Tag Archives: Joss Whedon

Joss Whedon, Edgar Wright and the ‘Ant-Man’ Cornetto

joss whedon twitter cornetto edgar wright

So this was “Avengers” mastermind Joss Whedon’s reaction to fellow director Edgar Wright’s departure from Marvels “Ant-Man.”

Whedon tweeted this picture last night. Head bowed, he’s holding aloft a Cornetto – the British sweet that gave its name to Wright’s “Cornetto Trilogy,” including “Shaun of the Dead” – like a candle at a vigil.

It’s already been dubbed “The Cornetto of Solidarity.”

Nicely done, Mr. Whedon.

Advertisements

Classic TV: ‘Angel’ – ‘A Hole in the World’

angel a hole in the world

Was there ever a stronger season of series TV than the fifth and final season of “Angel?”

Okay, maybe you can make arguments for peak seasons of “Lost” or “Breaking Bad,” or going way back, the first season of “Star Trek.”

But the fifth season of “Angel” – in which the stalwart heroes of Angel Investigations are put in charge of Wolfram and Hart, the Los Angeles law firm that represents evil on Earth – has to rank right up there.

The first season or two of “Angel” – which debuted in October 2003 as a spin-off of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – were uneven, with real highs and lows as vampire-with-a-soul Angel moved from Sunnydale to LA and began fighting crime. The best episodes gave off a real Batman vibe, with Angel fighting evil by night, jumping from rooftops and traveling through tunnels under the city. The worst episodes made it seem like “Buffy” mastermind Joss Whedon didn’t quite know what to do with star David Boreanaz and his supporting heroes like Wesley (Alexis Denisof) and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter).

But despite a few mis-steps, “Angel” gradually built to a stronger series that was not only about the supernatural forces at work on Earth but also the flawed heroes who stood between us and the demon world.

By the fifth season, “Buffy” co-star James Marsters had joined “Angel” as Spike, the charismatic “bad boy” vampire and antagonist to Angel. Everything clicked. Boreanaz and Marsters were almost co-leads and Denisof, J. August Richards and the lovely Amy Acker – joined later by Andy Hallett as showbiz demon Lorne – were as solid a cast as any show on TV in the 2003-2004 season.

angel smile time

By the episode “Smile Time,” in which the Angel gang took on demonic puppets – and Angel found himself turned into a puppet – the show had hit a perfect mix of drama, soap opera and character comedy.

Then Whedon – more recently writer/director of “The Avengers” – hit us hard in the heart with “A Hole in the World.”

For several seasons, Acker had been the series’ secret weapon. An adorable genius, Fred had been the object of affection of half the cast, including both Wesley and Gunn (Richards). By this episode, she had picked up another admirer, nerdy Wolfram scientist Knox.

Although the romance between Fred and Gunn had been dramatically interesting, Wesley and Fred were destined to be together. They finally realized their full romantic potential in “A Hole in the World,” and – true to the Joss Whedon School of Romance in Drama – were soon to be split asunder. It’s the old “fall in love, get hit by a bus” theorem that I’ve referred to before.

Fred is infected by spores from an ancient sarcophagus in the Wolfram lab. Very quickly, it’s determined – in a whipsmart scene in which Lorne, who reads people’s thoughts and future by hearing them sing, hears Fred singing a few notes – that Fred is dying inside as Illyria, an ancient demon, hellbent on returning to Earth, reshapes her as its vessel.

Wesley comforts Fred, Gunn over-compensates for his inadvertent role in Fred’s condition and Angel and Spike head for Great Britain to find the Deeper Well, a literal “hole in the world” from which Illyria sprang.

There’s a tremendous “band of brothers” feel to the group that works feverishly to save Fred’s life and Whedon not only writes a devastating finale to Fred’s story but elevates an already great season.

Because there’s a price to be paid for the hubris and ambition of the players in this story and Fred pays it.

What’s extraordinary about the story is that, even while it brings Fred’s existence to an end, it continues her story as Illyria and gives Acker a totally different acting challenge.

The fifth season of “Angel” continued to one of the best series finales ever, one that was perfect and satisfying and yet made you want more at the same time.

But the season peaked with “A Hole in the World,” leaving a hole in viewers hearts.

Classic TV: ‘Firefly’ ‘Our Mrs. Reynolds’

For a show that aired on Fox for only a few weeks a decade ago, Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” has inspired quite a cult following.

And it’s a following that no doubt irritates some people. Before he hit it big with “The Avengers,” Whedon was the kind of writer/director whose creativity inspired devout fans, who in turn seemed to inspire detractors who posted online messages along the lines of “These shows, like ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Angel,’ can’t be that good and Whedon is overrated and while you’re at it, go to hell.'”

“Firefly,” famously mishandled in its original network airing, nonetheless found a cult audience that very well might top “Buffy” and “Angel” in its devotion. The show’s “browncoat” fans are fervent to say the least.

It’s not hard to see why.

I watched a few episodes of “Firefly” when it originally aired in 2002 and thought it was … fine. It was a nice-looking, easy-to-follow “space western” about a group of shippers and smugglers who travel from world to world, licking their still-painful wounds from being on the losing side of an interplanetary civil war and trying to stay off the radar of the oppressive government.

The captain of the Firefly-class space ship Serenity, Mal Reynolds (played to perfection by Nathan Fillion) is surrounded by a crew that’s either devoted to him or willing to sell him out or, at various times, both.

The relationship between Mal and his crew was never better served than with “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” the sixth episode.

Mal, Jayne (the somewhat mutinous crew member played by Adam Baldwin), and Zoe (Gina Torres, his loyal former fellow soldier) help a town on a backwater planet rid itself of bandits and desperadoes, “Magnificent Seven” style. After a party honoring the crew, a groggy Mal wakes up on board the ship to find a beautiful young redhead, Saffron (Christina Hendricks, later of “Mad Men” fame), in the cargo hold.

In halting terms, Saffron explains that she and Mal are married and that she was a gift from her town for his help and she would be a good wife to him and doesn’t she please him? Mal is taken aback but is really disgruntled when his crew, led by ultra-loyal Zoe, begins mercilessly teasing him about his young bride.

Saffron sets about taking care of Mal, cooking for him, offering to wash his feet and sliding her curvy body between his sheets to warm his bed for him.

Mal has been warned by Book (Ron Glass), the ship’s resident preacher, of the dangers of taking advantage of such an innocent. “There’s a special hell for child molesters and people who talk in the theater,” Book warns him. “A special hell.”

Of course, Saffron isn’t what she seems. She’s part of a plot by some spacecraft scavengers to capture the Serenity for the value of its parts. Saffron seduces Mal, tries to seduce Zoe’s faithful but flustered husband Wash (Alan Tudyk, priceless) and even, in a desperate moment as her plan begins to unravel, sets her sights on Inara (Morena Baccarin), the high-class “companion” traveling with the crew. The moments near the end when Inara tries to distance herself from her reaction to both Saffron and helpless, unconscious Mal are hilarious.

Likewise, disreputable horndog Jayne’s lust for Saffron and his offering of Vera, his prize gun, to Mal in exchange for his young bride.

The episode played up not only the unlikely bond between the Serenity shipmates but also the excellent cast of “Firefly.”

And who didn’t come away from seeing “Our Mrs. Reynolds” and think, “Wow, Christina Hendricks is beautiful and a wonderful actress?” It was no surprise she found fame as Joan on “Mad Men.”

“Our Mrs. Reynolds” is a high-water mark even for a consistently terrific show like “Firefly.”

 

TV: What I’m watching, given up on and looking forward to

When I was a kid, besides going back to school and the run-up to Halloween, this time of year was a big deal for me because of the new fall TV season.

Yes, I was a TV geek.

I eagerly anticipated the fall season, which usually had at least one or two shows that I wanted to see. Besides, who could guess just how great “The Night Stalker” or “Planet of the Apes” (the TV series) might make the fall of 1974?

There’s less anticipation about the fall TV season nowadays because the TV year is so fractured – worthwhile series debut throughout the calendar year – and, speaking only for myself, I watch less TV.

Because I watch less TV, I try to make every random hour and half-hour count.

So here’s what I’m watching right now as well as what I’m anticipating, what I’ve given up on and what I’m worried about.

“Copper” is a BBC America series – the channel’s first original production – that just debuted last Sunday. It’s about cops in New York City in 1864. The city was a lawless place, full of casual cruelty to children and others who couldn’t defend themselves, and the police department wasn’t much better. Into the mix comes Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones), an Irish-American veteran of the Civil War who has come back to the city to find his wife missing and his child dead. The series, which has a nice gritty tone, follows Corcoran as he investigates crimes – the murder of a child prostitute in the first episodes, for example – and patrols the grimy streets and brothels of the city.

“Justified” is returning for a fourth season sometime in early 2013 and it’s likely that our favorite Kentucky-born-and-bred U.S. marshal, Raylan Givens, and his longtime friend and sometimes antagonist, Boyd Crowder, will find themselves up against some new lowlife. Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins lead a great cast.

We don’t have to wait until next year to see “The Walking Dead.” The AMC series returns on Oct. 14 for its third season. The series will be split between the prison the survivors were near in the final episode of last season and the town of Woodbury, presided over by the Governor. The first eight episodes air this year, with eight more beginning in February.

I’m not sure when “Mad Men” and “Falling Skies” will be back – hopefully early in 2013 – but I’ll be watching the two very different series. Both came off solid seasons this year.

Few series have been as enjoyable in the past three years as NBC’s “Community,” an odd and offbeat show about a group of misfits who become friends in a study group at a second-rate community college. But I’m worried about “Community” this year after the departure of creator Dan Harmon. By most accounts a genius with people skills issues, Harmon got fired at the end of last season. The cast is great and the stories – complete with blanket forts, paintball apocalypses and genuinely nice character moments – are wonderful. But can the show survive without Harmon? Or will it become another kooky sitcom like “Scrubs?”

I’m not sure I’ll be around for a second season of “Longmire,” the A&E series based on Craig Johnson’s enjoyable series of mystery novels about a Wyoming sheriff. The show looked pretty good and the cast was fine, but the mysteries were mediocre. When the show did take a page from one of Johnson’s stories, as it did in the season finale, it didn’t bring the author’s charms.

I’m not sure I’m looking forward to anything on TV quite as much as a live-action Marvel Comics series set in the “Avengers” movie universe. Luke Cage? Daredevil? S.H.I.E.L.D? Where will creative genius and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” mastermind Joss Whedon take this series? Wherever it is, I’m following.

The best part about TV is that, in any given season, some really terrific show can suddenly appear and make you glad you gave it a try. I’ve felt that way about every show on this list at one time or another.

‘Avengers’ release date set; Daredevil next recruit?

Considering that “Iron Man 3” doesn’t come out until May, with a string of new Marvel movies to follow, you’d think the news about our favorite big-screen comic book movies would slow down just a bit.

Nope!

In recent days fans have seen a couple of developments:

Release date for “Avengers 2.” Marvel/Disney has confirmed a May 1, 2015 release date for Joss Whedon’s follow-up to this summer’s megahit. That’s on the heels of the announcement that Whedon had been signed not only to direct the sequel but develop a live-action TV series set in the big-screen “Avengers” universe and generally help the Marvel movie process move along through June 2015.

Daredevil likely back in Marvel’s hands: As we’ve noted here before, Marvel’s moviemaking division has big-screen rights to only some of the company’s characters. Others were long ago farmed out to other studios, which is why Fox is making a steady stream of X-Men-related movies and Sony/Columbia rebooted this summer with “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

Well, director Joe Carnahan had been gearing up for a gritty “Daredevil” reboot for Fox that promised to have a 1970s Hell’s Kitchen vibe. Carnahan said this week that his movie isn’t going to happen, leading some to expect that the rights to the blind superhero will revert to Marvel before Fox gets a chance to mount another effort.

Meaning that Marvel can include Daredevil in its on-screen universe now. Maybe even cast Matt Murdock in “Avengers 2” or his own movie.

As Marvel slowly requires some of its characters – apparently the Punisher is already back under the Marvel tent – the possibilities are endless.

Here’s a wish list for new members once Joss Whedon presents “Avengers 2:”

Black Panther. Gotta have the stalwart king of the African nation of Wakanda on the team.

Wasp and Ant-Man. Janet and Hank were original members of the group. An “Ant-Man” movie is in the early stages now. We need them in “Avengers 2.”

Daredevil. Why the heck not? New York is their mutual home turf.

Vision. The rumors flew, shortly after “The Avengers,” that the android Avenger would be included in upcoming installments, perhaps in some way personified by Clark Gregg of Phil Coulson fame. Make it happen, Joss!

Scarlet Witch. The references to Coulson’s cellist girlfriend in “The Avengers” got some people thinking Wanda, longtime Avenger and Vision’s wife, would make an appearance eventually. Yes, please.

 

Classic TV: ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ episode ‘Restless’

“Restless” was the season finale of the fourth season of “Buffy,” airing in May 2000. The season had been an unusual one since it was the first that deviated from the high school setting of the show. Following the “Graduation Day” episodes of the previous season, Buffy and Willow went on to attend classes at U.C. Sunnydale, Giles was at loose ends before, in the following season, opening an occult shop and Xander kind of hung out, trying to find himself.

The season also featured a dramatic departure from past seasons by opening up the world of the Slayer to include “real world” supernatural elements, including what was in many ways the show’s most complex addition to its mythology, the Initiative, an underground (literally) government organization that captured and experimented on demons. It was the first absolute confirmation of Buffy’s “underground” status as the Slayer in a world in which the authorities – all the way to Washington D.C. – knew about vampires and demons.

The Initiative storyline had actually wrapped up in the previous episode, as the Scooby Gang defeated Adam, a Frankenstein-like monster created as an unauthorized offshoot of the program.

“Restless” took the form of a series of dreams sequences for Willow, Xander, Giles and Buffy in which each was stalked by the First  Slayer, a savage female proto-Buffy.

The dream sequences were perfect and spot-on, teasing viewers with suggestions of events that might come in the series. Who wasn’t intrigued by Spike’s declaration that Giles was teaching him to become a Watcher?

The episode also featured some faces from the past, including Seth Green as Oz, Phina Oruche as Giles’ girlfriend Olivia, Mercedes McNab as Harmony and Armin Shimerman as Principal Snyder.

Ultimately, “Restless” marked something of a departure for “Buffy” and for Buffy. Especially when the Slayer declared herself different from the slayers of old, demonstrating that the First Slayer and the conventions of the Watchers Council and past Slayers didn’t mean anything to her.

Random observations:

“Restless” was written and directed by series creator Joss Whedon a dozen years before he became a Hollywood sensation with “The Avengers.” Whedon imbued the episode with his trademark mix of thrills and humor.

The First Slayer isn’t the only thing primordial about this episode: Just before they fall asleep, the gang settles in to watch a movie on VHS!

Throughout the episode, a guy shows up and says something about cheese. Of all the odd moments in the episode that fans took as clues to the future, this one we felt we could laugh off.

The episode featured references to ongoing series developments, including Willow’s coming out. During her dream, Willow’s anxiety reached its peak when former flame Oz and current flame Tara snickered and smirked at her even as she succumbed to the First Slayer.

I love all the dream sequences, but Xander’s journey into an “Apocalypse Now”-style heart of darkness is hilarious.

The episode is peppered with references to characters and episodes past and future, including Faith the vampire slayer and Dawn, Buffy’s “little sister” introduced in the next season. You could even argue that Joyce’s appearance in a wall during Buffy’s dream sequence was a reference to her eventual death.

“Restless” is one of the great episodes of a great series.

 

‘Cabin in the Woods’ a fun thrill ride

A lot of people are comparing “The Cabin in the Woods,” the new thriller, to other movies that simultaneously exploited, explored and expanded on horror film themes, notably “Scream.”

But besides being better than “Scream,” “Cabin” reminds me more of a grown-up and bloody “Monsters Inc.,” the Pixar animated movie about a company that specializes in giving kids nightmares with monsters under their bed and in their closet.

Since I didn’t see “Cabin” until a week after it opened, I’m going to assume anyone reading this has either seen the movie or heard the basic story by now. So there might be some spoilers ahead. I won’t spoil the ending, though.

“Cabin” was written by “Avengers” director and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon and directed and co-written by Drew Goddard. On the surface, it plays like a “Friday the 13th” throwback: A group of college students — a jock, a stoner, a brain, a shy girl and a slut — go to a remote cabin to party.

From the very start, though, the audience knows something else is going on. The group is being monitored by office monkeys/scientists in a war room-style bunker. Not only are the watchers seeing everything that happens as the five get to the cabin; they’re manipulating the players and events. Gas is pumped through vents that prompts the partiers to behave in particular ways. A mild electric shock runs through the handle of a knife to make the person holding it drop it.

A few spooky things happen in the cabin — not the least of which is the uncharacteristic behavior of the five — but the movie shifts into high gear when they venture into the cabin’s basement and find hundreds of old and obscure items, including a necklace, reels of film, a studded metal ball (more than a little reminiscent of the mechanical nightmare box from the “Hellraiser” movies) and a diary of the former occupants of the cabin.

The partiers choose — and seal — their fate when they become engrossed in the diary, even reading aloud a passage in Latin. It is here when the movie seems most like “Scream,” as the stoner warns against reading the words aloud. He’s seen enough movies to know what might happen.

Before long, the long-dead cabin occupants have crawled out of their graves and begun stalking the teens.

Of course, it is the lab scenes that set “Cabin” apart from the “Evil Dead” films. We quickly find out that the lab workers are monitoring the goings-on at the cabin — as well as other sites around the world — and causing terror and mayhem. The reason? They’re servants of the ancient, Lovecraftian gods, the old ones, that once dominated the earth. And they know that bad things will happen if those gods aren’t appeased by their sacrifice.

The lab workers are also the source of much of the film’s humor, which is as crass and mean-spirited as it is funny. The scientists, led by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, are cold-hearted (mostly) and unfeeling as they must be. Their jobs are to stage modern-day human sacrifices. There’s no room for bleeding hearts here — except for the ones being ripped out on the lab’s monitors.

It’s hard to imagine, given the ending, how a sequel to “Cabin” could happen, but I guess a prequel is possible. What’s more likely is the Internet will fill up with speculation/fan fiction set in the world in which “Cabin” takes place that will fill in the backstory of the lab and its workers, how their system was set up and maintained and how it otherwise interacted with the outside world. Do the lab workers commute? Is the lab government-sponsored?

The lab workers, who also include Amy Acker and Tom Lenk from Whedon’s “Buffy” and “Angel,” are perfectly cast and always believable.

The archetype young people offered up for sacrifice are likewise terrific. The movie was made a couple of years ago and sat on the shelf not because of its quality but because its original studio, MGM, was having money problems. Since then, Chris Hemsworth (who plays the jock) has become a star as the Marvel comics character “Thor.” He’s got a big summer between this and “The Avengers.” Hemsworth is good and he and his four co-stars — Kristin Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams and Fran Kranz — are well-cast and play their parts perfectly. Kranz, who was in Whedon’s “Dollhouse” TV series, is very Shaggy-reminiscent as the stoner.

Random thoughts:

The sterile, underground labs and monster holding cells of “Cabin” reminded me of the Initiative, the secret military experiment from the fourth season of Whedon’s “Buffy.” Only instead of stocking a compound full of monsters to kill teenagers, the Initiative captured monsters to experiment on them.

Another “Buffy” echo: “Cabin” builds on the idea of thousands of years of human sacrifice to appease evil. Of course in “Buffy,” the Slayers and Watchers were created, thousands of years ago, to fight evil.

I hope someone’s working on a detailed analysis of the whiteboard in the war room that contained all the monsters and scenarios. I tried to read as much of it as I could and caught some of the other threats like “Kevin” — a Jason stand-in, possibly? — but I would love to see everything that was up there.

Do you think the monsters in the movie were supposed to be real in their world? Or were they created, “inspired” by old horror tales and movies? Or does — as one clever person I know suggested — “Cabin” take place in the same world as all those old horror movies, finally taking us behind the scenes of Jason, Michael Myers, Freddy and all the rest?

“Cabin” is, for those with strong hearts and stomachs, cool, geeky fun. Maybe best of all, it made me want to re-watch “Buffy” episodes and some favorite recent horror movies.