: (1.08) “I Will Remember You”

One of the most popular episodes to air on ”ANGEL” is the eighth episode of Season One called (1.08) “I Will Remember You”. This particular episode served as a follow-up to the Season Four ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” episode, (4.08) “Pangs” in which Angel, the vampire with a soul, had paid a surreptitious visit to Sunnydale in order to protect his former love, vampire slayer Buffy Summers, from a malignant spirit during the Thanksgiving holidays.

After Buffy had learned of Angel’s visit to Sunnydale, she pays a visit of her own to Angel’s detective office in Los Angeles. There, she confronts him about his surreptitious assistance back in Sunnydale. They are attacked by a Mohra demon. When Angel kills the demon, he is restored to mortality by its powerful blood. After The Oracles – a link to The Powers That Be – confirms that Angel is human again, Angel and Buffy spend a blissful night together. Unfortunately, Doyle receives a vision that the Mohra demon has regenerated itself. Instead of recruiting Buffy, Angel leaves her to kill the demon for good. In the ensuing battle, Angel discovers the consequences of having only human strength. Buffy must come to his rescue and slay the demon herself. Angel returns to The Oracles, who that if he remains human, Buffy will face the minions of darkness alone and die much sooner. They agree to turn back time, so that Angel, accepting the entire cost of the bargain, can kill the Mohra before its blood makes him human. They also inform him that Buffy’s memories of their day together will erase once time is turned back.

I might as well be frank. I really dislike this episode. I almost hate it. Honestly. And although I am not a fan of the Buffy/Angel relationship, the one thing I truly dislike about this episode is the paternalistic manner in which Angel treats Buffy, once he agrees to the Oracles’ bargain. One, I suspect that Angel could not deal having human strength. It still amazes me that many fans have castigated Riley Finn for being unable to deal with Buffy being stronger than him; and yet in this particular episode, Angel seemed to be suffering from the same problem. Then he does something even worse by making that deal with the Powers to resume being a vampire . . . after being told that Buffy would have no memories of their day together. As far as I am concerned, he committed psychic rape via the Oracles and the Powers to Be. Even worse, he only told Buffy about his decision . . . seconds before she lost her memories.

Some fans have used Buffy’s alleged desire for a ”knight in shinning armor” as an excuse for Angel’s behavior. Many of these fans still view Buffy as that 16-18 year-old featured in the series’ first three seasons. And apparently, so does Angel. I really do not see how this desire of Buffy is supposed to condone or excuse Angel’s decision to becoming a vampire again at the expense of Buffy’s memories. Others point out that the Oracles had informed Angel that order to prevent circumstances from repeating exactly, he alone will remember all they have shared. Let me see if I understand this. Angel could not tell Buffy that he had erased her memories of their day together, in case the circumstances of that day repeat themselves. Yet, Angel went ahead and informed Buffy that she would lose her memories seconds before she lost them? If Angel wanted to avoid a repetition of that day repeating, he could have told Buffy what had happened . . . and add that they could not stay together, in case the circumstances of that day would be repeated. But Angel did not bother. In fact, he remained silent. Personally, I found his actions appalling.

To me, Angel was a selfish and controlling bastard who could not handle the lack of vampire strength needed to deal with the supernatural beings he had fought, in the first place. Without that strength, he could not be a hero. One, he was stupid enough to go after the Mohra demon when he lacked the strength to fight it. He could have easily allowed Buffy to do so in the first place. And when he found himself forced to depend upon Buffy’s strength to take down the demon, he turned to the Oracles to get his strength back. And all of this happened before he learned of the details surrounding his return as a vampire. I suspect that deep down, his act of sacrifice was nothing more than bullshit. I have always suspected that Angel was nothing more than a control freak, who got his kicks making decisions for others . . . without their consent. If he had really cared about Buffy, he would have never agreed to the spell in the first place. Or . . . he could have told her what happened after the spell went into effect, just as I had pointed out in a previous paragraph. Or he could have told her what he was considering, before he allowed the Powers to Be remove her memories and turn back time. But he did not, because he simply viewed Buffy as a child who had to be controlled . . . by him. And considering that Buffy ended up dead a year-and-a-half later (with Angel not around), it seemed that Angel had given up being a human for nothing.

”I Will Remember You” strikes me as a good example of why I have never been a fan of the Buffy/Angel romance. It has always seemed like an unequal relationship that was never able to develop into an equal one. This episode also reminded me that many seemed to prefer a fictional romance between an infatuated adolescent female and lovesick older man obsessed with her youth and his need to be controlling. To me, the relationship was nothing but a patriarchal wet dream. And Angel’s actions in both the”BUFFY” episode, ”Pangs” and this episode seemed to confirm this.

“THE AVENGERS” (2012) Review

 

“THE AVENGERS” (2012) Review

Back in 2007, Marvel Studios set out to do something that DC Comics managed to achieve some forty years ago through a Saturday morning animated series. The studio created a series of movies based upon some of its company’s popular comic book characters. This series culminated into the recent hit movie, “THE AVENGERS”

The group of comic book heroes that became a team in “THE AVENGERS”, turned out to be the following – Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, the Black Widow and Hawkeye. The first four starred in their own movies and the last two, the Black Widow and Hawkeye, appeared as supporting characters in 2010’s “IRON MAN 2” and 2011’s “THOR” respectively. And each movie, starting with 2008’s “IRON MAN”, hinted at the formation of Marvel Comics’ team of superheroes.

Written by Zak Penn and Joss Whedon and directed by the latter, “THE AVENGERS” begins with Loki, the villain from “THOR”and the latter’s adopted brother, making a deal with the leader of the Chitauri aliens called the Other to lead an army on Earth, in order to subjigate the human race. In order to do this, Loki needs to retrieve the Tesseract, a powerful energy source originally found on Earth in “CAPTAIN AMERICA”. The Tesseract opens a doorway that allows Loki to arrive a top secret S.H.I.E.L.D., use his scepter to enslave a few agents, Dr. Eric Selvig and Clint Barton aka Hawkeye and take the Tesseract.

In response to Loki’s attack, S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury reactivates the Avengers Initiative. He, along with agents Phil Coulson and Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow; recruits Steve Rogers aka Captain America, Tony Stark aka Iron Man and Dr. Bruce Banner aka the Hulk to form a team and stop Loki’s plans and recover the Tesseract. Both Captain America and Iron Man manage to capture Loki in Germany. But during a flight back to the States, Thorarrives and frees Loki, hoping to convince him to abandon his plan and return to Asgard. Instead, a confrontation ensues between the three heroes before Thor agrees to accompany them all back to the Helicarrier, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying aircraft carrier. Despite Loki being a captive, the Avengers still need to find the missing Tesseract. Even worse, Loki does not remain a captive very long.

Over a month has passed since “THE AVENGERS” hit the movie screens. And during that time, it managed to become the third highest-grossing film of all time. Most fans and critics of comic hero movies tend to view any film with more than one villain as a box office or critical disaster. And yet . . . many of these same critics and fans seemed to have no problem with a movie featuring six comic book heroes. I find that rather . . . odd and contradictory, but there is no explaining humanity’s chaotic nature. I have never had a problem with a comic book movie featuring more than one villain or hero, as long as that movie was well written. And I cannot deny that Whedon and Zak Penn wrote a first-rate movie.

First of all, Marvel Studios made the wise decision to map out the movie’s plot with four to five other movies. This enabled them to set up most of the characters before shooting “THE AVENGERS”. Natasha Romanoff had received a small introduction in “IRON MAN 2”. And Clint Barton was allowed nothing more than a cameo appearance in “THOR”. This meant that these two were the only ones left to be properly introduced in this film, along with their previous relationship as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Even the Tesseract, the energy source that Loki will use to allow Chitauri warriors to invade Manhattan in the movie’s last act, had originally been introduced in “CAPTAIN AMERICA” and hinted briefly in “IRON MAN 2” and in the Easter Egg scene for“THOR”. I wish I knew who had the idea to set up the story and characters for “THE AVENGERS” in previous movies. I would congratulate him or her for convincing Marvel to pursue this course of storytelling. For it paid off very well.

Second, I was impressed at how the main cast members – especially those portraying members of the Avengers – managed to click so well and create a viable screen team. Whedon and Penn’s script did not make it easy for them. Only the Black Widow and Hawkeye initially felt comfortably working together and even their relationship was disrupted by Loki’s temporary enslavement of Hawkeye’s mind. I could point out one or two particular performances by the cast. But if I must be honest, practically all of them stepped up to bat and performed beautifully. Okay, I must admit there were a few dramatic scenes that really impressed me.

I enjoyed the quarrel between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, thanks to Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, who did a great job in developing the characters from initial hostility and wariness to trust and teamwork. I also enjoyed Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, who continued their outstanding work and screen chemistry as the two Asgardian siblings, in a scene in which Thor tries to convince Loki that he and their family still loved the latter, despite his actions in “THOR”. Scarlett Johansson managed to appear in three scenes that impressed me. One featured a contest of will and intellect between her Black Widow and Hiddleston’s Loki. Another featured both her and Mark Ruffalo, as she manages to convince Bruce Banner to help S.H.I.E.L.D. to track down the Tesseract. But my favorite scene featured a heart-to-heart conversation between Natasha and her old partner, Clint Barton, as they discussed her past and his mind enslavement by Loki. Samuel L. Jackson did an excellent job as the intimidating, yet manipulative director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury. He also seemed surprisingly spry for a man in his 60s, as his character dodged several near death experiences. Clark Gregg was entertaining as ever as one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top agents, Phil Coulson. It was nice to see Stellan Skarsgård repeat his role as Dr. Eric Selvig. Although his role was not particularly big, Selvig had a major impact on the plot. And Skarsgård managed to give his usual, top-notch performance. Cobie Smulders managed to hold herself well as one of Fury’s assistants, Maria Hill. It is a pity that Whedon was unable to showcase Alexis Denisof a little more as leader of the Chitauri aliens. I suspect that being cloaked and hidden in the small number of scenes probably did not help much, in the end.

I have heard that Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal of Bruce Banner/the Hulk has received rave reviews from the critics and the fans. Many critics have also suggested his portrayal of the character was superior to both Eric Bana’s performance in 2003 and Edward Norton’s 2008 portrayal. I say bullshit to that. I suspect that the critics are spouting this crap, because Ruffalo got to portray the Hulk in a movie that is a box office and critical hit. Ruffalo did a great job in portraying Bruce at this later stage of his existence as the Hulk. However, I also feel there was nothing exceptional about his performance that made his Hulk superior to Bana and Norton’s. This whole notion of Ruffalo giving a better performance than the other two actors strikes me as nothing but a lot of fanboy horseshit.

One cannot talk about “THE AVENGERS” without discussing the film’s visual effects. What can I say? They were outstanding. Well . . . somewhat outstanding. Seamus McGarvey’s photography struck me as very effective in giving the movie an epic feel. And his work was vastly assisted by the visual effects team led by Jake Morrison. For a movie set either in New York City, or over the Atlantic Ocean, aboard a flying aircraft carrier, I was very surprised to learn that a great deal of the movie was shot in both Albuquerque, New Mexico and Cleveland, Ohio. Surprisingly, the film crew only spent two days shooting in Manhattan.

I do have a few complaints about “THE AVENGERS”. One, although I was impressed by Whedon’s direction and McGarvey’s photography, I cannot say the same about the work they did for the Black Widow/Hawkeye fight scene aboard the Helicarrier. To be honest, I found it slightly murky and confusing. Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek’s editing did not help. Their work revived bad memories of Paul Greengrass’ quick-cut editing at its worst. Honestly? Jon Favreau did a better job of shooting her fight scenes in “IRON MAN 2”. I also realized that Whedon had been talking out of his ass, when he claimed that a good deal of the movie would be shown from Steve Rogers’ point-of-view. Even worse, the film never really hinted any troubles Steve may have experienced dealing with the early 21st century. And could someone explain why the Hulk turned out to be more powerful than a pair of Norse gods – namely Thor and Loki? How in the hell did that come about? This certainly was not the case nearly 50 years ago, when Thor beat the pants of both the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner in the Marvel issue, Avengers #3 (Jan. 1964). Could someone please explain this phenomenon?

“THE AVENGERS” may not be perfect. But it is obviously one of the best comic book movies I have seen, hands down. And so far, it has turned out to be one of the best movies of 2012. It deserves all of the accolades it has earned. And for the first time in his career, Joss Whedon seemed to have directed a movie that matched his work with his “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” and “ANGEL” television series.