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.

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“BOTTLE SHOCK” (2008) Review

”BOTTLE SHOCK” (2008) Review

If someone had suggested I go see a movie about California wines and its impact upon the business in the mid-1970s, I would have smiled politely and ignored that person. As it turned out, no one had told me about the 2008 comedy-drama,”BOTTLE SHOCK”. Two years would pass before I found myself intrigued by it, while watching the movie on cable television.

Directed and co-written by Randall Miller, ”BOTTLE SHOCK” told the story of Jim and Bo Barrett and how their Chardonnay became the first American-grown vintage to win a famous blind wine tasting contest now known as ”the Judgment of Paris”. The contest was sponsored by a British wine connoisseur named Steven Spurrier and held in France. Spurrier wanted to use the contest as a means to be accepted by the French wine connoisseur community. The movie also chronicled the Barretts’ difficulties in maintaining their vineyard, the Chateau Montelena, in the face of mounting debts, Jim Barrett’s reluctance to participate in Spurrier’s contest, and the efforts of a Barrett employee named Gustavo Bambini and his father to start their own vineyard. The desires of the Barretts, Bambini and Spurrier centered on the latter’s blind wine testing competition that made history for the Barretts and California wines.

While reading about ”BOTTLE SHOCK”, I discovered that the movie had received a standing ovation following its screening at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Personally, I believe that Miller and fellow screenwriters Jody Savin and Ross Schwartz did an excellent job in creating a heartwarming movie filled with sharp humor, adversity, human drama, some romance and a good deal of warmth and whimsy. More importantly, Miller, Savin and Schwartz, along with the cast, gave the movie such energy and drive that I found myself developing interest in the topic of wine growing – something that would usually bore me to tears. There have been complaints about some of the historical accuracy in the movie. Why bother?”BOTTLE SHOCK” is a movie, not a documentary. I have yet to come across a movie or play with a historical backdrop that was completely accurate.

Cinematographer Michael J. Ozier did a marvelous job in capturing the warmth and natural beauty of Napa Valley, with its rolling hills and vast vineyards. With different lightning, he captured the cool elegance of Paris and the French countryside. And costume designer Jillian Kreiner had the more difficult job of capturing the basic styles of the mid-1970s. This was at a time when fashion was in a transition from the wild, Age of Aquarius styles of the early 1970s, to the more ersatz elegance of the latter part of the decade and the 1980s. By the way, one should keep an eye on Dennis Farina’s loud, leisure suits that seemed to symbolize the entire decade . . . at least for me.

I had felt a bit confused over the identity of the film’s leading man. I could not decide whether it was Alan Rickman, Chris Pine or Bill Pullman. In the end, I decided to view all three as the film’s leads. And they led a very fine cast that included Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodriguez, Dennis Farina, Miguel Sandoval and Eliza Dushku. I had a ball watching Rickman’s portrayal of the sharp-tongued wine connoisseur, Steven Spurrier, who found himself dealing with a new culture in California wine country and the possibility that European countries like Italy, Germany and especially France were not the only places to produce fine wines. At first, Chris Pine’s portrayal of the young Bo Barrett reminded me of a possible dress rehearsal for his performance as a loutish James Kirk in 2009’s ”STAR TREK”. Thankfully, his performance as the younger Barrett proved to possess more nuance, as Pine revealed him to be a vulnerable young man that seemed unsure about whether he was ready to embrace his father’s passion for winemaking, as his own. My only problem with Pine was the blond wig that he wore. I found it atrocious and wished that he had been allowed to portray the character with his natural hair. I personally believe that Bill Pullman gave one of the movie’s two best performances as the complex Jim Barrett – the man who originally injected new life into the Chateau Montelena during the 1970s. His Barrett was a proud and stubborn man that was passionate about his vineyard and who masked his insecurities with a great deal of pig-headed behavior.

Also providing top notch performances were Dennis Farina (of the loud leisure suits), who provided a great deal of amusement and wit as Spurrier’s fictional American friend in Paris and fellow wine connoisseur, Maurice Cantavale; Rachael Taylor as Sam Fulton, the free-spirited intern at Chateau Montelena and Bo’s object of desire; Miguel Sandoval, who was deliciously sardonic as Mr. Garcia, another worker at Chateau Montelena; and Eliza Dushku, who gave an amusingly edgy performance as a local bar owner named Jo. At last, I come to Freddy Rodriguez, who portrayed the Barretts’ ambitious employee, Gustovo Bambini. He gave the movie’s other best performance, conveying not only his character’s ambition and wit, but also a raging passion for wintry and a short temper.

What else can I say about ”BOTTLE SHOCK”? I laughed, I cried and I managed to enjoy both the story and the performances, thanks to Randall Miller and the script he co-wrote with Jody Savin and Ross Schwartz . But more importantly, I found myself surprisingly interested in a topic that I would not have usually wasted time even discussing. On that point alone, I would heartily recommend this film.

“The Meaning Behind the First Evil”

Season Seven of ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” has been a favorite of mine for years. But it has been rather unpopular with many fans of the series. And I suspect that this unpopularity may have centered around the character and main villain of Season Seven – the First Evil: 

 

“THE MEANING BEHIND THE FIRST EVIL”
If there is one nemesis that has baffled fans of ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” for the past six to seven years, it would have to be the First Evil. This entity first made its appearance in the Season Three episode, (3.10) “Amends”and became Buffy Summer’s main nemesis in Season Seven, the last season of the series.

In a nutshell, the First Evil is an incorporeal entity that is manifested from all of the evil in existence. It can assume the form of any person who has died, including vampires and dead persons who have been resurrected. Because of this, it has appeared in various forms over the course of the series as a method of manipulating others. For this reason, the First has appeared as Buffy Summers to the Slayer and her allies. But it has also assumed the forms of Warren Mears, Spike, and Jonathan Levinson on multiple occasions, and a variety of other forms less frequently. It was also able to merge with a corporeal individual, as it had done with a serial killer named Caleb, providing the latter with immense strength. The First Evil’s only real weakness was that it was non-corporeal, and could not do real physical damage. However, it was an expert at psychological manipulation, and could act through its servants such as the Bringers, Turok-Han, Caleb or whomever it could manage to control.

As I had stated earlier, the First Evil made its debut on ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” in the episode, ”Amends”. It tried to drive Angel into killing Buffy by appearing to him as Jenny Calendar and other people he had murdered as a souless vampire. The First Evil told Angel that it was responsible for his return from “Hell” and that he could end his sufferings by turning evil again. Whether or not this was true is unknown. In any event, it did not mind when Angel chose to kill himself, via a sunrise instead. After Buffy’s confrontation with the First Evil, she managed to stop Angel from committing suicide.

Using Buffy’s second resurrection in the Season 6 premiere – (6.01) “Bargaining, Part I” as an excuse, the First Evil returned in full force in Season Seven in an attempt to eliminate the Slayer line permanently. Using servants such as the defrocked serial killer Caleb and the Harbingers of Death (or Bringers), the First Evil not only brought about the deaths of many Potential Slayers and Watchers, it also destroyed the Watcher’s Council (no loss there) and nearly came close to killing Buffy, Faith, the Scoobies and Spike. It used both Andrew Wells and Spike to raise the Turok-Han (a race of ancient powerful vampires stronger and fiercer than the regular vampires). It manipulated Spike by using an old English folk song – ”Early One Morning” – into killing again, hoping his actions would attract Buffy’ attentions. According to sources from the ”All Things Philosophical on ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Angel the Series’” and”Buffyverse Wiki” sites, the First Evil wanted to seize the opportunity to upset the balance between good and evil whenever the Slayer line was disrupted. It tried to manipulate Angel into committing suicide in ”Amends” about a year-and-a-half, following Buffy’s brief death and resuscitation in (1.12) “Prophecy Girl”. And about a year following Buffy’s resurrection in ”Bargaining”, it made its move to destroy the Slayer line and upset the moral balance permanently.

Many fans did not like the First Evil as Buffy’s main antagonist in Season Seven. From what I could gather from many message boards, forums and blogs; they seemed confused about the First Evil’s intentions or what it represented. Nor did they seemed impressed that it was the one Big Bad that Buffy could not destroy in a physical manner. Some fans even accused ”BUFFY” creator Joss Whedon of writing himself into a corner with the creation of the First Evil. Personally, I disagree. I do not feel that Whedon had written himself into a corner by bringing the First Evil back in Season Seven.

It is easier to identify a nemesis that is solid enough for someone – namely Buffy – to physically kill or fight. Nemesis like the Master, Angelus, Mayor Wilkins, Adam, Glory, Warren Mears or even Willow Rosenberg. But the First Evil was a different matter. It symbolized a continuation of the theme from Season 6 – namely “You are your own worst enemy”. In other words, I believe that the First Evil symbolized the spirit of Evil that existed in everyone – from Buffy to some minor demon minion or some housewife.

I must be one of the few fans who actually enjoyed Season Seven. But even I had one or two issues about that particular season that did not sit right with me. One of those issues was the appearance of a supernatural being called Beljoxa’s Eye in (7.11) “Showtime”. Rupert Giles and Anya Jenkins visited the being to learn everything they could about the First Evil. Instead of fulfilling their wishes, the Beljoxa’s Eye told them that that the First Evil cannot be destroyed and that it exists now because of a disruption in the Slayer’s line, which was in fact, caused by the Slayer. Both Giles and Anya concluded that Buffy’s second resurrection brought about the return of the First Evil.

This did not make sense to me. One, I found it hard to believe that the First Evil existed because of Buffy’s resurrection. It had already existed before the events of ”Bargaining”. In fact, I believe that it had already existed before ”Amends”. Why? As I had stated earlier, I believe the First Evil was . . . or is the spirit of evil, itself. It was all of the negative thoughts, emotions and impulses that reside within all living beings. And the late Joyce Summers hinted this during Buffy’s dream in (7.12) “Bring On the Night”:

BUFFY: Something evil is coming.

JOYCE: Buffy, evil isn’t coming, it’s already here. Evil is always here. Don’t you know? It’s everywhere.

BUFFY: And I have to stop it.

JOYCE: How are you gonna do that?

BUFFY: I-I don’t know yet, but—

JOYCE: Buffy, no matter what your friends expect of you, evil is a part of us. All of us. It’s natural. And no one can stop that. No one can stop nature, not even—

Joyce would eventually be proven right in (7.22) “Chosen, the series finale. When Buffy, Spike, Faith, the Scoobies, Robin Wood, Dawn and the Potentials battled the First Evil’s army of Turok-Han vampires inside the Hellmouth; all they did – especially Spike – was ruin the First Evil’s plans to upset the balance of good and evil in the mortal world. In my personal opinion, that imbalance already existed before Buffy’s first death in ”Prophecy Girl”. It never made any sense to me that a balance between good and evil had been maintained by the presence of one Slayer against a slew of vampires, demons and other forms supernatural evil for centuries. I suspect that the First Evil saw the presence of more than one Slayer and a vampire with a soul as a threat to that imbalance. Like many others, the First Evil believed that only one Slayer should exist. And as I had earlier stated, I found this belief rather ridiculous and I am glad that Buffy proved that it did not have to be so at the end of the series.

Would the Watcher’s Council or the African shamans who had first created the Slayer line approve of the idea of more than one Slayer in existence? I rather doubt it. I suspect that they may have feared the idea of dealing with more than one Slayer . . . or even more than two. I suspect that controlling the Slayer or wielding her as a weapon mattered more to the shamans and the Watcher’s Council than the idea of more than one warrior against the forces of Evil. And I would not be surprised if the First Evil – or their own inner darkness – prevented them from considering this possibility.

And I believe that is what the First Evil represented in Buffy’s story – the inner darkness that she, her sisters and friends all harbored within themselves . . . and which they had to learn to acknowledge. Buffy’s conversation with the vampire sired by Spike – Holden Webster – forced her to face and acknowledge her own inner darkness. By (7.15) “Get It Done”, she also realized that her two most powerful allies – Willow and Spike – needed to face their own darkness:

BUFFY: The First isn’t impressed. It already knows us. It knows what we can do, and it’s laughing. You want to surprise the enemy? Surprise yourselves. Force yourself to do what can’t be done, or else we are not an army – we’re just a bunch of girls waiting to be picked off and buried. (Spike stands and walks toward the door) Where are you going?

SPIKE: Out. Since I’m neither a girl, nor waiting. All this speechifying doesn’t really apply to me, does it? (walks away)

BUFFY: (calls after him) Fine. Take a cell phone. That way, if I need someone to get weepy or whaled on, I can call you.

SPIKE: (turns to Buffy) If you’ve got something to say –

BUFFY: Just said it. You keep holding back, you might as well walk out that door.

SPIKE: Holding back? You’re blind. I’ve been here, right in it – fighting, scrapping…

BUFFY: Since you got your soul back?

SPIKE: Well, as a matter of fact, I haven’t quite been relishing the kill the way I used to.

BUFFY: You were a better fighter then.

SPIKE: I did this for you. The soul, the changes – it’s what you wanted.

BUFFY: What I want is the Spike that’s dangerous. The Spike that tried to kill me when we met.

SPIKE (angrily): Oh, you don’t know how close you are to bringing him out.

BUFFY: I’m nowhere near him.

The above conversation was one of the most interesting I have ever come across during the series’ seven season run. A vampire Slayer – someone considered the epitome of goodness and light – encouraging a former killer to face that darkness that made him such an effective killer. She even gave a similar speech to Willow, who as “Darth Willow” nearly came close to destroying the world in the Season Six finale, (6.22) “Grave”. Many fans had thought Buffy may have lost her mind. I understood what Buffy was trying to say. During Season Seven, Spike and Willow had spent most of it wallowing in guilt over certain acts they had committed in Season Six. I could probably say the same about Buffy. Like Spike and Willow, she learned to face her past treatment of the blond vampire in the episode, (7.08) “Conversations with Dead People”. But duties and the re-emergence of the First Evil made her realize that she had no time to wallow in her guilt. Her rants against Spike and Willow in ”Get It Done” expressed her own impatience with their guilt and tendencies to hold themselves back in fear of releasing the inner darkness that made them fearsome. She forced both the vampire and the red-haired witch to realize that they can only be fully effective by learning to face their inner darkness . . . and controlling it. By facing the many aspects of their nature, could Spike and Willow learn to develop as individuals.

The First Evil’s activities forced Buffy to develop in another path. She had to start learning how to evolve beyond her inferiority/superiority complex and learn to connect with others . . . when the situation demanded. Thanks to her former Watcher, Rupert Giles, she tried to use this aloofness to become an authority figure to the many Potential Slayers that had arrived on her doorstep. She also had to learn not to allow her insecurities and fear (traits that originated from the negativity within) of being alone to give others like her former Watcher Rupert Giles and even her friends a chance to dictate her actions and behavior. Like Spike and Willow, she had to learn to become her own person. She had to stop being afraid to connect with others and at the same time, allowing them to dictate her behavior.

In the end, I found Season Seven to be very complex and mature on a level that may have eluded certain viewers. Before the season first began, Whedon and Mutant Enemy had announced that the series would take viewers back to how it used to be during the earlier seasons. And perhaps that was what they had been looking forward to . . . recapturing the past. Season Seven did just that . . . but with a twist. The season reminded viewers that no one can recapture the past. Not really. In a way, Spike and Willow tried to recapture their former selves – the mild-mannered Victorian gentleman and the shy computer geek. And Buffy, at Giles’ orders, tried to enforce her authority upon the Potential Slayers as the Watchers’ Council had done to her in the past. Even the fans got into the act. They wanted Whedon to take this season back to what “BUFFY” used to be, failing to realize that would never happen. Buffy and the Scoobies could never go back to being what they used to be. Too much had changed for them over the years. They had changed. And so had the series.

Not only did Buffy and the Scoobies’ conflict with the First Evil – namely their own inner demons – made them realize they could not recapture their past. They may have learned something else. Battling the First Evil was like battling a part of them. In other words, they had been battling their worst enemy – namely themselves. And in doing so, continued the theme that had been prevalent throughout the series’ run . . . growing up.

The Powers to Be In WHEDONVERSE

 

 

“The Powers to Be In WHEDONVERSE”

While perusing one of the many “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” message boards on the Internet, I came across a passage from an article titled, ”Classic CJL: Spike and the Whedonverse”

”In order to battle the new enemy (vampires), the Powers have called upon Slayers, Champions (welcome, Cordy!), Seers and Mystics, all dedicated to protecting the human race from the vampires and half-breed demons who feed upon and ravage the populace.”

Like many other BtVS, I had believed in this nonsense . . . until I saw the Season 7 episode, ”Get It Done” (7.15). Thanks to this particular episode, I finally came to the conclusion that the above comment about the so-called “Powers to Be” featured in both BtVS and its spin-off, “ANGEL” just might not be true

Following the suicide of one of the Potential Slayers and a dream of the First Slayer, in ”Get It Done”, Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) receives a bag from Principal Robin Wood (D.B. Woodside). The bag had once belonged to his mother – a former Slayer in the 1970s named Nikki Wood. This bag eventually leads Buffy to discover the true origins of a long line of vampire slayers. .

In ”Get It Done”, Buffy finally learns the real truth about the Slayer line’s origins. It was not PTB who had created the line. Instead, a trio of ancient African shamans had committed the dead, in order to create a weapon (one of flesh) to fight vampires and other demons for them. And to insure that this weapon would remain in their control – and under the controls of those that followed them – they made sure that the Slayer line would continue through countless young females throughout the ages. Why? Because they had believed that adolescent girls and young women would be easily controlled, due to their ages and gender.

So, one has to wonder. Did the First Slayer, Buffy, Faith, Kendra, Nikki Wood, Xin Rong and all of the Slayers before and after really have a sacred duty to defend humans against vampires and other demons, because of the Powers to Be? Or had they merely been reluctant conscripts in a never ending war waged against demons by these shamans and their descendants – the Watcher’s Council?

 

 

Speaking of vampires, here is another passage from the article . . . this time, about Angel (David Boreanaz) – the vampire with a soul, who had formed his own gang to fight demonic evil on his own show in Los Angeles:

”Of course, the biggest exception to the rule, the vamp who broke the mold, is Angel. The Powers and our Lord Joss have spent a great deal of time and effort guiding his path from Chaos, prepping him for his pivotal and unique role in the upcoming ‘End of Days’ we’ve been waiting for since BtVS, Season 1.”

I am curious. Exactly how did the vaunted Powers to Be guide Angel toward his actions in one of the late BtVS episodes,”End of Days”? I will admit that the Powers to Be were responsible for placing him in Buffy’s path back in 1996. A demon named Whistler had introduced Angel to the future Slayer and within less than a year, he would follow her to Sunnydale and his own future in demon slaying.

But the Powers to Be had not been responsible for giving him his soul back in 1898. A group of Kalderash gypsies from Romania had restored his human soul in an act of revenge for his murder of one of their children. This soul would afflict him with a conscience and condemn him to an eternity of remorse for the crimes he has committed. After Angel lost his soul one hundred years later in 1998, it was Buffy’s friend, Willow Rosenberg, who had restored his soul. Come to think of it, Willow performed this act again, five years later, on the behest of Angel’s L.A. associates. If the PTB were not responsible for the restoration of his soul, who would have become their “Champion” if Angel had not killed that Kalderash gypsy child?

As for his role in the so-called ‘End of Days’ – the only task he ended up performing was to hand Buffy the amulet that would help her defeat the First Evil’s plans to upset the balance of good and evil. Come to think of it, the heads of Wolfram and Hart – the PTB’s opposite number – had given Angel that amulet. And it was Spike who eventually wore the amulet in the BUFFY series finale, ”Chosen” that led to the First Evil’s defeat.

From what I have surmised, the Powers to Be only committed one major act in the so-called ”war against evil” – they had used Whistler to guide Angel into making his aquaintance with Buffy, before she became a Slayer. They certainly were not responsible for the creation of the Slayer line. And they certainly were not responsible for Angel receiving his human soul. Come to think of it, they were not responsible for Spike retrieving his soul. Apparently, William the Bloody had made the choice to regain his soul. No one made it for him. Which only leads me to wonder just how relevant were the Powers to Be in the Whedonverse.